Authors: Elmer Kelton
Tags: #Mexico, #Cattle Stealing, #Mexican-American Border Region, #Ranch Life, #Fiction
Jones said, “His name is Farley Brackett.”
Hearing that name was like biting into a sour apple. Andy and Farley had ridden together on several missions, but their relationship had always been prickly.
Jones said, “From all I know of him, Brackett is a good man to have at your side in a fight.”
Andy knew that to be true but was tempted to tell Jones that Farley started some of those fights himself. The war had left a visible scar on his face and invisible scars on his soul. In the first years after the Confederate defeat he had been an unreconstructed rebel, a constant thorn in the side of Union authorities. He had brought trouble to Rusty Shannon’s door and therefore to Andy as well.
The major handed Andy the order he had been writing. “Stop at Ranger headquarters in San Antonio as you pass through. They can tell you exactly how to find your camp on the Rio Grande. It is moved from time to time.”
Yes, sir.” Andy sensed that the major was finished with him. He thought he should salute or something, but he simply backed to the door.
The clerk was waiting for him. He said, “I hope you’ve got a little money.”
A little. Not much.”
It’ll have to stretch. We have no traveling money to give you.”
I don’t eat much.”
That’s good. You may have to live off of the land.”
That was neither new nor news to Andy. “Any idea where I’ll find Farley Brackett?”
He put his horse in a stable down the street. Beyond that, I suggest you investigate all the dramshops.”
Brackett did not have a reputation as a drinking man, but perhaps that was because he seldom had the opportunity, Andy thought. Whiling away the hours in Austin might tempt him to make up for time lost in dry and spartan Ranger camps.
Andy went to a livery barn where he and Rusty and Tom Blessing had stabled their horses on a visit several years ago. He recognized the proprietor as the same dried-up little man who had been there before, charging a shameless price for oats, hay, and corral space. Andy said, “I’m lookin’ for a Ranger named Farley Brackett.”
The hostler pointed to a stall. “His horse is here. I doubt Brackett has gone far afoot. Most of the Rangers I know had rather be whipped with a wet rope than to walk a hundred yards.”
If he comes in, tell him Andy Pickard is lookin’ for him.”
The hostler eyed him with curiosity. “You’ve got some older, but I believe I remember you. Ain’t you the one that spiked them Union soldier boys’ cannon so they couldn’t use it to keep that Yankeefied governor in office?”
Andy suspected a lot of people in Austin remembered that incident. It had been a wonder someone was not killed. “I didn’t spike the cannon, but I was with the ones that did.”
It was a hell of a show for a little while. Too bad it fizzled out before anybody got a chance to kill one of them damn Yankees.”
Like many Texans, the hostler was still engaged in the war between the states, at least with words. Living among the Comanches at the time, Andy had been only dimly aware of the war. He knew a lot about its aftermath, however. To some degree it was still going on, just as the war between Texas and Mexico continued along the border years after it had been relegated to the past elsewhere.
He walked back over to Congress Avenue and entered the first bar he came to. It was moderately busy. He noted that most of the patrons wore suits. Men who wore suits in Austin were usually either lawyers or state employees. No wonder people complained about the waste of their tax money, he thought. This was a weekday. These men were supposed to be working.
Farley was not there. Andy waved off a bartender’s question and returned to the street. A second barroom gave him no better result.
As he approached the third he heard a familiar voice raised in challenge: “I don’t give a damn whether you like Rangers or not.”
The reply came in an equally angry voice, though the words were muffled. Andy heard boots striking hard upon a wooden floor. A man hurtled out through the open door, speeded along by strong hands that gripped his collar and the seat of his britches. He sprawled on his stomach in the street. Farley Brackett stood in the doorway, making a show of dusting his hands. He said, “Come back in and I’ll finish windin’ your clock for you.”
The man sat up but for the moment looked too confused to continue the contest.
Farley’s eyes reflected surprise as he recognized Andy. “Badger Boy! What the hell you doin’ here?” He did not appear pleased.
Badger Boy was an English version of the name by which Andy had been known among the Comanches. No one used it anymore except Farley, and he usually said it in a mocking way.
Lookin’ for you. I ought to’ve known to wait and listen for a fight.”
Wasn’t no fight to it. I was just standin’ there havin’ me a peaceful drink when that gink asked me if I wasn’t a Ranger. Don’t know how he figured out I was. They never have got around to givin’ us any badges.”
Some people claim they can tell a Ranger on sight, just by the way he walks and talks.”
I wasn’t talkin’ at all till that bird started to hooraw me. He said he never seen a Ranger that didn’t smell like a skunk.”
If you try to whip everybody that doesn’t like us, you’ll be too busy to do anything else.”
Farley transferred his irritation from the stranger to Andy. “You’re a little young to be preachin’ gospel to me, Badger Boy. I’ve been shot and shot at more times than you’ve had birthdays.”
A little preachin’ might do you good, but I know you wouldn’t listen to it.”
That, I wouldn’t,” Farley said, and went back into the bar. Andy remained on the sidewalk, debating with himself about following. He considered riding on alone and letting Farley follow in his own good time or not at all. He knew from past experience that Farley could be poor company, chronically dissatisfied and critical. But the major might not be pleased. He liked his Rangers to work together as a team, not pull against one another like stubborn mules.
He walked into the room and found Farley leaning against the bar, a drink in his hand. The war scar on the side of his face accentuated his frown. “You still here? I figured you left.”
The major says we’re supposed to head south and report for duty on the border.”
