El Rastro Solo
This story is copyright The Silver Coyote, 2006.
The inside of the saloon was cooler than the hot spring day outside, but not by much. The young coyote was glad to get out of the sun anyway, having been traveling through the arid mountains to the south for several days now. He paused just inside the doorway, letting his eyes adjust to the dimly lit interior. The saloon was much fancier than the cantinas he was used to. It was also the only place he could find in the small mining town of Pearce where he might get a drink.
It was a large, wood-frame building with a false front, like many other buildings of it's type scattered across the west. He had tethered his horse at the hitching rail out front, patting his mount on the neck before stepping up out of the dusty thoroughfare onto the boardwalk. He gently stamped his boots on the boardwalk to remove most of the dust from them before entering the building, like his mother had taught him to do when he was but a pup. The boardwalk out front was in shadow, covered by the second story porch above. Benches below each window at the front of the saloon overlooked the boardwalk, no doubt offering the locals a place to watch the comings and goings of visitors and friends alike. And there happened to be one such local present, a lone, elderly fur had watched the coyote approach and dismount. The skunk nodded in a friendly manner as the visitor's spurs clinked gently on the wood as he stepped up to the door. The coyote nodded back, a small, shy smile briefly illuminating his muzzle.
Inside the swinging doors was an assortment of tables and chairs, with an assortment of furs of varying species and vocation adorning the furnishings. At the rear of the room a heavy wooden door, presumably opening onto a store room, was closed. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom of the interior, he observed another doorway on the left side of the room, open, through which he could see a large cast-iron cook stove. A sooty coffeepot was there, along with an equally discolored pot in which some type of meal was cooking, judging from the vapors rising. The coyote's stomach growled quietly. He hadn't had a decent meal in days.
To his right a bar made of highly polished mahogany ran the length of the room, complete with a shiny brass rail. Perhaps half a dozen furs, mostly canines, stood here, each with a boot on the rail, each with a glass in paw. Most cast surreptitious glances towards him and then went back to their drinks or their conversations.
The bartender was less circumspect. The wolverine stared at him as the swinging doors closed behind him, and the coyote paused to study him in turn. The wolverine was scarred, the un-natural lay of the fur on his face visible even from a distance in the dark room.
Benjamin Thorpe growled softly as he wiped the beer mug he held in his paws, muttering under his breath. His eyes narrowed as he studied the small coyote at the doorway. He was typically dressed... buckskin leggings, dusty poncho in gray and black, sweat-stained hat, and boots. And spurs that chimed gently with each step. The wolverine watched silently as the new arrival removed a cigarillo from an interior pocket, a match from another. Striking the match with a claw, the coyote cupped his paws to his muzzle. His eyes squinted against the smoke that appeared behind them. Lowering them, the coyote extinguished the match between the pads of his right paw and exhaled a cloud of smoke, which hung in the still air of the saloon.
In the far corner of the room, several furs were playing poker by the light of oil lamps suspended above them. A bulldog, a collie, a tabby cat, a setter, and a puma sat around a table covered in green felt, cards and chips before them. The felines and the collie were obviously miners, their dusty overalls free of any accoutrements like watch chains or fobs, their paws scarred and raw, their exposed fur dusty and muddy where sweat had mingled with dirt. The setter was a vaquero, a cowboy, with saddlebags hanging over the back of his chair and a kerchief about his neck. The wolverine at the bar turned his head and, clearing his throat, caught the eye of the bulldog, who nodded and placed his cards face down on the table.
“I'm out...” the bulldog muttered. He looked a gambler, his fashionable pinstripe pants and vest unable to hide the fact that he was reasonably well fed and muscular. A gold band adorned the ring finger of his right paw, and a bright gold watch chain was suspended between the watch pocket of his vest and the next-to-last button of the same garment. A small, polished leather visor hid his eyes from the other players at the table as he placed his cards on the green felt. The rest of the players nodded in response to his statement, concentrating on the cards they held and contemplating the game at paw.
Dragging slowly on his thin cigar, the coyote began to amble towards the bar, his golden eyes sweeping the room. The assorted furs in the room paid him no mind as he made his way to the bar, except for the bartender and the bulldog. The bartender continued to stare with obvious animosity towards his latest invader; the bulldog leaned back slightly, balancing on the two back legs of the chair he sat in, his paws now out of view at his sides.
The coyote moved to the end of the bar closest to the front door, which happened to also be the part of the bar least occupied by the bartender's regular customers. The wolverine moved down the bar towards him with an unpleasant look upon his scarred face.
