Friday, March 26, 2021

The Eighth Angel, Chapter Two


Chapter 1



Bisbee, Arizona Territory


The handsome roan was in good condition, though in need of grooming. The same applied to the rider. He dismounted in front of the livery and brushed dust from his clothing as Earl Hollowell came out wiping his hands on a rag.

The man handed Earl the reins. “He needs a good grooming and a better feeding. How much for you to treat him as if he were your own?”

“Same as for everyone else. That’s the only way I care for an animal, like he was mine.” Earl told him the price.

The man paid for three days. “I might not be here that long, but you’re welcome to it.”

Earl nodded his thanks. “What’s your name, son?”

“Call me Angel.” Pronounced it the Mexican way. Ahn-hell. “Angel de Venganza.:

“What brings you to town, Angel de Venganza?”

Angel spoke with not quite a Mexican accent, as if he grew up on this side of the border in a home where Spanish was the primary language. A not uncommon accent around here, though Angel sounded like he was from farther east. Texas, maybe. “Drifting west. I might stay a few days if I find work that agrees with me. Could be gone in the morning, too.”

“What kind of work agrees with you?”

“I’m not particular. Ranch work if I can get it, but I’ll hoe a line if someone is willing to pay. Did some hunting a while ago.”

“I’ll keep an ear out for you. Where can someone find you?”

“Don’t know yet. This is the first place I stopped here in town. How about I find you?” Earl could live with that. “Where can I get something to eat?”

“How much are you looking to spend?”

“I’m not broke. Yet.” A shy smile.

Earl pointed down the street. “Try the Desert Rose. There’s cheaper places, but when the Rose sells you a steak it’ll be from a steer. They might even be able to put you up. Assuming they have room, that is.”

“They won’t care I’m not white?”

Earl shook his head. “That’s why I didn’t suggest the hotel. Those rooms are nicer, but they won’t let you in unless you offer to sweep up and clean the spittoons. Then they’ll let you sleep in the tool shed.”

Angel tipped his hat. “Gracias. I guess everyone who comes through town sees you sooner or later.”

“Looking for someone? Or don’t want to be looked for yourself?”

“I’m not hiding. Just wondering if a man named Red Durham came through in the past few days. Wears a hat with an Indian-style band and rides a big chestnut gelding.”

“What do you want him for?”

“A mutual friend asked me to look Red up if we were ever in the same place. I heard he had come this way when I was in Las Barras.”

“Can’t say for a fact it’s his horse, but that chestnut gelding over there come in day before yesterday. Wasn’t me checked him in but I seen the owner leaving. He might could’ve had a hat like that.”

“Do you know where he can be found?”

Earl spit a healthy stream of tobacco juice away from Angel. “You could ask at the Rose. They ain’t seen him, try the Last Chance up the street on the way out of town. He’ll of been in one or the other, maybe both. One thing. You ask in the Last Chance, be discrete-like. Sabby?”

The Desert Rose was as Earl described. The steak was excellent and each beer come in a fresh, chilled mug. Not cheap, but not unaffordable. No one knew of Red Durham, though no one took it out of place for Angel to ask.

Earl hadn’t exaggerated about the Last Chance, either. Looked like it opened when Bisbee was new and it would have been the last—or first—opportunity for refreshment and recreation in a while. The kind of place where men coming out of or going into the desert for reasons they’d rather not disclose would stop before pushing on.

Angel stepped through the batwing doors. Put a dollar coin on the bar. Spoke when the barman passed by for the fifth time without acknowledgement. “Excuse me. I’d like a drink.”

The man looked at Angel as if he were a javalina pissing on the bar. “You’d be happier in Agua Prieta. Might even have some tizwin there. Mescal if you can pay.”

“I am not an Indian. And I can pay.”

“Maybe you ain’t an Indian, but you’re sure as hell a breed of some kind, which means you can’t pay in here. Head on down the road, Pancho.”

Angel retrieved his dollar. Flipped it in the air before replacing it in his pocket. Turned to face the room, resting his elbows on the bar. “Does anyone here know a man named Horace Book? His friends call him Easy.”

The barman was back. “I told you to get your half-breed ass out of here.”

A voice said, “Hold on there, Slick.” A man seated near the door where Angel had entered stood. He wore a hat with an Indian-style band. “How do you know Easy Book?”

“We did some work together in Texas.”

“Texas takes in a lot of territory. Whereabouts?”

“Odessa. Monahans. We were hunters, feeding the railroad workers.”

The man approached the bar. “When did you see him last?”

“A year or so ago. I think he had a woman in Arkansas.”

