To see all content, you will need the current version of Adobe Flash Player.

Homepage Poems 1 Photos West Photos Chicago Rants and life story Videos Wisdoms Fiction 

Fiction

Click here to edit the textThe King of Adobe Town By Jim Coates "Can ya throw a damned rope this morning or do ya need more time to throw up?", said Squawk to Outfit that life changing day in May of 1950 as they drove just south of Wamsutter at the edge of Wyoming's immense Red Desert Outfit, slumped in the shotgun seat but careful not to scuff his Tony Lama boots on the chains and tools laying on the floorboards, winced. "I can rope fine, and I don't need no Goddamned skypilot preachin' from the like of you." Squawk squawked back, "We got a line on maybe a couple dozen cayuses down Adobe Town way and we're gettin' a late start cuz you was barfing your guts out since day break." "You're gettin' to be a God damned alcoholic." "And you're turning into a Goddamned Skypilot," fumed Outfit using the term the two cowboys shared to describe evangelical Protestant ministers. These mustang hunting partners known around southern Wyoming as Squawk and Outfit had real names, of course, but if any of us ever heard those proper Christian handles we forgot them long ago. Maybe even Squawk and Outfit themselves had forgotten their own necktie names. Over the years Squawk and Outfit had harvested wild horses in and around the Red Desert country of southern Wyoming. Whole herds of the mustangs they caught went into stew pots in France, glue vats in Denver and dog food cans in St. Louis. A few lucky animals got sold for rodeo herds and used for bronc riding events. Mustang hunting wasn't as hard as being an actual mustang but it was hard. It also was dangerous, uncomfortable and downright unpleasant. Squawk and Outfit loved every minute of it. Outfit, dressed in a full set of cowboy couture from Stetson hat and red bandanna up top to those Tony Lama ostrich skin boots below, didn't feel like talking that morning so he didn't. However the scrappy and fashion conscious horseman did entertain a brief fantasy of picking up the pipe wrench laying on the truck's floor board below his feet and giving Squawk a richly deserved whack "upside the head" as they used to say. Squawk also decked himself in cowboy style but a bit down style with a hat so mashed you couldn't tell a Stetson from a stove pipe up top and badly scuffed JC Penny Acme boots below. Several miles of silence followed. Miles of silence was and is part of the Cowboy Code. "It's gonna be a bear bitch of a day, amigo," said Squawk finally. "Yup." Another long silence ensued as their rig of a half ton Chevy pickup truck and horse trailer moved from the blacktop Baggs road onto a two rut dirt track across the desert landscape. The tires threw up alkali dust and occasionally crunched over a sagebrush, filling the dusty air with the distinct sweet musk of the plant's leafs. Soon bands of white hills began to appear on the far horizon. The morning air was still cold but already the sun's attack from the cloudless cobalt sky was felt through the sand pocked windshield. Squawk hit a rock and the truck and trailer bucked like one of the broncs they were tailing. "Goddamn Harry S Truman Democrats," said Outfit. "They're doing a piss poor job with their road work." "Are you gonna make it, partner?" added Squawk after glancing at the man in the shotgun seat glaring his way. If looks were arrows, Outfit would have let enough loose to put Squawk in the running for the Saint Sebastian Martyr pincushion award. "You just do the driving and I'll handle the ropin'", said Outfit. "That is," he added, "unless you wanna try tossing a lariat and ridin' the meanest sumbitchin' quarter hoss ever ate grass off this Goddamn sorry dry desert." "Maybe I can; Maybe I can't," replied Squawk in the grating high pitched voice that was part of why he had the nickname. The bickering cowboys in the beat up rust coated Chevy short cab had loaded the pickup's bed with maybe a dozen worn out truck tires, a few logging chains and several rolls of mean looking large spiked barbed wire. They pulled a dilapidated livestock trailer holding saddles, bridles, saddle blankets and two splendid riding horses, animals far too fine for the dirty work that lay ahead. Squawk's statuesque black Morgan took up three quarters of the trailer's leg and butt room leaving Outfit's well-combed Quarter Horse to squeeze in the remaining space. "I was talkin' to some guys at the bar last night," said Outfit a few bumpy miles later and after his whisky soured stomach settled down a bit. "They said they are geologists huntin' uranium around here to make them Goddamn atom bombs like we dropped on the Japs in '45 "What's that got to do with hay prices and hangovers?" asked Squawk. "They was talkin' about just the same country where we're finding hosses. They said that soon as they got done countin' something called geigers they'd open a uranium mine and run the rest of us off the countryside." "Them and what army? retorted Squawk, "Them and the United