Dramatis Personae (Principal Cast)
Jumbo Reilly (Oregon): a giant fellow with the build and strength of a grizzly bear.
John Henry (No Fixed Abode): steel driver.
Pecos Bill (Texas): cattle driver.
Tom Sawyer (St. Petersburg, Missouri): an adventurer and detective.
Catherine ''Kate'' Shelley (Honey Creek, Iowa): humanitarian.
Kutoyis, aka Blood-Clot (Blackfoot Tribe, Missouri, et al): trapper.
Rupert E. "Buzzard" Cogburn, aka Hooded Horseman (Kernville, California): part-time politician and six-shooter for hire.
'Come in, Tom,' said Brigadier General Harrison, his invitation accompanied by a smile that raked a ravine across his bearded features.
Closing the door behind him, Sawyer doffed his Stetson and then strode purposefully across the room to take his place at the impressively large round table. The air smelled of barley malt, tobacco and sawdust.
Harrison gestured with a right hand stained by cigar smoke. 'Take a seat, my friend,' he said. 'I'll introduce you to those members of our team who you may not already be familiar with—though, I hasten to add, we yet remain one short.'
'Thank you, Benjamin,' replied Sawyer. He pulled out a chair and glanced around admiringly at the meeting hall. On the red cedar-panelled wall behind the Brigadier General, in an unassuming silver frame, was hung a finely detailed oil painting depicting a gathering of nine men stood outside the three-sided, colonnaded entrance porch on the north side of the White House. At the centre of this group stands a singularly imposing individual holding a broad, coffin handled, fixed-blade fighting knife some twelve inches in length, whilst, to his left, a man in a raccoon skin hat brandishes a long-barreled .40-caliber flintlock rifle. Both men wear boar leather tassel jackets, tan suede trousers and broad smiles. The remainder of the men, though armed with more conventional weapons of the time, are equally impressive in their bearing. A bronze plaque hanging below the painting reads: League of Texians (1835) by John Gadsby Chapman. To the left of this painting, in a gilded tripartite frame with floral decoration and gadroons to the crest, hangs a portrait of current First Lady, Catherine ''Cat'' Ballou-Jones.
'This old place has changed a good deal since last I paid a visit,' continued Sawyer, seating himself to the right of the Brigadier General. 'It's gotten a lot bigger. Bigger and grander.'
'We have John and Paul to thank for that,' replied Harrison. 'John erected the superstructure - from a set of plans drawn up by Charles McKim - and Paul kindly laid on the timbers.'
'It took us two weeks,' said ''Paul'' in a voice that was the growl of bear. 'We would'a done finished it a good deal sooner, but it rained for an hour or two on the Wednesday.'
Sawyer twisted around in his chair to get a better look at the man who had spoken - a man who smelled of wood and the wild outdoors. At twelve feet tall, dressed in a bright red checked shirt and blue jeans, the fellow towered above the rest of the men in the room, Jumbo Reilly included.
'Let me introduce Paul Bunyan,' said Harrison. 'And, to his left, Pecos Bill. Both of these fine gentlemen come to us highly recommended—by no less than D. Crockett Jr., of the House of Representatives.'
Tom Sawyer nodded his head approvingly. 'High praise indeed,' he said. 'Will West and Gordon be joining us.'
'Not for this one, no. They're on a mission in Wyoming. Besides, they're not as young as once they were.'
'So why you done brung us all together, Ben?' inquired John Henry. 'More reb dissidents?'
'Not this time, John, no,' came the Brigadier General's gravelly voice. 'I'm sending you to investigate a ghost town. Chance City, to be precise.'
Pecos Bill, a big, wide-shouldered rider with keen eyes, scratched his head. 'The mining town in New Mexico?' he asked.
'Former mining town,' Harrison replied gravely. 'Five days ago the entire population of Chance upped and disappeared. There's not a sole within a day's ride of the place. No livestock, either. There's nothing in Chance City now but tumbleweed and memories.'
John Henry whistled through the gap in his tombstone front teeth. 'Jumpin' coyotes!'
'Not in Chance City, there isn't,' said the Brigadier General. 'Even the vultures are staying well clear of the place. '
'Jehoshaphat!' Jumbo Reilly glanced sidelong at Pecos Bill, who hawked and spat into the sawdust. 'A ghost town!'
Pecos Bill stared thoughtfully back at Reilly.
'Yup,' he said. 'I seen it before. Happens when a town goes dry.' He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his last two silver dollars jingling in his pocket—the remains of his bounty from the Jersey Devil Affair.
'Dry?' Benjamin Harrison's brow furrowed. 'Gentlemen, I can assure you that that is not the case with Chance.'
Tom Sawyer licked his lips, his gaze thoughtful. 'So the folks didn't just up an' skee-daddle—that what you're sayin', Ben?'
'There yet remains plenty of ore in the hills,' replied Harrison. 'Why would anyone willingly quit on pay dirt?'
'I hope we ain't gonna done find no ghosts in this here ghost town,' Paul Bunyan muttered softly, feeling strangely claustrophobic.
'Sadly, gentlemen, I am led to believe that that is exactly what we will find.'
'Led to believe? By whom?' asked John Henry. 'Old ladies 'n' school children?' He smiled a broad smile, revealing a set of teeth whose colour matched that of his sun-burnished skin.
Benjamin Harrison picked up a black dossier and proceeded to clear his throat. 'I have here a file that was discovered mixed in with the Chance City Sheriff's monthly reports and file dockets. Among other unexplained events that took place in Chance, one document states that "tracks appeared in the dirt. The kind that would likely be made if a fella with a limp was leading a lame horse. They stretched across nearly four miles, including much of Big John Cannon's ranch". The report sites accounts from various eye-witnesses, and notates in circumspect that "the ghost of Hopalong Cassidy had made the tracks in the rough space of only one hour".'
'That sure as hell's some mighty fine goin' fer a fella with a limp!' said Jumbo Reilly impassively.
Pecos Bill nodded sagely. 'Them were my thoughts exactly.'
'I don't care none fer ghosts,' whispered John Henry. He took off his hat and placed it on the table in front of him. 'There's only one kinda spirit I like,' he added, slicking back his hair with one hand. 'And it ain't no wanderin' dead folk.'
Paul Bunyan swallowed hard. 'Damn straight!' Despite his stern efforts to control it, his heart pounded against his rib cage. 'I think I need a drink.'
Tom Sawyer shook his head and chuckled to himself.
Just then the door opened and an attractive young woman dressed in a plain grey frock entered the room.
'Ah! At last,' beamed Brigadier General Harrison. 'Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Miss Catherine Shelley, formerly of Honey Creek, Iowa.'
'Good day to you, Brigadier General,' said the young woman. She peered through the haze, the bitter miasma of cigar smoke clawing at the back of her throat.
'I'll have a measure of whiskey,' said Jumbo Riley. 'In fact, you might as well bring the bottle. Who'll join me?'
Benjamin Harrison narrowed his eyes. 'Miss Shelley is not here to serve drinks, Mister Riley. She is here to lead the team.'
'What! You can't seriously be expectin' us t' take orders from a dame!' thundered John Henry, visibly cringing at the very idea.
'I trust I'll have no trouble from y'all?' asked Catherine Shelley, her voice steady.
'Not from me, you won't, ma'am,' replied Sawyer. 'The names Sawyer, by the way. Tom Sawyer.'
'It is a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance, Mister Sawyer,' said Catherine Shelley. Accepting his extended hand she discovered a gentle strength in his warm, callused fingers. 'I have heard a good deal about you,' she continued, her gaze taking in the breadth of his chest, his muscular shoulders, and the cool blue eyes that scanned her with masculine approval. There was one thing she was certain of as she looked down at his uncompromising jaw—men like this one have trouble written all over them. She doubted Sawyer would prove to be an exception. Her thoughts a runaway train, she gave the cowboy a smile.
Paul Bunyan fingered the edge of his axe. 'A good friend of mine once writ: ''We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal''. Don't recall he done mention nothin 'bout no dames.'
'A lot can change in a hundred years,' Benjamin Harrison reminded him patiently. 'Miss Shelley here has been appointed to lead this team by none other than the President himself.'
Moving to stand behind Harrison, Catherine Shelley placed her hand on the Brigadier General's shoulder. 'You boys any good with those guns you're totin'?' she asked, moving her gaze slowly around the table.
'Ain't never been beat,' replied Pecos Bill. His voice was as rough as gravel and laced with a drawl whose home she couldn't quite hang a name on. About his feet was coiled a red rat snake as long as a cow driver's rope.
'I'm an explosives man, m'self,' said Jumbo Riley, his mumble so low she could barely hear it. 'I ain't one fer no gunslingin'.'
'I'm partial t' dynamite m'self,' said Pecos Bill. 'That's when there ain't no steak to be had.' He drew his pistol like greased lightning, then smoothly reversed it to show off the handle. More than two dozen notches had been carved into the ivory.
'Look!' he said, pointing. 'I got me a dozen melon heads, two squonks, a big foot, and fourteen boo hags!"
'Then it seems to me that we have the makings of a mighty fine team,' enthused Catherine Shelley. 'And you can rest assured, gentlemen, that it will be my honour to serve alongside y'all, in this, the fifth incarnation of the Union of Extraordinary Americans.'
“The Man Who Built The Wichita Line”
Portrait in brown[/color] (1885)
With Paul Bunyan and Jumbo Reilly riding an open wagon apiece, the Union arrived in Chance City shortly after noon to discover the main street of the former mining town devoid of life. It was nothing more than they had been told to expect.
John Henry fingered his day-old stubble, his ebony skin glistening with sweat. 'One thing I love is a warm welcome,' he said.
'Damn straight,' replied Pecos Bill. 'Know where I might find one?'
'Wouldn't do no harm t' try the saloon.'
A desolate wind moaned as Tom Sawyer twisted in his saddle to better scrutinise the empty buildings. Doors stood open. Windows gaped. Drapes hung flacid in the arid New Mexico air. 'Nothing but memories,' he murmured under his breath, the afternoon sun burning his shadow into the amber ground.
Their custom-outfitted iron horse, a 4-4-0 oil burner nicknamed Brass Betsy, had brought them as far as Santa Clara, where a lack of finance had seen the construction of the railroad grind to an abrubt halt. Old Man King and his imigrant workforce having long-since returned to Union City, Santa Clara, too, was now all but a ghost town. Tying off their horses outside Stumpy Brennan's, a south-facing shelter with a clean water hole and hay aplenty, they made there way back along the dusty street, past Bodeguita's general store, Little Sure Shot Gunsmiths and the local Wells Fargo office, towards the eerily silent saloon.
Glancing back over the padded shoulder of her bustle dress, Catherine Shelley looked gravely at the two teams of horses that had had the arduous duty of hauling the conveyances of Reilly and Bunyan. Several of the poor creatures appeared to have run themselves lame.
'Perhaps it would be prudent,' she began, halting in her tracks to stare upwards at her larger than life companions, 'if you two gentlemen were to remain outside. As lookouts.'
