His old black cassock had three holes. His face was covered with dirt. But the Short Fingers’ .45 old Colts were still shining under the hottest sun of July. The man, together with his horse, Co, had traveled eight hundred miles from Cave Forest to Cacti City; a dead place that was watched by buzzards that circled overhead. Both Short Fingers and Co were hungry and tired. They seemed to be consoling themselves with the thought of the green lawn toward the highland several hundred miles ahead. They were out in the middle of a wasteland that was nothing but dryness, old roots. Man and horse were far away from the comfortable state of South Dakota. There it was different. He held an honest job at Tool & Sons Co. Just that day a man had appeared and begun asking about him. He asked him where he had come from and who his father was. Short had resisted, but that man could not come to reason; he had persisted in knowing who Short Fingers – who his father, Xavier Short, was, and what was his business here in Charming Hood Town, a quieted nest of South Dakota’s territory. “You’ll be able to delivery it to him,” the stranger said, cocking his single-shot revolver to his right side.
Well, one bullet broke his skull. But he still found his strength to squeeze his pistol and put a bullet in Short. Then death would come clean – as his old man had done before 1863. It was beyond belief a small man like him could do that. “Damn you, mister!” Short squeezed his old Colt and that man was dead.
After that his life had changed and it continued to change. They had made him an outlaw. A wild boy who traveling again among the wild terrains and the prairies and the Indian territories. He was forced to lead the life that he thought only his father would be able to live. He had sworn before his mother – his lovely mother – he would not be like his papa. “I promise you, mamma. I won’t be like my Daddy. I will die first.”
This did not work. During those seven years he had been a wanted boy. A hunter and a dangerous picker.
And how many men he would continue to kill? It had begun to be a killing frenzy. Until Sheriff McCarthy of Montana had taken it personally. He remembered that his father had been cut off by two bullets. He had died as he had confessed to his mother that he loved her and that he wanted to start a new life. He was still a strong and handsome old man and his mother had promised him more children. He did not have his pistols that day as Short Fingers recalled. His enemies had moved in. It was a coward’s act. They got him. One bullet below his chest and the other directly to his forehead.
At last Short Fingers could no longer stand in front of the Snow Cliff of Poynton Valley and the crew of McCarthy had taken out the unbroken networks of rocks and into
The Arrow Head’s land. They were closing in very fast. Short Fingers moved to east side where the grasses had grown tall as a man. There was the thick-rooted field and the stunted trees that bent with the wind. He squeezed more bullets. McCarthy was furious. He commanded his men forward. Three or four men were gunned down. McCarthy yelled. He pushed his bloody horse forward. Birds of a hundred varieties flew violently among the grasses. He reached the hill and gazed around. He scanned the wild land. A bighorn sheep jumped ahead. The lawman squeezed his long rifle. The bighorn jumped again and disappeared. He grew disappointed by the lack of force. On the opposite side Short Fingers bent; then he started moving close to the ground like a snake a among the endless sea of grasses. Minutes later he was gone. Twelve of the McCarthy’s men had gone too. The ironed lawman was still pushed forward. Across the living stones, where he felt even more disappointed, he held. Toward the east, the green of the trees was spangled and dotted. He hadn’t planned it. He knew that old man had taught his boy how to survive in a place like this. Sheriff McCarthy thought he might die under the hands of this boy. He recognized the boy’s ability was remarkable. McCarthy sat up on the back of his horse. He watched the harsher soil. Bighorns suddenly stretched themselves out. McCarthy smelled it. Dangerous was everywhere and he had to be careful about that damned boy. There was a free canyon where he came up. He saw him. Short Fingers crossed the soil. Here, there were not much grasses; ahead, a trace of hoofs.
“Hey!” The lawman squeezed his rifle. There was a movement from Short Fingers. The lawman squeezed his weapon once more. He shot the boy in the back.
