I arrived in the Arizona Territories on a hot day. The train blew steam into the sky. It sounded shrill, like the call of a bird, and the chugging of the wheels was like the hoofbeats of a dozen riders. An old man in his 70s, with hunched shoulders, was sweeping up along the rails. I was still wearing my fine suit when I got off, but it was fully sweated through. The wind was so harsh my bowler kept getting blown off, so I had to have one hand free just to keep it on my head, while the other shielded my eyes from sand and grit.
Almost as soon as I stepped off the train, a rather old, stern cowboy was there waiting for me with two horses. He had dirty gray hair tucked under a Stetson, and a Smith and Wesson at his hip.
"I'm Sheriff Gray of Rio Lobo. I assume you are the lawyer?"
"Yup," I said, hopping onto the spare horse, a black-and-white mare with lazy eyes. I didn't ride much up in Boston, the college didn't permit it, but I had ridden at my uncle's house in Buffalo. I suppose I didn't like it very much, seeing as the beasts were far too high and could buck me off at any moment.
"It's a bit of a ride," Gray said. "Few hours."
The Sheriff spurred his stallion, and I followed him into the desert. Before long, we had crested a small hill, and all sight of the train was lost. I could still hear the steam-stacks whistling and the chugging of the rails, but it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. A truly odd feeling. Up in Boston, things were always bustling, moving, happening. You could put out your arm and touch at least two other people at any moment. That simply wasn't the same here.
Gray and I didn't speak. I had been filled in on the case already, and, as we rode, I took the opportunity to make sure I had all the facts right.
Billy Hargrove, the richest man in Gila County and tycoon for the railroad, turned up dead the other day. He had been shot, along with ten of his workers, by arrows. Hargrove was nearing the end of his life anyway and had been diagnosed with fatal tuberculosis. Before he died, the tycoon had worked out with the local Lakajara Indians that he would sell the lands to them after his passing. However, now that they were the prime suspects in his murder, Hargrove's nephew, an outlaw, and an overall bully, Quick Jim, was to be the new owner. Rio Lobo couldn't have that. He needed to stand trial at least.
That's where I came in. I was to find some way to get Quick Jim discredited and made ineligible to inherit his uncle's business. It wouldn't be easy, but if my experience at Harvard was an indicator, anything was possible in law.
It was evening when Gray and I reached Rio Lobo. Not a large town, but one that had been much smaller before the railroad came in. There was a jailhouse, a saloon, a general store, everything one would expect in that dusty corner of the earth. All of the buildings were made out of soft adobe and some sort of creaky wood. The sheriff helped me hitch my horse by the hotel before taking me inside and leading me up to a small room. It was on the second floor, meaning that it was entirely enveloped in a stifling, rising heat. Luckily, I didn't have to worry about centipedes at such an altitude, though spiders were still a big threat. Already, I missed Boston, and the safety it provided.
"What's the matter, you nervous?" Gray asked.
"No, it's just . . . When is the trial, again?"
"Tomorrow, high noon. I'll come and take you to the courthouse. We're paying you to make sure Quick Jim doesn't take over our town. Do it."
Gray left the room. Once I was sure I was alone, I undid my briefcase and looked over some papers. I had a pretty clear strategy in order. I would prove that the Lakajara Indians hadn't killed Bill Hargrove, and then that Quick Jim was a convicted felon, a murderer who had served time in Yuma. No jury from here up to Yankee country would let him take over the railroad, and thus, Rio Lobo's only means at profit. Or so I hoped.
In time, my eyes became blurry with edicts and articles and evidence, so I laid down on the cot and fell asleep. At least the beds in Arizona were good.
* * *
The next day wasn't any cooler than the last. Gray and I met at the courthouse, a wooden building in the middle of town. There were about twenty people inside, a jury of twelve, a judge with beady eyes and brass spectacles, a few lawmen, a couple of mean-looking guys with guns, an Indian chief, the old man who I saw sweeping at the railroad, and Quick Jim. He was a big, hard cowboy, with gruff eyes and arms like tree trunks. The only guns on him were the Colt he wouldn't make any issue of drawing, and the 12 gauge Sheriff Gray pointed at his gut.
"Order, order!" The judge called in a warbling turkey voice. "All rise for the honorable Judge Swearengen, Law of the Gila. The trial of Sheriff Gray and Chief Winding Snake vs. Jim Hargrove is now in session. The plaintiff may issue his opening remark."
I stepped forward. "Yes, your honor. I know I am the plaintiff, but in a way, I am also the defendant. I am defending the good people of this town, and the noble Lakajara Indians of the region. Bill Hargrove was killed on Tuesday by a few unseen assailants. They were in and out within a matter of minutes, and when they cleared, eleven people were dead. I don't think those were Lakajara. I think they were people meant to resemble Lakajara, paid by Quick Jim, a known gunfighter and criminal. He killed Mr. Hargrove so he could inherit his fortune. Not only should he be barred from taking over Rio Lobo's railroad, but he should also be charged for the killing. I yield my time."
