Monday, September 16, 2013

Longhorns excerpt by Victor J Banis

In this excerpt from Victor J Banis' Longhorns, half breed Buck has fallen head over heels in love with the ranch boss, Les – who insists that’s not his way. Finally, Les gets sore enough that the two come to blows over Buck’s flirtatious manner.

MLR Press (February, 2012)
ISBN: 978-1-60820-593-6 (print)
978-1-608-594-3 (ebook)

And the more all this worried at him, and the more frustrated he felt to do anything about it, the more that fed his anger, like spring rains feeding Bantam Creek. It began to feel to him like his whole life, which had been going along all smooth and serene like, before, had somehow been turned clear upside down, and he didn't exactly know when or how it had happened.
The only thing he knew for sure was who had done it.
Which was how they happened to come to blows, though afterward he couldn't remember just which remark of Buck's had finally made him explode—he was always saying something or another, with them looks of his, and they were all down the same trail.
"Damnation," he snapped one afternoon, "I don't want to hear no more of them remarks of yours, and I don't want you looking at me any more like you have been."
"What way is that?" Buck asked, with that innocent look he put on as easy as his Stetson.
"Like you was a tomcat eyeing a barn mouse," Les said.
Instead of looking worried, Buck laughed. "Well, I reckon I got some tomcat in me all right," he said, "but what I have been eyeing ain't no mouse, unless they are growing them lots bigger than they used to."
Which really got Les steamed, especially when the boys laughed at the joke, because he half way feared they might think Buck had gotten himself a real look, and he said, "Now that just tears it. I got me half a mind to pound some sense into that fool head of yours. And I don't expect you'd find that so damned funny, you fucking filthy half-breed."
Buck continued to laugh, and the boys standing around laughed with him, but Red, at least, saw that his eyes had gone blacker than coal.
"Never shied away from a fight," Buck said. "I got me a couple of fists myself."
"Well maybe you'd better just show me if you know how to use them," Les said.
"Anytime you feel like a jackrabbit," Buck said, "you just go ahead and jump."
The mood among the cowboys had grown sober. Red stepped forward and put a hand on Les's arm. "Les," he started to say, but Les shook his hand off.
"No, let's just get us this party started," Les said. He took off his bandana and his shirt, and tossed his Stetson on the ground, and raised his clenched fists.
Buck looked him over and seemed to be considering for a moment, and the boys watched to see if he was going to take the dare or not. Les was big and strong, and tough as they were, none of the boys had ever had a mind to tangle with him.
After a moment, Buck shrugged and stripped to the waist as well. Les stood six foot three inches tall, his hairy chest and long arms thickly muscled. Buck was shorter by a good six inches, and you could see at a glance that he must weigh fifty pounds less, but his slender body was hard and chiseled. When he stood like this, his half naked body gleaming bronze with sweat in the afternoon sunlight, it was easy to see his Indian heritage. If he had traded his dungarees and boots for a loincloth and leggings, he could have been one of the fierce Apache braves that had once struck fear into the hearts of the early settlers—except for the grin that never left his face.
"Now, I ain't really wanting to hit you," he said, although he raised his fists defensively. "Seems to me there's things we could do we'd both like lots better, as I think you could find out for yourself if you was to ask around."
"Ain't no damned concern of mine whose been plowing your back field for you, since it ain't me," Les said.
"Well, that ain't cause I ain't tried," Buck said, and got another laugh out of the boys, who had formed a circle about them.
"And as for what I would like," Les said, "it will suit me just fine to take that damned grin off your face."
He took a powerful swing with his right fist. Buck ducked it and backed up a couple of quick little steps, and the momentum of his swing was so great that it caused Les to stagger a step or two before he regained his balance.
"I sure think there's better ways the two of us could spend our energy," Buck said, and dodged another blow.
"I might've knowed you would turn out to be a sissy, for all your hot air," Les said.
"Now, nobody never called me a sissy before," Buck said angrily, his grin finally fading. "You take that back, you son of a bitch." He danced in close, fists up.