Hitching up her skirt - a bustle skirt constructed of a blue and green plaid pinwale corduroy with gold satin at the hemline - she mounted the three steps that led up to the entrance of the Silver Dollar Saloon. In the front of her overskirt was draped a white apron trimmed with hunter green velvet and gold braid, on which was pinned a silver badge that read ''Security Enforcement Officer''.
“Outside, where you can do the least harm,” she thought to herself, before adding: 'These backwater saloons are not designed with men of your stature in mind.'
Tom Sawyer fixed his gaze on the back of her skirt—a skirt bustled with three rows of grosgrain ribbons trimmed with green and gold braid, held closed by two skirt hooks and eyes, and below which lay concealed a derrière of tantalizingly esoteric quality.
'Admiring the view?' chided Kate Shelley without turning her head.
'Beats starin' at the hindquarters of a horse,' Sawyer replied casually.
The first to step through the saloon's wide swing doors, Kate Shelley was met by the most unexpected of sights, for seated about an octagonal gaming table were three men, each of whom held a fan of seven cards in his left hand and a glass in his right, and in front of whom stood half empty bottles of Pikesville straight rye whiskey and piles of coloured "marker" chips. As Sawyer, John Henry and Pecos Bill moved up beside her, the gambler facing the doors looked up at Kate Shelley and smiled.
'Well, now, ain't you a sight for a lonesome gunslinger's eyes,' he said, before returning his attention to his hand of cards. A diminutive man, sporting a white "Boss of the Plains" Stetson and a Union-blue placard front cavalry shirt, his voice, though soft, spoke of resilience, confidence and self-belief. Wrapped around his throat was a white bandanna tainted by prairie dust.
Tom Sawyer stepped forward, his right hand sweeping back the folds of his fawn greatcoat to reveal an oversize holster carrying a sawed-off "Uncle Dan LeFever" scattergun. He stood there for a few moments, in silence, examining his surroundings.
The interior of the Silver Dollar was as big as a dairy barn, with a bar that ran two thirds the length of the main wall and a medium-sized stage in the far corner, beside which stood an upright piano that gave the appearance of having witnessed a fair few nights of drunken revelry. Dotted about the sawdust-heavy floor were a dozen or more empty tables, three of which had been turned on their side. Sawyer counted a dozen bullet holes in one tabletop alone. Splinters of wood from broken chairs and the glass from shattered mirrors littered the floor behind this makeshift barricade, leading him to surmise that a heated exchange had not long since taken place—an exchange leaving behind a mess that no one in Chance City had had the inclination to tidy. It had all the signs of a last stand. Here, then, was perhaps the detritus of the most recent in a long line of America's lost civilisations.
'Perhaps you boys might like to tell us what it is y'all doin' in this here town?' he said.
'We might ask of you that very same question,' replied the second of the gamblers, turning his head to face Sawyer. He was a young man with fair hair, wearing a narrow-brimmed blue hat, blue shirt and an orange-and-black spotted vest. The top half of his face was covered by a black mask.
'Got summit t' hide, pard?' asked Pecos Bill.
'Only this here winnin' hand,' replied the masked man. He sat easily in his chair, shoulders relaxed, toying with a yellow chip—turning it over and over between his thumb and forefinger.
Kate Shelley took a step forward. 'We are agents of the US government,' she said, indicating her badge. 'Here to investigate the disappearance of Chance City's population. A population of some two hundred and fifty of The Good Lord's children. Happen you might know something about it. Therefore, gentlemen, I must insist that you answer my associate's question: What brings you to Chance City?'
'We're just passing through, ma'am,' replied the third of the saloon's mysterious gamblers, a man dressed in a red shirt and a black and white cowhide waistcoat. 'We ain't looking for no trouble from the law.' Atop his head sat a black Stetson, partially shadowing his steely, blue eyes.
'We heard there might be some Tommy Knockers in town,' said the masked man.
John Henry laughed out loud. 'You boys must be mighty desperate,' he began, moving to the bar to snatch up a bottle of Jim Beam. 'Iffen yer pinnin yer hopes of a fortune on the spirits of departed miners.' Pouring out a generous measure into an empty glass, he added, 'I take it that this here establishment is self-service?'
'That it is, mister. That it most surely is.' This, from the young man in the cavalry shirt.
'Anyone care to join me?' said Henry, holding up the bottle of bourbon.
Shooting the steel driver a caustic glare, Kate Shelley crossed the floor and seated herself at the gaming table.
'So, you gentlemen are just passing through?' she pressed.
'That we are, ma'am. That we are?' replied the masked man.
'We're on the trail of a varmint goes by the name o' Lucky Luke. An illegal immigrant. French, or some such.'
Pecos Bill moved to join John Henry at the bar. 'Lucky Luke, eh? Sure don't sound like no Frenchie t' me.'
John Henry raised his glass to his lips. 'You boys sure he ain't called Luke le Chanceux?' he said, smirking over the rim.
The masked man swallowed down his own whiskey. 'I said he might be French. Didn't say he was.' He scowled and refilled his glass. 'Word is that the dude has such quick hands he can beat his own shadow t' th' draw.'
'On the subject of names,' said Kate Shelley. 'I would be grateful if you gentlemen would be kind enough as to inform me of yours. Just for the record, you understand. It wouldn't do for a US marshal to be caught fraternising with outlaws, inadvertently or otherwise.'
'Them's some mighty purdy words, ma'am,' said the masked man. 'Mighty purdy indeed. An' it's a damn shame I don't know what most of 'em do mean. Nevertheless, hows about you go first with the introductions; seein' as how it's you doin' the askin'.'
'As you wish,' said Kate Shelley. 'If it will help ease matters along. I, am Catherine Shelley. Kate, to my friends. An agent of the US government, licensed to kill by none other than President Gilbert “Bad Man” Jones himself. At the bar, much to my chagrin, stand my associates Pecos Bill and John Henry. Whilst, to my rear, stands Mister Tom Sawyer.'
'Ever at your rear, ma'am,' said Sawyer. 'Ever at your rear.'
The man in the cowhide vest placed his cards face down on the baize. 'Pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma'am,' he said. 'I'm Blaine Colt. Though most folks call me Kid Colt. To my left,' he continued, gesturing with his glass, 'is my good friend Johnny Bart. Folks call him Rawhide Kid. And finally, to my right, a man so purdy he has to hide his face for fear o' bein' stampeded by dames, is Matthew J. Hawkins, also known as Two-gun Kid.'
'What is this, some kind-a kindergarten for would-be cowpokes?' sneered John Henry.
'Hell, yeah!' cried Pecos Bill. 'Perhaps you boys oughta find yerselves some grownup folks to ride with. Just in case y' done run in t' some trouble!' He took a hit straight from the bottle and proceeded to wipe his lips with the back of his calloused hand.
Matt ''Two-gun'' Hawkins shoved his chair back from the table and stood up. About his waste wound a single belt of brown tooled leather, hanging from which were two holsters carrying pearl-handled six-shooters.
'That sounds a lot like fightin' talk, mister' he said. Then, seeming as if to draw, he moved his right hand towards his gun, where it hovered, menacingly, just above the line of his hip, like a chickenhawk hanging on an updraft. His eyes shifted from John Henry to Pecos Bill, then slowly back again.
Kate Shelley noticed John Henry's hands form into fists, betraying the steel driver's intentions. She stood up.
'Remember your station, Mister Henry,' she said firmly. 'We are the law.'
'There's three of us an' three of you,' said Matt Hawkins. 'We'll take y' varmints down fair an' square.'
'Four,' said Katherine Shelley insistently.
'No disrespect, ma'am, but I don't see you holding much stock in a fight.'
'Of that, Mister Hawkins, you may be surprised,' said Kate Shelley, her voice as steady as a her heartbeat.
Tension rippled across the room.
Slow and easy, eyes fixed on John Henry and Pecos Bill, Blaine ''Kid'' Colt and Johnny ''Rawhide Kid'' Bart rose to their feet.
'Easy, Matt,' said Colt. 'Safety in numbers, eh?'
From her peripheral gaze, Catherine Shelley noticed a door at the far end of the barroom ease slowly open, through which a quartet of men entered, the first of whom stood well over six feet tall. Dressed from head to toe in Confederate grey, the man seemed to command respect just by walking into the room. As he moved into the light, she saw that the right side of his face was horribly disfigured. With a purposeful stride, the second of these new arrivals approached her. He was a smartly dressed individual with broad shoulders, dark hair and an unyielding jaw. Placing his finger under her chin he gently tipped back her head.
'Do I know you?' he asked. 'If not, I'd sure as hell like t'.'
Catherine Shelley felt scorched by his gaze as it blazed a trail from her face down her body, lingering for a few ungentlemanly seconds on her chest.
'Remove your hand, sirrah,' she said calmly. With the man having taken his time in looking her over - considering her - she now wanted nothing more than to slap his face.
She took a half step backward. 'You would also do well to avert your gaze,' she added, and instinctively her knee came up into his groin.
With a cry of agony, the man collapsed to his knees on the floor.
Catherine Shelley put her hands on his shoulders and pushed hard, sending him reeling backwards, to lie, nursing his genitalia, among sawdust damp with sputum.
Tom Sawyer winced and let out a low whistle. 'She-eet,' he murmured quietly under his breath. Then, recalling the incident on the saloon steps, he moved his left hand across to cover his groin.
The rest of the men in the barroom – all those that were still on their feet, that is – broke out in hearty laughter.
'Perhaps we should all sit down together and enjoy a friendly drink,' suggested the man in Confederate grey. 'Maybe a hand or two of poker?' Leaving the balance of his men covering the rear entrance he moved to the gaming table and sat down. 'Names Hex. Jonah Hex. This here's Mister Jones,' he said, gesturing with a gloved right hand towards one of the two men left standing by the door. 'And next to him—'
'Jones?' cut in Pecos Bill. 'Sounds a lot like an alias, t' me.'
'Don't y' go tellin' 'em y' real name, Kid,' said Johnny Bart. 'Not after what they done said about me an' th' boys.'
'And next to Mister Jones,' continued Jonah Hex, 'is The Hooded Horseman.'
'An' before you go askin',' began the second of the men at the rear door, a man who wore about his face a red hood, 'nope, I ain't got no other name.'
'What about when you ain't on a horse,' called out John Henry. 'Got a name, then?'
'You sure about that, pard? Maybe y' just wand'rin' down the street, or maybe just sittin' on a riverbank chewin' on piece of grass. What d' folks call y' then, eh?'
'They call me ''The Fella Whose Gonna Kick Their Dumb Asses Iffen They Don't Stop Houndin' Me F' M' Name''.'
Jonah Hex smirked and reached for a bottle. 'Fella rollin' ruon' on th' floor is Bartholemew Alouysius Lash. He's a generally peaceful man with a good taste in food and music, as well as a love of flowers and nature. He likes nothin' more-n when folks leave him be. Trouble is, he seems to attract trouble wherever he goes—specially when there's dames in town. It's then he becomes all devil-may-care. Reckons himself as a ladies man, y' see. Seems you may have put him straight on that, Miss...?'