There were whispers throughout the courthouse. This was certainly an aggressive stance to take. Judge Swearengen banged his gavel and called up Quick Jim, who was defending himself.
"All that was just said was wrong," the cowboy called in a gruff voice. "I did not kill my uncle Bill. I was at the railroad that day, I worked for him as I had for the last month, and then I left. When I came back the next morning, he was dead. Now, whoever killed my uncle came in fast, shot him with arrows, and left to the west. If that doesn't sound like Indians I don't know what does. And if Sheriff Gray and the people of Rio Lobo want to really give those lands to murderers and savages, they can. I'll say though, that they are just butthurt someone new is coming in to do their town right. That is a criminal injustice, I tell you!"
Quick Jim sat down. He had spoken with passion certainly, and yet I felt I had more evidence. Nine times out of ten, the person who discovers the body is the murderer. Swearengen looked regally at the crowd, before saying:
"I will now call in Smithy, the maintenance worker at the railroads, and a witness to the crime."
The old man walked up and took a seat at the wooden booth. He had large gray whiskers on his nose and on his chin, with wild eyes. The idea that this codger could formulate any lucid thought, much less testify, was ludicrous.
"Hello," he croaked in a voice not too much different than a bird's. "I'm Smithy. I've worked on the railroads sweeping up for over thirty years. Bill Hargrove was a friend of mine. I've watched his nephew grow up. He is a good, honest boy, and would never think of harming anyone."
"Strike that from the record," I said, exasperated. "Mr. Hargrove has been incarcerated numerous times for murder."
Judge Swearengen nodded. "I'll allow it. Continue, Smithy."
"I was there both times the Lakajara Injuns attacked the railroad. The first time, Jim was just a boy. They rode in, shot up some people with arrows, and left in a few minutes. If you look, you'll see that he caught one of them in his shoulder. It was meant for his uncle, but he jumped in front."
Quick Jim nodded from his seat. The judge waved his hand to indicate something, and the big man rose, taking off his duster and slowly unbuttoning part of his tunic. Sure enough, weaved over his left shoulder, was a deep scar. I groaned. That wouldn't be good.
"Do you think that a man who took an arrow for Bill would then kill him?" Smithy continued. "I think he's innocent. I didn't see Bill die but I did hear it. I was in the middle of my sweeping when the train came right in front, rounding the bend. Hargrove was on the other side, tending to a few things. Then, as the train rode, I heard two very clear sounds on the other side of the tracks. One was the hoofbeats of around a dozen horses, and the other was a high, shrill whistle. Everyone knows the Lakajara use eagle-bone whistles to inspire fear in their opponents. When the train cleared, everyone was dead."
"Alright, thank you Smithy," Swearengen said. "You may take a seat."
"What?" the geezer yelled. "I already am sitting!"
"Down by the rest of the witnesses," the judge added on, gritting his teeth.
"Sorry, I'm a bit hard of hearing." Smithy rose from the booth and slowly limped down to his bench, mumbling all the way. As he did, the bones in his back audibly creaked, as if he was a birch tree being felled by lumberjacks in the Hudson Bay. I stood.
"Now, just to clarify, there is no proof that Quick Jim jumped in front of an arrow meant for his uncle. He might have just been hit. There is also no proof that an altercation with the Indians ever occurred. No one died, and if they did, Bill Hargrove certainly didn't press charges. That brings me to my next point. I would like to call to the stage, Chief Winding Snake of the Lakajara tribe."
A rather old Indian stepped up from the plaintiff panel and walked proudly to the booth by Swearengen. He had long, braided, black hair and grayish red skin. Leather strings jangled with beads on his shoulders. Despite being hated by probably everyone in the room, Winding Snake still had a confidence in him, a nobility. He didn't care if people thought he was a murderer, or a savage, because he knew he wasn't. As did I. I had seen Indians up in Boston many times, mostly Chappaquiddick and Mohicans, to the point that they no longer terrified me like they did most white men. What terrified me was the idea that they might be wrongfully charged for the murder of a man.
"I'd like to explain what happened when Quick Jim was a boy," Winding Snake said in a low, dark voice. "His uncle had taken a lot of the land my people owned and turned it into the railroad. I was angry at this, and so I rode down with my men to confront him. Nothing happened, and we didn't shoot anyone. Bill and I spoke calmly and eventually came to an agreement. He would own the land in the desert until he died, or retired, and then he would give them back to the Lakajara people."
I stood up, and clasped open my briefcase, before taking out a piece of paper and passing it around. It was the original telegram Bill Hargrove had sent Winding Snake twenty years ago, the contract that said he would bequeath his lands upon death to its rightful owners. Swearengen looked it over with a lazy, muted sneer, while Quick Jim only scoffed.
"I would like to ask the jury why Winding Snake would want to kill Bill Hargrove when he already knew the man was about to die of tuberculosis in a matter of months?" I asked. "All that served would be to discredit the validity of the tribe and besmirch their right at inheritance. Is that so, Chief?"
