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Don Yarber Don Yarber
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1st Chapter of "Train to the Sun"

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Under the Double Star - Chapter One

My first attempt at writing a Western Novel and Mystery combined in 1st person singular

Train To The Sun      © 2012 by     Don Yarber

       The pack horse that carried Will suddenly slumped forward, tripped over its own front feet and fell hard.  Fortunately for Will it  hit on its right shoulder and then rolled, pinning Will’s right foot and leg beneath it.  If at first it had fallen full force on its side, it would have broken Will’s leg.
I got my horse stopped and dismounted.  When I looked, I saw immediately what the problem was.  A rattler had attached itself to the packhorse’s right front leg and was still hanging there like a leach.  I put the heel of my boot on its head and ground it into the sand.

       It took twenty minutes of sweating, grunting, heaving and cussing to get the horse off of Will’s leg.  The horse was still alive but breathing heavily, its breath rasping in and out of its chest, its right front forelock swollen to the size of a small tree.  I hated to do it but I hauled out my Colt and shot the horse in the head, heaved Will up on the paint horse I had been riding, and tied him on.
Will’s body lay heavy in the saddle in front of me.  He was still alive, although barely.  His breathing had almost stopped and when I put my ear to his chest I could barely hear his heart beat.  I had ridden fifty miles with him across the saddle, me sitting behind the cantle, pushing the gelded paint as hard as I dared.  If it threw a shoe, stepped in a gopher hole, or shied at a rattler, there would be two dead men on the trail. When we left our place Will was riding a pack horse, now that horse was dead, and Will was dying.

       The only chance to save Will’s life was the railroad.  The train could reach the doctor in Tucson in a day where it would take us two weeks on the tired and thirsty paint horse.  After riding all day, I finally saw the tracks ahead of me and wondered if I had reached them in time.  The train traveled every week through this spot in the desert.  It passed this point at about the same time, right about the time the sun cast the shadows from the telegraph poles long enough to reach the track on the near side.  I pulled my Granddad’s watch from my pocket and saw that it was nearly 5:30.  Another hour and the train would be rumbling through. I’d made it on time.

       I dismounted in the shade of two saguaro, stomped around them to scare any rambling rattlesnakes away from the spot, then eased Will’s thin body down till his boots hit the ground.  I got around on that side and lifted his bound wrists over the saddle horn and caught him under the arms and laid him as gently as I could in the shade of the cactus.

       The paint sidled away from me sideways and I had to take two quick steps to catch the reins and ease him back.  He didn’t like the looks of the body on the ground but he was grateful, for the moment, that he wasn’t carrying two people.
       “Stand still, Paint,” I said.

       I threw the reins over an arm of the saguaro and Paint stood still.  I took the canteen from the saddle horn and kneeling beside Will, raised his head with one hand and touched the canteen to his lips with the other.  He opened his eyes for a brief second and smiled at me.  His eyes said thank you and then closed again as he swallowed two or three sips of water, then he was off to never-never land again, somewhere between hell and heaven, half alive, half dead.

       I put his hat over his face to keep the flies and the sun off of it, stood and pulled the makings out of my shirt pocket, rolled one and dug in filthy denims for a match.  I found one and flicked it to life with my thumb nail and touched the flame to the roll-your-own cigarette.  I took a deep drag and let the smoke trickle out slow.  It might be the last one I could smoke before I put Will on the train, then the long ride on in to Tucson.  I’d get there with enough supplies, I was pretty sure, but getting Will there was the important thing.

       It wasn’t long before I could feel the train coming.  First you feel the vibrations in the sand, like a million half starved longhorns stampeding to a water hole, or a million scorpions slithering under your feet.  Then you hear the wind whistling past the cattle guards, then the clickety clack of the wheels.  I mounted and rode towards the oncoming train pulling a red bandana off of my neck as I rode.  Five hundred yards away I reined to a halt and put Paint in the middle of the tracks and started waving the bandana.  A single blast on the whistle told me that someone on board had seen me, then I could hear the sound of the wheels diminish slightly, a giant hiss of steam escaping,  then metal on metal as brakes were applied.  I sat transfixed on the back of my horse as the train got closer and closer.

       When it was a mere twenty yards away, I raked spurs across Paint’s flanks and he lurched off of the track.  I jerked the reins up fifteen feet on the other side of the tracks and wheeled the horse’s head to face the train as it raced by, squealing brakes, metal wheels sliding on metal track.  It finally screeched to a stop nearly a quarter of a mile from where I sat.  I spurred the horse into a gallop and rode towards the engine.  A man swung down from the open engine door onto a step and waited.
       When I was close enough I yelled at him.
       “Thanks for stopping,” I said.
       “What’s the problem?”
       “I’ve got a sick man I need to get to Tucson.”
       “You’ll have to talk to Chester about that,” he told me.
       “Who’s Chester, and where do I find him?”
       “He’d be that fat fart coming down the middle of the train about now,” the engineer said.
       I glanced up towards the aisle running through the cars.  There were only two passenger cars a freight car and the engine and the caboose.  A heavy man wearing dark blue pants and shirt and a funny looking hat with a silver badge on it waddled toward me.
       “Are you Chester?” I asked.
       “That is correct.  I’m Chester Peak.  What can I do for you?”
       “My pardner is back about a eighth of a mile.  He’s deathly ill and needs to get to Tucson to a doc.”
       “Well, does he have the fare?” Chester asked.
       “How much of a fare does a dying man need?” I asked.
       “Same as a living one, stranger,” Chester said.  “No free rides on this train, I’d lose my job bigger’n shit.”
       “How much of a fare?”
       “Twenty dollars ought to cover it,” he said, grinning.  I didn’t see anything funny about it.
       “Twenty dollars?  I’ve barely got ten. Can you bill me for the other ten?”
       I had stuffed a twenty dollar bill in Will’s right boot and a note in his shirt pocket for the doctor, telling him where to find the money for Will’s treatment.  I didn’t want this fat, greedy man to know that, however.
       “This isn’t a charity train, it’s a cash and carry, Mister.  It’s twenty dollars or your friend can walk to Tucson.”
       I thought fast.  I had to get Will on this train.  I knew he’d die if he didn’t get medical treatment.  Everything I’d tried had only postponed the inevitable.  Will’s insides were poisoning him and no matter what I did, he was getting worse.  
       I hauled out my Grandfather’s gold watch.
       “I’ve got this watch.  It ought to be worth $10.”
       “Lemme see it,” Chester Peak said.
       I handed it to him.  He turned it over and over like it was a diamond, handling it carefully.
       “Put him on board, stranger.  You’ve bought him a ride.”
       “Will you get him in the hands of a doctor in Tucson?”
       “I’ll take care of it.” Chester told me.  I had no reason to doubt him, and had to trust him.  He was my only hope to save Will’s life.
       I put my left foot in the stirrup and swung up on Paint and galloped back to where I had left Will.  He didn’t wake up when I picked him up and propped him against Paint.  I grabbed him around his thighs and heaved till he was stretched over the saddle again.  I walked behind Paint and put my hands on his rump and vaulted up behind the saddle, reaching over Will to take the reins.  I jerked and spun Paint towards the train and galloped back.  
       The fat conductor didn’t offer to help and it was about all I could do to get Will off of Paint, up the stairs and onto the train.  I got him to a passenger car and laid him down across an empty seat.  The train started inching ahead.  I had just enough time to get off and grab Paint’s reins before the train lumbered off, clickety clacking once again on the steel rails headed towards the setting sun.

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