“Damn you!” Short Fingers screamed. He was anger at the damned cowardice of McCarthy. He ran, his two Colts aimed backward in fire. He passed the prairie-dog town stretches. Rodents jumped and sought refuge underground; snakes hissed and disappeared among the grasses and the prairie dogs vanished by magic. Short Fingers was still squeezing his Colts. Ahead the terrain changed abruptly. He dove into a river. His Co jumped in too. Short Fingers’ head emerged. He took a deep breath and kept swimming. He heard the sounds of water ahead. It deepened now. He looked around and saw his horse. Co was swimming too. The water was blue and cold; the currents were strong. The water pushed him westward. He felt there was nothing to hold. His body rocked the shores as he passed downstream in delirium. He did not know where he was. He was calling his Co; then his father and finally his mother. Without knowing it he had reached the buffalo land, where the Indians lived. The Shoshone woman was there. Some hunters had spotted Short Fingers like a wounded wolf and they had brought him to the elm bark longhouse. The woman was expertly working on Short Fingers’ body. It had been more than three weeks since he’d been shot; that was only the beginning. She was comforting and administrating him the green and muddy juices on his wounds. Then green roots. And with the special smokes and words she took a hot knife extracted the bullets out of Short’s body. They were large, old. They sounded like rocks as Great Long Hair threw them on the ground. And when she spoke with her rich language of the Shoshone of the things of God and the magic words, she noticed her safeguards had responded to her. Short Fingers was out of danger and he would be all right.
Little by little he grew strong; to a perfect young man. He learned to shoot arrows and to hunt birds and fishes. They felt his presence and they noticed his ability either with the knives or hatches. The village warriors noticed it too and they loved him. They taught him to hunt the buffalo along the sacred land. Three nights and four days he was committed to that ceremony. When he came up, they recognized his talent as if he was an Indian born. It was then the Iroquois beauty put an eye on him. He did not know it yet. He was concentrating on the Great Day of he Buffalo Hunting. He hunted well. He learned that the Indians depended on the buffalo. They had them to eat their flesh. The tongues and humps were considered special delicacies. He had seen dried meat and his clothes were made from their hides too. Bones and sinews and scarves and belts. There were more tepees, boats, robes, and shields and moccasins. His hunting prowess brought a smile to a mysterious girl. The daughter of Sleepy Eagle. Her name was Nurue. One morning along the river he knelt in front of her and he begged her not to fall love with him.
“Give me a reason why?”
“I’m a loser, Great Nurue. I was born to follow a path where death will be waiting for me.”
“I will be next to you like the wind and the birds and the hootbeats of the Great Buffalo, and I will pray for you above all the of the rains. You will be safe, and I will wait for you here beside this tree.”
“Does your heart contain so much love”
“Yes. It does!”
“Then my destiny will be woven with a woman’s.”
She touched him and smiled.
The horse stopped. Short Fingers looked around. There was no one around. The ordinary beauties of dryness were all what Short Fingers could see. It meant there was nothing else. He got down to the ground. He walked in front of Co. “If you don’t want to go further, I do understand, my friend. We both will be here until the buzzards take care of us.” The big eyes of Co stared at him. He seemed to comprehend the sense of Short Fingers’ words. “Its up to you.”
It started a bad day. The days became hotter and hotter and the nights became colder and colder and the band of mosquitoes with the size of giant moths could not stop to suck blood of both animal and human. There was nothing to eat. Not a rat or snake. All down to the Savannah a narrowed air seemed to cut Short Fingers’ breath . There was dead silence for miles. The present was a hell.
And then Co looked ahead. He perked up his ears. He made a step. Hardly able to walk, he stumbled forward on the solid ground. Short Fingers glanced at the distance and then at Co. He felt something back there. His horse had felt it too. He smiled in appearance, but he did not force him to go. He let him to do it by himself. Co halted. He turned his long neck toward Short Fingers. He understood. He got up. He touched him as he moved head of Co. It was then the horse followed him. Everywhere the buzzards watched and waited. Several miles to north, Short Fingers saw a luxurious carriage. Then dead horses. Cowboys’ bodies were spread out on the ground covered with flies and ants. And people dressed nicely were there too. The buzzards began to land nearby. Carefully, Short Fingers brought up his pistols, weighting them with his large fingers.
