Authors: Van Holt
The Old West Rides Again
Curly Bill and Ringo
They Rode to Hell Together
KING OF THE HELLBOUND WESTERNS
Curly Bill and Ringo
Copyright © 2012 by Van Holt and Three Knolls Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher,
Three Knolls Publishing • www.3KnollsPub.com
Cover and Book design: KB Design • www.kbdesign1.com
First Printing, 2012. Printed in the United States of America.
This is a work of fiction. It takes place months after both Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Ringo were reported killed in the Arizona desert. I brought them back to life for the purpose of my tale which is set in an imaginary town called Boot Hill and in the surrounding desert country. Curly Bill, Ringo, and several other real old West characters, including Wyatt Earp, have been turned into completely fictional characters, along with several completely imaginary characters. One of these is Mad Dog Shorty. But he is not the same Mad Dog Shorty who appears in THE HELLBOUND EXPRESS. One of the girls in that rather strange western says there are two Mad Dog Shortys. This is the other one.
CURLY BILL AND RINGO is one of many westerns I wrote in longhand in the 1980s. This is the only one I typed in the ‘80s. There is a bad Apache named Big Nose in this one. There is another bad Apache with the same name in another Western called SHILOH STARK. Since I haven’t typed that one I may decide to change the bad Apache’s name. Or I may not, since it probably doesn’t matter. I have created so many characters, it is impossible to keep track of all of their names.
The morning Ringo rode into town, Curly Bill and the Hatcher boys were in the Bent Elbow, watering the dust in their throats with rotgut whiskey and admiring themselves in the back-bar mirror. They boasted that it took a lot of nerve to be rustlers and outlaws in such dangerous times. It was no job for greenhorns.
Curly looked past the scrawny, potbellied bartender and met the bold, bright gray stare of the big fellow in the mirror, twisting the end of his black mustache and shoving out his massive chin as if he dared anyone to bust their knuckles on it. He admired the rugged dark face and bared his big white teeth in a savage smile that he might admire them also. Striking a pose, he sucked in his gut, squared his broad shoulders, adjusted his dirty white stetson on his shaggy black head and hooked his thumbs in the wide cartridge belt that supported a heavy holstered revolver on either hip.
“You boys ever see a finer figger of a man than that?” he asked, still meeting his own admiring glance in the mirror.
The three swarthy Hatcher boys snorted at that.
“Ringo might of been more handsome,” Curly went on. “But I was tougher, and tough is what counts in this country. I’m the living proof of that. I shook off all that buckshot old Wyatt put in me at that waterhole and joked about it on the way to Mexico with Ringo.”
“What actually happened at that waterhole, Curly?” Cash asked. He was the middle Hatcher in age and size, but more handsome than his sloppy overweight brothers, and the only one with any brains. They all had dark hair and eyes.
Curly rubbed his jutting chin, feeling the cleft in the center and the short bristly stubble that darkened his face even after shaving. He smiled again, but there was a haunted look in his glassy-gray eyes. “Old Wyatt and his posse rode up just as me and my boys were watering our horses. Ringo wasn’t with us that day. I don’t know where he was. Wyatt and them were as surprised as we were. His men ran in one direction and mine ran in the other, but me and old Wyatt decided to stay and fight it out. He stepped down off his horse as cool as you please and took his time, like he had all day. I can still see them cold blue eyes staring at me over that double barrel shotgun. It sort of spooked me and I shot too quick and missed. He didn’t miss me. I played dead, knowing it was my only chance, and he yelled for his men to get the hell on back up there and they took out after my boys. They told everyone they saw that Wyatt had killed me. He was mighty embarrassed when my body couldn’t be found.”
“How did you get away?”
“When Ringo heard about it he rode out to bury me, but I was still alive and he packed me across the border and took care of me till it looked like I would make it. Then he left me with a Mex girl and rode back north alone. I never saw him again, but I saw where they buried him. I reckon he wasn’t as tough as I was.”
