Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Winged Horse

Max Brand



  A Western Story

  Max Brand®

  Copyright © 1929 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. © renewed 1956 by Dorothy Faust. © 2015 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. E-book published in 2017 by Blackstone Publishing

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof

  may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever

  without the express written permission of the publisher

  except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Printed in the United States of America

  Trade e-book ISBN 978-1-5047-8749-9

  Library e-book ISBN 978-1-5047-8747-5

  1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

  CIP data for this book is available

  from the Library of Congress

  Blackstone Publishing

  31 Mistletoe Rd.

  Ashland, OR 97520

  Chapter One

  He was an inch over six foot, and yet he looked light enough to ride a small horse and strong enough to break a big one. He was not a pretty man, because his eye was cold and his jaw was grim. Since he was without a coat and one sleeve had been torn out of his shirt, an arm was visible. It showed white, dazzlingly pure skin, contrasted with the sun-blackened skin of hands and face. A student of anatomy would have been entranced by that arm. It was not bulky, but it was not sleeked over with a layer of fat. On the contrary, every muscle was a separate string that could have been picked out between thumb and forefinger. The sheriff had been regarding him.

  “I’m gonna soak you into the hoosegow, stranger,” he said.

  “All right,” said the stranger. “I need a rest, anyway.”

  “You’re gonna get one,” said the sheriff. “A good long one.”

  “That depends on the way you feed,” said the stranger. “What kind of chuck you throw to the boys in the hoosegow?”

  “Frijoles,” said the sheriff.

  “Well, they’ll hold me for a day or two,” said the stranger.

  “We’ll hold you the rest of the time,” said the sheriff.

  The other smiled. The hardness vanished from his face and the sheriff found himself looking into the twinkling eyes of a boy.

  “Aw, I dunno,” the stranger said.

  This was a challenge, and the sheriff sneered with anger. He jerked a piece of paper toward him and stabbed his pen into the inkwell.

  “What name or names have you got?” he asked.

  “That depends,” answered the other.

  “Depends on what?”

  “On where I am.”

  “You’re here, now.”

  “I dunno what this place is,” said the prisoner. “It ain’t on the map, is it?”

  “Stow your jaw,” answered the sheriff, growing very hot of face. “Ain’t on the map!” he echoed fiercely.

  “Maybe I’ll put it on,” the prisoner said cheerfully. “But I dunno how it is … some places are pretty hard.”

  “You’ll find this place hard enough,” the sheriff assured him with satisfaction.

  “I mean hard to wake up,” said the other.

  “You heard me talk. What’s your name or names?”

  “In Montana they call me the Kid.”

  “They do, do they? Is that all they think of you up there?”

  “They spell it with capitals like a headline,” the Kid informed the lawman.

  “It’s kind of terrible the way you despise yourself,” sneered the sheriff.

  “They found me pretty young,” said the Kid. “I grew up in a week.”

  “Tall enough to see, eh?”

  “You couldn’t miss me,” the boy assured him.

  “What other name have you got besides the Kid?”

  “Over in Wyoming they call me Slippery Elm.”


  “Because I was sort of hard to hold.”

  “I’ll hold you,” said the bitter sheriff.

  “You’ll hold trouble then,” said the prisoner, and yawned in the face of the officer. “And maybe I’ll give you trouble to hold,” he added blandly.

  “What other name, or names?” asked the sheriff, breathing hard.

  “Once in Nevada I was traveling pretty light and pretty fast. It was winter … kind of bleak and miserable. I hit a cow camp. I hadn’t no horse and only but one shoe on. They call me Lonesome, over Nevada way, right up to now.”

  “That don’t mean nothing.”

  “Yonder around Denver way, they call me the Doctor.”

  “Because of the way you could handle a sick horse, maybe?” glowered the sheriff.

  “Because I was pretty handy with a knife,” said the prisoner. “That was all.”

  “What other kind of names might you have, Kid?”

  “Why, down in Texas, they call me Montana, and up in Idaho they call me Texas.”

  “They call you pretty near anything, it looks like,” suggested the sheriff. “Do you always come?”

  “Sure,” said the prisoner. “I come anywhere. Even into a joint like this town.”

  “You’ll stay a while, too,” said the sheriff.

  The prisoner yawned again.

  “What’s your real name?” asked the sheriff.



  “Sure. My mother liked the name.”

  “What else?”



  “She thought that I looked that way.”

  “What’s your last name?”


  “That’s a lie.”

  “Sheriff, don’t say that again.”

  “Alfred Percy Lamb … that’s a moniker to be hung onto a bird like you?”

  “It rests pretty light,” said the prisoner, “and don’t bother me none at all.”

  “There’s some mules,” said the sheriff, “that dunno when they’re carrying a load or not.”

  “I hanker for that rest to start,” said the prisoner. “Lead me to that hay pile, Sheriff, will you?”

  “Lemme fill out this record. You never been arrested before, I s’pose?”