“Whiskey, por favor?” the coyote pleasantly asked of the approaching fur in moderately accented English
Ignoring his request, the bartender strode up to the bar opposite the coyote and leaned forward menacingly, almost touching the canine's nose with his own.
“We don't serve your kind here,” he growled.
The coyote's eyes widened slightly.
“Porqué no?” The coyote produced a gold coin in his left paw. “Tengo dinero... I have money.”
“Shut your goddam malodorous hole, furball,” the wolverine growled, his voice raising. All other activity in the room around them ceased as every pair of eyes were drawn to the bartender and the coyote. “I said we don't serve your kind here. You and those fucking hyenas aren't welcome here, greaser.” The wolverine grabbed the shoulder of the coyote's poncho with his right paw, pulling the canid's face over the bar top as he stood erect. “Be so good as to remove yourself from my establishment, or I shall derive the greatest pleasure in throwing you out with the rest of the garbage.” The wolverine stared into the coyote's eyes, his stale breath washing over the coyote's face.
“Señor,” the coyote replied calmly, “deseo solamente whiskey para...”
The wolverine's paw suddenly tightened on the coyote's poncho, lifting slightly as his left paw found the coyote's muzzle in a short-coupled jab, sending him to the floor in a cloud of dust, his gold coin flying across the room.
“Get out, you greasy furball,” the wolverine yelled, laughing in his hatred, “ before I put you out.”
The small coyote rolled through his fall, rising quickly to his feet. His poncho was askew on his body, exposing a large pistol on his right hip. His right paw hovered near the butt of this pistol as he slowly bent down to retrieve his cigar, staring throughout the retrieval process into the eyes of the wolverine with something approximating bored disinterest.
Straightening and replacing the cigar between his lips, the coyote sighed.
“You have no whiskey to sell?”
The laugh left the wolverine's muzzle, replaced by a baring of fangs. “You little shit,” he exclaimed as he reached beneath the bar for the shotgun he knew was there.
The paw at the coyote's hip blurred and a huge, well-maintained looking 44 caliber Colt Dragoon appeared, aimed squarely at the bridge of the wolverine's nose, between his rapidly widening eyes.
“Señor,” the coyote said quietly in the suddenly silent room, “I hope you are getting me the bottle I politely asked you for.”
A chair scraped across the floor, followed by a menacing click from across the room to the coyote's left. Without turning his head the coyote knew somebody had the drop on him, had a pistol trained on him even as he came to the realization. A setup! He couldn't turn fast enough into his unseen and armed adversary to get a shot off before being shot himself, and even if he could this brujo in front of him would kill him as he turned. His only hope was that the bartender would know he would die with him.
As his paws disappeared below the bartop the wolverine's eyes shifted not right, towards the sound of the cocking pistol, but left, towards the doorway of the saloon. He suddenly ceased all movement, frozen with his paws out of sight, his muzzle slightly open in surprise.
“That will do,” a deep voice said from beyond the swinging doors across the room behind the coyote. “Al," the strong voice commanded, "put that pistol down while you still can. Benny, get those paws up where I can see 'em. You... in the poncho. Holster that Colt and get your paws up too.”
The coyote silently complied, completely outgunned. He now had three adversaries. The one who had hit him, the one to his left, and the one behind him, each supposedly armed. Madre de
Díos! As if in affirmation his ears detected and rotated towards the sound of the swinging doors slowly opening at the prodding of something metallic, like a gun barrel sliding through the split doors. A rifle?
“Siddown, Al,” the deep voice continued as it entered the saloon. The coyote heard the chair scraping across the floor again, followed by a creak and small sigh as it's occupant was once again seated. He then heard bootfalls approaching him from behind as the owner of the deep voice strolled casually towards him.
“Sheriff, this greasy furball tried to hold us up!” the wolverine shouted.
A short bark of laughter greeted this exclamation. “Sure Benny. Was that before or after you clobbered him?”
“He was threatening me!” the wolverine whined.
The coyote held his paws aloft patiently. It was always like this. No matter how it started, he always wound up taking the blame for whatever happened, simply by virtue of his species. He was a peaceful fur, but fate and the times had forced him to learn how to defend himself. Therefore anyone who met him saw simply an armed coyote and automatically assumed he was a bandito, and reacted accordingly. And he went to jail. Or was thrown out of town. Or both. And he usually took a beating in the process, either way.
“He asked you for a drink,” the sheriff snorted derisively to the wolverine. “You offered to put him out with the garbage instead.”