Beanbelly, the oldest and sloppiest Hatcher boy, already losing his hair and growing a paunch at twenty-four, bared his ugly teeth in a sneer. “I think I’ll go get something to eat before I get sick.”
“You must be sick already, from the noises your belly’s been making.”
“That’s ‘cause it’s empty.”
“Must have a hole in it.”
“It must,” Cash agreed. “’Cause it makes noises like that all the time, and he eats all the time.”
Comanche Joe, the youngest Hatcher, remained silent as usual. He was short and bowlegged and looked just like a Comanche with his big round face and shoulder-length black hair. Hence his nickname. He was like a Comanche in another way as well. He looked awkward on the ground but rode like he had been born on a horse.
Jackpot, the bald, beady-eyed bartender, was silent also, scowling as if he didn’t need their business. But he looked at everyone that way. Curly didn’t like him much. No one liked him much.
At the batwings Beanbelly suddenly stopped, stuck his head out and peered up the street. “Rider comin’,” he said in a quiet, ominous tone.
“Anybody we know?” Curly asked, his pale gray eyes very bright in the dark face.
“It ain’t nobody I know,” Beanbelly said.
Curly loosened the heavy .45’s in his tied-down holsters and ambled over to the batwings, with Cash and Comanche Joe at his heels. Casually shouldering Beanbelly aside, the way an old bull would nudge a young calf out of the way without even noticing it, he looked out and saw a tall man in black approaching on a black horse. The stranger was then almost to the sign Curly and the Hatcher boys had put up by the small graveyard at the edge of town—”Welcome to Boot Hill”—and he had his head turned a little to one side studying the sign.
Curly and the boys had put the sign up as a sort of prank on a slow Saturday afternoon. But travelers passing through from the east usually didn’t even notice the neglected mounds of dirt in the brush and weeds beside the road and they thought the sign referred to the town itself. Pretty soon everyone was calling it Boot Hill, as a sort of joke. But the name stuck. Once the place had been called Gibson’s Store, after Uncle Willy Gibson, the first white settler in the area.
The strange rider came on down the narrow dusty street at a slow trot, studying the flat-roofed adobe houses on either side and glancing at the two-story hotel, the only frame building in town. Curly found himself gaping in disbelief at the rider’s cold, clear blue eyes and bronzed face with its bold aquiline nose, hard jaw and curving chestnut mustache. It was the mustache that had thrown him off at first. But there was no mistake. He knew the tall stranger on the sleek black horse.
“I’ll be damned,” Curly said softly, rubbing his blunt chin. “Speak of the devil.”
The rider saw him and the Hatcher boys standing there at the batwings. But there was no hint of surprise on his smooth hard face. There was no expression of any kind. He looked directly into Curly’s eyes—looked through him as if he had been a total stranger and rode on down the street to the livery stable at the lower end.
“Looks like a gunfighter,” Cash said uneasily. “Think Uncle Willy might of sent for him?”
“You boys stay here,” Curly said quietly. “I’ll go talk to him.”
“Think you’ll need any help?” Cash asked.
Curly gave him a hard look. “I’d be out of luck if I did, wouldn’t I?”
Cash didn’t answer. Beanbelly shifted his feet nervously. Comanche Joe just looked stupid. Curly gave the three a withering look and stepped out through the swinging doors, turning toward the stable. Behind him he heard Beanbelly say, “When did he ever need any help talking?”
“At least he’s good for something,” Cash said, his tone implying that Beanbelly wasn’t good for anything.
Ringo had dismounted in front of the livery stable, which seemed to block off the lower end of the street although the stage road curved around it. He was untying his blanket roll and saddlebags and taking them down from behind the saddle as Curly approached.
Ringo looked around at him with a chill in his blue eyes and muttered through his teeth, “I don’t know you, Curly, and you don’t know me. So don’t go pretending like you do.”
