With the sheriff’s flashlight shining in his face, Kevin Maduro tried to appear calm. The headlights from the sheriff’s car lit the ground, his brother Kyle, and their two horses in white light.
“What no good you two up to out here on horseback this time of night?” the sheriff said.
Kevin quickly glanced over at Kyle who was standing on the other side of his horse, Rain. “Just headin’ home sheriff,” he said. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with doin’ that is there?”
“What are you carrying in the saddlebags?” the sheriff said.
Kevin wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “Nothin’ but some beers and a few other things we picked up at the store outside Rio Rico,” he said.
“I think I’ll just take a look for myself,” the sheriff said. As he unlatched the saddlebag on Kevin’s horse, Rain whinnied and bucked.
“What’s wrong with that horse?” the sheriff said standing on the tips of his boots and looking over the horses’ saddles at Kyle.
“Nothin’ sheriff. He’s just a bit skittish at night,” Kyle said.
The sheriff rummaged through the saddlebags and looked at the contents. After taking a can of beer from the saddlebag on Rain, he said, “I’m surprised to say it, but you boys are clean. Now get home.” He opened the can and walked to his car and got in and drove away.
Kevin ran around the horses and excitedly grabbed the front of his brother’s shirt. “What did you do with the pouch with the diamonds?”
“I shoved it down Rain’s throat,” Kyle said with a big toothy grin.
* * *
The javelina squealed as soon as the metal tip of Jack Straw’s arrow pierced its gray, dusty hide, sending it into a brief convulsive dance before it fell over dead. The arrow had reached its heart. Stirring up a small ground level cloud dirt, the eight other javelinas in the herd fled into the dry creek bed and disappeared around a bend. Jack jabbed the javelina’s belly with the tip of his brown snakeskin cowboy boot, then pulled out the arrow. He wiped the blood from the tip on his jeans and put it back in the quiver. The animal’s stench wafted from its body. Taking the red bandana from around his neck he looked up at the clear blue sky that seemed almost too small to fit the glaring white sun. Visible waves of heat rose up from the ground. He lifted his tattered gray Stetson and ran the bandana over his sweat soaked black hair and wiped the sweat from his face, then tied the bandana around his nose and mouth. Lifting the animal by the skin on the back of its neck, he hoisted it onto his right shoulder and held it there with his right hand.
Trekking westward in the open desert, the blood from the javelina dripped down his chest and back. It mixed with his sweat and glued his shirt to his skin. The air was so still it was smothering. Flying insects buzzed around the javelina and around Jack’s head. Patches of scrub brush, prickly pear and barrel cactus and large saguaro dotted the barren landscape. On the horizon he could see his deceased father’s old hunting shack baking in the sun. The tin roof reflected the blinding sunlight. He licked his parched lips and tried to ignore his bladder wanting to be emptied.
Within twenty yards of the shack he walked by the rotting carcass of a horse. He stopped at the well and dropped the javelina on the ground and lowered the bandana. After pumping the well a small stream of water flowed out of the tap. He put his mouth to it and sucked in water as his warm piss ran down his leg. When the trickle turned to drips he inserted a finger in each of the nostrils of the javelina and dragged it by its snout past the fire pit and into the shack and laid it on the dirt floor next to a rickety table.
He removed the quiver and hung it and the bow on a large hook by the door and hung his hat on top of them. After sitting on the edge of his cot and removing his boots, he stripped off his clothes and took off the bandana and hung them over a line that extended across the room, from one wall to the other. Naked, he lifted the javelina onto the table. Taking a black handled skinning knife from a leather pouch hanging on a wall, he began to skin and butcher the javelina. As he removed the animal’s head a slight, hot breeze blew in through the open window and door.
“Jack Straw, I come to tell ya somethin’,” Sam MacBride yelled from atop his horse ten yards from the shack. “The Maduro brothers are looking for ya. They want their horse back and they say they’ll kill you if they don’t get it back. Knowin’ those two they might kill you anyways.”
