A man who dodges bullets as a vocation is flattened by something he can’t even see.
Then his partner must seek help.
Blue Hawk Goes To Town
Erwin K. Roberts
As he saddled the sorrel horse Blue Hawk heard another fit of coughing come from the tangle of bushes where his friend lay hidden. Once more the Yaqui Indian frowned. In his native Mexico Blue Hawk would have sought herbs and minerals to treat his friend. But here, a long week’s ride on horseback from the land of the Scarlet Riders, what he needed did not grow.
With a sigh Blue Hawk mounted and headed the sorrel in the direction of the town white men called Bushwhack Bend. He snorted at the irony of the name. How many times had he and his friend been bushwhacked? How many more times had they bushwhacked evil men? For that matter, how many outlaws and lawmen alike would would covet the location of the bushes where his practically helpless friend lay. For it was not often that the man known to some as the Masked Rider became a fixed target.
Two hours later Blue Hawk crested a hill. Bushwhack Bend lay in a corner of a wide valley. Two roads crossed there, so the town took on the shape of the letter “X”. Blue Hawk scanned the layout. The livery stable and blacksmith shop were easy to identify. He could guess at the purpose of a few other buildings. He urged the sorrel ahead at an easy walk.
Blue Hawk was a man of the open spaces. Not fond of any town, his friend, in the guise of drifter Wayne Morgan, usually picked up supplies and information from the places they passed. In fact the Yaqui improved his English reading skills with the newspapers and magazines his partner bought.
The first few buildings on either side of the street turned out to be homes and a boarding house or two. Blue Hawk continued to let the sorrel saunter up the dusty street when a small metal hoop rolled from between two houses and into his path. He drew back on the reins as a small boy dashed after it.
The sorrel gave an uncharacteristic whinny at the abrupt stop. The boy also managed to stop before running into the horse. Just barely. The lad stared up open mouthed at the horse and the unusual rider. Never before had the barefoot child of the west seen a horseman dressed all in loose tan garments wearing a tall sombrero. Blue Hawk smiled down at the boy.
At the same instant a near scream came from the small wooden house. “Nathan! Nathan Harper!” The boy’s face fell at the sound. “Nathan, I thought I told you to play out back. Not in the street.”
Her words ended as she came through the rough framed door. She rocked back on her heels a bit at the sight of the Yaqui rider. “Mister, I’m plum sorry if my boy caused you trouble…”
In that moment Blue Hawk decided not to be anything that he wasn’t this day. Too often he pretended ignorance and even stupidity. But not today. “No trouble, Señora Harper,” he said in his best Mission school English. “I knew there would be children here. Can you tell me, please, does the town have a doctor?”
“Well, yes… And no,” sputtered Martha Harper. “That is… Dr. Cosby’s out of town for a few days. Bunch of the hands at the Circle-Z came down with Chicken Pox. So he’s stayin’ up there. Are you sick, Mister…?”
“I am called Blue Hawk. A friend is sick. I seek medicine for his cough.”
Martha brightened. “Doc’s daughter makes mosta his medicines. She has a small shop that’s part of Ferguson’s Dry Goods building. Go on up ta the junction an’ turn left. Ferguson’s four buildings after the bank.”
“Gracias, Señora,” replied Blue Hawk. He tipped his sombrero as the sorrel moved ahead.
“Land o’ Goshen,” murmured Martha Harper, “A Indian that speaks English better ‘n’ most town folk.”
The sorrel ambled around the street corner as his rider took in the sights of the small town. Almost all of the town’s businesses were now open. The one cafe he passed looked about closed until the mid-day meal. No horses waited at the hitch-rails in front of the Bank of the Flats as he passed. Not yet open, he decided.
On the far side of the Ferguson building a small sign read “Apothecary, Herbs, & Spices.” Blue Hawk pulled open the door next to the sign.
“Señorita Cosby,” he called.
Nearly twenty minutes later Blue Hawk emerged from the Apothecary. As soon as she realized that he too compounded medicines, she began asking him questions as she worked. Her brass mortar and pestle made much different sounds than the rocks he most often relied on. Grinding finished she placed the ingredients over a tiny fire mixed with a thick liquid.
Blue Hawk declined with a smile when she offered to add some peppermint extract to the mixture. She strained the liquid through cheese cloth before pouring it into three bottles. He gladly paid the small amount she asked for one of the bottles and thanked her for the lesson on local plants. As he headed out the door he noted that several horses now waited outside the bank.
He led the sorrel to a water trough a bit nearer the bank. As the animal drank he moved to put away the bottle of medicine.
“Mr. Hawk! Mr. Hawk!”
Blue Hawk looked around to the Harper boy hurrying across the dusty street toward him. He stepped away from the sorrel to meet the boy in full public view. One could not be too careful.