"It is," Winding Snake echoed. He never really smiled, but there seemed to be an excitement behind his word. "The Lakajara people are a peaceful tribe unless provoked. The eagle-bone whistles that Smithy said he heard the night of the killing are only meant for rituals and rites of passage, not war. That very night, I was back at our camp in the desert, holding a sacred ceremony to welcome a new brave into our tribe. Anyone there can testify. We didn't go to the railroads, and we certainly didn't kill Bill Hargrove."
"Alright," Judge Swearengen said, oddly distant. "And yet, those men down by the booths say otherwise." He gestured to three mean-looking roughriders that had been glaring at Sheriff Gray and I since we got there. They all looked very similar to each other, with sandy blonde hair, piercing blue eyes, and stern features. They rose together and walked on the defendant's aisle to the stage. They passed Winding Snake on the way, who the youngest of them looked like he might punch right then and there.
"Quick Jim, would you like to explain who these people are?"
"Those are the Bronco Brothers. I met them in Albuquerque a few years ago," he replied as if it were obvious. "They work as hired hands and bounty hunters. I had told my uncle about them when I arrived in Rio Lobo, and they rode in for some work."
"What kind of work?" I asked, curious.
"Labor, heavy-lifting, drilling. Rob there has quite the keen eye. He was going to work as a spotter, watching the trains come in and such."
"This does not pertain to the trial, strike that from the questioning," the judge butted in. "Now, for the three Bronco Brothers, Rob, Eddie, and Joe, would you like to explain what you were doing the night of Bill Hargrove's murder?"
"We was riding in to do some work," the middle boy, Eddie, said. "A few miles from the railroad, and maybe a dozen from town."
"Yes," the elder brother, Rob, added on. "I thought we could make it by that night, but Eddie and Joe said we should stop. So we did."
"And that's when we saw the Injuns," Joe called. "There were a lot of them, over thirty, all wearing weird clothes and stuff. They had horses and bows and a big, big bonfire."
"The point is, Winding Snake wasn't there," Rob said, exasperated with his brothers. "At least a dozen horses were missing. When we looked over the desert we could see them riding back towards us from the train tracks. We quickly broke up camp and rode away. We didn't find out what happened until we reached Rio Lobo, and Quick Jim brought us to the scene."
"I hadn't seen a body up until then," Joe sighed as if he was disappointed with the fact.
"Objection!" I called, raising up from my seat again with a red face. "Your honor, these men are obviously criminals. Of course, Joe has seen a body."
"And why is that?" Swearengen asked.
"For one, they have a legacy as the Bronco Boys, robbing trains and stagecoaches from here to Nevada. For two, Quick Jim said he met them in Albuquerque. He only went there during that twenty-year period after he was supposedly shot by an Indian arrow, and before he returned to find his uncle dead. In that time, he resorted to a life of crime, murdering, thieving, doing all sorts of unsavory acts. I think he met the Bronco Boys during his double life, and only came back to Rio Lobo when he found out that his uncle was going to die and he had a chance at inheritance. They would act as witnesses to support his case, and he would give them a cut."
"Hold up,' Quick Jim called. "You think I only came back here because I wanted money? How 'bout I only came back so I could care for my dying uncle in his final days?"
"Alright, alright!" Judge Swearengen yelled while slamming his gavel. "We've heard a lot of conflicting views and seen a lot of evidence today. I think the only thing to do now is let the jury deliberate."
The jury was a loose collection of local farmers, housewives, and cowboys. They all stood and very slowly walked out of the courthouse. Then came the silence. My eyes darted back and forth between Quick Jim, who was obviously angry, Sheriff Gray, looking hard, Winding Snake with his cool demeanor, the steely-eyed Bronco Boys, and Old Smithy, who was confused on exactly why he was there. I wondered what I was? Probably nervous, and sweating bullets. It wasn't often that a Yankee attorney from Harvard found himself in the middle of Arizona on a case like this. Even worse, I wasn't sure I had the upper hand.
Just then, the jury came back. Some looked downright miffed, while the others were quite pleased with themselves. Everyone glanced at the twelve people, hanging on the edge of their seats for a verdict. One of the farmers whispered something to Judge Swearengen, who sighed, adjusted his brass spectacles, and addressed the crowd with a disappointed air.
"The vote is 6-6. We have a hung jury."
That wasn't good. Any deadlock vote meant more time for the defendant to come up with a good argument. "We will require a revote, but as it is already supper time, I'm afeard the trial will have to continue tomorrow. This court is adjourned."
Swearengen banged his gavel, and, feeling quite angry, I stormed out onto the dusty streets of Rio Lobo. How could I have lost? The evidence was overwhelming. Once I was a few paces down I looked over and saw Winding Snake and Sheriff Gray parting ways, both slow and sad in their movements. Quick Jim was talking with the Bronco Boys by the water well on the far end of the courthouse They were laughing amongst themselves as if it all were some joke. This wasn't a joke to me though, this was my career. Trials were never like this in Boston.