States Army," answered his friend and partner. "They said it was a matter of national security to probably run us off so they can guard the uranium mine they're gonna find." "Well that's plain stupid talk, Outfit," said Squawk. "Any damned fool knows that the whole state is covered with uranium. It's that yellow shit mud with a touch of red comin' out of the ground all over these badlands." "I told 'em just that, partner, and they said I better keep my lip zipped 'cuz talking about uranium coming out of the ground would be bad for national security and give aid and comfort to the Ruskies." "Goddamn," squawked Squawk More silence ensued for many more bumpy miles as they mulled over atom bombs and uranium mines and drove down the wagon road leading to a stunning place called Adobe Town. As they neared the naked outcrops of house-high hills the ground became hard and pretty much eggshell white, bare of grass and covered with cracked dried mud. The mud had washed down hundreds of small hills that were made up of alternating bands of easily crumbled white and reddish rock, a layer cake cooked by God over 40 million years. It was called badlands and here at Adobe Town the landscape lived up to its name. And, as Squawk already had noted, there were big sweeping outcrops of yellow uranium ore washed out all through the hills. Locals called these stair stepped turrets of dried mud and rock the Haystack Hills because that's what they looked like from a distance and because the hoity toity Wyoming game wardens, Federal forest rangers and such insisted on calling it Adobe Town instead. The ice and water washing for hundreds of centuries through rock and mud of differing heft sculpted blocks and spires and curves and holes and hills random as Rorschachs. The landscape changed shape as the sun glared across the sky from the long shadows of morning to the harsh sparkling of high noon and the comforting cool of evening. A rock line that looked like a castle keep at dawn looked like a jumble of gravel under the high sun. A haystack became a barn. Dark shadows that created cavernous holes brightened until nothing remained but a few lines of pencil thin rock. Reds grew green then yellow then eggshell shifting shapes from morning to moonlight. When wet, which was pretty rare and mighty awful, the crumbling rock and washed out dirt became slick as a slice of raw bacon sliding on a porcelain stovetop. It was so slippery that even a well-shod 700 pound horse would slide on it. The Mexican sheepherders who grazed bleating herds of wool rats (also known as sheep) along the edges of the badlands called the wet ground ”puerco," which means pig fat. The Mexicans also refused to say Adobe Town. To them it was El Puerco. It was 1950. Cars still had huge black tires and stub-rounded lines. Nobody had heard of rock and roll. Many people, albeit few in Wyoming, still mourned the loss of FDR. Nobody seemed to like Truman. Squawk was 29 years old; Outfit 26. The Cold War was just rumbling to life. The U.S. had won the hot war in 1945 by dropping a pair of uranium-based nuclear bombs called Big Boy and Fat Man on Japan's cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Making these bombs required huge amounts of uranium ore and the ready supply had pretty much petered out by the late 1940s. Now the uranium obsessed Pentagon brass and President Truman's other power pals were eyeing Adobe Town as though it were Cibola, the legendary city of Inca gold said to lie north of the Rio Grande. Even before the Big War started at Pearl Harbor in 1941 a small group of cowboys who pretty much hated cows had been eking out a living capturing and selling the wild horses that ran in herds by the thousands across the dry dirt dune dappled landscape. These mustangs were a motley ill-shaped lot for the most part. They were everything from mixed mule-draft horse breeds to giant Holsteins mixed with cow ponies and carriage teams. They were disfigured by mange and covered with blow flies, horse flies and, worst of all, deer flies that burred in the hair, bit and held on with a bloodsucking hellish vengeance. Conquistadors' horses had fled into the hills of northern Mexico and New Mexico in the late 1500s and were at first pure bred Spanish Mustangs. For centuries they cavorted about the big Western realm that with a little help from Manifest Destiny would become the United States of America. Over time various settlers let loose or lost large numbers of horses of many a mixed breed. Over 500 years these animals cross mated and grew into huge herds that became evermore mongrelized. One of the biggest of the Wyoming herds roamed a sprawling chunk of federal land about 80 miles north and south and another 80 miles east to west called the Red Desert. It was land open to the public and became a huge play ground for motorized free range roustabouts like Squawk and Outfit. And so was set the stage for the saga of Adobe King, the legendary strapping Palomino Stallion monarch of Wyoming's Red Desert mustang herd. So too was set the epic of cow-hating