After visiting his mother's people on the Mescalero Reservation, Comanche tribal policeman Daniel Killstraight waits to catch a train home when he hears disturbing news: A Chiricahua Apache Indian has brutally murdered a teenage girl, and citizens are planning a lynching.
Though he has no jurisdiction, Killstraight heads to Deming where he discovers that the accused man in jail isn't an Indian, but a white man who once lived with the Apaches and is now an embittered, binge-drinking drunk who doesn't care if he lives or dies.
Still, Killstraight sets out to prove that this white man is innocent. Only Killstraight has no allies, and is in a town that hates Indians. And he also has this thought lurking in the back of his mind: What if Francis Groves is really guilty?
Sand and grit peppered his face, and he clamped the hat on his head with both hands. The dust became so thick, he could scarcely see the railroad tracks, but managed to glimpse a newspaper sailing in front of the depot. He thought: Well, in an hour, someone down in Mexico will be reading today’s Socorro Chieftain. Unless that paper has blown all the way from Santa Fe.
Head bent, Daniel Killstraight made his way to the ticket window at the Rincon station. The hard gust of wind died, and the agent looked above his bifocals, didn’t even give Daniel another thought, and went back to stamping his papers. Daniel said nothing. He just waited. At least now, he didn’t have to pull hard on the brim of his hat. Instead, he reached inside his coat pocket and brought out the envelope.
Once the man wearing the funny cap stamped the last of his papers, he wiped the ink off his fingertips on his blue jacket, pushed the bifocals farther up the bridge of his nose, and asked, “Help you?”
“Northbound or southbound?”
The agent didn’t wait for an answer, kept right on talking. “North to Socorro and Albuquerque and Lamy – train don’t go into Santa Fe, but there’s a spur to take you there – to Vegas to Springer to Raton and out of this godforsaken hellhole. Pulls in tomorrow evening at seven-nineteen, if she’s on time, which she won’t be. South to Deming to pick up the Southern Pacific. Or south to Las Cruces – an omnibus’ll take you from the depot to Mesilla – and to El Paso, Texas. Which, if you were to ask me, ain’t no better than this sump. But anywhere’s better than here.”
He stopped, Daniel assumed, merely to catch his breath. A station agent at a place like Rincon likely didn’t have too many opportunities to talk to someone other than himself.
Before the man could continue, Daniel said, “Sump?”
“Swamp,” the man snapped. “Bog.”
Daniel looked north, then south. All he could see was desert, a harsh, ugly land that wouldn’t know what to do with water if it ever fell.
“A cess pool, son.” The agent sighed. “A latrine.”
“North,” Daniel said. “Dodge City.”
Envious, the man sucked in a breath, let it out, shaking his head. “By grab, I hear that was a wild town in its day. Full of debauchery forty-four hours a day. Forty-four. Get it?” Grinning, he made a pistol out of his right hand, and pulled his trigger finger/gun barrel. “And still a mite wicked, even if them days of trail drives is gone.”
Daniel hadn’t seen anything of Dodge City other than the depot, but the railroad man had pulled out a catalog, and thumbed through some papers. “Let’s see your spondulicks, son.”
Daniel said, “Spondulicks?”
“Your money, boy. Cold, hard cash. Nobody rides these rails free.”
He opened the envelope, pulled out one paper, then another, and slid both to the agent.
Again, the old gent adjusted his spectacles, unfolded the letter, held it about two feet in front of his face, then moved his head back and forth until he found an appropriate range. He read. Aloud.
15 March 1889
This introduces the bearer of this letter as Sergeant Daniel Killstraight of the Tribal Police and requests that he be treated with proper respect as due any white peace officer.
He is a personal friend of the Northern Texas Stock Growers Association and members Dan Waggoner, Burk Burnett and Captain Lee Hall; Quanah Parker, chief of the Comanche Nation; Captain Richard Pratt of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School; Isaac Parker, district judge for the Western District of Arkansas; and William Henry Harrison Miller, recently appointed United States attorney general.
The Rev. Joshua Biggers,
Agent, Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation
Fort Sill, Indian Ty.
Folding the letter, and sliding it back toward Daniel, the agent said, “It ain’t no letter of credit, boy. It –”
Then the old man saw the railroad pass, good for any seat on any Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe train.
He picked it up, studied it, turned it around to look at the blank back, even examined the sides and edges, finally ran his fingers across the letters, before sighing, and returning that to Daniel, as well.
“Reckon I stands corrected. Some folks do ride these rails free.” He peered over the bifocals, examining Daniel, likely trying to figure out how a Comanche tribal policeman could rate a free pass on the AT&SF. “You must be some top-dog soldier,” he said after his examination.