“Yes, young Mister Harper,” he said.
The lad came to a panting halt in front of him. Nathan grabbed a full breath to ask, “Mr. Hawk, is it true…”
Blue Hawk never did learn what the boy wanted to know. For at that moment the front doors of the Bank of the Flats crashed open as a gunshot sounded somewhere inside. Five men raced out carrying canvas sacks and saddlebags. Man and boy stared for an instant as the five mounted and urged the horses straight in their direction.
Nathan started to say something as Blue Hawk snatched him up in a mad dash for the boardwalks. As he set the child down he remembered. Except for his boot knife he carried no weapons. For he wanted nothing to provoke trouble on his simple errand.
Muttering a Yaqui curse he took three steps back into the street as the bank robbers thundered by. The lead rider drew a gun. He passed Blue Hawk before he could aim. Eyes of the other riders glared at him from above bandanas. As the last bandit passed Blue Hawk turned and threw the bottle of medicine with all his might. He saw the glass bottle shatter against the back of the saddle’s cantle.
When the racing hoofbeats died away the Bushwhack Flats street seemed to erupt with people. From the bank came the cry, “They shot Mr. Rains!”
Blue Hawk looked around. He saw Miss Cosby standing in the door of her shop. He caught her eye. He called out a word in a tongue that felt strange to his mouth. Then he added, “If you have it, bring it.” With that he hurried towards the bank.
Blue Hawk, followed by Nathan and several townsfolk rushed into the Bank of the Flats. They found three men inside. One heavy set man moaned on the floor as he held his stomach. The second looked dazed. No wonder, for a gash ran from his forehead into his receding hair. The third lay bleeding on the floor from a leg wound.
Julianne Cosby pushed through the crowd at the bank door. George Rains’ face twisted with pain as Blue Hawk tightened the man’s belt around his upper leg. As she walked over the Indian produced a knife from his boot. Deftly he cut away the trouser leg.
“I know what you asked for, Blue Hawk,” she said as she knelt on the other side of the fallen man. “But, I’ve got something even better. My daddy learned to make this from a Comanche medicine man down in Texas. It stops bleeding. Stops infection, too. Hang on there, George. Once I clean out the wound we’ll get the healing started.”
Julianne cleaned the scalp wound as a man with a star pinned to his checked shirt hurried in. His eyes scanned the room as they adjusted from the morning sun. He paused in surprise as he noticed Nathan. He paused again when he saw Blue Hawk. The barest hint of a smile flashed across his face.
Then he asked, “Is anybody else hurt? No? Good. What happened, Mr. Rains?”
Rains spoke through almost clenched teeth. He told how the five men came in with hats pulled low. “Then out came the guns and up went the bandanas before anybody got much of a look at them. They cleaned out the loose cash. Seemed to know about Mr. Denton’s trip today. Didn’t try to get the big safe open.”
“How’d you get shot?”
Rains grimaced, “Stupid accident! They turned to leave. The man in the back brought his gun up to cover us. As he turned his gun hand hit the corner of the writing table. The blessed thing went off. Before the pain started I remember seeing the idjut’s eyes pop open. Like he’d never shot a gun before.”
“Did you recognize any of ’em? What were they wearing?”
“‘Fraid not, Deputy. No scars, no warts, in sight. They wore work duds. Like they’d come in directly from the range. Cowhand clothes.”
“But they were not cowhands,” said Blue Hawk.
“He’s right, Papa!” volunteered Nathan.
Deputy Harper smiled, “Is that so, son? How’d you know?”
“Them men couldn’t ride for beans, Papa!”
“Those men, Nathan. Those men. I take it you agree with my boy, Blue Hawk?”
“Your son understands what he sees, Deputy Harper,” said the Yaqui, wondering how the man knew his name. “The robbers know how to ride, but are no experts. They had trouble mounting in a hurry. And were not very steady riding at a gallop. They would be laughed out of a job as cowboys.”
Someone spoke up from the crown at the door. “How’d we know he’s not part of the gang? A trying to throw us offa th’ varmints trail?”
“Oh hush up, Lem!” came a woman’s voice. “I saw the Indian pull young Nathan out of them owl-hoot’s path.”
“And he was in my store for at least a quarter hour before the robbery,” Julianne Cosby said firmly.
“Thanks, Martha. And you, too, Julianne. And, Blue Hawk, I’m beholding to you for takin’ care of my son. Nathan, you head home. Tell yore mama I’ll be working awhile. Now, let’s get the injured over to the Doc’s office. Then see about catching those skunks.”
Willing hands soon carried George Rains to the doctor’s office on a long table. Deputy Harper appointed an older man to watch the bank until it could be properly locked up. Soon Harper and Blue Hawk stood alone on the sunny boardwalk.