“All right, I don’t know you,” Curly said, scanning his strong handsome face for signs of trouble. Around Ringo you always watched for signs of trouble, if you were smart. “But would you mind telling me what you’re doing here in Boot Hill, when you’re supposed to be in hell?”
“Guess I got lost,” Ringo grunted, his restless blue eyes searching everywhere for enemies. Curly noticed that unlike in the old days he was wearing only one gun, a plain walnut-butted Colt in a tied-down holster, and he seemed to be favoring his left arm a little.
“No, you’re on the right trail,” Curly said. “People usually come through here on their way to hell. You’re just a little late, is all.”
Ringo glanced at him out of those cold clear blue eyes. “I came back,” he said quietly. “I got lonesome down there. Kept thinking about some fellows I should have taken with me.” Then in the same tone he said, “I understand the Lefferts boys and their pals are here now.”
Curly grunted and studied him silently for a moment. “Did Uncle Willy send for you, Ringo?”
“I didn’t know you had an uncle, Curly.”
“Uncle Willy Gibson. He’s everybody’s uncle. Or at least he was. But lately he ain’t seemed too happy about certain fellows running off his beef.”
The chill was back in Ringo’s eyes. “I heard you and the Lefferts gang were working for him, Curly.”
“They still are. Me and the Hatcher boys quit a while back.”
Ringo was looking idly about. “So what are you doing now?”
Curly’s white teeth flashed in a grin. “Oh, we’re still in the cattle business, the Hatchers and me. We get them cheap below the border and sell them up here. Or sometimes we get them up here and sell them down there. We might use another hand, if you’re interested.”
“I’m not,” Ringo said.
Curly’s dark face showed his disappointment. “Somehow I had a feeling you didn’t ride a long ways just to see your old pal Curly.” He met the cold blue glance and asked, “Just why are you here, Ringo?”
Ringo frowned, glancing uneasily at the wide archway of the stable. “I wish you’d stop calling me that.”
“You ain’t seen that Bishop kid?” Curly asked.
“I wouldn’t know him if I did see him.”
“I thought you said you were psychic.”
“Only when I’m drunk,” Ringo said. “Right now there’s a long dry ride behind me. But I aim to cut the dust out of my throat as soon as I get to that saloon where you were gawking at me like a greenhorn.”
Curly grinned, taking in Ringo’s tailored black suit and black hat. “In them fancy duds you look more like a greenhorn than I do.”
“You’re not dressed much like a rustler yourself,” Ringo grunted, glancing at Curly’s off-white stetson and new brown suit.
Curly shrugged, flicking dust from his coat. “Bought this outfit just yesterday, as a matter of fact. A certain young lady in town don’t seem too impressed by range duds that’s perfumed with the smell of horses.”
Ringo was still glancing about, a frown on his bronzed face. “Doesn’t anybody work around here?”
“Not at anything they want to get caught at. But if you mean the Bishop kid, he’s prob’ly out back someplace practicing his draw. He practices all the time. Trying to get as good as me, I guess.”
Ringo grinned, but somehow it was not a very pleasant grin, and a moment later it vanished without a trace. It was easy to get the impression that he had forgotten how to smile.
“Looks like I’m going to have to take care of the damn horse myself.”
Curly glanced at the beautiful black gelding and clucked sympathetically. “I know how you hate to work.”
Ringo scowled. “I just don’t like doing somebody else’s work.”
Curly rubbed his chin uneasily. “What have you been doing with yourself anyway, Ringo? It’s been nearly a year since you left Mexico. Then I heard they found you sitting under a tree with some lead in you. They must of thought you were dead, because I heard they buried you.”
“I can see you’re just dying to tell me all about it,” Ringo said.
Curly shrugged. “All I know’s what I heard. But I went by the grave where they said they buried you. Now I’m wondering who’s really in that grave.”
“What makes you think there’s anyone in it?” Ringo asked. “Did you think you were the only one who could spread a story that wasn’t true?”