'Shelley,' replied the raven-haired overseer of the Union of Extraordinary Americans. 'Kate Shelley. US special agent triple-zero-five.'
'The pleasure's all mine, Miss Shelley,' crooned Hex, in a voice laced with the charm of a coyote on heat.
'Well, now, seein' as how we're all the best o' friends, an' all, I would like nothin' better than to accept you fine gentlemen's offer in respect to joinin' y'all in a whiskey an' game of cards,' said John Henry. He reached a hand towards his money pouch, then remembered it was empty. 'However,' he continued dolefully, 'unlike my associates Messrs Bunyan and Reilly, I find m'self a little short at present.' In his pocket sat a solitary silver dollar, the last of his bounty from the Bear Lake Monster affair.
'Now ain't that a mighty shame,' said The Hooded Horseman. 'If Lady Luck were your mistress she'd-a done brung y' here two days past.'
'Two days?' questioned John Henry.
'Yup. Some fella came a-ridin on through, two days back. Said his callin' in life was the arranging of loans. Least ways, I think that's what he said. Curious kinda fella. Wore himself a mask an' all.'
'Fer a fella wearin' a red hood, you're a fine one to go castin' aspersions on men in masks,' suggested Pecos Bill.'
'That may well be so, pard, but you won't find me ridin' this here desert han' in han' with no injun. Brokeback Mountain's a mighty long way from Chance City, fella!'
Reaching into his waistcoat pocket, John Henry pulled out a plug of chewing tobacco. 'How long you boys been ridin' together?' he asked.
'Long enough,' replied Hex. 'We've been commissioned by the folks of a small Mexican village not far from the US border. They want us to sort out a small problem they've gotten themselves in t' with a bandit called Calvera.'
'The seven of you against a horde of bandits! You boys sure must like havin' th' odds stacked up against ya!'
Kate Shelley raised an eyebrow. 'Well, isn't that a curious thing,' she said. 'Because your friend, here, Mister Hawkins, informs me that you are on the trail of—'
'Pay the Kid no heed,' cut in Hex. 'He's forever tellin' folks tall tales. Why, he reckons he once fought a gunfight with an alien.'
'That ain't no lie, Jonah,' said Two-gun Hawkins. 'Bid green dude, 'e was. With beady eyes. Anyways, who are you t' go talkin'? Not with your cockamamie yarn about your thwarting of a Reb terrorist attack on Washington DC. Rebs brandishin' some kind o' super cannon, no less.'
'I once fought a living totem,' said Johnny Bart. 'The ''Terrible Totem'' he was done called. Ugly lookin' sucker.'
Kid Colt rocked back on his chair. 'That ain't no big deal, Johnny,' he said. 'I've had run-ins with the giant monster of Midnight Valley, Iron Mask an' his circus of crime, Doctor Danger an' the Invisible Gunman, an' the ghost of Silver City.'
The Hooded Horseman pushed back his hat and sighed. 'Up 'ntil now, my life's been pretty dull,' he said.
Just then, a face appeared at the saloon door. It was a face that filled the whole doorway. It was the face of Paul Bunyan.
'We got ourselves some trouble, Miss Shelley.'
Catherine Shelley turned towards the door. 'What kind of trouble?'
'A dust cloud,' replied Bunyan. 'Movin' on down from the high ground.'
'Stand away from the door, please, Paul. I would join you and Mister Reilly outside.'
Followed closely behind by Tom Sawyer, Catherine Shelley made for the door. 'Perhaps it would be prudent for the rest of you gentlemen to remain inside,' she said. 'That is, until I discover what all this curfuffle is about.'
Exiting the Silver Dollar with all haste, she stood on the saloon's top step and looked out across the dusty plain to the east of Chance City.
'This would seem like a good time for you to put on a few extra inches, Mister Bunyan. See if you can't see what it is that is kicking up so much dust.'
'Hot damn!' exclaimed Sawyer. 'How tall c'n that fella grow?'
'Nobody knows for certain, Tom. But it is said that Mister Bunyan, here, has looked Lady Liberty square in her copper eye.' She craned back her neck to gaze up at her gargantuan companion. 'What can you see, Paul?'
Towering above the rooftops of Chance City, Paul Bunyan raised up his right hand to shield his eyes against the blazing New Mexico sun.
'Injuns,' came his grave reply.
Daguerreotype - 1891
Pecos Bill came barreling through the saloon doors.
'Hex an' his posse have skedaddled out th' back way,' he wheezed, his whiskey breath a Santa Ana that assailed the nose of Catherine Shelley like the spray from a jittery skunk.
'Why does that not surprise me,' she replied, and proceeded to remove a clean handkerchief from her cuff. Placing the hemmed square of white cotton in front of her mouth, she then added: 'They appeared ill at ease in our company.'
'Happen it were the badges,' said Tom Sawyer.
'I believe you most likely correct in your assumption, Mister Sawyer,' Catherine Shelley said with authority. 'For there is every chance that Mister Hex and his companions are wanted men. If indeed that is in the case then it is little wonder they would choose to depart in such haste.'
Placing a hand on the hitching post to steady himself, Pecos Bill said, 'All of 'em bar the hooded fella, that is.'
'And where, may I ask, is John Henry? Has he perhaps gone with them, to make up their number?'
'He's cosyin' up t' gentleman Jack, Miss Shelley,' replied Pecos Bill. Curled about his waist, his gopher snake whip hissed quietly to itself.
'Last I saw of John Henry he was stood at the bar with a bottle of Jim Beam in his hand,' Tom Sawyer said scathingly.
Pecos Bill shrugged his shoulders. 'Man's got two hands, don't 'e?'
'Thus falls the first casualty of our new Union,' sighed Catherine Shelley. 'Not by the sword, to neither bullet nor arrow, but to the spirits of Kentucky. I had hoped, gentlemen, that it would not become necessary to place ordinances upon this team. However, given the deplorable behaviour of Mister Henry, I see not option other than to impose a prohibition on the consumption of alcohol for the remainder of this mission.'
Pecos Bill's response was to belch noisily; but otherwise he remained silent, accepting his commanding officer's decision.
'We should find ourselves somewhere else to hole up,' suggested Tom Sawyer. 'Far away from the Silver Dollar. I find that I have no stomach for the likes of John Henry; weak-minded men who would sell their soul to the devil that is liquor.'
'On that subject, Mister Sawyer, we are in complete agreement,' said Catherine Shelley. 'Chance City is about to welcome more guests; guests who may not take too kindly to our greeting them outside of an establishment whose stock-in-trade is firewater and ladies of wanton virtue.'
'Guests?' inquired Pecos Bill.
'Injuns,' called down Paul Bunyan. Shrinking down to his more customary twelve feet height he gestured towards the end of town. 'They're not two minutes ride away. Best make ready t' greet 'em, eh?'
'Hang on t' y' scalps,' sneered Pecos Bill.
Catherine Shelley shot the aging cowboy a glare of disapproval. 'Is that the whiskey talking, Mister Pecos?' There was a deprecating edge to her voice.
'I may have have taken a hit or two, but it don't—'
She cut him off. 'I would suggest, Mister Pecos, that you not to be so negative in your approach to our Native American cousins. You must learn to embrace them; much as we now embrace the Negro. After all, it takes all kinds of people to make a nation as culturally diverse as our magnificent, peace-loving and democratic Union of States.'
'You want I should get out the bag of beads and trinkets? Perhaps roll out the welcome mat? Maybe unpack a picnic hamper?'
'Honestly, Mister Pecos, you try my patience, sir!' said Catherine Shelley. 'Please, rein in your bigotry before it becomes necessary for me to issue you with a formal reprimand.' Turning, she began to descend the timber steps. 'Now, come along, follow me.'
They walked from the saloon to the end of town, where stood the blacksmith's workshop.
'Perhaps you would be so kind as to investigate whether or not the telegraph remains in working order, Tom,' said Catherine Shelley. Though delivered with politeness and professionalism her request was nonetheless an order. 'Are you familiar with Morse?'
Sawyer placed two fingers to the front edge of his white Stetson. 'Ma'am,' he replied and then set off in the direction of the telegraph office.
Jumbo Reilly turned his attention to prying the front door of the blacksmith's with an iron. 'You'd best hide inside here, Miss Shelley,' he said. 'From here on in it's man's work.'
Catherine Shelley arched her eyebrows. 'I will have you know, Mister Reilly, that on many an occasion a woman will perform a man's work better than a man,' she said coolly. 'But I've yet to meet the man who can make a house a home, raise a child proper, or turn a boy into a man.'
'Then you ain't never met Jacob Twist,' replied Jumbo Reilly.
'Be that as it may, I would still like to greet the Indians out here, in the open.'
'Where we c'n see the whites o' their eyes,' muttered Pecos Bill, near silently.
After a few moments Tom Sawyer came running back.
'The wire's been cut,' he said, his breathing slow and even; almost in rhythm with the gentle padding of hooves on the barren ground. Slowly, all eyes turned to witness the arrival into Chance City of the first of the Indian braves.
'Then it looks like we're on our own,' Paul Bunyan said gravely.
A pure white horse pulled up to a halt in front of the blacksmith's shop, flanked by a chestnut on its right and a piebald on its left.
'Is that it?' whispered Sawyer. 'Just the three of 'em?'
Jumbo Reilly raised his right hand. 'How,' he proclaimed audaciously.
'How, what?' asked the brave on the piebald.
'Jus' tryin' t' say howdy, Pocahontas,' replied Reilly. 'Tryin' t' be friendly, is all.'
'How, is not a word of welcome that we are familiar with,' said the brave on the white stallion.
'But it's the universally recognised word of greetin' used with all you Injuns, regardless of tribe.'
'There is no such thing as a universal Indian greeting,' replied the brave on the chestnut, his tone laced with ire. 'North America Indians alone speak some five hundred different languages; the most common of which is Siouan, which is spoken among the Plains Tribes. And... As for being friendly... You will not become blood brother to a brave by addressing him with the name of a squaw.'
'The Tetons say "howo" and "ho",' continued the brave on the white stallion. 'The Dakota, too, say "ho," as well as "hao".'
'And the Omaha say "hau",' added the brave on the piebald. 'These words serve as an all-purpose introductory adverb or interjection along the lines of "well," "hey," "so," or "now," as in, "Now see here, white-eyes". However, no Indian tribe that I know of uses the word "how", pale face."
Pecos Bill moved a hand towards his six-gun. 'Who y' callin' pale face, y' stinkin' redskin?!'
'Easy, Bill,' cautioned Catherine Shelley. ' We are not here to start a war with these people.'
'The white man is ignorant to our ways,' proclaimed the brave on the chestnut. 'You hear a semi-familiar word at the beginning of an Indian soliloquy and assume it a greeting. You will next be saying that we all look the same, and that all of our chiefs wear elaborate feathered headdresses.'
The eyes of Tom Sawyer and Pecos Bill never left the brave on the white stallion as he eased himself slowly from his mount to stand directly in front of Catherine Shelley.
