Read Apache canyon Online

Authors: 1939- Brian Garfield

Apache canyon

Brady crouched on one knee and frowned, squinting at the smudged and dusty tracks. His eyes lifted slowly, following the sign forward along the ground, and kept on lifting, sweeping the hot yellow-gray rock spires of yonder hills. A hot breath of wind carried gritty dust across his flesh. He turned back to his horse, gathered the reins and swung up to the saddle, at the same time calling across the flats: "Over here, Rubio."

Pete Rubio, scouting the ground for tracks, trotted his horse across the hardpan to stop by him. Brady pointed upward into the hills. "He's gone up there. About an hour ahead of us, as near as I can make out."

"We're gaining on him, then," Rubio said. He settled his squat frame back, stretching bare brown legs against the stirrups, pulling his shoulders together under the faded blue army blouse. The shirttails hung down over his breechclout; a seamed leather belt supported knife and revolver and medicine pouch. Rubio wore no hat. His hair was long and straight and dusty-black. He looked along the line of footprints and said, "Anything keeping us here?"

"Nope." Brady put his horse forward at an easy-swinging trot. The half-breed scout followed him for a Uttle distance, then came abreast of him. "I hope he don't come across some poor pilgrim with a horse," Rubio said.

"If he finds a horse, we've lost him,'' Brady agreed. The trail of moccasin tracks they followed lifted them off the hardpan flats into the rocky hills, with the brassy sun thrashing up heat waves. Brady kept his attention on the dim trail of footprints. "Pretty soon," he said, "he'll take to the rocks. Then we'll have to guess."

"He's a young one," Rubio said. "He don't know all the tricks yet. He'll most likely head for Oxbow Canyon and try to steal a horse from Yeager's outfit."

Brady nodded. "I've been thinking the same thing. Listen-you stick to this trail, and I'll cut over the mountain to Yeager's. Maybe I can be there to meet Tonio."

"Don't count on it. He'll probably spot you going over the ridge. If he does, he'll try to double back."

"That's why you're sticking to his trail," Brady answered. "If I don't see you at Yeager's by four o'clock, I'll try and pick up your tracks. Stick with him."

"Sure," Rubio said, without enthusiasm. "Mind your scalp, hey?"

Brady grinned and swung his horse off the trail, threading a path between eroded boulders and sharp-edged limestone walls. It was slow traveling for a while. He had to make a jump across a narrow arroyo and find a way around a towering shelf of rock; presently he reached the top of the slope and stopped to look for Rubio. In a moment he caught sight of the scout, winding up the canyon floor a half mile away. Brady swept off his hat, felt beads of sweat on his forehead, and dragged a buckskin sleeve across his brow. Looking up, he made a rough measurement of the sun's angle, replaced his hat and rode down the back of the hill until, after another twenty minutes, he reached the floor of a draw. He put his horse up the draw at a canter, swinging easily with the horse's rhythmic movement. Up to the head of the canyon, climbing and dipping, circling and running-in that manner he rose gradually higher into the indigo fortress of the Arrowheads. After another full hour's travel, the spindle tracery of yucca, catclaw and creosote gave way to the dark somberness of the tall pine forest. Here the horse moved almost soundlessly across a floor of soft needles and rich soil; it seemed a different world from the gritty and dusty rockplains a few thousand feet below. This was Arizona-still a strange country to Brady, and he had traveled these deserts and mountain ranges ahnost half his thirty years. And now it was 1878, with the Apaches jumping reservations all over the Territory and summer coming on strong and another dry spring fading into memory.

He threaded the timber at a trot. He rode with ease and a feeling of unshakable self-assurance, a big-boned man on a long-legged horse, with the most disreputable of hats flopping over his craggy face. Dark hair grew shaggy at the base of his neck. Un-like most men of the times, he was clean-shaven-the result of a habit that carried back to his youthful admiration of the stem, clean-shaven regimental commander who had been his father.

He rode past the base of a high blue-gray cliff and re-entered the forest, climbing higher into the Arrowheads, becoming steadily more wary, watching the shadows and listening with care to all the little forest

sounds. Somewhere up in this wilderness of mountains, the war chief Inyo, commanded a steadily increasing party of restless bucks who had jumped the reservations. It was toward Inyo's camp tliat the fugitive Apache youth Tonio was headed; and it was Will Brady's job to stop Tonio, capture him and bring him back.