  “Me? Oh, never. I never been this tired before.”

  The sheriff snorted like a seal. “I bet you been in every hoosegow betwixt here and Frisco,” he said.

  “You got a kind face,” said the prisoner, “but you left school young.”

  “What kind of a face have you got for describing?” asked the sheriff. “Start with the hair … what color is it?”

  “I never stopped to think,” said Alfred Percy Lamb.

  He ran his hand through it; the links of the handcuffs jangled with a delicate sound like silver bells. It was ordinary blond-brown hair, but faded by the sun at the edges, and with a broad streak of gray that ran back above one eye, so that at times it gave oddly the effect of a single horn.

  “How would you say?” appealed the sheriff.

  It was dusk, and the lamp was lit, but at this moment there was not enough lamplight to replace the day, and not enough day to withstand the night. The sheriff, by raising the lamp, merely dazzled his own eyes. He put the lamp down hastily, for the prisoner had leaned quietly and quickly forward and his eyes became like the eyes of a cat. The sheriff shrugged his shoulders. A chill ran up and down his spine, and his blood was only warmed again by the honest touch of the handles of his revolver.

  “I’d say average brown, or medium brown, maybe?”

“Medium brown,” the sheriff agreed, and forced his hand through the labored writing, his head cocked over to one side, his eyes looking blankly at the prisoner, as though he were composing a poem that far exceeded the subject matter. “Now your eyes. What say?”

  “I dunno … gray, or green, or blue, or something.”

  “That’s a help. Don’t you know what color your own eyes are?”

  “I dunno. Look for yourself.”

  The sheriff impatiently snatched up the lamp and rose to approach his man, but suddenly he seemed to remember something, and halted far short of his mark. He merely leaned over, holding the lamp high, and squinting.

  “Why, they’re hazel,” he said.

  “Put down hazel, then,” said the prisoner.

  “No, they’re gray.”

  “Make it gray, old-timer.”

  “Or blue, is it? Say, I never seen such changeable eyes. Medium, I might say.”

  “Yes, you might.”

  Eyes, medium, wrote down the sheriff with somewhat less care. “Lemme see … the nose?”

  “I dunno.”

  “Turn your head, will you? It ain’t very long. It ain’t snubbed, though. It ain’t got a hook onto it, either. It ain’t big and it ain’t small. How would you describe that nose of yours, Lamb?”

  “I dunno that I ever thought about my nose.”

  “Medium, I might put.”

  “Sure you might.”

  Medium, wrote down the sheriff, toiling over his pen work. “Now take your whole face like a map, what might I say about it?”

  “Pretty,” suggested Alfred Lamb.

  “Huh?” said the sheriff, puffing like a seal again. “Pretty! Pretty? Huh! Face … lemme see … Western-looking for a face, I’d call it. Face … er … medium, say. Any kind of distinguishing marks?”

  “Not that I know about.”

  “Where you get that streak of gray in your hair?”

  “There was a greaser come up Tucson way that thought that he had a grudge ag’in’ me. He was pretty near right about it, too. But he was just a fraction high … afterward the hair all grew in white, the way that you see.”

  “That’s a mark. Now, I got something definite on you. This is better … and how did you lose that bite out of your left ear?”

  “There was a little argument in Denver one night, over some cards. The fellow had his gun slung under his armpit. He tried over the table at me, while I tried under the table at him. He removed part of this here ear.”

  “And you removed a part of him, I suppose?”

  “He began to scream something terrible,” said the prisoner. His eyes grew soft with reminiscence. “There was a fine sunset … all gold … outside the window. Says one of the boys to him … ‘Joe, you couldn’t’ve picked a better time for snuffing out.’ Funny how little things like that sticks in your mind, ain’t it?”

  “Sure it’s funny,” answered the sheriff. He tipped back his head. He, also, had apparently grown absent-minded, so fixedly did he regard the prisoner. “What’s that mark down the left side of your face?” he asked presently.

  “Pal of mine got to arguing. It was up in Alaska. The point was what share we each was gonna have. He’d done more work than me. I didn’t have the same kind of a liking for the handle of a pick that he had. But I’d stood off a couple of tough nuts that wanted to clean us out, when my friend could think of nothing but running all of the way to Dawson for help. However, when it came to standing up for his rights, he wasn’t no four-flusher. He waited till my back was turned, and then he come for me. I turned my head and got the edge of the ax here.” He sighed. “It hurt like fury,” he said. “You just got no idea how that edge of an ax can hurt. It’s kind of broader and more ragged than the edge of a knife.”

  “It is,” the sheriff said sympathetically. “Did he change his mind after he’d laid you out?”

  “I had a lot of luck that time, and just as he heaved up the ax for another swipe at me, I shot him through the heart while I was falling. That was a pretty close one,” said the prisoner, shaking his head pleasantly, as though reproaching fate—or luxuriating in it, perhaps.

  “Ain’t that another scar that dips down into the inside of your collar, there?”