“You picked a bad day and a good day to come to this town, Blue Hawk,” drawled the Deputy.
The puzzled Yaqui replied, “Do I know you, Deputy Harper?”
“We’ve never actually met, but I know who and what you are. Some years back, you and that friend of yours protected my family from the night riders down in the Cayugas. I learned your name then, but that’s about it. You two are the reason I took to the Law. Ta try preventin’ that sort of badness.”
(See The Masked Rider Western V2 N1, February 1935 “Bad Men of the Cayugas” by George A. Starbird.)
“Then today is a bad day because I had need of medicine. And because I ran into this robbery. Why is it also a good day?”
“‘S good day ’cause, Sheriff Mitchel’s at the County Seat today. Come to think of it, Banker Denton, the fat fellow, was headed there today, too. The Sheriff’s a givin’ testimony in court. Won’t be back ’til noon tomorrow, at least. That’s good because… Well, he’s honest right enough, but he thinks any Indian he lays eyes on is up to no good. He’d lock you up until all the grain of this robbery was a ground and the flour sifted. With your help, I’d like to get this whole mess tied up in a bow before he gets back to town. Ya got any suggestions?”
The Yaqui grinned as he pulled a Colt and holster from the bottom of his saddlebags, “To start with are there tracking dogs in Bushwhack Flats?”
Half an hour later just about the ugliest dog Blue Hawk could remember loped between their horses. The large beast’s hide seemed a patchwork of scars. Both his long ears were bite bobbed, but each differently, from long ago confrontations with various animals.
“Ol’ Stonewall never gives up,” chuckled Deputy Harper. “I’m about the only one he’ll half way obey, ‘cept for Big Andy. You seem pretty certain he can follow those owl-hoots’ trail. Mind telling me why?”
“Señorita Cosby and I discussed what’s in the medicine. Some things in it don’t grow within hundreds of miles. No chance of cross trails that way. The mixture will have dripped off the horse’s belly for a long time. Long enough to find their camp, I hope.”
On the far side of town Blue Hawk dripped some liquid from a second bottle of the cough medicine onto a piece of rag. This he held below Stonewall’s nose. The mongrel’s languid eyes flew open. The Yaqui jumped aside just before the dog sprayed the nearby sagebrush with a terrific wet sneeze.
Deputy Harper called the dog to the center of the outlaw tracks saying, “Find, Stonewall. Follow.”
Stonewall sniffed around for a few seconds. Soon he let off a much less explosive sneeze. Then he headed along the robber’s path.
“I hope he stays quiet,” said Blue Hawk as the horses fell in behind the dog.
“He never barks when he’s on the scent,” replied Harper. “I only told him to follow. Iffin I’d said to ‘C-A-T-C-H’ he’d try to bring whoever was in that saddle back to us. Or, part of him, at least.”
Blue Hawk laughed out loud at the thought.
An hour later Stonewall fell to his belly at the crest of a low rise. The two men soon lay on either side of the dog.
“We’re on the Circle-Bar-K ranch. The widow Conner’s spread. That’s one of their line shacks down there. An’ that’s the right number of horses in the corral.”
“I see no signs of life.”
“Neither do I, Blue Hawk. But we figure these are local people. They may have split up for now. Let’s slither down to the shack. See if anybody’s home.”
The door of the line shack crashed open. Deputy Harper and Blue Hawk darted in with guns drawn. The place was empty. The pot bellied stove still held a faint amount of heat. Harper checked the coffee pot atop the thing.
“I’ll be pickled in vinegar,” he exclaimed. “These consarned bandits made coffee ‘afore they went to work.”
“Over here,” said Blue Hawk, “something under the floor boards.”
That something turned out not to be the loot, but five bundles wrapped in heavy butcher paper. Each package contained a change of clothing including boots. Each carried similar aromas not associated with the cowboy’s trade. Above the simple ceiling of the shack they found five Stetson hats.
Outside they studied the tracks in the dusty ground. Five riders left the area in four directions. But at some point all the tracks clustered about the stone sided well.
“Do not go near the well, Deputy. That is the one place our quarry will look closely for unknown tracks. Now, I think all we have to do clean up our own tracks, then wait until after dinner.”
Right after dusk five riders gathered on the edge of what once might have been considered a very short mesa overlooking the line shack. Warily they approached. Seeing nothing amiss, inside, or out, one of them lit a kerosene lantern.
Another brought out a lariat with a large hook tied to one end. With this the five seemed to be fishing down the deep well. Twenty minutes and a whole bunch of cussing later, they hooked something. All hands worked to pull the catch up.
As soon as the dripping bundle touched the dusty ground a strong voice cried out, “This is the law! Raise your hands!”
The five men froze for an instant. Then one drew a hog-leg yelling, “You ain’t got me!”
