Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Billy - 9

Billy was headed up the trail for Tom’s wagons by mid-afternoon. He was in no hurry and hoped to catch up to them just before they camped for the night. As he rode up the trail he kept replaying the last few days with Tad in his mind. It was surprising how little he knew about the boy. Usually after several days on the trail you learned a lot about an individual – especially a kid. They liked to talk of their exploits. Not this one. It wasn’t that he was quiet – just evasive. Tad talked big, but the things he described sounded like they were out of a dime novel. Every time Billy had tried to draw him out, the boy had changed the subject.

Billy topped a rise in the trail and could see the wagons ahead of him. Something wasn’t right. The sun was just about to touch the horizon and the wagons were in the shadow of the rise on which he was standing but the light was good enough that he could tell something was wrong. He quickened his pace down the hill.

It occurred to him that there were no mules in sight and it looked like some of the mule skinners were missing. The ones that were there seemed to be hovering over something up against one of the wagons. He spurred to a lope and hurried to see what was happening.

Tom Fanning was lying against the wheel of one of the wagons with his head propped on a bedroll. There was a bloody bandage wrapped around his chest and he was breathing hard. Tom tried to sit up as Billy stepped down from his horse but didn’t seem to have much strength. It was obvious that he wasn’t in very good shape.

“What happened?” asked Billy.

The men all tried to talk at once until they heard Tom speak out in a raspy voice, “They got the boy, Billy.”

“How bad are you hurt, Tom?”

“I think it missed anything vital. I lost enough blood that I’m a bit weak. I’ll be all right though. Jake here tried to dig the bullet out and I think he did more harm than the bullet did. We got it wrapped up just before you rode in. Give me a little bit and I’ll be ready to go.”

“How long since it happened?”

“It’s probably been about an hour,” said Tom. “They ambushed us as we came over that hill up there. Six of them came at us – three from each side. They had us covered before anyone could get their rifle up.”

“Which way did they head?” asked Billy. “I’ll go after them.”

“No, you just hang on and hear me out. They drove off the mules and my horse. A couple of the boys went to look for them. I doubt they drove them very far.”

“Tom, I’ve got my horse and a spare. Why don’t you let me take one of your men with me and we’ll go see if we can find your stock before it gets dark. We’ll drive them back here for the night and then I’ll go after those men.”

“You go get the stock and then you’ll stay here tonight. You need to wait until daybreak to go after them. Those men are experienced and hard. You’ll end up getting killed in the dark if you don’t wait until morning.”

“OK, Tom. I’ll do it your way.”

Houston Davis, one of the mule skinners, rode out with Billy to find the mules and the drivers who had gone looking for them. It was no problem knowing which direction they had driven the animals, there was a wide trail to follow where the mules had been driven across the sandy ground. A couple of miles from the wagons, Billy and Houston came across the two walking drivers. They sent them back down the trail and hurried ahead while there was still enough light to see.

Another mile and they found the stock against the bank of the river where they had been abandoned by the men who had kidnapped Tad. The animals were quietly grazing on the clumps of grass along the banks. The men had apparently crossed the river to the south and left the animals on the near side. It only took a few minutes to gather them and head them back to the wagons.

They overtook the walking drivers when there was barely enough light to see. The mules ran on ahead while the four of them rode double the rest of the way.


Janie said...

More, more!! Andale, senor!

Incognito said...

Very cool... will wait for the next installment, once the trade shows end.

Panhandle Poet said...

Thanks, y'all. I've had a difficult time getting back to it -- but I will....