Another blast from the past today as I re-present the first adventure of Evil Eddie and his Surly Cowpokes. As with yesterday's Time Trek posting, many Blahg readers may already be familiar with this material. But I'm posting it here anyway, because, well, I think it's a fun little story, and maybe having it up in public will inspire me to write the next chapter.
Evil Eddie and His Surly Cowpokes
"The Adventure of the Hidden Fortress"
Evil Eddie and his Surly Cowpokes were outlaws and gunslingers. In fact, they were among the most-feared villains in the Old West, and many sheriffs and deputies and bounty hunters were eager to bring them to justice, dead or alive.
Evil Eddie was a stocky, barrel-chested fellow with a quick temper and a quicker draw. His eyes were dark with all the frustrated rage of the unloved, and his five o'clock shadow was darker than the dark side of the Moon. He wore his black cowboy hat tilted low in the front, and his twin six-guns low on his hips.
He named his Cowpokes Big Brainless Bill, Slow-Witted Stu, and Plumb Dumb Slim. The Cowpokes really didn't like their names, but the truth was they all had terrible learning disabilities, and so the names stuck, even though they weren't truly dumb. To make matters worse, Big Brainless Bill was only five feet tall, and Plumb Dumb Slim was actually not slim at all, though neither was he fat. His real name was Horace, but no one called him that, not even his mother. And Slow-Witted Stu really wasn't that stupid, he just had some trouble with his times tables. Now you'd think that Bill, Stu, and Slim would resent their nicknames, but they knew that deep down Evil Eddie (who wasn't really evil) only called them those nasty names to hide his affection for them, and so they accepted the situation.
Now, it's true that Evil Eddie and his Surly Cowpokes were outlaws, and they surely sent a lot of men to their graves, but just as there are two sides to every coin, there are two sides to every story. And the truth is, Evil Eddie and his Surly Cowpokes were called outlaws because they robbed from the rich robber barons and railroad tyrants and distributed those ill-gotten gains back to the disenfranchised poor, even the Redskins and Chinamen and the Coloured folk. Evil Eddie did this because he was a proto-Marxist, though Evil Eddie didn't know it.
"The way I see it," Evil Eddie once told his Surly Cowpokes, back when they were just exploited ranch hands and not dangerous outlaws, "Is the rich is gettin' richer and the poor is gettin' poorer. And that ain't right, no sir. Seems to me it'd be right fair if each man (or even filly) worked accordin' ta his or her abilities, and received goods 'n services accordin' ta his or her needs."
Big Brainless Bill, Slow-Witted Stu, and Plumb Dumb Slim all thought this sounded fair enough, and so they formed a ragtag band, emulating the famous Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, though none of them had ever heard the story of that Merry Man.
One day, Evil Eddie and his men robbed the First Capitalist Bank down in Tucson, and after the getaway, as was their tradition, they divided the gold in equal shares amongst the downtrodden of the Arizona Territory. And as always, the people were very grateful, and they loved Evil Eddie even though he responded to their joyous thanks only with surly silence or perhaps, if he was in a good mood, a grunt. Bill, Stu, and Slim, who were more friendly than Eddie, grinned like fools to receive the kisses of the young women and the handshakes of the struggling farmers. All in all, Evil Eddie and his Surly Cowpokes had created quite a reputation for themselves in the Arizona Territory.
After they handed out the gold, Evil Eddie and his band rode out into the desert to camp. But hot on their heels came the fiercest lackey of the bourgeoisie, Marshall Tyrone T. Boots. Marshall Boots was a very tall man, near to seven feet, and he had big muscles all over. But his eyes were squinty and his long, lean face was scarred with acne and knife wounds. His mustache was crooked and his teeth were yellow and his long blonde hair was thin and dirty. Marshall Boots was, sad to say, plain ugly. And while an ugly face can often hide a kindly soul, the face of Marshall Boots revealed the terrible truth of his character to all the world.