'In the past your people behaved like primitive, murderous animals when dealing with the Indian Nation,' he said, bowing his head in a silent gesture of remembrance. 'And yet we forgive you your past indiscretions— your dark days of genocide. We have come here today to offer our hand in friendship, that we might aid you in your quest to discover the whereabouts of the good people of Chance City.'
'How very magnanimous of you,' began Catherine Shelley. 'On behalf of the government of—'
Pushing her roughly to one side, Pecos Bill approached the Indian brave, his right hand resting on the handle of his revolver.
'The only good Injun's a dead Injun,' he hissed, his words spat snake-like and loaded with venom. Wound around his waist, his rattlesnake belt flattened out its head menacingly.
'I really must apologise for the intolerable bad manners of my associate,' said Catherine Shelley. 'I really do not know what has come over him.'
'There is no need for an apology, pretty fair-skinned one, for your friend knows not of what he speaks,' said the dismounted Indian brave. 'His actions are controlled by another.'
'A medicine man, perhaps. Or an acrimonious spirit.'
'There yet remain those who would see a return to the old ways. A return to the white man's ethnic cleansing of we indigenous peoples of this land he has claimed for himself and would call America.'
'I'll put a bullet between your stinkin' eyes, you filthy red rat,' growled Pecos Bill.
The Indian turned his head to face the aggressive cowboy. 'It is said that the wise man shoots first, but that the man who is the better shot shoots last,' he said softly. Though his features remained impassive, Pecos Bill could see a glint in the Indian's eye.
Catherine Shelley extended her gloved right hand. 'It is so nice to meet a fellow intellectual with whom to converse,' she said, her features coloured by the warmth of a smile as she sought to diffuse what was fast becoming an extremely volatile situation.
'Forgive me,' said the brave, returning his attention to the smartly-dressed and eloquent commander of the Union. 'I have been so remiss as to overlook formal introductions. Please, allow me to correct my most reprehensible behaviour forthwith.'
Accepting Catherine Shelley's extended hand he shook it firmly but gently. 'I am Nayé Nazgháné, slayer of the monster Yé'iitsoh, and firstborn son of Asdzáán Nádleehé, the Changing Woman, she who is mother to the Navaho Nation. I was conceived in a wickiup, where struck the first rays of the morning sun between my mother's thighs.'
'Charmed, I'm sure,' said Catherine Shelley.
'On the chestnut mare,' continued Nayé Nazgháné, gesturing to his right, 'rides my twin brother, Túbaadeschine.'
'You gotta be the most un-looky-likey set o' twins I ever did see,' said Tom Sawyer, tipping back his Stetson to scratch his widow's peak.
'We are born of different fathers,' replied Túbaadeschine. 'I, from the loins of Water-Old Man, and my brother from a seed of the fruit of the Sun.'
Sawyer straightened his hat. 'Different fathers? Is that possible?'
'Damn straight,' said Pecos Bill. 'I heard tell of a gal in Washington who had twin kids with different pas. Mia, was her name. A former slave, turned woman of ill repute.'
'Woman of ill repute! Where I come from, Bill, folks call her kind promiscuous whores.'
'Where I come from,' said Jumbo Reilly, 'most folks call 'em ''Mom''.'
'Please,' began Catherine Shelley, addressing Nayé Nazgháné, 'feel at liberty to ignore the inane wittering of my associates.' She looked towards the piebald. 'I am yet to be introduced to this fine gentleman,' she continued, gazing deep into the eyes of the young brave as she coyly tilted her head to one side.
'I am he who is called Blood Clot,' replied the squat, muscular Indian. 'So called because I arose from a blood clot boiled by my mother; the clot of blood in question having been a gift to her from my father, an old, childless hunter, who came upon it whilst out pursuing buffalo. Once birthed, I grew rapidly from boy to man, my thirst for knowledge growing exponentially, until I became most highly skilled in the art of the hunt.'
'No shit!' bellowed Paul Bunyan. 'An' when I'm not out fellin' redwoods I like t' spend m' spare time playin' wi' m' two boys, Ham 'n' Eggs. They're made from snails 'n' puppy-dog tails.'
'For a man of such stature you have an extemely small mind,' said the stocky brave.
Tom Sawyer suppressed a laugh.
'It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance, Blood Clot,' said Catherine Shelley.
'My apologies that we were unable to get here any sooner,' said Túbaadeschine, 'but we ran into a spot of bother not two days ride from here.'
'Trouble? What kind of trouble.'
'Mexican bandits,' replied Blood Clot.
'Though greatly outnumbered, we yet prevailed,' continued Nayé Nazgháné. 'Our number should have been five, but Little Haiwatha is away hunting rabbits, while Pow Wow's love of animals and the woods keeps him in Colorado.'
'Whether five of you or three, I'd still like t' know what it is y'all doin' here,' said Tom Sawyer.
'The crows tell us that the people of Chance City wander the Happy Hunting Ground,' replied Nayé Nazgháné.
'You sayin' they're dead?'
'No. Not dead. Held captive. As slaves.'
'By whom,' asked Catherine Shelley.
'We know not,' replied Túbaadeschine. 'We know only that which the crows have told us.'
'The crows often speak in riddles,' added Nayé Nazgháné. 'But I believe it safe to assume that the individual, or individuals responsible for the disappearance of your townspeople will be one and the same as he who has placed a glamour upon your unfortunate, foulmouthed companion.'
'Who you callin' foulmouthed, you stinkin'—'
'The question still remains,' cut in Tom Sawyer. 'What, exactly, are y'all doin' here?'
'We wish to aid you in solving this mystery,' replied Blood Clot. 'As children, we are taught how to to train our body and mind to act as one, to respect nature and to learn from it. We will travel with you to the Red Mountain, where we will consume ground Ipomoea seeds, smoke the pipe of peace and drink hot peyote tea, that we may call upon those of our ancestors who will further aid you in your quest for truth and knowledge: Running Deer, to indicate the path which you must follow; Red Bull, to give you the wings with which to fly the path which you must follow; Sacajawea; to guide you along the path which you must follow.'
'You ain't sendin' me t' no spirit world, y' red snake!'
'Are you afeared, Mister Pecos?' asked Catherine Shelley, her expression of mock concern not going unnoticed by all those there present.
'I don't got time fer fear, Miss Shelley,' said Pecos Bill, throwing back his shoulders. 'When I was in Saskatchewan I done wrastle a sasquatch. Things don't get much hairier 'n that.'
'Then it is agreed, my dear Native American friends,' enthused Catherine Shelley. 'We shall follow you into the mountains; there, to partake of your seeds and tea and smoke your pipes. However, before we can leave there yet remains one small matter that first I must deal with.'
Paul Bunyan and the Giant Redwoods
Artist’s Impression - 1885
Daguerreotype - 1894
With regret etched into her almond eyes, Catherine Shelley looked up to where Paul Bunyan stood leaning on the roof of Chance City's bank.
'Mister Bunyan, Paul, I believe that we have only sufficient horses to pull the one carriage; and a small one at that. Sadly, I fear that many of the poor beasts will require shooting. Therefore, I must ask that you remain behind, here, in Chance City, to see to their passing. There is also the matter of Mister Henry; someone really ought look out for the fellow.'
'But I need the work, Miss Shelley. The money. I got a wife an' kids t' feed.'
'Have no fear, Paul, I will ensure that you receive a just reward for your efforts thus far.'
The giant of a man looked close to tears as he fell upon his knees, hands clamped tightly together before his mammoth chest. 'But I wanna go with y', Miss Shelley,' he begged, red dust billowing about his gargantuan frame. 'I wanna see the job through—get the job done. If there's no wagon t' haul m' frame then I'm all f’ walkin'. I don't mind the walk, Miss Shelley.'
'I believe it would be in everyone's best interest if you refrained from that particular course of action, Paul. Would you not agree?'
'I read the report on the last occasion you took it upon yourself to go gambolling about. Fort Tejon, wasn't it?'
'Several buildings were damaged. People injured.'
In Ventura, the bell tower of Mission San Buenaventura was damaged when the roof fell in.'
'If I recall correctly, there were also fatalities.'
'One, a woman killed by the collapsing adobe house of Reed's Ranch.'
'Aye, Miss Shelley, that would be about the size of it.'
'Then I trust that you can see why I have decided to leave you behind?'
'The second we arrive at our destination I will make arrangements for your extraction from Chance City,' continued Catherine Shelley. 'But, until then...' She placed a gentle hand to the giant's cheek. 'Look on the bright side, Paul; the whole of Chance City is at your disposal. You will not go hungry. Take some well-deserved time off. Grow yourself a few extra feet of beard and enjoy the fresh air.'
'But I might get lonesome, Miss Shelley.'
'With John Henry to keep you company! I expect that he will have one or two baldy anecdotes with which to keep you amused. A few raucous drinking songs.'
Paul Bunyan furrowed his brow. 'I don't find that kind o' thing t' be of a wholesome nature, Miss Shelley.'
'Then I trust that you can find it within you to see about the reeducation of Mister Henry,' replied Catherine Shelley. She smiled mischievously before adding: 'See if you cannot make of the inebriate a model citizen; by whatever means you deem necessary!'
Paul Bunyan grinned. 'Aye, that I will, Miss Shelley. That I will.'
'And then there were four,' murmured Pecos Bill dolefully.
'Five,' came a voice drifting on the listless New Mexico air. 'Iffen y'all here me out.'
So engrossed had been the members of the Union in the arrival of the Native Americans and redeployment of Paul Bunyan that they had failed to notice the approach of Hooded Horseman.
'I'm of a mind t' throw m' lot in with your posse,' he continued. 'That's if you'll have me.'
'It strikes me that a fair number of you former allies may be outlaws,' said Catherine Shelley, unconsciously moving a hand to her badge as she turned to face the masked desperado. 'Indeed, that may also be true of you.'
'I could argue that point, ma'am, but I won't. Besides, ''outlaw'' is too easy a badge to go pinning on a man's hide.'
'Yet you would have us pin our badge on you, a total stranger?'
'Then happen it's time t' introduce m'self,' said Hooded Horseman and in one fluid movement removed his mask.
Catherine Shelley raised an eyebrow. 'Rupert Cogburn!'
'At your service, ma'am.'
Now it was Tom Sawyers turn to raise an eyebrow. 'Who?'
'Rupert Cogburn,' replied Catherine Shelley. 'Youngest son of—'
'I'll answer that, if you don't mind, ma'am,' cut in the newly unmasked Hooded Horseman. 'I stand revealed to y'all as Rupert ''Buzzard'' Cogburn, youngest son of Reuben J. Cogburn.'
'Are we talkin' ''Vice-president "Rooster" Cogburn''?' asked Tom Sawyer.
'The one an' the same, sir.'
'You askin' us t' believe that th' son o' the Vice-president o' the Union of States rides with outlaws? Hangs by his neck with 'em, too, if the law has anything t' say on the matter.'
'Indeed I am, sir. Y' see, I hitched up with Hex and his posse because my pa is eager to discover just where their loyalties lie: He needs to know how many o' them good ol' boys he can bring in t' th' fold.'
