Frank dug the bullet out of the kid's hip. He had to stop and dig it out before the kid passed out from the pain and fell off his horse again.
"Look kid, I got it. See," he said, putting down his bloody knife and holding the bullet by the light of the campfire for the kid to see.
"Jesus it's big," said the kid staring at it.
The coyotes were staring at it too. They had been quiet during the operation so fascinated were they by one human being cutting on another that they forgot to howl. But now that the cutting was over they started up again.
Frank threw the bullet at the coyotes hoping to scare them away but they just dodged it and remained in place.
Frank finished dressing the kid's wound.
The kid laid on his right side, his wound being on his left hip.
"Yah lay like that and get some sleep now kid."
Frank threw some more brush on the fire causing it to flare up shooting sparks into the hot muggy summer night.
"There that ought to keep them coyotes away. Now if they'd just stay shut up we could get us some sleep."
"They're close aren't they Frank?"
"Yah they're close but don't worry. They won't bother us none. That's not the coyote way. They don't mess with ya til you're dead. Come morning I'll go get your mother and bring her and a wagon back and take you to a doctor. I don't think you should be riding any more. You might reopen the wound and I had a hard enough time getting the bleeding to stop. I don't know if I can do it again."
The ground around where the kid lay was soaked with his blood and the coyotes had picked up on it.
"It's all my fault isn't it Frank? If I hadn't got shot we'd be home by now wouldn't we?"
"Don't worry about it kid. These things happen when you're in the thieving business. You get shot sometimes or worse yet you get caught. Then they cage you up like a wild animal and you do hard time. Don't worry though. You'll be okay. Your Ma's spread ain't that far from here. It won't take all that long to get there and back. Just hold tight and ole Frank will get you outta here."
"Don't thank me kid. Thank your mother. If I didn't get her son back for her, she'd kill me that's for damn sure. You know how she is. Now if those damn coyotes would only clam up we could get us some shut eye. I'll wake you up before I leave in the morning. Should be back by noon. I'll be over by the horses if you need me. Night kid."
Frank disappeared into the darkness.
Exhausted from a day's hard riding, from always looking back over his shoulder to see if anyone was following them, from the constant fear of being caught, and from the constant pain in his hip, the kid was spent. Exhaustion overcame his pain, overcame the coyotes' howling, and he fell asleep.
He slept but only for a few minutes and then was woken up by someone licking his bloody bandage.
"Quit that and leave him alone," a voice in the darkness snarled.
It sounded like a female voice to the kid but whoever it was who had been licking him stopped and backed off.
He had taken his pistol belt off before he went to sleep so that it wasn't under him when he slept. He reached for where he had put it but it wasn't there.
"Don't bother looking for it, kid. I've taken it," the same voice growled. 'No sense in anybody getting needlessly killed here now is there?"
"Frank," shouted the kid.
No answer. He looked into the darkness where Frank had supposedly bedded down. The fire had gone out. It was pitch black and he couldn't see that far but what he did see were half a dozen pairs of burning bright red eyes with large glowing yellow pupils staring at him.
"He ain't a coming kid. He skedaddled right after you fell asleep. Took the money and your horse too. You been had kid, double crossed."
"No Frank wouldn't do that to me. Ma wouldn't let him."
"Your ma ain't here kid."
The half dozen pair of eyes began circling him like they were getting ready to move in for the kill.
"Don't worry kid, we ain't gonna kill you. Why if word got out that us coyotes were mankillers, we'd all be wiped out in a matter of weeks. We know how you humans are. How you overreact and handle things."
"You gonna just wait for me to die then?"
"You got it kid even though I should kill ya since you humans killed my husband and left me all alone with last year's and this year's kids to raise. But don't you worry your cute little head none. We won't kill ya. Us coyotes are above that revenge thing. We don't do that like you humans do. You humans are strange creatures. You'll kill for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes for no other reason at all than to prove you're a man. And there's no loyalty between you humans either like there is among us coyotes. Or should I say no honor among you thieves. Your father deserting you like that proves that now doesn't it? How old are you anyway kid, thirteen?"
"Fifteen and he's not my father. He just lives with me and my mother. That's all."
"Well that explains it then doesn't it. No blood ties that bind like us coyotes got."
"So you just going to wait for me to die, then eat me. That it?" repeated the kid.
"You got it. Besides that's our job as coyotes. Clean up nature's debris by eating the dead. Take the nourishment from the dead and deposit it back to the good earth again. You'll be scat soon. That's Gaia's way of doing things ya know. All we have to do is wait you out.