Suddenly, Co ran to the right. Short Fingers took a few minutes to register that action of Co into his head.
A pond! A tiny, narrow stream. It was a pond and there was water. “Co!” He ran too. He saw the pond. He screamed once again. “Co!”
The animal did not stop. His dying and burning eyes saw only the water.
Short ran more faster. He needed it. The drinking water was infected with bugs and dead people.
He reached Co by the neck, talking with him. The horse halted, moving his strong neck to him, “No! No! Not that water! Co!”
Slowly, he brought Co back to the firm ground and he held him from the carriage. Short Fingers found breads and Kentucky cans of beans, dried bacon and water. He looked up and thanked whoever was up there.
He turned and moved to his horse. He began to give him some bacon and then water. Shared the food as if they were brothers.
“Do you think this journal will be part of us?” Short Fingers asked, challenging Co to reply.
The horse rose his neck in response.
“We can reach that part. If you can make it.”
Co looked at him
Short Fingers knew he would.
As soon as they moved away from the infected pond, the green lawn returned to the rocky sides. Here and there Short Fingers found Indians. They were moving in four, then ten. Their fires and the arrows were protected. They were all males. By the way their horses, they seemed to have been traveling from far the north. They were young and old men – all seasoned and self-governed. Judging from their woven, wool gowns they were well protected too. They held. They saw Short Fingers’ white- colored face through the dirt and noticed that his walking appeared aimless. Short Fingers waved his hand. Then he talked. He spoke several times until the leader bowed and smiled. His communication was good. They were Wichita. They relaxed among themselves and made a momentary stop. They offered food and water to Short Fingers. Hours later they moved on.
The afternoon arrived hottest. He reached Mountain Green. There was nothing of green. It was brown and rocky. Short Fingers looked at the brown mountain and its heights. He remembered Nurue, as she had said, “From all the heights, I will be there. I am watching you.”
He smiled. But Short Fingers knew there was no peace until he resolved his own dilemma. He had to.
Slowly he galloped his horse on the alerted. On the opposite he found food and water and a place to rest. Short Fingers and Co slept. A few hours later, Short Fingers awoke and found the last portion of rabbit covered with ants. He did not bother to take them off; but the fire would. Then both Co and him ate the last meat. Across the Stone Flat he encountered a lonely cowboy named Ryan Rus, a historic figure from the Wild West of Californian land, who instantly noticed his skill of survival.
“Do I know you, young fellow?”
“My name is Frank Short. They call me Short Fingers.”
“I knew it. Son of Xavier Short, I believe?”
“Did you know my father?”
The lonely cowboy reached his right arm. Quickly Short Fingers put a finger on his old Colt and pressed it firmly against his waist. “No! No! No! I cannot make it in front of you. I saw you in Crane Town, Missouri. This is not my fight. We did it back and we lost before your father. My associate and I,” he said. “But somewhere, your life as a Short is not finish. Good luck!”
“You’ve to know something that I do not, good man.”
“Not much. But they know you are not dead.”
He pulled his horse to the stream and jumped on his back.
Short Fingers shrugged his shoulders as a habit and exclaimed. “How did you know that?”
Short Fingers watched after him. Then at the sky. The weather was good, but toward southwest the clouds had begun to change . He knew there would be cold and the encounter with this unknown Ryan had brought something else. Short Fingers said to Co, “We are going to change refugee.”
All about his voyage and thoughts were toward McCarthy and Nurue now. So young, he felt so damned tired. Impossible to break his destiny. He needed to sleep and to feed the horse.
The next day, Short Fingers and his horse were galloping alone in the direction of Smoky City that was emerging in the distance. Strangely, and sadly, he knew he could not allow two thoughts to disturb him: his love for Nurue and his last encounter with McCarthy. Short Fingers really missed his mamma and papa. All dead by such ill-begotten fate. Now Nurue. Like his mother. Beautiful and in love. If he would come away alive from this next encounter, he would give her all what was left to her. Although he would have preferred to remain among the wilderness and to move back and forth the mountainous roads until all of Sheriff’s men had forgotten him. It would be impossible. He wanted to be normal and to smile beside Nurue. He looked up at the sky and said in a whisper, “I am not going to be like my father, Mom. I promise you. I will find a good country girl and I’ll marry her and I’ll give her all what I got. I promise you.”
