chapter 4: Bolivia And Let Die
When a storm washed away Darling Danny McDonald's tracks down in Bolivia, Brisco and Bowler asked the locals if they'd seen the bandit and they got right back on his trail. However, even then, our intrepid heroes were not about to rest easy in their pursuit of justice.
"Is it just my imagination, or was that a little too easy, Brisco?" asked Lord Bowler.
"This whole case has been rotten from the start," Brisco answered irritably. Their trek was taking them higher and higher into the Andes, and the ever increasing elevation was playing havoc with the scar tissue in his skull, but he was forcing himself to work through the pain. "First, we get to Bolivia only for the army to tell us that they already killed Danny McDonald and his gang of Yankee Bandits," he continued, ticking the points off on his fingers as he went along. "Then, the army tries to dragoon us into helping them find some fictional city of gold. Then, we find out the army had been lying about killing McDonald but probably weren't lying about killing the other bandits."
"And then, there was that whole thing with those Incan weaver women. Huh, huh, huh," Bowler laughed, and Comet the Wonder Horse gave a horsey snort of a laugh in agreement. As always, Bowler's own mighty steed, Lord Stallion, did not deign to comment.
"I thought we agreed to never mention that ever again!" Brisco snapped. He pretended to be embarrassed, but really he was wistful. All three of those sisters had been among the sweetest women he had ever met, and if helping keep from being forced from their land had required... well, required what it had required, then he was not going to hold it against them. Brisco's only real regret was that he had had to break each of their hearts by refusing to marry any of them, but he would never admit that to Bowler, at least not until the next time somebody shot him. Instead, Brisco growled, "And keep your eyes on the trail. If we lose McDonald's tracks again, I doubt there's going to be anyone else to conveniently point us on our way."
"You sure 'bout that?" Bowler asked. "Like I was saying, those villagers seemed really eager to point us in this direction, even though they didn't seem to have any reason to want to help us or hurt McDonald. The more I hear about this guy, the more it sounds like he spreads around just enough of his loot to make everyone think he's Robin Hood. Who would want to put a stop to that if you're too poor to be one of his targets?"
"Maybe they were just--" but whatever Brisco's surely well-reasoned rebuttal was to have been was cut off by the sudden deafening roar of falling rocks. Comet and Lord Stallion needed no urging to press themselves closer to the steep rocky wall under the scant protection of an overhanging ledge. The rumbling died away as quickly as it had started, and Brisco and Bowler were left staring at each other dumbfounded, because, for all the noise, they had not seen a single pebble bouncing out of place. After briefly wondering whether mountain sickness was beginning to make them imagine things, Brisco realized the truth.
"The avalanche must have been up around the next bend in the path," he exclaimed. "C'mon, Bowler, we have to go check this out. These things don't happen without something to trigger them. Someone up ahead might need our help!" He spurred Comet forward as fast as the narrow mountain path would allow. With Comet being as nimble and surefooted as he was, they were able to race towards the disaster area at practically a gallop.
"At least wait for the rocks to settle!" Bowler called after them.
Brisco did not bother to reply, because he was sure that Bowler, in his heart of hearts, already knew there was no time for that. Comet sped around the corner and skidded to a halt sudden enough to send up a shower of sparks from all four horseshoes skidding against the rocky ground. One of the sparks landed on a tuft of dry grass and set it alight. Brisco leapt from Comet's back and stomped out the accidental blaze. The destruction from the avalanche was already far more than he would have imagined; he did not need to add to it by setting the whole tinder-dry mountain range on fire.
With the threat of fire averted, Brisco returned to surveying the scene, and it was not long before he noticed a bloody hand sticking out of the rubble, its fingers at the air as if it might somehow have a hope of dragging its owner free from the crushing weight of fallen stone if only it could find something, anything, to hold onto. Adorning one of the bloody hand's fingers was a very familiar gold ring. This capture was definitely feeling like it was too easy now, or at least it was feeling like it was too easy aside from the whole unexpected backbreaking physical labor aspect. With Comet kibitzing about which rocks were the safest to move without triggering a secondary avalanche, Brisco set to work. By the time Bowler and Lord Stallion rounded the corner at a speed which posed zero risk of starting any brushfires but also posed less risk of falling off the side of the mountain if someone put a foot wrong, Brisco had already managed to clear enough rocks to free an unconscious Darling Danny McDonald's head, allowing him to breathe once more. However, if they didn't get the rest of the rocks off his chest, then he was unlikely to continue breathing for very much longer.
