First published as White Savage
Taken as a child by the Apache, Jimmy had lived too long with the Indians to ever learn to be white again. So, claimed the Hoody clan. Beaten and imprisoned as a child by them, is it any surprise when Jimmy returns, they swear he’s back for revenge and brand him the murderer and thief the marshal tracks? Or is the man’s name Clay, as he claimed, before they beat him, before he escaped from them and took a woman hostage. Was he guilty or innocent, unfortunate in crossing paths with the man the marshal followed, proving there’s a sleeping savage in all of us if pushed too far? Was the woman his prisoner, or did she have secrets of her own to hide, involving her missing husband?
His hands started shaking. He’d always told hisself it never mattered much to him what color a man was. If ya respected and admired him, ya just did. Right then it mattered. Damn the red devils. It wasn’t a small Indian man they’d taken down. He was just a boy, a blue-eyed, beat up white boy.
Them blue eyes was what shocked McGee so. The facts that he was still conscious and so young came after. He was a white boy, so dirty ya couldn’t tell his color ‘til ya got up next to him. What the Apache was doing with him or why they was doing him that way was questions McGee’s mind was too numb to seek an answer fer. All he could think of was helping him.
He didn’t want his hands shaking ‘cause it hurt the boy more. His gun dropped in the dirt as he fumbled to draw his knife out. “Just ya don’t worry now. Just ya don’t worry,” he said, his voice shaking as bad as his hands.
The boy couldn’t hear him. His eyes was fixed and glazed, staring without seeing as McGee cut his arms free. He turned the boy to his side and his face down, away from the side of the smashed jaw, so the blood would run out of his mouth and not choke him no more.
McGee patted his head, telling him over and over that everything was all right, knowing how ignorant it sounded. How could it be all right with his tongue near cut off and a knife in his chest? He just couldn’t think of what else to say, just plain couldn’t think past talking to the boy, letting him know it was a white man talking to him. He didn’t start thinking ‘til the lieutenant and the rest of the troop got there, and then he got mad.
“Lieutenant, I need the doc bad,” he hollered out, jumping to his feet. “What happened here?” Lieutenant Dermont demanded.
“Three of them had him down. I got one.”
“You’ve jeopardized this entire campaign to shoot one Indian?”
McGee didn’t much care fer what he was hearing. “He needs a doc bad.”
“Private Johns,” the lieutenant called.
McGee didn’t need to look to see who was gonna come out of that column. Nor did he need to work hard at guessing what the lieutenant was gonna order Johns to do. McGee dropped to his knee, picking up his gun, even as the lieutenant said it.
“Kill the animal,” Dermont ordered coldly.
That lieutenant watched Johns as he said it, and McGee figured it was to see how Johns was gonna take to that order. He’d seen it afore, same as every man there. Lieutenant Dermont had it in fer Johns. Once he took command, he busted him from sergeant to the lowest he could go and still he hadn’t broke through Johns’ coldness to see anger. He’d given him every dirty job that came along and never got under Johns’ stoic manner.
McGee, as well as the smart ones in the troop to judge by the way they stiffened, could see it was different this time by the look in Johns’ eyes. They could all see, too, that as he dismounted, dropping his horse’s reins on the saddle seat, his hand rested on his side arm. Dark as night, hair and eyes, was that Johns, skin the color of leather from living out in that desert sun. Right then, he had the look of a tall and lean devil in them dark brown eyes when he looked, not at the boy, but at the stiff-necked lieutenant.
No one else moved or spoke up to stop him. McGee did. “Ya make him obey that order, Lieutenant,” McGee told him, “and I’ll shoot ya before he can.”
The dog stretched, his nails scratching on the bare wood floor as he wiggled to a more comfortable position. Clay watched him squirm, thinking it was funny how a dog would choose to lay on the hard wood when there were so many rugs scattered around. One was behind him to the right, in front of the door, one to the left, behind him, in front of the cook stove. Rugs scattered all around him, but the dog had stretched out right in the middle where there was no rug.
Right in the middle stuck in his mind, and Clay studied the room again. He couldn’t reach the pantry or front door without walking by the dog, and if he walked to the bedroom, he’d have to walk in front of him.
“Thought you wanted me to talk to you,” he said to break the silence.
She startled, jabbing herself with the needle. “You didn’t seem so inclined,” she said, trying to hide the fact that her finger was bleeding.
“I changed my mind. That dog got a name?”
“No,” she said quickly, and then changed it. “Yes. I call him Wolf for obvious reasons. I’m going to bed now.” Her basket thumped to the floor beside her chair as she set it down and stood. “There are blankets and a pillow in the chest to make a pallet.”
She pointed to a chest situated conveniently against the wall farthest from the dog.
“More than one way to kill a dog,” he said, walking over to the chest. “Safest way is to shoot him, if he’s far enough away.” He sat down on the chest, looking at her. “Unless he’s running at you. Hard to hit then. Best thing to do is let him jump you, so you can break his neck or his jaw.”
“You couldn’t,” she said in a strained whisper.
“When he jumps at you, you grab his jaw and nose. All you have to do is pry them apart. That’s the easiest way.”
