Summary: This story was written in response to a Western Cliché Challenge. I don’t know if I’ve got every cliché, but I think I hit most of them.
Category: The High Chaparral
Word Count: 6,200
“You would not deny an injured man a comfortable bed for the night, would you?”
“Injured!” Blue Cannon exclaimed with a disbelieving snort. “All you did was twist your ankle a little. It ain’t even swollen.”
Manolito Montoya’s handsome features twisted in a feigned look of anguish that only served to make Blue laugh. “You do not know the pain I am suffering, amigo. A night in town is not much to ask, and it looks like such a nice little place.”
“I don’t know…” Blue was tempted himself by the thought of a soft bed and perhaps a cool beer. It had been a long three days ride through the arid Arizona landscape. Hot and dusty by day, cold and miserable by night and it was the thought of yet another long night huddling close to the fire to keep warm that was swaying Blue now. “Just don’t like to take chances with all this money we’re carrying,” he said doubtfully.
Manolito cast a quick glance at Blue’s saddlebags, which he knew contained two thousand dollars in cash. Money entrusted to them by Blue’s father, Big John, to buy stock for the ranch. “Nobody will know we have it,” he assured the youth, looking down at his dusty clothes with a grin. “They will probably think us just a pair of saddle tramps. We are certainly dressed the part,” removing his hat he swiped at it with his hand, raising a cloud of dust, and revealing the black fabric beneath the grime of the trail dirt.
“I guess so,” Blue conceded with a rueful glance down at his own clothes. “And I sure could use a meal that neither of us has cooked.” He gazed down into the valley before them and the small town that lay there. Quietly dozing in the heat of the late afternoon sun it appeared a peaceful enough place to spend the night. “All right then,” he decided. “Let’s go see if there’s a hotel in the place.”
“And a saloon,” Manolito added, with a satisfied smile, already looking forward to the evening ahead. Blue might be envisaging a peaceful night but that certainly wasn’t what the young Mexican had in mind.
Up close the small frontier town of Burgos was a strange conglomeration of Mexican and American. Adobe houses sitting cheek by jowl with battered clapboard dwellings, their once bright paint faded and cracked by the intensity of the Arizona sun.
Easily the biggest building on the main street, the Hotel Siesta seemed aptly named, the place looked as though it had fallen asleep many years before, shutters closed tightly against the light, and no sign of any life. Leaving their horses in the town’s livery stable, Blue and Mano grabbed their saddlebags and headed into the dimness of the lobby to be greeted sleepily by a bespectacled clerk leaning tiredly on the front desk.
“Afternoon,” the little man’s voice was thin and reedy, his lazy smile marred by broken and discoloured teeth. “You need a room?”
“Si,” Manolito flashed his own perfect grin. “Two rooms for tonight, por favor.”
The clerk shook his head doubtfully and sucked on his teeth as he studied the register on the desk in front of him. “Afraid there’s only the one room left.”
“Two beds?” asked Blue hopefully, more than a little surprised to find the place so full.
“I’m sorry,” the little man shook his head sorrowfully. “Big bed though,” he added, seeing the look that crossed the young man’s face at his words. “Plenty of room for you both.”
“I’m not sure…” Blue looked uncertainly across at Manolito. “What do you think?”
“I think that even a shared bed is better than hard, rocky, ground,” the Mexican answered with certainty. “We will take it, senor, gracias.”
The clerk handed over a pen and swivelled the register for Blue to sign. “It’s two dollars a night, including breakfast.”
Blue hesitated, pen poised. “That’s a little expensive isn’t it?” he cast a quick glance around the lobby, taking in the threadbare rugs on the floor and the peeling paint. “Not exactly the best hotel I’ve seen.”
“But it’s the only one in Burgos,” the clerk pointed out, bridling a little at Blue’s disparaging words. “And you’re lucky to get anything at fiesta time.”
“Fiesta!” Manolito echoed in apparent surprise. “It is fiesta time?”
Eyes narrowing suspiciously, Blue turned to look at the Mexican. Somehow Mano’s reaction to the news of the fiesta didn’t quite ring true.
“Yep,” the clerk answered, suddenly becoming animated as he. “That’s why there’s nobody about right now, all catching up on their sleep before the party starts tonight.”
“Party?” Blue turned back to the man. “What party?”
