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Authors: Brian Garfield

Threepersons Hunt

BOOK: Threepersons Hunt
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The Threepersons Hunt

Brian Garfield

A
MysteriousPress.com

Open Road Integrated Media ebook

For ZM,
without whom

Blue Mountain Spirit of the East,

In your house of the blue clouds

Where the blue mirage soars,

There is the life of goodness

Where you live.

I sing of good things there.

Yellow Mountain Spirit of the South,

Your strength is of yellow clouds.

Leader of the Spirits, holy Mountain Spirit,

You are nourished by the good of this life.

White Mountain Spirit of the West,

Your strength is of white mirages;

Holy Mountain Spirit,

I am happy with your words

And you are happy with mine.

Black Mountain Spirit of the North,

Your strength is of black clouds;

Black Mountain Spirit,

I am happy with your words

And you are happy with mine;

Now it is good.
Enju.

—
Apache Indian song

CHAPTER ONE

A
DARK
column of cumulonimbus blew in across the desert from the Pacific Coast. It gathered condensation above the hot plains and when it reached the mountains of the eastern Arizona midlands it broke against them and there was rain.

The volume of precipitation made flash floods in the mountain ravines. Each trickle became a rivulet that joined other rivulets until dry canyons roared and creeks thundered over their banks.

The thunder and rain passed on but the floods continued for an hour or more behind them before the thirsty earth sucked them in.

A white Ford station wagon squatted crosswise in the dirt like a toy left askew by a child who had lost interest in it. On its roof a red high-intensity light revolved and flashed. It was an Indian Agency car:
White Mountain Apache Reservation Police.

The cop who went with it stood beside the thatched wickiup and kept his eyes on Sam Watchman's face when Watchman slid his Highway Patrol cruiser to a stop in the muddy ruts. There were seven or eight wickiups in various stages of architectural dishabille, two of them falling down: when a wickiup got beyond the patch-repair stage the Apache simply built a new one to live in and used the old one for storing firewood until it decomposed.

There were several corrals and pens; there was a windmill with its tank; some little vegetable patches drenched and drooping behind the wickiups; a few old cars and pickup trucks; a dozen Indians in black hats or squaw dresses, observing Sam Watchman's arrival with suspicion; a barbwire fence, three strands that ran around a ten-acre meadow—the far gate stood wide open; scrub-brush hills beyond the meadow and the darker timber of the White Mountains still farther. You could see the shadow-streaks of falling rain over the peaks thirty miles away.

Over on the open tailgate of a ruined grey pickup truck sat an Apache giant in a plaid shirt, a young man the size of a grizzly bear with a face you could strike a match on. His bootheels dangled almost to the ground. He was smoking a cigarette and drinking beer out of a can, and watching everything.

Watchman got out of the cruiser. The Indian Agency cop came forward, his transparent rain-slicker flapping in the wind. The air was like freshly washed glass and the wind had a good smell to it.


Pasó por aquí
,” Watchman said.
He passed by here.
It was not a question. He saw in this scene everything that was supposed to be in it except horses. The place was a horse ranch but there were no horses.

The Agency cop had small eyes high in his face and twisted gristle for a nose. He didn't look quite forty. “One cop,” he said. “I send a squeal and they send me one cop. Hell you must be a Texas Ranger.”

Watchman knew the joke. It was one of those “true” legends from the Old West. Somewhere in Texas they'd had a riot in some frontier town and the constable had telegraphed the Texas Rangers for help. A single Ranger had arrived on his horse and the constable had been aghast. “
Only one Ranger
?”


Only one riot, ain't there
?”

“You see him?” Watchman asked.

“No. But he was here.”

“How much of a jump has he got?”

“Maybe two hours.”

“Horseback,” Watchman said. “Took the whole herd, did he? Smart.”

“Real smart,” the Apache policeman agreed. “They had thirty head here. Call me Pete Porvo.”

“Sam Watchman.”

The village Apaches looked on with brooding stares while Watchman shook Pete Porvo's hand, walked over to the fence and looked at the meadow. The corral gates were wide open too.

Porvo caught up with Watchman at the fence. “No point getting dogs on this. Hounds wouldn't know what horse to follow. Anyhow he was here in the rain, there wouldn't be no scent.”

“They told me he was stupid.”

“Joe knows horses. He knows guns. I reckon he knows this country as well as any man alive. Put him in a city he's pretty dumb. But up here?”

“That's why he came back here,” Watchman said. He turned his face straight toward Porvo. “You know him pretty well?”

“Hell—it's a small town, this Reservation. This ain't Window Rock.”

Either this was a shrewd psychic guess or Porvo had been prepared. Window Rock was the Navajo capital and there was nothing about Watchman that could identify his tribe to the eyes of a stranger.

Probably they'd told him on the car radio.
We
'
ll send you our Navajo trooper. He
'
s on his way up there anyway.

But Watchman let it go. He squinted toward the mountains. “Would he go up there? Or stay down in the hills?”

“He knows it all. I'd just be guessing.”

“Guess, then.”

“He'd stay down closer to where folks live, I expect. Ain't nothing for a man to steal up in the piny woods there.”

That could be right. If it was, Watchman thought wryly, it cut down the search area from two million acres to one million. It was a big Reservation.

Porvo said, “He'll turn those horses loose one at a time. After a while they'll come home by themselves. Ain't, no point trying to track him in the meantime, if that's what you was thinking.”

Watchman shook his head and started to walk back toward his Arizona Highway Patrol car. He stepped around the puddles. Porvo trailed him, screwing up his eyes against the blaze of noon sun that had reappeared behind the storm.

Three Indian men stood in front of the biggest wickiup. Watchman stopped and said to Porvo, “Any of these folks see him?”