cowboys Squawk and Outfit and two pure breed horses. The partners had reached a favored hunting spot behind a sandy hill that stood less than 200 yards from a crude wooden sheep and cattle watering trough that was kept filled by a windmill pump. "Same rig and same gig, right Partner?" said Outfit as he backed his athletic sorrel Quarter Horse off the trailer. Outfit called the beautiful animal "Hoss." Squawk nodded and slung the saddle over his powerful black Morgan, a huge roan with a temper as sweet as Outfits' Quarter Horse was mean. Squawk called this beautiful animal "Hoss" as well. The dusty duo of cowboys sans cows led the two horses named "Hoss" down a gully where they couldn't be seen from the water hole. Mounted and hunkered behind greasewood they waited for enough mustangs to gather at the watering hole. If they could get a crowd of 25 animals give or save a few they had a good chance of driving several into one of the deep arroyos that were common as cactus in the water-carved countryside. "Here comes a couple," whispered Squawk to his partner." Neither man much pondered stuff like Eocene paleontology, geology or erosion patterns but they were great fans of these fossil filled badlands riddled with washed out box canyons that made superb horse traps. "Okay, partner, let me know when to cut lose," Outfit responded. He then slipped quietly down into the wash and mounted up. Then he waited crouched forward like a nervous cowboy in the chute for steer roping at some rodeo. Deer flies and horse flies chewed at the tops of his hands and ears, the only body parts uncovered by his gear of Stetson hat, paisley scarf, brocade vest, slim fit Western shirt, Levis and name brand boots. Outfit, who got his nickname for such flamboyant getups, sat and fumed. And fumed. He made another doomed vow to stop drinking. After nearly an hour a couple dozen mustangs had crowded around the small wood trough. Squawk gave the go sign and Outfit bolted from the wash and with a hoot, a holler and a twirling lasso started the chase. Meanwhile Squawk goaded his big horse to follow in the smaller Quarter Horse's wake to force the herd to move towards the right and into the nearest box canyon mouth. In a quarter hour they forced roughly a dozen animals into the trap. Outfit rode back to the truck and drove it over the sage and creosote bumps of desert while Squawk sat at the canyon mouth his big horse keeping the mustangs from escaping their confinement. Now came the work that the two men found to be the fun part of their tough trade, the roping and holding of individual mustangs. With the big Morgan blocking escape through the canyon mouth Outfit used a different rope for each animal, leaving the lariat around to drag on the ground for a few minutes.From a stack of two dozen worn out truck tires in the bed of the pickup Outfit grabbed one at a time and each time dismounted to tie the heavy tire to the lariat he had tossed around each horse's neck. It was a brutal afternoon as the tireless Quarter Horse helped his whiskey exhausted rider capture eleven mustangs by tying a tire to each. Had any rodeo fans been granted the pleasure to watch the expert riding, roping and other horse play they would have been blessed with a look at some of the best bronc roping to be had anywhere. But the cruel tire hobbles would have ruined the whole sporting part of the show. Each tire-tied horse dragged slowly about the confined space with the heavy tire snagging in rocks or brush. With their burdens attached the mustangs couldn't go far. While the terrified animals dragged about the area the two men quickly built a corral using a half dozen posts and 5 strings of barbed wire at the canyon mouth. By the time they had dug six seriously deep post holes, put in and six posts and strung, stretched and stapled multiple strands of long tooth barbed wire Squawk and Outfit were two mighty tired wranglers. Finally the partners left their own horses at the watering place, crawled into their beat up Chevy and bounced their way back to Wamsutter. Forty miles and an hour later they spoke again. "Reckon that was one hell of a goddamn day's work, eh?" Squawk observed. "I hurt in places tonight that I didn't even know were bolted onto my ass until now," said Outfit. "Yeah, but hey pardner, we now got us 11 mutt cayuses with maybe 7,000 pounds of meat on the hoof and almost all the work already done. And that, old friend, is about as good as gettin' three sevens on the slots down at the Silver Spur," said Squawk. The two Cayuse chasing compadres wouldn't know the roundup which felt so happy and prosperous at the time, marked the spot where their stories became desert Dantesque.We'll get to that shortly. Meanwhile, unaware of the onrushing tipping point Outfit found his way to the bar and another session bending elbows with those well rested government geologists with the Geiger counters and sundry other radiation sampling gear. Squawk dragged his slightly older body off to a light supper of scrambled eggs and canned oyster stew and then he crawled