“You’ll love it,” the clerk assured him. “Drinking, eating, plenty of women. Why we even got a circus set up on the other side of town. They reckon the sharp shooting act is real spectacular and as for the dancing girls,” he rolled his eyes in graphic appreciation of their attributes. “They’re something else.”
“I think perhaps we ought not to stay after all,” Blue put the pen down firmly. “We were looking for a quiet place to spend the night.”
“Now, Blue Boy, do not be hasty,” catching the young man by the arm, Mano drew him aside. “We are here now, so why not make the most of it?”
“Sounds like it’s gonna get pretty wild tonight,” Blue hissed, hoping the clerk couldn’t hear him. “I don’t like the thought of being here with all that money.”
“What could happen?” Mano asked with a shrug. “Nobody knows about the money and there are two of us to keep watch on it.”
“You set this up,” Blue accused, certain now that Manolito had known all along about the fiesta. “Even pretended to hurt your ankle as some kind of excuse to stop here.”
Mano held up his hands and smiled disarmingly. “All right, I confess. I know Burgos of old and I knew when the fiesta was to be held. Now let us take the room, there is no harm in enjoying ourselves for a change.”
“If it wasn’t gonna be dark in an hour I’d drag you outta here,” Blue said angrily before turning back to grab the pen and scribble his name in the hotel register. “But I guess there’s no point in leaving now.”
“Room thirteen,” the clerk interrupted, holding out a key to Blue. “Top of the stairs.”
“Thirteen,” Blue muttered as he preceded Manolito up the battered staircase, the saddlebag with its heavy load of money slung over his shoulder. “I just hope that’s not some sort of omen.”
From behind him, Mano laughed. “Ay yi yi, you worry too much, amigo. Take it from me, tonight we are going to have a wonderful time.”
“He calls that big!” Blue exclaimed as he pushed open the door of Room 13 and stared in dismay at the offending piece of furniture. “Perhaps if we were a couple of dwarves it would be.”
Squeezing past Blue, Mano sat down on the edge of the bed and bounced experimentally. “It is not so bad,” he declared, swinging his legs up on to the threadbare quilt and resting his head on the thin pillows. “Feels quite comfortable.”
“Doesn’t look it,” Blue grumbled, tossing his saddlebags down beside Mano and heading for the washstand that stood against one wall of the small room. Pouring tepid water from a tall ewer into the chipped basin that graced the top of the washstand he removed his hat and scrubbed the worst of the trail dust from his face. “Reckon they’ve got a bathhouse in this place?”
There was no reply to his question and glancing round Blue saw that Manolito had pulled his hat down over his eyes and appeared to be asleep. With a disgruntled sigh he decided that perhaps a short nap wouldn’t hurt and settled down on the bed beside his friend.
It was some hours later that Blue awoke to find the room bathed in the soft wash of light from the oil lamp alight on the dresser. Manolito was standing in front of the age spotted mirror that hung opposite the bed, brushing his hair. Catching sight of Blue’s reflection behind him as the young man sat up, he turned around with a grin.
“I thought you were never going to wake.”
“What time is it?” Blue asked, feeling a little disorientated. Through the open window he could see that the sky was dark but had no idea how long he had slept.
“It is almost eight and time we found ourselves some supper,” Mano declared, grabbing Blue’s hat and handing it to him. “Besides, the fiesta is about to begin, do you not hear the crowd?”
Suddenly becoming aware of the sound of voices and laughter, carried on the still night air, Blue got to his feet and looked out of the window. Below him he could see a stream of men, women and children chattering excitedly as they hurried along the street past the hotel.
“The circus starts in an hour,” Manolito said impatiently, opening the door of the room. “We have just enough time for a meal first, if we hurry.”
“How do you know when the circus starts? Have you been outside?”
“You were asleep,” Mano explained, with a shrug. “So I went for a little walk.”
Jamming his hat on his head, Blue joined his friend at the door. “Look, I’ll come for a meal with you, I could do with some food, but I’m not going to the circus.”
“Why not?” Mano asked, disappointed. “It will be fun. I have never seen a circus but I have heard about them.”
“I ain’t never seen one either,” Blue admitted. “But we can’t take all the money with us so one of us has to stay and guard it.”
“I agree it would be foolish to take the money with us,” Mano conceded, eyeing the heavy saddlebags. “But it will be safe enough here, we have a key after all.”
