Elmore Leonard: The Bounty Hunters

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Elmore Leonard The Bounty Hunters
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    The Bounty Hunters
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Elmore Leonard

The Bounty Hunters


Dave Flynn stretched his boots over the footrest and his body eased lower into the barber chair. It was hot beneath the striped cloth, but the long ride down from Fort Thomas had made him tired and he welcomed the comfort of the leather chair more than he minded the heat. In Contention it was hot wherever you went, even though it was nearly the end of October.

He turned his head, feeling the barber behind him, and frowned at the glare framed in the big window. John Willet moved to his side and he saw the barber's right ear bright red and almost transparent with the glare behind it. Beneath the green eyeshade, Willet's face sagged impassively. It was a large face, with an unmoving toothpick protruding from the corner of the slightly open mouth, the toothpick seeming unnaturally small.

John Willet put his hand under the young man's chin, raising the head firmly. "Let's see how we're doing," he said, then stepped back cocking his head and studied the hairline thoughtfully. He tapped comb against scissors then moved them in a flitting automatic gesture close to Flynn's ear.

"How's it going with you?"

"All right," Flynn answered drowsily. The heat was making him sleepy and it felt good not to move.

"You still guiding for the soldier boys?"

"On and off."

"I can think of better ways to make a living."

"Maybe I'll stay in the shade and take up barbering."

"You could do worse." Willet stepped back and studied the hairline again. "I heard you was doing some prospecting…down in the Madres."

"For about a year and a half."

"You're back to guiding, now?" And when Flynn nodded, Willet said, "Then I don't have to ask you if you found anything."

For a few minutes he moved the scissors deftly over the brown hair, saying nothing, until he finished trimming. Then he placed the implements on the shelf and studied a row of bottles there.

"Wet it down?"

"I suppose."

"You can use it," Willet said, shaking a green liquid into his hand. "That sun makes the flowers grow…but your hair isn't flowers."

"What about Apaches?" Flynn said.

"What about them?"

"They don't wear hats. They have better hair than anybody."

"Sun don't affect a man that was born in hell," Willet said, and began rubbing the tonic into Flynn's scalp.

Flynn closed his eyes again. Maybe that was it, he thought. He remembered the first Apache he had ever seen. That had been ten years ago.

D. A. Flynn, at twenty the youngest first lieutenant on frontier station, took his patrol out of Fort Lowell easterly toward the Catalinas; it was dawn of a muggy July day. Before ten they sighted the smoke. Before noon they found the burned wagon and the two dead men, and the third staked to the ground staring at the sun…because he could not close his eyes with the lids cut off. Nor could he speak with his tongue gone. He tried to tell them by writing in the sand, but the marks made little sense because he could not see what he was writing, and he died before he could make them plainer. But out of a mesquite clump only a dozen yards from the wagon, his men dragged an Apache who had been shot through both legs, and there was all the explanation that was needed. He could not speak English and none of the soldiers could speak Chiricahua Apache, so the sergeant dragged him back into the mesquite. There was the heavy report of a revolving pistol and the sergeant reappeared, smiling.

The hell with it, Flynn thought.

He felt the barber's fingers rubbing hard against his scalp. His eyes were still closed, but he could no longer see the man without the eyelids. He heard the barber say then, "You're starting to lose your hair up front."

Willet combed the hair, which was straighter than usual with the tonic, brushing it almost flat across the forehead, then began to trim Flynn's full cavalry-type mustache. The thinning hair and dragoon mustache made him appear older, yet there was a softness to the weather-tanned face. It was thin-lined and the bone structure was small. Dave Flynn was a month beyond his thirty-first birthday, but from fifteen feet he looked forty. That's what patrols in Apache country will do.

"Hang on," John Willet said, moving around the chair. "I see a couple of wild hairs." He took a finer comb from that shelf and turning back to Flynn he looked up to see the small, black-suited man enter the shop.

"Mr. Madora."

Flynn opened his eyes.

Standing the way he was, just inside the doorway with his thumbs hooked into vest pockets, Joe Madora could be mistaken for a dry-goods drummer. He was under average height and heavy, his black suit clinging tightly to a thick frame, and the derby placed evenly over his eyebrows might have been a size too small. His mustache and gray-streaked beard told that he was well into his fifties and probably too old to be much good with the pistol he wore high on his right hip. But Joe Madora had been underestimated before, many times, by Apaches as well as white men. Most of them were dead…while Joe was still chief of scouts at Fort Bowie.

He stood unmoving, staring at Dave Flynn, until finally Flynn said, "What's the matter with you?"

Madora's grizzled face was impassive. "I'm trying to figure out if you got on a fancy-braid charro rig under that barber cloth."

"It takes longer than a year and a half to go Mexican." Flynn nodded to the antlers mounted next to the door. "There's my coat right there."

Madora glanced at the faded tan coat. "You're about due for a new one."

"I'm not the dude you are."

"You bet your sweet tokus you're not."

Flynn smiled faintly, watching the man who had taught him everything he knew about the Apache. The comical-looking little man who could almost read sign in the air and better than half the time beat the Apache at his own game. He had learned well from Joe Madora, and after he had resigned his commission, it was Joe who had recommended him and saw that he got a job as a contract guide.

"I hear you're back for more," Madora said.

"You know of an easier way to make money?"

"Just two. Find gold or a rich woman."

"Well, I've given up on finding gold."

"And no woman 'ud have a slow-movin' son of a bitch like you, so you don't have a choice at that."

John Willet said, "Joe, let me trim your beard. Be done here in a minute."

Madora nodded and eased himself into the other barber chair. "Where's Irv?"

"Irv went up to Willcox to get something for his wife…coming in on the train."

"That's good," Madora grunted. "He's a worse barber than you are." He looked at Flynn then. "I heard about your new job. Taking that kid down into the Madres…" He stopped, seeing Flynn glance toward the barber. "John, you keep your ears plugged."

"I never did pay attention to what you had to say," Willet answered.

To Madora, Flynn said, "How did you find out?"

"I been guiding for Deneen. I heard him talking to this Bowers kid. Did he talk it over with you yet?"

"This morning for a minute. He kept reminding me I didn't have to take it, saying, 'You can back out,' using those words. Then he said, 'Think it over and come back later.' "

Madora smiled in his beard. "What about Bowers, did you see him?"

Flynn shook his head. He said then, "In the war we had a division commander by that name."

"Maybe he's a kin."

"What kind is he?"

"If you keep him from wettin' his pants he might do."

"How old?"


"West Point?"

"They all are…that doesn't mean anything. He's been out here a year and that's Whipple Barracks. He looks brevet-conscious. He wants to move up so bad he can taste it…and he's afraid going away on this job might get him lost in the woods."

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