into his bed at the change-your-own-sheets-if-you-got-them Red Desert Motel. It wasn't long before a bedraggled and boozed out Outfit crawled into the other single sized bed in their $6 a night room. It had, indeed, been one of the Goddamnedest most exhausting days in either man's life. Squawk and Outfit's Mustang Morality Tale began for keeps the next morning when they trudged down to Oldman Trucking to rent a semi tractor trailer rig to move the short dozen of captured horses to the holding pens in Rawlins, roughly 60 miles due southeast. At the trucking outfit they encountered Vincent Tree, a bleary eyed, corpulent and sickly man of thirty two summers, each of which, it seemed already had left its own wrinkle on his face and neck. Tree was widely considered in those rough and tumble years of post World War II Wyoming to be a royal pain in the ass. He also was an ace photographer. "Good mornin' boys," said Tree, leaning up against the truck company's counter as though it were a saloon rail."Hey, Knot Head," responded Squawk, "back atcha; how's you doing? Caught any bull lately?" "Just fine; mighty fine, in fact," said Tree while he took his expensive 8x10 inch Speed Graphix camera out of the canvas bag slung over a shoulder nearly as deep as a Mississippi cotton picker's bag. By trade Tree made photographs that tended to invent and/or glorify aspects of a colorful old West that had never existed except in the pulp pages of Western magazines and dime novels, which were going for closer to a quarter than a 10 cents during the prosperous early 1950s. "I hear you got yourselves a truckload and maybe more of mustangs out the Baggs road," said Tree. "So I got a proposition for you fellas." "When pigs fly," said Squawk. "I got a proposition for you," added Outfit. "Take a picture of my ass and a picture of your face and we'll see if people can tell the difference." Tree was a gifted photographer. So good, in fact, that when he showed you his work you felt the need to tell him how good he was. Then, without fail. he'd spoil the whole thing by agreeing that he was indeed brilliant and then telling you just how brilliant--at great length. Any fool, it was generally agreed, ought to know how to take a compliment better than that. An so "Knot Head" became Tree's handle. The genius known as Knot Head often worked his celluloid and silver magic at the expense of the dignity of whichever current cowboy types he could persuade to pose for him in these flights of black-and-white-on-Kodak-paper fantasy. Last year at the Gypsum County Fair, Tree got three of the best bull riders in the country to pose for him using staged rides on ordinary yearling steers. With these expert riders on relatively docile yearling steers the photographer could get close enough to capture dramatically clear pictures of each rider being bucked. Nobody could ever get that close when real bulls roared and revolved out of the chutes. Then Tree took the negatives into the darkroom where he used his magic enlarger to paste over the images of those docile steers actual Brahma bulls kicking and twisting like monsters out of hell. Tree's photo fictions got a great ride in newspapers on both coasts and ones as close as the Denver Post and the Mormons' Deseret News in Salt Lake.Tree had received a generous $250 fee for the tricked out pictures from the newly formed Amalgamated Telegraph Service and, as promised he handed over $25, which was 10 per cent of the windfall, for the riders to split among them. The night they were paid these boys bought a round for the house at the Silver Spur and bragged that they each had made no less than $8.33 in carousing cash from the job. It turned out to be the worst $8.33 any of the riders ever earned. When copies of the fake pictures reached the Gypsum County Republican Rustler that newspaper printed pictures of the riders aboard the yearlings alongside the tricked out picture showing Bahamas instead, Randy Barker, the local gunsmith was sitting at his customary spot at the corner of the battered oak bar top and started things rolling, "Hey fellas, what's the difference between these boy's bull riding and bull shittin'?" "I''ll tell you all," Barker laughed. "The difference 'tween bull ridin' and bull shittin' is eight dollars and thirty three cents." It's not always just an idiom. The erstwhile bull riders really were "laughed out of town.” They eventually signed on with local ranchers for winter-long fence building jobs in the most remote precincts of the wind blown county. If you could have bottled the rage each of these three humiliated cowhands felt for the perfidious photographer named Tree you would have had more power than an atom bomb. No uranium required. And so it was that the rudeness Squawk and Outfit heaped on Knot Head was understandable, perhaps admirable. The two partners signed the rental papers for the big livestock truck and left the office with the photographer on their heels. "Come on fellas, at least give me a listen," asked Knot Head. "All I need is to take a little picture of a