Watching him, Red groaned inwardly. If he could have coached Buck on what he should do, he would have told him to keep out of Les's reach. Les had long arms and massive fists, they looked like a pair of hams when he clenched them like this, and he was as strong as an ox.
Les's temper was like lightning on the prairie, though, it came on him fast, and it left him almost as quick. Red figured that, given a minute or two, he would have thought better of what he was doing, and, nimble as Buck was on his feet, if he could just keep himself out of the way of those fists for a while, this whole fight could be over shortly with nobody landing a blow.
But rushing in at Les the way he had, Buck had put himself in harm's way, where Les could get at him, and if Les wasn't as quick on his feet as the Nasoni, he was no slowpoke either.
Buck landed a glancing blow on Les's chin, to distract him, and hit him hard in the gut, the kind of blow with which he had knocked many a man's supper clean out of him. Only, it felt to Buck like he had just punched his fist against a fucking rock, and Les didn't even grunt or flinch.
Worrying, Buck tried to dance back again out of range, but he was bewildered by what had happened and he wasn't quite quick enough, and Les's long reach gave him an advantage. The next thing Buck knew, somebody had hit him in the belly with a sledgehammer, and before he had time for that even to register fully, another sledgehammer caught him on his chin. He staggered backward, his arms wind-milling, and just like that, he was sitting on his backside in the dust.
He shook his head, completely flummoxed. He had been in a fight or two in his time, and nobody had ever seated him, and he had a hard time comprehending that it had been done.
If he had stayed where he was, which was what Red was hoping for, that would mostly likely have been the end of it, but Buck was too sore now to think. He swore and scrambled to his feet and ran at Les so fast and so suddenly, that again he was able to land a blow on Les's chin, this one hard enough to make Les's head snap and remind him that the kid was no feather duster.
The result was the same as it had been before, though. Les smacked him hard on the chin again, and when he went down this time, Buck sprawled flat on his back, his eyes glazed over.
"I think that's enough, Les," Red said, and this time when he put his hand on Les's arm, Les did not shake it off.
The anger went out of Les all at once, and he unclenched his fists and dropped them to his sides, suddenly ashamed of himself for picking on someone half his size. Sprawled out in the dust like that, Buck looked more like a little boy than a tough cowboy. Hell, he weren't nothing more than just a kid, either, Les told himself, and just being fresh the way kids did. Damn little fool ought to have learned to keep his fucking mouth shut, that was the trouble.
Les learned in that very instant, though, what many a man had learned before him, that sometimes when you got what you thought you wanted, it turned out that you didn't want it after all. He had taken that grin off Buck's face just the way he said he would, and now that it was gone, damned if he didn't wish it was back again.
"You okay?" he asked, and stepped forward to offer Buck a hand up. Buck's lip was bleeding where Les's fist had caught him. He wiped the blood off with the back of his hand and shook his head, ignoring the hand Les offered. A couple of the boys came over to help him too, but he shoved their hands away as well and got up on his own and began to slap the dust off his dungarees.
"I reckon I'll live," he said. He looked around for his shirt. Jake picked it up wordlessly and handed it to him, and Buck put that on without once looking at any of the others or meeting anybody's eyes, buttoning it quickly, and retied the bandana that Jack handed him, and got his Stetson out of the dust before Red could pick that up, and clapped it down firmly on his head.
"Seems like I was getting ready to clean some stalls," he said, and strode into the barn, walking with something less than his usual swagger.
Everyone looked after him, and looked wordlessly at one another, and nobody looked at Les. Finally some of the boys began to drift back to what they had been doing.
"Damnation," Les said aloud, staring at Buck as he went and wanting to run after him and do, he didn't know what, just do something, to undo what had happened. He wiped the sweat from his brow, and sucked the blood off a scrape on his knuckles where they had connected with Buck's chin.
After a moment, he snatched up his own shirt and bandana and hat, and stomped away toward the ranch house. The boys parted to make room for him, but nobody met his eyes.