I went back to the hotel and lay down on the cot. I could give up right now, call it quits, head back to my home. Everyone knew, if a jury hadn't convicted Quick Jim today, they certainly wouldn't tomorrow. And yet there was no honor at that. It was nighttime when there came a rap at my door. I got up, and walked over to it, expecting to see Sheriff Gray. He would tell me that the trial was off, that Quick Jim was to be acquitted, etc, etc. Instead, standing right there, was Quick Jim himself.
"I . . . why are you here?" I stuttered, glancing at the Colt holstered on the cowboy's side.
"Because I want you to stop what you're doing. The jury has already agreed to rule in my favor. You should too. Leave tonight. Go back to Yankee country where you belong." The outlaw said this with a calm, vicious demeanor, much different than how he appeared in court. And yet, there seemed to be a fire in his eyes, like if I disrespected him, he might snap. For good measure, Quick Jim added on: "Nothing good happens to Yankees in Arizona."
"You're pressuring the jury aren't you?" I asked, the 6-6 vote suddenly making perfect sense. This man didn't scare me, at least not as much as he thought he did. He was a mere bully. "You probably pressured the witnesses too!"
"That's none of your business," Jim hissed, surprised. Yankees weren't known to be this stubborn. Most of them were pushovers. "All you need to know is that I didn't kill my uncle. Winding Snake and his men did. Got that?"
I stepped back. The room was small, but I still felt the need to get away from him. By the window, I reached for a pack of cigarettes and lit one. The breeze was blowing on the street, spreading sand and dust all over Rio Lobo. There was a wagon below my window, positioned right by my black-and-white horse down by the end of the hotel. Joe Bronco was sitting in the back, a Winchester in his arms. The other two were nearby. Eddie was standing with a pistol in hand, while Rob waited in the seat, ready to drive off. I knew if I moved a muscle, either Quick Jim or one of the three goons would shoot me. I thought about things like this a lot in Boston, where they never happened. I thought I would be scared. But right now, when I was actually in one of those situations, I felt nothing.
"I'll do what you say," I whispered, putting the cigarette in my mouth and tasting the bitterness as a leaf of tobacco fell on my tongue. In my peripheral vision, I could see that giant hunk of a man, Quick Jim, waiting for any instance to shoot me. But he didn't.
"You'll leave Rio Lobo."
"Good." Quick Jim turned around and walked out. His footsteps banged on the wooden panels in the corridor for almost a minute before I saw him disappear out the door of the hotel and walk out into the town. The Bronco Boys' wagon also spurred up, heading out in a cloud of dust. I set to packing immediately. I piled my books, my papers, all my unused stratagems for the trial into the briefcase, along with some suits and button-up shirts. Then, I ran out of the hotel in quite a huff, paying the man at the door a buck, and hopped onto the horse Sheriff Gray loaned me.
There was a train scheduled to leave that evening. I had to ride quick. Within moments, the clay adobe of Rio Lobo was behind me, and I was in the desert, passing saguaros, sand, and rocks glittering in the moonlight. The fear of my encounter caught up then, like a wave of opium. I felt the sight of the Bronco Boys' guns, Quick Jim right there, and thought about all the dangerous things those men could have done to me. But I was safe now. Soon, I would be on a train, a metal cage protecting me from the outside world, which would take me right up to Boston. There, I could do real trials, with real people who obeyed the law and had real careers.
As I left, I could feel the desert watching me. In Arizona, everything was incredibly young. Every patch of sand and plot of saguaro could have been the first touched by human eyes. In Massachusetts, the buildings, graveyards, and churches were all old as sin. I missed it. At least there, things didn't feel like they were watching me at all moments. Like they didn't want me to be there.
When I did reach the train stop at midnight, I was a bit early. Smithy wasn't there, he was staying back in town awaiting the court tomorrow, and all the other workers had been killed last Tuesday, so I was all alone. The biting metal of the railroad extended like a snake for miles, winding east towards Texas and then up to Massachusetts. The small shackled building, like a tollbooth, where Bill Hargrove worked, was standing on the other end of the tracks. I tried to imagine what it looked like, Hargrove and 10 other people, shot down in a matter of seconds, arrows flowing through their bodies and leaving them dead like ragdolls on the hot sand.
My morbid thoughts were interrupted by a sharp whistle. Bright lights flooded over me. The grill of the train grew closer, and closer, and slower, before stopping at my side. When it was driving, the wheels had made a sound, a low, thumping noise, like the riding of horses. And the shrill shriek of the smokestack was exactly like the eagle-bone whistles of the Lakajara Indians.
The door of the train opened, revealing a conductor with a cheery smile. "Headed east, feller?" he asked.
"No," I replied. My attention was elsewhere, on Quick Jim, the Bronco Boys, Chief Winding Snake, Judge Swearengen, and everyone that had been at the trial I abandoned. A vaguely satisfied look of realization crossed over my face. "I'm headed back west."
With new passion under its hooves, the black-and-white horse turned around and rode away. Behind me, I heard the train scream and continue on its path into the desert, while I rode, determined, back to Rio Lobo.