In time, he crossed a long ridge until at the edge of a cleared pasture he reined in and peered across the open area, inspecting first the log corrals of Yeager's outpost ranch, then the buildings, and finally the entile visible circle of surrounding forest.

Still a good distance from the ranch yard, he let his call sing out ahead of him, and when he rode between the barn and tackshed into the yard, Yeager and the family awaited him on the porch. They were silent, noncommittal, and armed.

Yeager's ranch house was built like a fort, with small windows set high in the walls and guarded by heavy shutters that locked from inside. The stone walls and massive oak doors would withstand any expected attack-and Yeager had dug his well inside the house.

Yeager's black beard reached halfway to his thick waist. His meaty hands held a buffalo rifle. At one side of the door stood his wife. Squat with a copper complexion and stringy black hair that got in the way of her eyes, a Mimbreno Apache woman, was Yeager's wife. She was, perhaps, the reason why, of all the wilderness ranches in this part of the Territory, Yeager's was the only one not in mortal fear of Apache attack.

On the long shaded veranda were Yeager's four sons. The youngest was twelve years old; the eldest sprouted a black beard, but one not as long as his father's. None of them looked particularly friendly.

Brady grinned and touched his hatbrim. Yeager stepped foi-ward to the edge of the porch, allowing his rifle to droop in his grip. "Hello, Brady. You alone?" lam.

"All right," Yeager said, and on some subtle signal from him, the four boys and the woman faded back through the doorway. "Light," Yeager said, and peered at Brady through narrowed eyes.

"I expect you'll have a visitor shortly," Brady drawled. "Mind if I hide my horse in your barn?" "Who's after you?"

"Other way around," Brady said. "Tonio busted out of the guardhouse at Fort Dragoon. He'd been gone four hours yesterday before they found out. He's on foot."

"What makes you think he's headed for my place?" "Far as I know, it's the only place in thirty miles he could get a horse at," Brady answered.

"Tonio," Yeager said. "He's Inyo's son, ain't he?" 'That's right."

"It won't set well with Inyo if you pick him up here," Yeager said.

Brady kept his face blank and stepped down from the saddle. Standing by his horse's head, holding the reins, he said, "You've got to quit sitting the fence sometime, Yeager. It's my job to pick up Tonio, with or without your approval. You aim to try and stop me?"

Yeager considered the ground. Silence stretched thin and finally he said, "No. I won't tiy and stop you. But I won't help, either."

"All right." Brady walked toward the bam, leading his horse. When he looked back, he saw Yeager's heavy-set frame disappear into the house. He grinned, niLising over Yeager's strange code of ethics —like a man walking a tightwire, Yeager was, tiying to please everybody at once.

Brady put up his horse in the bam and came out again, standing in the shadows and building a brown-paper cigarette. He knew the speed with which an Apache on foot could cover giound. He expected Tonio to show up, if he showed up at all, sometime within the next fifteen minutes.

So thinking, he retumed into the bam long enough to get the rifle from his saddle scabbard, and then went across the yard to post himself in the shadow of the corral corner. Crawling between the fence bars, he peered out thi-ough the fence. Around him several horses milled for a restless moment and then, becoming used to his silent presence, quieted down and ignored him. Along the edge of timber, shadows flickered, keying up his nerves; he knew he would have no indication of the Apache's presence until Tonio came onto the meadow. Impatiently he cursed the blocky obstmctions the ranch buildings created. The door to the house was shut. Yeager had gathered his brood and was now sitting it out in stony neutrality.

Brady gave himself a one-in-ten chance of capturing Tonio here. Tonio might become suspicious or he might have spotted Brady back along the mountain paths somewhere, or he might have spotted Pete Rubio behind him. Any number of things might make the Apache too wary to come down to Yeager's. Brady rehed on Pete Rubio's skill. Rubio was as good a scout as could be found in the Territory.

He pulled down the Winchester's lever and kept his thumb over the hammer, and waited that way, outwardly patient, inwardly tense.

Even so, he almost missed it when it came. Glancing across the corral between the legs of slowly moving horses, he saw the softly flitting brown breech-clouted shape. It had to be Tonio; there was no other possibihty. A tense grin settled across Brady's rugged features and he turned slowly sideways to bring the rifle to bear in that direction. The Apache was suspicious, uncertain, careful. He had come out of the woods beyond the end of the corral.