'The fold?' queried Catherine Shelley.
'Future members of the U.E.A.'
'Sheeesh! exclaimed Pecos Bill. 'An' us not even dead in our graves!'
Folding up his red hood, Rupert Cogburn tucked it into the back pocket of his black frontier pants. 'No disrespect, cowboy, but some o' you fellas are long past y' best.'
Paul Bunyan's laugh threatened to shake the slates right off the rafters.
'Buzzard!' he roared. 'Kid looks more ''Chick'n Little'' t' me.'
'I got the grit if you got the mettle, fella,' Cogburn retorted, craning his neck to look the giant in the eye.
'Well, well! Rupert Cogburn,' interjected Catherine Shelley. 'I saw a daguerreotype of you when last I visited the office of your father at the White House. There you were, all dressed up fine and ready for church, in your bonnet, white shirt and knee-length pants. And now here you are, looking to join my band of merry men. I must warn you, Rupert, that, where'er rides the Union, trouble rides not far behind us.'
'Rupert Cogburn puffed out his chest. 'I get fat on trouble, ma'am.'
'That must be why y' so skinny, eh?' said Pecos Bill. Curled about his throat, his Rat Snake necktie slept on undisturbed.
'I suppose,' began Tom Sawyer, 'seein' as who y' pa is, that if you were t' go ridin' in t' Meh-he-co, guns ablazin', it could well cause an international incident.'
'That's the size of it,' replied Cogburn. 'We could sure do without another Alamo.'
'So y' got no current plans t' rejoin y' friends?'
'Nope. I found out all I needed to know.'
'Which was...?' inquired Catherine Shelley.
'That, on the whole, their a pretty decent bunch,' replied Cogburn. 'Take Hex, f' instance. He's a surly an' cynical bounty hunter, with a poor reputation an' aggressive personality. And yet, despite all that, he's bound by a personal code of honour t' protect an' avenge th' innocent. Despite bein' blind in his right eye, he's an outstanding marksman who rarely misses his target. Many a time I seen him take down multiple opponents before any of 'em could get off a shot. He's battled alcoholism. Had t' deal with his mother's turnin' to prostitution after she done run away with a trav'lin' salesman. His father, too, was an alcoholic; a low-down dirty rat who done sold his only son into slavery with the Apaches in exchange f' safe passage through their territ'ry. It was while with the Apaches that Hex came by his good looks. Y’ see, he challenged the chief's son t' a sacred tomahawk battle, but th' varmint done sabotage Jonah's tomahawk. When it broke, he used his knife, but the Apaches saw this as a breach o' their rules and sentenced him t' wear the mark o' th' demon. They pressed a searin' hot tomahawk to his face. Little wonder the fella rarely smiles, eh?
'Then there’s Rawhide Kid, a man who's constantly undermined an' underestimated by owlhoots and polecats. Though a stringently moral fella he nevertheless shows a gleeful pride in his gun play and acrobatic fightin' skills. It were a misunderstandin' with a sheriff over an incident with a rustler what done led t' his life as a fugitive. Kid reckons he wounded the fella in self-defence. Nobody died. Then, anyways.
'Then there's Kid Colt. Calls his horse ''Steel'', on account of its colour. Colt was wrongly accused of murder; see, he killed his father's murderer in a fair gunfight. So now he's a fugitive from the law: A fugitive who spends his days performin' heroic good deeds in the hope o' restorin' his reputation.'
'And the others?' asked Catherine Shelley.
'Two-gun Kid, I can take or leave. An' I won't miss Kid Curry; the fella carries about himself an almighty stench. Heart's in the right place though. As f' Bat Lash... Well, let's just say I believe him to be in denial.'
'Well, you certainly appear to have done your homework on these gentlemen, Rupert.'
'I had t', Miss Shelley. Wouldn't do t' go makin' bad calls with the likes o' them.'
Catherine Shelley turned on her heels. 'We must make ready to depart,' she said. 'Mister Cogburn, if you would be so kind as to take along with you Pecos Bill and secure sufficient provisions for our journey, as well as also ensuring that our canteens are filled.'
'So I'm in?'
'For the time being, yes.'
'You won't regret it, ma'am.'
'Ensure that I do not,' Catherine Shelley replied sternly, then led the way back along the main street towards the boarding stable.
Just past Huckleberry's General Store she stopped to bend down and examine something on the ground.
'How very curious!' she said, brushing at the dust with her handkerchief. 'Is there a watchmaker's in town?'
'Not that I know of,' said Tom Sawyer.
'No, ma'am, there ain't,' confirmed Cogburn.
Pecos Bill stepped forward to see what it was that had caught Catherine Shelley's eye.
'Is that a clock movement?' he asked.
'Indeed it is,' replied Catherine Shelley.' And look, here, cog-wheels and a spring.'
'Looks like someone's timepiece gave up the ghost,' said Jumbo Reilly. 'No pun intended.'
Pecos Bill knelt down to take a closer look. 'But why leave the workings here? Surely it woulda been better—'
'Once contaminated by dust,' began Catherine Shelley, cutting the cowboy off, 'it would be more trouble than it is worth to clean them.' She stood up and placed the parts of the clockwork mechanism in the pocket of her overskirt. 'Better to replace the entire mechanism,' she continued, her eyes scanning the ground about her. 'You will note the absence of a casing. It is patently obvious that whoever discarded these items believed he had no further use of them; although there is something to be said on the subject of tidying up after oneself.' Moving her right hand to her face, she rested her chin in between her thumb and forefinger while pondering her discovery.
After a few moments in deliberation she turned to Jumbo Reilly.
'Mister Reilly,' she began. 'Stashed at the back of Mister Bunyan's conveyance you will find an oilcloth sack containing a small medicine chest. Please arrange for this to be securely stowed upon your own conveyance.'
'Ma'am,' replied Reilly.
'And be certain to take great care with it, Mister Reilly.'
'Mister Sawyer,' continued Catherine Shelley. 'I would like you to ascertain which of our horses are well enough to accompany us. Saddle up the three fastest and then hitch up the remainder to Mister Reilly's wagon. I take it that you have a mount of your own, Mister Cogburn?'
'Very good. Very good indeed.'
With distant eyes, Catherine Shelley gazed towards the mountains. 'Make ready the Union,' she said commandingly. 'We ride before nightfall.'
Rupert E. "Buzzard" Cogburn
(aka Hooded Horseman)
Artist’s Impression - 1890
They departed Chance City when the sky was burnt copper streaked through with yellow cotton, flecked with the ragged wings of carrion crows. But even though the sun was in retreat, its heat continued in its assault upon the harsh, inhospitable world of New Mexico.
Untying his neckerchief, Tom Sawyer dabbed at his nape.' You certain we're doin' th' right thing, Miss Shelley, in leavin' s' soon? Seems t' me we only jus' got here.'
'I believe that we have seen all there is to see in Chance City,' replied Catherine Shelley.
'You know best, ma'am,' Tom Sawyer conceded submissively.
They rode the trail two abreast, with Jumbo Reilly and Pecos Bill bringing up the rear; Reilly on his open wagon and Pecos Bill on a three-year-old dappled mare.
'How's the horse, Bill?' Reilly asked, his eyes fixed on the distant mountains. 'She seems spooked.'
'Prob'ly needed more time t' rest up,' replied Pecos Bill. 'She'll be fine once she's had a chance to run off her tiredness. Still, it beats ridin' a mountain lion; though I sure done miss m' old horse, Widow-Maker. No man alive 'ceptin' me could ride him and survive. Me 'n' that horse had some mighty fine times together.'
They had travelled barely three miles when Catherine Shelley raised up her right hand to call the party to a halt. A cloud of dust, vanishing in the southwest, had caught her eye. Reaching into her left saddlebag, she pulled out a naval telescope.
Nayé Nazgháné rode up beside her. 'What is it that you see?' he asked.
Extending the telescope to its full length, Catherine Shelley peered through the lens.
'A pack of wild horses,' she replied. 'Running towards the sunset. Each of them outfitted with a saddle blanket. Though clearly a tribal weave, their design is unfamiliar to me.'
'There are no riders,' replied Catherine Shelley.
Scanning the area next to the trail that parted the plains, she saw that an overturned wagon lay half-buried in the sand. Near it, to the south-west, a shattered village lay, whose Italianate, Stick-Eastlake and hint of Gothic Revival told that its architect poorly these fashions read. Nothing beside remained. Round the decay of that architectural mishmash, boundless and bare, the lone and ragged plain stretched far away.
Urging his horse forward past clumps of brush and cactus, Tom Sawyer drew his gun and cautiously trotted towards the wagon, a slight breeze brushing his face. Trunks and baggage, busted open, lay scattered across the trail, partially blocking his way. He adjusted his hat and pressed on.
A moment later he came upon the wagon. It was tipped on its side, its timbers so peppered with arrows as to resemble a Prairie Cactus. All six horses had been cut loose.
'Take care, Mister Sawyer,' called out Catherine Shelley.
'I fully intend to, ma'am,' replied Sawyer. However, as he began to dismount, something moved.
'Get back in th' wagon, woman!'
'Duh, Paw, are you sure this is th' right road?'
'Will you hush up, boy? You 'n' y' maps!'
A man and a woman appeared from behind a clump of rocks, the woman frantically adjusting her undergarments.
'I done told y' we shouldn'a done left the wagon,' grumbled the man, kicking at a spilled packet of dried beans. Then he noticed Tom Sawyer and stopped dead in his tracks.
'Who might you be, fella,' he said, his quizzical eyes narrowing suspiciously.
'Name's Sawyer,' replied Tom Sawyer. He raised his hat. 'Ma'am.'
The man took a step forward, his eyes shifting nervously to the overturned wagon. 'Sawyer, eh?' he said. 'An' who 'n' what might Tom Sawyer be?'
'Last time I checked I was a Government Agent.'
'Lawman, eh?' The man chuckled and adjusted his spectacles. 'You sure don't look like any lawman I ever done seen!'
'Be that as it may, I can assure you that a lawman is most positively what I am, Mister...?'
'Clampett,' replied the man. 'Jimbo Clampett. This here's m' wife, Daisy-Mae.'
'And who's that hidin' behind the rocks?' asked Sawyer.
'That's m' boy,' replied Jimbo Clampett, placing his thumbs in his belt. 'Joshua, you git y' sorry hide out here this instant, y' hear.'
With a shuffling gate a young boy of about eight years of age appeared from behind the rocks, followed shortly thereafter by three young girls, two young women and a man in his late twenties.'
'This here's m' cousin Jedediah,' said Jimbo Clampett. 'An' that there's his wife, Savannah-Jean, his sister, Betty-Jo, an' his three little angels, Sue-Ellen, Becky-Lou and Billy-Jean.'
Tom Sawyer raised his hat a second time. 'Ladies,' he said, producing his warmest smile. 'Well now,' he continued, 'seein' as how we're all acquainted, I'm gonna call down my associates. However...' He paused, his eyes drifting to the overturned wagon. 'Given the trouble that you appear to have run in t' not too long since, I think it's only fair to warn y' that we have Native Americans among our number.'