Smoky City was located behind the foothills of Kansas. It had been called also Mugu Town as the center of Kansas wilderness. It was hot and isolated. A population of one thousand, spread itself along the main street of Mallard and across the threshold that made up the train station. In 1868, it was excited. Hard working people had made permanent home here. It had a bar, whorehouses and taverns, where the wiser people around the community were making a living. At Golden England Tavern the cowboys and the strangers got there to listen La Belleza of New Mexico. She had that silky voice which was unusual in a place like Golden England Tavern. She attracted the people and she was rewarded for it. Soon after Short Fingers had made his appearance through the Old Cemetery everyone in the Mugu Town knew who he was. Short Fingers ignored them and their gazes. Their interest was growing and growing when he made a stop at Golden Tavern.
A group of dirty looking men wearing their pistols across their bodies stared at him He noticed they were single-handed killers. Strange fellows with their own greatness. They watched him openly.
A moment later their intensity of their looks seemed to be reduced a little; but there was still the danger. Short Fingers knew that.
The tavern was full. The five card tables were filled and the bets were good. Each table was controlled by the lead man. His name was Grizzly Kimball. Short Fingers knew the cards and some dirty tricks he had learned along the way. He was magnetic in the way he acted. He asked for rooms and meals. He planned to stay for five days only. His lonely star had told it to him. Five days only. If nothing would happen during these five days he must get back to Nurue. That was the promise..
“Five dollars including meals,” the tavern woman said, looking at the young face of Short Fingers. “Any women?”
“No women. But I’d like you send somebody to feed my horse and to wash my clothes.”
“There will be two extra dollars, sweetheart.”
“I will put it all together tomorrow.”
“This isn’t a stage. Beside La Belleza will sing tomorrow.”
Short Fingers understood. He thought to get some work in a construction company for a few days and made the differences. He had done that before in Virginia and he had come up enthusiastically well.
He looked at the tables. There was plenty of money. So he went on to template how his luck was.
A dirty blond man looked at him. “Boys do not allow among men,” he said, disgusting about the presence of Short Fingers.
Short tried to avoid Matthew’s brother, Samson, a man who loved to carry two pistols and a dart. So much at first that only from his experience Short Fingers had learned a man like Samson had only a purpose in mind to be noticed and the ability to kill could be challenged. “Did you hear me, boy? Go play with horses!” Short Fingers moved to the other table. “Hey, that table is belongs to us too.”
The crowd looked at him. They began to laugh. Grizzly Kimball did not. Samson had become a showman. He told Short Fingers during that excitement that he was going to beat him. Short Fingers opened the bag made of rabbit’s skin and brought up his two old Colt belt and adjusted it around his waist. They kept on laughing. Samson joked it, and the audience followed Samson, the second of Grizzly Kimball. “You must use them, boy. I will not hesitate.”
In order to be able to make it right, Short Fingers had to step backward. He did it. And then he remained there. His self-control was extraordinary.
“You fool!” Samson yelled, then he turned his arms like a stormy light. He had done it like the most skilled gunman so far seen in the tavern. There was no mistake. Perfect move. Samson knew now that he had it. He squeezed the triggers. He did not make it. All illusion was in his head. One bullet hit him directly to his forehead. He still had that reflection of looking at Short Fingers. He tried to figure how that happened. It did not make sense. He just saw a hand jerked back in seconds. It was all.
Samson fell back.
Short Fingers did not see a threat. Now, Short Fingers’ pistols were still out.
Those presents looked at him. That man so young, so skilled. It was making them to wonder. That way. That movement. They remembered one like him. Who?
Short Fingers made on his way to the vacant chair. He put his five dollars on the table.
“It’s a hundred apiece.”
“It’s covered,” Short replied coolly. Grizzly Man stared at him. “I’ve seen you somewhere, boy. What is your name?”
Short took the cards and massaged them and with such beautiful movements of his hands and fingers and wrists he began to spread cards. “Frank Short. They call me Short Fingers.”