Tonio came forward in spurts, halting at a crouch every few yards like an antelope. As the Indian advanced, certain things became visible to Brady: Tonio carried a Springfield cavalry carbine, and there was a long scabbed bruise across his shoulder where one of the guards must have struck him during his escape. He was seventeen, wiry and brown. The bodies of horses obscured sight of him when he made his final twenty-yard run to the corral. Brady's thumb eared the Winchester's hammer back; still, he made no move. The oncoming Indian's run was soundless, the practiced run of a hunter.

Crouching in the corner shadow, Brady had a glimpse of the Indian slipping into the coral between the logs of the fence. A moment later he saw Tonio's lean figure moving toward the gate, and freezing beside it, swept the buildings with his glance before he reached for the gateclasp.

That was when Brady stood up to his full height and trained the rifle on Tonio and spoke without raising his voice: "Stand still, Tonio."

The Indian was not stupid. He stayed where he was.

Brady walked forward along the fence, keeping part of his attention on the horses bunched in the corral's far corner. If any of those horses took a notion to move around, it might give Tonio a chance at escape. Brady just had to hope. He moved in rapid strides, speaking quietly: "Drop the rifle and kick it away from you."

Tonio obeyed. Now his head came around and Brady saw the glint of anger in his eyes. Brady stopped Bve feet away and said without emotion, "It was a good try, youngster. Lie dovm on your face, now—I'm going to tie your hands behind you. Don t give me trouble."

Tonio went to his knees, then flat; he put both hands behind him, saying nothing. Brady knelt by the rifle Tonio had dropped and took the sling off it, and moved forward with care. The youth gave him no fight; in a moment he had Tonio's wrists bound tightly with the carbine-sling, and stepped back. "All right. You can stand up."

Tonio stood and met his glance evenly, betraying nothing of his feelings. He said, in the peculiar accents of Agency School EngHsh, "Will they kifl me when we return?"

"Probably just put you back in the calahozo," Brady said. "You haven't hurt anybody, far as I know. That guard you walloped was coming to before I left yesterday morning."

Tonio made no reply. Looking over the Indian's shoulder toward the timber, Brady saw Pete Rubio riding unhurriedly forward.

Rubio came up, drew rein just outside the fence and said mildly, "I let him know I was behind him. He knew he couldn't out-run me without a horse."

"Like driving stock into a box canyon," Brady observed. "Good job, Pete. Keep your gun on him while I saddle up a horse for him."

"Sure," Rubio said laconically, dragging out his rifle. He laid the rifle across the crook of his elbow and let it hang there, seemingly unaimed. But the muzzle was lined up squarely with Tonio's chest. "Better luck next time, muchacho," Rubio said, and smiled through uneven teeth. It was not an unfriendly smile.

Brady went to the tackshed and emerged with an old leather-cracked saddle, a blanket, and a bridle. He singled out an unprepossessing bay horse with a white nose blaze, backed it into a corner and saddled it. Then, he stepped into the saddle and let the horse buck the kinks out under him. When the horse and the dust had settled down, he stepped to the ground and led the bay to the side of the coiTal. Tonio stood with his arms tied behind him and his thin young face composed into a blank mask. Rubio sat his saddle lazily with the rifle across his elbow, watching unblinkingly, chewing a cud of tobacco and now and then spitting out a brown stream of tobacco juice. 

"Come on," Brady said. "I'll give you a boost up."

Tonio offered no resistance. With the Apache in the saddle, Brady led the horse outside, closed the corral gate, and handed the reins up to Rubio. "Wait here," he said, and dog-trotted across the yard into the bam. He mounted his own horse and rode from the barn, turning up toward the main house. He called out: "Yeager, come out here."

In a moment the door swung open and Yeager's heavy shape moved out onto the porch. The buflFalo gun still hung from Yeager's grasp. "I see you got him."

Brady nodded. "I'm borrowing your blaze-faced bay to tote him back to the fort. Next time Fm up this way Til leave the horse off for you. Here's a dollar for the trouble." Brady tossed a silver dollar towards Yeager's beard.

Yeager's left hand came up with surprising swiftness to intercept the coin in mid-air. He dropped the dollar into his pocket and grunted. "Just you make sure he gets returned. I don't aim to wait six months. And one other thing, Brady." "What's that?"

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