* * *
The next morning, Judge Swearengen swore the jury into the court. More people were in the room than yesterday, townsfolk who had come to witness the biggest thing that had happened to Rio Lobo since the railroad came in. Sheriff Gray was standing with the other lawmen, while Winding Snake hid behind his posse of Indians. Quick Jim and the Bronco Boys were oddly satisfied. As long as the Yankee lawyer was gone, there was no reason for them to be afraid.
"Order, order!" the judge yelled. "It seems that the plaintiff has fled the trial. In that case, there is no prosecution. Keeping in mind all the accounts of the various witnesses, Smithy, the Bronco Brothers, and Winding Snake, the jury may now deliberate."
All twelve of the jurors stood from their panel and left. When they came back, none of them were peeved like last time. They sat down on the bench, shuffling into place, while the same farmer who was acting as bailiff yesterday stood and addressed the room.
"The jury may now read the verdict," Judge Swearengen called. The air in the courthouse grew tighter. Everyone leaned in, dying to know. The farmer glanced back and forth between Sheriff Gray and Quick Jim, law and chaos. Jim nodded subtly, his gait wide-spread and unflinching. The bailiff looked up, sweating bullets, and spoke. "The jury finds Jim Hargrove not guilty, your honor."
A collective groan emerged from one side of the court. Sheriff Gray looked like he might bang his head against the table. Winding Snake and his Indians bowed their heads. The Bronco Boys patted each other on the back, whispering sounds of appraisal. Quick Jim still held his stance, as firm as a rock. It would be silly to get ahead of himself now that he was so close.
"So say you all?" The judge asked.
"Yes, your honor." The bailiff took a seat, sighing in relief.
"Well then, Jim Hargrove is hereby declared innocent of all charges for the murder of his uncle." Now the outlaw grinned. "Chief Winding Snake, whenever he returns or is inevitably caught, will be sentenced for the crime as well." Swearengen raised his gavel to finalize this verdict.
"Wait!" said a voice from the other end of the courthouse. It was higher, thinner, and did not have the Arizonan drawl that everyone else had. The crowd dispersed, gasping at the sight.
I had been riding for the past many hours. My hair was in disarray, my knees were knobbed, and I looked sufficiently bushed. Not the look required for a jury, even one so backward and informal as this. And yet, I still carried that briefcase, evidence inside, and stood stolid in my task. "I rise to a point of order!"
Judge Swearengen raised his eyebrows. "Point of order?"
"Yes." I felt the heat of over two dozen eyes on me. Sheriff Gray was confused, while everyone else was just annoyed. "This is an improper procedure. The jury that acquitted Quick Jim is impartial. He threatened them!"
"I'll allow it. The point is well taken," the Judge said with a shrug. "But what makes you say that?"
"Because he and the Bronco Boys paid me a visit in my hotel room just last night!"
The courtroom gasped. A smile spread on Sheriff Gray's face, and Swearengen's eyes went wide. "You realize sir, that you have just made some very serious accusations?"
I nodded. "Yes, your honor, I am aware. But that isn't the worst of it." Taking a deep breath, I faced the jury and pointed to old Smithy. "Yesterday, you heard from this railroad worker that on the night of Bill Hargrove's murder, he heard the sound of hoofbeats and the Lakajara Indian's eagle bone whistle. Is this true, Mr. Smithy?"
The old man nodded, quizzical. "Yessir."
"Well then," I continued, "would you happen to know that this very railroad makes those sounds when it arrives? Yes, when the evening train rolls into Rio Lobo from the west, it makes the sound of riding hooves with its wheels, and a shrill shriek with its whistle. Not exactly of course, but enough to make an old man such as Smithy, who confessed to being hard of hearing, assume the attack was done by Indians!" Sheriff Gray jumped up from his seat. "Yes, yes, that's it!"
I looked back and forth between the townsfolk. Some were happy, some were not. Smithy merely shrugged. "Yeah, that checks out," he said.
"Well then, I suppose we realize that Quick Jim and the Bronco Boys are the actual murderers of Bill Hargrove and that the Lakajara Indians are innocent, having been framed," I said, setting down my briefcase. "As per Mr. Hargrove's telegram, the tribe should be the rightful inheritors of the Rio Lobo Railroad. I rest my case."
There were claps and boos from both sides. Judge Swearengen nodded and looked downright impressed. "Well then," he said, fingering the gavel, "I suppose, what with this new evidence, the jury must vote again." He hesitated, thinking. "And, as we have seen them to be impartial, let's trade out the jury for some folks who haven't recently talked with Quick Jim."
I sighed in relief. The case was done. Chief Winding Snake would be acquitted and Quick Jim sentenced. My employer, Sheriff Gray, gave me a pat on the back as I walked from the bench back down to the desk. Finally, this blasted affair in the south was over, and I could get back to Boston where I knew how things were done.
"Hold on," said a voice from behind me. I turned, and so did Sheriff Gray. Standing there were the Bronco Boys and Quick Jim, all wielding guns. The Broncos immediately pointed their Winchesters at the jury and the lawmen, including the Sheriff, while Quick Jim leveled his Colt at me.
"I got a point of order too," he said, cool as a winter breeze in Massachusetts. "I'm pointing my gun at you, and I'm ordering you to stop."
