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A Tale from the Wild West; Part 2, Seth has a conversation with Tanner - in Memory of Jose Guerena, Never Forget
As the other men bedded down for the night, Seth began his turn at night watch. Now one man for 400 head seems mighty slight, but it had worked so far. Ol’ Joe, the trailboss said “I want you men rested and ready to move in the mornings, One man alls you need to holler for help and iffin he does, the rest of you best get there pronto.”Seth thought about that fool Clarence and shook his head. Early on in the drive Clarence had hollered for help on his watch, but there weren’t nothing there. Said he saw a pack of coyotes moving in on the horses, which is unlikely enough, but there was nothing but a herd of rabbits in that scrub. The men were about ready to hang Clarence, then and there, but Ol’ Joe stepped in and settled things down, “Now boys,” he said, “y’all got here right quick and I’m proud of you for it .Every manjack one of you” He scanned each man as he nodded his head, then turned to Clarence ”and now we know that the man on watch best not be chasing no dern’d ghosts unless he wants to become one hisself”. That little joke broke the tension, the men chuckled, glared at Clarence and went off back to camp.
As Seth made the rounds, he couldn’t help but glance now and again, to where he had seen Tanner stalk off to. Tanner had told a chilling tale about what he had seen in Pima, years back. Seth shook his head as he thought it over. Deputies busting in on a man in his own home, shooting him full of holes, then, holding back his wife and a doc as he bled out? Hard to believe. Still,,, there was something about Tanner,“it was like you could see the story painted on his eyes." Seth considered "Oh, it happened all right and Tanner was there to see it”, Seth concluded.
Seth looked out over the land. The half moon shown over a peaceful setting. The wind was light and easy. There was hardly a sound, except some cayotes yipping in the far distance. The horses were calmed, so Seth worked his way over to where he thought Tanner was. He noticed the mare first, rather he noticed that the mare that Tanner liked, had noticed him. The mare pawed at the ground as Seth approached. Tanner, sitting on a rock just turned his shoulders slowly, repositioned himself on the rock and nodded hello. “Smoke?” asked Seth. Tanner nodded again, so Seth got off his horse, pulled out his bakky pouch and handed it over. Tanner quickly got the fix’ns together and handed the pouch back to Seth who was now on his own rock. Tanner got out a match, waited till Seth was done, struck the match to life, cupped the flame in his hand and offered it to Seth. Seth nodded his thanks, lit up, and Tanner did the same. They both leaned back.
When their smokes were about half done Seth said “That was some story.” Tanner nodded and after a long pause said “I’ve told that story once, maybe three times, or at least started it anyway.” He shook his head. “Most people don’t believe it.” He stared at the ground. Earnestly Seth said “Well I believe it” Tanners head jerked up, he reached out grabbed Seth’s arm “Do you, do you really, or are you just funning me? Seth looked him in the eyes “I believe you saw it, same as it happened and that man getting killed like that was the truth.”
Tanner nodded gratefully, then, realizing what he had done, released Seth’s arm and brushed at it. Smiling sheepishly he said “Sorry, Pard, never was one to lay hands on a man.” Seth replied “No harm taken.” Both men eased back on their rocks. After a bit, Seth stomped out his smoke and asked resignedly “But what can ya do” not expecting an answer. Tanner responded in a low voice “Well a man could find out the why of it, then chase them critters down and makem pay for what they done.” Surprised at this train of thought Seth asked “How the hell would you do that?”
Tanner replied, “Don’t rightly know, but I aim to find out. Seth I gotta go. I gotta go tonight.” Seth was dumbfounded and said “Well, that don’t make no sense at all. Tonight? Leave the herd before we hit Yuma?” Tanner said slowly “I realize it don’t make a lotta sense, but it’s something I got to do, I just gotta, will you help me? Seth nodded that he would, but asked “Why?” Tanner said “I know if I wait till tomorrow, I’ll just get distracted and not go. I’ve been distracted three years now and I’m sick of it.” Seth asked “But why you Tanner? Other men were there.” Tanner sighed and said “Why not me? Maybe the job is already done, but I have to know.” Seth looked at Tanner square in the face, searching his eyes and said “I guess I do understand.” The men nodded at each other and stood up.
Tanner walked back to camp to collect his gear and Seth rode to the remuda to capture Tanner’s horses. Tanner stopped by the chuck wagon to grab some vittles for the trail and briefly thought of awakening Jamie, the one legged cook. Tanner had not said more than a dozen words to him, but he liked and respected the good natured fella. “No,” he thought “Just another distraction” and moved on towards the remuda. Seth met him half way and Tanner bridled ‘Moonbeam’ his favorite of the two horses. Seth offered Tanner a fresh pouch of bakky, but Tanner declined saying “I’ll most likely be in a town afore you, but If you could spare some water, I’d be much behold’n.” Seth handed over his spare canteen and Tanner rose onto his saddle. As the two men shook hands, the mare came up and snorted, Tanner smiled and said “Well, come on then” and off they set, headed East.
Seth watched them for a long while as they crossed the open plain. The mare followed for a bit then ran ahead of Tanner. The mare would wait until Tanner caught up, then run on again. “Just like a damn dog” he thought “Wonder what’s to come of all that?”
Tanner was wondering the same thing. “Here I am wandering thru the desert at night with three horses and no particular destination in mind” he thought. Then he recalled the murder and decided he knew where he was headed. “I am going to find the truth” he thought “The truth is my destination.” As he came across some hills on his left he thought “I’ve passed that formation more times than I care to think and never been up there, wonder what’s to see” and so turned his little caravan up into hills. Tanner soon found a good clearing for the horses and after caring for them, a good perch for himself. Much too agitated to even think about sleep, he settled down to think and wait on the sunrise.
As the first rays of warmth and light crossed the horizon, to tickle the clouds into turning pink and red, Tanner stood up and stretched. “I don’t have much money, but I’m not dead broke, as I usually am starting a drive” he grinned “And I don’t have much learning, but I ain’t exactly ignorant” he thought. “ I do know of a whorehouse in Tucson and a Miss Elva Barr who runs it. That fine lady knows everything and everybody, so that is where I'll start.” He went to ready the horses.
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