Chris Ledoux - The Borderline
Shiny Stars Make Good Targets
"No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow
that's in the right and keeps on a-comin'."
“Damn, I sure hate losin’ such a good horse, an’ for no damned reason ’cept he was carryin’ me. An’ Blue was a dandy, that’s a fact,” Sheriff Matt Kincaid said, kneeling on one knee, rubbing Blue’s neck, trying to decide if he should do something other than ride to Sherwood the next morning to gather up Deputy Burnside.
Taking off his hat, he lowered his head and began to pray, his sons at his side, praying with him. “Lord, ol’ Blue was sure a fine animal, an’ he didn’t deserve ta end his life this way. But he did, an’ he did it savin’ my life, an’ carryin’ me ta home ’fore he give it up. I can sure feel your hand in all this, Lord, an’ I ask for your guidance goin’ forward. Amen.”
Suddenly, as he dabbed the moisture from his eyes, everything he needed to do started to take form in his mind. “John, mount up an’ head ta town. Find Hank an’ tell him ta meet me on the road at first light. He’s stayin’ at Sampson’s. Tell him ta come well heeled, an’ ta be ready to start trackin’. An’ let him know we’ll be out ’til we find the critter that killed Blue an’ bring him in one way ’r tother. Luke, come mornin’ pull Blue outta the yard an’ up on the hill where we pulled the last animal we lost, that ol’ cow that died last year. You ’member the spot?”
Without waiting for any response, Matt continued, “He ought ta be buried, but we got no time for that. Maybe the wild critters can benefit from his remains, an’ leave the rest o’ our stock alone. Blue, you find somebody up there that needs a good ride, an’ take care o’ ’em like ya done me.”
Carrying his saddle and headstall into the barn, Matt put them away, and as he had done a thousand times, picked up a brush and curry comb. Stopping, shaking his head, he laid the brush and comb back down on the shelf built for them, and turned for the door. As he stepped outside, he was met by May, crying her eyes out.
“Oh, Matthew, I really loved that horse. But I love you more and I’m so glad you didn’t get hurt. I just don’t understand why these things keep happening,” May said, hanging on to Matt for dear life.
Deciding that waiting until after dinner to tell his wife about his encounter with Earhart, and Earhart’s words, was not a good idea in light of Blue getting killed. Matt had to think about how he was going to tell her for several minutes as they walked across the yard to the porch, climbed the steps and walked across the porch. He was still deciding the best way to handle it, stopping to hang his hat and guns on the hooks at the door. He was stumped, other than to just tell her straight out. He began building up his courage as they walked through the house and into the kitchen.
Joined in the dining room by Steve, Becky and Marjie, they all expressed their concern, and started to follow May and Matt into the kitchen. “Y’all mind givin’ us a few minutes alone?” Matt asked, respectfully.
“Not at all, Matt. Girls, let’s wait ’til they get done talkin’ an’ call us in, shall we?” Steve said, as he grabbed his daughters by the shoulders and turned them back toward the living room.
Before May could start pouring his coffee and putting his supper on the table, Matt said, “May, darlin’, set down here with me for a minute. I got ta tell ya what happened taday.”
“Oh, no. Matthew Orion Kincaid, the only time you ever say May, darlin’ is when you have something to tell me I’m not going to want to hear.” Taking her time to sit down, she grabbed the pot of Arbuckles’ off the stove, grabbed a pair of cups and placed them on the table. Taking a deep breath, she finally sat down beside Matt and asked, “What happened, Matty dear?”
“Well, I went ta Montoya’s ta get me some sopapillas, an’ was bringin’ a couple back in a basket for Martha when this feller, Bill Earhart, tried ta call me out. Now, I done ever’thing I could ta keep it from becomin’ a gunfight, but he wouldn’t let it go. I just winged him was all. Hank was behind him an’ disarmed him ’fore he could get off a decent shot at me. Now, you an’ me both knew this star was gonna be a target as soon as I pinned it on, an’ now it’s just that. When I was askin’ him questions, tryin’ ta figure out who sent him, he said, There’ll be others comin’ for ya, men real fast, an’ they’ll keep comin’ as long as things are run the way you’re runnin’ ’em. Ya shoulda just took the payoffs an’ let things be.
