His time with the Red Riders was over 30 years gone, and the glories little more than memories replayed—though they had won him the job of Pandora City’s sheriff. The time in between had been hard to fill. And the memories harder to forget. The only proof of better days hung on the wall behind his desk.
Tarnished now, it was the longcat he’d worn while sharing command of a troop in the Riders.
He’d been quite handy with the double-bladed weapon, and had used it to turn or break many a Savage lance—not to mention the Savage souls he’d sent to Hell soon after.
Though the weapon’s steel basket hilt was dented and in need of a polish, he’d never traded the longcat for whiskey or debt—marking one of the few times he’d resisted temptation. Judd frowned, thinking of the Red Rider troop that garrisoned in Pandora and had left on an eastern course a few days past.
Captain Barnstable had been in the lead.
Judd knew the man when he was a private of little use—a shirker and scaredy-cat. How that slug got to be Captain… But Boto’s talk dragged him out of the recollection.
The little dark-skinned hermit was sliding into a long tale about a great desert war. Here we go again. There were times the hermit’s stories gave the sheriff a feeling similar to what he experienced while at church during his dry periods. Familiar, he reckoned. The Preacher would go on about angels and saints and devils and that kind of thing, roaming chaps with golden single-bladed longcats, sometimes in little wagons called chariots—from back before God got himself killed in the big shootout.
Judd struggled with his feelings at such times because the stories sounded like half-remembered tunes pounded out on the piano down at Skinker’s Saloon. He felt then what he often felt when peering into the past—and it was why he held such mixed feelings for Boto.
The bastard got him stirred up too, took him to mental mazes of familiar ideas that got him thirsting for more or drink.
Then a shadow would pass across his mind like hate or guilt or shame, as the madman chattered and chattered and chattered. “Just shut up yer face for once!” Judd growled, walking away from the stove and grabbing his hat from a peg by the door.
He pushed his long gray and blond hair away from his forehead and stuffed the hat over it. “But, Sheriff…” the hermit started. Judd silenced Boto’s plea with a slam of the jailhouse door. He stepped out onto the porch where the planks butted up against the building, then walked to the edge and hung his toes over the dusty street.
A glance skyward showed a steady throbbing blue—cloudless.
Another hot day in Pandora.
Barely summer, and the sun was already beating and whipping the streets until folks ran indoors for shelter. The sheriff had to thank Sticky Pickard for the last couple months of easy work.
Taking all the cowboys off his hands and dragging them south left little in the way of law-breakers to deal with.
And there was no worry from robbers and bandits.
With the dry spell and long time between herds, the Territorial Bank counter at the stagecoach office was closed up pending the Ironmine Outfit’s return.
Since no one could afford a loan, and the ready cash was already out in circulation, there was no point in keeping a clerk on hand. Judd glanced back at the stagecoach office where it was tucked in beside the jailhouse, before he squinted across the street at a sign in the window of Puller’s Dental. “Haircut and tooth removal $1.00.” On the right, the apothecary windows were shuttered; though the door was open a crack. And on Puller’s left, bread, buns and pies showed where Ann Baker had set them in the window to cool. Even as his senses yearned for the smell of sweets and bread, Boto’s chatter continued to rattle against the door. “Damn it,” Judd cursed the open street in front of him, then cast a glance at the jailhouse door and the hermit still gumming beyond it. “He’ll talk till his jaw breaks off…” Judd had to get away—had to have quiet.
The madman’s delusions were infectious, and all the fevered talk echoed in his own head.
Why does that horseshit get me going? Boto’s droning got the sheriff thinking, and thinking made him thirsty. Or do you just need an excuse? Many a night upon finding the madman drunk, Judd had chosen to leave him to sleep off his liquor in an alley or doorway rather than be subjected to his ramblings at the jailhouse.
But often, as was the case last night, Judd was moved to pity the hermit. — Judd and Boto wouldn’t see it.
They’d soon angle southeast to make the Harrison Place. Mention of the fort set Judd’s nerves on edge.
He was already expecting a Savage ambush and he had no wish to ride into battle with Boto.
As entertaining as the hermit could be, he was poor comfort when it came to serious things like gunplay and bullet wounds.
Looking over at the man, the sheriff wondered again where he’d come from. Judd had been sheriff five years when Boto first wandered into town with a pack mule loaded with skins he planned to trade in the north.
