Published on Friday, May 22, 2015
Boyd Rode Alone
By Matt Cole
Alvin Boyd was a killer. He confirmed it now as he backed slowly out of the Alcove Spring Bank with a smoking Colt in one hand and a gunnysack full of money in the other. The teller had made a move for the pistol underneath the money counter. Alvin Boyd's bullet had caught the unfortunate man between the eyes.
The cashier, his actions sluggish from utter fear, made a break for the side door and was shot in the back.
"You'll be next," he told the young lady stenographer, "if you say one word."
No fear of pursuit marred the killer's flight. He knew the ways of sheriff's posses. They would hole up at the first ranch. That is why he had held off until the storm broke, then rode into town and stuck up the bank. A one-man job, cleverly planned, cold-bloodedly executed. The lives he had taken were but tally notches on his gun, no more. He would boast about it when he got drunk.
"That other'n piled up like a beef."
The storm whirled and groaned. The horse flowed with the wind, as he headed south for Indian Territory. A man could hole up there and get plenty drunk. Grub in the cabin. Wood enough for a month. Hay a-plenty, a cask of moonshine liquor. When a man got hard up for company, there was Roy Powers and his wife across the river. Roy was a damn fool but he knew how to keep his mouth shut. Roy was all right. Just didn't have the guts to go out and take chances, which were all. Maybe if it wasn't for the missus, Roy might swap a hayfork for a gun and pick up some easy money. Roy's missus was just a young thing Purdy enough, so far as looks went and kind of quiet. Scared, like as not, because she wasn't used to men that had guts—but she had sense. Close mouthed like most breed women. No damn sheriff has ever gotten anything out of Rosa Powers.
It was getting dark now—black as a pitch. Alvin Boyd disappeared into his buffalo coat and let his horse drift along. He rode good horses. Whenever Alvin Boyd stole a horse, he picked a good one. It was nearly a hundred miles into the Pleasant Hills. There they dropped in timbered ridges to meet the Prairie Dog Creek. To travel all night in a blizzard was only part of a man's job. The same as killing those two bank dudes and by evening tomorrow, he would be at his cabin in the Indian Territory.
"That cask will sure look good."
Alvin Boyd liked whisky. He liked whisky like most men like women. Liked the color of it in a glass—liked the slosh of the stuff as it trickle out of a jug into a tin cup. Talk about music—the burn of it when a man tilted a jug and drank it that away—God—what I'd give for a drink right now.
But Alvin Boyd dared not drink until he got home. Tried it once. Fell off a horse and froze both feet sleeping in the snow. Roy Powers was horse hunting and found him. Roy's missus taken care of him, Roy wasn't much of a hand to drink. A few shots and Roy had a-plenty—just enough to make that fiddle talk good. "Old Molly Hare" and "Hell Among the Yearling's" and "My love Is But A Lassie."
Alvin hadn't seen Roy and his missus since early last spring. They were the only friends he claimed. A man on the dodge can't have many friends. Not when there's a big bounty on his head. That's the way most of the boys a got theirs. Trusting somebody. Hell, them fool posses never got nowhere. Milled around. And when they followed Alvin Boyd, they kept bunched. Damn right they did.
Alvin had been in Nebraska all summer—gambling some in the middle of the sheep shearers and cowpunchers. Getting drunk and eating well. Nobody was the wiser. Who would look around sheep and cow camps for an outlaw? Then he'd up and shot that Indian cowpuncher and had to drift back north into Montana again—too quickly on the trigger.
Alvin's rattling laugh broke forth again. He took out his .45 and with the nail file blade of his jack knife; he made two new notches on the gun's bone handle. That was what that Indian had taught him. He was proud of those notches. Six, all told, counting the two bank dudes. Not bad for a man of twenty-three—he'd tell Roy and his missus. Roy would grin somewhat silly. The missus's just sat and shakes as if she was taken with a chill. He was not scared of a man that had guts—a man that was quick on the trigger.
Into the black jaws of the canons and draws—snow piling in till a man felt smothered, black as tar. Chilly. Give a dollar for a drink. Hell, give five dollars. Ten. There was money a-plenty in that sack. Whisky money.