'Long as they ain't no damn Cherokees,' grumbled Jedediah Clampett, scuffing at the ground with his worn out boot.
Upon her arrival at the Clampett's impromptu campsite, Catherine Shelley, accompanied by Blood Clot and Pecos Bill, immediately set about a detailed inspection of the wreck that was the hillbilly's wagon.
'Can you tell me anything about where these arrows might have originated?' she asked, addressing the squat, muscular Indian.
'Our people employ over a thousand different designs of arrowhead,' he began, studying one of the arrows which, having failed to find its mark, lay in pristine condition upon the dusty trail. 'All of which I am familiar with,' he continued, reaching out with his right hand. 'However, this is not one of they.
He picked up the arrow and began to examine it more closely. 'This is a Bodkin point. A European design, circa 1385. A short, rigid point with a small cross-section, made of hardened iron. Its name comes from the Old English word ''bodekin'', which was a type of sharp, pointed dagger. It is suggested that this particular design of arrowhead came into its own as a means of penetrating plate armour. Along with being a cheaper and simpler alternative to the broadhead, the bodkin's design also extended the operating distance of the bow.'
Stood at the shoulder of Catherine Shelley, his eyes listless and half closed, Pecos Bill's expression was one of unmitigated bafflement.
'Your knowledge of the subject in exemplary,' said Catherine Shelley. 'Remarkable, in fact. What can you tell me about the fletching?'
'Wild turkey,' replied Blood Clot. 'Sewn to a shaft of chokecherry; a tree-come-shrub native throughout North Dakota.' He handed the arrow to Catherine Shelley. 'I would suggest that this projectile has been fashioned so as to offer no clue as to its origins.'
'Then we shall interview the travellers,' said Catherine Shelley. 'They must have some idea as to whom it was attacked them.'
As she walked back to where the remainder of her company were busy tying off their horses to a crude hitching post they had managed to fashion from various pieces of debris found lying at the side of the trail, Catherine Shelley stopped to bend down.
'The mystery deepens,' she murmured to herself.
'Found summit?' asked Pecos Bill, stood not two paces behind her.
'A winding key and several more cog-wheels,' replied Catherine Shelley. She reached into her pocket and retrieved one of the cog-wheels found earlier in Chance City.
'They are of the same design,' she said, turning to show them to her two companions.
'So, whoever passed through Chance City also passed this way,' suggested Pecos Bill. 'A watchmaker, perhaps?'
'A watchmaker who would appear to have little or no regard for his stock,' replied Catherine Shelley.
'So what brings you out this way, fella?' asked Tom Sawyer, easing himself gingerly onto a most uncomfortable-looking rock to seat himself next to Jimbo Clampett.
'We're hopin' t' fine us s'm gold in them there hills,' replied the hillbilly, pointing along the trail in the general direction of Chance City. 'Who knows, might even strike us some oil, eh? An' y' knows what they done say in th' White House: Control the oil, control the world!'
'I hate t' be the bearer of ill tidings, Jimbo, but it strikes me you've come to the end of the road; seein' as how y' wagon ain't got no wheels 'n' all.'
'That were th' damn Cherokees. Done stole all our wheels. Horses, too. Left us wi' nothin' but th' shirts on our backs.'
'That, an' our scalps, cousin,' said Jedediah Clampett, moving to join the two men sat on the rocks. 'It c'n git mighty cold out here at night w' no hair t' keep y' brain warm.'
'Damn straight, JC.'
'You know I ain't lyin', cousin.'
'Wheels or no wheels,' continued Jimbo Clampett. 'We's still gonna strike it rich some day. We're pioneers, fella. An' pioneers they never say die.'
'What about Crockett,' said Jedediah. 'He done died.'
'Apart from Crockett.'
'What I done said, cousin, was—'
'Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Benjamin Bonneville...'
'Okay, Jed, I'll admit a few have—'
'What d'ya done 'spect from a girl with a name like that?'
'Damn straight, JC.'
'You know I ain't lyin', cousin!' enthused Jimbo Clampett. 'Okay, so all them fellas done uped 'n' got 'emselves dead. But there ain't nuffin t' suggest they ever done said ''die''.'
When Catherine Shelley arrived on the scene the men were still deep in conversation about the prospect of their finding their fortune in Chance City. Signalling for the rest of her party to join her she then displayed to Tom Sawyer the contents of her right hand.
Sawyer raised an eyebrow. 'Curiouser an' curiouser,' he said.
'Perhaps you would be good enough as to inform me what occurred here,' said Catherine Shelley, addressing Jimbo Clampett.
'Well, y' see it's like this, ma'am,' began the hillbilly. 'It were Injuns.'
'Perhaps you might elaborate further?'
'Tell me what happened, Mister...?'
'Clampett. Jimbo Clampett.'
'Tell us what happened here, Mister Clampett,' pressed Catherine Shelley.
'Well, it's like this, see... We'd been on the trail outta Santa Fe some five weeks. We were dusty 'n' tired; The Rio Grande, with its cool, blue...' He trailed off, his misty eyes gazing back along the trail in the direction from whence they had travelled. 'It were mighty far behind us, the Rio Grande.'
After a few moments lost in reverie, he continued. 'The horses needed a waterin', see. We were just about t' pull over 'n' make camp when th' damned Injuns attacked; th' lily-livered, bow-legged ornery critters. No offence, Mister...?''
None taken,' replied Túbaadeschine, declining to furnish the hillbilly with his name.
'Afore we done left,' began Jedediah Clampett, taking up the story where his cousin had left off, 'I done said t' m' paw, Jedediah, I says—'
'Am I to understand that your father, also, was named Jedediah?' asked Catherine Shelley.
'That's right, ma'am,' replied the hillbilly gleefully. 'My paw was a proud Jedediah. An' his paw too. An' his paw before him. In fact, all th' men in m' family done called Jedediah. I'm mighty proud t' say that there were a Jedediah at the Boston Tea Party. He were m' great-great-great-gran'pappy Jedediah. M' boys'll be called Jedediah, too, iffen when th' Good Lord done bless m' Savannah-Jean w' his fruitful seed. It's m' hope that when m' boys done have boys they'll done call 'em Jedediah too, in honour o' me.'
'How very quaint,' said Catherine Shelley, suppressing a yawn with the back of her gloved hand. She returned her attention to Jimbo Clampett. 'Please, sir, continue the account of your tribulations.'
'Please continue with your story.'
'Ain't much more t' tell,' began the hillbilly. 'Damn Cherokees done chased us half ways 'cross New Mexico, arrows flyin' right on by, flamin' spears burnin' our ears, w' m' Daisy-Mae shoutin', ''Jimbo, they’re catching up t' us!''. '
Before continuing with his story he pulled out a soiled square of cotton and mopped his brow. 'But me 'n' m' cousin Jedediah w' damned iffen they was gonna stop us. He was up back, firin' his scattergun 'n' singin' his happy song. Ain't that a fact, JC?'
'You ain't lyin', cousin,' replied Jedediah Clampett. 'On back I was, firin' m' scattergun f' all I were worth, singin' higgity, haggity, hoggety, high, w' them damn Cherokee arrows flyin' right on by 'n' their flamin' spears burnin' m' ears.'
'Cherokees? Are you entirely certain of this?' queried Túbaadeschine.
'They sure done look like Cherokee t' me, fella; but then all you Injuns done look—'
'The Cherokee are a noble people,' interjected Nayé Nazgháné, 'who reside principally in the west—the regions of our land the white man has named Georgia, the Carolinas and East Tennessee. I know of no reason why they would choose to venture into the region of our land that the white man calls New Mexico.'
'Well, whoever they is they done shot up our wagon 'n' stole all our wheels. Horses, too!'
'Who knows,' said Jedediah Clampett, 'they might still come back t' finish us off.'
'Don't you go worryin' y'selves over that little matter,' Tom Sawyer said reassuringly. 'As fully-deputised government agents it is our pleasure to protect people like you.'
'It won't make any difference who y' are,' said Daisy-Mae as she approached the gathering. She shrugged her shoulders resignedly. 'We’re gonna make camp f' th' night, iffen y'all would care t' join us?'
'We better get started,' said Jimbo Clampett. 'Cause it'll be dark soon. They mostly come at night... Mostly.
- posing for Time Magazine (1898)
Author's note: Sparse in a good few areas, rough in others, I seek only to progress the plot idea without getting too bogged down in what is, at present, a rather muddy landscape.
The Company of Incredible Americans: Chapter 6
'It's at times like these,' began Pecos Bill, 'sittin' by a campfire, sharing a meal 'n' good compn'y, that I sure do miss m' gal, Slue-Foot Sue.' He sighed mournfully and took a bite out of a wild mushroom.
'If she's a good, homely, Christian woman,' said Betty-Jo, as she curled a ringlet of her straw-coloured hair around her index finger, 'she'll be sittin' back home waidin' fir y' next letter t' come tell her about how you're out here in the wilderness fightin' t' keep our nation safe from th' boogerman.' It had been she and her sister, Savannah-Jean, who had managed to prepare a supper to feed sixteen hungry souls from what little remained of the Clampett's pitifully meager supply of provisions.
'Tell y' summit, Miss Betty-Jo,' continued Pecos Bill, cutting into a blood sausage, 'the moon may be high, but I can't see a thing in th' sky but my Sue's sweet face.' He sighed again—it was a long, languorous sigh. 'I hope she done keep h'self faithful.'
'I'm purdy certain she'll only have eyes f' you, Mister Bill. Seein' as how you're such a fine figure of a man!'
Nayé Nazgháné chewed on a strip of buffalo meat. 'It might be prudent of you to make an honest woman of this ''Slue-Foot Sue'' if you wish for her, in your absence, to live her days in chastity.'
'Them's fine words, Nayé, but see I were raised by coyotes,' said Pecos Bill. 'So I ain’t much good when it comes t' matters o' fam'ly.'
'In that case,' began Betty-Jo, inching herself closer to her prey, 'seein' as how y'r a free spirit, 'n' all: Maybe we could....'
Taking a sip of water from her canteen, Catherine Shelley found its taste unnexpectedly bitter. She scrunched up her nose and replaced the stopper.
Daisy-Mae handed her a bowl of diced rutabaga. 'Your posse seem middey unconcerned 'bout th' prospec' o' takin' on th' Cherokee,' she said. 'They must be very brave.'
'Yes, very,' replied Catherine Shelley, brushing prairie dust from off the knees of her skirt before setting the bowl down in her lap. 'They are all of them mentally strong.'
'On how many adventures y'all rid together?'
'This is the first; for the current team.'
'That is a surprise! You appear so at ease together.'
'Before I agreed to lead the team on this mission - having not previously worked with any one of them - the only thing I knew of these men was that which I had read in their files. However, I am fast learning much about these remarkable individuals that is not – and, indeed, may never be – committed to paper. It is my firm opinion that if it is one's desire to claim knowledge of a particular subject, one must first get to know the particulars of one's subject.'
