I'll be posting the latest instalment of the Story with No Name tomorrow and so for ease of reading for new readers below are sections 17-21:
Part 17 - Peter Avarillo
The town of Bannon was quiet under the heat of the midday sun when Walt Arnside rode along the main street.
He was stiff and tired from the journey that had been punctuated with nights of fitful sleep.
All he wanted was to fill his aching belly and find a soft bed where he hoped to sleep without being plagued by the nightmares of his desert experience.
He had howled as the blood flowed back into his right hand causing painful spasms. Pain that was replaced by anger as he fought the knots that bound his left hand to the stake. Anger that was not spent when, with a rasping roar, he sent the Texas Ranger badge flying through the air to plop, in a spray of sand, close to Silas Bartlett’s feet.
And then more pain as blood rushed through his starved ankles into his feet. Rolling, cursing as each spasm surged up his legs.
Only when his body settled did he try to stand and staggered over to the remains of Silas Bartlett where he plucked the lance free. He paid no attention as the corpse crumpled to the ground. Instead he concentrated on plunging the tip into the sand to clean it. But even then his imagination played with his anger as each time the tip hit the sand so it was stabbing into the body of Zack Roden. Into the body of Silas Bartlett. And into that of a man named Bourbon.
Until exhaustion and tears of frustration drove him to his knees.
Slowly, sanity came back to him and with it an absolute priority. Using the lance as a support he pulled himself back to his feet, then hacked at the cactus. Holding the mashed flesh above his mouth squeezing precious drops of water onto his tongue. Groaning as the water moisted his tongue, mouth and throat.
It was nearly dusk by the time he felt strong enough to crawl to where Deuce Harmon’s body still lay stiff in death. Painfully, stretching taut burned skin he had stripped the clothes from the corpse and dressed himself before laying back in the sand waiting for his strength to return.
He stared long and hard at the mass of tracks that pointed south west and knew that he was in no fit state to go off in pursuit. He had to be stronger and better equipped before he could even think of going on the vengeance trail.
The galleon, even if it existed, was no longer the goal. He wished that he had never heard of the damned boat. Wished that he had not stopped that train nor heeded Silas Bartlett’s call. For from that point on he had been shot at, gutshot and left for dead and, been staked out to die in the desert. He had put his life on the line for people that he had looked upon as friends and each had turned out to be an enemy. Nor could he be certain where Lola stood in all this.
Where to go? Matlock would not be safe and he had no wish to head back to Lola’s cabin. Bannon seemed to beckon as the safest haven where he could work out what to do next.
Slowly, he climbed to his feet and crested a dune. He stopped dead, his mouth gaping as he saw Harmon’s horse tethered to a cactus. Looking cautiously around him he approached the animal.
“What the hell?” he croaked, sure that the animal had run off after Sawtell had emptied the saddle. Then allowed himself to grin. “Thanks, Sawtell. I do have a fighting chance – now.”
After leaving his horse in the livery, Walt strode across the hardpan to the cafe opposite. He felt a tad rich after he had discovered just over fifteen dollars in notes and loose change in Harmon’s denims. At least he could pay for his immediate needs.
Part 18 - Cap'n Bob Napier
Arnside washed the trail dust from his hands and face at a watering trough, beat the dirt from his clothes with his hat, and strode into Molly's Cafe with hunger tearing at his belly like cats in a sack.
"I'll have whatever's ready," he told the plump, smiling waitress, "and a pitcher of water, please."
She took one look at his red, chapped skin and peelings lips and hustled off, returning moments later with a large blue ewer and a tin tumbler. Walt filled the tumbler with shaking hands, drank deeply, and sighed.
"Appears like you haven't drunk nothin' in a month of Sundays, mister."
"Feels like it, too, darling. Are you Molly?"
"She's the owner, cook, and my ma. I'm Gretchen. I'll fetch that food now. I hope stew's okay."
Before Walt could answer she scurried away and was back in two shakes with a large bowl of steaming mulligan, napkin and utensils, and basket of bread.
"Anything interesting happen in these parts?" he asked around a mouthful of stew.
The juice burned the roof of his mouth but after what he'd been through a little heat was like an old friend.
"Interesting? Our marshal got his head busted and had to get shipped off to a home for the feeble-minded, our undertaker had a bunch of fingers broke, and an old prospector was in earlier swearin' he saw The Magi riding across the desert. Says it means the Second Coming is nigh and we'd all best prepare our souls."