He ended up trading them for drink and stayed in Pandora. Boto denied up and down that he had any Savage blood in him, though he was always quick to point out, the Savages had the blood of many races mixed in since the new beginning: “Well, Sheriff, it’s true, their Old Solomon was of First Nation blood like many of the wardens in the wood—but the survivors they led into the wilderness needed the skills of the native more than they needed his blood.
The end result is the Savage.” He was always saying things like that.
Talking like an expert about things he couldn’t know. But Judd always attributed the strange allusions to a peculiarity of the hermit’s mental disturbances.
He drank a hell of a lot and the liquor might very well of shook something loose.
And it didn’t help that any time a person got too inquisitive about Boto’s heritage, that the fellow began with his strange stories of times before, of life when things were different. In short, he avoided the topic. Judd was almost sure that Boto was a man of Savage lineage.
Except for the curls in his thick hair, and a rather small and wiry frame, he looked an awful lot like one of the people of the tribes—Irawk maybe since some of them were a darker and leaner type.
The hermit had coal black hair, and his skin was chestnut brown.
His nose was long and prominent, jutting far out from his cheekbones.
One time he claimed to hold a striking resemblance to Alpacino—a Savage name if Judd had ever heard one. Boto rode beside the sheriff at a distance of some ten feet, on the back of a brown and white mare he called Scooby.
The hermit wore a tall beaver skin top hat.
The dark, worn stovepipe looked uncomfortable under the blazing sun, but Boto had assured the sheriff that covering up in the heat was a ‘Bedouin’ trick that kept a fellow’s moisture in during the day and warmed him at night. The sheriff chalked that ‘bedoon’ reference up to more clues of Savage heritage. Boto also wore an old deerskin tunic that closed up the front with a wide belt at the waist.
He wore a loincloth of Apa design.
The braided garment hung between his legs where his fringed leather leggings stopped at the top of his thighs like riding chaps. “People didn’t know what they were missing,” Boto had said of the garment. “Nothing like cool air in the basement.” He carried a big pistol, the likes of which Judd had never seen.
The hermit did not go about armed other than carrying a long skinning knife on his belt, and so he had to retrieve the gun from one of his hidey-holes whenever he needed the big black heavy thing. The sheriff never got more than a glimpse of the odd weapon.
Boto kept it in a sling holster that tucked up under his arm inside his tunic—the kind of setup favored by gamblers. If the hermit was queried about it, he was likely to misdirect with one of his riddles: “I’m more of a traveler than a wanderer, Sheriff.” But Judd had always had an interest in puzzles, and he knew there was more to the hermit than just crazy.
Some of his raving matched up with what the sheriff had heard Miss Teacher and the Preacher go on about. They were always going on about something. The sheriff called him a hermit for no other reason than Boto lived alone, somewhere in the hills northwest of Pandora City—when he wasn’t in a jail cell or sleeping it off in an alley. “I got a hole to hide in,” he had explained.
He also said he hunted and trapped when he needed money to purchase supplies. “How many energy bars can a man take in?” Boto had jumped at Judd’s suggestion of a ride down to the old Harrison Place.
The sheriff splurged and brought along two bottles of White Oak Whiskey for the overnight stay at the end of the trail. Neither of them could get into any trouble drinking down there in the wilderness. Or so he hoped. They rode on for hours, and were soon into the sun-baked flats, rolling dirt hills and dry riverbeds that skirted the first long miles of the Savagelands.
They had sauntered well east of the Greenbelt Trail by now, so alternately switched on and off what looked like bangero paths as Judd found them winding that way.
He decided they were safe enough to use because he had such a hard time finding them. Judd’s mind kept coming back to the wounded Rider.
He was starting to regret his decision to let him stay another night.
At least he should have waited for the fellow to leave.
He was a rough-looking customer, so it startled the sheriff that he’d trusted him.
Looks can be deceiving.
He thought about the way the townspeople looked at him and wondered if that had colored his decision. A movement caught his eye.
Ahead of them, where the ground was hilly, he had seen something move in the space between standing rocks atop a rise.
The sheriff hissed to get Boto’s attention and pulled his rifle from its scabbard. Boto followed his gaze as Judd nodded toward the rock-littered hill.
Read more about Chaps : The Preacher would go on about angels and saints and….: