The Bad Samaritans
By JoAnn Baker
Two tired riders made their way across the southern Arizona desert. The men let their horses pick their trail, avoiding cactus and snake holes.
On the horizon, a puff of smoke rose up over the mountains.
"That's the second one today. What do you think it means?" the blond rider asked, looking across at the mountains.
"Smoke signals," his partner answered grimly. "Looks like the Apache are on the warpath. I heard some men talking about it before we left town."
"I don't know why we had to ride out of there in the middle of the night. We could have waited for the stage."
"Kid, told you, the stage coach wasn't due until tomorrow and one of those card players kept lookin' at me funny. I'm sure he recognized me from somewhere and it was only a matter of time before he figured it out."
"Well, I'm not too sure we're any safer out here," Curry muttered, as stared at the smoke on the horizon. "Maybe we should try and ride up into those rocks and make camp there," he suggested, nodding toward a tall rock formation that rose up from the desert floor like a natural fortress. "Do you think there's a way up?"
"If there is, we'll find it," his partner replied confidently.
Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry had been in tight spots before, but dealing with the natives was not their strong suit.
The two former outlaws began to ascend the rocky cliffs, riding around the large boulders and looking for a promising route.
"Hey, look at that." Curry, pointed at fresh tracks in the sand. "You don't think some of them Apache are up there, do you?"
"No, those horses are shod," Heyes observed, as he rode closer to the tracks for a better look.
"Well, whoever they are, it doesn't look like they're too far ahead of us," Curry commented, his hand moving to rest on the revolver he wore on his hip.
The two rode higher into the cliffs. The trail was steep and rocky but the horses managed to keep their footing. As they rounded a large boulder, a dark haired man suddenly appeared and they found themselves looking into the business end of a revolver.
"Buenos dios amigos," the man said, in a menacing tone.
"Good afternoon," Heyes replied, unperturbed.
"What are you doing here?" The man with the gun demanded.
"We could ask you the same thing," Heyes responded calmly.
"The Indians, I saw their signals, I came here." The man was a Mexican, about the same age as Heyes; he held his gun level and narrowed his eyes. "Now, tell me what you are doing here?"
"Same as you," Heyes said evenly. "We were just looking for some safer ground and a place to camp for the night."
"Are you alone?" Heyes asked.
"Si, I like to be alone. So you two go, yes?"
Curry, who had remained silent during the exchange, looked around for signs of the other men. They had seen evidence of several horses on the trail. "Why don't the rest of you come out?" he called loudly.
Another man stepped from behind a rock and smiled pleasantly. "It's alright Parrado," he said, and then addressed the new arrivals. "Sorry mister, but with those Apache out there, we didn't want to take any chances."
"Do we look like Apaches?" Curry demanded. His hand still rested near his six-gun.
"Not up close, but from down there," the man shrugged and shook his head. "I'm Mason," he said, "Who are you?"
"My name's Joshua Smith, this here's my partner, Thaddeus Jones," Heyes said quickly. "As long as we're getting acquainted, why don't you ask your friends to join the party?" he added, looking around again.
Mason's smile turned into an amused grin and gave a short laugh. "Come on out boys," he called.
Three more men rose up from behind the rocks. All of the men held guns that they pointed at Heyes and the Kid.
"We sure would feel a lot more comfortable if you'd put that hardware away." Curry directed the request to Mason.
"Sure, you'll have to excuse us. I guess we're all just a little jumpy on account of those smoke signals."
Mason nodded to the others, and all five of the men holstered their guns.
"This here's Gus, and them two are Murphy and Jackson," Mason said, introducing the new men.
Heyes studied the men. Gus looked young, barely twenty, and he had an eager smile on his face. Murphy and Jackson were older, with hardened and rough expressions.
"You haven't told us what you're doing here?" Heyes asked, continuing to assess the group.
"Well, Parrado here, he owns a spread down in Mexico but he doesn't have any cattle. My friends and I are going to supply the cash and buy the stock and all go into business together."
"It's dangerous to travel through this part of the country, especially carrying a lot of money," Curry warned, observing the other men. "Except for the soldiers at Fort Bowie, most of the men that ride through here are either Indians or outlaws."
"That's true," Mason agreed. He looked questioningly at Heyes and the Kid.
"We're scouts for the army," Curry said quickly.
"That's right," Heyes added, flashing a smile through clenched teeth.
"Hey! There's another one!" Jackson interrupted with a shout.
Mason and his men turned and watched the large puff of smoke rise from the mountains on the horizon.
"Is that smoke too?" Gus asked, and pointed to a large cloud of near the base of the mountain.
"Army scouts?" Heyes whispered as he and Curry scrambled over some rocks to get a better view of the scene below.
"I heard a guy back in town mention he was an army scout," Curry said with a shrug.
"Well, I hope they don't expect us to 'scout' anything for 'em," Heyes mumbled.
"Stagecoach," Parrado called out.
"Looks like a lot more dust than a stagecoach would make," Heyes observed.
"I thought you said there wasn't a stage due until tomorrow?" Curry wrinkled his brow.
"Must be a private coach," Heyes said.
"Riders, a whole bunch of 'em," Gus shouted.
"Looks like them Apache are chasin' the stage," Curry said grimly.
"It don't look too good. Do you think we should give 'em a hand?" Gus asked.
Heyes and The Kid exchanged a glance. "If we don't, they won't have a chance," Heyes said with a frown.
"Mount up," Mason ordered. His men scattered to retrieve their horses as Heyes and Curry turned their mounts toward the besieged stagecoach.
Seven men raced down the hillside, firing shots toward the band of attacking Apaches. As they neared the stage, the Apache slowed and turned their attention toward the oncoming riders. After a brief exchange of firepower and arrows, the would-be raiders turned back toward the hills where they had come from.
"Looks like they gave up!" Gus exclaimed brightly.
"More like went for reinforcements," Curry said.
"I don't think they'll be back for a while," Mason said. "Let's see to the stage."
In the race to outrun the Apache, the stage had turned over and the driver had been thrown from his seat.
You all right?" Heyes asked, kneeling beside the driver.
Get the woman out," the man rasped.
"Woman?" Curry asked with a start. He quickly turned and climbed over the side of the overturned coach. Murphy and Jackson joined him and let themselves down into the coach. Curry reached down and helped the young woman climb out of the stage. Mason's men followed, hauling out a heavy metal box.
"Is there anyone else with you?" Heyes asked the driver, who was now sitting up and brushing himself off.
"A guard, but he took a bullet."
"Yep, he's dead. He was in there next to the woman," Murphy confirmed.
Curry escorted the shaken woman to a large rock and helped her sit down. Heyes was still looking at the large cut on the driver's head when a Mason's voice startled them.
"Mr. Jones, take off your hardware, you too Mr. Smith," Mason said coldly.
Heyes and Curry exchanged a glance, then slowly stood and unbuckled their gun belts.
to be continued