Curly Bill and Ringo (2 page)

BOOK: Curly Bill and Ringo
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“Thanks, Ringo. Compliments are always welcome, whatever the source.”

“I didn’t mean it as a compliment.”

“That’s what I figgered.”

Curly thoughtfully studied the poker-faced gunfighter. He and Ringo were about the same age, thirty or a little better, and close to the same height, about an inch over six feet. Curly was heavier by ten or fifteen pounds, although he had never gained back all the weight he had lost after Wyatt Earp blasted him with that sawed-off shotgun. In his younger days Curly had been a bullnecked ruffian, saying and doing whatever he pleased, just for the hell of it. Now he was more cautious. He had no wish to get himself shot up again. The next time might be the last, especially if it turned out to be Ringo slinging the lead. Men who got shot by Ringo didn’t live to brag about it.

“You never did say why you came here, Ringo.”

“It doesn’t concern you, Curly,” Ringo grunted. “So don’t let it worry you.”

“I’m not worried. Just curious. The word’s got around somehow that Uncle Willy’s sent for a gunfighter or stock detective to put a stop to all the rustling. Now you show up like a man returning from the grave. It makes a man wonder. Especially when you consider who some of the rustlers are.”

Ringo looked at him. “You mean the Lefferts boys and their pals?”

Curly silently nodded, watching the tall lean gunfighter. He noticed the weariness in Ringo’s pale blue eyes—the weariness and the strange empty coldness that he did not remember from the old days. The hard stubborn jaw—that he remembered very well, for it always meant trouble for somebody.

Ringo stood there silently for a time with the saddlebags and blanket roll under his stiff left arm, looking east along the empty street and on out across the empty desert beyond, toward the Gibson ranch. “Are they all still here?” he asked.

“All except Hoodoo, the youngest Lefferts boy. Pike run him off a while back. Said he was tired of the trouble Hoodoo was always bringing down on them with his bad luck. But now I think old Pike sort of misses him, especially when things go wrong. It’s always nice to have somebody around that you can blame for everything. But I figger Hoodoo will turn up before long. He ain’t never been gone anything like this long before. I reckon we can expect to see his smiling face back in these parts most any day now.”

“I hope so,” Ringo said, as if to himself. “It will save me the trouble of going after him.”

“You better hope his bad luck don’t rub off on you. A lot of folks don’t believe in that sort of thing, but them folks ain’t never been around Hoodoo very much. It’s down-right scary how things just seem to happen around that boy.”

“I intend to make some of them happen,” Ringo said.

Curly sighed, feeling in his pockets for a cigar. “I hate to see it get started. Things have been real peaceful around here now for quite a spell, barring a few little feuds and shootings and stabbings and such. Actually, I’m afraid things might get too peaceful if you go and kill off all the troublemakers. We’ve got a lively little town here and I’d like to keep it that way.”

Ringo looked at him in amazement, then turned his head to glance along the short empty street where nothing stirred but a few wind-blown tumbleweeds.

Curly was embarrassed. Boot Hill looked more like a ghost town every day. About half of the buildings had already been abandoned, and at times there was no sign of life in the rest. “It ain’t always like this,” he said. “I don’t know where they all come from, but sometimes you can’t walk down the street without bumping into someone.”

Ringo didn’t seem to find that news very exciting, if he even believed it, which was unlikely. For he knew Curly. But he didn’t say anything.

Just then there was a burst of shooting from somewhere out behind the stable. Ringo’s black horse lifted its head and nickered softly. Ringo himself seemed to tense and his pale eyes glittered like winter sunlight on ice.

“I guess that explains where the Bishop kid is,” Curly said. “I figgered he was back there somewhere practicing with that pearl-handled gun of his. He’s been like a kid with a new toy ever since he saved up enough money to buy it.”

Then Curly raised his voice and shouted, “Hey, Billy! There’s a black horse here needs some attention!”

“Sure thing, Curly!” the boy called back. “I’ll be right there!”

“I’ll be back for my Appaloosa later! I’m going to ride out to the Hatcher place!”

“Sure thing. I’ll saddle him up, soon as I take care of that black.”

“No hurry. It’ll be a while before I go.”

Ringo loosened the cinch on his saddle and then left the black horse standing there, just as the straw-haired Bishop kid appeared in the hall of the stable. The boy’s pale, almost colorless eyes were bright with interest as he watched the two tall men stroll along the street side by side and turn into the Bent Elbow. A gunfighter, the boy was thinking.

But who was the stranger and was he famous enough to make Billy Bishop’s reputation, if Billy killed him in a gunfight?

Chapter 2

In the saloon, Curly introduced Ringo to the Hatcher boys.

He introduced him as Easter, and smiled at the way everyone looked at him, including Ringo.

