The Kentucky Kid
Dan Crow said, ‘He sure enough looks a mean son of a bitch.’
Henry Lee nodded in agreement, ‘I am surely not hankering to get close to him and that’s also sure enough.’
‘It can’t be helped, someone has to take him on,’ Crow said, a hint of despair in his tobacco stained voice.
‘I guess it will be up to you and me then if’n it comes right down to it then.’
‘He’s fast, an outlaw through and through.’
‘Quicker than forked lightning, he’ll do one of us in for sure.’
‘One of us or both of us.’
‘You think you can take him, Crow?’
‘To be honest with you, Lee, no, I don’t believe I can take him and that’s a fact.’
‘He’s got four years of hate in him but, like I said, someone has to.’
The two old cowhands were seated on the top rail of the corral fence staring at the subject of their apprehension, a paint horse, black and white with a trace of chestnut but more black on him than anything else. The large horse stared right back at them, one black-patched eye and one white-patched eye with coloured pupils to match, it seemed to be able to watch the world from both left and right at one and the same time. The big animal was tethered to a snubbing post set in the centre of the corral and to Crow and Lee it did not appear that the animal liked what it saw. Lee dogged the cigarette between a finger and thumb, ‘Biggest Indian pony I ever saw and that’s a fact no doubt about it. Smart too, it’ll let you get close enough to saddle it, maybe even climb aboard but the moment that blind comes off, he’ll kill you for sure if he can.’
Crow said, ‘I know, the boss wants him rid and lady broke for his visiting sister Kelly and he always gets what he wants come hell or high water.’
‘Others have tried, no shame in failing here.’ Lee said.
‘He threw the wrangler last week, broke his leg in two places, he’ll be a gimp for sure all because of that evil looking slope eyed chunk of meanness.’ Crow spat out his chaw and stoked another one from his tin of Redman, chewing in silence while Lee rolled his third cigarette of the morning from a dusty Durham tobacco sack. ‘I would rather quit than fork that animal.’
‘Just leaves you or me though, everyone else claiming to be busy, sick or just disappeared.’
‘Not necessarily,’ said Crow, ‘there’s always The Kentucky Kid.’
Lee spat into the dust. ‘Even he’s not that green.’
‘You think?’ Crow said.
‘You think different?’ Lee asked, with a smile, the smoke drifting from his mouth picked up and drifted away by the warm, dry, early morning breeze. ‘You think he’d bite was we to ask him?’
‘Depends on just how you bait the hook.’
‘You’re a better rider than me, Crow, so I guess it’s you or The Kentucky Kid and here he comes now, better get your fishing pole ready.’
The Kid was lean, twenty years old or there abouts. Short, wiry, red headed his handsome freckled faced sported a seemingly constant grin. His real name was Aaron Meade but he didn’t answer to that, not ever. He signed on at the Rocking W for the fall roundup and stayed on after the drive, popular with most of the crew although his constant need to please became a bit wearing to the older hands. He claimed to be from Kentucky and sat a horse well. In shotgun chaps, the cross-draw pistol he wore for show, faded red shirt and black leather vest he was quite striking and attractive to the young and not so young woman of Dogbite, another thing that scratched at the hides of some of the older hands.
‘What you two old farts up to, lollygagging around here while the boys are out riding?’ Asked the Kid with a grin wider than an open barn door.
‘Special duties, Kid,’ Crow said, shifting along the rail so the newcomer could swing up between them.
‘Special duties? ‘What are y’all watching?’
‘That old pinto,’ Crow offered.
‘What’s so special about watching that cayuse?’ The Kid said. ‘Looks like a mean one to me, part outlaw I reckon.’
Crow chuckled, ‘No, not even part outlaw, not anymore, he’s half broke already and me and old Lee here was just contemplating who was going to be lucky enough break the other half.’
‘Oh yeah, contemplating. He going to join the remuda?’
‘No,’ said Crow, ‘he’s got special duties as well.’ He turned to Lee. ‘I guess I won the toss there, Lee, so I’ll be riding him down.’
The Kid looked puzzled, ‘How come you get to bust your ass on that horse and that makes you the winner?’
‘Well, the old man wants him lady broke as a saddle horse for Miss Kelly, his sister, and that means whoever does the job is in solid with them both. Maybe even a meal or two up at the big house, they eat well up there. He’s got to be real gentled though and I am the old cowhand to do just that. Put my best duds on, proud walk that old paint up to the big house porch, dance him around for the lady.’
‘Where’s the wrangler at? Why ain’t Bob breaking him?’
‘Bobby broke his leg in two places, fell down the stairs in Halloran’s Saturday night, surprised you haven’t heard about it. Where you been at these past couple of days anyway?’