  “Sure! This was down in Mexico City. They sure love a knife down there. And a family … it all sticks together. I met up with three brothers. They was all high class, and they liked poker too well to play it straight. We had a little argument, and while I was getting two of ’em, the third one got me here and pretty near croaked me.”

  “But you got away?”

  “Yup. There was a gendarme handy that seen a chance to get the stakes from the table. He took them, and beat us all up, and turned us loose, and there you are.”

  Chapter Two

  Finishing his record, the sheriff said, “Alfred Percy Lamb, alias. What shall I call you for short?”

  “Why, I dunno.”

  “Lemme see. Oh, damn these ‘mediums’ … because they make hash out of this here report. Why not Medium? Kid Medium!”

  “It ain’t much of a name,” said the prisoner, “but I might stretch it and make it do.”

  He was taken to his cell.

  “I want to see those beans,” he said. “I want to see those real frijoles that you was talking about to me.”

  “Sure,” said the sheriff. “It’s suppertime now. We got a pretty full house tonight.”

  “What a lot of mangy bums,” said the newly named Kid Medium.

  The sheriff nodded at this uncharitable statement. “Here’s a corner cell for you,” he said almost respectfully. “You see, you ain’t got no neighbors here. There’s a pretty good couch in there, too.”

  “Now, that’s mighty kind of you,” said the prisoner. “Doggone hospitable and everything. Only, I’d like to say that the chuck is what makes the big difference to me, partner. It don’t make much of a change to me, no matter what the company and the sleeping is like. But I lived long enough in Mexico to want a pretty good dish of frijoles.”

  The door closed behind him with a gentle but ominous clang.

  The sheriff went home to his supper, through the quiet streets with the scent of frying bacon issuing from every house. He was silent at his table, scowling at the hot cornbread that his wife placed before him, and forgetting his coffee while he pulled at his long, saber-shaped mustache. That mustache had elected him four times to the sheriff’s office. Without it, his face looked too thoughtful and gentle, and his stomach had been pounds overweight for years.

  A hand knocked at the front door and the sheriff sang out.

  “It’s me,” said an answering voice.

  “Who’s me?” grumbled the sheriff, uncertain.

  “How you talk!” exclaimed his wife. “Don’t you know Colonel Pete Loring’s voice?”

  “Hey, come in, Colonel!” the sheriff called.

  The front screen banged and jangled. The colonel strode into the dining room and sat down, leaving a stir of acrid alkali dust in the air.

  “How’s little things?” the colonel asked.

  “Why, kind of fairly stirred up.”

  “I heard there was a racket last night.”

  “There was a pretty good racket.”

  “Punchers off the range on a party?”

  “A puncher,” said the sheriff, “if he is a puncher.”

  “A puncher?” said the colonel, mildly surprised. “And did one man work up a ruction here?”

  “By keeping on moving,” said the sheriff. “He didn’t stop to let them hit back. His idea was to keep reaching out … and most of the things that he reached, dropped on the spot.”

  “What name?”

  “By name of the Medium Kid, or Kid Medium, or something like that. Are you gonna feed with us, Colonel?” he said.

�I ain’t going to feed. I sat down in the hotel and got outside of some chuck, there. Now, regarding this wandering puncher, what you done with him?”

  “Slammed him in the hoosegow, of course.”

  “Did he fight?”

  The sheriff smiled. “Did he fight? He did fight, Colonel. He fought like a wildcat. But we got a rope over his neck and choked him down like a wild horse. Then we toted him to the jail.”

  “How does he look?”

  “Like a mustang.”

  “Where’d he get that name?”

  “Because it’s pretty hard to fasten onto him and say why he looks so wild. Y’understand? Everything’s just medium about him till he gets into action.”

  “Would you be needing him long in that jail?”

  “He says that I won’t.”

  “He says so?”

  “That’s the kind he is. He says that it depends upon how things size up in the jail … the chuck is what interests him, and if the chuck’s good enough, he says he’ll stay and rest for a while.”

  “Look here, Bud … did you search him?”

  “To the skin.”

  “Then what’s he got that’ll bust his way out for him? Friends here in town?”

  “It ain’t likely. It looks like his first visit to the place, it seems to me.”

  The colonel was silent, biting his lips in the profoundest thought. He was a fat and smiling man, with a dark skin and a very large mouth. His thick hair was worn away in front, leaving his forehead vastly high. After much thought he said, “You want that fellow pretty bad, Sheriff?”

  “Why, I dunno. I wouldn’t, except that he told me first that I wouldn’t want him for very long.”

  “What you intend to do about that?”

  “Why, it’s pretty simple. I’ll go up to my office, after a while, and sit there in the dark.”

  “You think that he’d come on through the office?”

  “Why, I dunno. I think that he would.”

  “Why for? To find trouble?”

  “He seen me hang up his guns on the wall.”

  “What’s the difference? Ain’t there other guns in the world?”