They exchanged looks among them. Yet Short could not dismiss the crowd lightly or the brother of Samson. Matthew was calm; he was seated across the table. He got only a single pistol and he was a left-handed killer.
“It cannot be.”
Short Fingers glanced at him. He came to be the leader of bands of the cowboys and killers.
“I am!” Shorts Fingers glanced back at his cards and then he bet. “Four hundred!”
“A man by the name of Xavier could not be your father.”
“He was,” Short Fingers said, but his thoughts were drifting back and forth to the second man who had accepted the bet and he halted shortly with three hundred twenty-five. He looked at him. Short knew he had nothing.
“Five hundred more!”
Short Fingers was on. He knew he was the man. There were more calls. Grizzly Man stared at the boy. Two players gave up. One handled his chips. Two kings. Short Fingers looked at him. His cards were settled.
“It cannot be.”
“All players have that sense of being the best, Mister. I have mine.”
Short Fingers nodded. “I got it then.”
And then there was a series of looks. For a few seconds, no one spoke. Short Fingers knew it would come soon. He was not interested about the money now, but about them. They closed their eyes on him. His eyes moved to their faces. A gun cocked; the glinting of the glass reflected the danger and the speed of them.
Short Fingers pulled the money. He counted them. A face groaned. Short’s eyes expertly flicking from that face to the crowd; then from Grizzly Man who knew Short Fingers’ father somewhere, he halted. It was too late. Short Fingers alerted. Suddenly he tensed, and for a second there was a concert of bullets.
As the smoked faded off, Shorts Fingers stood up; his steady old colts hot. An invitation that there was none to face him.
Slowly, he retrieved back his old Colts. He put then the money in his rabbit’s skin bag. He got up and walked to the counter and paid in full the tavern woman. “Don’t forget to feed my horse, good woman.”
She did not reply. She just looked at him always with that mysterious expression across her face.
Short Fingers was bathed and with his stomach filled with pork, wild rice, potatoes, and sweet jam. He sat on the chair looking out of the street from his room. He was pensive; he seemed unaware of the sounds coming from the streets or those people walking along the main avenue and with on definite time to get up. His thoughts were on Nurue now, and his destiny.
Two days passed. Short Fingers kept his promises. Five days, he would be gone. He did not come out of the room. All the food had been brought in by the tavern woman’s servant. But the rumor was still there. Many times he had refused people who wanted to speak with him. Some bosses wanted him to do jobs for them. Being the sheriff. Being a lawman. He refused all of them before it had been materialized. He would carefully cancel everything that was not inside that promise.
At night he visited his horse. Both of them were seen walking to the edge of the town or quietly looking at the moon. He then said good-night to Co and moved to his room.
The five days passed.
It was over.
Short Fingers was awoke. He washed his face and wore clean pants and shirt. He asked for the tavern woman that he wished to take his breakfast in the salon. Eggs, bacon, beans, bread, and a big glass of milk. “I will leave today, and I want to know how much I owe you, good woman.”
“You already paid me.”
“No matter. It will be part of my horse and my honesty.”
She did not reply. She stood there. Looking at him.
“I knew your father.”
Short did not answer. He kept eating. And then he said, “I see all of them knew my father.”
“Did you hear me?”
“I heard you, good woman. Now go, please.”
“You could be my son. The son I’ve dreamed about.”
Short Fingers rose his head and looked at her. “Had you known him so well to give him a child?”
“You were just one of many.”
“I met your father when he was almost dying at Spring Curb. He was then when he told me about his wife.”
Short Fingers began to eat. There was no temptation to know more of that past. He did not want to hear it. The promises of the five days would be over and he would be then with Nurue. That was what he would care.
At that moment, unaware of anyone, and with such stillness, Sheriff McCarthy walked in; he was followed by a dozen men.
It was then that Short Fingers noticed the changes in the room He looked at the tavern woman.
“You should move away from me. My destiny has arrived. As it had arrived when my father met you that fatal day. Now that story made sense. My mother knew it but they didn’t care.”
