Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blood on the Prairie (excerpt)

BLOOD ON THE PRAIRIE

Read BLOOD ON THE PRAIRIE in its entirety in the BROTHERS OF THE MOUNTAIN collection HEART OF THE FRONTIER.


Lucas could no longer ignore the flurry of insults. He laid his pair of queens on the table, pushed away, and stood up slowly.
The boisterous fellow spoke again. “That’s right, you big horse’s ass. Git up and face me like a man. Maybe you got a little sand after all.”
Henry stood relaxed, watched from a distant corner, sipping his rum. He was certain his brother could handle the intoxicated buffoon.
Turning to the drunken man, Lucas narrowed his gaze. “Jake,” he began, “I was hopin you were gonna take your smelly skunk carcass and get the hell outta here.” The other patrons sniggered at the remark as Lucas continued. “But it looks like you can’t keep your damn mouth shut.”
The brawny, young trapper shoved the empty chairs aside and proceeded across the makeshift saloon. The man named Jake produced a devilish grin, displaying a set of dark, tobacco-stained teeth. The rugged trapper looked as if he hadn’t seen soap and water for some time. Behind his bloodshot eyes was the look of someone with a strong suspicion of being swindled. Earlier, Lucas had exhausted the fellow of his seasonal earnings in a friendly game of draw poker.
Jake spat a stream of tobacco juice, and said, “I’d say thar ain’t no way in hell any man could ever win that many hands in a row.” A bottle of rum sloshed in his right hand as he flailed and pleaded his case.
“I may be a lot of things, Jake, but I ain’t what you’re about to say I am.” Lucas followed with a cold, hard stare, but the foolish drunkard didn’t observe the cautionary gesture.
“Oh,” Jake began, “you mean a damn, no good, lyin, cheatin dog?”
He mocked Lucas, emphasizing each insult, pushing the equable frontiersman to his limit. Henry held his position, but jerked to attention after hearing the blasphemous slurs. He knew what was about to happen. Everyone in the saloon also knew. The surrounding patrons scattered, giving the men their needed space. Henry eased closer to the action, making himself readily available.
With a crushing right hand, Lucas seized the belligerent’s throat. Jake’s hatchet face flushed, his eyes bulged, and his mouth gaped while he struggled to draw air. With the bottle of rum, Jake tried to retaliate with a crashing blow to Lucas’ skull. The frontiersman caught the man’s wrist in mid-swing and forced the bottle from his hand. Realizing he couldn’t match the strength of his younger opponent, Jake fumbled desperately for the butcher knife tucked away at his backside. Before he grasped the handle, Lucas heaved and slammed the helpless combatant onto a nearby card table, splintering the wooden structure into pieces. Henry scoured the tent still defending his brother’s blindside.
Jake lay on a pile of rubble, moaning.
“I think he’s … broke my back,” he said, still gasping for air. “Leroy … kill … that sum-bitch!”
A man from the crowd stepped forward with a knife pulled, but when he felt a pistol inserted firmly into his ribcage, he froze solid.
Henry pulled the hammer back on his flintlock and said, “Don’t be so foolish, Leroy. You best think long and hard before you go tryin to use that Arkansas toothpick. I’d hate to make a mess of ya all over this fine establishment.”
Without hesitating, Leroy slid the dagger back into its sheath.
“Now you’re thinkin with a little more reason,” said Henry. He yelled to his brother, “It’s time to go!”
Lucas stood over Jake as he labored for each breath. “I suggest next time you reconsider before callin someone a liar.”
Backing away, Lucas scanned the other patrons. The brothers then exited the tent, leaving Leroy with the honor of tending to his crumpled crony.

Jake and Leroy rode out early the next morning. The thought of sticking around lingered, but went against Jake’s better judgment. He wasn’t in any condition to scuffle with Lucas McCarty again.
They rode easy for some time when Jake felt a sudden call from Mother Nature. He stopped quickly to relieve himself.
“God damn it, Leroy,” said Jake. “Swing my leg over so I can get off this sorry animal.” Jake groaned. His body resonated with pain. With every move came an aching reminder of the thrashing he’d received from Lucas McCarty. Now, he needed urgent assistance with dismounting his horse.
“Hurry up. I’m ‘bout to soil myself,” he said.
“I’m tryin,” said Leroy. “Your damn boot’s stuck in the stirrup.”
“Well unstick it, you idiot!”
Leroy yanked and jerked. “There, I got it.”
Jake’s face contorted with discomfort as he eased his right leg over the saddle. He slid one boot to the ground and then slowly planted the other. After hobbling stiffly into the bushes, he dropped his suspender straps and pulled his trousers to his ankles. Stabbing bolts of pain surged along his spine.
“Damn that Lucas McCarty,” he grumbled. “If’n it’s the last thing I ever do, I’ll kill that boy.”
When Jake finished and began to stand, an arrow silently sliced the air. The sharp flint tip penetrated deep within the mountain man’s right temple. A surreal, gentle silence fell on the world in front of him. He tumbled backwards, collapsing into his own feces.
Irritably, Leroy waited by the horses.
“Hurry the hell up, Jake!” he yelled. “If you think I’m about to come over there and help you wipe your ass, you best think again. You hear me?”
There was no answer.
Leroy kicked the ground and reluctantly made his way into the bushes.
“I’m serious, you sorry bastard. I’ve done lots of things in my time, but I ain’t never wiped another man’s–” A tomahawk crashed into the back of Leroy’s skull. A short grunt of air escaped his lungs. He fell to the ground, his eyes fluttered, and limbs convulsed.
Silent, tan moccasins stepped toward Jake’s lifeless body. A callous hand wrenched the embedded arrow from the trapper’s skull. Next, a bone-handled knife emerged from a beaded sheath and a section of Jake’s greasy hair was peeled away from the top of his enormous head. Leroy’s thick, brown mess of hair endured the same technique shortly after.
A dark, chiseled face with two piercing, black eyes hovered over the pair of lifeless bodies. The man mumbled a few words in his native tongue and vanished, leaving the human remains for the buzzards and coyotes.

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