# # #

Buck was leading his pinto out of his stall when Red found him in the barn that night.
"What're you fixing to do, boy?" Red asked.
"Reckon it is time I was riding out," Buck said, not looking at him. "There's lots of Texas I ain't seen yet."
"Don't go being no damn fool, Buck," Red said. "Who do you think old Les was fighting with out there?"
"Well, I don't know who else was in it, but it was my jaw he was punching on, that is for sure," Buck said, rubbing his hand across it where it still ached.
"Shit, Buck, he wasn't fighting with you, he was fighting with himself," Red said. "And I got me a notion he has just about lost himself that fight."
Buck took a minute to consider that. "Damn it, Red," he said, his voice close to breaking, "fucking varmint knows how I feel. He's got to."
"Course he does, Buck. He's just being ornery. Shit, he's just being Les. I told you he was as stubborn as a goddam longhorn," Red said. "He can be as mean as donkey piss, too, but he ain't like that, not really. I'm telling you, he'll get up tomorrow morning feeling lower than a rattlesnake's belly, and wishing he could make it up to you."
"Well he sure enough knows how that would be done, and it don't appear to me as if he is likely to be doing it."
"I wouldn't be too sure of that, if I was you," Red said. "You give him a little more time, is all. If I was a betting man, I would bet you a month's pay, that tree of his is about ripe for the picking, and it won't be no time at all before you are getting the harvest of it. You ain't going to get nothing off it, though, if you go riding off with your tail between your legs. 'Sides, if you do, one thing I know is, he ain't going to be any happier about that than you will be once't you are gone. Or me either, I reckon, case you didn't know that."
"Reckon I would miss you, too, Red," Buck said. "Miss you plenty, if I was to tell you the truth."
"Well, then," Red said, and shrugged and managed a half smile. "I am telling you, boy, ain't nobody knows that old sidewinder any better than I do. You just give him a little time to get used to the idea, see if I ain't right."
They were silent for a long moment. The pinto whinnied, like he was wondering what they were up to, disturbing his sleep like this, just to listen to them jabber.
"Shit," Buck said giving his head a shake. "It hurts, Red. I never thought it would hurt like this."
"Course it does," Red said. "I know exactly how it feels, boy. But it's a sweet kind of hurt, ain't it? Once't a man feels that inside him, why, he wouldn't never want to be without it again. I expect a fellow wouldn't never feel alive after that if he lost it. Especially if he just threw it away, like."
Buck looked over his shoulder at him and gave him a measuring look. Red came closer to him and put one big leathery hand on the back of Buck's neck and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"Whyn't you come along with old Red for a spell, little buckaroo," he said in a soft voice, coaxing like. "I reckon I got me some medicine might make you feel a mite better, if you was of a mind."
"Reckon it might, at that," Buck said with a sigh, and he gave him a little smile, but it wasn't Buck's smile, and it made Red's tender heart ache. "Guess I best put this pony to bed first, though."
Red watched him go. He was still surprised at what a thrill of pleasure it was just to look at that slim hipped youth, leading his pony back to its stall. Red was not a wise man, nor a sophisticated one, certainly not in matters of the heart. He had never spoken of love with anyone, had never imagined that it was something he would ever even know, leading the life he did, and if he had imagined it, he would never have expected it like this.
He was wise enough to know, though, what it was that had come, named or unnamed, to settle inside him.
The boy was right, he thought, swallowing. It sure could hurt, when you got somebody in your craw that way.
To read other excerpts from Longhorns, see 6/9/08, 2/23/09, and 3/19/12.

1 comment:

Lloyd Meeker said...

Such a great story! One of my all-time favorites of Victor's. The writing is smooth as silk, as always, and the emotional impact focused and grounded. So fine...