Blue looked uncertainly round the shabby room. “I don’t like the thought of leaving it here. If anything happened…”
“Nothing will happen,” Manolito grabbed the saddlebags and knelt to stow them beneath the bed. “Let us go and have some fun, amigo.”
“I guess it might be all right. As long as we’re not too long.” Blue too had heard about circuses and he was keen to see one for himself, a desire that was fast overcoming his anxiety about the money.
“We will come back as soon as the show finishes,” Mano said, grabbing his friend’s arm and pulling him from the room, locking the door behind him. “Now come on before we miss the start.”
After hastily eaten bowls of tamale at the Mexican run cantina just along the street from the hotel, Blue and Mano joined the crowd heading for the outskirts of town where the circus had been set up.
“After the show the saloons are open late,” Manolito explained as they wended their way through the sideshows offering such delights as ‘The Bearded Lady’ and ‘The Two Headed Sheep’ and headed for the large circus tent. “Then tomorrow there is a parade through the streets and music and dancing.”
“We have to head out in the morning,” Blue told him, as they entered the tent and took a seat on one of the wooden benches that were placed facing a small stage at the back. “A night in town was what we agreed, just one night.”
Manolito’s reply was lost when the crowd surged to their feet, applauding and whistling, as four scantily clad, voluptuous young women emerged from behind a curtain at the side of the stage and, accompanied by a plump balding man at the piano, began a selection of bawdy songs. Many of the women in the audience looked a little askance at the rather risqué lyrics but most of the men roared with laughter, enjoying themselves immensely.
The singers were followed by a much less ribald act. A severe looking matron with a troupe of performing dogs took to the stage. The little animals pranced about on their hind legs and performed various acrobatic tricks, to a polite but unenthusiastic response. Blue felt a little sorry for the creatures, though they appeared to be enjoying showing off to the crowd.
Jugglers, and a strong man act followed the dogs, before the start of what was obviously the main attraction of the evening, the sharp shooter. Arriving on stage to a spirited tune from the piano player, the man drew appreciative looks from the women in the audience. Strikingly handsome, with raven black hair and blue eyes, he was clad all in white from his Stetson hat to his soft leather boots. His gunbelt, also white, contained two pearl handled pistols, and he carried a rifle in one hand. By his side stood a young woman, no older than eighteen or nineteen, as blonde as he was dark and wearing a costume of black and silver. They made an eye-catching pair. Leading the girl over to one side of the stage the man positioned her carefully before handing her a lit cigar, which she placed between her teeth.
“I assume he is going to shoot the thing from her mouth,” Mano whispered under his breath at Blue. “A difficult shot.”
Blue didn’t answer, his attention fixed on the girl. He’d never seen anyone so very beautiful. A hushed silence fell as the sharp shooter aimed and fired, then the crowd erupted into applause as the end of the cigar was shot cleanly from the girl’s mouth. Other feats of marksmanship followed but Blue scarcely noticed what the man on stage was doing, his gaze was riveted to the girl. All too soon the act was finished and with a final curtsey to the audience the young woman disappeared behind the curtain.
Emerging into the open air, the circus finished, Blue followed Manolito back towards the town, not complaining when the Mexican headed into a saloon instead of returning to the hotel.
“Ay-yi-yi!” Mano exclaimed, after they had purchased a couple of beers and found a table to sit at. “The young lady has certainly taken your fancy.”
Sipping his beer, Blue feigned innocence. “What young lady?”
“Do not bother to deny it,” Mano said with a laugh. “You could not take your eyes off of her.”
Blue gave his friend an abashed grin. “Can’t hardly blame me though, she sure was pretty.”
“And she’s here,” Mano told him, eyes widening as the swing doors opened and in walked the lady in question, accompanied by the sharp shooter. The woman had changed into simpler garb of blue skirt and cream coloured blouse but the man still wore his stage outfit, standing out amongst the drably clad men in the room.
“She’s here,” Blue echoed, twisting round to look. “In a saloon?”
Blue wasn’t the only one surprised by a woman entering a saloon. Generally the only females to be found in such a place were girls with reputations less than pristine. Decent women just didn’t frequent saloons.
“Perhaps circus people are a little different,” Mano said kindly, seeing the appalled look on his friend’s face.
“Perhaps,” Blue shifted his seat a little, unable to keep from watching the girl as she walked gracefully across to a table by the wall and sat down. He blushed and lowered his gaze as, catching him looking her way, she smiled sweetly. The girl’s companion, standing at the bar, noticed her smile and frowned, turning to regard Blue with a hard stare, before grabbing up the drinks that the bartender placed before him.
