The man they called Shorty Longshanks was hunched hard over his kak horn, trying to get a little shut-eye while his bronc made tracks. Two days straight he’d been punching, south from Albuquerque through the sun-brittled sage.
Suddenly, he jerked upright. Heard a noise up ahead, the faint clop of hooves against hardpan. He squinted his good eye and spotted a flash of silver to his left. Before the image had fully registered, his six was drawn and two slugs went whistling through the darkness. The animal went down first, followed by a terrible human howl.
The rustler was a Mexican, hardly more than a boy. He was a few feet off the trail, looking down at the bloody snake of his guts. The mule was beside him, gushing crimson from his flank. Shorty dismounted and grabbed the boy’s shooter, a snub-nosed Wesson that lay in the sand. No lead in the chamber.
The kid was whimpering for his mama. Shorty shook his head. "All right," he said. "Calm down, little Pancho. I ain’t just gonna leave you like that."
He took out his smoke pouch, rolled the kid a cig, and jammed it in the corner of his mouth. Then he climbed back onto his horse.
He was hungrier than a Mescalero in winter, but there was a certain someone down at Rancho Pingote with whom he had urgent business.
Shorty was known along the border as an agent of the hardest kind. You had a problem with rustlers, a ranny running dice, some old hand skimming cream from your milk, you sent for Shorty.
His moniker was a tribute to his stature — he stood barely five feet in boots — and to his temper. He’d killed a man for looking at him queer, and several others (so the rumors went) for looking at him, period.
The problem at the Pingote involved Panchos. They’d made off with three steers in as many weeks and the owner, a widow named Layla Beauchamp, suspected help from the inside.
Shorty reached the ranch by noon. He found the manager still in the bunkhouse, mopping up pork gravy in a cloud of flies. He nearly choked on his biscuit when Shorty sat down across from him.
"Longshanks," Shorty said.
"I know who you is," said the manager, real careful to keep his eyes on his plate.
"You got any notions who mighta sent that welcoming committee to greet me?" Shorty said.
The manager shook his head in confusion. "We been branding all week. You et yet?"
Shorty grunted. "Ain’t hungry." Coffee and chaw was enough for him. Kept his nerves nice and jumpy. "You just make sure all your men in the bunk tonight."
"What you going to do all day?" The man swallowed and his adam’s apple rose toward his chin, fat as a buckeye.
"Just gonna have a little look around," Shorty said.
Pingote was worse than he’d expected, the fences all busted up, half the wells run to mud. "Ain’t been easy since mah husband passed," the widow Beauchamp explained. She was a native of New Orleans and spoke with a buttery lilt.
"I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am."
"It’s been hard," she said softly. "But I didn’t hire you to listen to my complaints, Mr. Longshanks."
They were in her parlor, a dark, cool room with glass figurines all around. Shorty had seen blown glass
The widow was breathing extravagantly. The flesh at the base of her throat displayed a womanly glow.
before, little critters and things, but these were more like Saguaros.
"You got no idea who might be helping these Panchos?"
"I surely don’t, Mr. Longshanks." The widow took a deep breath of anguish. She was a tall woman, fleshy in the right parts, her lovely face shadowed beneath her mourning bonnet.
"Nobody new signed on this season?"
"Just the young’un."
"Slip of a boy. Can’t be more than fifteen. Keeps to himself."
"They called him Herm," the widow said. "An orphan, they say. Arrived with a letter from the Episcopal church. I couldn’t turn him away."
"Oh, Mr. Longshanks!" the widow said. She stood abruptly and drew close to him, setting her hand on his wrist. Shorty could see the edges of her girdle, molding the flesh beneath her gown. She smelled of lavender. "I’d hate to think this ranch might get sold off. It’s all I have left on God’s earth."
"Don’t you fret that, ma’am."
The widow was breathing extravagantly. The flesh at the base of her throat displayed a womanly glow. "You must excuse me, Mr. Longshanks. I am prone to outbursts."
That night Shorty met the crew, a pile of pokes sorry as he might have expected. Half were mangled up from mishaps. The rest were foreigners, pale Germans, a Chinaman who smelled of fish. The kid was the only one who didn’t return his greeting him and Big Lefty, who stuttered. Wore his hat clean through supper, too.
