George Washington Galony. To his friends, Wash. To his enemies, Mr. Galony, or Sir. And, they had better tip
their hats in respect. To the ladies, though, any durned thing they wanted, so long as they were smiling, allelu.
* * *
At thirty-four, he was newly freed from the constraints of war and the military. True, the Yankees would be
happy to see him back. At least happy to see him in chains. Yes, and swinging from a rope with his tongue
hanging out and feet kicking. Some folks just have no sense of humor.
Somewhere between that and the war was a too long visit to that Yankee prison camp.
That's where the lust for good food and plenty of it came from. Any cook can take odds and ends and make it food.
It takes an Army cook to know how to ruin prime beef right. Prison cooks only have to know how to boil water. That's
mostly what the meals were made of. Most of the cooks being Army, they managed to ruin even that.
Well, hey, the war was over. Yet certain Yankee officers wouldn't mind making his sentence a permanent one. Good
thing they grabbed that corporal instead of him. Pity for the soiled doves suffering that raid filled his heart.
The house up in Fort Smith, Arkansas, would never look the same.
Such is life.
Brooding on the way things went he shot a glare up at a certain mocking raven and raised a finger, muttering, "Bang.
You're dead, Gramps."
Not amused, the raven shot down to give the brim of the sombrero a hard rap, then sailed away. The buckskin gelding
was unperturbed. He was used to fools like Wash.
This part of West Texas looked pretty innocent, too. Provided you were a complete fool in need of thick glasses and a
dose of castor oil. These few desert counties made all the rest look like a Sunday school picnic. For a man who spent
as much time as he did among the dying and the desperate and the powerful sadistic, it looked okay to Wash.
Mountains towered around them. The grass was thick, trees made the mountains black. A fellow in some goat-ridden village
called these the Sierra Vieja. He peered at them, then pulled a cracked leather tube. One thumb flipped it open.
For all the brass barrel was a little green from being buried for several years, the spyglass worked pretty good. For that
spyglass alone, a man could get his neck stretched. Colonel Chivington would no doubt do it himself. Well, he had the right.
It was his spyglass.
Canyons and brush met the eye. He raised it. Trees. Pines and some oaks, for the most part. Lots of cedars. A frayed noose.
A dead cottonwood tree. Antelope and a longhorn cow—
The glass swung back. For a long moment, Wash was quiet. He urged the horse towards the tree.
It was a little disturbing when he found a likeness of himself tacked to the tree. The tattered remains of a noose swung in the hot air.
Frowning just a hair, Wash decided not to see the noose. The reminder of near-death experience was just a little less than
pleasant. Bones scattered under the tree didn't help. Especially when the gelding made a habit of walking over them. He
leaned from the saddle to tear the poster down.
Another bone snapped and the man winced.
for the murderer of
Wil. A. Butler, Lt.
No, gee. Not thee General Butler's sadistic brat? What a be-dewed shame. And the waste of a good knife.
But, Gramps would agree nobody wants to hang onto the knife used for that reason. For that matter, nobody wanted to hang.
* * *
Over the words was a real bad likeness of Wash.
"Five hundred dollars, gold?"
For a moment, he had a serious thought of turning himself in. That was a lot of money.
"Of all the crap. You ever hear of such trash?" Wash said the horse. "Durned fools. They even got my name
wrong. It happens to be Galony, not Galoony." He scowled over the poster and his neck started to itch.
Refusing to rub out the itch, he said, "Galoony. Makes me sound like a mooncalf. Galony is a respectable
name. Galoony, bah."
The raven jeered and the horse slowly gathered himself for a good buck. The gelding was getting stiff, and
besides, his back was starting to ache. A nice stretch of the muscles would relieve him of both problems.
"Try it and the next to mount you is going to be that ugly crow up there." Not taking his gaze from the
poster, Wash tipped the sombrero at the raven. Casting an innocent look over one shoulder, the horse sighed.
"Don't give me that. I knowed ye since ye was but a suckling foal. Even then you were mean and inclined to fool stunts."
In addition to that jackanapes, Butler, there were a few other names, like Corporal Johnson. Wash scowled.
"Here now. I never."
In the act of reaching for a taste of Wash's boot, the gelding paused and thought better of it. He reached for the other one, instead.
Staring at the paper, Wash booted the horse in the nose and grabbed the saddle horn for a short but exciting ride.
A few crow hops later, the gelding shuddered and uncrossed his eyes. Wash scowled at the poster.
"Butler? The hey. It was them boys in blue that shot him. Even they didn't care for that skunk." Shot him while
Wash was diving out that window after Johnson.