So Ringo had heard about Easter too. That didn’t surprise Curly. It had already occurred to him that Ringo might even be Easter. No one seemed to know who Easter really was, and it seemed that no one had ever heard of him until he had killed three men in a gunfight over in Silver City a few weeks back. A drifter who had been there at the time and witnessed the shooting had told about it when he stopped to wet his thirst in the Bent Elbow before drifting on west. He didn’t know how the shooting had started or who had drawn first. All he knew was that there was suddenly a gun in the stranger’s hand and the three men were falling in a heap with their own guns only half drawn. The stranger had not said anything before the shooting, and afterwards he had only said that his name was Easter. But since the Easter holiday wasn’t far away, everyone took it for granted he had used that name only because he didn’t want anyone to know who he really was.

The more Curly thought about it, the more likely it seemed to him that Easter was in fact none other than his old saddle pal Johnny Ringo. He didn’t know of anyone else who could shoot like that, with the possible exceptions of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and they were in Colorado the last he had heard.

“I don’t believe I caught your name,” Ringo said, watching him with cold eyes.

“Curly Bill Graham,” Curly said. “Reckon you’ve heard of me sometime or other.”

Ringo pretended to think for a moment, then shook his head. “Heard of a Curly Bill Brocius once. But you couldn’t be him. Fellow calling himself by that name was a midget. He had to crawl up on a stool to reach his drink, and he was always whining about somebody stepping on him or kicking him out of the way. He didn’t know it was because he was so small. He had this idea in his head that he was a real big fellow.”

The Hatcher boys laughed and Curly joined in. Everyone around here knew Curly Bill Graham and Curly Bill Brocius were one and the same. They just let on like they didn’t around strangers. That was why the Hatcher boys didn’t say anything now.

Jackpot looked like he wanted to say something. But he alone had never believed that Curly was who he claimed to be, and he couldn’t make up his mind now what he wanted to say. But he continued to watch Ringo with an interest that was in no way diminished when Ringo asked for a tumbler and drained it at a single gulp. The Hatcher boys also watched with interest, and then glanced at the whiskey still in their small shot glasses.

Ringo laid some money on the bar and said, “You boys have one on me now.” Curly had bought the first round.

Curly merely smiled and nodded in silence, regretting that Ringo didn’t stay to drink another one with them. It seemed like a sobering reminder that the old days were gone. He didn’t know why Ringo was here, but it wasn’t to rustle cattle or hold up stages as in the past, and it wasn’t to renew his friendship with Curly.

Curly watched him bend down to pick up his saddlebags and blanket roll, using the left hand that seemed a little stiff in order to keep his gun hand free from old habit. Then without another word he went out through the batwings and turned toward the hotel.

Ringo had a distinctive way of walking, with his toes straight ahead but with just the suggestion of a swing in his stride. It was the stride of a bold strong man, one who wasn’t afraid of anything, unless it was himself and the violence seething inside him, hidden below the calm stony surface but ready to explode without warning.

Cash glanced toward the batwings, and then studied Curly’s big dark face, which was strangely solemn when he wasn’t smiling. “He really Easter?” Cash asked.

Curly shrugged one heavy shoulder. “I said he was, didn’t I?”

“I know how you are about making up names for people. Nearly everybody around here has found themselves stuck with a nickname since you came here. And I noticed the look on his face when you called him Easter.”

Curly grinned and said nothing. He was dying to tell them who Ringo really was. But he knew Ringo would soon find out about it and Curly didn’t want to get him sore. Ringo could be very unpleasant when he got sore.

“If it is Easter,” Cash said, “what would a man like that be doing here?”

“What would a man like that be doing anywhere?” Curly asked.

Cash thought for a moment. “You think Uncle Willy sent for him?”

That possibility had occurred to Curly, but he wasn’t ready just yet to admit it. Not even to himself.

He finished his drink. “You boys stay out of trouble. It’s about time for my morning coffee.”

Beanbelly snickered. “He’s going to see Miss Sarah.”

“Better watch old Darius don’t run you out of there,” Cash said.

Curly grinned. “He’ll prob’ly try.”

It was too late for breakfast, too early for lunch, and he found Miss Sarah sitting alone in the hotel dining room. On the table before her there was a cup of coffee that she hadn’t touched, and he noticed that she looked sort of sick. Her face wasn’t rosy like it should be, it looked pale and sort of numb, and she didn’t seem to see him come in. But Curly didn’t let it bother him too much, knowing that women had their moody days. He just turned on the old charm, reasoning that sooner or later it was bound to work its magic on her, and turn her from an indifferent lady into an eager woman, glowing and rosy with love.

“Good morning,” he said, flashing his big white teeth at her in what he hoped was a winning smile. “How’s the lovely lady today?”

She glanced up at him as she might have glanced at a noisy fly buzzing around the table. Clearly she had more important things on her mind. But Curly didn’t let it get him down. Women had been known to change their minds. Pulling back the chair opposite her, he eased his manly form into it.

