“Ratabaugh!” an authoritative voice called from behind a dust-covered figure in a leather vest and levis. John Ratabaugh spun around with his hand on his colt. He relaxed when he saw Lieutenant Murphy.
“That’s a good way to get shot, Murph.”
“Not by you, you’re too damned selective,” the tall skinny man in a blue uniform laughed. He started to touch Ratabaugh on the shoulder, saw the dust and thought better of it. He fluttered his fingers, closed his fist, and pulled his hand away in distaste. “Which way are you heading?” Murphy asked.
“West,” Ratabaugh said shortly, squinting in that direction. He shook himself lightly and looked at the soldier. He badly wanted a drink and the Lieutenant was standing in his way. What the hell did he want, anyway? He had quit the army nine years before. They had no hold on him. “I’m parched and short on temper,” Ratabaugh warned, returning to his single- minded pursuit of a drink.
“I need a favor.”
“You personally, or the army?” Ratabaugh asked with the first signs of a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes.
“Both. We brought in a band of Apaches today. I considered it a job well done, finished in a timely manner. It turns out that we overlooked something. It seems they attacked a lone wagon about a day north of here.
A friend of my son’s, one of those renegades, said that there could still be survivors. He saw the side of the wagon bulge out as he was leaving. He didn’t tell anybody because he didn’t want to get anybody killed. It was his first trip out and he didn’t have the stomach for it.”
“Why me, Fort Bowie is full of blue bellies?”
“We haven’t been called that for nine years. You are not a confederate colonel any more… colonel.”
“Yeah,” Ratabaugh said in distaste. “Same question, why me?” he asked, pausing at the batwing doors.
“I screwed the pooch,” Murphy whispered, looking inside the darkened saloon. I need a favor, Ratabaugh.”
“Ok, I don’t like Apache Pass anyway, too many ghosts,” he said, looking toward the west. “I’ll head north and go by way of Provo. They got a telegraph?”
“I believe so. Anyway, you can handle the arrangements, either way it turns out. Just so I know it’s been handled,” he said, slapping Ratabaugh on the shoulder. It was a big mistake. A cloud of Arizona dust filled the air and made Murphy choke. He pushed Ratabaugh away and thanked him with a fluttering hand and tearing eyes.
“Get a bath while you’re in town,” Murphy called, as he turned and hurried out of sight.
“Not in this damned place,” Ratabaugh mumbled, looking around at the disreputable buildings. It was a town designed to take a soldier’s money. He had seen many such in the past, during the disagreement between the north and south.
“Beer,” he said, craving the cooling taste of a glass of brew. He tossed his quarter on the bar, then slid the change into his pocket, under the scowling eyes of the bartender. Who cared, he’d leave no tip, he would never stop by this place again?
The wagon was easy to find. First he followed the tracks of the Apache’s and soldiers, then he followed the more spurious tracks of the war party. The wagon was torn and battered, standing in the cooling shade of a giant rock, only a few feet from the only water within 30 miles.
“Hell of a place to camp,” he said, shaking his head in disgust. Not only was it the most likely place to meet Indians, it was also downright criminal for the wildlife. They too needed to drink, and would not as long as people camped near their waterhole.
“Stupid farmers,” he growled, looking around uncertainly. Murphy had not captured all the Indians roaming free in the West. There were many such war parties. The young men needed to prove themselves in battle. They went out every chance they got. He had no desire to meet them.
“Stupid farmers,” he said again, kicking white clothing aside. They were women’s clothing. In a moment he found the woman. She was hanging half out of the wagon. Her body was still in descent shape, thankfully. It would make burying her much more pleasant. He looked further until he spotted the man within inches of the water. That was damned lucky. If he had fallen into the water and filled it with blood, it would have tainted the water for a good long time.
“Stupid farmers,” he said even louder. He grabbed the man’s shoe and pulled him away from the waterhole. It took only a moment to find a small cave at the edge of the rock and stuff the man inside. He went over to the woman and whistled in appreciation. She couldn’t have been dead more than a day. Her eyes were open, blue as the sky, and her body was in perfect shape. Most bodies shit their pants and bloated in no time at all. He briefly held her wrist to make sure she was really dead. She was. His eyes went to the white stockings and the partially lifted dress.
What the hell, he thought, she sure wouldn’t mind. He hadn’t seen a white woman’s pussy in over seven years. He lifted the dress and yanked down the pantaloons. Tasty, right tasty, he thought to himself as he looked at her delicate pussy lips. What a waste, he thought as he dropped her dress and pulled her from the wagon. He found himself staring into another pair of sky blue eyes. This pair was frightened and young, possibly in her late teens.
“Howdy,” he said in embarrassment. Had she seen? No, but she might have heard.
“H… hi,” she said, shivering visibly as she looked up at him.
“Come on out,” he said gently.
“I can’t… I’m too scared.”
“I’m going to bury your papa and mama. Come out when you have a mind too. The Indians are back on the reservation at Fort Bowie,” he called, while dragging the woman to the small cave. Her blouse opened as he manhandled her into the cave. He colored as the breast sprang into view. He sank down on his heels and stared at it wishfully. Even in death it was absolutely perfect. The nipple was pointed, as if aroused. The areola was large and dark, like a Mexican girl’s.