For Marshall Boots was a very angry, hateful man, and he wasn't shy about sharing his fierce temper with anyone, not even his own posse. Marshall Boots hated children, dogs, butterflies, flowers, and even ice cream. Marshall Boots shot harmless garter snakes for fun and let the rattlers live, and he popped the balloons of little boys and girls just so he could hear them cry. Whenever he rode into town, Marshall Boots would shoot his six-gun five times (not really caring where he was pointing it) and say, "I'm Marshall Tyrone T. Boots, and you all had better do as I say or I'll shoot your ears off and burn down your house and step on your toes and pee in your well, because I am the LAW in this town and this territory." And that's just what he did and said in Tucson, on the very day that Evil Eddie and his men robbed the bank.
Well, needless to say, no one messed much with Marshall Tyrone T. Boots or his men, who were hand-picked by Marshall Boots to be almost as mean and cruel as he was. So on the day he rode into Tucson, well, the people were so scared that not one citizen volunteered to ride into the desert to warn Evil Eddie and the Surly Cowpokes of the danger. They were ashamed of themselves for their cowardice, but wouldn't you be scared too if Marshall Tyrone T. Boots came to your town?
As luck would have it, though, way down at the far end of Main Street, a stagecoach rolled into town. And out stepped Miss Carolina Vanderbilt, a feisty young woman from New York State. Miss Carolina was as pretty as Marshall Boots was ugly. Her long red hair hung all the way down to her shapely bottom, and her big green eyes flashed with kindness and wit. Her fingers were long and thin, perfectly shaped for playing the piano or writing out letters, and she did both with skill and grace. Her legs were long and finely muscled, and they served her well, for she was an accomplished horse rider, lion tamer, and dancer. She was also a spy in the employ of the Secret World League for Peace and Justice, but no one in town knew that. As far as the people of Tucson knew, Miss Vanderbilt was to be the new schoolmarm.
When Miss Vanderbilt saw the commotion in the distance at the other end of Main Street, she stopped a passing child and asked him what was happening.
"Why, Marshall Boots has come to town, and he aims to put Evil Eddie and the Surly Cowpokes in jail!" said the little boy, whose name was Tommy Beans.
"Hmm," said Miss Vanderbilt, "It sounds as though Marshall Boots is determined to keep the town safe from robbers and bandits."
Little Tommy Beans glared at Miss Vanderbilt. "What do you know, Ma'am? Marshall Boots is the meanest man in the whole territory, and Evil Eddie gave my Ma and Pa gold so that the bank couldn't get our farm."
"I'm sure Evil Eddie seems like a nice man to you, little boy," Miss Vanderbilt said haughtily, "But if the Marshall wants to put him in jail, why then he must have done something bad. And it's 'Miss,' not 'Ma'am,'" she added.
"Evil Eddie robs from the rich and gives to the poor, and that don't sound so bad to me," Tommy Beans replied, and then he spat at Miss Vanderbilt's feet, and before she could twist his ear for being so rude, he ran away.
"Robs from the rich and gives to the poor?" thought Miss Vanderbilt. "So, this Evil Eddie fancies himself a modern Robin Hood. Perhaps this assignment will be more interesting than I first imagined." And Miss Vanderbilt gathered up her bags and made her way towards the two-room schoolhouse that was meant to serve as both her home and workplace for the next five years.
Meanwhile, Evil Eddie and his gang covered their tracks and set up camp in a little grove of old dead trees and knee-high shrubs still clinging to life. Big Brainless Bill built a cozy fire, Slow-Witted Stu fed and watered the horses, and Plumb Dumb Slim cooked some salt pork and brown beans in his rusty old frying pan. The men sat on old musty blankets and ate on battered tin plates, but they didn't mind because the food was good and the company was fine. When all the pork and beans had been gobbled up, Eddie reached into his rucksack and retrieved his favourite deck of cards. The men gathered in a circle and sat cross-legged to play and talk.
"Have ya got a three 'o clubs?" Plumb Dumb Slim asked.
"Go fish," replied Big Brainless Bill.