"Goes crazy if you try to take it off," Little Lefty whispered, and Big Lefty nodded.
The kid tucked into his grub, ignoring fork and spoon in favor of his dainty hands.
After they’d eaten, Shorty stood up. He wasn’t one much for words.
"Y’all know why I’m here. One of you galoots been feeding them Panchos. You best be gone before I see midnight on them spurs."
They all nodded, all but the kid, who turned his soft face away.
But nobody left. Same crew the next day, and the next. On Saturday night, Shorty brought out some whiskey. Hated to waste the good stuff, but he needed to uncurl some tongues. They got to drinking heavy. Big Lefty got a jar of shine from his still and the Chinaman produced some kind of sweet brandy, heavy with plums. The Germans started singing hymns. It was sad to see.
By the wee hours, they were all sprawled out like coon skins. The bunkhouse was one big snore. Shorty himself had gone two sheets, out of boredom, but he woke in time to hear the door creak. It was the kid, slipping out silent as a hungry weasel. Shorty waited a few minutes, then rose to follow.
There were sounds coming from the far barn, down the hill. He tiptoed toward the noise, stumbling for his bearings. As he drew closer, the sounds grew more distressing. They seemed to be feminine in nature, moans of a most volatile sort. Shorty had both guns drawn when he kicked in the door.
There, in the soft nimbus of a kerosene, was the widow — in a most compromising position.
She lay on a blanket on her back, her legs fallen open. She was entirely unclothed save for a pair of chaps and gloves. Shorty could see the flesh of her thighs all aquiver beneath the tooled leather, and the sway of her liberated bosom. Between those pale thighs was the kid, lapping at her like a tom going at fresh milk.
The widow looked up, his eyes struggling to focus on the dark figure standing slack-jawed in the doorway.
"Why, Mr. Longshanks," she said, in her languid manner. "We thought you’d never join us."
The kid, absurdly, was still wearing his hat. He didn’t turn to face Shorty, but continued his ministrations, aided by the widow, whose gloved hand pressed the back of his neck. A moist sound could be heard throughout the barn, which smelled of must and sweet manure.
"I don’t understand," Shorty said. The whiskey was still swirling his brainpan.
The widow laughed, a girlish, gurgling noise. "The rules are quite simple," said she. "I’m sure I don’t have to explain."
Shorty watched her hips rising to meet the kid’s eager mouth and felt his blood start to surge. "I reckon you’re okay, then?" he queried feebly.
The length of her was there, standing in such a fulsome vision of feminine beauty.
The widow arched her back and let out a long, shivery sigh. She lay back, at rest for a moment, then staggered to her feet. The full length of her was there, standing in such a fulsome vision of feminine beauty that Shorty fell nearly faint.
She walked towards him, imitating a poke’s pigeon-toed gait, while the kid lay back in his long johns and hat, smirking.
"You’ll need to remove all this," the widow said.
Shorty could smell her now, the sweet, yeasty scent of her desire pouring into the world. He stood, a little paralyzed.
"Very well," she said. "I’m most happy to assist you." She leaned down through the pearly moonlight — for she was several inches taller than he — and began to unsnap the buttons of his shirt. She took his belt off next, removed his hat, and chaps. His body, unshowered for several days, gave off a powerful musk, which she breathed in.
Upon reaching his long johns, the widow sank to her knees. She lingered over the stained cotton, taking her time with the buttons, until he was released, throbbing in his readiness for love. She stared for a good while.
"My my," she said. "I see now why they might call you Longshanks."
She lowered her mouth onto him and began performing an act that Shorty had heretofore only read about. Her capacities in this regard were stunning. Shorty looked down and could see the wetness of her work, the happy warp of her cheeks as more and more of him disappeared.
She made one hand slippery with spit to aid her effort, while, with the other, she massaged the swollen orbs below. He watched her head bobbing, down, down, while the curious aroma of cinnamon rose from her dark curls.
"Oh God," Shorty said. "Ma’am…I’m just about…" He closed his eyes, so as to prolong the sensation.
Then, all at once, he felt a second set of hands upon his racked body.
It was the kid, of course. He had joined his mistress in her eager feast.