mustang." pleaded the pioneer of what in a few years would be called paparazzi work, "Just one little hoss picture." The mustangers kept walking and Tree wailed, "Okay, I'll tell ya what's up. I got a deal, a very big deal with Mr. Lowell Thomas to put together a traveling show about the vanishing animals of the Wild West." Squawk expressed an intent to administer a barbed wire enema unless Tree went away. "Look I got a contract for pictures. I will pay you boys $50 apiece to take me out to make pictures of your mustang hunt," pleaded Tree. Meanwhile Outfit had cogitated up a plan not only to strip Tree of a bunch of money but to also get some payback for the three ruined bull riders. One of the three was his little brother. He had kept this familial tie so close to the vest that not even Squawk knew."Let's take him along for a ride out to Adobe Town," said Outfit. pretty much stunning his partner. "Why in blisterin' fumin' hellfire would ya wanna do that?" asked Squawk. "You can't trust the sumbitch for nothin. Fifty dollars my ass," "Well it ain't like we got anything else goin' today except some easy work loadin' hosses and drivin' to Rawlins," said Outfit. Outfit also gave Squawk the slight yet knowing nod which said "trust me on this." It often came in handy during poker games and negotiating prices for the horses they captured and sold for a living.The partners agreed to stop for a cup of coffee while Knot Head got his vehicle and equipment together. So Knot Head drove his own small pickup and followed Squawk in the mustangers' half ton Chevy and Outfit in the big rented rig all the way down the Baggs road to the bumpy trail over tire busted sagebrush. They reached the livestock trailer left the day before and were happy to see their respective Hosses grazing the slim pickings of grass not far away. Knot Head burbled with gratitude as he took in the sweeping pastel beauty and complexity of the shape shifting lands in and around Adobe Town. "Thank you, boys," he shouted. "You're not going to regret doin' this. I by God, by gee by gee jillika whiskers promise you that." Knot Head was so excited by the artistic possibilities unfolding around him that he failed to notice that both Squawk and Outfit had become far more cordial when the small caravan arrived at the makeshift corral. "We're countin' on ya, Vinnie," said the formerly antagonistic Squawk with a smile, using Knot Head's actual first name for the first time in decades. "Ain't this just plain damn beautiful as any picture you ever took, Vinnie?" added Outfit. Next came the show where the cries of the tire hobbled mustangs were getting ever more quiet as time took its toll. Over the next hours the photographer exposed plate after plate as the day's work played out. Outfit had first entered the makeshift corral and as the first image was made he and Knot Head discovered that one of the animals had collapsed after the tire had snagged on a stand of brush. This sadly injured horse thrashed about on the ground in hopeless efforts to escape and had dug a pitiful triangle of churned ground. Outfit cut the rope to the tire and the dazed horse gradually worked its way into a painful sitting pose and then rose on colt wobbly legs as the rest of the ruthless rodeo played out. One by one, the horses were freed from the tires and the two wranglers held each with what is called "Dallywhips," or securing a rope about the saddle horn leaving enough play to allow adjustments as the captive animal tried to bolt one way or another. Then with the Morgan pulling in front and the Quarterhorse hazing the animal alongside each was pulled across the hundred feet of ground to the big truck and loaded aboard with much hoof pounding, horse screaming and truck rocking. Knot Head's well-used Speed Graphix captured each of these moves in crystal clear black and white making the day as productive for his own enterprise as it had been for that of Squawk and Outfit. As the end neared it became clear that the last of the mustangs loaded was going to be the herd's stallion, a Naples yellow palomino somewhere in size between Squawk's Morgan and Outift's Quarter Horse. The stallion was trapped by a steep wall of red rock deep in a stand of sagebrush. His wild white mane framed the head like a crown proclaiming him King of Mustangs. His huge and even more white tail dropped majestically down his back like a monarch's ermine tipped robe. Knot Head knew a money shot when he saw one and so he rushed to set up a tripod and catch an image of the mighty palomino in that storybook pose as it glared out of the box canyon with flared nostrils and the fierce glare of an imperial desert despot. With the photo plates exposed Knot Head strode out of the canyon and told the two wranglers that he'd catch up with them in a few days and then left, barely concealing his desire to rush home to his darkroom and develop perhaps the best image he ever had made. Adobe Rex, as Knot Head named the stallion, made a storybook photo that captured the spirit of the wild mustangs, the moxie of the wranglers