Head under his chest, the gelding tugged at the cinch strap. A shudder ran through his body. Lips distended, he
let go of the strap. It was too tight to loosen anyway, but he had such hope. He sucked in air, lots of air.
Fresh stuff, but this was Texas and the air was almost as hot at the peppers Wash rubbed on the cinch knot.
Seeing the horse's eyes bulging and his breathing grow erratic, the raven dropped to the tree and gave a hopeful croak.
The horse snapped his teeth at him and moaned.
The raven muttered a small laugh.
Just in case it was Comanche or maybe those pesky varmints in the posse closing in, Wash took a quick look around.
The raven laughed again.
"You do that," Wash said. "And when I'm swinging from a tree branch somewhere, why, you just come and laugh all you
want. Maybe you'd prefer Comanche would burn me alive? Be-durn crow."
The raven hissed. Humans, bah. The Comanche weren't into burning people alive. They were worse than that. They
learned a lot, hanging out with the Spanish.
Straightening the wanted poster with a cool snap, Wash read the description.
"Redskin? You would figure with all the injiuns what died fighting on their side they might be a tad more polite."
The raven rolled his eyes and huffed.
"Shut up, Gramps."
Hissing, the raven aimed his beak at Wash's sombrero again. Wash ducked. The raven zipped by, banked hard and
almost wound up in a patch of prickly pear.
"Blamed fool crap." Wash ripped the poster to small pieces. The wind took the remains. "Let's git."
He raised the reins and the gelding glanced back. Teeth bared, Wash pulled a .44. It aimed between the gelding's trembling ears.
Innocent as pie, the horse stepped out. Wash held the gun on him for a full minute more. Just in case.
El Paso was a fine little community situated on the banks of the Rio Grande. It was out of the way and probably
would stay a small, dusty burg all its days. Wash and the horse both were a little on the nervous side. For a town
of its size, people tended to notice strangers. And they weren't the sort a man with his face on a wanted poster
needed looking at him. Shoot first and ask questions later.
"Probably some Yankee, too." Yeah, a Yankee would do it. Hey, they put him in that camp for no good reason, didn't
they? True, when they caught him, he was face down with some blue belly decorating his Jim Bowie. Good thing he
had on his uniform and not the ugly blue one the captain had him in hours before. Yankees had no sense of humor
and tended to hang a man for the least reason. Like spying behind their lines.
Wash sighed over the injustices of this world. He kept his eyes straight and looking at nothing in general. He rode
down the main street right to the biggest saloon in town. Wash slid off admiring a row of scalps decorating the
saloon doors. Next to that was a sign but he decided to ignore it. He threw the gelding's reins across the rail.
The gelding plunged his muzzle into the water trough.
All he was missing was a hump and a bad stink and he could pass for a camel. Well, he already smelled bad.
Wash slid through the doors and into a dim lighting and raucous noise. Frowning, he ducked under a lot of stares and
went to the bar. Both hands on the planks, he offered the bartender his most generous smile.
The man glared at him, then, pointedly, at a sign tacked over his side of the bar. It was a copy of the one by the door.
NOR IRISHER ALLOWED
* * *
"Well, hey," Wash said. "You gonna let that keep you from making a sale?"
Wash straightened. A half-dozen or so ex-slaves sat drinking and gambling. They stared at him, too, and looked real
handsome in those blue uniforms. Wash sighed.
"Look, I just come in from a long ride—"
"Hey, no reason to be unneighborly, is there?"
A cowboy grabbed him by the arm.
"You heard the man, you son of a—"
Wash popped him in the mouth, ducked under a fist, and rammed the man one in the guts. He took a chair and cleared
a little space for himself. A knot of men jumped him.
Chivington's .44 in hand, Wash cracked it down on a floppy sombrero and jumped over them into the arms of a handsome lady.
"Lordy, but this town got some fine lookin' women. I am truly sorry, ma'am, but I can't stay."
He stole a quick kiss and ran for the door.
A few bullets followed him out. He dived for the gelding but the horse was already running. Wash managed to grab a stirrup
and then the horn. He threw himself onto the animal.
A bullet hissed past his head and the gelding jumped to one side leaving him hanging on for dear life. An alley loomed and
the horse raced into it. He came to a halt at a small, friendly looking place, Cantina Casa de Perro.
Wash's Spanish was a little rusty, but the sign was enough to translate for him. Painted on it was a grinning Chihuahua
dog tipping a giant schooner of beer. A mariachi sang about the travails of life and worked his guitar hard. Wash stooped
to enter and the music stopped. They all stared. He killed a wince.