Shorty looked down in astonishment. "No!" he yipped.
The widow rose from her urgent duties. "Don’t be silly, Mr. Longshanks. Little Herm is my apprentice."
"I won’t have some little pissant touching at my parts," he sputtered.
But already the widow was laughing him off. She turned to the kid and pulled off his hat. There was blond hair everywhere, a shiny tangle, and now Shorty could see that the delicacy of the kid’s face, the softer angles, were not owing to age. He was a she.
"She had no other place to go," the widow explained. "A poor child of God like Hermanetta. I couldn’t leave her to roam the range. Surely a man of your, shall we say, stature, can understand my Christian motives."
Shorty watched as the kid lowered herself to the ground. For a moment, he thought she might start to pray. Instead, she slipped her face between her mistress’s powdered knees. The widow’s neck flushed. She let out a single, throaty ululation, then set upon him with a renewed vigor.
Shorty looked down. He could see the pink of the widow’s tongue, his own gleaming veins, and he felt the precious sap of his manhood rising from the deep.
Surely the widow sensed his spasms, for she quickly leaned back and smiled at him. The kid rose from her place in a single, lithe motion and smoothed the quilt. The widow set her hand upon the girl’s cheek. A look of misty adoration passed between them.
"Do you know what it’s like to receive a man inside you?" the widow cooed. "It is, I can assure you, an exquisite sensation, Mr. Longshanks."
Shorty staggered onto his knees. The liquor had done more than its intended work. The widow lay before him, beckoning. Her sex glistened like a tulip kissed by the morning’s dew. She canted her hips and took hold of his ropy arms and he felt himself meet her warmth and sink inside.
Shorty’s mind went hot and wobbly. This was nothing like the Mexican whores, who smelled of rose perfume and privies and stared miserably over his shoulder while he struggled to reach the end. (He could feel the sores that would plague him, even before it was over.)
The kid had insinuated her hand between them, so as to press at her mistress’s most sensitive flesh. The widow was tearing at his back. Then her eyes glazed over and her torso buckled and her moaning grew insatiable again.
She growled into his ear: "Yes, Mr. Longshanks, like that. Good. Harder now. Harder. Deeper. Oh yes! Every bit of your pecker, you lazy poke!"
Shorty tried to obey, but the realignment of blood had left him light-headed. The widow, impatient for her own release, took hold of his neck and rassled him down like a steer. He felt the wool of the quilt scratch at his shoulders; the widow loomed above him. Sweat dripped from her rosy buds onto his chin.
She grabbed hold of his man-pistol and played the tip against the damp scarf of her sex. Then she sank down upon the throbbing barrel, with a prolonged sigh. She began slowly rising and falling, while the kid suckled at her bosom. Shorty could feel her insides clutching him in a steady rhythm.
"You’re a horseman," she murmured. "Surely, you know how to buck."
He did as he was told and her pace accelerated accordingly. Her loins began to gyrate with a fierce chaos, as if trying to
The kid was behind him now, jerking a slipknot around his wrists.
jump free of him. She commenced to snorting and shaking her mane. The sight was too much for Shorty. He pleaded with her to desist. But her eyes were distant and glassy. He could feel the weight of her pale bottom grinding at his hips, pinning him down.
Then, all at once, he felt someone tugging at his hands, the coarse fibers of a rope digging into his wrists.
"What the hell?" he said.
The kid was behind him now, jerking a slipknot tight around his wrists.
"Buck," the widow said.
"You heard me! Buck!"
Her tone had changed, taken on an edge of menace.
"My hands," he said.
"You don’t need your hands to buck," she said. And with that, she began again to ride him. Shorty saw the kid move down and then felt her hands, massaging him where the spasms seemed to begin. Once again, he gave himself over to pleasure.
Only now, he felt the bite of a rope around his ankles. He tried to kick free, but the kid had bound him up right, a triple buck with a reverse loop. The more he fought, the tighter his binding became.
The widow had gone still. Her energies appeared focused on an internal contraction so drastic that Short felt himself going numb.
"You have no idea how long I’ve waited for this moment, Mr. Longshanks."
"Wha — what moment?" Shorty said. "What’s this all about?"