who stalked them and the very soul of the ever less wild West. The big black and white negatives yielded gigantic prints suitable for hanging on a wall to show not just the splendorous animal but the wondrous landscape of Adobe Town itself. The image was so iconic that Knot Head knew he had the biggest winner of his life. In the past when he came up with items like the doctored bronc riders, he had simply sent the prints to Denver and Salt Lake on the trains. Not this time. This time he carefully rolled a few jumbo sized prints into a cardboard tube, made backup copies of negatives and climbed aboard the Union Pacific train to Cheyenne and then down to Denver and thence, he assumed, up to the stratosphere of fame and fortune. Knot Head had carried the dream of this day in his heart of hearts since he got his first Kodak Brownie. That had been during the worst of the Dust Bowl Great Depression. Hay fever from hell had been his lot during most of every wind blown summer. This caused two things: First, Knot Head had been unable to join the other kids in sports such as baseball, riding and calf roping. Second, thanks to the cool relatively pollen free confines of the local library, a gift from Mr. Andrew Carnegie, he became a well read broad spectrum allergic teenager who dreamed of recognition in the worlds of big city newspapering in cities like Denver and Salt Lake camera. And beyond the daily newspapers he developed a serious hankering for placing work in major photo oriented magazines like Life or Look or even the Saturday Evening Post. Beyond that awaited the book publishers of Chicago and even New York City. Knot Head may have been weak and timid in the company of his peers--like Squawk and Outfit--but he was far from lazy. He wore that first Bownie down to scrap metal and cheap Bakelite plastic. Several more cameras, each a bit better, also bit the dust as he developed into a skillful black and white photographer. Bedeviled by his birthright as a weak lunged kid living in a watering spot on the Union Pacific railroad, Knot Head now was into his thirties and eked out a living with his trusty plate camera. He made the photos for the yearbooks at the local high school and did spot work at sports events and rodeos. And there were the pretty rare but pretty well-paying wedding pictures he made whenever a kid from one of the better off families took the long walk down the aisle. An occasional request from the editor of the Rawlins Republican Rustler at $2 per image rounded out his income stream. It was enough for food, film and fun, such as Knot Head ever had any fun. Hard times led to hard choices and for Knot Head that led to some seriously tabloid type schemes to make a few dollars and get noticed by the big timers in Cheyenne and beyond. He just had to get noticed. He thirsted for a way out of this dungeon of a desert known as southern Wyoming. His first success with outsiders came with photos of the "Jackelope," a taxidermist's creation of putting horns of a dead antelope on the stuffed remains of a dead rabbit. It was used to beguile dude tourists from back east places like Chicago. Occasional shots of actual wild life also paid some and fueled his feverish hopes for escape. Knot Head also cooked up an occasional feature photo, like the one last year, where he pasted the faces of bronco busters onto real rodeo bull rides. And now there was Adobe King, the most photogenic ever, a magnificent golden stud framed by the picturesque turret-filled Adobe Town rock formations with a blue sky and puffy clouds above. Adobe King amounted to a ticket out of the Wyoming backwaters and entre into circles of big time big town literati. To keep a short story from becoming overly long, suffice it to say that the editors of the Hearst Newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, snapped up the image for $100 and on the spot gave Knot Head a job as a freelance photographer up in Wyoming At times Knot Head was so happy and excited on the ride back home that he couldn't catch his breath. He grinned into his own reflection in the nighttime black mirror of the train window. He was happy as he had been in many years. All the dismal hours standing over the chemical trays in his tiny home darkroom printing head shots of high school kids finally had paid off. The techniques he learned snapping photos of wildlife dragging his tripod and ultra heavy box cameras through sand dunes and snow banks and fields of thistles had taught the skills he needed to be the Hearst group's camera man in Wyoming. He glowed with pride. His joy was warm as whisky in his empty belly. The once asthmatic loser had become at long last a media powerhouse in terms of the sparely populated scene in southern Wyoming. He was happy. He was proud. But he was Knot Head as ever before when he gave Squawk and Outfit the agreed $50 to split between them. Then Squawk and Outfit closed the trap they had set. After Knot Head bought a round of drinks for the crowd at the Silver Spur and boasted at some length how he got the big media job, the