“Figgered you should know.”
Cooley Watters spat a stream of brown juice into the dust of the street, and wiped his bearded mouth on his greasy sleeve. He lived in a sod hut down by the river, and hired out as a part time cowhand when he needed whiskey money. He looked at the sheriff with watery eyes.
“There was three of ‘em, and two of ‘em held that breed, Jimmy Walker, while the third pounded on him something fierce. Then they set to with his squaw.”
Cooley wiped his mouth again, and glanced at the saloon doors. He swung his eyes back to the sheriff, a hopeful look on his face. Sheriff Logan Newberry walked to the batwing doors.
“Nat? Draw a glass of beer and bring it out here, Put it on my account.” He turned back to Cooley.
“Go on, Cooley.”
“Ain’t much else to tell. When Jimmy Walker finally come around again, his squaw was dead, and them three was gone.”
“They murdered her?”
The saloon keeper came out with the glass of beer, a question on his face. Sheriff Newberry pointed at Cooley Watters, and the saloon keeper handed it over, a look of distaste on his face. Cooley took a few swallows and scratched his jaw in thought. “Well, no, it wasn’t no real murder, I reckon. Like I said, she was just a squaw.”
“Where is Jimmy?”
“He sent someone to tell her people what happened, so they can fetch her if they want, and then he set off on their trail.” He shook his head sadly. “Would not want to be them fellers, when Jimmy catches up to them. He set some store by that squaw-woman.”
Sheriff Logan nodded, as Cooley drained his beer. “Anything else?”
Cooley looked uncomfortable. “Well, like I say, she was just a squaw, but they sliced her up something fierce, and then scalped her to boot. There weren’t no call to do none of that.”
He pulled off his hat and wiped his brow. Suddenly, he pulled a folded piece of paper out of his hatband and handed it to the sheriff.
“Almost forgot this. Jimmy said to give it to you. Never did learn to read none, but mayhap you can cipher out what it says.”
Jimmy Walker was a half breed. His father was Davis Walker, a brilliant lawyer and a drunk, who came from South Carolina. His mother was a Cherokee, and family anger over his choice of wife was the reason his father left South Carolina to come west. They both died of diphtheria when Jimmy was twelve, leaving him with a sizable inheritance, and no friends, other than Logan Newberry. He attended an Indian school, but no college would accept him, Nevertheless, he was more educated than most.
Two years ago, Jimmy had found Sialea-lea, a Navajo maiden, wandering in the desert. She was an outcast for some reason that neither Jimmy or Logan could ever discern, but she was beautiful, and Jimmy soon took her for his wife, much to her own joy and delight. Her name meant “Little blue Bird”, but Jimmy just called her his Bird. They were deeply in love.
Sheriff Logan Newberry poured a cup of coffee from the battered pot in his office and unfolded Jimmy Walker’s note.
“I know that finding those men is rightly your job, Logan, but I have it to do after what they did to my Bird. They need to pay and the law is far too slow. I know you’ll follow, because that’s your way, but don’t try to stop me. I would not take it kindly,
Deputy Ty Conners was Sheriff Newberry’s best tracker, even if he was a bit green and way too cocky, so it was the two of them that set out the next morning. The trail was quickly worked out, and so plain that they were able to follow at miles-eating pace. By evening, they were a few miles west of Florence, at the Felix ranch.
“Yes, they were here yesterday, Senor. We feed all strangers, but we did not like these men. Their eyes were too bold with the senoritas, so we fed them, and invited them to leave. They were persuaded that my humble wishes were best, and left. Perhaps it was the way my vaqueros were seeing to their pistolas and cuchillos. I am a simple man and do not know of such things.” Juan Felix raised his hands, palms up in bewilderment, his face innocent and bland.
Sheriff Newberry nodded, and made a note to himself that Senor Juan Felix was not a man with which to trifle. No one had seen Jimmy Walker, and his tracks had veered off the trail just before the Felix ranch.
They ate beef, beans, and tortillas on the moonlit patio, to the strains of a Spanish guitar. To the west, a lonely coyote yipped his appreciation of the music, and somewhere, a young man sang his song of romance to his lady love. By dawn the next morning, they were miles away.
The summer heat was stifling with the monsoon humidity, and to the south, vast thunderstorms were building when they found the first man. He was propped up against a mesquite tree, and his shirt was missing. His chest was covered with hundreds of tiny cuts, and his neck was raw from rope burns, and it was also broken,. He was very dead. A nearby palo verde tree had one high limb with damaged bark.