Jack stabbed the knife into the javelina’s head and went to the doorway. He leaned against the door frame and crossed his sunburnt arms across his chest. “Tell ’em I said they can go straight to hell.”
Sam shifted his gaze from Jack. He didn’t like looking at another naked man. “I can’t tell ’em nothin’ you say, otherwise they’d know I’d been talkin’ to ya. I just thought ya should know. Ya can’t hide out here in the middle of nowhere forever.”
“I just plan to be out here long enough to figure out how to get back what those Maduros stole from me,” Jack said.
Glancing over at the dead horse, Sam said, “That ain’t Kevin’s horse, by any chance is it?”
“Sure is,” Jack said. “It was acting poorly from the moment I stole it. I came out of the shack a few mornings ago and it was lying just like you see it now, dead as Abraham Lincoln.”
“The Maduros are goin’ ta be pretty pissed when they find out Kevin’s horse died after you stole it,” Sam said.
“They give back what they have of mine and I’ll buy ’em a new horse,” Jack said.
Sam pulled on the reins turning his horse toward the direction he had come from. “Anything ya needin’?” he said over his shoulder.
“Laundry detergent,” Jack said. “Also some toilet paper. And tell Grace I miss her.”
Sam hit the sides of his horse with his boots and took off across the desert.
* * *
At dawn, as pale yellow sunlight spread across the Sonora, Grace Baldwin’s pale pink silk slip clung to her body as she stood at the open front door of her house. She waved a red paper fan in front of her face blowing her blonde curls from her face. In the other hand she held a burning cigarette that she brought to her lips and sucked in the smoke. A small brown and yellow lizard ran onto the tip of her fuzzy pink slipper. Casually, she kicked it off and watched it scurry away. She exhaled the smoke as she let out an audible exasperated sigh. In the distance a hawk soared over the desert.
Kevin Maduro came up behind her and put his hands on her hips and kissed her on the back of the neck.
With annoyance, she said, “Didn’t you get your money’s worth with Janelle?”
He stepped to her side and buckled his belt. “Sure did, your sister is fine but she ain’t you. I’d make it worth your while if you ever want to give me a go.”
“Nothing you could offer would ever be worth my while,” she said. “If you don’t want the other three girls here you can go somewhere else.”
He stepped out into the dirt and while staring out at the landscape he pushed his white straw cowboy hat back on his head, and said, “For a whore who runs an illegal brothel, you ain’t very friendly. Just imagine what the sheriff would do if he found out what you got goin’ on here?”
“I’ll ask him the next time he’s here,” she said.
His back stiffened and he readjusted his hat. “Ain’t that somethin’?” he said. He went to his pickup truck and opened the door. Before getting in he turned and said, “Jack Straw is a horse thieving dead man.” He got into the truck and drove off, his back wheels spitting out clouds of dirt and rock.
After flicking the cigarette out into the dirt, Grace turned and went into the house, closed the door and walked down the hallway. The walls were painted a bright pink and framed photographs of naked women hung on the walls. There were five doors, two on each side and one at the end, that led to four bedrooms and a bathroom. Only Janelle’s door was open. Grace stopped in the doorway. “Kevin say if he found out where Jack was hiding out?”
Sitting at a vanity dresser in a black lace neglige and brushing her long black hair, she said, “He wasn’t in a talkin’ mood.”
Grace bit into her lower lip. “Jack is certain it was one of the Maduro brothers who stole the diamonds.” She smacked the fan in the palm of her hand. “Stealing their horse as ransom was pretty stupid.”
“It never was the size of Jack’s brain that impressed you anyway,” Janelle said as she watched in the mirror how her lips looked when she puckered them.
Grace let out another long sigh. “Who steals a horse nowadays?” she said. “A horse ain’t worth a shitload of diamonds. It just don’t make good sense.”
Janelle turned on the stool she was sitting on and stretched her long legs and said, “Nothing has made sense since we left Nevada to start off new. We’re back where we started, flat on our backs, only minus the diamonds Jack stole in Reno, and stuck in this hell hole.”
