Last week we finally met the notorious desert-trash Thorndyke Mob: Old Man Thorndyke and his spawn Otis and Naomi, father, brother and sister to the late Bull Thorndyke, gunned down by our young hero Harvey in self-defense.
(Please click here to read our previous episode; newcomers may go here to read the first chapter of Larry Winchester's A Town Called Disdain, only ever previously published in a drastically cut version as a Gold Medal Paperback Original in 1971.)
The time is an afternoon in early September of 1969; the place is a mesa overlooking a sink hole created by an atomic bomb test, out in the desert a few miles outside of a town called Disdain in the great state of new Mexico.
Harvey and his new friends Dick and Daphne Ridpath are resting with their horses near the edge of the top of the mesa when who should they see driving up the far slope but...
“What is it,” asked Daphne.
“It’s the family of the guy I killed the other day.”
The truck stopped out there at the far end of the mesa.
Three people got out of the truck, and they each had a rifle.
“Ah, shit,” said Harvey, “come on quick and get over this slope.”
He grabbed the reins of his palomino and the first shot cracked out just half a second after it spurted up the dirt at his feet.
Daphne got her horse to the verge first and another bullet took off her saddle horn.
Three more shots struck the dirt and two bullets whizzed over their heads as they scrambled with their panicking animals down onto the slope.
The way down was rocky and steep, impossible on horseback. Just getting down on foot without tumbling down and breaking a neck would be hard enough.
The horses slid and scuffled and whinnied.
Dick held the reins of his Appaloosa tight in his left hand and in his right hand was the Browning.
“Damn,” said Harvey, “You’re always heeled, ain’t ya?”
“Yeah,” said Dick. “What do ya say? We can lie down here and try to pick them off when they get closer.”
“Sir, they only got to flank us along this slope with one of them rifles and we’re dead. We gotta run.”
“All right then. You’re the army man.”
“I got an idea, but first we better try and slow ‘em down a bit.”
Daphne crouched there like a runner holding onto her mare’s reins. She still had the flowers in one hand, and her horse was the only one that was holding steady.
Harvey drew his revolver and cocked the hammer.
“Listen, both of us just reach over and fire a few rounds, then we hightail it down this slope. You two folla me and just go where I go if ya don’t wanta get yourselves killed.”
“Right,” said Dick.
Dick jacked a round into the Browning’s chamber and cocked the hammer.
They could hear the truck moving again.
They both ducked up and fired three rounds and then ducked back sticking their guns away and all three of them started scrambling down the slope, pulling on and hanging onto their horses’ reins, Daphne following Harvey and Dick following her, the three of them and their horses slipping and sliding, dust flying up and rocks and pebbles tumbling down and disappearing into the sinkhole down below.
Harvey got down to the base of the slope first and he pulled his horse back away from the sink and then Daphne came stumbling down with her whinnying horse pulling her as she held onto the reins, still holding the flowers in her left hand, and Harvey helped her turn the mare around and the mare nudged her and Daphne stumbled back, her right leg sank into the sand to the knee, she dropped the flowers, they disappeared.
Harvey grabbed her arm and pulled her, Dick grabbed her other arm and they pulled together, and her leg came out with a pink sock on her foot but without her riding boot.
Harvey helped Dick pull Daphne to her feet and then he pulled his horse closer and swung up onto the saddle and jogged the horse to the right.
Daphne and Dick mounted and followed him, he led them along the foot of the slope, then after about thirty yards the sinkhole started to fall away, curving out in a semi-circle into the desert.
Harvey pulled to the left, staying a couple of yards outside the falling-away of the hole, and as he did he glanced up and back and saw and heard the truck at the top of the mesa.
He kicked his horse hard and took off, galloping at a curve along the edge of the sink, he could hear Dick and Daphne following him, a bullet whizzed by his nose, he fought the urge to keep riding straight out into the desert and kept bearing to the left following the curve of the hole.
He glanced back again and saw someone in the rear of the truck up there aiming a rifle at him over the roof of the cab, and he saw the muzzle flash against the grey sky and then the bullet snapped a cut like a whiplash across the back of his left hand as it whizzed by, and he kept on riding at a curve along the edge of the sinkhole.
When he got out in line to where the truck was sitting up there he reined his horse sharp right and took off his hat and smacked the horse’s flank with it, leaning right down onto the horse’s neck and kicking it with his heels straight on out into the desert.
He heard three more shots but he didn’t hear the whiz of the bullets or see where they landed.
Then he heard the tortured sound of the truck’s motor and its strangled gears, and he knew the Thorndykes were driving their truck down the slope.
He kept riding and then he realized that the sound of the truck had gone muffled, and he turned the horse to the right a bit and glanced back, and he saw the truck plunging straight down into the sinkhole.
He allowed the horse very gradually to slow down to a walk, patting its wet dirty neck and feeling its lungs filling and emptying under his legs, feeling his own lungs filling and emptying in the dry air. He turned in his saddle and looked back, the truck was quiet, stuck now about five or six yards from the base of the mesa, the rust-colored sand up above its wheels.