My eyes went wide, and, instinctively, I raised my hands. Sheriff Gray stood up and reached for his own revolver. Immediately, a stack of papers next to him went exploding from Eddie's Henry.
"I mean it," Quick Jim said, then grinned. "Now I ain't no lawyer, but I know, if they don't like the way a case is playing out, one attorney can challenge another attorney to a duel. As I am representing myself in this case, I am challenging you, Mr. Yankee, to such a duel."
I blinked twice and thought for a moment that I hadn't correctly. Judge Swearengen sighed and banged his gavel. "Overruled, this is ridiculous. Mr. Hargrove, you lost the case, now sit down and face your sentencing."
The Bronco Boys shrugged. "We ain't got no sentencing till the duel is done, your honor," Rob said.
Eddie laughed. "If this Yankee refuses, then we win by forfeit. And if he accepts and loses, we win by forfeit as well. Now that's just the law."
There was a moment of silence as Judge Swearengen reached under his podium and produced a large brown tome. He began perusing the pages, mumbling to himself about various law terms. Meanwhile, I glanced to Quick Jim, who casually clicked back his Colt.
"It would appear," the Judge said, after slamming the book closed, "That Mr. Hargrove's challenge is legally sound. If the plaintiff would like to refuse, then the case will automatically be ruled against Rio Lobo's favor."
Quick Jim grinned. "So Yankee, you gonna accept?" I looked back and forth, wide-eyed, across the courtroom. Sheriff Gray seemed like he could jump up and get into a brawl right then and there if he didn't have a gun pointed at him. I, meanwhile, was merely thinking about my luck. How was it that, in this place, someone could win a case, and then legally lose it through bullets?
"I, I accept," I stammered, before shutting my eyes and hoping all of this was just a bad dream. They were bleary from lack of sleep, and my muscles ached. But I knew, I had to at least give it a try, for Sheriff Gray, and Rio Lobo, and the Lakajara Indians.
The Bronco Boys hooted and hollered. "Yeehaw!" Joe yelled, taking his Winchester and firing it at the ceiling. There was a blast of gunsmoke and all of the bailiffs jumped. Then Quick Jim slowly walked forward and grabbed me by the collar. I squeaked with fear as the big outlaw pulled me down the aisle.
Outside, the whole town gathered at high noon. Judge Swearengen, rather burly and wearing his black garb, positioned himself by the courthouse, while Sheriff Gray and the lawmen stood on either end of the street.
The Lakajara Indians all got on their horses and rode off into the desert as if they couldn't see what was about to transpire. Before he left, Chief Winding Snake came up close. "If you win this, then you'll be the greatest brave our tribe has ever seen," he said solemnly. Then he too vanished into the desert through a cloud of sand.
I was nervous as a cat when Sheriff Gray walked up and put a heavy Smith and Wesson in my hand.
"This is my own firearm," he, looking me dead set in the eyes. "If I could shoot it myself, I would. Just remember, aim for the heart."
And then all of the chaos died down and things were silent. Unlike duels in Yankee country, there were no laws. No ten steps back, no honor, nothing of that sort. Only the whistling winds, the tumbleweeds, and the guns that twinkled in the light. Quick Jim looked me in the eye from the other side of Rio Lobo. He had a grin on his face. That's when I knew I was helpless.
Taking a deep breath, I exchanged glances with Sheriff Gray and hoped for the best. The big Smith and Wesson darted up from my hip, as if it had a mind of its own, and fired. The recoil was greater than I ever expected. My wrist went curling and jolted with pain. A loud sound rang out, and then another one after that.
The Smith and Wesson fell from my hand. My eyes went wide, and for a moment I wondered if I had been shot, if this was the end, if all my Harvard education was going to pay off in Arizona. Then I looked down. That was when I realized my gun had been shot on the chamber, a large dent running along it. Quick Jim had decided to spare me. He had shot my weapon not my body.
A wave of relief ran through my limbs, and, losing all strength, I fell to the ground. Before I could try and stand up, the outlaw had already clicked his Colt back again. This time, Quick Jim wouldn't be so merciful.
"My opponent is disarmed," he shouted. "That counts as a win."
Sheriff Gray and his lawmen stood up. His face was red as a tomato and filled with rage. "No, wait a minute! I challenge you to a duel, Mr. Hargrove!"
The outlaw only chuckled and grinned. "I don't accept, Sheriff. And besides, you don't got no gun."
He pulled me up from the ground. My mind was working slower now, and I could still feel the shock on my wrist when the gun was shot. Quick Jim had used such precision, such timing, to spare me. But why?
The Bronco Boys walked down the aisle of the street and readied their wagon. It was obvious they had been nervous during the duel, but now, all of the outlaws were grinning like idiots. Judge Swearengen frowned and walked back into his courthouse, unable to watch such a wretched display of the law.
Then Quick Jim forced me into the back of his wagon. The Bronco Boys sat in front by the horses, with their rifles still fastened on anyone who got too close.
"Wait a minute," Sheriff Gray shouted. "What are you doing? You can't just kidnap that man!"