“All we need of hell is a little good luck,” Grace said. “We’ve been dancing with devil long enough. It’s time we get somethin’ in return.”
* * *
The black limousine pulled into the parking lot of Henry’s Groceries and came to a stop at a hitching post. The back door opened and three-foot-five tall Zell Lyman stepped out, the gravel under his white Italian leather shoes making a crunching sound. He slid his pistol into the waistband in the back of pants, tucked his red silk shirt over the pistol and into his pants, and looked around. The small store was dilapidated and the only building in sight for a quarter of a mile. Its tin sign hung slightly askew above the screen door.
Sam walked out of the store carrying a full brown paper bag. A package of toilet paper stuck out at the top. “Damn, a real live midget,” Sam said with a whistle upon seeing Zell.
Zell walked up to him. “Listen, cow pie, I ain’t no midget. You never heard of political correctness? I’m a little person. You got that?”
“Oh, sure, sorry,” Sam stammered. “But you do look like one of those, whatcha call ’em, in that movie with the flying monkeys.”
“You sayin’ I look like a munchkin?” Zell said threateningly. “’Cause if that’s what you’re sayin’ be prepared to have your kneecaps broken.”
“No, I didn’t mean to say that,” Sam said. “If you don’t mind me askin’, where you from?”
“Reno, Nevada,” Zell said. “What of it? If you wanna make something of it, I’m ready.” He raised his fists and made a few punching gestures into the air.
“It’s fine with me,” Sam said. “Everyone’s gotta come from somewhere.”
“Good,” Zell said. He lowered his fists and pulled a photograph from his shirt pocket and showed it to Sam. “You know this man? I heard he was born and raised around here.”
Sam leaned down and stared at the photograph. “Sure, I know him. That’s Jack Straw. He’s an old friend of mine.”
“Where can I find him?” Zell said. “He’s my friend too. I have something to give him.”
“That car can’t get to where we need to go. We’d need to get my horse and I can take you to him. I was goin’ out that way anyways,” Sam said. “I only got one horse. Do you mind ridin’ two to a saddle?”
“I’ll ride on the horse’s bare ass if it gets me to him,” Zell said.
* * *
The antelope jack rabbit sat up on its hind legs and raised its head and sniffed the air, then crouched down. Jack raised the bow, pulled back the string and aimed the arrow at it. Just as he was about to let the arrow fly, a horse’s whinny startled the rabbit and it quickly leapt off between two large saguaros. With the string on the bow still pulled back and taut, Jack pivoted to the left. Without hesitation he released the arrow. It made a whisper-like whooshing sound until it found its target, Kevin Maduro’s throat. With the arrow sticking out both sides of his neck, Kevin eyes bulged out as he grasped his throat, and fell on the ground at the base of a saguaro. Blood spurted from his neck forming a puddle around his head.
Riding up quickly on his horse, Kyle looked at his brother’s body, then at Jack. “You son of a bitch,” he said as he raised his rifle.
Before Kyle got the rifle butt to his shoulder, Jack pulled another arrow from the quiver and put it in the bow, pulled back the string and released the arrow. It hit Kyle in the middle of the forehead. The force of it knocked Kyle off of his horse and against a saguaro where he stuck onto the spines in a standing position.
* * *
A week later, Grace and Janelle arrived on horseback at Jack’s shack. Sam’s body was lying face up in the dirt. There was a bullet hole in his left eye. The brown paper bag was lying by his side.
Jack’s body was lying shirtless against the horse. A bullet had entered the middle of his chest.
Grace got off her horse and walked over to Jack. Animals had made a snack of parts of his exposed upper body. Insects buzzed around him.
Maggots were crawling in and out of the horse’s sun cooked body. Through the open decayed skin in its neck, the pouch of diamonds could be seen. Grace reached in and pulled out the pouch and held it up for Janelle to see.by
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Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over seventy short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. His plays have been produced in several American states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and writes full time.