Topping out on a long ridge. Into a dawn, that was the color of soiled slate. A wind that bit plumb into a man's insides—didn't just drop into a ranch or even a sheep camp for grub. There'd be no fool sign for a posse to pick up. Nobody but Roy knew of that little log cabin tucked away in a pocket of the Indian Territory—pines and brush and rocks. Grub hoarded. Shoot a whitetail buck or a yearling. What's two days without food? Make a man eat well when he got it—whisky and meat. Good whisky and fat meat. Half way home now—safe as dog in a hole.
Keep to the gorges, just under the rim of the ridges. No use sky lining a man's self. All day. Horse getting leg weary he tumbled into a prairie dog hole yet no harm done. Wind that shrunken a man's heart; wind that cut the hide on a man's face. Feet like ice cakes. Like the blood was dried up. God, but that whisky's send it charging through a man's veins, though. Fill a jug and go across to Roy Power's. A man needed talk when he'd bin alone so long. Roy would drag out the fiddle. "Bed River Jig", or "Blue Bottles."
He pulled into his secreted canyon that afternoon. A frost scorched, fur clad figure, red-eyed from the wind and loss of sleep—a lone figure in a huge white world. Cold, starving, thirsting for whisky as a man on a parched desert longs for water. With a fortune tied in saddlebags. Two new notches on the bone handle of a short-barreled Colt .45 and a laugh jingling in his throat.
Hay in the barn—Roy had put up that hay. The well above the cabin was warm. It never froze—had an iron taste to it.
Alvin Boyd watered and fed his gaunt horse. While no law of God or man had weight with the killer, he never violated that creed of the range that orders its men to care for a horse that has carried a man. After that, he may look to his own comfort.
Alvin Boyd found the whisky cask buried under the hay. He found a tin cup, and with a corner of his fur coat, he wiped some of the dust from inside it. Then he crouched there by the cask and drank a cup of whisky as if the stuff were water. He sat there for better than half an hour. Drinking until the ache melted from his bones and the hunger pains left his empty stomach. Now and then, he chuckled. The horse would give a start and look around, ears erect. Alvin Boyd's laugh was unlike the laughter of any other man because there was no humor in it. More like a death rattle.
He was stable enough on his feet when he got up and went to the cabin. As steady as a man can be when he has been frozen into the saddle for a night and a day, and when he is bundled in fur coat and chaps and four buckle overshoes. "Fill a jug and go visit Roy Powers, to hell with cooking. Roy's missus will toss up some grub." His cracked, frost blackened lips split in a grin as he saw smoke coming from the Powers cabin, across the river among the skeleton cottonwoods.
He found a jug and filled it. Then he kicked off his chaps and located a pair of snowshoes. It was as easy going by foot as it was by horseback. He threw the jug about his shoulder with a bit of rope. Then he took his carbine and fitted it into a worn buckskin sheath.
"Whisky. Cartridges. All set." Then he remembered the money in the saddlebag. "Whisky's taken hold." He hid the money in the hay. Then, shuffling along on his webs, he traversed the river to Roy Power's place.
Even before he knocks on the door, Alvin Boyd had a feeling that something was wrong at the home of Roy Powers. Horses in the hay corral, chewed from the snow-capped stack. Gate down. No tracks around. Cattle, thin flanked and hollow eyed, bawling for water in the lower pasture. Woodpile buried in the snow. Yet there was smoke coming from the chimney—a light inside, against the coming dusk.
"Come in!" Was that the voice of Roy Powers? Alvin could not see through the window. Frost had made the panes obscure.
Guardedly Alvin Boyd opened the door. His jug and carbine laid aside, he held his Colt in his hand, the hammer thumbed back. He kicked the door open.
For a moment, Alvin Boyd stood there, half-crouched, ready. Then he stood. The gun hammer lowered quietly and the weapon went back into its holster.
For propped up on a bunk beside the stove, one leg in rude splints, sat Roy Powers—an empty eyed, lean cheeked, unshaven Roy.
"Alvin Boyd!" His voice was like the gruff call of a crow. But there was a prayer in its welcome, as he voiced the name of the killer.
From the bedroom beyond came a broken, moaning cry—a woman's sob, a woman half-delirious with pain.