“You’re not looking very bright-eyed this morning,” he said, squinting thoughtfully at her through the smoke of the cigar he lit up from habit, without thinking to ask if it would bother her. “If I didn’t know you better, I might even think you’d been in old Darius’s private bottle.”

Her lovely lips twisted as if she didn’t consider it much of a joke, nor in the best of taste. Her expression also suggested that he didn’t know her at all. Which Curly had to admit was true. In the weeks she had been in Boot Hill he hadn’t been able to find out anything about her or her past, which remained a mystery and was the source of a good deal of speculation. Everyone called her Miss Sarah. She seemed to have no other name, or none that anyone knew.

Curly glanced about the empty dining room. The shady light and the red and white oilcloths on the tables made the place seem cooler than it was. But Curly was watching for old Darius Winkler. He expected to see the old jelly-belly bust in from the kitchen at any moment, his nervous mustache twitching with jealousy when he saw Curly sitting there at Miss Sarah’s table. Old Darius had planted his wife some time back and he ran the hotel with the help of Miss Sarah and an old Mexican cook, a man, not a woman. But the way old Darius was always fluttering around like a beheaded chicken, you’d have thought he did all the work by himself. There were never more than a few people staying at the hotel at any one time—at the moment there was no one except Ringo, and Miss Sarah who had a room on the second floor—but a good many people ate their meals in the dining room and that was what kept old Darius in business. The old Mexican was a good cook and all the lonesome men around there considered themselves very lucky to have a beautiful lady like Miss Sarah bring them their chuck, even though there was something about her that discouraged familiarity. All the men who came there to eat took it for granted that she wasn’t married and didn’t have a man anywhere, because that was what they wanted to believe.

But none of them made as big a fool of themselves over her as old Darius did. The fact that he was more than twice her age, short and fat and almost bald, with those long ridiculous mustaches, may have kept him from proposing marriage at once. But it didn’t keep him from watching every flicker of her long dark eyelashes and every little ripple of her body inside her clothes. He rarely took his eyes off her curves. At the same time he couldn’t bear for anyone else to look at her.

“Where is that old goat anyway?”

Miss Sarah still seemed lost in thought and didn’t answer. Her face was rather strong, with high cheekbones, and in some ways more handsome than beautiful. But in most ways she was the most attractive woman Curly had ever known.

Trying to get her attention, he bent forward and lowered his voice. “Do you know who that tall handsome fellow is who just checked in?”

She looked at him with dread and still didn’t answer.

But at least he had her attention now.

“That’s Johnny Ringo,” he said, forgetting Ringo’s request to keep quiet. “Me and him rode together for years, in Kansas and Texas before coming to Arizona. I thought he was dead, but I reckon I should of known better than to believe everything I hear. A lot of people think I’m dead.”

Miss Sarah hugged herself as if she had a sudden chill.

“Do you know him well?”

“As well as anyone does, and maybe a little better. What he did before I knew him, he never said. But I reckon it couldn’t be as interesting as what happened over around Tombstone about a year or two ago. Me and Ringo rode with the Clantons till the Earps figgered we’d all done enough mischief. I think what made them so mad was that we helped spread the rumor that it was really them, and not us, who were rustling all the cattle and holding up the stages. Old Wyatt declared war. Not long after that little misunderstanding at the OK Corral, he filled my hide full of buckshot out of pure meanness. When I heard Ringo was dead I figgered they’d got him too. But later on I found out it was somebody else who bushwhacked him. It’s going to be a big disappointment to them when they find out he ain’t dead.”

Miss Sarah nodded, watching him with her serious dark eyes. “Do you think that’s why he came here? To find the men who tried to kill him?”

Curly blew out smoke in a long sigh. “I wish I knew. He wouldn’t tell me anything. But I figger that’s one of the reasons he’s here. I’m not sure it’s the only one.”

Miss Sarah shot him a quick glance, her eyes widening a little in surprise. Then after a moment the long dark lashes lowered and seemed to cast a shadow over her eyes. She said in an almost hesitant tone, “I heard once that there was some trouble between him and Doc Holliday over a woman. Do you know anything about that?”

Curly had a feeling she had heard it from him, but if so, the occasion had slipped his mind. That was what came of running his big mouth so much, he thought. He couldn’t remember half of what he had said, or how he had said it.

“I don’t know how rumors like that get started,” he said, while Miss Sarah watched him blankly. “As I recollect, it never had anything to do with a woman. Ringo and Doc just hated each other at first sight and it got a little worse every time they saw each other. I never knew of anyone who could stand old Doc except Wyatt Earp. Ringo once said Doc was the only serious flaw in Wyatt’s character. He always had a higher opinion of the Earps than I did. But that was back before all the trouble got started.

BOOK: Curly Bill and Ringo
10.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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