Mano tensed as the man stalked across to where the girl sat, set down the drinks, and bent to talk to her. It looked like there might be trouble ahead.
“You flirting with him?” the angry voice was audible to everyone and a hush fell over the room.
“No!” the girl denied quickly, her voice soft and musical. “I was just being friendly.”
“Friendly!” the man exclaimed, turning round and advancing on Blue and Mano. “You keep away from my wife,” he jabbed a finger in Blue’s direction. “Hear me, mister! Keep your eyes off my Nancy.”
“I never…” Blue spluttered but Mano interrupted hastily, getting to his feet and grabbing his friend’s arm.
“We were just leaving. We don’t want any trouble.”
“Cy!” Nancy called out in alarm, seeing her husband’s hand clench. “Leave them be.”
Reluctantly, the sharp shooter stepped back and Mano and Blue headed for the door. As they left Blue chanced a quick glance back at Nancy, the young woman was watching him, tears trickling down her face. It was only Mano’s hand on his arm that kept Blue from turning back at the sight.
As Manolito opened the door of the hotel room, Blue pushed unceremoniously past him. Dropping to his knees beside the bed and breathing a sigh of relief as he found the saddlebags exactly where he had left them.
“I told you that the money would be safe enough,” Mano said as Blue shoved the bags back beneath the bed and stood up.
“Yeh,” with a disconsolate sigh Blue removed his hat and tossed it on the dresser next to Manolito’s, took off his gunbelt, then flung himself down on the quilt and stared up at the cracked ceiling. Now that he knew the money was safe, his thoughts had returned to Nancy.
Mano shook his head in irritation. He could see that Blue had been smitten by the girl but, as she was obviously a married woman, and one with a jealous husband, there was really little point fretting over her. “Forget about her, compadre,” he advised, ambling across to the window and pulling the drapes aside to look down into the still busy street. “The night is young yet, why do we not go out? Find another saloon, a game of cards perhaps. Take your mind off of her.”
“But she was so upset, Mano. There was no need for him to speak to her like that, all she did was smile at me. Be friendly.”
“He is her husband,”
“I guess,” Blue sighed again, but managed a half-hearted grin as he looked over at Mano. “You go on out if you want,” he offered quietly. “Think I’ll get me an early night.”
“You are sure?”
“Yeh, I’m fine here. You go on and enjoy yourself. I’ll see you later.”
Mano didn’t stop to argue, it was obvious that Blue’s mind was made up. Instead, he glanced at himself in the mirror, smoothed a wayward hair back into place, grabbed up his hat and was gone.
Left alone Blue closed his eyes, giving himself up to thoughts of the beautiful young woman he had last seen in tears. Sleep took over, and soon he was drifting away, half-lost in a hazy fantasy where he had faced down Cy and rescued the fair Nancy. A soft knock at the door brought him back to wakefulness and, wary as to who it might be, Blue reached for his gunbelt as he got up to answer.
“Who’s there?” he called guardedly, one hand poised on the door handle, the other on his gun.
“Please, I need to speak to you…” the voice was soft and feminine, and Blue recognised it at once. Nancy.
“What the matter?” flinging the door wide Blue ushered the young woman into the room, taking a quick look out into the empty corridor as he did so. “What’s happened?”
Instead of replying Nancy flung herself against him, clinging to him as sobs shook her slender body. Instinctively, Blue’s arms closed around her, holding the girl close and murmuring words of comfort as she cried, all the time aware of the feel of her next to him and the sweet scent of the perfume that she wore.
“Is it your husband?” Blue asked gently, as eventually her sobs lessened. “Has he hurt you?”
Collecting herself a little, Nancy pushed herself away from him and, reluctantly, Blue let her go.
“I need to get away,” she said, her voice thick with the tears that she had shed. “Can you help me?”
“I’ll try,” Blue told her. He fumbled in his pocket for a handkerchief and held it out to her. “But first you’d better tell me what this is all about. And why you came to me.”
