Two Steps Over the Line


This story originally appeared on our now defunct 

Western fiction webzine The Big Adios.

A Model-T chugged into the shimmering horizon of Albert Hunsicker’s land. There was time to decide if he needed the Flat Top Colt .44 sitting next to the pitcher of lemonade on the small table. People on the border should know better than to come unannounced.

His Mexican, Ruiz, was putting up a picket fence on the side of the porch, whispering Spanish prayers to God.

“Do that in your head. I’m trying to relax.”

Ruiz looked up at him from his work, to take a small swallow from his canteen. Touches of perspiration salted his face. The sun seemed to have been burned into him at birth. “If I was working on the windmill, you wouldn’t have to hear me. Why don’t you let me work on this in the evening? It’s much closer.”

“You may not question The Lord, but you never have a problem questioning me.”

Ruiz’s brown eyes met his blue.  They both thought about the further discussion and what would come of it. Al topped off his glass of lemonade. Ruiz went back to the fence, his chant a shade louder.

A reddish brown bulldog huffed onto the porch, carrying one of Hunsicker’s work boots.

“Damn you, George!” Hunsicker yelled at the animal.

The dog dropped it on the edge of the porch and staggered away. A string of slobber stretched a foot from his mouth to the boot, before it broke.

Hunsicker rocked as far as he could, reaching out for the boot, trying to hide his wince. Ruiz climbed up on the porch, nabbed up the boot.  He tossed it back into the house, went back to the fence.

Hunsicker rubbed at the ache in his hip. He hated the pain more than any man he ever faced. It reminded him of his sixty-seven years. He hated having to use that Flat Top revolver instead of a more accurate rifle, just because it was easier to pick up. How many praying Mexicans would he need at seventy?

He tipped his hat over the remains of his white hair, watching the automobile trudge along.  A badge flashed from the driver. Local law still used horse. Must be rangers.

The bulldog trotted to the upturned ground. Ruiz brushed a hand away at the animal. “Get, Jorge.”

“His name’s George. Don’t want to have to speak Mex to get him to come to me.”

Al patted his leg. “C’mere.”

The beast looked at him for a moment. Al half expected a cuss word to come out of its ugly mouth.

“Vamanos Jorge.” Ruiz said.

The bulldog jumped onto the porch. He thought about kicking him. The round little bastard would probably bite him.

Al put the sweaty lemonade glass against his cheek, feeling like a small oasis on his body. Wouldn’t last much longer, his ice already melted into slivers.

A hiss erupted from the Model-T. Steam trailed out of the front as it slowed to a halt. Two men got out. The heat turned them into vague blurs, though Hunsicker could tell one had a rifle, the bulkier one a shotgun. At least his eyesight hadn’t gone yet.            Ruiz took more notice. “Maybe I should look at that windmill.”

“It’ll wait. Might need you here.”

The large ranger poured a jug of water in the car; they got back in, rambled forward.

Hunsicker rubbed against the back of his rocker. His shirt had stuck to him, causing a bit of an itch. Ruiz shook his head, then looked up to the sky with a prayer, no whisper to his voice.

“We’re not in Hell yet.” Hunsicker said, cutting the lemonade with some whiskey in his flask.

It looked like a geyser was going to pop the Model T’s hood off. It stopped 10 feet away from the porch. The husky one got out of the driver’s side with his shotgun. He looked like a buffalo hunter, that someone made a half assed attempt to civilize. His pinched eyes aimed toward Ruiz. Ruiz didn’t move an inch.

“Might want to show us your hands, boy.” The other ranger said, hopping out of the car. He was clean. White Stetson, tan uniform, polished cowboy boots, not a round edge on him.  “Price gets along a lot better with brown boys if he knows they’re not holding.”

Ruiz tilted his head his head a bit to glimpse his boss. Hunsicker gave a brief nod. Ruiz showed his hands.

Price still kept his eyes on Ruiz, finger near the trigger guard. Both rangers stayed behind their car doors.

The square ranger held up is left hand in greeting. His right held a 44-40 Winchester model 53 carbine. He looked back at the spot they were stuck in. “Don’t think Henry Ford ever lived in west Texas.”

“Never had any problem on this land with a horse.”

The ranger leaned over the passenger door. “You’re Albert Hunsicker, right? I heard tales about you, Sir. Cowboyed under Goodnight, saved Pershing when Villa went after him.”

He put the lemonade glass near the Colt.

“That pistol’s sure from the Wild West. You getting trouble from some of these rustlers from the other side, we could give you a hand, no problem.”

“Jack rabbits were getting near the garden.”

“Anything left of the thing after you shoot it?”

Hunsicker scratched George’s back with the heel of his boot, picked up the lemonade glass.

The ranger took off his Stetson in a cordial manner. It allowed him to wipe the sweat collecting at his temples.  “Guess Price and me are hunting our own rabbits. Looks like two Mexican Federals got lost.”

“This is the Texas side of my land.”

“Seems they were looking for one of those speech-making banditos that thought he was the next Pancho.” He squinted toward Ruiz; the sun was behind the Mexican. “Sounded like he may have headed in your direction.”

Hunsicker just took a long sip of his lemonade. “You boys take your orders from Austin or Juarez?”

The ranger studied Price and Ruiz. “They say the one they were after’s not some simple, smiling peasant. He killed a man.”

“Who hadn’t?”

The ranger put his hat back on, squared it on his head, blocking it from any sunbeams that might interfere with his sight. He nodded to Ruiz. “You know about any Federales, boy?”