A form stepped into the coyote's peripheral vision on his left, between him and the unseen pistolero in the back of the room. The fur was tall, dressed in a dark gray pinstripe suit and vest, feline in appearance, and carried a lever action Winchester rifle in his right paw like a pistol, aimed at the bartender. Yellow eyes glared from beneath the wide brim of a black Stetson.
“Walk away from your scattergun, Benny.”
“Do it!” the feline suddenly roared. The wolverine jumped, and then moved back up the bar towards his other customers as the feline continued in a more rational voice. “By Christ, it's no wonder every third fur that walks in here tries to rearrange your face, Benny. You are such a disagreeable shit!”
The feline fell silent as the bartender moved back towards his customers. The coyote stood stock still, watching the scene unfold out of the corner of his eye. The feline turned to the poker table in the back of the room, lifting the muzzle of his Winchester towards the ceiling as he did so.
“You ought to consider another line of work, Al.”
“Pays good, sheriff,” the bulldog replied, his paws plainly visible on the tabletop.
“You gotta be alive to collect your pay, Al.”
The bulldog nodded, grinning, but otherwise did not reply.
Turning to the coyote, the feline smiled humorously and said “All right, poncho. What do you say you and I take a little walk up to the jail?”
“Sí, señor,” the coyote replied amicably as he slowly lowered his paws. “Whatever you say. Tú eres el jéfe.”
“Damn straight,” the feline replied, his smile fading. “Move out.”
The short coyote preceded the sheriff out of the dark saloon into the dusty glare of the street. As he stepped off of the boardwalk into the dirt of the thoroughfare, he held his paws aloft again and stopped. Without turning he asked:
“May I get my horse, señor?”
“Carefully, Poncho. Slowly,” came the reply.
The coyote carefully, and with exaggerated movements, untethered his horse. Turning to face his final nemesis, he saw that the sheriff's rifle was carried like a baby, the stock in the crook of the feline's right arm, the barrel pointing skyward to the feline's right. It was not in any way threatening him at the moment. The coyote studied the feline's face beneath the brim of his Stetson.
“Grácias, señor,” he said simply.
“De nada,” the feline replied. He motioned with his free paw up the street. “Let's go, vamos.”
The coyote led his horse up the wide, dusty street in the direction indicated, dragging occasionally on his cigar as he went. As he moved, he casually but carefully scanned both sides of the thoroughfare. No threatening furs appeared. As they walked along the sheriff fell in step beside him on his right, the muzzle of the Winchester still pointed at the sky.
“You came close to dying just now.”
“Sí,” the coyote replied. “It would seem that your only cantina does not wish to sell whiskey to Mexicanos, señor.”
“Benny's an ass, that's a fact. And he hates any fur who's ancestry isn't like his own, from the old world.”
The coyote did not reply to this. He was used to being abused and ridiculed by the anglos that had begun populating this country after the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. And after the oro had been discovered in California in '49 it had gotten much worse. The white-eyes had poured into his desert homeland, calling it the “Arizona Territory”, and pushing his people south into the Sonoran Desert, farther and farther away from the cool mountains of their ancestral homeland.
His father had told him all about that when he was still alive, when the coyote had been a small pup. But his father had died years ago in the El Tiro mine. More recently his mother had died at the paws of an anglo trader, and now he was alone. Padre Echeverría had told him of some family up in the mountains northeast of Tucson, and the young coyote had set off from his village of Oquitoa to find the cousins he had never met in a little place called Hayden.
The pair made an interesting sight as they strode towards the small adobe building that was the sheriff's office and jail on the edge of town. The cat stood head and shoulders above the canine beside him. The son of an emigrant European Wildcat from Ireland, the fur of his face and tail was grayish brown, with darker highlights on his face and black rings at the extremity of his tail. The rest of him was covered by his suit, Stetson, and boots. The octagonal barrel of his Winchester pointed into the sky away from the coyote, and his yellow eyes constantly swept the scene before them as he walked.
The coyote beside him was very typical in appearance, with no unusual markings or features. He was thin, perhaps five foot nine, and looked in need of a bath and grooming. His clothing was dusty and well worn. In fact, every part of him was dusty and used looking, except for the revolver he had briefly brandished in the saloon. That was clean, oiled, and loaded.
“Where'd you get that Dragoon, amigo?” the feline asked in a friendly voice as they approached his office. “Those are heavy damn guns.”
The coyote smiled wistfully. “It belonged to my father.” He glanced up to meet the eyes of the big cat next to him. “It was all he left to me.”
