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High Desert Chronicle - Chapter 11 - Terlingua

44275896-Sunrise+on+the+ChisosThe man sleeping on the iron bed on the porch was in the brain fuzzy state between sleep and consciousness.  He could feel eyes watching him.  Cold, black, unfeeling eyes burning a hole in him from the foot of the bed.  As sleep retreated the man tried to think what lay close at hand for a weapon. He cracked his right eye open just a bit and through the narrow slit he saw a tin ashtray on the windowsill along with a Bic lighter sitting on top of a box of Marlboro Lights.  “Not much to work with”  he thought. “Best to go with the shock and awe plan I reckon.”  In one swift motion, he reached for the pack of cigarettes and lighter, hurling them toward the end of the rickety iron bedstead as he sat upright. “Get off the damned bed!” he roared.

The Rhode Island Red rooster that had been perched on the bottom railing exploded in a burst of mahogany red chicken indignation and swiftly retreated off the porch into the dust of the front yard.  The man continued to berate the rooster who was now strutting across the yard 10 feet away, all feather fluffed with rooster rancor and clucking his displeasure. “Damn you to hell Hatchet Jack!  I have told you and told you to stay off the bed!  Just keep it up chicken and you are going to end up in my stockpot before it is all over.”

The man swung his bare feet to the floor and paused for a few seconds to gauge his stability.  Reaching down to the floor, he retrieved the pair of cut-off Wranglers and fished the Altoids tin from the right front pocket.  In a routine that had become rote, he opened the tin and examined the contents. One brass key to his Army footlocker, one round of 45 ACP 230gr hardball because you always save the last round for yourself, 2 silver nickels, 2 silver dimes and 2 silver quarters.   Had it not been for the Hatchet Jack episode, he could have gotten by with the silver dimes today. As it was, he figured the silver nickels would balance things out just about right.  He picked up each nickel in turn, blew it off and carefully placed one in each ear and made sure they were held firmly in place by ear cartilage. Folks emboldened in the past to ask the purpose of the coins were told matter of factly that they were ‘necessary to balance out his brain and prevent dizzy spells.’ Further explanation was not forthcoming.

He pulled on the cut off Wranglers and a sleeveless  yellow t-shirt emblazoned with a Gadsden flag on the front and shook out the Bates M6 boots before he slid them on his sockless feet and zipped them up the side.  Standing up, he  retrieved the Smith & Wesson 25-2 revolver in 45ACP from under the pillow on the bed.  He waggled the pistol in Hatchet Jack’s direction “If you’ve a mind to flog me when I step down off this porch, I would be reconsidering that plan Mr. Chicken.  Super Soul will be here before the sun gets up good and we have snakes to snag.” He slid the 25-2 into a worn El Paso Saddlery Austin holster on his right hip.

The man stepped down off the porch and walked to the old stone cistern that was a short distance to the side of the RV.   He had knocked a hole in the side of the cistern about 6″ off the ground as big as a softball.  Snakes found it irresistible.  The cistern was 3′ tall, rising to an open conical top and another 4′ was below ground level making for a dark cool environment year around.  The snakes would crawl through the hole in the side and then fall the 4′ to the bottom of the cistern to be trapped with their snake brothers and sisters.  The man picked up the rod and reel and climbed the short ladder to the top of the cistern.  His first two attempts to snag a snake were fruitless.  Looking down at Hatchet Jack,  he muttered “He says you fish poorly Pilgrim.”   Successful on the next attempt,  the man carefully reeled in a 3′ Black-tail rattlesnake.  He gingerly removed the rattler from the barbless hook and put him in the trashcan next to the cistern that was lined with a heavy duty plastic bag.  11 more times he lowered the hook into the cistern and finally quit when he had six Western Diamondbacks and Black-tails in the plastic bag.  “That oughta be twenty foot of snakes silly chicken.  Super Soul should be a happy camper when he puts his eye on that sackful.”

The man had scarcely tied the top of the garbage bag and put it in the shade of the porch before he saw the plume of rising caliche dust marking the progress of a car down the rock road. Inside the car,  Claric Johnson had long since given up trying to figure out the man everybody called Buzzcut.  He was like many of the dried up old reprobates that made a home down  in the moonscape desert of South Brewster County.  “Yeah, like a desert hermit on crack or something.”  Claric was wary around Buzzcut and he had never figured out why he insisted on calling him ‘Super Soul’  –nobody else called him that.   The name had stuck on Claric’s first visit to the crazy snake man.  He had stepped out of his aging green Ford Taurus and was walking toward the RV with hand extended to greet Buzzcut when he had walked right into the middle of a Mojave Green rattlesnake.  Buzzcut had drawn the 25-2 and shot the snake square in the head inches from Claric’s left foot.   Shaken,  Claric had stepped aside as Buzzcut scooped the snake up and put it in a plastic Thriftway grocery bag.   “Hola! Name’s Buzzcut Odle.  I’ll just be adding that one to your pile Mr. Super Soul.”  Since that day, Claric had puzzled over the nickname many times.   Obviously, it had something to do with him being black but the nickname was applied without rancor or a hint of racism on Buzzcut’s part.   He had never mustered the nerve to ask the odd man what it meant and he had no intention of upsetting  the man who was his best snake supplier in a 100 mile radius.

Since it was October,  the weather had finally cooled in the desert. Buzzcut could be counted on to maintain a fairly steady weekly sack of snakes for Super Soul.   Most of his other snake hunters gave up when the weather turned cool and the snakes grew sluggish.  He could only guess Buzzcut ranged far afield for many hours each day to come up with the snakes he proffered to Super Soul.  The two men settled on $100 for the sack  and  Buzzcut watched the green Taurus rattle back down the caliche rock road with his snakes secured in a zipped canvas gym bag on the back seat.   He glanced up at the sun and figured it was 10am or thereabouts. Good enough.   “How about a beer Hatchet Jack?”

Buzzcut was still sitting on the porch nursing that first beer of the day when he heard the rattle clatter of  Cowboy’s F250 diesel as it roared to life almost a mile away.   Cowboy and the F250 appeared moments later and as his neighbor walked toward the porch Buzzcut said “Beer, Boss?”  “I think I will take you up on that Buzzcut”  he said as he settled into a chair on the porch.   Cowboy glanced up when Buzzcut returned with a beer in each hand and noticed the nickels.  “Bad morning hombre?”  Buzzcut murmured something about a ‘damned chicken’ as he sat down.  “Well, I got some bad news this morning too.  Sailor won’t be coming down this winter to stay with us. He got the cancer and died. That Apache lawyer lady called me and I gotta head up to Northern New Mexico for the funeral and to settle up some business.” Cowboy watched as Buzzcut’s complexion went from ruddy brown to ashen.  He set the beer down on the low table between the two chairs and reached for the Altoid’s tin.  Removing the nickels from his ears, he carefully picked up each quarter, blew it off and placed one in each ear.   He drained the fresh beer in one long swallow, stood up and said  “I’ll look after things while you are gone” and vanished inside the RV.

 

Previous installments of the book are HERE.

Disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction.  None of the characters are real.  The events depicted may or may not be historically true or even remotely factual.  Locations and descriptions may or may not be actual.  This is my original work and you DO NOT have permission to copy more than a short excerpt which must point back to my original document. This work and all work in this series is Copyright © 2013 MyOldRV.com.

 

 

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