“You seen him, didn't you Eddie?”

One of the Indians nodded slightly.

Watchman tried a smile. It didn't have any visible effect. “You try to stop him?”

Eddie let one eyebrow rise a quarter of an inch—it was the sum of his reply.

Porvo said, “You don't try to stop a man got a rifle pointed at you.”

Watchman swiveled on both heels. “What rifle?”

Porvo turned to Eddie. “You get a look at it Eddie?”

It was an effort for Eddie to speak; he had to conquer a reluctance, a resistance to the uniform and the stranger. “Guess I did.”

“Well?”

“Saddle gun,” Eddie said. “Lever. I think maybe thirty-thirty.”

“Where the hell did he get it?” Watchman felt a little anger. “That's all we need, him batting around up there with a rifle.”

“Prob'ly figured he needed one,” Porvo said with oblivious logic.

“You know where that puts him legally?”

“I'm just a country cop. Where's it put him?”

“Dead or alive,” Watchman said. “He's a fugitive on a capital-crime conviction. He's armed—anybody can shoot him on sight. They were right after all. He's stupid.”

“Man,” Porvo said softly, “ain't nobody around here going to shoot Joe Threepersons. These are his people.”

“He steals some more horses, his people are likely to start losing patience with him.”

“Oh I don't imagine he'll steal any more horses,” Porvo drawled with an odd little smile. “Prob'ly next time he'll just ask for a horse and the man'll give it to him. You kind of wasting your time, you know. You ain't going to get Joe.”

“Whose side are
you
on, Porvo?”

“Come right down to it, I guess I'm on Joe's side.” Porvo met his eyes guilelessly.

“He's a convicted murderer.”

“It was a white man he killed. You know, hell, you're an Innun yourself.”

“I'm a cop,” Watchman answered. “So are you, if you ever get around to remembering it.”

“I ain't no Uncle Tomahawk.”

Watchman got the topographical map of the Reservation out of his car. He spread it out on the hood. Water had beaded on the wax finish and made dark discs through the back of the map. He leaned on his hands, studying it.

Porvo laughed quietly in his throat. “Man if you need a map of this country you ain't never going to find him.”

2.

A county sheriff's car made a roadblock across the highway. A deputy sat on the front fender in the blaze of early afternoon sun. There were dark sweat patches all over his khaki shirt.

Watchman drew his car up by the county car's bumper. The deputy squinted through weather-whacked blue eyes. “How do.”

Watchman nodded. He didn't get out of the car.

The deputy said, “You got traffic duty?”

“Detective division.”

“Looking for that killer?”

“He's on horseback. You may as well call this off.”

“I'd have to check with my dispatcher.”

“You do that.”

“Anyhow,” the deputy said, “he ain't going to show himself around here. Even a lizard knows enough to stay out of this sun.”

“You could have been down on the desert. Fifteen degrees hotter down there.”

“Yeah. Ain't I lucky now.” The deputy bestirred himself, slid down to his feet and walked toward the door of his car. When Watchman drove off the deputy was reaching inside for his radio microphone. In the mirror Watchman saw the deputy's hat brim turn, indicating his interest in Watchman:
What's that Indian doing in a state trooper's uniform?

The sun made the world brittle and blinding. Ahead of him U.S. 60 ran straight up the plateau. Perspective narrowed it to nothing and beyond that in a lavender haze stood the summits. The rain had gone on. Tufts of cloud hung here and there in its afterwash.

Tiny in the distance a truck came toward him from the east, appearing and disappearing at intervals with the rises and dips in the road. It skimmed forward on top of the heat mirage, which made ponds of the paving. The sun beat hot reflections off its windshield. Presently it loomed, tossing a mane of oil smoke. Watchman gripped the wheel when the truck went by: its passage shook his car and the wind of its wake made his wheels shimmy on the damp road. When its diesel stink was out of his nostrils he began to breathe again.

The road two-laned up through piñon and juniper hills that looked like orchards because of the size and separation of the small trees. A barbwire cattle fence ran along beside the road on the right. There wasn't all that much decent graze up here; it took fifty acres to support one steer in this kind of country but the Apache tribes had plenty of acres. Not as many as the Navajos but then there were five thousand Apaches on this Reservation and there were maybe a hundred and fifty thousand Navajos up on the Window Rock. It made you wonder.

He found the turnoff. A pair of ruts forked away from the highway, went through the fence across a rail cattle guard and disappeared into the hills. He went that way, bouncing in the ruts.

The dirt track bisected the route Joe Threepersons had probably followed on his stolen horses. Ahead of him the foothills started to crumple and heave toward the dark forested high country; the land wasn't as harsh and arid as his own Navajo country but it had its own kind of drama.

He drove slowly across three or four miles of wagon track. The undercarriage of the Plymouth was taking a beating from the rocks. In the damp earth he saw tracks of cattle, deer, javelina, bobcat, coyote, jackrabbit, lizard and snake. Evidently no human foot had trod this ground since the invention of the beer can. A hawk drifted above the trees some distance to the south. Two Herefords browsed in the brush near the track; they watched him drive by, chewing, swishing their tails at flies.

The noise of his approach startled a little gather of whitetail deer that bounded away in alarm. He kept watching the earth for signs of the recent passage of a herd of horses. He didn't expect to track on foot but at least he might get an indication of the fugitive's direction of travel.

By the odometer it was six and three-tenths miles from the highway to the point where he found the spoor of the stolen horse herd. Too many of them to make an accurate count possible. Now of course the question was whether Joe Threepersons was with the herd. He might have split off on his own in some other direction, riding one horse.

BOOK: Threepersons Hunt
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