Golden Thirst Part II
Tony’s next step was to find someone who knew the area well enough to guide him into the country. In Big Spring, he located a cowboy named Pigeon, who had punched cows all through the area and swore intimate knowledge of the proposed terrain. On a Friday morning, they set out from Indian Signal Mountain and followed Beals Creek east, toward Colorado City, stopping at every little hill and valley to poke around, fishing for luck.
Tony didn’t like Pigeon, who was so named because his feet turned inward when he walked. He had long greasy hair and tear drop tattoos under his eyes, indicating that he had spent several years in prison. He complained continually about the heat, and gripped when they set up camp and didn’t have any whiskey. Tony might not like him, but he needed him.
Pigeon had been working as a cowboy until the recent droughts caused the cattle industry to dry up. He had been without work for two months and was contemplating working as a roughneck in the oilfields to make ends meet. He was more than interested when Tony offered him one hundred dollars for the weekend, plus ten percent of their treasure, if it could be found.
On the evening of the second day, they started following the Wildhorse Creek, which at one time in the past, had flowed near a small outcropping of hills. They climbed the closest of the small rises and stopped to survey their surroundings. A cotton field ran along the northern edge of the hills. Some flat top mesas stretched along the northeastern horizon.
“If you were running from someone, where would you go?”
Pigeon spat in the dust and eyed a buzzard circling overhead. “I reckon that I would make for those hills, the little flat top over there. Beyond them is some broken country and just beyond that, the Colorado River.”
“Let’s go.” They trailed to the flat top and found part of the old trail used for several hundred years before the highways were built. They followed the road, which rounded an outcropping of boulders.
“Now, up on that rock, yonder.” Pigeon was pointing at a large rock that was shaped similar to a skull. “There are some scratchings and dates on that skull lookin’ rock.”
They climbed the boulder and found dates ranging from the late 1800’s to the late 1900’s. Etched into the boulder’s surface, they discovered an arrow pointing north, its point severely decayed by the elements. They followed the arrow and found a small rise a few hundred yards farther along. When they pulled reign at the top, the hair stood on the back of their necks. They were staring at two ancient graves and a spot dug out of the hillside many years before. They gathered their metal detectors and began scanning the area around the dig site. After a few minutes, pigeon uncovered a D-ring, the kind used on packsaddles. It was old and rusted. Excited, they began to shovel dirt from the area and, much to their surprise, uncovered seven bars of gold! They danced around in circles and screamed at the top of their lungs. Pigeon even shot his pistol into the air until it snapped on an empty chamber. They loaded the gold and prepared to return the way they came. Suddenly, Pigeon pulled his gun on Tony and said, “Well, thanks, professor. I appreciate the gold.”
Tony glowered at him. “Pigeon, why are you doing this? We had an agreement.”
He spat. “Shoot, this really ain't your gold, it belongs to no one. So I’ll just take it.”
“Okay, look. There is more here than I imagined. How about we split it fifty-fifty?”
“No, I would rather have it all.”
“Pigeon, there is no way you can get away with all that gold. Don’t do anything foolish. You don’t want to go back to prison, do you?”
He looked at him with wanton eyes for a moment. “No, I reckon not. So, I guess I will just have to shoot you, then nobody will know but me.” He cocked the pistol.
Tony held up his hands. “Okay! Hey, just finding the gold was enough for me, what do you say we make a trade?”
The gold wasn’t enough. Maybe he could get more. “Trade? For what?”
“Well, you take the gold and the horses. I’ll take my saddlebags and we call it even.” While Pigeon rolled the tobacco in his mouth, Tony pressed him. “Think about it. This was the law won’t be looking for you and I won’t have to die. It’s fair for everyone.”
“Hmmm, I get your point there, Professor. Here.” He untied Tony’s saddlebags and threw them at him. “I hope that you’re happy and that you can find your way back in.”
“Oh, I’ll be fine.” Pigeon started to walk away and Tony added, “Hey, how about one more trade before you go?” Tony reached into his saddlebags and pulled out a bottle of whiskey.
“Well I’ll be! You was holdin’ out on me!”
