★ ‘Ike Clanton’ by Henry Simpson

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Sunday afternoon, I was sitting under my oak enjoying the view, watching for Red Fox. She made her appearances unpredictably, usually in late afternoon. Shortly after four o’clock, I went into the house to refresh my drink, and as I returned, I noticed movement in tall grass a hundred yards down the hillside. I raised my binoculars: Red Fox stared back at me, yellowish eyes with intelligence and cunning. Survivor’s eyes. Perhaps it was an illusion. She might have been looking at something else, but I felt she saw and recognized me from her other visits, always staying on the wild land below, never entering sovereign human territory. As I watched, she suddenly jumped, ears perked up straight, and vanished in a wave of moving yellow grass, startled by something.

Good bye, I thought.

Moments later, I heard cantering hoofbeats to my left, looked, and observed Wes Ducks atop his white stallion emerging from the oaks. He was wearing a ranch hand’s faded blue jeans, denim jacket, straw Stetson, and cowboy boots, nothing stylish or fancy.

A few months ago, I pressed charges against him for arson and the court convicted him, fined him, and stripped him of his authority as a lawman. As much as I detested him, I admired the way he looked and moved, as if joined to his horse. I stood up and waited as he came closer. The horse slowed to a walking gait and stopped by my front porch. Ducks looked down and tapped the brim of his hat. “Can we talk?” he said.

I said, “No, Mr. Ducks. You’re not allowed on this property. The terms of your probation stipulate you are not to interfere with Renard Heights, LLC.”

“I’m not interfering, son. I’m a god damn limited partner in ABC Development Corporation. There’s no god damn way I can interfere with what I’m a part owner of. Here, talk to AAA Security and ask ’em if my name ain’t on their VIP list.” He pulled out a cellphone, made a call, said a few words, then handed me his phone.

I recognized the voice of the security guard. He verified that Ducks was a VIP and authorized admittance to Renard Heights.

I looked up at Ducks and returned his cellphone. “How long have you been a partner?”

“I’m a founding member, longer than any of the Johnny-come-latelys run the show these days. I rode these hills with Bill Renard himself back in the good old days.”

“I was under the impression ABC Development Partners was three people whose names started with the letters ABC.”

Ducks laughed. “ABC’s got seven or eight silent partners that, if their names they was listed, it would mess up the title.”

“Who else belongs?”

Ducks shook his head. “Confidential.”

“I can look it up.”

“Then go ahead and do it, partner. I won’t betray my friends. It would be against my code.”

“Outlaw code?”

“The code of the west.” He pulled out a Marlboro and lit it with his brassy Zippo. “I rode all the way up here to talk to you, Mr. Acuna. Let me give Tommy a rest and me and you have us a parley.”

“Smoke the peace pipe?”

“Nothing but.” He dismounted, let his horse wander. He grabbed a chair off the porch, set it under the oak, and sat, watching me.

I sat. “Talk,” I said.

“I heard you’re leaving town.”

“Who told you that?”

“A friend.”

“A limited partner?”

Ducks smiled. “Si, senor.” He took a drag on his cigarette, looked into the far distance like that lonesome cowpoke way out on the prairie. “I’m okay with how it worked out here.”

A long silence.

I looked at him, raising my eyebrows expectantly.

“This here operation is profitable, easy money for me, and to get it I don’t have to supervise a bunch of god damn idiot bikers anymore, kick ass, or worry ‘bout much ‘cept whether the postman delivers my checks on time. Yes, sir. I’m okay with how it worked out here.”

A long silence.

Ducks stared at me. “What do you have to say about that, college boy?”

“Is that all?” I said. “Because if it is, you can climb back aboard your beautiful steed and leave. I don’t care what you approve or disapprove of. Your opinion on any subject whatsoever is of absolutely no interest to me.”

Ducks sniffed, squashed his cigarette underfoot, and methodically lit another with his brassy Zippo. He inhaled, exhaled, then turned to me. “How about my opinion of you?”

Before I could think up the words to compose a sentence to tell him how little I cared, he beat me to the draw: “I respect you, Mr. Acuna. You made a better lawman than I ever was. You ran me out of town, put me out of business, and sent me to jail. That’s what a good lawman does to a crooked operator.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that you now see the error of your ways.”

Ducks slapped his hands together. “You damn right I do! I saw myself as Wyatt, but you proved I was Ike Clanton.”

“What are you doing these days?”

“Cattle ranching, mainly, and lobbying type work for the cattle industry in the nation’s capital, Washington, DC. Have you ever been there?”

“I’ve visited. How do you like it there?”

“I like it fine. My kind of people. I feel right at home.”

A long silence.

“I admired watching you ride in here on Tommy,” I said.

Ducks smiled. “Call me Wes. Mind if I call you Carlos?”

“That’s okay.” We shook hands. “I would like to take your picture on Tommy. Would you allow me to do that?”

Ducks stood up, whistled, and the white horse, grazing nearby, looked at Ducks with bright, alert eyes, pranced over to him, and placed its muzzle against his forehead. Ducks kissed his nose, then mounted Tommy and galloped in circles on the hillside.

I retrieved my Leica from the house and took several quick shots. I knew that, within the dozen or so pictures I took, at least one, or perhaps even two, would be good enough to frame. I would send a copy to Ducks.

Henry Simpson is the author of several novels, two short story collections, many book reviews, and occasional pieces in literary journals. His most recent novel is Golden Girl (Newgame, 2017). See his Amazon fiction here.

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