Fire in the Hole (Short Story No. 42)
These short stories will be part of the sequel to my novel The Lady Who Loved Bones. Any suggestions for improvement or for future stories are welcome.
Cooking fresh meat
Butch Baker, leader of the outlaw gang that had recently joined up with Captain Taz, returned to the main hideout concealed in a box canyon ten miles west of Virginia City.
Baker, a former Sydney Duck like Taz, sadly informed his boss of the demise of Fast Jerry at the hand of Pinkerton agent Helen James in a gunfight.
Taz paused from the training of his fighting animals Devil and Tiger and spat, “I want him dead. I told you to take care of it.”
“Him?” Butch questioned. “You mean that Pinkerton agent you just mentioned?”
Taz muttered, “Whatever. The maggots don’t care if the dead body is a woman or really a man. He ordered, “Take the Gatling gun to Cripple Creek. You can’t miss with that.”
“Boss, you let those Cheyenne Dog Soldiers borrow the Gatling gun.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Taz replied. “They wanted to get revenge for that Arapaho princess cutting off the head of their leader, Yellow Bear. They bragged they were going to kill her father Black Wolf. And her mother. And her brothers and sisters. I traded the use of the Gatling gun for the penguins.”
“The stupid squaw carried that head around in a bag, taking it out to show everybody,” Butch added. He glanced at the two priests digging a deep hole nearby. Two women were naked and shackled close by. “Who are those pilgrims?” he asked. “And what in the hell are they up to?”
Taz explained. “The Jesuit priests are Father Adrian and Father Joseph. The women are the Ursuline nuns Sister Abigail and Sister Florence. They are digging their own graves. Then I’m going to make them get in that hole, and I’m going to pour kerosene on them.”
“Why don’t you strip the priests too?” Butch suggested. “I wonder if they’ll try to have sex before they die.”
“Damn good idea, Butch,” Taz complimented. “I imagine they will want to have sex before they die. Those two nuns are whores of Babylon. I’ll let them frolic in the hole naked for ten minutes before I yell ‘Fire in the hole!’”
“That will be a helluva show!” Butch raved. “Why are you gonna kill them, anyway?”
“Practice, I’m talking about practice,” Taz snarled. “Practice for what I will do to that Pinkerton agent.”
“You’ll make her a martyr,” Butch said. “Like Joan of Arc.”
“Joan of Arc was also a saint,” Taz noted.
# # #
Food for thought
“Where is Sweet Water?” Hannah questioned. “She was supposed to join us on the journey to Cripple Creek.”
Shorty responded, “She rode off yesterday. Said she could make better time alone. She took Yellow Bear’s head with her.”
“That’s strange,” Hannah said. “That head was starting to stink.”
Shorty added, “Sweet Water looked angry, very angry. She kept muttering somethin’ about avenging the death of Princess Takuhatahime.” .
Just then Reverend Issac Nelson drove up in a wagon and stopped it in front of the others who had joined the posse and appeared eager to depart.”
“Where are those two priests and two nuns from St. Peter’s mission?” Hannah inquired. “I thought they were coming along.”
“No, they left two days ago,” the preacher reported. “They said they had a few weddings and baptisms to perform and many heathen souls to save.”
“They went off by themselves?” Shorty blurted incredulously. “Two of them already got shot up with arrows by Injuns. They is just askin’ for trouble. Were they armed?”
“Armed with the Word of God,” Reverend Nelson responded.
“I ain’t sure that will help against Cheyenne Dog Soldiers,” Shorty said sarcastically. “Or Captain Taz and his outlaw gang.”
Snort snickered and said, “Prolly will help as much as this California prayer book.” He flashed a deck of cards.
Reverend Nelson retorted, “Shorty, you look like the barber’s cat, half-starved and sickly. My wagon is filled with cackleberries and overland trout, huck dummies and a few skunk eggs.”
“Oh, you have onions,” Shorty marveled. “I love onions! How about apple jack?”
“No alcohol,” the preacher snarled. “You have to bring your own.”
Shorty nodded. “I brought my own, I surely did. Here, have a prairie oyster.” He handed some to the reverend.
Nelson gobbled one down eagerly. “Hey, this is tasty! What is it?”
“Fried calf testicle,” Shorty said.
Shag jumped up and grabbed the remaining prairie oysters that the preacher had put down beside himself.
An irate Hannah suddenly shouted, “Let’s move out, you batherskites!”
# # #
Sweet Water intercepted Butch Baker and a half dozen of his men about ten miles south of Cripple Creek. She decided to wait until the middle of the night and sneak up on them, while they were sleeping or passed out from drinking heavily. First, she restrained Butch’s men by tying their hands behind their back, tying their legs together at the ankles, and gaggling their mouths. None of them make any noise during this process since she thumped them unconscious with her war club. Finally, Sweet Water turned her attention to the leader Butch, who she hadn’t gagged, wanting him to talk. Decked out in war paint and looking rather fierce, she put her knife to Butch’s throat while pulling Yellow Bear’s head from the bag and waving it proudly and shouting a chilling Arapaho death chant.
Sweet Water threatened, “This is what is going to happen to you if you don’t tell me what I want to know.”
“I’ll talk,” Butch muttered weakly. “Please don’t cut off my head! I want to live!” he begged.
“Who killed the snake charmer Princess Takuhatahime and stole her snake Beezelbub?” Sweet Water demanded.
“Taz did,” Butch answered, his voice trembling.
Sweet Water then asked, wanting to verify his credibility, “What did Taz do to her body?”
“He had sex with it,” Butch replied, “after she was dead.”
“Tell me about how he butchered her,” Sweet Water insisted.
Butch responded, “He mutilated her beautiful face and ripped open her abdomen. It made me sick, really sick.”
Sweet Water noticed the Ursuline nun headdress lying next to Butch. “What happened to those nuns?” she asked. “Did he kill them?”
“The priests too,” Butch said, “after he tortured them and burned them alive in a mass grave.”
# # #
May Ling sharpened the Arkansas toothpick meticulously. That Pinkerton agent Helen James had confiscated her Bowie knife, claiming that it was evidence in the murders of sheriff deputies Ned Helm and Russ Lane, and also pimp Ku-Lang. May Ling had followed Sweet Water and now listened to the interrogation of Butch Baker. Father Joseph had recently become May Ling’s principal source of income. He referred to her as his very own Virgin Mary. May Ling became angry, very angry, but she resisted the temptation to rush out and cut off Butch Baker’s head. It appeared that Sweet Water might well take care of that matter.