Walt grinned at the girl's recitation and tucked back into his meal. When he finished he left a half dollar on the table, twice what the meal cost, and strode out to find a quiet saloon. A whiskey would satisfy right handsome about now, he allowed.
He took three steps down the boardwalk when the import of the girl's story slammed him like the board that sent Marshal Stryker to the drool academy. He ran back into Molly's and grabbed Gretchen by her shoulders.
"That sourdough, where can I find him?"
"Stop it, you're hurting me."
Walt loosened his grip. "Sorry, Gretchen. I need to find that prospector, right away."
She thought for a moment, tongue out. "He has a shack behind the saddle shop. If he ain't there try The Silver Palace saloon."
Arnside raced off.
He found the shack where Gretchen said it would be, but no one answered his knock. Should have tried the saloon first, he chided himself.
Walt stood at the bat wings of The Silver Palace and scanned the room before entering. Wouldn't pay to have some of Zack Roden's men inside. His glance fell on a table at the center of the room where a shabby old cuss was regaling the room with a story, much to their amusement.
"I tell ya', I seen 'em with my own eyes. Long-legged critters with necks long as stovepipes and backs like anthills, just a-lumbering across the sands like they owned the desert. I seen a picture once of the three magi when they come calling on baby Jesus and they was riding the same critters. If that don't prove it, I don't know what does."
"Sure, Gabe, sure. Have another drink. Maybe you'll tell us about seeing the Noah's Ark next."
The crowd burst out laughing. Gabe jumped to his feet and pushed through the men having a laugh at his expense. He nearly plowed Walt Arnside down as he crashed out of the saloon.
"Whoa, there, old timer. What the rush?"
"Dang-blasted fools. Wouldn't know the truth if it crawled up their dumb asses."
Walt laid a comforting arm on old Gabe's shoulder. "Why not tell me your story? I'm the believing kind."
"Can't talk on a dry throat, pardner. Let's mosey up the street and find a joint where we can dip a bill in peace."
With a bottle between them and each man holding a full shot glass, Gabe proposed a toast.
"Now, about the magi. . ." Arnside prompted.
"Yesterday, I was coming back from digging in the Mohawk Mountains when I seen a passel of riders out in the Yuma Desert. Makes no sense. Nothin' there but sand and snakes. No water for a hundred miles. Even the A-patch go 'round it."
Gabe refilled his glass and continued. "They was maybe six or seven on horses, but the others were ridin' those Bible animals like I seen in the picture. Four of them, they was."
"Was one a woman?"
"Too far to tell, even with my spyglass."
"Nope. Like I said, the A-patch got more sense than to go out there."
"Can you tell me how to find this place, Gabe?"
"Sure. Might as well. The world'll end soon enough anyway."
Armed with a detailed description of how to find the last place Roden, Lola and the others had been spotted--assuming Bourbon allowed them to live--Arnside stepped from the saloon and aimed himself toward the stable.
"You!" a voice cried. "You do this!"
He turned to see Choo How pointing at Walt with his bandaged hand. Behind the Chinaman, a crowd began to grow.
Part 19 - Richard Prosch
“You make this happen, Walt Arnside!” Again, Choo How drunkenly shook his injured hand, its dirty bandage all but unraveling. “You owe me something for it!” he slurred, tipping slightly toward the dusty street.
Walt grimaced at the memory of his visit to Choo How’s mortuary. He and the renegade sheriff Stryker had been looking for Bartlett’s map and Stryker broke the kid’s fingers. How long ago had it been? How many weeks? Walt carefully weighed the crowd, then shot a glance toward Gabe. The old prospector’s eyes sparkled in the sun, and Walt pinched the bridge of his nose, smiling at the little undertaker’s daring. That injured hand, plenty healed up by now, had earned Choo How many a sympathetic drink.
Walt stepped forward quickly then, telegraphed a wide right and swung in with a left. In the space of a breath, the undertaker blocked the punch and sent a hard jab to Walt’s ribs –with the injured hand. The crowd gasped as the bandage fell away. Walt clutched his middle, but the spasms that wracked his shoulders were laughter as Choo gazed at his naked fingers, then slowly at the crowd, his deception revealed.
“Looks like the game is up, Choo How!” he said as Gabe helped him to his feet. “But I’ll make it up to you,” he turned to the prospector, “to both of you.”
Walt knocked the dust from his britches and pitched his offer. “Ride with me into the desert, and if what I suspect is true, we’ll all be rich men come Friday.”