“What a waste,” he whispered again.
“Mama was beautiful,” the girl said gently from behind him.
He stood quickly and began pushing dirt over the bodies with his foot. “She certainly was. She had no business being out here, and neither did you. I need to send you back home.”
“I got no home. That’s my home,” she nodded toward the wagon. He looked at the battered wagon and shook his head.
“Without horses it’s just firewood,” he said gently. He began scratching a cross in the rock above the bodies, with the sight on his gun.
“I got no kin, I got nowhere to go. I’m alone,” she said, shuddering again. He knew that visions of her parents death were still filing her mind. They would for quite some time. She was lucky to be lucid, after what she had seen. She was lucky that she hadn’t seen more. The soldiers must have frightened the Apaches before they could perform their usual carnage. Her mother had gotten off lucky too. They knew what to do with a beautiful woman such as her. Death was just a passage into the next life. torture was far worse.
“Will… will your horse pull a wagon?” she asked hopefully.
“No, and he’d kick me to death if I tried. Besides, it takes more than one horse to pull a wagon that size. You will have to ride double with me.”
“Oh, ok. Can I bring some stuff?”
“By all means, but keep it small. Just the amount that can fit into two burlap bags,” he explained. He heard the distinctive jingle of coins. His ears perked up despite himself.
“Carry that in a sock and tie it tightly so it won’t jingle,” he called. “There are some who would kill you to get to that.”
“I know, but I trust you.”
“That’s a hell of a thing to say,” he said in disgust.
“Why?” she asked, rounding the corner of the wagon.
“Because if a man is trusted, he has to be trustworthy. You are too damned pretty to be trustworthy with. I’d regret it all my life,” he said, turning dark red under her scrutiny. She began to giggle, a melodic sound in the barren waste where there was little happiness. The sound made his heart melt. She spread a white petticoat on the ground and began stacking items on top of it. She finished with a picture of her mother and father, standing side by side in their Sunday best.
“I saw you looking at mama,” she said quietly. Her blue eyes came up and searched his. “She would have liked that. Mama liked to be appreciated. She liked to walk away from a man, knowing that she had his complete attention.”
His mouth opened and closed. He didn’t know what to say. Terror could do strange things to people. Was she being strange?
“I like being looked at too,” she said in a small voice. “I need to take a bath,” she pointed at the waterhole. “Will you watch me?”
“I… certainly,” he said in embarrassment.
“I mean really watch me,” she said emphatically. “I want to know that if I die tomorrow, like mama did, that somebody in this world will remember me, appreciate me. Will you do that?”
“I will,” he promised. She watched him for a moment, then selected clothes from the pile she had just made. She took off her clothes slowly, one piece at a time. Ratabaugh didn’t know that women wore so many clothes. They didn’t seem appropriate in the desert.
“My name is Anna,” she said as she stood in her undershirt and pantaloons. She slowly untied her undershirt and dropped it into the sand before her. Ratabaugh’s eyes were transfixed by her generous breasts. Like her mother’s she had pointed nipples and large areolas. They were very attractive.
“My God,” he whispered in awe.
“You’ve seen naked women before?” she asked in surprise.
“Well almost. I had me a whore in El Paso once, but it was dark. I had me another in Juarez, but I was drunk by then.”
Anna giggled again. Her breast jiggled, transfixing Ratabaugh’s attention.
“I never knew that women could be so damned beautiful… I mean all over,” he amended.
“Thanks.” She slid her pantaloons down to her ankles and kicked them off. Ratabaugh was amazed. He had never seen anything so enticing. He decided that a woman’s pussy was downright attractive, kind of like a beaver pelt centered over a sideways mouth.
“Do they all look like that?” he asked, remembering her mother’s pussy, or the brief look he had gotten of it. Actually he had seen very little.
“No, certainly not. Each vagina is slightly different.”
“I wish… can I touch it?” he asked, crawling closer.
“Wait until I have bathed, then you can do anything you like to it,” she smiled.
If Ratabaugh had not been so transfixed by the stark nakedness of a woman in broad daylight, in the middle of the desert, the might have remembered the recent tragedy and suspected a trap. But as it was he saw nothing but Anna. He hungered like he had never hungered for anything before. He found her pantaloons, which she had just kicked off, and held them to his nose. They smelled strongly of pussy. He inhaled again and moaned in desire.
Anna was turned partially away, taking her time as she bathed her breasts with the cool water of the waterhole. Ratabaugh suddenly had the urge to join her, remembering Murphy’s words. “Get a bath,” he had said. Ratabaugh knew that he would need one, if he was to ride double with Anna.
He began soundlessly disrobing. Anna turned in surprise, just as he stepped into the water.
“Oh,” she said in surprise. Her eyes went to his hard manhood. He sank into the water in embarrassment.
“You ARE a man,” she said in appreciation.
“Yes ma’am, and you ARE a woman.”
“Let’s hurry and finished our bath,” she said, looking up at the sky. “It’s two hours until nightfall, and I want to get shut of this place before we… before I… you know,” she said coyly.
“God I hope so,” he said, splashing water over his body.