"Horse fell and busted my leg . . .About a week ago . . . Rosa took care of me until she had to quit . . . She's going to have a baby and no doctor inside a hundred miles. I reckon she'll die."
It took Alvin Boyd some seconds to understand fully. A pint or more of unrefined whisky on an empty stomach does not make for quiet thinking. The fact that he could retain even an appearance of his faculties proved the toughness of the killer.
"Sawbones, a doctor, eh?" Alvin Boyd pushed back his cowboy hat and ran rounded fingers through his shock of coarse black hair. "Doctor? Yeah, you sure need one, don't you, Roy?"
"Not for me, Al. Rosa. She's out of her head, kinda."
"She dyin', Roy?"
"She will, I reckon. There has to be a factor when a baby comes."
Alvin Boyd passed his hand across his eyes. He knew nothing of childbirth. There had never been room in his killer's heart for consideration for man or woman. Life and the losing of life meant but little to him; he nodded, brown brows knit in a pensive glare. Then he stepped outside and brought in the jug.
He poured three drinks into tin cups.
"Do us all good, Roy. Then we'll kinda figure this thing out." He took one of the cups and went into the next room.
"Hello, Rosa, git outside of this. Nothin' like it to kill pain."
Faintly, through eyes that were mere slits of red, he saw the white face of the girl. White as the pillow against the mass of blond hair, he lifted her head and held the cup against the lips that seemed exhausted of blood.
"The throbbing. . . the pain . . ."
"Hell, ain't it? But that drink'll do you good."
He went back into the other room and handed Roy his cup.
"Here's luck, Roy. Down the hatch—more where that come from."
Alvin tossed down his drink without a scowl. His brain seemed to be clearing.
"Where do you keep your pencil and paper, Roy?"
"That drawer. God, Al, if we could only do something to Rosa."
"Keep your boots on." Alvin found the writing pad and pencil. He handed them to the crippled man.
"Write a note to the doctor, Roy. You knowed I don't write. Make it scary." Alvin pulled on his cap again. "I'll be ready by the time you git it wrote."
"Where you going, Sam?"
"Out to saddle up the best horse you got. I'm going for the doctor. I'll stop by the nearest ranch and have 'em send over somebody to ride herd on you." The door banged shut behind him.
Alvin caught Roy's best horse. When he had saddled the horse, he came back inside.
"Finished that note, yet?"
"Yep. But you can't make it into town, Al."
"Hell I can't. The storm's done quit, I knowed the road, and I aren't that drunk but I kin ride. Lemme have that pencil."
He scribbled something at the foot of the note. Then he folded the paper and put it into his pocket.
"Hang and clatter, Roy, till the sawbones gits here." He poured some of the whisky into an empty vinegar bottle and put the corked bottle into his overcoat. Then he filled the two cups.
"Here's how, Roy. If the kid looks like you, I'd sure feel sorry fer the critter."
Alvin tossed down his drink and before Roy Powers could say a word, he was gone.
It was enormous hard luck; the way things had turned out for a man. When the only friend a man had was laid up with a broken leg and an unwell wife. No "Old Molly Hare." No fire to set by. No Roy to talk to and tell how amusing that bank dude looked when he dropped by and no hot grub only that bottle— better drop past the cabin and fill a jug. When a man ain't slept nor eaten he'd order have a jug along to keep him alive?
He stopped at his cabin long enough to fill the jug. Then he pulled out. He rode into a nearby line camp. A slit eyed, chill blackened man who staggered a little when he walked. The two cowpunchers gaped hard at him.
"Roy Power's in a bad way. Busted a laig. His missus is dyin'. I'm ridin' fer a sawbones. One of you boys git over there and look after things.'
He gobbled some meat and beans and gave them a shot out of his jug. One of the cowpunchers was getting ready for the trip to Roy's. Alvin Boyd scrambled back into the saddle and rode on.
The storm had stopped. The stars sparkled like white flashes against the clear sky. The moon pressed up over the jagged ridges. Alvin Boyd swayed a little as he rode, half-asleep, half awake, back along the trail to town.