But before Plumb Dumb Slim could go fish, Evil Eddie raised his hand. "Boys," he said, "We've been robbing banks and trains and stagecoaches and killin' bounty hunters and crooked sheriffs for some time now, and you got to know that with each robbery and each killin' we draw more of the wrath of the rulin' class upon us. So the chances that we can go on robbin' from the rich and givin' to the poor are even slimmer than Slim, here."
"Well, sure," said Big Brainless Bill, one hand on his baby-smooth chin, "But I don't wanna go back to bein' no ranch hand. That's next to bein' a slave, just like them coloured fellas used to be."
Slow-Witted Stu said, "And I like helpin' the poor. It just don't seem right that we should quit just on account of wantin' to save our own sorry skins."
"Now hang on, Stu," said Slim, "Evil Eddie didn't say nothin' about no quittin'."
"I surely didn't," Evil Eddie said, "I just wanted to be sure you boys knew the score. So you three should make peace with whatever God you believe in and maybe write a note to yer loved ones, because I reckon sooner or later the law is gonna catch up with us."
"Gosh, Evil Eddie," said Plumb Dumb Slim, "You sure are gloomy tonight. Besides, we got to keep on, come hell or high water, because all them orphans and widows and farmers and shopkeepers is a-countin' on us to protect them from those devils with the stars on their chests and repossession notices clutched in their greedy hands."
"Ah'm gloomy because once a man gets to a certain age, he realizes that the world is about as mean as a spittin' cobra and won't give you no second chances once your number is up."
"It ain't so bad, Evil Eddie, you'll see," said Big Brainless Bill, "Why, one day I reckon the good honest folks will manage this here territory, and on that day the first thing they'll do is build a big ol' statue of you."
"And maybe a littler statue of us three," said Slow-Witted Stu.
"A nice thought, boys, but just a pipe dream. Now Plumb Dumb Slim, you have the first watch. Keep your eyes peeled for varmints. The rest of you, get some sleep."
Now as the sun settled down to rest himself a while and the shadows grew long on the desert sands, Marshall Tyrone T. Boots prowled the outskirts of Tucson, looking for clues. And sure enough, one of his men, a mean-spirited Apache scout named Broken Bottle, picked up the trail of Evil Eddie and his gang, and Marshall Boots' posse rolled out of town like a stampede of drunken buffalo.
But not far behind, dressed in her simple riding clothes of a white blouse and bluejeans, rode Miss Vanderbilt on a horse borrowed from Mr. Beans, the pa of little Tommy. What mischief blazed in her eyes no man could say, but she rode with passion, her long red hair trailing out behind her like a dancing flame. She rode far out from the posse, on a parallel course, and the growing night hid the clouds of dust kicked up by her horse. Soon, she was well ahead of the posse, heading straight for Evil Eddie's camp.
And sure enough, Plumb Dumb Slim spotted her approach and woke his pals. The men waited for the newcomer to approach, hands resting on their six-guns, cautious but unafraid. Miss Vanderbilt arrived in a cloud of dust and a thunder of hooves. As soon as the boys saw that the rider was a woman, they each took off their hats and regarded her respectfully.
"Are you Evil Eddie and the Surly Cowpokes?" she asked breathlessly.
Evil Eddie nodded. "That we are, Ma'am. Is there some reason you come ridin' up here in such a hurry?"
"Marshall Boots is on your trail, so you'd better move on, and ride hard. And it's 'Miss,' not 'Ma'am,'" she said.
"Saddle up, boys," said Evil Eddie, saving his many questions for later. He wondered how the woman had known where there camp was, and why she'd warned them—especially since she had the fine pale skin and soft, uncallused hands of the bourgeoisie. He also wondered why such an obviously cultured and beautiful woman had come to such a no-account territory as Arizona.