"Can a man get a drink here, or don't you allow a 'breed, either?"
Brown faces stared back. Muttering under his breath, Wash stomped over the clay floor to a table and took a chair.
A lady more girl than woman slipped to the table on bare feet. She waited until he finished pretending not to be looking around.
She moved away and the mariachi strummed his guitar and started singing again.
"Oh, gentle eyes shed many a tear, but her father loves not this poor vaquero."
She came back with a cow horn tankard of beer, brown foam sliding down one side. He dropped a nickel on the table.
"Keep the change."
"Thank you, sir," she whispered, then rushed to the owner to show him. Her father smiled, nodded,
and closed her hand over the coin.
Four beers later, Wash took one out for the gelding. Cool evening air stirred a little dust from the alley. The raven
hopped off the roof, landing on his shoulder. Wash let him take a swallow first. The raven hissed.
Glaring back, Wash said, "Look, Gramps, whiskey ain't good for ye. The doc said so even before ye died."
Muttering to himself, the raven dipped again and the horse snorted, knocking him off Wash's shoulder. The horse
sucked down half. Wash tipped the tankard up for him. The horse licked it clean.
Wash started in to get another for himself. Feeling a little less ornery, he belched. He glanced down the alley.
A man in a floppy, dented sombrero stood in the shadows. All of a sudden, Wash didn't feel so good. Eyes wary,
he moved back into the cantina.
"Girl," he said, beckoning to her. She raced over and he gave her the tankard. "You got a back door to this place?"
Nodding, she pointed at a door where smoke drifted out to scent the air.
"Through the kitchen. There is a door there, in an alley."
"You know anybody who could take my horse 'round back? They got to be careful."
She smiled. "¿Como no?"
Wash gave her two bits and slipped through the kitchen. Three older women were reducing good steak to tiny
pieces, all busy pretending he wasn't invading their territory.
The meat was cooked. He reached for a piece. Just a hair too close for comfort a knife chipped wood near his fingers.
If that wasn't bad enough, the knife was backed up by a little old lady with deadly eyes and a worn wedding band of gold.
"Uh, excuse me, dear hearts. Might a hungry man have a bite?"
The old woman nudged a large piece of meat towards him. Wary for his fingers, he took it, chewing on it while mumbling
his thanks and watching the back doorway.
Somebody whistled. He slipped to the door with the gun drawn. Outside was a very small boy heaving on the reins of the
horse. Keeping to shadows Wash moved out. He gave the boy a penny, winked, and jumped on the gelding's back.
The horse rasped a grunt. At Wash's urging he swung around and stepped down the lane. They passed a corral with a couple
of winsome lady horses in it. Head up, he tried to make their gentle acquaintance and Wash started cursing him.
"Noisy jackass," Wash said, leaning over the horn. "Shut the hey up."
The gelding's head went up again and Wash cocked the .44. The head dropped. Wash shot into the air. He crashed through a
shed roof, crawled out with the gelding laughing at him, and pointed the gun. Some fool cleared his voice and spoke with
a high-tone Southern accent.
"If you please, Mister Galoony, drop it."
Wash looked up to see five soldiers and a lieutenant smiling over the barrels of rifles. And at him, too.
He sighed, dropping the gun.
"Durn nag. Hey, can't I at least shoot him?"
"Well, no." The lieutenant was most apologetic. "I'm sure the captain wouldn't see that as constructive. He is, after all,
proof of your crime, a horse thief. Now, sir, please surrender."
Wash grunted. He held his hands up.
The raven shot down through the dark and rammed his beak into the lieutenant's hat. He shot through the soldiers pecking hard
enough to draw blood. The men fell away cursing and crying out in terror.
Not one to overstay a welcome, Wash dived for gun, then gelding.
"You rip," he shouted, charging after the horse but the animal had a good head start and four long legs that churned dust from the road.
Wash caught up with the horse deep on the right side—meaning Mexico—of the river. He was soaked and
the horse had the reins tangled under the shod hoofs.
* * *
"Serves you right, you dolt."
The gelding gave him a mournful look.
It was past dark and coyotes sang in the brush. There was no sign of pursuit, but that didn't mean the captain
wasn't giving instructions to a pack of varmints dragged out of the saloons. He debated starting a fire while
the gelding picked up a hoof only to plant it on another part of the reins.
Wash pulled a rope from the saddlebags, tying one end around the horse's neck, then relented and changed it from a
noose to a slipknot. And cursed the need. The other end tied among the branches of a mesquite, he pulled the bridle
and saddle. The blanket got slapped in the air till it was a little dry. Enough for a bed, anyway.