“Why trust you, Arnside?” asked Choo, all signs of his previous anebriation gone. “Especially after you betray me again?”
“The Chinaman can’t go with you,” came a voice from the glowering crowd. “We’re gonna be busy stringin’ him up.”
“Show him how we treat con men ‘round these parts!”
“Yeah!” Shouts went up, the gang surged immediately forward, and then with a thundering pistol crash —came just as quickly to a silent stand still.
With an easy lope Vic Sawtell emerged from the shadow of an alley on his chestnut gelding, the pearl handled .45 still smoking in his slim, gloved hand. The blonde outlaw led three horses behind him. “We ain’t got time for this, boys.” He smiled down at Walt. “And they ain’t riding with you. You all are riding with me.”
Arnside grinned. “What’s the story Sawtell?”
“Story? The story has no name, Arnside. We’re just gettin’ on with life…and death.”
“It’s wages for a job,” said Choo.
“And maybe…revenge?” said Walt. “As I recall, Bartlett was killed before you were paid. That’s gotta make you mad. Especially since you don’t believe in the boat. Or the gold.”
Sawtell spit a stream of tobacco into the dirt. “Yeah, I been studyin’ on what Bartlett owed me. Back pay for, shoot I don’t know…three, four…” Choo held up his palm and Sawtell nodded. “Five jobs he owed me for.”
“He was in debt to me and Choo How too,” said Gabe. “We all got us a stake in that boat o’ gold.”
“Whatever it turns out to be,” said Sawtell, “part of it’s mine. You still got that map memorized, Choo How?”
“I do indeed, Victor. I do indeed.”
Walt noted the undertaker’s forced Asian accent had vanished. “Old Silas had more friends…or should I say employees, than I imagined,” he said.
“Let’s just say the man had a secret society of his own,” said Sawtell.
“I just hope there’s enough for all of us,” said Choo How as he swung into the saddle.
“I just hope we find it before the rapture,” said Gabe.
Twenty miles to the northwest, a brief windstorm blew itself out as Lola Metivier awoke for the final time atop the camel she’d come to think of as her last real connection to Walt Arnside and the life she’d led before all this began.
Zack Roden rode his mount beside her, bobbing along, apparently still asleep. Bourbon and his Apache thugs had been riding them in circles. Time no longer had any meaning. Nothing did. The blowing, stinging sand was the cloud stuff of bad dreams.
A towering structure of shimmering gold danced directly in front of them just out of reach.
Lola’s eyes shut tight, and she drifted through a red haze. When she again looked ahead the air had cleared and a monstrosity of burnt timber and jumbled iron rigging lunged from the desert floor to hover against the backdrop of a sea blue sky.
“Damn me to hell,” whispered Roden, “there really is a boat.”
Again Lola took in the broken keel and charred capstan. “That’s as may be, but there sure as hell aint any gold.”
And before she could see any more, rough Apache hands drug her to the ground.
Part 20 - Evan Lewis
Lola lay on the ground, wrists straining against a strip of rawhide. Beside her, likewise bound, were her erstwhile lover Zack Roden and the camel driver Hassan.
Scowling down at them were six fierce-eyed Apaches armed with spears and buffalo rifles.
“Where,” Lola said, her tongue caked with sand, “where is your master?”
One of the warriors spoke a few guttural words. The others laughed.
“I demand,” she said, striving for a ring of command, “that we see Mr. Bourbon at once!”
An Apache grasped her leg, ran a hand up to her thigh as if judging horseflesh. He spoke, and the others nodded agreement.
“You demand it, do you?” The voice, accented with hints of both French and Spanish, came from outside the ring of Indians. Two warriors stood aside, allowing Esteban Escobar Bourbon to enter. His black hair and beard were flecked with sand, and the feather protruding from his broad-brimmed hat was wilted.
Lola felt the heat of Bourbon’s dark, glittering eyes upon her. So, she thought, he was a man like any other. “A gentleman should always cater to a lady’s demands.”
Bourbon bent, wrapped strong fingers about her arm and pulled her to her feet. “I have a fascinating tale to tell. Perhaps you would care to hear it.”
Through the swirling sands, Lola again saw the huge, charred skeleton of the ship rising up out of the desert.
“My grandfather,” Bourbon said, “was a famous man. Doubtless you have heard of him. His name was Jean Lafitte.”
“I have heard,” Lola said, “that he was also quite handsome.”