“May, ya know I only got one way o’ handlin’ the law, an’ I ain’t about ta change that after all these years. I ain’t ever taken a bribe ’r any kind o’ payoff, sa I reckon they’ll just keep comin’ for me. An’ I figure the feller that killed Blue was tryin’ ta kill me, but Blue balked an’ that saved my life. I sent John ta town to tell Hank ta meet me on the road at first light. I figure ta be settin’ right by that big hunk o’ brush where that feller was, waitin’ on Hank ta show, an’ then we’re gonna run that coyote ta ground an’ bring him in one way ’r tother. I’m gonna need ta pack a lunch, an’ still may not be back by dark, ’cause he’s gonna have a big start on us if he rides all the night through.” Matt opted to let the rest of his day be forgotten for now, deciding to concentrate on what had become the focal point of their conversation.
“I was happy to hear that Lalo was going to find his old love, but I sure wish he was back here now. And that Hawk was also here instead of out at the G Slash A. Are you going to take Steve, or our boys with you?” May queried.
“Nope, just me an’ Hank oughta be enough. An’ Hawk’s in Sherwood, at least ’til mornin’. Him an’ that girl he’s sweet on come ta town taday, an’ Bob married ’em. They’re headin’ ta San Angelo in the mornin’, plannin’ on pickin’ up supplies for the ranch, an’ Bob’s payin’ ta put ’em up at either Matson’s ’r the San Angelo Hotel. I give him a week off ta honeymoon, but he still wants ta get back out ta the G Slash A with ’em supplies, sa I don’t reckon it’ll be much of a honeymoon at that.”
“Well, I can go with you, if it’s only Hank going along and you won’t take Steve, or the boys, or their partners. Matt, you really should take more help, and I’m more than willing to make the ride,” May declared.
“May, we’ll be ridin’ hard, an’ no offense, ’cause I know you’re more’n capable, but I ain’t gonna have time ta be worryin’ about you ‘r anybody else. That’s why I just wanna take Hank, understand?” Matt asked, hoping his wife understood, and would accept his decision.
Hanging her head for a moment, May mouthed a silent prayer, asking that her husband and best friend be kept safe as he rode out the next day, and until they were together again. Then, taking another deep breath, she stood up, saying, “Matthew, please don’t take any unnecessary chances, will you promise me that? Never mind, I know that’s not a promise you can make, or plan to keep. Let me get your supper, and refill that cup for you. Would you like for me to call Steve and the girls in now?”
“Yeah, they might’s well know what’s goin’ on. An’ I don’t know if John come up ta tell Marjie he was ridin’ inta town for me tanight, so that’ll need ta be asked. An’ May, help me ta keep Steve fron wantin’ to go along, will ya? You know how he is,” Matt said as he finished sipping the coffee in his cup, and waited for May to refill it.
After May sat Matt’s loaded plate on the table, she said, “There’s more potatoes if you want them but that’s the last of the steaks we have until we butcher again, and I’m down to one last roast and one side of ribs as well as enough side meat to make another stew. Should I have the boys bring in a fat steer to butcher while you’re gone? It’ll take several days to cure in the smokehouse, but we can at least have some fresh steaks to eat later this week.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea, dear. I keep forgettin’ ta see if Jasper Frye has any hogs for sale sa we can smoke one up ’fore we run outta bacon ’r sausage. An’ a good ham is in order as well, not ta mention some pork ribs. Maybe ya could have one o’ the boys go by his place an’ see.”
“I’ll do that, if for no other reason than to keep them occupied while you’re gone. Let me call our guests in here, Matty dear. I’ll be right back,” May said, and then stepped through the door and walked toward the living room.
Not finding Steve or the girls there, she stepped out onto the porch to find Becky, Luke and Steve sitting in the chairs talking. “Where’s Marjie?” she asked.
“She rode to town with John, May. Luke was telling us that Matt was shot at, but Blue took the bullet and died from it after bringing Matt home. What else can we do to help? Will he let us ride with him tomorrow, to hunt down the man who shot at him?” Becky asked.