'Tell me, Catherine Shelley, who exactly are you people?' asked Daisy-Mae, her voice now a monotone drone that buzzed around between Catherine Shelley's ears like an angry yellowjacket trapped inside a bottle.
'We are the Company of Incredible Americans,' she replied. 'Otherwise known as ''The Company''. My team – this current team - is made up of individuals who possess certain ''Extranormal Abilities''.
'Extra--''normal''. Explain, please.'
'It is a scientific term for the ''gifts'' possessed by a number of ''extraordinarily talented'' individuals—ETs, as sometimes they are referred to. My team, the present ''Company'', comprises a conglomeration of certain of these gifted and extraordinarily talented individuals. We are the operating arm of the D.E.O., the Department of Extranormal Operations.'
'How many are you, exactly?'
'Presently we are six, yet there remains two more of my team who do not at this moment in time ride beside us.
'And who might they be?'
'One of these is Mister Paul Bunyan, a man whose gift is the ability to alter his gargantuan size at will. Although the exact parameters of his Extranormal ability have yet to be established, it is known that he is unable, at present, to reduce his stature to less than twelve feet. It is this that has caused the man to suffer an inferiority complex; believing that his immense size renders him an outcast from society. Despite constant jokes and anecdotes about his wife and children, Paul is unwed, and is a man who lives his life in fear of dying alone, having sired no heir.'
'Why is it that he does not presently ride with you?'
'I requested of him that he remain in Chance City, to care for another of our number, a Mister John Henry. John is an African-American. Though nothing much to look at – save for his splendidly muscular physique! – the speed at which he can operate his arms is second only to that of a steam piston. The man is akin to a mechanical hammer. Indeed, were he here he would see to the restoration of your wagon in mere moments. Sadly, he is a sot; a man who could well suffer a short period of rehabilitation in Nevada.
'There is a secret Government facility in southern Nevada, close to Fort Edwards, that is tasked with the training of gifted individuals—as well as being a place of incarceration for those of their kind who prove to be uncooperative.'
'Who is it that judges between he who will be nurtured and he who will be gaoled?'
'A doctor by the name of G. Stanley Hall, a pioneering researcher on the psychological laws underlying esprit de corps, constructive cooperation, disciplines of the outlaw, group spirit among the chain gang and bordello bedroom etiquette. He was personally responsible for correlating effectively the growing understanding of the individual psyche, as well as introducing into our schools innovative educational techniques and concepts of transcendental meditation. He also actively encouraged the use of medical substances and Faraday electrical motors for the purpose of the treating the criminal element of our society.'
'He sounds a man with whom I would someday like to meet,' said Daisy-Mae. 'However... back to matters at hand: Tell me what you know of the gentleman who has just escorted my manipulative sister-in-law Betty-Jo beyond yonder rocks.'
'That would be the enigmatic Mister Pecos Bill. I know so little about the man. Indeed, there is little written about him that can be considered as truth, other than that he is able to charm wild animals; to calm, it is claimed, even the most savage of beasts. Of course, there are many tall tales about him, no doubt most if not all of them the invention of frontiersman during the westward expansion. He claims to hail from either Texas, New Mexico, or Arizona. However, he is unable, or unwilling to be anymore precise as to his origins, alleging, to coin his own and oft repeated phrase, that a "lump on the naggan" has caused him to suffer from amnesia.'
Tom Sawyer placed his two reassembled over-under Model 95 Remingtons back into their custom shoulder holsters. 'What y' scribblin' in y' notebook, fella?' he inquired, addressing Rupert Cogburn.
'Just tryin' t' keep up t' date w' m' diary,' replied the former Hooded Horseman, licking the tip of his pencil.
'Tell me about the sullen one,' said Daisy-Mae.
'By which I take you to mean Mister Cogburn,' said Catherine shelley. 'The man is a spy for this nation's government. No doubt he will be spying on us as we speak. He is the son of our Vice-president; though he pales by comparison. I took a decision to keep him close at hand, that I might have the pleasure of returning in kind his underhanded compliment to my team.'
'And the Indians?'
'They are not officially a part of The Company. However, they have very graciously chosen to ally themselves to my team for the duration of our mission. Given the history between our peoples, I find their's a most magnanimous gesture. Indeed, it is my hope that I will some day be able to say, ''Some of my best friends are Navajo''.'
'What of you, Catherine? What might your extraordinary ability be?'
Smiling artfully Catherine Shelley replied, 'I have no special power, Daisy-Mae—other than that power which every woman has over a man.'
Jedediah Clampett stared with disinterest at a stuffed eggplant. 'F'r a whole day th' damn Cherokee done chased us,' he grumbled, 'after first havin' tried t' rob us of a night's rest. But we'd had chow despite o' them, took turns t' sleep despite 'em, so the games were just beginnin'.'
Having given up on the idea of finding anything remotely appetising on his plate, the hillbilly reached down beside his worn right boot and retrieved a tin mug.
Savannah-Jean fluttered her lashes. C'n I fix y' a cup o' Texas tea, Mister Jumbo?'
'That’s mighty kine o' y', ma'am,' replied Jumbo Reilly.
'How about you, Mister Clot? Tea?'
'I drink only peyote,' replied the young Native American.
'You remind me of a fella whose acquaintance I once had th' pleasure o' makin,' said Jedediah, passing on a mug of warm, coagulated black liquid to Jumbo Reilly. 'John, were his name. He were a prospector. Big fella. One day there were trouble at a mine he was working at. A cave in. As the timbers cracked, men started crying, 'n' praying t' th' Good Lord. Then in walked John 'n' done sheer up the shaft with his bare hands. Done saved a lot of folks who rightly shoulda died. But that manmade hell hole decided it weren’t gonna give up th' fight without claiming at least one soul, so it took Big John's. They never re-opened that worthless pit, just placed a marble slab in front of it engraved with a few words o' remembrance.'
'That's a mighty sad story, Jedediah.'
'Six foot six, he were, Big John,' continued Jedediah Clampett, stirring his plate of beans. 'Weighed two forty-five.' He looked Jumbo Reilly slowly up and down. 'How tall 'r' you, fella?'
'I stand eight feet two in m' birthday shoes.'
'I wonder, Mister Reilly,' began Savannah-Jean, 'if y' might know where I can fine m' sister, Betty-Jo.' She glanced over the shoulder of her yellow frock. 'It troubles me that somethin' pains her; seein' as how she were hollerin' an' a howlin' like a prairie dog not so long back. Perhaps you might care t' help me find her,' suggested the curvacious hillbilly, fluttering her naturally long lashes.
Pecos Bill grinned devilishly. 'My friends call me “Blue Boy”,' he whispered, his lips to Betty-Jo's ear. 'And when I say “blue”, I ain't talkin' melancholy!'
'Happen I should go with y',' said Jedediah Clampett, making to stand up. 'She mighta run in t' somethin' ornery.'
'Don't you go troublin' y'self none, Jedediah. You just sit there an' eat y' beans. Happen Mister Jumbo can satisfy my hunger... For knowledge o' my sister's whereabouts, that is.'
'And tell me of the man who now departs with Savannah-Jean.'
'That is Mister Jumbo Reilly,' replied Catherine Shelley. 'As you can see, he stands as tall as two men, with proportionate strength to match—the strength of a grizzly bear, in fact. I believe it fair to say that the man has a grizzly demeanour to boot. He once was the doorman for a saloon in Oregan; a most unfriendly establishment, by all accounts, with barroom brawls most every night. A waste of a good man's talents, if ever there was one.
'And yonder, conversing with Messrs Túbaadeschine and Nayé Nazgháné, sits Mister Tom Sawyer: Look closely at his face, Daisy-Mae: the firmness and resolve. He is man with an insatiable hunger for adventure. A modern day Peter Pan; the little boy who never grew up.'
'You speak as if Peter Pan were a real person.'
'And indeed he was,' replied Catherine Shelley. 'Allow me to elaborate.' She moved in closer to Daisy-Mae, so that the two women's cheeks were all but touching. 'Since the dawn of history much has been written on the subject of gifted individuals. Individuals such as Gilgamesh, and the near-indestructible Grecian warrior Achiles. As a point of fact, the Good Book itself contains references to ETs. Samson, for instance. The giant Phillistine known as Goliath. Moses, with his power to control water. The D.E.O. have a file on two young men—Canadian by birth, who, despite the fact they had no ties to America, volunteered to fight on the side of the Union during the war—whose bodies healed from the most hideous of wounds. Imagine what might have been achieved with an army of men such as they: Even one such as yourself must see good in that?'
'Is that what you truly believe, Catherine Shelley,' hissed Daisy-Mae. 'If so, then you are sadly deluded: There is not a man, woman or child south o’ Pennsylvania who to this day does not reel from the blow of the Confederation's defeat at the hands of the contemptuous Union.'
'How many thousands of your young men died in that terrible conflict?' replied Catherine Shelley. 'So many lives were lost that might well have ben saved had the conflict ended sooner. And what did they die for? Cheap labour. What a savage waste! Your industries yet survive. Thrive, in fact.'
'Do your government yet retain the services of the Canadians?'
'No. The two young men in question disappeared before the ink on Robert E. Lee's treaty of surrender had had a chance to dry. It is believed that they sailed for Europe. Ruritania, perhaps. There, to seek fresh conflict in which to ply their trade.'
'How very dissapointing,' said Daisy-Mae. 'However, one cannot alter that which is done. Not yet, anyway. Let us now return to the subject of Mister Sawyer: You suggest that he, as with Peter Pan, is in reality a child in the body of a man.'
'No, not at all. I suggest only that he is possessed of the Devil-may-care attitude that childhood alone knows - the youthful and innocent notion of one's own invulnerability. No, Daisy-Mae, Tom Sawyer is no Peter Pan, he is something else altogether.'
'Indeed he is,' replied Catherine Shelley. 'As incredible as it may seem, for a man who has been in as many scrapes as has Tom Sawyer there exists not one single scratch upon his body. Not a one.'
'You believe him similar to the Canadians you spoke of?'
'No, Tom Sawyer is no modern-day Achilles. Tom's gift is intuition. Intuition in the face of danger. He can judge where not be, even if by only a split second, thus allowing him to seemingly dodge a bullet, or to avoid the thrust of a knife. To never find oneself in the wrong place at the wrong time is a most remarkable gift indeed, would you not agree?'
'Yes, remarkable; a gift that many a man would rightly covet. This Government facility in Nevada which you spoke of... Where exactly might I find it?'
Abruptly, Catherine Shelley regained her sensibilities. 'Forgive me, Daisy-Mae,' she murmured apologetically. 'It was wrong of me to presume you sufficiently erudite to comprehend that of which I speak.'
Daisy-Mae arched her brows in astonishment. 'I may be jus' a simple Southern belle,' she said, her voice returned to its natural tone, 'but it don't mean I ain't well read, Miss Shelley. Truth is, I don't git t' do much more 'n read, not when life's jus' one long ride on a wagon train goin' nowhere. Readin' 'n' cookin', that's all life holds in store f' me. Unless...'