With a watery attempt at a smile, Nancy took the handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes, “When I saw you in the saloon I knew you’d help me,” she said softly. “You just looked so kind, so sweet,” she looked away for a moment, biting her lip hard to stop the tears that threatened to flow once more. Then, her voice just a tiny whisper of sound she spoke again, words that send a surge of anger through Blue. “My husband, Cyrus, he … he… beats me,”
How could any man be so cruel to a woman? Blue wondered as slowly, hesitantly, Nancy told him of the horror that was her marriage. She had met Cyrus in San Francisco and at first he had seemed a wonderful man, kind and gentle. That was until she married him, then his cruel and vindictive nature had become all too apparent. She wanted to get away, but she had no money to do so, and was frightened that Cyrus would find her and bring her back.
“We could take you with us,” Blue offered impulsively, as she once more dissolved in sobs. “My friend and I, we’re leaving in the morning. Going south, to buy some stock for my father’s ranch, up near Tucson. You’d be safe with us.”
Her blue eyes widened in alarm. “You’ve seen how good a shot Cy is, he’d come after us. Kill you both.”
“I’d take that risk,”
Nancy shook her head. “I couldn’t let you do that,” she said quietly. “But there may be a way you can get me away from him. One that would involve no bloodshed.”
Returning to the hotel in the small hours of the morning, Manolito Montoya was feeling well satisfied with life. He had enjoyed a pleasant interlude in the company of a beautiful senorita, won a few dollars in a poker game and partaken of more than a little alcohol. In fact, as Mano climbed the stairs to room thirteen, his head was pleasantly hazy and he was ready for his bed.
He was surprised, as he pushed open the door of the hotel room, to find the lamp still burning. Even more surprised to find the room empty and no sign of Blue. A prickle of alarm tingled along his spine as he saw, on top of the crumpled bed quilt, Blue’s saddlebags. Grabbing the bags up he looked inside, alarm growing as he found the money, all two thousand dollars, was gone.
Suddenly sober as fears for Blue’s safety assailed him, Mano tossed the empty saddlebags back on the bed. A cursory glance around the room showed no signs of a struggle and he found himself at a loss as to where to start looking for his friend. He knew that Burgos had no sheriff, so there would be no help from the law.
A sudden noise from the corridor startled him and Mano’s hand went for his gun. Moving stealthily across to the door he cracked it open and chanced a quick glance out into the darkened hallway, lit only by the wan moonlight that filtered its way through a dusty skylight. The light was just enough to enable him to see a dark figure heading down the hall towards him. Closing the door quietly, his finger tightened on the trigger of his gun as he pressed back against the wall and waited, scarcely daring to breathe. Within seconds the door-handle rattled and turned and the door swung wide.
Ready to confront an intruder Mano pushed himself away from the wall, then let out an audible sigh of relief, tension draining away as he recognised who had just come in.
“Blue! Amigo, are you all right?”
“What has happened?” Mano gestured toward the empty saddlebags. “Did you get robbed?”
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Blue shook his head.
“Then where is the money?”
“I took it,”
“Took it? Took it where? You are making no sense, Blue. What have you done with the money?”
“I gave it to Cyrus. You know, the sharpshooter,”
Stunned, Manolito could do little more than stand and shake his head in disbelief as Blue told him what had happened. How Nancy had come to beg for his help and how she had suggested that they offer money to Cyrus to let her go.
“She said that’s all he really cares about,” Blue explained contemptuously, “and she was right. He took the money and gave Nancy her freedom.”
“And where is she now?” Manolito asked, deeply suspicious about the evening’s events and almost certain that Blue had been played for a fool by Cyrus and Nancy. “Already left town?”
Blue shook his head, “she’s waiting for me at the livery stable. I told her I’d find you and then we’d all leave together. She’ll be safer with us, in case Cyrus changes his mind. Where’ve you been anyway? I searched all over town for you.”
“Never mind that,” Manolito grasped Blue’s arm and propelled him towards the door. “I think I need to have a talk with Senora Nancy.”
There was little point, Mano thought to himself as he and Blue hurried through the now quiet streets, in telling the youth how foolish he had been to hand the money over to Cyrus. There was no doubt in his mind that when they arrived at the livery stable, Nancy would not be there.
He was right. The stables only occupants were horses, standing quietly in the darkness.
“She’s gone!” Blue exclaimed, a worried frown settling on his brow as he looked frantically around the building as though expecting the young woman to suddenly materialise before him.
Mano laid a sympathetic hand on his young friend’s shoulder. “You are not the first to be taken in by a pretty face, nor will you be the last. But I do not envy you telling Big John about this.”