”I wonder why he didn’t just leave him hanging?”
Deputy Conners had worked out the trail and confirmed that this was one of the men they were following and also that Jimmy Walker had hung him. It looked like the killer had chosen to go his own way, and it had cost him his life.
“I guess he thought he might need that rope again. Waste not, want not.”
Ty Conners chuckled at the sheriff’s words.
The sheriff walked over to the dead man, and checked his pockets, but there was nothing. He was about to turn away when he noticed one stone resting atop another stone. He lifted the upper stone, and found a note.
“I know you are following me, Logan, because you are a good man and also a good lawman. This man admitted what he did, after some persuasion, and he knew things only the killers would know. I showed him more mercy than he showed my Bird.”
“Do you want to bury this man, Sheriff?”
“No. We do not have the time, so we’ll just cover him with enough rocks to keep the critters off.”
They camped that night under a ledge miles away, and after they rolled up in their blankets, the rain began, accompanied by the far-off muttering of discontented thunder. They slept well.
The morning dawned cool and damp. They made a breakfast of bacon, beans, and tortillas bought from the Felix ranch. The trail was somewhat washed out but still easily visible to a skilled tracker like Ty Conners. His father had employed several Apache cowhands, and they had taught the boy well.
To the east loomed the brooding Superstition Range, and as they crossed the shallow Salt River, the small village of Phoenix lazed in the morning sun, far to the west. The trail then led north, and in the general direction of the Cartwright ranch, Seven Springs, and the Verde River.
It was noon of the following day before they found the next body. For a long time, the sheriff and deputy stared at the dead man and then at each other. He was laid out on the sand, with his pants down around his ankles, and a hole in the center of his forehead. There was a combined look of fear and astonishment on his face.
They dismounted, and while Logan Newberry studied the body, his deputy scouted around, returning in a few moments with another note. He read it, chuckled, and handed it to the sheriff.
“I was looking for a spot to relieve myself when I come up on this Jasper. I reckon he had the same notion because he was just squatting down when I come around them rocks yonder. We was both took back some and surprised, with him having his gun belt hanging on a mesquite limb, like that. He tried for it, but with them pants down, he couldn’t run, so I shot him. Maybe you and Ty should just go home.”
Since he knew Ty was there, that meant that Jimmy Walker was watching his back trail. Sheriff Newberry sat on a flat rock and filled his pipe, deep in thought. Behind him, a silent audience of giant saguaros lifted their massive arms in bewilderment at the strange ways of man.
Ty regarded him for a moment and then rolled himself a smoke in a piece of paper; a Mexican method that was becoming popular with the cowboys. After a few minutes, he spoke to the sheriff.
“Looks like we’re now following Jimmy Walker as much as the men who killed Jimmy’s woman. This killing might be seen as a fair fight, but that first killing was pure-dee murder, and torture at that..”
Logan Newberry regarded his tall, wiry deputy for a long moment. Then he spat in the sand and stood, arching his aching back.
‘You never saw what they done to Bird. I did, and so did Jimmy. Them cuts was meant to hurt, and hurt bad, and from the way it bled, they scalped her while she was still alive. What Jimmy did back there was just a tickle compared to what they done to his woman.”
Ty nodded thoughtfully. “Do you want to go on home, Sheriff? No one will care if Jimmy kills the last one, and it won’t be no mark on you.”
The sheriff walked to his horse, lifted the stirrup, and adjusted the cinch. “No, I have it to do, but you can go home if you like.”
Ty Conners grinned at Logan Newberry. “Hell, Sheriff, you couldn’t trail a herd of buffalo if they was fifty feet in front of you. I’ll go along. What about the body?”
“We’ll cover it with rocks. That’s all he deserves.”
That night, they camped at Seven Springs. Thunder rumbled far to the south, but this time, there was no rain.
They were some thirty miles from the Mogollon Rim when they discovered the last body. The trail had led them up into the foothills, and into a mixture of scrub cedars and juniper that suddenly opened into a small clearing, bordered on one side by the bottom slope of a small hill. The other side was a mix of jumbled rocks and heavy brush. Near the rocks was a dead horse, with no saddle. Ten feet away was the body of a dead man. On the far side, a big gray, stood, ground hitched and still saddled. He watched them for a moment with his ears perked, before returning to cropping the grass in front of him. Ty spoke up.
“That dead horse there is Jimmy’s. He rode bareback most times. That gray belongs to the last man, and I think that’s him lyin’ there.”