“I’m sure he did. And Texas. Oklahoma. New Mexico. Canada for all I know.” The man extended a hand. “Red Durham.”

“Angel de Venganza.”

“Well, Mr. Angel de Venganza, I’m pleased to meet you.” Said it Anglo style. Ane-jell. “Set us up, Slick.”

“He ain’t drinking in here.”

“That’s because you ain’t give him nothing yet. A friend of Easy Book can drink with me anywhere. We could either pay for it or let you clean up the mess after we’re done and you wake up. What’ll it be?”

Slick left the bottle. Angel and Red took a table in the corner. Red said, “What brings you to this piss pot?”

“Drifting west. I heard someone mention you in Las Barras and was curious to see if you were here. Easy gave me something for you.”

“Easy gave you something for me?”

Angel took a ten-dollar gold piece from a pocket. Placed it on the table. “Easy said I should give this to you if I came across you.”

“Ten dollars.”

“He mentioned some whores in Tucumcari.”

Red’s laughter shook dust from the timbers. “By God, that was a time. Are you telling me that crazy sumbitch is giving everyone he meets on their way west ten dollars to give me?”

“We got pretty close. And he knew the route I planned. And he was very drunk.”

“And you carried this how long? A year?”

“I take my promises seriously.”

“Even to a drunk?”

“Especially to drunks. They are the most easily betrayed.”

Red laughed again. “Well, then, Mr. Angel Dee Whatever, you and me’s gonna have to drink up this ten dollars Easy give you. I think it’s what he’d want.”

They spent Easy’s money and then some until Angel turned over his glass as Red went to pour. “No mas. It has been a long few days. I need a bath and some sleep. Enjoy your evening, mi amigo nuevo. I will see you mañana.”

Angel got his bath and changed his clothes but did not send the dirty to the laundry. Found a comfortable place where he could see the front of the Last Chance and pretended to sleep.

Red left with another man after midnight, each of them drunk enough for half the town. Angel feigned sleep as they walked toward the hotel. The other man went in. Red continued on, stopping once to vomit next to a trough. Angel stood and took a route calculated to intercept Red at the next corner. He did not hurry. Red was in no condition to require chasing.

Angel pitched his voice so only Red would hear. “Red.”

“Huh? Who’s that?”

“Angel. From the Last Chance. I got some sleep and wonder if you would like a nightcap.”

Red spent several seconds pulling together the new opportunity. “Sure, I guess.” Turned back toward the Last Chance.

Angel took him by an arm. “Not that cesspool. I found a quieter place.” Led a compliant Red around the corner and down an alley.

“Where’s it at?”


No moonlight made walking treacherous once they left the graded street. A hundred yards from the nearest building Red had sobered up enough to ask where they were going.

Angel said, “We’re here,” and slid a knife six inches into Red below the breastbone, pulling down his belt buckle. Withdrew the knife to let Red fall. Knelt to wipe the blade on Red’s trousers. Stood without speaking until the dying man gave him what awareness he had left.

“Last year you and Easy and three others chased a man and a woman out of El Paso into the desert south of Juarez. Do you remember?” Red showed no recognition. “Do you remember this?” Still no sign. Angel pressed a boot into Red’s open wound.

“It was all legal. The Mex raped a white woman.”

“The posse was never deputized.”

“A man named Anderson paid us to get him. For Christ’s sake, get me a doctor.”

“This man Anderson was not the law.”

“He might as well be around those parts.”

“But he was not. He paid you to kill the man.”

“The Mex shot two of us. Killed one in the desert. Shot him right off his horse.”

“What would you have him do? A paid band of gunman chasing him.”

“It was self-defense. The Mex shot first.”

“Did the woman also shoot first?”

“What woman?”

“The young woman you also killed that day in the desert.”

“That was self-defense, too.”

“Only one gun was found.”

“How do you know?”

“It is enough that I do know. She picked up the gun after the man lay dead. Maybe there were bullets left. Maybe not. I know the man, so my guess is not. Yet you shot her seven times. With rifles. From well outside pistol range.”

Red grew paler in the weak light. “How do you think you know so much?”

“Every time you do not disagree confirms what I say.”

“Who were these people to you?”

“Friends. That is all you need to know.”

Red’s eyes fluttered. Opened again. “You kill Easy?” Angel nodded. “You gonna kill me now, too?”

“I have already killed you. I allow you to linger only so you can know the reason why.”

“You told me. Now get it over with, you half-breed bastard.”

Angel placed his feel either side of Red’s shoulders to stay clear of any spurting blood.


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