two horse hunters pulled him aside. "Hey Knot Head," said a whiskey scented Squawk, "let's go over to the Chili Palace. After we eat we got something to show you The Chili Palace sat next door to the Silver Spur and over the years a cowboy tradition had evolved of dropping in after closing time at the Spur, the Green Mill or the Tivoli to sop up the booze by eating the heuvos rancheros (ranch eggs) covered with oyster crackers and doused with Tabasco. "After we eat we got something hot to show you," Squawk told Knot Head. "Dang right," said Outfit. "Hotter than a tin roof on the fourth of July." Yeah said Squawk, " It's hotter than the hinges of hell." "Hotter' a whore in the hooskow" added Outfit.""So hot it would make bushes start chasing little dogs." parried Squawk. "Enough with metaphors," shouted Knot Head. "What's a metaphor?" asked Outfit with a grin. "A meta ain't for shit," replied Squawk. The suddenly plush Knot Head paid the tab and tip for the heuvos all three had ordered and wolfed down. They set out for the Union Pacific corrals behind the restaurant. Squawk linked arms with Knot Head's left and Outfit did the same on the right and they guided the bliss besot lens man to a horse barn where a single animal was tied to a post. "Ain't this the Goddamnedest hoss you ever saw. Sadder than a one carriage funeral," said Squawk. "Sicker than a gut shot coyote," said Outfit. Indeed the animal had a hide of mottled dirty grey and his back and ribs were covered with bald spots where blowflies had landed and laid their eggs. His body was about the size of a cow pony but the legs were uncommonly large and untapered with long tufts of hair drooping down to almost cover several very large and cracked hooves. The mustang clearly was the result of miscued mixings with big hoofed Draft horses. "Behold the real Adobe King," said Squawk with a hearty laugh. "Ain't he a beaut?" said Ouftit giving the photographer a slap on the back." "You guys ain't just drunk, you're crazy," responded Knot Head. "That sorry spavined cracked hoofed mutt of a mustang is more than overdue at the glue factory." "We brought you here to show you how we gussied this misbred, mangy hoss into Adobe King," said Squawk. They started by slapping onto the horse's hide huge handfuls of corn meal mixed with water. Moulding the corn meal with thick globs covered the mustang's swayed back and smoothed out the rib cage to create what almost amounted to a statue. They then combed out the animal's Holstein sized mane and whitened it with a sack of lime. Then they removed the bridle and with a dual flourish the partners showed a horrified Knot Head a spitting image of Adobe King. "We hid them hairy busted hooves with sage brush and called you into that box canyon to take your pictures," bragged Squawk. "You were bamboozled as a bastard calf in a stampede," said Outfit. Knot Head's stomach churned so badly he almost lost his heuvos as the horror hit home. His last best hope for release seemed as ill-fated as had the rest of his life, Knowing his everything was at stake Knot Head tried to get the wranglers to keep the ruse a secret.. They refused with dismissive shakes of the head. "Look," said Knot Head finally, "I've got $70 dollars left from my pictures and I'll give you all of it, but for God's sake don't tell.” The tricksters again declined. "We got twice that much selling those mustangs we trucked away that day," said Outfit. "We don't need your damned money and we don't need you around anymore of our roundups," said Squawk. "It's too late to bribe us anyway," boasted Outfit. We don't have big time gear like you do, Knot Head, but we do have a pretty good Brownie and we took pictures of every step along the change." "Let me; let me finish," begged Squawk. "We took them pictures down to the Republican Rustler and Ted O'Brien, the publisher said they were going to print a story about the whole thing." "He was mad as hell about gettin' sandbagged and said he would personally carry the pictures down to the Associated Press in Cheyenne and send them to all the Denver papers, who will be just a mad." "What? Why? My God. Damn you both; damn you both," said Knot Head in a voice that cracked and came out an octave higher than usual. "You bastards just ruined me. Nobody's going do any business after this. What to you expect me to do now?" "Well, "said Squawk and outfit in unison, "We know three cowboys who need help mending fences out in the boonies." Vincent Tree aka Knot Head reached deep into his camera bag and pulled out a cheap 38 caliber pistol, which even then was called a Saturday night Special. He walked over to the made up mockery of a mustang and put a bullet between its eyes. Then he turned and pointed the gun to his own head. "I'll see you in hell,: Knot Head said as he pulled the trigger. Nobody ever looked at Squawk or Outfit the same way again.

FICTION

Mission StatementNot many works posted as Fiction remains more a goal than current jobs done. But I try.

The King of Adobe Town



Return to home page

Return to Home Page