“I’ll give this to you if you will guide me out of here. I'm lost and I just want to get home.” He held up the bottle. The seal was still intact. “No hard feelings? You can keep the gold.”
“Well, I’ll be switched.” Pigeon grinned at him. “I knew that I liked you, Professor. Why not? But I keep the gold?”
“It’s all yours. I promise.”
“Say, what else do you have in there?” He pointed at the bags.
“Oh, nothing really. Just my research. I hate to loose it.”
“Suit yourself. Let’s get going, we have a full day tomorrow.”
Tony followed Pigeon on foot until dark. As he rode along, Pigeon would stop and pull from the bottle, and then press on through the heat. That night they made camp while Pigeon finished off his bottle, passing out around midnight mumbling about the things he would buy.
In the morning, Pigeon awoke with his pistol in his hand and a hangover splitting his ears. Tony was munching on an apple and a granola bar. “Sleep well?”
“Shut up.” He buried his head in his hands.
“Too much to drink?”
Tony nodded and reached into his saddlebags. “How about the hair of the dog that bit you?” He pulled out a second bottle and tossed it to Pigeon, who stared dumbly before reaching for it.
“More bourbon?” He said with a thick tongue.
“Nothing but the best.”
“You said that you didn’t drink.”
“I don’t, but you never know when you might need to clean out a wound. You know, like the old cowboys used to.”
“Whatever.” He turned up the bottle and swallowed. “Man, I would kill for some water.”
“I know what you mean. Are you ready?” He climbed to his feet and walked to the picket line for the horses. “Holy… Hey! Where are the horses?”
Pigeon stumbled to his feet. “What? What do you mean?”
“Look for yourself. They’re gone. They took the picket line with them.”
He squinted into the morning sun, trying to think through the hang over. “Something must have spooked them in the night. Didja hear anything?”
“Well, I did hear some coyotes…”
“Well, there you go. Now we lost the horses.” He broke off into a string of swearing. “We have to find the horses or walk.” He studied the ground for a moment. “It appears that they took off in the general direction of home.”
An hour later, they were walking west, Pigeon stumbling along half drunk. Around midday, the sun was so hot that they stopped moving for fear of over exposure. Pigeon’s face was red, but he was sweating. “Man,” Tony leaned closer to him. “You look awful.”
“I’m dying.” He choked. “I just know it.” He leaned back and laid his head in the dirt. “I can’t believe these horses ran away. I hate carrying all this gold. It’s heavy.” He looked at the sun. “And, we’re out of water. You can’t imagine how thirst I am.”
“What would you do for water?”
His eyes were desperate. “Anything. If only we had water.” His lips were thick and swollen.
“Would you trade all of your gold for some water?”
“In a heart beat.”
Tony reached into his saddlebags and pulled out a liter of water. “Care to make a trade?”
“Huh?” He sat up, dirt caked into his greasy hair. “You have water?”
“Yes I do, and I will trade it to you for some gold.”
“Anything! You can have it. Just give me that water.”
“So it’s a deal? My water for your gold?”
“Yes, get me the water.”
Tony tossed him the bottle and he drank greedily from it. “Careful. It will make you sick if you don’t go easy on it.” He rose to his feet. “So long, Pigeon, good luck.”
Pigeon pulled his pistol and cocked it. “Not so fast, Professor.” He was hard to understand because his tongue was so thick. “I’ll take the gold and your water, you little snake.” He lifted the pistol at Tony with shaking hands.
“You would shoot me, even after I saved your life?”
“So call me a jerk.”
“I’ll call you greedy. You could have had fifty percent of this if you had played your cards right. Now you get none of it.” He turned and continued walking. He heard the cold snap of steel as the hammer fell on a spent round. He turned and looked at Pigeon, who dry fired three more rounds.
“Why you lousy son of…”
“Hey, Pigeon, you had a chance, now live with the consequences of your actions.”
“You stole my bullets.”
“No I didn’t. You got so excited when we found the gold that you fired all your rounds and didn’t reload. You were empty the whole time.” He turned and started walking. A few hours later, he was on his way to his hotel room, loaded with gold.