Bowler joined Brisco in his digging efforts. They continued for several minutes with the only sounds being the grinding and clatter of shifting stones, their own strained grunting, and Comet's running commentary on the process. Sweat dripped out of Brisco's hair and into his eyes. The pain in his head was throbbing in time to his rapid heartbeat, and he felt like he may have popped a few stitches in the stab wound in his leg. Bowler, having been focusing on moving the rocks too big for Brisco to handle, didn't look much better at this point. They couldn't stop, though. Darling Danny McDonald may have been a perpetually thieving son of a skunk who once seduced Brisco's maiden aunt, but nobody deserved to die like this, not even John Bly, who Brisco hated more than anything. Besides, McDonald wasn't wanted 'dead or alive,' just 'alive.' If he died, then Brisco and Bowler could kiss that sweet bounty goodbye.
Somehow, McDonald had gotten ridiculously lucky, and it looked he would survive his injuries. Probably. He regained consciousness just as Brisco and Bowler finished freeing his torso and began working on his legs. "County," he said with a pained cough, "I was wonderin' when you'd get here."
"And it looks like you waited so long that you got bored and triggered your own booby-trap on yourself to liven things up," Brisco said as he picked up another fifty pound rock from the pile and heaved it to the side.
"This weren't me, and you're even dumber than you think I am if you think it was," McDonald groaned.
"Sorry, Danny, but that last statement was a little difficult to parse," Brisco said, stepping out of the way to let Bowler lever a boulder out of its resting spot, sending it rolling into the valley below with a cascade of smaller rocks following in its wake. "Care to start over?" Brisco asked once the clattering of falling rocks died down again.
"I was betrayed!"
"Yeah, by who?" Bowler asked, probing around for another good place to use his makeshift wooden pry-bar.
"By that no good double-crossing dog La Paz." McDonald his head and spat to show just how deep his disgust ran.
"La Paz?!?" Brisco gasped. "You mean General Juan Isadore Ignacio de la Guerra y la Paz of the Bolivian army?!?"
"Who else did you think was helping me out all this time?" McDonald said, laughing bitterly.
"Suddenly a lot of things make a whole lot more sense," Brisco growled. He smacked his fist into the palm of his hand in anger, but instantly regretted it as it made him realize just how badly he was tearing up his hands while digging without the proper tools or protection. If only he hadn't traded his gloves for that postcard to send to his liaison to his employers, Socrates Poole, his usual message of 'Enjoying myself immensely, wish you were here,' but it had seemed like such a good idea at the time.
"Not everything," Bowler said with a grunt, levering another large rock out of the way. "If you ask me, trying to figure out what any of those Incan weaver ladies, let alone all three of them, ever saw in you is never going to make any kind of sense at all. That's a fact."
Comet neighed in agreement, and this time even Lord Stallion looked like he might have given a small affirmative ear-twitch.
"The real question," Brisco continued, pretending he had not heard the previous comments from his friends, "is this: what caused you and General La Paz to have a falling out involving so many falling rocks, McDonald? The general seems like a mostly reasonable man, and this looks like more trouble than he would go to over something as minor as some hurt feelings."
"He would do all this and more to find a lost city of gold," McDonald said. He tried to pull his legs free from the remaining fallen rocks, but he was still pinned tight.
"That place is a myth."
"It's real, I tell you," McDonald hissed. "It's real and La Paz betrayed me so he could partner with El Guanaco, who claims to know exactly where it is."
"Who's this El Guanaco guy?" Bowler demanded. "People keep mentioning his name all over the place in this stupid country, but no one ever says anything else about him beyond implying he's one scary dude. They won't even say what he looks like!"
"You want to know about El Guanaco?" McDonald said. "He is a monster, taller than you, Mr. Bowler, by at least another half a foot." He started talking faster, his voice rising in pitch, seeming to take on an edge of panic which burial under a landslide had not been able to supply. "His hair is long and black as the darkest midnight! One eye is brown, and one eye is blue, and he is missing the tip of his left ear! And if that is not enough for you to know him by, he also only has three legs!"
Brisco and Bowler frowned in unison. "Wait, what do you mean only three--" they both began to say but were cut off by a pair of equine screams of fear.
"El Guanaco is here!!!!!" Darling Danny McDonald shrieked, shakily pointing behind them before passing out.
Brisco whirled around and found himself face to spitting, evil face with the biggest damn llama he had ever seen.
[end chapter four]