The Hex (Chapter 2)
These short stories will be chapters in the sequel to my novel The Lady Who Loved Bones. Any suggestions for improvement or for future stories are welcome.
Hitting the road
Hexford Hannibal Hawkins, mountain man, spy during the war, owner of a secret gold mine, and enigma to many, led the remaining members of the fossil-hunting expedition toward home. They left directly after he bid farewell to beautiful paleontologist Hannah Monroe, exotic Arapaho princess Sweet Water, and Irish dwarf Tiny Tim O’Leary. That trio departed on the steamboat Victoria, carrying a cargo that included hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold and dinosaur fossils probably worth even more, at least in terms of scientific value.
Hex’s band of followers included Crow guide, White Snake, Reverend Isaac Nelson, Leslie Baxter also known unaffectionately as Shorty, former Texas Ranger Bob Wells, prostitutes who went by the names Margaret and Delilah, the latter anatomically actually a man, which caused considerable strife during the expedition. Also among them were the Negro father and son Woodrow and Josiah Johnson. Woodrow had lost a foot to a bear trap, but managed quite well these days with the artificial foot carved by Boyd Dowd. Boyd had his tongue cut out a few years back by the outlaw Johnny Blackfoot, who recently had his head cut off by Sweet Water, and his wasn’t the only head she cut off and carried around in a bag. A gruff and burly former Johnny Reb named Buck Stewart had been originally hired to supervise the men, but he had a confrontation with Delilah over the price of nonexistent trim and was shot by Bob Wells in a gunfight. Another current traveler who had been wounded, by Cheyenne arrows, Stephen Colston, wanted to be married to his partner, Joshua Dorn, but Reverend Nelson vehemently declined to perform the ceremony. The last man, former undertaker Percy Van Marte, had been bitten in the behind by a grizzly bear while he was distracted by an eager and willing Delilah on her knees. Two other prostitutes, Mabel and Charlotte, had joined the expedition late when they were rescued from a Mormon cult accumulating reluctant brides. And finally, tagging along dutifully was Hex’s favorite companion, other than Hannah on occasion, was Shag the dog, a female named after Abishag, the young woman of Shunem, distinguished for her beauty. Shag was the one Hex valued the most in a fight.
# # #
The group camped for the first night on the bank of the Musselshell River about twenty miles south of the Missouri. Soon after stopping the coffeepot was passed around while a pot of beans warmed beside the fire, as did a Dutch oven. A big skillet filled with antelope prime cuts sizzled over the flame while Shorty sliced onion rings over the meat and added whiskey to the beans.
“Easy on the bug juice,” Hex cautioned. “I don’t want any hangovers from our first day. We got a long way to go.”
Shorty pulled the Dutch oven from the coals and the others marveled over the big puffy brown biscuits when he removed the lid.
“You missed your calling in life, Shorty,” Buck commented. “You are a fine cook but piss poor at everything else.”
“Especially at gambling,” Hex gibed, recalling how he had met Shorty, who had been operating as a cheating gambler in Virginia City when he was recruited for the fossil-hunting expedition.
Shorty snapped, “You’uns all laugh now, but one day I’ll be a famous lawman and throw yer asses in jail.” Everybody laughed or snickered. Shorty began to ladle beans and rectified prunes onto plates, along with thick strips of antelope and biscuits. “C’mon boys and girls, get it while it’s hot.”
“I don’t want any of those prunes,” Percy insisted.
“Eat yer prunes,” Shorty demanded. “You was scared shitless ever since that grizzly bit you in the ass.”
“Wouldn’t you be?” Percy questioned. “That bear almost sent me to the promised land.”
“That’s what you git fer puttin’ yer pecker where it don’t belong,” Shorty accused.
Reverend Nelson nodded and said, “But that was me sent you to the promised land, Percy. I saved your soul with the preaching of Roman’s Road from my King James.”
Shorty objected, “Preacher man, what I heard you preach was ‘For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil.’ I believe that’s Proverbs 5:3, and it describes Delilah perfectly, the ‘strange woman’ part anyway.”
“Shut up, Shorty!” Delilah demanded. “Or the next time you want your hose drained, I’ll bite it off. And I predict you will become a circus clown before you ever become a sheriff. In fact, I know you will because I put a hex on you. I’m one of those two-spirit people with much magic.”
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live!” Reverend Nelson shouted. “That’s Exodus 22:18.”
Shorty whined, “I miss Lady Monroe, the only voice of reason in this cruel, cruel world.”
“Even though she slapped you silly a bunch of times and made you cry?” Hex inquired.
“Yup,” Shorty said, “I deserved it.”
Hex responded, “No doubt she’ll mention you fondly when she sends me a telegram.”
“When will that be?”
“Fort Laramie will probably be the first place she’ll be near that has a telegraph office,” Hex said, “and I’ll have to get to Virginia City or someplace else with a telegraph office to receive it.”
“I miss her already,” Shorty said. “Sweet Water too. Tiny Tim not so much.”
Shag signaled to the camp the arrival of strangers.
“Quiet, dog!” White Snake demanded, and Shag growled at him.
“Injuns!” Shorty squealed. Shag barked even louder.
“Shag,” Hex said softly, “it’s only more Crow, like White Snake. Crow don’t eat dogs like the Cheyenne do.”
The intruders rode ragged ponies with war bridles. Their hair and skin shined with grease and oil. Not much of their clothing was native Crow. Boots, army pants mostly, and wool shirts and coats. No warpaint, but their look and body language told a different story.
The leader spoke, looking at White Snake, “We search for Mary Two Stones. She two-spirit and daughter of Pine Leaf.” The Crow then turned and quickly rode off.
After they left Hex said, “I thought it best not to offer hospitality. They looked like they teach dogs how to be mean.” Shag growled.
White Snake addressed the puzzled looks. “Pine Leaf was Absaroka amazon woman two-spirit chief. Have four wives and many children. She vowed to kill 100 enemies before she marry. She did, each time. Pine Leaf die eight summers ago.”
“What were those Crow mumbling about?” Shorty asked.
White Snake said, “That was a death hex. They mean for Hex to suffer a terrible fate. They say he kill many Crow, more than Liver-Eating Johnson. We need to find Mary Two Stones before they do. She can cure death hex.”