The Desperado

The Desperado by Clifton Adams

Book: The Desperado by Clifton Adams Read Free Book Online
Authors: Clifton Adams
Tags: Western
myself saying, “my God, what happened to you?”
    He was hardly recognizable as a man. His face had been beaten in, his
eyes were purplish blue and swollen almost shut. His mouth was split
open and dried blood clung to his chin. Blood was caked on his face and
in his hair and smeared all over the front of his shirt.
    “What are you doing here?” he asked dully. I noticed then that his
front teeth were missing. But I only noted it in passing. In the back
of my mind. I could think of only one thing then—Laurin.
    I jerked the screen door open and went inside. “Joe, where's Laurin?
Is she all right?”
    He looked at me stupidly and I grabbed the front of his shirt and
shook him.
    “Answer me, goddamn you! Where's Laurin?”
    He shook his head dumbly and began to sag. I held him up and pulled a
kitchen chair over with my foot and let him sit down.
    “So help me God,” I said, “if you don't tell me what happened to
Laurin I'll finish what somebody else started.”
    He worked his mouth. I couldn't tell if he understood me or not. It
took him a long time to get a sound out. He worked his mouth, rubbed
his bloody face, licked his split lips.
    Then, “Laurin...” he said finally. “She's ... all right.”
    I realized that I had been holding my breath all the time it had
taken him to get those words out. Now I let it out. It whistled between
my teeth, and my heart began to beat and blood began to flow. Relief
washed over me like cool water on a hot day.
    “Where is she, Joe? Tell me that.”
    He started to get up, then sat down again. He made meaningless
motions with his hands. Whoever had worked on him had done a hell of a
good job. I wondered if maybe there wasn't a hole in the back of his
head where all his brains had leaked out.
    “Answer me, Joe! Where is she? Where is Laurin?”
    “Your place,” he managed at last. “Your place... with your ma.”
    I didn't stop to wonder what Laurin would be doing at our ranch. I
was too relieved to wonder about anything then. Joe started to stand up
again and I pushed him down.
    “Stay where you are,” I said. “I'll get you some water.”
    I found a bucket of water and a dipper and a crock bowl on the
kitchen washstand. Then I got some dish towels out of the cupboard and
brought the whole business over and put it on the kitchen table. I wet
the towel and wiped some of the blood off his face. I squeezed some
water over his head and cleaned a deep scalp wound behind his ear. That
was about all I could do for him. He didn't look much better after I
had finished, but he seemed to feel better.
    I gave him a drink out of the dipper and said, “Can you talk now?”
    He touched his mouth gently, then his eyes and nose. “Yes,” he said.
“I guess I can talk.”
    “What happened to you?” I asked. “What happened out there?” I
motioned toward the empty corrals and barns and bunkhouse out in the
ranch yard.
    “The police,” he said. “The goddamned state police. They came here
yesterday morning wanting to know where you were. When we didn't tell
them, they ran off all the livestock—that's where the hands are,
looking for the cattle. They threatened to burn the place if we didn't
tell them. They're mad. Crazy mad. That bluebelly that Ray gave the
beating to was the governor's nephew, or cousin, or something, and all
hell's broke loose in John's City. They're out to get every man that
ever said a word against the carpetbag rule. They want you especially
bad, I guess.”
    “Why do they want me so bad? Hell, I wasn't the one that hit the
governor's kinfolks.”
    “Because you're the only one that got away from them,” Joe Bannerman
said. “Ray Novak came back and gave himself up. But they're not
satisfied. They got to thinking about that fight you had a while back.
They won't be satisfied until they've got you on the work gang, right
alongside of Ray Novak.”
    So Ray Novak had come back. Gave himself up to carpetbag law. It

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