The kid knew his mother's ranch wasn't that far away. That he could wait them out as his mother and Frank would be back by dawn. That must have been the reason why Frank left in the middle of the night like he did. To get his mother and a wagon here before he woke up. Didn't want to scare him none by telling him he was leaving him all alone out here in the desert.
"He'll be back. Run ya all off. I ain't worried none."
"Shut up and go to sleep kid. Maybe you'll get lucky and die in your sleep."
The kid went back to sleep confident of his rescue. He woke up the next morning and painfully propped himself up against a rock facing the direction from which Frank and his mother would be coming. But they didn't come. He sat there all day in the hot sun as the coyotes slept and took turns watching over him. He began to worry. Maybe Mama Coyote was right. Maybe Frank had double crossed him after all. Left him out here to die. Made up some story and told Ma he was killed during the heist.
But when sunset came he saw a wagon was rattling toward him with two people sitting up front, his mother and Frank, Frank doing the driving. The wagon came up to him and stopped. His mother, a woman as scrawny and scraggly as Mama Coyote herself, jumped down, ran over to her son, threw her arms around him, and started crying hysterically.
But the kid wasn't paying her any attention. Instead he was watching the coyotes run over into the brush and hide themselves.
"What about that now Mrs. Coyote?" he shouted angrily at them as they scurried away. "We humans don't desert each other after all, do we now?"
His mother released her son upon hearing that and studied his haggard face. She saw a far away demented deranged look in his eyes. He's delirious. That's all she thought. Just delirious seeing things after being out here in the hot sun all day. That plus the loss of blood and the fact that he hadn't eaten. He'd be fine again once she got him to a doctor, got him home, and got some food in him.
"Oh Timmy Timmy Timmy your mother will take care of you Sweetie. You'll be okay. Just you wait and see," she wailed as she so motherly, lovingly, ran her fingers through and straightened out her son's tousled ruffled hair.
But Timmy shrugged her off, shook his fist, and shouted at the coyotes, "See Mrs. Coyote. You were wrong."
"Timmy there's no Mrs. Coyote over there."
"Yes there is Ma, a mother coyote and her young. They were going to eat me but I told them you and Frank would save me."
She saw Frank roll his eyes, his hand on his pistol in its holster.
"Frank go over there, fire a couple of rounds, and chase the coyotes away for Timmy will ya."
"There's nothing there, woman. He's just seeing things. He's in shock. That's all."
She took Frank aside and growled in his ear. "Just humor the boy for me will ya Frank. I agree he's a little touched now having gone through all this but just do it so we can get him calmed down and get him home okay?"
"Okay," said Frank, "but I ain't gonna waste no bullets shooting at phantom coyotes."
"Fine. Just go."
Frank went over to the brush where the coyotes supposedly were and lo and behold to his surprise the coyotes were there. They took off.
"Oh she's got little ones," said Timmy's mother. "How cute."
"Ma," said Timmy, relieved now that the coyotes were gone, "We got us a pretty good haul didn't we? Five thousand apiece."
Timmy's mother was visibly shaken upon hearing that but she composed herself and kept her mouth shut. Frank had given her only twenty five hundred as their share. Said the take was five thousand.
"My horse okay?" asked Timmy.
"Yah your horse is okay," lied his mother. Frank hadn't brought his horse back. She was sure now that he had sold it saddle and all and pocketed that money too and that was the reason why he didn't get to her place until noon. He was off somewhere selling the horse and saddle.
Frank came back. She picked up on the nervous look in his eyes.
The coyotes had socially distanced themselves quite a ways away from the humans for now. But they stood their ground there, watching, waiting.
"Okay let's get Timmy loaded now Frank," she ordered her eyes glued on Frank.
Together they ever so carefully, gingerly, lifted Timmy up into the wagon, stuffed some blankets around him they had brought with them to make him as comfortable as possible, closed up the tailgate, and climbed back up front. Frank handed her the reins. "Here you drive."
"No, you drive. I may need to go back and attend to Timmy." She handed the reins back to Frank, her eyes shooting darts at him. He glared back at her and reluctantly took them. They headed out.
They hadn't gone all that far when Timmy heard the gunshot. The wagon kept going and as it did so it passed over the dead body of Frank. Timmy saw it from the back of the wagon all crumpled up there in the dust.
"Had to do it," said his mother without turning around and looking at her son as she drove the team onward. "He only gave me twenty five hundred. He lied to me. Said you only got five thousand. He kept the rest for himself. Sold your horse and kept that money too. His plan was to get us both out here all alone in the desert, kill us, and then dump us off somewhere where no one would find us but the coyotes. I had to shoot him first before he killed us."
The coyotes were on the body now, ripping it apart in a feeding frenzy.
"Besides, somebody had to feed those cute little coyote pups now didn't they."