‘Just got back in this morning, took some beeves up to Bailey with the old man, surprised he didn’t mention it to me.’
‘He tell you everything?’ Asked Lee, then turned his attention to Crow saying, ‘You sure are lucky with the toss again, Crow, I was counting on some extra vitals and that sipping whiskey the boss keeps and that sister of his is downright easy on the eye and smart company.’
‘Even for an old fart like you?’ The Kid was smiling again, that wide innocent smile.
‘Especially for an old fart like me,’ Lee snapped back.
Crow slid off the rail, ‘Let’s go scare us up some coffee, Lee, while I get my gear and ride that old horse around so Kelly can see me from the house, maybe bring me some grub, I hear she packs a great boxed lunch. Maybe I’ll take her fishing down at Sawyer’s Creek catch us some cutthroats, walk that old horse for her.’
‘See you later, Kid, you look like you could use some shuteye.’ Lee climbed down behind Crow and nodding to the youngster and without a backward look the pair crossed the yard, went in through the front door of the cook shack, nodded to the dozing cook and exited through the back door, turned left and into the back of the barn. Crow leading the way, they climbed the loft ladder and settled down by the hay hoist to watch The Kentucky Kid.
The Kid stared after the pair for a full minute before turning his attention back to the paint horse standing quietly in the corral.
‘You think he’s going for it?’ asked Lee, quietly
‘He’s surely contemplating it.’
‘That your new word for the day?’
‘It’ll have to do.’
With just one quick final glance back over his shoulder The Kid seemed to have made up his mind and climbed easily into the corral. He unbuckled his pistol belt and hung it over the rail before taking down the blindfold from where it was wrapped around an upright then, swinging a saddle from the rail onto his lean back, he approached the paint with a high degree of caution, even a half broke animal could prove unpredictable. Then, talking to it, humming softly to himself. The animal stared at him from its right eye while the other one, the dark one, seemed to survey the landscape beyond and back of the approaching young cowboy, seeking out the two punchers settled on the hay bales, it’s flank and tail flickering now and then to disturb the gathering horse flies. The Kid slipped the blind over the paint’s head and the animal seemed to lower its head to accommodate the move.
‘You’re quieter than a lamb, old horse,’ The Kid muttered as he carefully swung the saddle onto the big animal’s back, all the time talking softly, almost a whisper, a soothing murmur, a hum and a gentle crooning sound. He tightened the cinch and reaching up to the cantle with one hand and the horn with the other gently rocked the rig to check it was set down hard.
Crow said, ‘I sure hope he screwed that saddle down tight, that pony has sure enough suckered The Kid in.’
‘He gets hurt it’s down to us, Crow, I’m wondering we done the right thing here.’
‘You thinking what I’m thinking?’
‘I guess, a tad worried is all.’ Lee said. ‘It’s just that for every action there is a consequence and if The Kid gets his neck broke that’s a load to carry.’
‘Your conscience bothering you all of a sudden?’
‘A mite is all.’
‘You want to ride that outlaw then?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘Good because I damn well don’t intend to and anyway, maybe the boy will make it, break it good. He sits a high saddle.’
They watched from their hiding place as The Kentucky Kid swung aboard, wrapped the line around his right hand and with his left slipped the tether from the halter and then the blind from the animal’s eyes. The paint just stood there for a long moment and then gently walked away from the pole, shaking its big head. The kid touched it gently with his heels a couple of times but the animal stayed put like it was glued to the dust of the big enclosure. The Kid relaxed a fraction and as he did so, the paint seemed to sense it and exploded beneath him. It reared, it bucked, its backside going one way and its head the other, it sunfished, it went high and came down hard on all four rigid legs, it turned like a whirlwind several times in its own length, it broke into a run and stopped hard, skidding in the dust nearly unseating the startled rider. And then it did it all over again harder only this time it didn’t stop the run at the rail but jumped clean over it horse and rider disappearing in a cloud of dust The Kid yelling and waving his hat in the air like a true bronc buster.
Crow and Lee watched the disappearing dust storm to where it vanished beyond the distant rim of the low hills that surrounded the Rocking W. Crow said, ‘holy shit, gives truth to that old saying, there’s not a horse that can’t be rode and never a rider that can’t be throwed. I sure hope he got religion when he was a boy, you think he’ll ever come back this way again?’
‘Oh, he’ll be back right enough, he’s The Kentucky Kid, he left a boy but he will come back a man.’
‘Damnedest thing I ever saw,’ said Lee, ‘He’ll be in Kansas come nightfall at that run.’
‘Or maybe even back in Kentucky,’ said Crow with a grin.
Copyright Chris Adam Smith 2017