I don’t remember him sayin’ I had to ride with
. Every time we work together somethin’ bad happens to me. You’re a damned jinx.”
I’m not crazy about the notion either, but if you don’t like it you can resign.”
That’d make you happy, wouldn’t it? Well, I’m not quittin’. Go find you a girl or somethin’ and leave me in peace for what’s left of the day. We can start the trip fresh in the mornin’.”
Andy doubted how fresh Farley would be if he spent the evening in this bar or some other, but that was Farley’s problem. “I’ve got my horse in the same stable as yours. I figure to leave soon after daylight.”
Walking outside, he met the stranger Farley had thrown out. The man seemed to have gathered his wits, and his expression indicated that he did not consider the argument settled. Andy pointed his thumb at the door. “He’s still in there,” he said. He stood around a few minutes, listening to the sounds of a vigorous scuffle and the cheers of bystanders from inside.
Farley tumbled out the door and fell on his back on the sidewalk. Andy looked down at him and tried not to grin. “Enjoy yourself.”
Farley rolled over and pushed to his feet, muttering under his breath. Face crimson and fists clenched, he stalked back into the barroom.
Andy’s growling stomach reminded him that he had not eaten anything since breakfast. He had noticed a restaurant as he walked down the street. He met a policeman hurrying along the wooden sidewalk. The officer said, “Somebody told me there’s a fight down thisaway.”
Andy pointed. “You might look in that bar yonder. There’s a right smart of noise comin’ out of it.”
By the time Farley got himself untangled from this mess he might be ready to travel, Andy thought.
Awake at daylight, Andy sat on the edge of the wagon-yard cot and looked at Farley, still sleeping, his blankets spread on a pile of hay. “Time to get movin’.”
Farley did not respond. Andy had heard him come in during the night but had no idea what time it was. Farley had been talking to himself.
Andy said, “I’m fixin’ to go get some breakfast. Then I’m hittin’ the trail with or without you.”
Farley still did not respond. Andy could see his chest rise and fall with his breathing, so he knew at least that Farley was not dead.
The hostler had a fire going in a small iron stove in the front office, a steaming pot on its top. He told Andy, “Got coffee here.”
Thanks, but I’m goin’ for breakfast.”
You might want to take some coffee to your partner. By the looks of him as he staggered by here in the wee hours, he’s liable to need it.”
His legs ain’t broke. Let him come and get his own coffee.”
The hostler seemed startled at Andy’s lack of concern for Farley. “I thought you was Rangers together.”
Rangers, but not together any more than we have to be.”
After breakfast Andy brushed the black horse, then saddled him. Farley was sitting up but still on his blankets. He appeared to have trouble focusing on Andy. “Where you goin’ so early?”
South, like we were ordered. You can catch up to me or not, that’s up to you.”
Farley rubbed a hand over his bruised and swollen face. His knuckles were red, the skin broken. “I must’ve had fun last night. I just can’t remember much about it.”
Last time I saw you it looked like you were comin’ out second best against a man who didn’t like Rangers.”
It taken me a while, but I finally convinced him. It’s what happened afterwards that I can’t remember much about. The last I knew, him and me had a couple of drinks together, us and some policeman.”
Maybe three. I never let myself get drunk.”
Andy tied his blankets behind the saddle and started to lead the horse outside. Farley called, “Ain’t you goin’ to wait for me?”
No.” Andy mounted in the street and turned south to intersect the San Antonio road. He crossed the Colorado River on a wooden bridge and turned to look back northward toward the capitol building. Though he liked Austin, he never felt at ease in large cities. This one was home to maybe five or six thousand people.
He was a couple of hours down the trail when he heard a horse coming up behind him. “Badger Boy! Wait up.”
Farley pulled in beside him. “Damn it, you’d make a man kill his horse tryin’ to catch up with you.”
Told you I was leavin’ soon after daylight.”
You could’ve waited. I was sick this mornin’.”
You look like a herd of cattle ran over you. For all I care you could’ve stayed in Austin.”
I was just havin’ a little fun. Looks to me like I’ve earned it. Don’t get much chance when we’re out in the field.”
It’s a good thing the major didn’t see you.”
He knows that a man has to let off some steam now and again. Else he’ll blow up like a boiler with the valve stuck.”
Andy remembered how Farley had let off steam in the early years after the war, provoking the carpetbag state police into one fight after another. He had been like a wolf luring dogs into chasing him, then turning on them in a fury of slashing teeth. They had learned to pursue him only at a safe distance. Now he directed his belligerence at lawbreakers for the most part. That made him useful to the Rangers, though he tended to act first and plan later.
After a long, smoldering silence Farley remarked, “That’s a good-lookin’ black horse. Where did you steal him at?”
Farley had never gotten past a bone of contention involving a sorrel horse his father had given to Rusty Shannon and that Rusty had passed on to Andy. Farley always contended that the horse was his own and that his father had no right to give him away.
Andy said, “I always figured if you’re goin’ to steal a horse, you’d just as well steal a good one.”
The wagon road south from Austin skirted the eastern edge of rough limestone hills where the Edwards escarpment rose out of the western portion of the coastal plain. To the east lay farming settlements along the Colorado and Brazos rivers. To the west, stock farmers and ranchers were freely expanding their operations now that they no longer slept with their guns, worrying about Indian raids. German enclaves such as Friedrichsburg and Neu Braunfels had sunk deep roots. The hill country had appealed to Andy from the first time he saw its long green valleys, its bubbling springs, its clear-running creeks and rivers. Someday, if he ever left the Rangers, he thought he could make a life for himself there.