“No, I’m afraid not, Becky. He said that it would just be he and Hank on this one. And Steve, maybe you can help me with a few things while he’s gone. I need to send one of the boys to see Mr. Frye, to find out if he has any hogs for sale that are big enough to butcher. Hauling one back here is always a difficult task, at best. And we also need to butcher a fat steer, as we are getting low on meat. I wonder if you could help the boys take care of those things. Matt always handles the picking, and most of the time he does the skinning, as the boys hurry too much and cut holes in the hides, don’t you, Luke?” May said with a chuckle.
“And he also knows just where to cut the meat to make it all come out the way we like it. Everything will need to go into the smokehouse as soon as the meat is cut up except for what we’ll want to eat over the next few days after the animals are butchered. Can you help them take care of that for us while Matt is gone?”
“May, ya know I will, as long as I can get some help doin’ the same things over ta our place. I’d like ta buy a hog as well, but I haven’t met this feller Frye yet, sa maybe the boys can introduce me.”
“I’d be proud ta introduce ya, Steve. Maw, why don’t Paw want no help this time?”
“I’ll let him tell you, Luke. All of you at the same time, as I’m sure telling you what he told me is something he isn’t anxious to repeat. So, after you hear it please fill John and Marjie in so he doesn’t have to tell it all again. He’s eating now, so I don’t think you’ll get much out of him before he finishes, but you can join us in the kitchen and drink coffee until he’s ready to answer your questions,” May said, opening the door to the living room and stepping inside.
Steve, Luke, and Becky all stood, and then walked inside, followed May to the kitchen and took seats at the Kincaid table. Becky, seeing that May was watching Matt with a heavy heart, stood back up, stepped to the cupboard to retrieve some cups, placed them on the table and then took the pot from the stove to fill all their cups.
Hesitating before refilling Matt’s cup, he looked up and nodded, giving Becky permission to fill his cup, which she promptly did. She followed by filling May’s cup as May finally sat down beside Matt. Returning to her chair between her father and her husband, Becky sat down again, and joined the others waiting for Matt to finish eating.
Pushing his plate away, Matt took another sip of coffee, and then looked at Steve. “Steve, how’d you an’ Mildred get along taday? I figured ya might stop by the office ’fore ya left town, but I reckon ya didn’t hear ’bout the shootout I had just ’fore lunchtime.”
“Naw, I never heard a word, as I spent all afternoon up ta the old Carmoody place with her, an’ after I left her off at Kingsbury’s I rode straight home. ’Cept I got stopped here an’ never did make it ta home yet. The kids, Becky an’ Luke, done the chores at my place for me, an’ John an’ Marjie done the chores here sa I got ta set an’ watch an’ drink coffee with May whilst we waited on ya.”
“Yeah, an’ what about you an’ Mildred? Ya gonna tell me?”
“Well, I told the girls ’bout her, an’ we was talkin’ on it when ya rode in. Matt, she’s takin’ the train from San Angelo back down ta Temple, where she’s been livin’ with her mother an’ a brother an’ his family. I’m takin’ her ta San Angelo the end o’ the week, an’ pickin’ her up a week later when she brings her kids back down with her. They’re gonna stay at our place for a few days ta see how me an’ the kids take ta each other, an’ ta my girls an’ their men, an’ if we get on alright, well, we’ll see what happens from there. Now, how’s ’bout tellin’ us what happened in town taday?”
Over the next twenty minutes, Matt told them the same things he had told May, and answered all their questions as they came up. After a brief silence, Becky asked, “Matt, do you think he really meant it, that there would be more men coming after you? What was it he said again?”
“Yup, I reckon he meant it alright. He said, There’ll be others comin’ for ya, men real fast, an’ they’ll keep comin’ as long as things are run the way you’re runnin’ ’em. I don’t intend ta change how I uphold the law here in Irion County, an’ it’ll be that way at least ’til I quit at the end o’ this next term. I reckon there’ll be more county sheriffs an’ marshals an’ Rangers doin’ it the way I do it, an’ always have done it, sa ’fore long there won’t be much o’ any place for ’em ta run their crooked schemes. Course, there’ll always be some lawmen what take the dollar over the law, but they’ll get weeded out sooner ’r later. An’ there’ll always be a criminal element that’ll figure these shiny stars make good targets, Becky. But when they come at me like they been doin’, they’ll regret it. An’ if they’re real lucky they’ll live ta tell about it. It might just be from a jail cell some’eres, but they’ll still be alive an’ kickin’.”
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