But there was no time for such questions now. In minutes, their belongings were gathered and the gang was in the saddle and on the run once more. Evil Eddie glanced behind them, and he saw that Miss Vanderbilt had wheeled off in the opposite direction, headed back to town. Well, that was fine—a gunfight, which was how this ride was more than likely to end, was no place for a woman. (Though he had noticed, to his bemusement, that resting upon each of Miss Vanderbilt's handsomely curved hips was a fine pearl-handled Colt .44.)
Into the night rode Evil Eddie and his Surly Cowpokes, and just a few miles back the posse of Marshall Boots thundered in pursuit.
Meanwhile, Miss Vanderbilt pulled her horse to a stop on the outskirts of town, wondering what had possessed her to tip off the outlaw band. Technically, that made her a criminal, too. But something in little Tommy Beans' eyes told her that Evil Eddie and his men were on the side of justice, just like the Secret World League for Peace and Justice. And so she had coaxed the location of Evil Eddie's camp out of Tommy Beans and rode off to deliver her warning. And once she'd seen the good-hearted innocence in the eyes of Evil Eddie's three henchmen and the steely righteousness in the face of Evil Eddie, she knew she'd made the right choice.
The only question now was, what would the consequences be?
Now, while Miss Vanderbilt was considering the larger questions of good and evil and their place in the world, Evil Eddie and his Surly Cowpokes rode across a shallow creek, through a dead forest, and into a long-lost valley, and what did they find but a hidden fortress of stone, not quite finished but still magnificent in its age and silent power. It was a perfect place to hole up, and so the boys rode through the open gates and into their unexpected sanctuary. They dismounted, and Slim and Bill closed up the gates tight. Then, all four men looked about in wonder. Even in the darkness, they could tell that the tall towers and thick, high walls of the place had been crafted long ago. Something in the air spoke of lost greatness.
"Boys," said Evil Eddie, "I believe we may have found a refuge. Our chances of carrying on our good work may have just risen by quite a piece."
"Tarnation!" cried Slow-Witted Stu, "With a place like this to run to, deep in this hidden valley, we could rob from the rich and give to the poor until we're old men!"
And as Stu made this declaration, Marshall Boots was purple with rage, for Broken Bottle had lost the trail. Marshall Boots and his posse were lost in the dead forest that hid the valley. Marshall Boots was so angry that he shot Broken Bottle five times, and the Apache scout fell dead without a sound. The blue-coated men in Marshall Boots' posse cowered cravenly, each man afraid that he would be the next target of the Marshall's wrath.
"I swear by all the gold in my home that I shall never rest until Evil Eddie and his cronies lie dead at my feet!" he cried. And his men knew that Marshall Boots meant every word, and that they, too, were helplessly committed to the cause.
And so the posse headed back to town, thwarted, angry, and fearful.
With the chase over, Evil Eddie wrapped himself in blankets and cupped his hands behind his head, looking up at the stars. His Cowpokes were close by, snoring away without a care in the world, so sure they were that the fortress was well hidden, as indeed it was. But Evil Eddie couldn’t sleep; he was distracted by thoughts of the beautiful Miss Vanderbilt. She means trouble, he thought. But some unfamiliar emotion struggled for release in his breast, and he wondered what it was.
And at that same moment, in her own bed in the two-room schoolhouse, Miss Vanderbilt considered the events of the day, and her place in what she felt would be a very interesting, if dangerous, story. She lay curled on her side, wondering if she could trust Evil Eddie with the secret of the Secret World Government, and if she had done good or ill by warning him about Marshall Boot.
It was a long time before either of them slept.
And that was how the true adventures of Evil Eddie and the Surly Cowpokes began. All that had gone before was just a prelude. Soon Evil Eddie and Miss Vanderbilt would face the Mystery of the Empty Airship, the Night the Sky Split Open, and the Quest for the Silver Rifle, among many more mysterious journeys. And on those journeys they would meet many new friends and enemies, and face many terrible perils.
But for now, rest with Evil Eddie and Miss Vanderbilt and Big Brainless Bill and Slow-Witted Stu and Plumb Dumb Slim, for cowboys and cowgirls all need rest if they are to face the challenges of the days to come.