“He’s mauled men badly before,” she warned.
“Because they were afraid of him. I’m not. There’s not a dog alive that a man can’t beat if he keeps his head.”
“Don’t ever set that dog on me or I will kill him,” he warned coldly.
“A man like you would never know or understand fear. You have to live it to know how desperate a person can be to never be alone.”
Even if it was someone she despised as much as she did her husband or feared as much as she did him, he thought. He said, “Having someone with you won’t make it go away. You just need someone to make you feel safe long enough to know you don’t have anything to fear.”
“Who? Henry? The man who left me with a total stranger?” she asked with a sardonic smile and scoffed. “A man who’d just as soon be rid of me? No, no one can, not even a man like you who’s never known a day of fear in his life.”
Clay watched her silently as in defeat and resignation she put the dog out of his way in the pantry and closed herself away with the bedroom door. She was wrong, of course. He did know what her kind of fear was like. If he could stay longer than the time it would take her husband to return, he might even be able to help her learn how to control if not conquer the fear. But he couldn’t stay longer than he’d given his word he would. He shouldn’t even be here. He shouldn’t have stopped. Every minute made the fear he fought to control claw stronger in his guts, just knowing they were near. Telling himself there was little chance they’d ever know he was anywhere in the area didn’t do any good. He shouldn’t have let his first look at the blond-haired, green-eyed beauty influence him into staying, no matter how afraid he thought she was.
“Jesus, Joshua, you hit him straight on,” Jeremiah, the youngest and smallest of the three exclaimed, nearly shouting to be heard over the dog.
“What do you think I was trying to do?” Joshua snapped.
“Well, golly, Josh, hitting a man like that could’a killed him.”
“Jeremiah, you are the damnest fool I ever saw. Didn’t he kill that guard in town? Wasn’t he gonna rape that woman? Doesn’t he deserve to die?”
Jeremiah whined, “If you wanna kill him, why not just shoot him?”
“That wouldn’t be following the law. I hit him for what he did to that woman, but if he’d’a died, I wouldn’t’a cared.”
“You meant to kill him,” Jeremiah said, sounding shocked.
Josh growled, shoving his smaller brother away, giving orders as he walked to the bedroom door. “Tie him up then clean this mess up while I see to that woman.”
“Come on, Joey,” Jeremiah said, dropping quickly to his knees beside Clay.
Joey, the third brother, larger than Jeremiah but slight and short compared to Josh’s bulk, pulled his stare away from Clay. Looking at his brother, he shrugged. “He ain’t going nowhere.”
“He won’t straighten out,” Jeremiah whimpered.
“He can’t,” Joey said in disgust.
Jeremiah jumped and ran to the kitchen. “I’ll find something to tie him with.”
Joey rolled Clay to his back, holding him there with one hand planted in the middle of his chest between his drawn-up legs. With knees against chest and Clay’s shoulders hunched down, it was awkward to manage even that much. Joey straddled him and grabbed a handful of Clay’s waistband.
Clay gasped when Joey jerked his hips up. Breath came out in rushes, each longer and more relaxed as the pain eased off. Joey didn’t let Clay down until Jeremiah got back.
The bowstrings started again as soon as Joey eased his hips down. Clay’s legs came up of their own volition, his ankles already tied together with some thin cording Jeremiah had found. As his body turned to the side, his hands were wrestled away from the injured area to be lashed together at his wrists behind his back.
Jeremiah finished the job with a short piece of cord linking the ropes on his hands and feet together. His knees couldn’t go as close to his chest as they wanted without jerking his arms and shoulders back. Nor could his shoulders hunch to the degree they wanted without pulling his knees from his chest.
“You know, Joey, he looks familiar,” Jeremiah commented.
“No, he don’t,” Joey said. Dragging a chair closer, he sat, tipping to rock on the back legs.
“Yeah, he really does, but I cain’t place him.”
“He don’t,” Joey said, leaning forward to stab his brother in the chest with a stiff finger.
Jeremiah rubbed the spot, saying, “Okay, Joey. How come you’re acting funny?”
“Shut your mouth, Jeremiah,” Joey warned.
Clay was in agony and hating more than he ever hated in his life. He heard her gasp while they tied him and heard Josh talking to her even before the other two got quiet. Damn her, she could tell them he wasn’t raping her. She could tell them that much.
"Anytime the subject of Indians comes up they talk about Jim, at least in Ester. Jim was a white boy captive taken back from the Indians. He couldn't adjust to white ways. Ask me, knowing them Hoody boys, they wouldn't let him, but the up-shot of it is, he tore into them one day and nearly killed them before he could be pulled off."
Poppin shrugged. "Maybe he didn't have Sam's sense of humor. I don't know, and half of what they said, I don't believe. The point I'm making is, the boy was white, born white anyway. He was taught to live like the Indians, and no way around it, the Indian way is savage. So Jim was savage. A white savage, if ya will."
"How long would it take to turn a child?" Queens wondered aloud.
"Who knows, but it sure takes longer to unlearn than it takes to learn. That was ten years or so ago, and it don't sound like he has yet."
"Raping," he said, shaking his head.
"An Indian takes what he wants."