Me and my horse Paint was headin’ to Albuquerque to trade pelts after a week of trappin’ in the Pecos mountains. We was plumb tuckered out when we got to Lake Katherine to hole up for the night.
That sunset made me glad I was a mountain man. It was slappin’ blotches of orange and red on them puffy little clouds in the west. Paint didn’t notice. He was busy chewin’ grass in the little glade behind a hillock at the edge of the lake we’d call home for the night, nice and private like. Course, ‘twasn’t likely we’d be seein’ anybody else up here. Turns out I was wrong.
I was too tired to make a fire and cook. Paint had et, so I grabbed a piece a hardtack outta my saddlebag and washed it down with whiskey. I laid out my bedroll so’s my head’d be on the upside of the slope near the top of the hillock. I laid there lookin’ at those bright, twinkly stars. Just as my eyelids was getting’ heavy I heard talkin’. Woke up with a snort. “Who the hell is that?” I thought.
Heard it again, comin’ from the other side of the slope. I rolled on my belly and crawled to the top to see where them voices was comin’ from. Across the water ‘bout fifty yards on the other side of the lake I could see two bearded faces flickerin’ all orange in the light of a campfire.
A little breeze was blowin’ at me off the lake. I could hear their voices as clear as if they’d been standin’ next to me. They was arguin’ ‘tween sips from a whiskey bottle they shared.
“So, Curly, how ‘bout that plan?”
“What plan, Dusty? There’s a plan?”
“Yes Curly! Are you gettin’ addled in your old age? It’s why we came all this way.”
“Oh, you mean the job, Dusty? Where we rob the Bank of the Pecos in Santa Fe? Don’t need no plan. We just order ‘em at gunpoint to fork over all the cash, like always.”
“Yeah, Curly, but we need what’s called an MO, a Method of Opposition. Only one of us goes inside this time. T’other stands outside to watch for the sheriff. And where are you gonna put the money? That’s the plan.”
“What do you mean, where am I gonna put the money? You leavin’ me holdin’ the bag? To Hell with yer plan!”
“Forget Albuquerque!” I thought. “I’ll follow those yokels into Santa Fe and warn Sheriff Carlson of their “plan.”
They just kept passin’ that bottle back and forth, gettin’ more sloshed with every swig. But they never duked it out. Finally, Dusty took the last gulp and threw the empty bottle into the bush. There was a crash of shattering glass. “I’m goin’ to bed! We’ll finish this in the mornin’!” In a huff, they grabbed their bedrolls and hunkered down for the night.
“Finally, mebbe I can get some sleep,” I thought. “I’ll get up real early.” I scooched down the slope to my bedroll. I’d just closed my eyes when…
“Yeow!”Dusty shouted. “Yaee! Ow!”
I scrambled back up the rise to see what was happenin’. Dusty was sittin’ up beatin’ hisself, slappin’ his chest, arms, head and makin’ to get up quick as possible.
“Whaz? Aieeeee!” Curly howled. Then he was doin’ just like Dusty. They was both on their feet like two Irishmen dancin’ a jig.
I heard buzzin’. It was loud.
“Shee-it! Hornets!” Dusty shouted. “I laid down in a nest of hornets! Quick! Run!’
“But our stuff!”
“Forget yer damned stuff! We’ll get new after the heist! Ow! Aiee!”
Left their saddles and everything. Just hopped on their horses and rode off into the dark. Last I heard was Dusty’s voice, “Aw shit! A tree got my hat!”
When I stopped laughin’ I decided to hit the sack for a bit. I figgered they’d be movin’ slow in the dark so’s not to break their fool necks on a tree limb or go rollin’ off a cliff.
Woke up with a start way before dawn. It hit me. Somethin’ they’d said ‘bout a “last time.” Them no-goods musta been the ones who’d knocked over the banks in Taos and Truchas recently. I had to see the sheriff!
Didn’t eat no breakfast. Didn’t watch the sunrise. Went to their camp to look around. I wished I’d been a fly on Dusty’s horse’s ass when they discovered they’d left their guns. But them varmints would prob’ly just steal somebody else’s, so that wouldn’t stop ‘em.
Found their trail real easy. Saw lotsa places where they’d smashed into trees or doubled back. I left Dusty’s dirty old hat in the tree where he lost it. Come next spring, it’ll make a mighty good bird’s nest.
Got to Santa Fe ‘bout noon. Went right to Sheriff Carlson. Told him everything I’d heard. I asked if he’d seen the two desperados.
“Yeah. I know who they are,” Sheriff Carlson chuckled. “They got here ‘bout three hours ago ridin’ bareback, askin’ for a doctor. They was feverish. Faces redder than a fireman’s long johns. Heads so swolled up they couldn’t hardly see. Like two hot-air balloons with legs. No bags, clothes or nothin’. The church ladies fixed ‘em up with some tucker and food. They was too broke for a hotel room, so I let ‘em bunk in the jail,” he said, pointin’ behind hisself. I’ll hold ‘em for a couple of days ‘til I know more. Mebbe feed ‘em bread and water and take them mattresses off their cots…doctor’s orders, of course. Can’t charge ‘em with nothin’ ‘cuz they ain’t done nothin’ yet, ‘cept bein’ vagrants. If I don’t charge ‘em, when the Ladies’ Aid Society gets wind of ‘em, within an hour the whole territory’ll know who they is, and those curs’ll be hightailin’ it outta here pronto. They won’t be back,” Sheriff Carlson said, winkin’ an eye. “Case closed!”