Quick Jim shrugged. "He's my hostage. If any of you lawmen try any funny business, then he's gonna get a bullet. Anyways, don't you got something better to do, Sheriff, arresting the Injuns who killed my uncle?" All the outlaws in the wagon laughed. "Anyway," Quick Jim continued, "if you'll excuse me, I got a railroad to inherit."
Then Rob Bronco kicked the horses into a gallop, and the wagon darted down the streets of Rio Lobo. All the lawmen watched helplessly. Sheriff Gray took off his hat and set in on his breast with a look of disappointment. None of them could do anything. Jim and the Broncos had taken over their railroad, and they had lost. When they needed me to, during the duel, I wasn't useful. Now, they couldn't care less what happened to me.
I should have known better. I had a chance to leave town, to forget about all of this. But instead, I got sentimental, and now I was going to be killed. I decided I did it for the Lakajara tribe and Chief Winding Snake, not Sheriff Gray. But even the former had lost too. All the Indians would be arrested, most likely hanged for a murder they didn't commit. Perhaps I was just plain stupid.
Eddie kept his gun trained on me as we entered the desert. "Please," I said. "I didn't do anything. I am just an attorney, making a case. Let me go." When they did not respond, my face grew red and I raised my voice. "Listen to my argument! I can give you money. My family has money in Boston. Just let me go!"
None of them responded. After a while, I fell silent and looked around me. The scenery of Arizona extended for miles in a sea of brown and yellow. I missed beaches. Cape Cod, with the seagulls floating over a gray sky and the ocean crashing against the sand. If only I could be there now. "Why did you do it?" I asked. All the Bronco Boys started laughing.
"He wants to know why we did it!" Rob said, his voice dripping with mirth.
"We ain't gonna tell, are we, Eddie?" Joe slapped his brother on the shoulder, who winked.
"No, we sure ain't."
"I wasn't talking to you," I said with a sigh. "I know why you did it, because of the money. But why Quick Jim?"
The outlaw looked behind him and smiled. "The scar on my shoulder, it wasn't from the Indians," he said. "Years ago, I was a bad kid. I would insult women, bully kids. No wonder I ended up killing and looting. But my uncle, he was a tough man and didn't take kindly to my insolence. One day, after I got in a scrap on the railroad, he took me into his home, dusted me off, and pressed a fire poker to my shoulder. I guess, once I learned the old bastard was gonna die, part of me knew I was running out of time to get my revenge."
The wagon stopped at the railroad. Once again, it was abandoned, with only the screeching iron and lonely wood posts marking it as any different from the rest of the desert. Quick Jim shoved me out of the back and quickly tied me up with some rope. Meanwhile, the Bronco Boys revealed, in the back of the coach, the bows and arrows they had used to kill Bill Hargrove. Meant to look exactly like those of the Lakajara, but a white man's weapon to be sure.
Once they had gotten all set up, Quick Jim looked around, at the shack his uncle worked at, at the tracks, at everything. "Jesus, this is all mine. You never would have thunk it." Then he grinned. "Once we run this town to the ground, boys, we're gonna be rich!"
The Bronco Brothers and their leader let out howls into the afternoon, like a pack of coyotes marveling at their catch. Eddie promptly kicked me down to the tracks and put my head right up to the metal. I tensed up.
"Oh god. Why are you doing this? You don't need me as a hostage anymore!"
I couldn't believe the situation I was in. I kept thinking back to Harvard, all the classes I should have been taking, the women courting, the cases filing. Now, I would forever be remembered as the lawyer who lost a duel and got killed by a disgruntled defendant. In Rio Lobo of all places . . .
From the vibration on the metal, I could tell the train was coming. Quick Jim squinted over the horizon. "Guess you're right, there ain't no reason," he said.
"So you can cut me loose now?" I asked, hopefully.
The Bronco Boys shared a look and laughed. "Oh no," Joe said. "Just 'cause there ain't no reason don't mean we ain't gonna do it. Hell, what's the fun in that?"
Now, the train was closer. I could see it, winding from the west, its iron grill, smokestack, and churning wheels approaching ever closer. So this was the end. Quick Jim only laughed. "I gave you a chance, Yankee, back up at the hotel. If only all that Harvard education could have gotten you half a brain . . . "
Just then, all the outlaws paused. There was a sound coming from the other side of the train tracks. Like the pounding of hooves, and the calling of the Lakajara eagle bone whistle. Quick Jim's eyes went wide. "Indians! Run!"
Rob Bronco pulled me by the back of the neck and tossed me away from the tracks. Just then, the wheels went zipping over the metal where my head had been, and I breathed a sigh of relief at being alive. By now, if the outlaws were so stupid as to be doing what they were doing, I was happy not to say a word. They hadn't paid attention in the trial, and forgot that the train sounded like an approaching Indian horde.
"Quick, go!" Eddie said as he left his group's guns back in the wagon. No longer bothering about hostages, Quick Jim and the Bronco Boys ran for the hills, going on foot, their boots crunching on the soft sand. They went to the west, back towards Rio Lobo, and behind them, the sound of the approaching "Indian horde" was getting louder.