Even in the dim light Mano saw Blue’s face blanch at the mention of his father, but the young man still could not believe that he had been deceived. “You don’t understand,” he protested. “Cyrus must have changed his mind. He’s got her.”
“Ain’t nobody got her,” the two men whirled around at the voice from behind them, simultaneously reaching for their guns.
“I ain’t armed,” an elderly man stood in the doorway of the livery, looking alarmed at the sight of the weapons aimed at him. “Don’t shoot!”
Slipping his gun back into its holster, Mano heaved a sigh of relief as he recognised the old stablehand.
“You saw her?” Blue asked frantically. “She’s all right?”
The man gave a wheezing laugh. “She looked jest fine ter me. A kissin’ and a cuddlin’ with that feller from the circus.”
“Where did they go?” Mano asked, wondering if there might be a chance of getting the money back and trying to ignore the devastated look that had settled on Blue’s face at the news.
The old man looked thoughtful and sucked at his teeth for a while before replying. “Didn’t say, but I reckon they were headin’ fer the border. Leastways the girl mentioned sumthin’ about buyin’ a new dress in Mexico.”
Reaching into his pocket Mano felt around for a coin to give the stablehand in return for the information. “We had better saddle Soapy and Macadoo,” he told Blue. “And try and get the money back.”
“But you’ve seen Cyrus shoot,” Blue said uneasily. “We don’t stand a chance against him.”
Mano smiled ruefully, walking swiftly toward the horses stalls. “Perhaps not. But I think I would rather face Cyrus and his gun than return to the Chaparral without the money and face your father,” he said softly.
“So do we head for the border?” Blue asked, as he and Mano mounted up and rode away from the livery.
Mano shook his head. “No, amigo, we do not. That mention of Mexico seemed to me to be just a little too convenient. I think it is probable that our friendly stablehand was trying to throw us off the trail. We will go to the circus, it is, after all, where one would expect to find Senora Nancy and her husband.”
Leaving the horses a little distance from where the circus was set up, Mano and Blue made their way along to where the performer’s wagons stood, dark and silent, in the moonlight.
“Look at that,” Mano said softly as they approached. “The wagons all have names on the side. That will make it easier for us.”
“There’s Cyrus’ over there,” Blue pointed to where the legend ‘Cyrus Jackson – Sharpshooter Extraordinaire’ was painted in large silver letters.
The two men crept across to the wagon, Mano pulling Blue to halt as they neared the vehicle. This close they could make out the sound of muted voices from inside.
“I guess they’ll be halfway to the border by now,” it was Cyrus, and he sounded very pleased with himself.
“Just hurry and pack the stuff in the saddlebags,” Nancy replied curtly. “I’ll go and get the horses ready.”
Putting a finger to his lips, Mano motioned to Blue to move towards the back of the wagon, where they wouldn’t be seen. “The horses are over there,” he whispered, indicating a small fenced area.
Blue nodded, eyes on the front of the wagon as the young woman descended the steps and began to walk in their direction.
As Nancy drew level with their hiding place Manolito moved swiftly, stepping out and grabbing her, one hand clamped firmly over her mouth to stop her alerting Cyrus, or waking the sleeping occupants of the other wagons.
As she struggled futilely in his grasp Mano pulled the girl towards the circus tent. “Get me some rope from somewhere,” he hissed, struggling to hold Nancy as she kicked and squirmed, attempting to break free.
A quick search was all Blue needed to find enough rope to securely bind the girl and his bandana made an effective gag.
“Now for Cyrus,” Mano grunted as he deposited the trussed up Nancy on the floor of the tent. “And the money.”
Edging along to the front of the wagon, gun drawn and ready, Mano reached out and gently pushed the door open.
“Nancy?” Cyrus asked from within. “Is that you?”
“I am sorry, Senor, I am afraid that your wife is indisposed at the moment,” swinging round into the doorway, Mano aimed his gun directly at the surprised sharpshooter. “She is not hurt,” he added swiftly, seeing alarm on the man’s face. “Just give me the money and…”
“It was all Nancy’s idea,” Cyrus blurted out before Mano could finish what he was saying. “She said with all that money we could leave the circus, settle down somewhere and start a family. I didn’t want to do it, but she persuaded me.”
“Then you won’t mind giving the money back?” Blue asked, coming into the wagon behind Manolito.
“No, no. Take it, take it,” Cyrus babbled, eyes wide as he watched the gun in Mano’s hand. “It’s over there, in the saddlebags.”
