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Before he brilliantly traversed the gritty landscapes of underworld Detroit and Miami, the incomparable Elmore Leonard wrote breathtaking adventures set in America's nineteenth-century western frontier?elevating a popular genre with his now-trademark twisting plots, rich characterizations, and scalpel-sharp dialogue.
For every story of inspiring moral courage in America's untamed West, there's one of greed and duplicity, of corrupted souls willingly sacrificed to a merciless ...
Before he brilliantly traversed the gritty landscapes of underworld Detroit and Miami, the incomparable Elmore Leonard wrote breathtaking adventures set in America's nineteenth-century western frontier—elevating a popular genre with his now-trademark twisting plots, rich characterizations, and scalpel-sharp dialogue.
For every story of inspiring moral courage in America's untamed West, there's one of greed and duplicity, of corrupted souls willingly sacrificed to a merciless deity of ill-gotten gold. The New York Times-bestselling Grand Master brings us seven unforgettable western tales of noble stands and cowardly compromises—and battles of will more devastating than a blazing gunfight.
Kleecan was three hours out of Cibicu, almost halfway to the Mescalero camp at Chevelon Creek, when he met the Apache.
Ordinarily he welcomed company, for the life of a cavalry scout is lonely enough without the added routine of riding from camp to camp to count reservation heads, and that day the sky was a dismal gray-green to the north, dark and depressing. It made the semidesert surroundings stand out in vivid contrast--the alkali stretches a garish white between low, bleak hills and ghostly, dust-covered mesquite clumps. It was a composite of gray and bright white and dead green that formed a coldness, a penetrating chill that was premature for so early in September, and more than anything else, it made a man feel utterly alone.
But even with the loneliness on him, Kleecan did not welcome the company he saw on the trail ahead. For he had recognized the Apache. It was Juan Pony. And Juan had been drinking mescal.
There wasn't a man in the vicinity of San Carlos who would have blamed Kleecan for not wanting to meet an Apache under such conditions--and especially this one. Juan Pony had a reputation for meanness, and he did everything in his power to keep the reputation alive. And because he was the son of Pondichay, chiefof the Chevelon Creek Mescaleros, other Apaches kept out of his way and white men had to use special handling, for Pondichay had a reputation too.
Less than two years before, he had cut a path of fire and blood from Chihuahua to the Little Colorado, and it had taken seven troops of cavalry to subdue thirty-four braves. Twenty-eight civilians and thirteen troopers had been killed during the campaign. Pondichay had lost two men. He was not to be taken lightly; yet the Bureau had merely snatched his carbine from him and given him a few sterile acres of sand along the Chevelon.
Then the Bureau gave the carbine to Kleecan and turned its back, lest Kleecan had to use it to crush the hostile's skull. Pondichay was hungry for war, and he loved his son more than anything on the Apache earth. The least excuse would send Pondichay back on the warpath. That was why men kept out of the way of Juan Pony. But Kleecan had a job to do. He dropped his left elbow to feel the bulge of the handgun under his coat as he reined in before Juan Pony, who had turned his sorrel sideways, blocking the narrow trail.
The scout could have easily gone around, for the sandy ground was flat on both sides of the trail, but Kleecan had a certain standing to think of. When a man scouts for the cavalry and keeps track of reservation Apaches, he's boss, and he never lets the Apache forget it. Juan Pony had a poor memory, but he had to be reminded with a smile--for his father was still Pondichay.
The scout nodded his head. "Salmann, Juan."
Juan Pony shifted his position on the saddle blanket to show full face, but he ignored the scout's greeting of friend. Instead, he swung an old Burnside .54 carbine in the scout's direction, aimlessly but with the hint of a threat, and mumbled some words of Mescalero through tight lips. His sharp-featured face was drawn, and his eyes bloodshot, but through his drunkenness it was plain to see what was in his soul. An Apache does not sip mescal like a gentleman. Nor does it have the same effect.
Kleecan caught one of the mumbled words and it was not complimentary. He said, "Juan, you be a good boy and go home. You go on home and I won't report you for tippin' at the mescal."
The Apache nudged the sorrel with his right heel and the horse moved forward and to the side until the naked knee of the Apache was touching the top of the scout's calf-high boot. They were close, two feet separating their faces, and the scout could smell the foulness of the Apache. Rancid body odor and the sour smell of mescal--the result of a three-day binge.
Kleecan wanted to back away, but he sat motionless, his eyes fixed on the Apache's face, his own dark and impassive in the shadow of the narrow-brimmed hat. Kleecan had been smelling mescal and tizwin on the foul breaths of Apaches for almost fifteen years, and it occurred to him that it never did get any sweeter. He noticed a gleam of saliva at the corner of Juan Pony's mouth and he unconsciously passed a knuckle along the bottom of his heavy dragoon mustache.
He said, "I'll ride along with you, Juan. I'm goin' up to Chevelon to see your daddy." Juan Pony did not answer, but continued to stare at him, his eyes tightening into slits. He leaned closer to the scout until his face and coarse, loose-hanging hair were less than a foot from the scout's. Then Juan Pony cleared his throat and spat, full into the dark face beneath the narrow brim, and with it he sneered the word "Coche!" with all the hate in his savage soul.
In the desolate country north of San Carlos, when a man meets a drunken Apache and the Apache spits in his face, he does one of two things: smiles, or shoots him.
Kleecan smiled. Because he was looking into the future. But with the smile there was a gnawing in his belly, a gnawing and a revulsion and a bitter urge rising within him that he could not stem by simply gritting his teeth. And though he was looking into the future and seeing Pondichay, fifteen years of dealing with the Apache his own way overruled five seconds of logic, and his hand formed a fist and he drove it into the sneering face of Juan Pony.
The Apache went backward off the sorrel, still clutching . . .
Excerpted from Blood Money and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard Copyright © 2006 by Elmore Leonard. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted February 24, 2011
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