Andy stood in the shade of the bunkhouse porch and looked out at the parched scrub. No rain again. He hated the badlands, and the sun bleached prickly pear and milkweed only left him feeling more disheartened. He pulled off his hat and wiped his forearm across his sweaty brow.
He was a downcast, unrepentant rye drinker with bony arms and spindly legs stuffed into threadbare jeans not long enough to cover the snakeskin boots he had won and worn for fifteen years, third prize at some local bull riding event. But despite his rough exterior, all straight lines and jagged edges, those who knew Andy saw him as a Homeric figure. A wanderer with a heart for home. Once he had brought a Gila monster back from the brink of death only to shoot it for skittering his horse. That’s the sort of man he was.
Andy walked to the trough and worked the pump handle but all he could achieve were a few gurgling splatters of dirty water. He wiped his brow again and reflected on his surroundings. The sun shone like a blistering fever.
Then he saw something in the distance, or rather someone. It was the mounted figure of Red Dumfries approaching from the direction of Dry Creek, a swirl of dust trailed wispily in his wake.
Red was grizzled and childlike, worn down from years in the high west. Slow to anger and long to forget.
Andy returned to the shade of the bunkhouse porch and settled on a low pine stool like a vulture marking the distant traveler’s slow progress. He was not prepared for Red.
Andy rose slowly to his feet as Red brought his horse to stop by the porch rail. “Any sign of rain?”
“Naw, and it’s worse than that,” replied Red.
“How so?” Andy asked.
“Injuns on the move.” Red’s fractured grin belied his concern. “Iroquois, I think.”
Andy removed his hat and scratched his head. “That don’t sound geographically accurate Red. Iroquois is out by the eastern Great Lakes, a thousand miles from here if it’s a foot.”
“Injuns is Injuns.” Red spit a brown tobacco stain into the dirt.
The two men stared at each other awkwardly, like two teenagers at cotillion, searching for the beat of the western swing music playing in the background. Nobody dancing. Everyone wanting to dance.
“Damn it Andy,” stammered Red, breaking the silence. “All I ever wanted was respect.”
Andy looked up, regarding Red’s disheveled appearance and slouched posture, leaning heavily on his saddle horn. He looked away briefly, searching for the correct response. “I… I feel the same way Red.”
Red looked jealous, his emotions blushing like a cautious curried cactus.
Andy forced a smile. “Don’t fret Red, I reckon things will sort themselves out. Indians and all.” Turning, he walked into the bunkhouse, reappearing with a bottle and two glasses. “How’s ‘bout a nice shot of Rye?”
The End. Copyright 2019