From another direction a Peacemaker cracked. The bank robber’s Navy Colt bit the dust as its owner cried out in pain. A second man ducked for cover on the far side of the well’s stonework. A two note whistle sounded. A scream of terror and pain came from the squatting man as alligator like jaws closed on his rump. Another tried to run into the night. Until flying dust and rock chips hit his face from a shot fired just in front of him.
“Next man who tries something’ll be carried out of here. This is Deputy Harper. Drop yore dad blamed guns! Now!”
Harper, Blue Hawk, and Ol’ Stonewall quickly herded the robbers into the line shack. The man with the shoulder wound had lost his hat. When Blue Hawk placed the lantern on the top of the stove his anguished face stood out from the rest.
“Herman Benton!” exclaimed Harper. “He’s th’ cook over at the Lazy-G ranch.”
“I think you will find that they all are cooks, Deputy,” said Blue Hawk. “You said their trails led in the directions of various ranches. They made breakfast, then rode here to change. They robbed the bank, dumped the loot down the well, then hurried back to serve lunch. Now, after supper, they came back to divide it. We knew they were local people. The robbery was all too convenient with the Sheriff out of town. But the banker only set to leave this morning. Shall we see the rest of them?”
Sure enough Deputy Harper identified all five men as cooks at various ranches. With the Deputy and Ol’ Stonewall standing guard Blue Hawk slit open the sealed oilskin package. He quickly spread the contents on a blanket taken from a bunk. Currency went into the first pile. Gold coins made up the second. Lessor coinage came next. That left a separately sealed folio.
Soon Blue Hawk looked over the contents. “All these are about the holdings of Seth Conner. A notarized copy of the ranch deed. Records of a loan against the place. Payment schedule. A letter from the Blackhawk Insurance Company about the policy on Conner’s life.”
“There’s our motive,” chuckled Deputy Harper. “Beyond basic thievin’ greed, that is. Th’ redhead in the center’s Mort Avery, the spread’s cook. Everybody in town knows he’s sweet on the Widow Conner. Everybody save her. Bet you he put this whole shebang together so’s he could burn that note with her watching.
“Banker Denton took those papers out of the big safe so’s he could grab ’em and head to the County Seat soon’s the small day safe got opened. Only this time he didn’t figure he needed extra protection, like he sometimes does. Th’ Widow might want to shoot him, but she wouldn’t. Now, let’s get this lot ta jail. And the first one of you lowlife’s make a false move… Well, Ol’ Stonewall’ll have dinner.”
“Blue Hawk” said Harper as he locked the jail’s outer door, “I know you got medicine to deliver. Thanks for staying with me through all this. My best to that friend of yours.”
With that the two shook hands. Then the Yaqui headed into the night.
A bright crescent moon hung nearly overhead as Blue Hawk tied up the sorrel next to the pinto and Midnight, the almost invisible black stallion.
“Hawk,” came a croaking voice behind him, “I was starting to get worried.”
“I expected to be back much earlier, Señor. Soon, when you are better, we can head up towards Pierre and see that natural wonder* you want to show me.”
*See “Thunder On Devil’s Tower” in “The Masked Rider: Tales of the Wild West volume #2” from Airship-27 Productions.
“I hope that medicine is as good as you say it is, Hawk.”
“Good Señor? This medicine has many uses. It even catches bank robbers.”
Original 2010 Authors Note: Well, They Asked For A Western
After 45,000 words of Dr. Watson’s American Adventure and finishing a 15,000 word Masked Rider tale I was ready to head out of the 19th century for a long time. Then the editors at Planetarystories.com asked me about doing a western for Pulp Spirit. Not too likely, I decided. I’ve got to get back to shooting up the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Then fate, or maybe it was stream-of-(un)consciousness, took over, with Medicare was the catalyst. Go figure…
In my day job, one of my duties was to run the teleprompter for training broadcasts. That day’s topic was Medicare. During an in-class assignment I let my mind wander. I thought about my just completed Masked Rider story. And then, I think, about the M.R. & Blue Hawk’s medical care for things other than bullet and knife wounds. (Those they handled “internally.” ;^})
Somehow up came Bill Cosby’s hilarious stand-up routines about the Lone Ranger, and Tonto’s disastrous trips to town. “Tonto, go to town. Get information.” “Information say Tonto no go to town!”
During the next few minutes I outlined the story you have just read.
For all the similarities between the Lone Ranger and the Masked Rider, there are some substantial differences. One being that the Masked Rider often appears without his mask as cowboy Wayne Morgan. The important one here is that Blue Hawk was never burdened, cursed really, with the dreaded Movie Indian English. In the earliest pulps, thanks to Mission schooling, Blue Hawk was at least trilingual. Fluent, of course, in his tribal tongue, he also spoke and read Spanish and English. Sorry, Tonto.