Blue and Manolito exchanged a bemused glance. They had expected to find Cyrus angry and defiant when they confronted him, not meek and cowed.
Picking up the saddlebags from where they lay on top of a dresser, Blue pulled out a shirt and a nightshirt and tossed them aside, before he found the money.
“Looks like it’s all here,” he said, flicking through the bills.
“It is, honest. Please, just take it and go,” Cyrus was trembling, eyes wide with fear. “Just don’t kill me.”
“Kill you?” Mano snorted with laughter, “I have no intention of killing you, Senor. I just want the money back.”
“Shouldn’t we take them in?” Blue asked, reluctant to see the couple get away with the deception.
Mano shook his head. “There is no lawman in Burgos,” he said. “But even if there were do you really want to tell anyone how you were duped by the lovely Senora?”
“If you put it like that …” Blue coloured slightly at just the thought of the humiliation he’d feel having to tell the story of how he’d been taken in by a pretty face.
“Best that we just tie up Senor Cyrus and leave him here,” Mano said. “Though I would like to know how he and Senora Nancy knew about the money.”
No longer fearful for his life, Cyrus was calmer, and even more voluble. “Jack, the clerk at the hotel, told us,” he explained. “Heard you talking about it when you checked in. It was Nancy’s idea to trick you into giving us the money. When Jack pointed you out at the show she said she thought she could charm the young one into helping her.”
Blue blushed again, both at being described as the ‘young one’, and at the memory of his gullibility.
“We followed you to the saloon,” Cyrus continued, turning his head to address Blue. “And Nancy managed to catch your eye while I acted the jealous husband. I saw your face when she turned on the waterworks. Knew we had you hooked then. We couldn’t believe our luck when your friend here,” he nodded toward Mano, “left you alone in the hotel. It was easy, Nancy said, like taking candy from a baby.”
The analogy made Blue wince and he looked away, busying himself by looking for something to tie Cyrus up with. All he could see was the bed-sheet and quickly pulling it from the bed he began to tear it into strips.
“What I do not understand,” Mano said, bring Cyrus’ attention back to him. “Is why you are taking this so calmly? I expected a shoot-out perhaps, you are after all a ‘sharpshooter extraordinaire’ are you not?”
Cyrus’ mouth twisted in a wry smile, “I can do fancy tricks with a gun,” he said softly. “But I ain’t never shot a person, don’t intend to either. I’m a circus performer, mister, not a gunslinger.”
“Here,” Blue interrupted holding up lengths of torn sheet. “Will these do to tie him up with?”
Mano nodded, “Keep still, Senor,” he instructed. “My friend will secure your hands and feet. Then we will gag you. We do not want to take a chance on you alerting your fellow performers to what has happened.”
“It ain’t them you need to worry about,” Cyrus told them, not protesting as Blue wound the cloth around his wrists and pulled it tight. “It’s Nancy. She ain’t gonna let you go quite so easily and if you think I’m a good shot . . . well, I ain’t got nothing on Nancy.”
“You think he was telling the truth?” Blue asked as he and Mano headed away from the circus later, the money safely stowed away in their pockets.
Mano shrugged eloquently, “I do not know,” he said, “But I do not intend to wait around and find out. This town is not big enough for both us and Senora Nancy so I think it is time we said adios, made haste to buy the stock for Big John and then rode for home.”
“Home,” Blue repeated, and grinned happily. “That sure sounds good.”
Dawn was just tinting the sky with fingers of pink and yellow as Manolito and Blue rode out of town. It had been an eventful night, not at all the kind of restful time that Blue, at least, had been seeking.
He was relieved to get the money back and very pleased that it had all ended happily, but there was one more thing that Blue needed to be sure of.
“Mano,” he called, riding up alongside his friend. “Promise me you won’t tell my Pa, or Uncle Buck, what happened back there, they’d never let me live it down.”
Mano grinned, teeth white against his tanned skin. “Amigo,” he said teasingly, “how could I possibly keep a story like that to myself?” he laughed aloud at the miserable look that settled on Blue’s face, and added. “Though perhaps a few drinks in the next saloon we reach by might make my memory less clear.”
Relieved, Blue grinned back at him. “It’s a deal!”
Laughing, the two urged their horses to a gallop and rode swiftly away from Burgos.
Kathleen Pitts © January 2005