He had been traveling through New York State for the past week. Jim been on vacation for the previous two weeks and had been reluctantly heading home. Artemus and him were to meet in Buffalo, but that had been two days ago. Every time I go on vacation I find more trouble than if I was on assignment muttered Jim.
It had started off innocently enough riding along the trail, keeping an eye on the map but then his world had exploded. Must have been a bee, that's all he could figure. Never an easy horse to ride, his black stallion had just gone up like a cannon ball. Between the crazy bucking and running Jim had been thrown hard. He'd woken up slowly staring at the faces looking down on him. Then a quick jerk to his feet and the running had begun.
They had wasted no time in
stripping him to the waist, tying his hands behind him and pushing him down the
trail. The rest of the day and into the night they had run only stopping for
water and a quick breath. Jim had stumbled into their camp only to be tied to
this post set directly in the center. At least we're here he thought as
they ripped off his boots and walked away. Laying his head back on the post he
"Can I help you, ma'am?" She spoke English, most Mohawk do. Uncertain what to say, she held the water bladder out of him. "Yes, that would be lovely," the white man said. Moving closer she lifted the bladder to his mouth and watched as he drank. She pulled it down after several moments. He smiled, "What's your name?"
She paused, "My name
is Koree." Another drink
kept him busy. The bladder was empty and she moved away. Quickly before she
could change her mind she went back to her hut to check on her stew. Food was
too precious to waste.
All of his questions were answered as a group of men came out of the large hut and walked straight at him. One man walked in front, he was clearly the chief of this tribe, striding right up to Jim he looked him up and down before turning to his men. Jim was shocked when he began yelling in Mohawk. Several men looked down and actually appeared ashamed. The chief grabbed his knife and turned back to Jim.
Quick as a striking snake Jim kicked the knife out of his hand. The chief stared down at his hand. "I am going to cut you loose." He approached more slowly pulled out a second knife and carefully sawed through the leather bonds. Jim massaged the feeling back into his hands, "What now?"
"First I have to apologize for my men. They were over eager in following my orders. I asked them to find a white man they assumed I wanted him dead. My name is John Tall Corn welcome to our poor village."
Jim looked the chief up and down before answering, "My name is James West. Have any of your men seen my horse?" Tall Corn turned back to his men and rattled off more Mohawk. Several of the men immediately headed off into the forest. "We will attempt to locate him. But, it may take some time. Koree!" The chief shouted loud enough to be heard for several miles. Koree came out of her hut quickly, "Take James West to your hut and make him comfortable while we find his horse."
Jim considered demanding answers to his many questions but decided a little patience might not be a bad thing. Koree lead the way to her hut and he followed hoping no one would notice if he stopped to piss along the way.
Artemus was pacing inside the railroad car and had been for some time. "Where the hell are ya, James my boy?"
Jim ducked behind the hut before following Koree through the leather flap. Feeling much better he smiled and said, "Smells good, what's for breakfast?" Koree said nothing just pointed to a pile of furs. Jim sat and Koree brought him a bowl of stew. Watching Jim eat she rummaged in the back of the hut producing a pair of moccasins which she handed to him. Shrugging Jim put them on, "Don't suppose you know where my boots are do you?"
"I'll go ask," Koree said. Eating his stew kept Jim busy until she returned. "I'm sorry but your boots were given to another man. He wants to keep them."
"Ah well, I'll argue with him later. Thank you for breakfast, would you happen to have a shirt?"
"Why?" wondered Koree.
"Well, white men usually wear shirts."
"White men are stupid and smell bad. You don't seem stupid and you don't smell too bad."
"Thanks, I think," Jim rose to his feet in one fluid movement. Taking Koree in his arms he set about to do what James West does best. Koree placed her palms against his bare chest. She looked up into his greenish eyes and carefully chose her next words. You really couldn't trust a white man not even a handsome one. "I don't want you."
Jim had to admit he was a bit put off by these four little words. He couldn't ever recall hearing them drop from a woman's lips. He dropped his arms to ask, "Why not?"
"I want John Tall Corn. He is a great man. There is nothing you could give me," she replied with quiet desperation. From the look on her face, Jim was beginning to see the problem. She wanted Tall Corn but he didn't know she was alive. Well, thought Jim, I can fix that. "All right, I hear you, let's walk down to the stream. I really need to clean up." Koree trailed after Jim as he left the hut. Several Mohawk warriors followed them down to the stream and watched as Jim washed. Knowing he could escape if he had to gave Jim a sense of confidence.
Returning to camp Jim caught sight of his horse running like the wind in front of several Mohawk men. He let out a piercing whistle. His black stallion turned on a dime, then trotted up to him blowing and snorting. "Easy boy, everything's okay." Quickly he ran his hands down the horse's legs. He then checked the girth and the saddlebags. Grabbing the bridle he fussed at the big horse. "Where's the reins to this expensive bridle I bought you, ya big idiot?" One of the Mohawk men handed him a rope that he threaded through the bridle bit ring. "Come on, dummy."
Jim took his horse down for a quick drink then returned to the camp. John Tall Corn was waiting near the center pole.
Artemus was through waiting. He was a patient man but he had a feeling that something had gone sour. Jim was in trouble no doubt about it. Unfortunately, he had no idea where the impossible man could be. Looking at all the maps he had with him Artemus came to a decision.
Jim got right down to business, "Why the hell am I here?" Tall Corn seemed to waver for an instant then he began. "We need your help. My people are starving and I think only a white man can save us." Of all the answers this was one Jim was not expecting. He arched his eyebrows inviting Tall Corn to go on with his explanation. "My people are in desperate need. We are farmers we live and die by our crops. Several years ago the Mohawk rose up in rebellion against the white man. Since that time here on this reservation we have been condemned to starve."