“No comprende’.” Ruiz said, taking a step back. Hunsicker wondered if they noticed the knife tucked in his boot.

“He doesn’t speak English, how do you tell him what to do?”

“I speak Spanish like any smart man on the border. Don’t you?”

“Haven’t acquired that skill. Maybe you could ask him for me, Sir.”

Hunsicker swished his lemonade around. “I just know how to give orders.”

“I see you do.” The square ranger said, not keeping his eyes off him.

Price finally took a good look at Hunsicker with those pinched eyes Al took a gulp from his glass. They could all hear George pant.

The Ranger pointed to his flask on the table “See you enjoy spicing your lemonade.”

“Don’t like it too sweet.”

“You hear about this being a dry county?”

“Heard you need proof someone’s selling it. Course who knows with all the laws.”

“In case you didn’t know, there’s one about harboring fugitives.”

Ruiz took a quick glance at the Ranger, then back to Price and his shotgun. This was not the moment to do something stupid.

“Isn’t like you Rangers have been interested in the law much of late, son.”

“That was the past, Sir.”

“I’ve been around long enough to know not much changes

“I like to think the law means a little more.” The ranger said. He blinked the salt out of his eyes.

Al shook his head. “It’s just working for different people.” He licked some of the lemonade that remained on his lips. “And that pretty much stayed the same to folks out here.”

Price turned his attention to the two for movement. It gave Ruiz enough time to turn his heel and look down at his knife in his boot.

“We’re trying to help you out here.” The ranger explained. “You wouldn’t like bandits crossing your land.”

“That’s why I shoot them.” Hunsicker said. “It’s the Mexican Federals crossing the border that has my suspicion. You’d think your own law would do something about that.” He cooled off with another taste of lemonade. Damn, he hated talking.

“Now there’s a dangerous man out there. Maybe you can think of your neighbors.”

Hunsicker looked around his place, at the vast miles of nothing only blocked by his barn and their damn metal heap.

“Hell, he could be anywhere, now.” The Ranger said. He quit hanging over the passenger door, the black metal drawing in the South Texas heat.

“He’s probably dead.” Hunsicker said. “People out here didn’t get their land with a bouquet of blue bonnets and a serenade. Or waiting for the law.”

“I’m doing my best to respect your land, sir, you might try respecting our stars. We’re just doing what we can to help.”

“I’ve got a pistol.”

“Believe me, I know.” The ranger said. The conversation seemed to be getting him a bit agitated too.

Hunsicker poured more of his flask into his lemonade.

“Well, you can’t expect much from the law, unless you got some spread like the Kings. Think maybe those Federals are up there?”

The ranger turned away from him, picked the sweat from his cheek. “We just want to know if you’ve seen the Federals or just maybe you’ve seen a suspicious Mexican.”

Both rangers put their attention to Ruiz. Ruiz didn’t know whom to look at. He did look down at the knife.

Hunsicker slammed his lemonade next down to his Colt. Price noticed, then the square ranger. Ruiz lifted his heel. The square ranger raised up his rifle.

Al swiveled back, clamped both of his hands on each arm of the rocking chair. “No, I haven’t seen any of those Mexicans.”

Ruiz put down his foot. The Rangers hadn’t put down their guns.

“Now if we’re through here, you can get that rusting hunk of scrap off my property.”

The square ranger found a way to exhale and fume at the same time.  “Mind if we look around?”

“Got over 900 acres. I let some of the Comanches from the reservation come and hunt. Believe there’s some bad blood between you boys.”

“You could go along with us.”

“Too much for a man my age on a day like this. There’ anything else? This lemonade’s made me a bit sleepy.”

The square ranger looked like he wanted to shoot Al.  He then looked over at Ruiz again. “You sure you don’t speak English?”

Ruiz just stared at him.

“Lets get moving, Price. Maybe we’ll find someone helpful.”

Price took out the jug, opened the hood. Only a few drops dribbled out.

The square ranger turned back around, exhaling an uncomfortable breath. “You have any water?”

“That’s what people in Hell are always asking for.”

Ruiz tossed Price the canteen.

“We might be back with more men to look over those 900 of yours.” The square ranger said.

“If you think it’s worth the trouble.”

Price shook the remaining water of the canteen in the radiator, tossed it back to Ruiz.

“Want to make sure you’re safe.” He slid back into the car.

scottmontgomeryMainly known as a bookseller and critic as MysteryPeople, the mystery bookstore inside BookPeople, Texas’ largest independent, and co-editor of The MysteryPeople website, Scott Montgomery has been accepted on Slagdrop and their anthology America, You’re Welcome. He’s happy to have his first acceptance on The Big Adios, being a die hard western fan.

Price kept his focus on Ruiz until he got behind the wheel.

Ruiz didn’t relax until the car was a mile away. “I am starting to believe you belong in Hell.”

“Get to work on the windmill.”

Ruiz lumbered to the barn, muttering in Spanish. It definitely wasn’t prayers.

The bulldog was digging into the fresh dirt behind the fence. Al rocked himself out of his seat, ambled over, little less stove up than before. “Get out of there!”

He gave the dog a kick in the rump, hopped back on the porch before it could turn around with a bark or chomp. It just ended up looking at him like a grumpy old man.

“Get, Jorge.”

The animal trotted off. Nothing on this land agreed with him.

He looked over the work Ruiz had done so far on the fence. The lemonade was going through him. Didn’t want to take a walk to the outhouse in the heat. He unbuttoned his fly there on the side of his porch.

“You boys thirsty?”

His urine sprinkled across the two mounds behind half done picket fence.

~ fin ~