It was at this moment that Savannah-Jean's eldest daughter, Becky-Lou, leaned forward to throw a piece of brushwood onto the fire. As she did so her sleeve, which was cotton, spangled with something that shone, brushed one of the glowing embers and caught fire. Flames raced up her arm towards her throat. She sat quite still, as if paralyzed with fear; and her sisters, who sat either side of her, screamed shrill screams but did nothing.
Impulsively, Tom Sawyer threw himself upon the child and beat out the flames with his hands, mercifully succeeding in extinguishing them before they really got hold.
With the exception of a small burn upon her throat, the child remained unharmed.
Jumbo Reilly meets Senator Robert LeRoy Parker
(Lincoln Palace – July 25th, 1898)
'A mighty strange thing done happen on th' way through Albuquerque,' began Jedediah Clampett. 'We came upon a preacher man. Name o' Kent.'
He was sat between Blood-Clot and Jumbo Reilly, on a busted dome top travelling trunk whose contents now belonged to the ''Cherokee'', smoking a long-stemmed clay pipe, one eye permanently on the ruins of his wagon, wherein lay the Clampett children, fast asleep.
'Folks were gathered 'roun' this man o' God, talkin'. M' cousin Billy-Ray were a preacher's son,' he digressed. 'Least ways, that's what his maw done told folks what done ask 'bout who his paw were.'
Tapping out its ashes into the palm of his hand, the hillbilly commenced to refill his pipe with the last of his homegrown smoking weed.
'Nothin' done warm m' heart like a warm bowl in m' hand,' he continued, plucking a smouldering ember from the fire with which to light his pipe. 'Hmmm, where was I?' he mumbled, sucking in a mouthful of smoke. 'Aye, the preacher. Albuquerque. After th' crowd done had there fill o' his words o' wisdom I got m'self a-talkin t' th' fella. Amiable sort, he were. Unassuming. Some might say ''docile''. Anyhows, fella kept yackin' on about ''impendin' doom'', an' how th' ''end'' were ''nigh''. Informs me how it were down t' him t' save the worl'. Then, quick as a coyote, he done skedaddle. Disappeared, he did, right b'fore m' eyes. All that were left t' mark his passin' were a trail o' dust. Mighty queer, it were.'
'Fear does strange things to a man,' said Jumbo Reilly.
'Ain't that a fact, Mister Jumbo. But this preacher weren't scared. No siree! Folks reckon he done ran off, fast as an iron horse, to stop th' Cherokee all by his lonesome.'
'I have witnessed many a strange occurrence in my time, friend Jedediah,' said Blood-Clot. 'Indeed, when last I visited the land of the once-mighty Aztec I discovered a species of mouse who could run faster than a pronghorn antelope. The local seamstresses would tailor for these mice doll-sized clothing of white cotton, along with red neckerchiefs and tiny yellow sombreros.'
'Reckon y' did at that, Mister Clot,' said Jedediah Clampett, fingering his stubble. 'But I can't keep m'self from wonderin' what became o' that mild-mannered cleric, Kent?'
'You want strange,' began Jumbo Reilly, 'you need t' pay y'self a visit t' San Quentin. Why, folks there—'
'San what?' cut in Jedediah Clampett.
'Quentin,' replied Reilly. 'San Quentin, Cali-forn-i-a. Folks there b'lieve th' only way t' turn a boy in t' a man is t' saddle him with a girl's name: Names like Marion, Jean and Sue.'
'The Sioux Nation call all of their children Sioux,' said Blood-Clot. 'Both boys and girls alike.'
As Tom Sawyer slumped down onto the trunk beside her, Catherine Shelley felt a comfortable warmth settle over her.
'That was prompt action on your part, Tom,' she said, studying his body; the hardened lines of which fit perfectly her notion of how a man should look.
'I used t' know a Becky once,' he replied, staring blankly into the middle-distance at a diaphanous-winged angel only he could see. 'It were a long time ago,' he continued, his eyes glazed. 'We sealed our engagement with a kiss. It were th' first o' many. One day, sat in a cave, she presented me with a wedding cake. She'd baked it herself. Weren't much t' look at, but it was a promise of happier times t' come. We were little more'n kids at the time. She died in a house fire. I sealed her coffin with twleve shiny silver nails, one f' each year we'd spent together.'
'Mademoiselle Fate is a cruel mistress,' Catherine Shelley said softly, placing a hand upon the cowboy's knee. 'Young Becky-Lou is lucky to have one such as you for her guardian angel.'
'It's in m' blood, Miss Shelley,' replied Sawyer, his eyes still fixed upon his vision. 'See, I was born an' raised a gentleman, an' though I've been nothing but a trader, trapper an' hunter all m' life I try t' retain th' values instilled in me b' m' parents - wether I've succeeded I know not, that's for others to judge. I've killed many men in m' time, but only ever in self-defence. It's my belief that if th' Good Lord gave us life he would want f' us t' look after it. Though often I have wondered if it is right to defend one's life, to preserve it, at the expense of another, the Good Lord knows I try to remain a gentleman.'
'As do I, Tom.'
'You have a way of getting' th' best out of a fella,' said Tom Sawyer, turning his eyes to look into those of Catherine Shelley.
'But that that were true,' she replied. 'In truth, I find my failure to control the behaviour of John Henry far from acceptable.'
'Some causes are lost long before they're found, Miss Shelley. Ain't a man among us can rightly say you shouldn't be leadin' this here team.'
'That is most kind of you, Tom.'
'Ain't nothin' but the truth, ma'am,' said Tom Sawyer. He picked up a piece of brushwood and began drawing abstract patterns in the prairie dust. 'How came you t' be workin' f' th' government, Miss Shelley?'
'It is a long story, Tom.'
'I have all the time in the world, Miss Shelley. Where you're concerned, anyhow.'
Catherine Shelley drew in a long, shallow breath. 'When I was a child,' she began, her gaze now fixed firmly upon her lap, 'my daddy would tell me stories of Van Winkle, and the creepy goings-on in Sleepy Hollow.'
She smiled an ironic half-smile to herself.
'Can you believe that I actually believed them to be fairy tales,' she continued after a while. 'My mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are.'
'Yeah, there are, ain't there?'
'Why do they tell little kids that?'
'I guess they's just doin' what they think's best,' replied Tom Sawyer. 'Besides, most o' th' time it's true. Most o' th' time. My pa used t' scare th' b'jeebers outta me w' stories o' Salem, an' Maryland's Moll Dyer. Did your pa also tell y' those ''fairy tales''?'
'Yes,' replied Catherine Shelley, her voice a whisper. 'Yes, he did. When I found out the truth of the matter, that many of the creatures he'd spoken of were real, I decided that I must play my part in bringing about an end to these nightmares. ''America expects that every woman shall do her duty'', etcetera!'
'Though they prey on humans t' survive, many o' these creatures have no true life o' their own.'
'You are a man with whom I find it extremely easy to converse,' said Catherine Shelley, her spirits brightening. 'Almost as easy as...' She trailed off, sitting in silence for a few moments before continuing with: 'It is a curious thing, Tom, but when I spoke to Daisy-Mae it was if some otherworldly spirit had entered my body and compelled me to bare my soul to her.'
'You have much the same affect on me, Miss Shelley,' replied Tom Sawyer, now making no attempt whatsoever to disguise his feelings towards his commanding officer.
'It is my belief, Tom, that Daisy-Mae is gifted.'
'Gifted? You Sure o' that?'
'No,' replied Catherine Shelley. 'Not entirely.'
Once again she sat in silence, whilst gathering her thoughts about her.
'During my brief converstion with Daisy-Mae – if ''conversation'' it truly were – she made comment of the past, of how ''one cannot alter that which is done''. However, she then went on to say, ''Not yet, anyway.''.'
'A most curious thing f' a young woman t' say,' said Tom Sawyer. 'Specially as y' wouldn't credit this particular young woman with enough brains t' boil a pan of water.'
'Hmm,' murmured Catherine Shelley. 'I wonder where that fine gentleman with whom I was so recently conversing has taken himself to?!'
Tom Sawyer laughed out loud, then curled his lips into a smile and silently shook his head in submission
'One of my first assignments with the DEO,' continued Catherine shelley, 'was as presiding officer at the interview of one Mister Hank Morgan, a gentleman from Connecticut who claimed to have travelled back in time to the days of King Arthur.'
'And...?' questioned Tom Sawyer.
'And, Tom, what if he spoke the truth? What if it were indeed possible to travel back in time? And, were that the case, would it also be possible to alter the past?'
'D'ya think maybe Daisy-Mae knows somethin'?'
'That, my dear Tom, is a very good question; and one for which I have no suitable answer. However, what I do know is that Daisy-Mae is a woman who is not particularly happy with her lot,' continued Catherine Shelley, smoothing out the lines of her skirt. 'A woman who may well go to any lengths in order to see her life, as well as the lives of her kindred, changed for the better. Regardless, solving the mystery surrounding this young woman is not our mission. When next we come upon at settlement with a telegraph office I shall send word to Major General Harrison requesting that he make arrangements for Daisy-Mae to be picked up and taken to Area 51. For questioning. I also would like to get word to Robur, at his base in North Carolina, see if he cannot have one of his Sky Clippers extract Mister Bunyan from Chance.'
She looked towards where their horses stood grazing on shortgrass. 'If only we hadn't lost all of our pigeons.'
'Didn't I warn y' 'gainst lettin' Bunyan go hungry, Miss Shelley?'
'Yes, Tom, that you did,' replied Catherine Shelley. 'And, please, call me Kate.' Her voice was soft, her request a siren's song.
Lowering his head, Tom Sawyer threw caution to the New Mexico wind and gently kissed the cheek of ''Kate'' Shelley.
Come first morning light the Company of Incredible Americans were ready to hit the trail for Red Mountain once more.
'You stayin' here t' take y' chances with Ma'am'selle Fate, or y' comin' with us in t' th' mountains?' asked Tom Sawyer. He threw his saddlebag over his left shoulder and made towards the horses.
[Tab][/Tab]'Me an' m' kin are gonna fix our wagon then head off that aways,' replied Jimbo Clampett, indicating the trail headed North. 'There's still some gold in them there hills I reckon.'
'Then we bid you adieu, gentle friends,' said Túbaadeschine. 'May the spirits of our ancestors watch over you on your journey and protect you in your future days.'
'Yes, fare the well, noble Clampetts,' said Catherine Shelley. 'May the Good Lord deliver unto you both providence and wealth.' She turned and, with a gesture of her right hand, beckoned Jumbo Reilly, who was in the process of delivering a schmaltzy farewell to a dewy-eyed Savannah-Jean. 'I will arrange for a quantity of our provisions to be unloaded from our wagon and placed at your disposal,' she continued, smiling warmly. 'After all, one good meal deserves another.'
With his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his faded and patched up pants, shaggy eyebrows knotted tightly together, and an air of limitless skepticism pervading his every movement, Jedediah Clampett gazed up at the kettle of vultures that circled on thermal updrafts above the baked brown rocks.