The big cat nodded without comment as he glanced briefly at the coyote, his eyes softening slightly before his gaze returned to the street and buildings before them.
As they approached his office the sheriff indicated a hitching rail with his free paw, saying “Tether your horse here.” As the coyote silently did so, he further instructed “Leave the saddle in place. You won't be here long.”
The coyote glanced up as he wound the reins over the rail a final time. The question was plain in his eyes. The sheriff replied with a passive glance of his own and again motioned with the paw not occupied with the Winchester, gesturing for them both to enter his office. The coyote complied, stepping up on to and then crossing the boardwalk to open the unlocked door.
Inside was a small desk and chair, a bunk, a stove, a table with two boxes for chairs, and a beautifully finished cabinet in which the coyote could see two more Winchester rifles and a shotgun of some sort. Towards the rear of the room was the cage of the jail, an area approximately eight feet on a side which contained another bunk. The only windows in the building flanked the only door he had just passed through. They were open now, but had heavy wooden doors that could be shut against them and locked from within. The building had obviously been designed to be easily defended by one or two furs. The coyote had assumed he would be spending some time in the cage, but after the sheriff's comment about his saddle he was unsure. So he turned to face the lawfur as the cat followed him into the room.
The sheriff smiled again. “Have a seat,” he said, indicating the boxes at the table as he crossed the room to the gun cabinet. Here the cat carefully placed the Winchester back in it's place in the felt-lined brackets made for it, and then removed his gun belt and hung that on a peg in the wall beside the cabinet.
Minding his tail, the coyote made himself comfortable on his box. He fidgeted ever so slightly in the unfamiliar surroundings, nervous about his uncertain future. He looked at the sheriff with a quizzical expression as he removed his old leather hat and placed it on the table.
The sheriff tossed his Stetson to his desk top, watching the coyote as he spoke.
“You're lucky that old skunk McGinnis saw you walking into the Black Star.” The sheriff sat at his desk. “He came to me straight away and told me you were in there. If he hadn't done that, you'd be dead now. Benny Thorpe hates Mexicans.”
The coyote nodded slowly. “Sí señor. I have come to understand that.”
The sheriff picked up a small metal ash tray from his desk top. He caught the eye of the coyote across the small room and flicked it towards him, nodding. The coyote caught it deftly with a paw and placed it on the table before him, placing the butt of his cigar in it as he did so.
The sheriff shook his head. “You should be on your guard, my friend. You'll find many more just like him in this country. The Irish, the Germans, the English, the Italians, they want this land, and don't mind driving you off of it to get it.”
The coyote nodded again, his eyes sad with a bottled up memory. He didn't need anyfur telling him, he was all too aware of that reality.
The sheriff stared at the small fur for a moment, and then sat back as he opened a desk drawer. He removed a ledger book, fountain pen, and a small bottle of ink. As he prepared to make a record of the recent activity, he looked up and smiled again to his lost-looking acquaintance.
“My name is Weatherill. Roy Weatherill. I been sheriff here in Pearce for seven months now.”
The coyote smiled in return. “El gusto es mio, señor Weatherill.”
The cat nodded. “Call me Roy.” To his mildly surprised look the sheriff elaborated. “You're not under arrest. You're not going to be beaten or jailed. But I do think it would be a good idea for you to move on before Benny or one of his hired guns gets up the nerve to start looking for you.”
The sheriff removed his pocket watch and glanced briefly at it. Replacing it in his vest pocket, he wrote the date and time in his ledger, along with a brief description of the incident. He looked up to find the coyote watching him carefully.
“What's your name, my friend?”
“Latrans,” the coyote replied. “Santiago Latrans."
"Where are you from, Santiago?"
The coyote smiled shyly. "I was born in Oquitoa, Sonora."
"Where do you now live?"
Santiago shook his head, muttering a bit. "Como se dices...? Donde la noche me encuentra..." He drummed the claws of his left paw on the tabletop. "Where the night finds me, señor."
Roy smiled slowly. "On the road, huh? Where are you headed?"
"Sí señor. Tengo familia... I have family there."
Roy Weatherill made some notes in his ledger, pausing occasionally to dip his pen in the ink well. When he was finished he set the ledger aside and bent to his right to open the lowest drawer of his desk. Santiago's ears perked up when he heard the sound of shot glasses gently meeting each other. Roy sat up straight, a bottle of whiskey in his left paw, two shot glasses in his right.
"Share a drink with me before you go, Señor Latrans."
The coyote's smile was wide, the first time he'd felt comfortable since entering this camp. He nodded happily.