I didn’t care much for the horse I was riding. Of course, Hawk had spoiled me for mountain riding. I guess that’s what you get when the government is paying the rent and you don’t get a chance to pick it out yourself. At least the road was well-worn.
The weather had turned out cold as we climbed toward the summit of the pass. From time-to-time there were flakes of snow blowing. I hated to put out the money on another sheepskin coat, but I’m glad I did now.
Blasco kept us moving. We stopped only once on the way up to give the horses a breather. “I don’t want to stop at Wooten’s; just pay our toll and keep moving,” he told me.
“I’ve heard a lot about ‘Uncle Dick Wooten,” but just what type of person is he?” I asked as I dismounted to tighten my cinch.
“Guess it depends on who you talk to,” replied Blasco. “He can be right cantankerous. For sure, he knows how to play the edge of the law. He won’t go out of his way to break it, but he might skirt around it some. If Reston is helping him in some fashion I don’t want to dilly-dally around so he could get word to him before we reach Raton.”
I mounted, then pulled the collar up around my neck. The wind was picking up and it was cold. I could also begin to feel the tingling in my toes. I’d put on a pair of wool socks; tried to get on two pair, but couldn’t get my boots on.
“The railroad will put him out of business, but he’ll work out some way to get sweet on the deal. Right now, he’s fighting the State ’cause they say he has to give up this tollway. But he’s getting old; he’s one of the true old-timers that hung around,” Blasco continued to inform me. He nodded, I returned it and he commanded, “Let’s go!”
In a couple of hours we reached the summit. We knew we were getting close as the wagons began to stack up in line waiting to pass through the toll area. We skirted around them, Jens said we had priority status. As we approached I could see an old man arguing with a teamster.
“Pull yur wagon over to the side!” hollered Wooten waving a shotgun. “Do it, or I’ll kill yur two lead mules!”
“You wouldn’t!” barked the man in return.
There was a smile that came across the old man’s face. He walked to the first mule, placed the shotgun alongside the mule’s head. Quickly he raised it just over the mule’s head and fired. The team jumped, the mule reared up as if shot.
“Next one goes in its brain,” stated Wooten. “Move yur wagon, yur holdin’ up business!”
The teamster moved to check his mule. “Move it now! It’s only deaf!”
“Hello, Dick,” said Blasco in a friendly manner. “Having some trouble?”
The old man looked up, fire in his eyes. He looked wild with gray hair coming from under his hat, he had a gruffly, tangled beard that bore the stains of tobacco, coffee, and whiskey.
“Why if it ain’t Marshal Jens Blasco,” he said lowering his shotgun after he had reloaded the one barrel. “Nah, nothin’ I can’t handle. The louse of a man wouldn’t show me his manifest so I could properly assess his fee.” He pointed with the shotgun to the wagons backed up on both sides. “Slowed up traffic,” he stopped to look at me. “This fellow with you?”
“Sorry, Dick, this is one of my deputies, Miles Forrest.”
He walked up to me, smiled when he saw I had the Greener in my hands. “He a good un?” he asked Blasco.
“Seems to me I’ve heard that name, Forrest, Forrest, hmmm. Well, youngster yuh seem ready.”
It sort of stunned me to be called “youngster”, but I guess compared to him I was just a schoolboy. “Well, Mr. Wooten, I try to travel with the Lord and keep my guns handy,” I responded to which he grunted and gave a little chuckle.
Wooten went back to Blasco. “Let’s see, two men, two horses…no pack animal–that’s a dollar and a half a piece.”
Jens leaned down looking at Wooten. “Oh, yes, minus the government discount. That’ll be a dollar for each of yuh.”
“Pay the man,” he hollered at me then turned his horse on down the road.
That brought a good laugh from Wooten. “That’s why I’m only the deputy,” I said handing the man two silver coins. That brought another good laugh.
I gave the horse a slight kick to follow Blasco to Raton and to who knows what…