He dismounted and began to study the tracks and sign. Sheriff Newberry sat his horse for a few minutes, using his vantage point to look around. Overhead, a lone hawk called out from a cloudless sky. At last, the sheriff dismounted and walked stiffly over to the body. He recognized the face as the last of the men he was pursuing. Jimmy Walker was nowhere to be seen. Ty Conners was staring at a spot where the ground was disturbed, scratching at his four day growth of beard. At last, he walked over to where the sheriff stood, catching him by the arm and walking far enough away to be out of hearing range. He spoke quietly.
“Far as I can tell, that dead feller ambushed Jimmy from them rocks up there. He shot his horse deliberate-like to put him afoot. Damn a man who will shoot a horse!”
He spat on the ground, and wiped his mouth.
“Then he shot Jimmy. Jimmy’s canteen was holed too, just in case. There’s sign where Jimmy was lying on the ground, and he was bleeding from the head. My guess is he was unconscious for a time. It looks like this feller thought he was dead for sure after a while, and come on down. That’s when Jimmy killed him.”
The sheriff looked all around. “I wonder where Jimmy is?”
Ty Conners spoke softly. “See them creosote bushes over by that granite outcropping?”
The sheriff nodded.
“Well, if a man did not want to find Jimmy Walker, I would tell him to stay away from them bushes.”
The sheriff filled his pipe and lit it. “We’ll drop a loop on Jimmy’s horse and drag him back down the slope to that ravine. I saw a place where we can cave in part of that sandy bank on top of him. Then we’ll bury this man.”
Ty Conner’s eyebrows went up. “You want to bury this one?”
“Yes. After that, we will head for home.”
While taking care of the dead horse, they spotted the remains of a discarded wooden box, and the sheriff retrieved a board from it. Ty wondered at that but said nothing. They pulled a shovel off the pack horse and dug a grave. Ty Conners pulled the saddle off the gray, gave him some water and picketed him out on some new grass. He checked the saddle bags and canteens. Both canteens were near empty, and there was no food in the bags.
The sheriff finished filling in the grave and mopped his brow. Then he handed the shovel to Ty Conners. “Put that back, water our horses at the creek, and then saddle up. I’ll be done here in a minute and follow you down there.”
“What about that feller’s horse, Sheriff? The big gray?”
Sheriff Logan Newberry put his hat back on and turned to his deputy.
“What horse? I never seen no horse.”
Ty Conner stared at him, and then pointed over the sheriff’s shoulder at the peacefully grazing animal.
“What the hell’s wrong with you, boss? He’s standing right over there!”
The sheriff put his hand on the pointing arm and gently pushed it down. He looked directly into Ty Conner’s eyes.
“There aint no horse over there Ty. There never was.”
Realization slowly dawned on the deputy, and without another word, he gathered up the horses and went down to the creek for water. Half an hour later, the sheriff joined him and mounted up.
“You ready Ty?”
“Just about. I forgot and left my knife up there. Wait here and I’ll be right back.”
They were five miles down the trail, and Ty was in the lead when Logan noticed that his deputy’s extra canteen was missing, and his saddle bags looked empty, so he spoke up about it. Ty answered without turning around.
“I never brought no extra canteen, Logan, and I reckon we ate all the food that was in them bags.”
“Well, now I’m real sure that you brought that extra canteen, Ty, and them bags looked pretty full this morning. We better go back and find ‘em”
Ty wheeled his horse and rode back to the sheriff, halting beside him and looking directly into his eyes.
“You said there weren’t no horse, Sheriff, so there weren’t no canteen or extry food neither.”
Logan Newberry stared back at the young man and then his hard set mouth turned up at the corners a little in a brief smile. He waved his deputy to take the lead, and after a few hundred yards, he spoke.
“You are a damn poor liar son.”
“So are you, sheriff, and it‘s a pleasure to know you.”
Jimmy Walker watched the retreating lawmen until they were out of sight. He had a raw furrow along his scalp, and his head ached, but he was feeling better, although he had lost some blood.
He had seen Ty Conners drop the spare canteen full of water and the sack of food. He had also watched Sheriff Logan Newberry laboriously carving on a weathered old board before he placed it between two stones at the head of the grave. He walked over and read the inscription:
Here lies Jimmy Walker
Killed resisting arrest by Sheriff Logan T. Newberry
Then he spotted one stone placed carefully on top of another, and pulled out a note:
‘I have a brother in Montana name of Jubal Newberry. Just ask around. Tell him to write me when you get there.’