He scratched the hair on the horse's back smooth. Rolling up in the saddle blanket with his boots firmly in
place on his feet and the .44 light in his hand, Wash yawned. Next to him, the rifle was ready and he lay
the knife near that. The horse could about see in the dark and his ears and nose were finer than any hound.
On top of that, the raven would only nap and even then be far more alert than any man.
And this part of the Rio was safer than most.
The raven woke Wash to a new day with a hard rap on the hat. Wash came up with the gun out. He scowled, aiming
at the dun. The horse was tangled in the rope, of course.
* * *
The animal shifted, picking up first one hoof, then another. The raven took a moment to flap to the horse's rump
and peck him. Ears back, the dun kicked in protest. The rope tightened around the leg. One iron-shod hoof stopped
a few scant inches from Wash's staring eyes.
Wash frowned. About time for new shoes—Wash ducked to one side. The rope slipped and the hoof knocked the hat
from his head, not the head from his shoulders. Wash jumped up aiming at the dun and the horse grew meek. Just to
show they were all friends, he even farted. The raven croaked in disgust.
The bird jumped and soared, crying a warning.
Not one to hold a grudge, Wash threw the saddle on the dun and cinched it in no time at all.
An arrow flashed by. Three Mescalero in war paint and screaming to high heaven charged through the brush. Bullets
snapped branches from the mesquite.
With a cry all his own, the dun bolted down a trail.
It was then Wash remembered the dun's only redeeming quality. When someone shot at him, he could outrace Pegasus.
Miles into the hills, they were all flagging. One by one, the Mescalero dropped out. The last, a woman, naturally,
pulled up. Wash saw her fade into the trees.
* * *
The dun slowed, stumbling a little. The raven cried and Wash grimaced.
They were heading down into a river valley. Movement showed at each end.
"Durn it. What now?"
Pulling the spyglass, Wash looked from one to the other. One side looked to be a ragtag bunch of Juaristas. The
other, Royal French troops wearing Maximilian's fancy uniforms.
Puffs of white smoke came from each group. Horses charged and thin pops of rifle fire came from the valley.
Wash reined in the dun and turned him to take the long way to Creel.
Grinning from ear to ear, the Apaches popped out of the trees. Their horses were gasping for air, but eager to
play some more. So were the Apaches. Wash sighed. He glanced at the Indians, then back at the fifty or more
soldiers. Badly outnumbered, the Mexicans were dying.
The raven cried a long scream. He dived at the French.
The dun spun and leaped down the trail.
Wash jerked the rifle from the boot.
He aimed. Like Gramps always said, a short life, but a merry 'un.
The Mescalero charged to the verge of the hill watching that idiot race into certain death.
* * *
One man shook his head and tapped a long finger on his temple. The finger circled an ear, but he scowled.
The woman stared at the nutty one with something no proper wife should have in her eyes.
His gentle bride may not have been the prettiest woman from home, but she was about the deadliest and that
made her darn sexy, at least to an Apache. Shrieking hate for Wash, he bolted down the trail.
The dun noted there was an awful lot of bullets zinging around in the valley and tried to angle away from it.
All in Wash's best interest, of course.
Wash booted him and he was about to stop and talk some sense into the jerk's thick head when the Mescalero
raced down the hill. He bolted into the thick of things—it seemed saner than facing Apaches—and
kicked a few of the French out of his way.
Before Wash knew it, they were on the far side and the horse still running.
"Whoa! Whoa, dang it." He sawed on the reins and turned the horse. Wash stilled, frowning. A lot of French
were dying. He peered through the dust. Those three Mescalero had cheerful looks as they slit throats and
chopped away important body parts.
To one side, the rancheros passed around a jug. One man beamed and rode to Wash with the jug.
"A thirsty business, war."
Taking the jug, Wash nodded. He tipped the jug and liquid fire roared down his throat. Coming up for air, he
noted the last dozen French had scattered and the Mescalero looking for more entertainment.
The raven landed on the saddle horn and pecked at the jug.
Wash jerked it way, crying, "How many times I got to tell ye? The doc said no more whiskey."
"Bah! Fool!" The raven hissed and was about to give Wash a hard peck when he stilled, looking over one shoulder.
Golden eyes widened.
A Mescalero paused. Another one leaned forward and dropped the French soldier he was about to finish and hopped
on a fresh horse. The raven croaked in terror and flapped away.
With a friendly smile, Wash handed back the jug.
"Much thanks, friends," he said and the horse bolted from the field of battle with the Mescalero hot on his tail.
But, the rest is another story.