"Why?" Tall Corn looked at him as if he were an idiot. Jim snapped his fingers, "Wait, I know, you don't have any seed corn. The white merchants in town won't sell to you, will they?"
"We need a white man to act as our agent in this matter or we will all die." Tall Corn was very angry because the welfare of his people rested in the hands of this white stranger. Jim looked thoughtful for several minutes, "Well, since I am an agent, I'll help you get the corn you need. But, I want the woman."
Tall Corn's eyes bulged, "Koree? But." Jim was determined, "No buts, I want her or the deal's off." Tall Corn turned to Koree and held out his hand. Koree looked into Tall Corn's eyes before placing her hand in his. Tall Corn paused before putting her hand in Jim's. "She is yours, but if you mistreat her James West." The threat was left hanging. In a voice that could cut ice, Jim replied, "She's mine. I'll do what I damn well please. You don't care or you'd have claimed her by now."
John Tall Corn's face could have been carved from granite. Koree looked as if she had been struck. Jim was just smug, "Let's get this operation planned, I'm already late for an appointment. And I want my boots back." He turned and dragged Koree after him into the hut that was now theirs.
Artemus had the Wanderer running at good speed. At each stop along the way he'd ask the local sheriff about Jim. Sooner of later, as sure as T stood for trouble, he'd find him.
The next morning found Jim West in a little town he'd never heard of before and never wanted to see again. A fresh change of clothes, his boots and a shave had restored his good humor. Spending the night with Koree had been uncomfortable. She had been justifiably angry when he'd barked orders at her for most of the night before ordering her to the bed. Tall Corn's face had not been a pretty sight. Jim smiled at the memory. Those two weren't gonna know what hit'em.
He tied his horse in front of the general store. "I'm not buying you nice things if you're just gonna break them," he fussed at his horse. He spoke to a merchant for the better part of an hour before agreeing on a price and place of delivery. "Idiot," he muttered as he headed to the nearest saloon. The merchant wouldn't deliver to the reservation so Jim would have to coordinate the wagon delivery and the pickup by the Indians.
Whiskey had never tasted quite so good. He didn't look right or left just drank for once he wanted no more trouble. Buying a bottle for the road Jim left to send a telegram to Artemus. They could meet here in this one horse town.
Following the wagon piled with seed corn and other supplies he thought the tribe could use Jim just hoped his horse would stay calm. He paid the wagon master extra to wait at the edge of the reservation while he rode to the camp. Halfway there he was met by every able bodied man, woman and child in the tribe. He turned his horse and led the way back to the wagon. He watched and plotted while bag by bag the wagon was unloaded.
He rode slowly after the Mohawks. He didn't have to return but there was the little matter of Koree to settle with Tall Corn. Jim West really didn't need a wife.
Artemus listened to the telegraph tapping out its incredible story. "James, you have got to stop going on vacation," Artie laughed. The Wanderer picked up speed.
Jim began drinking while riding. He was going to have to provoke Tall Corn into claiming Koree. It was tricky, too much and Tall Corn would kill him. Not enough and he'd be married forever. By the time the camp came into view Jim was feeling cocky. Whiskey confidence. Koree came out of the hut as he rode up and dismounted. Jim tied his horse before grabbing her. She let out a screech as he began kissing her. When she pulled her knife he just laughed and twisted her arm. The knife fell underfoot Jim held her easily kissing her roughly between drinks.
He saw the big Mohawk Indian out of the corner of his eye, here it comes he thought, I hope I'm ready. John Tall Corn stopped for one brief moment before he pulled Koree away and punched Jim in the side of the head. Jim and the whiskey hit the ground. The whiskey drained out of the bottle while the tribe made a circle around the two men. Jim wiped his mouth, spit out some dirt, getting to his feet with the care of a half-drunk man. Tall Corn pushed Koree out of the circle before rounding on West. "I warned you James West."
What do you care?" Jim slurred.
Tall Corn was a man pushed to the edge, "Koree is mine! I'm gonna hang your scalp from her doorway!" Jim couldn't help but smile. He was right where he wanted to be, now to get out alive. Tall Corn had three inches and forty pounds on Jim but the whiskey wasn't worried. The Indian pulled his knife and began circling. Picking up the knife Koree had dropped Jim waited. Far gone in anger, Tall Corn began slashing.
Now the tricky part, Jim dodged and ran keeping one step ahead of the bigger man. When he could see the Mohawk's anger had cooled he changed tactics. Darting in and out he kept Tall Corn off balance. First blood went to Jim as he slashed Tall Corn's thigh. Acting as if he had the advantage he closed with the bigger man. Purposely he fell backwards with the heavier Indian on top. His arm muscles bulged as Tall Corn's knife strained for his chest. Jim's own knife was knocked away. "Gonna kill the man who saved your tribe?" he spat.
John Tall Corn drove the knife into his shoulder with a triumphant yell. He jerked the knife out and rose to his feet screaming in Mohawk. Jim cradled his shoulder looking up at the big Indian. If he had misjudged this man it would be fatal. Tall Corn leaned over and jerked Jim West to his feet. "Leave us now and I won't kill you." The black stallion pranced to one side as Jim landed near his hooves. Rising slowly and painfully Jim swung into the saddle he could see Koree just beyond rushing to Tall Corn's side. He winked, blew her a kiss and gave the stallion his head.
The Wanderer was a sight for sore eyes. There she was, parked on the siding in a town with no name. She was beautiful. Home at last. Artemus met a bruised and bloody Jim at the door. "Welcome home, James. Rough vacation?"
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