Just then, they reached the top of the hill and met an actual Indian horde. Waiting for the outlaws were the Lakajara tribe. 20 men strong stood proud on their horses, with leathery brown faces, and tanned hide cloaks. Leading them was Chief Winding Snake, who had his bow in one hand, and an eagle bone whistle in the other.
"This is the last time you frame my people," the Chief said. Then he put the whistle into his mouth and blew it in the hot Arizona air.
Quick Jim covered his ears and fell to the ground. The bleating was like the call of death, and much louder than anything the train could ever impersonate. All of the Lakajara pulled back their bows and pointed them at the Bronco Boys. Meanwhile, I looked over and saw the train stop. Like the gates to heaven opening, the doors slid wide, and out from the 3:30 train to Boston came Sheriff Gray and his men.
There was Smithy, and Judge Swearengen, lawmen and the farmers of the Jury. All had come on the railroad they had fought to protect, to see the trial play out on the dueling ground. Old Smithy leaped out and paused. "So that's what an eagle bone whistle sounds like! Damn, I really am hard of hearing," he said.
The Sheriff reached down and pulled me up.
"Thank you," I said, and he cut my ropes with a knife.
"You really think I'd have abandoned the best attorney I ever met, after all you did for us?" he asked. "Even if you're a shit shot."
Then Sheriff Gray turned to the criminals. "You fellas are wanted for the murder of Bill Hargrove and 10 others right here at the Rio Lobo train station. Surrender, or die!"
The Bronco Boys looked fearfully between the Indians, and the lawmen, all pointing their weapons at them. They had nowhere to go. The brothers exchanged a nod, then went running in the direction of the train. Quick Jim didn't have time to call out before the outlaws already surrendered. Eddie fell pleading to the feet of Sheriff Gray, his hard face stained with tears.
"Please," he said, "It was my brothers' fault. Don't hang me!" The lawman merely kicked the outlaw smack dab in the head, knocking him out. Now, it was only Quick Jim, surrounded by the good people of Arizona, as he fingered his lone Colt.
"Well," the outlaw said, chuckling to himself, "I guess I'm beat. But I'll tell you what, I am certain as hell not going back to Yuma. Chief Winding Snake, I challenge you to a duel!"
Quick Jim turned and pointed his gun in the direction of the west. He pointed it up at the Indian Chief on horseback, squinting so as to see over the sun. My eyes went wide as the hammer of the weapon clicked back, and Sheriff Gray's mouth hung open. But the Indians, as well as their chief, not a hint of fear in his eyes, merely pulled back their bows and fired a volley of arrows.
Winding Snake grinned. "Looks like you aren't as quick as you thought, Quick Jim."
The outlaw was impaled by the bolts of all the Lakajara tribe. He fell dead to the ground. By the time all the shafts were stuck in his body, Quick Jim looked like a porcupine. I felt the need to vomit after seeing it, and yet, also, strangely satisfied. As a lawyer, I had always been told not to make things personal, not to want your opponent to lose, for someone to go to jail. And yet, all I had been taught hadn't served me in Arizona. Perhaps Harvard didn't know everything about the law.
Sheriff Gray had his men ride back to Rio Lobo with the Bronco Boys. Their trial would be in a week for the murders. Quick Jim was taken away to be buried next to his uncle in the town cemetery. Riding on his big brown horse, Chief Winding Snake rode down next to Sheriff Gray, Judge Swearengen, and me.
"Thank you," the Chief said to me. "You have saved my tribe and my people." Then he turned to the Sheriff and patted him on the shoulder. "I look forward to dealing with you and your town now that the Lakajara Indians own the railroad."
Gray smiled. "I'm sure you'll do a better job than old Hargrove or Quick Jim ever did."
The Indians all mounted up and rode away into the hills as if nothing had happened. Judge Swearengen faced me. "I'll be writing a letter of recommendation to any law firm you want to go to after Harvard, son. Damn, that point of order stuff was a top-notch argument right there."
Despite not believing that the honorable Judge Swearengen, "Law of the Gila", would have much sway in a Massachusetts firm, I thanked him nonetheless and saw him off with the rest of the party to Rio Lobo. Soon, it was just me and the Sheriff, who looked me in the eyes and nodded. He produced, from his coat, three thousand dollars.
"Here you go son," he said, proud and strong. "You should feel good about yourself. You just saved a town."
I smiled and nodded. "Yup."
Once Sheriff Gray had ridden away, and I was alone, I decided that I did, in fact, feel good about myself. Who would have thought that a small outcrop in the Sonoran Desert could come together so swift and heroic as it did? It truly showed that there was still some semblance of law even in the wildest of frontiers. If not, then what was the point of order?
As soon as the next train came, I boarded it and clutched the three thousand. It was a hot day, so I was excited to cool down inside my car. With a smile on my face, I took a seat by the window and looked out at the sprawling desert of the Arizona Territories. I was sure my grades at Harvard next semester would be splendid.
Winding to the east, the train chugged like horse hooves and screamed like Indians.