The widow glared down at him in triumph. The frenzied desire in her expression had evaporated, like dawn fog off a mesa. "Seven years ago you shot a man in Reno, an innocent man named Robert Chaleaux. You put a bullet through his back because you felt he might have looked at you in an untoward manner."
"I don’t remember any Chaleaux!"
"Oh, but I do," the widow hissed. "He was my husband!" With this pronouncement, she flexed her feminine muscles.
Shorty felt an excruciating pinch. "But your name’s Beauchamp," he wheedled.
"Beauchamp is my maiden name," the widow said. "And I think we can both agree, at this particular juncture, that I’m no maiden."
Shorty shifted his glance from side to side. He felt himself shriveling. "With all due respect, ma’am, you got no proof of nothing."
"Oh, but you’re wrong about that, Mr. Longshanks. There was a witness to your foul play. An eye witness."
Now the kid reappeared above Shorty, holding his long-barreled Colt 45.
"May I introduce you to my late husband’s darling cousin? She was nine at the time of your murderous deed. Watched the entire thing, while cowering under a table."
Shorty struggled to retrieve the incident, through the blur of his present circumstance. He seemed to recall a saloon, a card game, a dispute bloated by liquor. He had shot the man, a plump dandy who wore a silk cravat to match his knee pants. Yes, that much he remembered. The fat fool had wept like a girl.
"There are a few things you might want to do now, Mr. Longshanks. If you care for your life, that is." The widow rose to her full height. "The first would require you to turn over, onto your hands and knees."
With considerable effort, Shorty did as he was told. He needed some time to figure his way out of this.
The kid had held the gun to Shorty’s skull throughout his arduous realignment. Now she handed the gun to the widow and positioned herself directly in front of Shorty. Slowly, she unbuttoned her long johns and stepped out of them.
The site that greeted Shorty was so revolting he nearly vomited. The girl had the usual parts of a woman, small breasts with plum-colored nipples, and the soft indications of her sex below. But just beneath her belly button was a small appendage, a protuberance the size and approximate shape of man’s thumb.
"What in God’s name?" Shorty said.
The widow stuck the barrel into his ear and clicked back the safety. "We are all God’s children," she said softly. "You’d do well not to say anything untoward to my beloved cousin-in-law. She is a sensitive young thing who has seen already too much of this base world."
She spoke to her apprentice in a snarling French now. Shorty watched the kid’s boots disappear from view.
The next thing he knew, there was something, someone, poking at the tender pucker of his behind. He winced and began surrendering his whiskey to the warm dirt of the barn. Worst of all was the strange sound the creature emitted, a kind of keening that reminded him of a bat. Shorty tried to fall away from him, her, it, but he felt a lasso flung around his neck. Each time he struggled, the noose tightened. Finally, he felt the warm spatter on his lower back.
"With God as my witness," he gasped, "I’ll kill the both of you with my bare hands."
The widow’s voice purred into his ear. "Now now, Mr. Longshanks. We’re only just getting started."
The kid had removed herself and now she stepped forward with Shorty’s second gun. He saw the widow sidle away. He heard an ominous sloshing sound and shut his eyes. Then the widow returned and held something under his nose and a familiar smell punched into his nostrils.
"Open your eyes," the widow said.
The kid gave him a vicious cuff with the butt of the gun.
Before him was one of the widow’s glass figurines, a monstrous two-pronged thing, shimmering with saddle grease.
"You’re going to like this," she whispered. "I had it made just for you, Mr. Longshanks."
The last thing Shorty saw, before the pain snuffed out his sight, was a delicate shaft of moonlight falling across the dirt of the barn, illuminating the worn pewter of his spurs.
Sun-up saw no trace of him, nor of his bronc. He’d vanished into the desert as silently as he appeared. The widow, plainly distraught, spent the day in bed, sipping hot tea fetched by her servant.
The rannies were, to a man, hung over. None seemed to notice that the kid wore a new set of spurs, and a new shooter on his slender hip. Nor did they observe the odd flakes of rust on these items. Only one or two remembered anything at all from the night before, an animal baying which had roused them, briefly, from their stupor, and, in their dreams, had echoed across the scrub for what seemed hours.