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Episode 61

A Catalog of Regrets

Thad Jones sat with his back against the rocks and catalogued his regrets as he watched the shadows lengthen down the slope that led to the floor of the coulee.

He regretted never learning to read as his mama wished he would.

He regretted not marrying that Mormon girl, ugly as she was, whose father owned a feed store and a livery in El Paso.

He regretted ever listening to the drunken Mexican who promised to find him a motherlode of silver deep in the Chisos.

He regretted not keeping his job running a monte table in back of the Dollar Store up in Eagle Flat in order to run off looking for silver.

He regretted believing that the spirit bag he bought from that old Kiowa at the depot would protect him from danger on the trail to where the drunken Mexican swore they would find silver.

And, most of all, he regretted underestimating the sheer, God damned, dogged patience of the Apache.

“There never was no silver was there, viejo?” Thad said to the Mexican lying unmoving on the sand in the dying sunlight. The Mexican lay staring at him with unseeing eyes. His vision wasn’t improved by a third eye; a hole drilled through his forehead by the slug that dropped him where he lay. His brains lay spattered on the earth from an exit wound in the back of his skull. A black cloud of flies buzzed about the spill.

“You was only looking for a grubstake and I was dumb enough to go along,” Thad said. And now, here he was, holed up at the head of a coulee with a single-shot rifle across his knees with a dead greaser for company and a party of Mescaleros waiting in the shade of the rocks above to make their move.

Down the slope were the three pack mules he paid for. His money also paid for the goods, tools, beans and rice and coffee strapped down on their pack frames. The Apache would get them all once they’d killed him. The mules munched on sage growing along the slope, tails and ears twitching at flies. Not a care in the world. And why should they have? It wasn’t them about to be roped down and skinned alive to provide amusement for the bucks awaiting behind cover of the rocks above.

“You all want the mules? You want all my goods? Come down and get ’em!” he called out, his voice ringing against the rocks that lined the wash that lead down into the gulch.

He repeated his offer in his piss-poor Spanish just in case they didn’t savvy American.

No answer from above. Why would there be? They could have his packies and all they carried and some fun with a white man as a bonus. All they needed to do was watch and wait.

Thad drew a dry tongue across cracked lips and stared at the cloth-covered canteen hanging from a post on one of the pack frames. His skin was hot, and he stopped sweating hours ago. Even in the growing shade of the rock, he was beginning to feel feverish. Fifty feet down the slope lay all the water he could ever want to drink. It might as well have been in China.

There was no bargaining with these Mescaleros. They had him cornered with time on their side. His offers came unanswered. Hell, they probably used his hollering to cover them moving to get a better angle on him.

A fella who claimed to an Indian fighter once told him that the Apache don’t hunt or kill at night. Something about the soul of any man or critter they killed after dark becoming a ghost who’d haunt them all their days. Thad called horseshit and double horseshit on that. A little thing like the sun going down was not about to curb the bloodlust of these bastards.

But even if that was the pure-D truth, it meant these bucks had a deadline. If they were going to come for him, it’d be before the day ended. The sun was already down behind the rocks. If that Indian fighter wasn’t packed tight with shit, they’d be moving on him soon. There wasn’t much he could do to stop them. The Remington rolling block he held across his knees loaded one cartridge at a time. He might, might, get one shot off before they jumped him. Even if he hit one of them, it’d only serve to make the remaining bucks more angry than they already were. They might make it their purpose to see that he took days to die.

That thought sent a chill over him. His mind recoiled from unbidden images of himself slung upside down over a fire or staked out for ants or any of a hundred torments these sons of bitches might visit upon him. And all the while laughing at him as he shrieked his prayers and pleas and promises to God almighty.

One round from the rolling block could end that.

That was his last card to play. He couldn’t stop them taking the mules. He could keep them from making a party out of killing him. Him blowing his own brains out was the only edge he had on them. The last laugh.

He repositioned the rifle to place the end of the barrel under his chin and reached a hand down to depress the trigger with his thumb. Only the barrel of the Remington was too long. He couldn’t quite reach the trigger. Best he could do was brush the tips of his fingers against the trigger guard.

THE SIDEWINDERS runs daily from Monday through Friday on Arktoons.

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The Sidewinders

The Legend Chuck Dixon explores the Wild West, with epic tales of gunfighters, frontier justice, savage Indian tribes, and even more savage outlaws.
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