“You must know that your father killed his brother. My first husband. As you did it in self-defense.”
Short stared at her. She stared back. Her eyes were serene, pure.
“I know that story. Papa had told me once. I didn’t believe when he told to me.”
“I can speak with him.”
“That is not your destiny, woman.” Short Fingers lifted the glass of milk and dunk. There was a lot of series glances toward them. Short sensed the feeling, “Goodbye, and thank you for sharing your past with me.”
McCarthy with a wrinkling face looked at Short Fingers. He was the man who had put him three bullets in his body. He got up and walked to Short’s table. “This time, I am going to see you die, Frank Short.”
“Why don’t you leave him alone?”
“Stay away from it, Elizabeth.”
Short Fingers finished drinking his milk. He looked at him. “Mr. Freemont McCarthy, I could not afford to come close to death at this time. It would be a pain. Someone is waiting for me. After all, my life is not what you are after but a past to be settled. It’s going to cost you.”
“Your father isn’t here, and I spent all my life to find you. Until now. It is coming by this. You killed my son. So, there will be only one left.”
Short looked at the twelve men. “That’s why you brought all of them?”
“Yes. I want to be sure.”
“Well. That’s your call.” He got up. He began walking pensively down the corridor to the street. Outside he stood in the middle of the street. He noticed now six of them were coming out of Golden England Tavern.
He opened the rabbit bag and took out his old colts. He decided to make it as quickly as possible, almost brute.
The six men spread out. The people of the town looking at them with curiosity, then they realized there would be a shooting. They sought refuge, watching them behind the blinds.
The sun was blinding him, but Short Fingers did not have the intention to move. He pulled forward his Mexican sombrero to reveal the six men. Quickly, his hands jerked back and forth, giving an even greater impression he did not move his arms or hands. But six men had fallen back.
The tavern’s door opened as they started to walk away from the tavern across the street toward Short Fingers.
They knew there was their destiny. That the functional narrow of Short was compelling to his father’s personality was responsible why they were here. But they knew also, they were better than him. In their own logic, they would be able kill him. They exchanged looks among themselves. It might be one action. And nothing else.
They did it. Six bullets were heard. As the six men fell on their own knees. Urgently now, Short Fingers started to load his pistols. A bullet was heard. Short Fingers thought it would come. He threw himself on the dirty ground and rolling.
McCarthy did not play with as a gentleman. He did not want Short Fingers to load his pistols. He was shooting toward Short as he was trying to load his pistols. Five bullets were heard. The lawman hesitated for a moment. He glanced down at Short Fingers who was still on the ground; then shook his hand again. His pistol sounded empty.
Short Fingers got up slowly, looking at him. He said nothing. His eyes on McCarthy’s face. “That was the way you and your brothers and the others killed my old man? And the way you put three bullets in my body. See, you are not strong enough to change my destiny, Freemont. Not call himself a brave man before my dad.”
“Go to hell!”
“You have a second loaded gun, lawman. I need you use it.”
The lawman gestured sharply for his loaded gun. He got it and without waiting
for a second tip he squeezed it. His hand twisted back. He stared slowly at Short. His eyes dazzled. He looked dead into Short’s eyes. Still staring. McCarthy stepped forward as he opened his mouth.
“You are not real, boy!”
Short received him, holding him, and looked at his eyes. “You just look like the real boy, Mister. I promised Mom I’ll do all under my power to find you.” A bullet was heard. Short stepped back as McCarthy’s body falling slowly to the ground.
Short Fingers turned and began to walk. He halted. He looked at the tavern woman and smiled slightly. He touched gently his right side and there was a red spot. Then he looked ahead.. He noticed the spacious land. He called his horse. But Co was already besides him. “Let’s go home, Co. My destiny is flicking out.”
At the first try, he missed the jump. Co turned his neck toward him and stared at him.
“I’m alright, old friend. I will make it.” He jumped on Co’s back and held. Without looking at the tavern, he kicked Co’s sides. The horse raised his body and then kicked back, then he moved forward, with that strength and vigor – as Short knew he would make too – to Ferret Mountain, to Nurue.