Harvey turned his horse back around. Dick and Daphne came up on their horses, pulled them up and around on either side of him, and they all looked back to the Thorndykes in their truck, about a quarter of a mile away.
They could hear the Thorndykes shouting. Someone started to squeeze out of the passenger window and Harvey saw it was fat Naomi Thorndyke, she was holding out her arm to scrawny Otis in the back, but Otis ignored her and just kept walking side to side at the back by the tailgate with his rifle at port arms.
Naomi tried to pull herself up onto the roof of the cab but she fell and landed in the sand and then she wasn’t there any more.
Now the fat old man was climbing out of the driver’s window, you could hear him yelling and cursing and calling for Otis to lend him a hand, but Otis just ignored him and then stopped pacing and climbed down off the back of the truck, and he sank in up to his thighs, but he got his balance, holding his rifle up over his head, and then in slow motion he started slogging towards the base of the mesa, slow and slower like a man in a dream.
Old Man Thorndyke wriggled and struggled his way out of the window just as the sand started to pour into it, and he clawed his way up onto the roof and then tumbled on back into the bed of the truck. He scrambled to the rear and seemed to hesitate a second as Otis kept slogging slowly closer to the border of the sink even though the sand was up to his waist now, and then the old man pulled out a handgun and yelled something at Otis but Otis just kept slogging.
The old man got quiet and then he climbed gingerly over the tailgate and stared down. Then he dived in feet first and the sand swallowed him to his waist as if he’d jumped into a burnt ochre lake.
You could hear him cursing and shouting again.
Otis kept slogging on in slow-motion, the sand up to his chest now, but he had made it to only about six feet from the edge of the hole.
His father started slogging too, but he was much heavier, and with each slow grunting lurch of his body he sank lower, and now the sand was pouring into the back of the truck, and then just the roof showed, and then nothing, the truck was gone and the sand where it had been was perfectly smooth and all you could see was the old man with the sand up to his neck holding his pistol up in the air.
Otis was in almost up to his neck now, but he had reached the sloping edge of the sink. He threw his rifle up and grabbed onto a dead yucca root and pulled himself, you could see his body slowly slowly rising up out of the sand.
Dick and Harvey and Daphne sat on their horses side by side not saying anything and watching as Otis finally pulled himself out and then just lay there, his bony body wheezing. He turned over on his back and you could see him looking at his old man with the sand up to his throat holding his arms up above his head and shouting at his son with the pistol still in one hand.
Otis just lay there propped up on his elbows with his little bloated belly going in and out like a bellows under his t-shirt, and even at this distance you could hear the old man telling Otis to pull him in with the rifle, come out into the sand a little ways and pull him in you fucking miserable fucking coward, but Otis just lay there looking at him. He didn’t want to step into that sink again.
Then the old man pointed his handgun at Otis and Otis reached over and grabbed his rifle but the old man’s gun flashed and Otis doubled over as the gun’s bark shot across the desert. The old man fired twice more and Otis’s body shuddered twice, his rifle fell down into the sink and then he crumpled up and slid down after it like a rag doll and disappeared.
All you could hear now was the old man shouting and roaring and cursing life and death and man and God.
Harvey saw the old man twisting his head and shoulder around and looking across the breadth of the sink and the desert at him and Dick and Daphne, and stretching out his right arm and aiming the pistol in their direction. It flashed and the bullet fell spent like a thrown pebble in the dust fifty feet in front of them and now they heard the shot and their horses didn’t even flinch.
The old man roared again and then put the gun to the side of his head, red stuff sprayed out the other side of it, the old man’s mouth opened wide in a soundless scream, then came the muffled pop of the shot with the old man’s eyes open wide and then his head went under and the last thing you saw was the gun pointing up still in his hand, it flashed one last time and barked at the dead sky, and then it slipped under along with the dead hand that held it.
Then it was like nothing had happened, and the sand over the sinkhole lay as smooth as a sheet of old gold.
Daphne lit up a cigarette, not bothering to use her holder. She blew out the smoke and dropped the lighter back into a pocket of her vest.
“Well,” she said, “that was charming.”
She reached down and pulled off the one boot she still had on and tossed it away. She still had pink socks on both feet, anyway.
They heard the sound of a jet engine. They looked up and saw an air force F-100 Super Sabre zoom a few hundred feet over the mesa and over their heads and away, spooking the horses.
They settled down the horses, and then Harvey asked Dick and Daphne where they wanted to go now.
Daphne had her right foot up on the saddle, massaging the sole with her fingers.
“I don’t know about you fellas,” she said, “but I for one have had quite enough of the beauties of nature for one day.”
(Please click here to read our next thrilling episode of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, possibly soon to be a major motion picture event based on the soon to be-released smashing new computer game from Ha! Karate of Yokohama, featuring the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Lindsay Lohan and Pierce Brosnan; featuring special guest star Rush Limbaugh as Old Man Thorndyke.)