Joe Camel (Short Story No. 2)
You can call me Mr. Joe
“Are you with the circus?” the woman asked the large man who had just hitched a camel to the post outside the newspaper office. He looked like he could be a circus strong man.
“No, ma’am,” the man replied, raising an eyebrow. “What makes you ask that?”
“Let me introduce myself. I’m Helen James, Pinkerton agent.” She handed him a business card.
“You are as fine as cream gravy,” the man complimented while looking her over lustfully. Helen went on to say that she knew that George Bartholomew’s Great Western Circus was in the area, in that she had just met two dwarves who worked as clowns in the circus. She explained that Allan Pinkerton had sent her to the Montana Territory to solve the mystery of the sinking of the steamboat Victoria and to ascertain the whereabouts of several thousands of dollars in gold on board the boat when it sank. “So who are you and what’s the story with the camel?”
“My name is Turk, Turk Smith, and the camel’s name is Joe. I hire Joe out as a pack animal, and he can carry more than twice as much as any horse or mule.”
“Twice as much gold?” Helen asked icily.
“Twice as much anything,” Turk replied. “Flour, kegs of nails, whatever. Joe carried the first gold away from Henry Edgar’s mine in Virginia City.”
Helen commented, “That mule you hitched Joe up next to sure didn’t want to make friends. He took off like a bat out of hell once he broke free.”
History of Joe
Turk expounded that Joe was from the highlands at the headwaters of the Amoor River, Manchuria, China. He was one of the camels purchased for the army in 1855 as a result of the appropriation bill pushed by then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. The camels were to be utilized in the deserts of the American Southwest. “I was hired, along with some Arabs and other Turks, to take care of the camels,” he said and then mentioned that the camels had been sold at auctions when the army decided to discontinue using them and he had bought Joe, cheap.
“I did notice Joe has the old United States army brand of 1856,” Helen commented and then inquired, “What happened to the rest of the camels?”
“They were sold to somebody. Some made their way to travelling circuses, especially ones in Mexico. A guy from San Francisco bought five of them I heard. This guy has a number of exotic animals from foreign countries.”
“What kind of animals?” Helen questioned.”
Turk replied, “I know he has a big white snake, I saw it. A python I believe.”
Helen realized immediately that he referred to Captain Taz, the one who led the road agents that sank the Victoria and made off with the safe containing the gold.
“I’m surprised that the camels didn’t work out for the army.” Helen said. “Camels have been used effectively throughout history by military leaders. In the Battle of Delhi in 1398, Sultan Mahmud Khan sent his 120 armored elephants to do battle, which Timur matched by loading his pack camels with oil-soaked brush and straw. He lit them up and sent them charging against the Indians. The elephants ran. The Indian army was thrashed and Delhi was sacked. And again, camels are very good for transporting goods. Like gold.”
“You are obsessed with camels and gold, ma’am,” Turk said.
“Just doing my job,” she snapped. “Trying to figure out what happened to the gold. ‘And again, I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ That’s Matthew 11:24. What did you say you are doing in Virginia City? And what did you do with your share of the gold?”
“I didn’t say what I’m doing in Virginia City, but me and Joe are here to see the elephant,” Turk responded. I’d let Joe tell you this himself, but he doesn’t like you. An elephant once asked Joe, ‘Why do you have your breasts on your back?’ Joe replied, ‘What a silly question from someone who has a dick on his face.’ And I don’t have any gold. Not yet.”
“What elephant are you here to see?” she questioned.
“That means to go to town where all the action is,” Turk snapped.
“What action?” she demanded. “There doesn’t seem to be much action going on, at the moment.”
Turk drawled, “Well, it’s hot as a whorehouse on nickel night. I think I’ll mosey on over to the Bale of Hay Saloon and bend an elbow with a cold beer. There’s probably some high-falutin’ painted ladies peacocking about over there. But I doubt any are as ripe for pickin’ as you, darlin’.”
Follow the camel toe
Suddenly Joe started jumping like a dog in anticipation and excitement. Five camels trotted into Virginia City and stopped in front of the Allen & Millard Bank. The riders dismounted and stormed into the bank. Turk gathered the animals and hitched them to the posts in front of the bank. A man wearing a snakeskin hat, vest, and boots had led the gang into the building. Taz said “Hello” to the cashier and promptly shot him in the chest with his pistol. The mortally wounded cashier told Taz the safe in the vault was on a time lock and could not be opened, at least not right then. Taz thanked him for the information by finishing him off with his impressive knife.
“I don’t need another safe I can’t get open,” Taz complained to his partners in crime as they rounded up what cash was available and bailed. There were no customers in the bank at the time, but the gang murdered the manager and accountant on the way out.
Sheriff Hiram Brown and two of his deputies had gotten wind of the bank robbery and ran onto the street firing at the bandits fleeing on camels. Turk and Joe joined them in flight. The sheriff immediately called for a posse.
“I want to go with you, sheriff,” Helen insisted. “I am a Pinkerton agent, and I am after this gang for committing another crime, the sinking of the steamboat Victoria and the theft of several thousand dollars in gold dust and nuggets.”
“You got a gun, lady?” the sheriff snarled.
Helen reached under her dress and pulled the derringer from her garter.
The sheriff frowned and said, “Follow me to my office and we’ll discuss the matter.” Once there he said, “I don’t care a continental why you want to go off chasing those robbers and camels. I have no obligation to take a woman along in the posse. Unless you want to talk me into it. On your knees.”
Helen got on her knees.
When finished, much to the sheriff’s pleasure, she commented, “It shouldn’t be all that difficult to track those camels.”
“Right,” the sheriff agreed. “Just follow the camel toe. I suggest you change into some riding clothes. You can take a rifle off my rack.”
* * *
It was more like an hour before the posse of a dozen departed.
After six hours of hard riding in pursuit of the bandits, Sheriff Brown called for a halt and break for food.
The members of the posse sat around a fire drinking coffee and eating biscuits and jerky.
The sheriff said to Helen, “Incidentally ma’am, you have quite the camel toe in those tight riding britches.”
“You must be mistaken,” Helen responded.
“Oh, why is that?” the sheriff asked.
Helen stood and relieved herself in the sight of all.
“Yup, I was mistaken,” the sheriff concurred, his voice shaking.