He took some tobacco and rubbed it into his eyes to sting them open. Now and then, he took a drink from the jug. Not as big a drink as he wanted. Just enough to keep a man alive, that food made a man sleepy. A paunch full of meat always made a man sleepy. Enormous hard luck that a man couldn't get off and lay down for a few minutes, yeah—a few hours, he'd be frozen stiff as a stick—he hadn't he frozen his feet that away? Wouldn't he die there only Roy comes by? Hell, he was paying Roy back right now. A man paid his debts that away. It took guts, too. But when a man has one friend on earth, he'd be a hell of a kind of man not to lend a hand. It took guts. Something Roy didn't have. Roy was a chicken-hearted cuss. With his wife and his fiddle. Never took a chance. Never would get nowhere—like a cow pasture. Well, no man had ever sawed off Alvin Boyd's horns. No fence made ever held him. No jail, neither. Never been caught. Those as tried had come across some hard luck. Have a drink. Damn that cork! A man's hands stiff and frozen, there she comes. Good whisky. Thawed a man's belly. Fighting whisky.
Alvin Boyd's laugh irritated on the silence of the winter night. There would be fighting a plenty if a man run into that fool posse. Alvin took a beaded buckskin pouch and put into it the note to the sawbones. Then he fastened the pouch around his neck outside his coat. He moved with a steadfast, listless precision. He lost one of his gloves, the right-glove the put the other glove on his right hand, leaving the left one naked. Alvin Boyd's right hand was his gun hand.
Out of the hills and onto the main road to town. Daylight now. Sleepy. Nodding off in the saddle and riding that horse as if he owned him. Paying off the only debt, he owed to his only friend.
Yonder was Prairie Dog Creek—with a belly full of meat, heading for a safe place to sleep it off? Alvin never killed a wolf. Hell, he was a wolf, himself—a lone wolf. A killer. No rabbit, like Roy Powers, whining over a busted leg. Alvin Boyd rode alone. What'd he do if he had a .30-.40 slug in him and had to scratch it out with a jackknife? Alvin Boyd had done that.
What's that coming yonder? Horse riders—a dozen or more, posse men more than likely, time for a drink—a big one this time. No sip. Been holding off. Waiting.
"Here's to me! I'm lookin' at you boys!" Alvin Boyd's throaty voice carried a note of triumph. "Here's to lookin' at you across gun sights!" And he left the burning stuff slosh down his throat.
A rifle bullet buzzed past Alvin Boyd's head. He mocked the sharpshooter with a roar of disdain and, flipping aside the jug, pulled his carbine and rode at a run straight for the men.
A barrage of bullets met his rush. Alvin Boyd's horse tumbled, shot between the eyes. Alvin tried to kick his feet from the stirrups. It was too late. Horse and man crashed together. A droning pain shot through the killer's leg. That leg was pinned under the dead weight of the horse. Bullets whizzed and buzzed by him. Alvin Boyd emptied his carbine. Two of the posse felt the blazing sting of the outlaw's bullets. Alvin pulled his six-gun - the .45 that had taken deadly toll of human life. His thumb provoked the hammer.
"Come and git it! Come on, you damn fool law dogs!"
Black lips exposed from tobacco stained teeth. Slit eyes puffed-up almost shut. It took guts.
Something white hot wounded Alvin Boyd's chest. He hardly felt it. Above the flat spat of rifles in the dawn, sounded the joyless laugh of Alvin Boyd, a cackle that sounded like the death rattle. Thumbing the hammer of an empty gun—then the exhausted head dropped back into the snow. Alvin Boyd, killer, was dead.
The last of the whisky sloshed out of the uncorked jug into the trail.
"He must have got drunk, blind drunk, and lost his way." A posse member said.
The sheriff pulled the dead outlaw clear of the horse. Dourly victorious, the graying old law officer inspected the body of the killer. Then he opened the pouch and found the note.
As he read it, there in the sunrise of that winter morning, the cordial glow of triumph cooled. He turned to a man who carried a small black bag instead of a gun.
"This is for you, Doc. Seems you're wanted down on the creek. The Powers place." He hands over the note. Then he turned to his men.
"Handle Alvin Boyd with ease, boys. Though he rode alone, seems like he had at least one friend. He came back for a purpose, to do the only respectable thing he ever done in his life. Roy Power's wife is about to give birth. Alvin Boyd comes to get Doc. So handle him easy."