Bourbon smiled. “My grandfather captured many prizes, but richest of all was the Spanish galleon Contessa, captured with great damage to his own ship off the coast of Venezuela. He assigned one of his most trusted lieutenants, a man named Eastman, to captain a prize crew and follow him Cartagena, where he then had his headquarters. Instead, the rogue fled with the treasure south along the coast of South America. Lafitte’s ship was too damaged for immediate pursuit, but he was a man who never let betrayal go unavenged. He charged one of his own sons with punishing Eastman and reclaiming the treasure.”
Lola listened with interest. But as they neared the remains of the ship, she noticed piles of something white and gleaming at the base of each of the frame’s great ribs. It looked like ivory. Was this the treasure?
“The man Lafitte sent,” Bourbon said, “was my father. He followed Eastman clear around the tip of South America, and up the other side. The voyage took many years, and along the way the crew took wives and had children - such as myself” He thumped his chest. “But eventually they ran Eastman to earth, here, in this very desert.”
“But how did this ship come to be here, in the desert?”
“That is a tale for another time. Suffice it to say that Eastman and his followers paid dearly for their perfidy.”
“And you recovered the treasure. The ivory.”
Bourbon eyed her strangely. “The treasure, I am sad to say, has so far eluded us. But one day we shall find it. In the meantime, we have made certain no one beats us to it.”
Grunts and curses announced the approach of men from behind. Lola stared as Roden and Hassan were dragged past and thrown to the earth at the foot of two of the remaining ribs. Their bonds were cut and quickly retied, so that each was bound with his back to the blackened timber.
Bourbon led Lola steadily closer, until the mystery of the “ivory” was revealed. This was no treasure at all, but lengths of bone and skulls bleached white by the sun.
“Many have sought the treasure,” Bourbon said, “but none have returned.”
Lola pressed her body against Bourbon. “You would not do the same to me.”
“Not just yet,” Bourbon said, leering down at her.
The six Apaches, finished with Roden and Hassan, now formed a ring around them.
Lola felt faint. Then Bourbon’s broad-brimmed hat leapt from his head, and she heard the bark of a rifle shot.
Over a rise of sand came four figures on charging camels. Two of them she knew, and one brought a glad cry to her lips.
Part 21 - Jack Martin
'They're scattering,' Arnside yelled, whooping and hollering. It wasn't like Apaches but they had turned tail and were running.
'Guess they know what's good for them,' Sawtell screamed with joy and let of a shot towards the retreating Indians. One of them threw his arms up and with a scream pitched forward into sand.
'I'm enjoying this,' Gabe yelled, holding onto his camel for grim death. He was jostled about on the beast and several times he always lost his grip but each time he managed to keep his balance.
'There's Lola.' Arnside yelled.
'We separate,' Choo How yelled. ' Sawtell and me we chase off the Indians. Don't need to kill them just make sure they run far enough away.'
'Sounds good to me,' Sawtell said and set off another shot but hit nothing. 'Just as long as I get my share of what's coming.'
'That's a certainty.' Arnside said and sped his own camel forward as the two men set off in pursuit of the fleeing Indians.
Below standing before the ship Lola felt Bourbon's grip loosen and then she was thrown to the ground, face down so that she didn't see which way Bourbon had run and when she managed to turn around she saw that he had vanished. She lay there, eyes directed at the magnificent wreck that was the ship. She was still staring when she felt an arm lifting her to her feet.
'Lola,' Arnside said and looked at her, his eyes never once leaving her face.
'The ship.' Lola said, dreamily as if her words had been uttered deep within a trance. 'There's the ship, Walt. It's real.'
Arnside nodded and only now did he look at the wreck before them. It sat there, as if it had been deposited in the desert. Its timbers were impossibly aged and most of its rigging had snapped so that planks of splintered wood, like dead fingers, reached for the sky. There was a gaping hole in the hull, looking almost like a rictus mouth, and through which could be seen the darkness within the nautical tomb.
'I say we go take us a look see.' Gabe had joined them and he stood looking at the ancient wreck.
'Shall we untie them?' Arnside asked, pointed back to Rodan and Hassen. Both men were rolling about in the sand, their hands still bound behind their backs and their feet tied together.
'Yes.' Lola said but she seemed to be answering some inner thoughts rather than Arnside's question. She walked towards the ship as if led by some ethereal force. Gabe followed just behind her and seemed to be in a somnolent state himself.
'Sorry fellas.' Arnside said and set off after them. Together the three of them entered the fractured hull of the ship.