Wallace loves braggin' on Levi!
Austin, Texas, fall of 1844
Wallace Rusk put his coffee mug down and nodded toward the saloon’s swinging doors. “Hey, that’s got to be that lady reporter. Remember? The one from New York City the Major told us about.”
Levi didn’t turn around, only grimaced.
The woman slipped into the empty chair and set her journal on the table. “Captain Baylor, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that the Major Williamson arranged this interview.”
“It isn’t official yet.”
“The promotion. I’m still a sergeant.”
Wallace Rusk waved his friend off. “Don’t pay Mister Humble no never mind, ma’am, will be soon enough.”
The lady adjusted her spectacles. “You must be Sergeant Rusk, right?”
The woman pulled a stubby pencil from her hair bun and faced Levi. “So Captain Baylor, what’s the most interesting thing about you?”
He shrugged. “I’m not interesting at all. You’d be wasting your time to interview me, Ma’am.”
Wallace slapped the table. Obviously startled, the lady almost jerked out of her seat then turned toward him. “Is there something wrong, Mister Rusk?”
“Yes, but call me Wallace. The captain ain’t going to brag on himself. Levi, why don’t you mosey on over to the trading post and buy something. I need to talk with this lady.”
He scooted his chair back and stood. “Love to.” He tipped his hat. “Ma’am, it’s been a pleasure.” Then he strolled out the door without a look back.
The lady reporter stared at his backside then recoiled once he disappeared through the doors. “Well! I never!”
“Easy, ma’am. You best be talking to me anyway. Levi Baylor? That man ain’t ever blown his own horn.”
“Fine, but it’s the Captain I want to hear about. You see, I’ve already promised my editor –”
“Oh, yes, ma’am. I can tell you without reservation that the most interesting thing about my friend is the high level of his integrity. I mean, he ain’t a saint or nothing, but I’ve never known him to lie. If he tells you a rooster can plow, and you need your field laid by, best hook the booger up.”
She scribbled a while then raised her head. “What does he do for fun?”
“Me? I know how to have a good time. But not Levi, too busy keeping our hair.”
The lady’s face screwed up. “Combed?”
“No, ma’am, doing our best not to get scalped.” She was a case and just a little blue at the mizzen. “Well, he does poke fun at me some, but the man is way too serious. I can’t get him soaked for nothing, even when he needs it.”
“So he doesn’t drink?”
“Oh he’ll have a beer, but never enough to get… You know, have some fun.”
Her pencil flew over the page, making funny little marks he couldn’t make heads or tails of. Without even bothering to look up, she kept right at it. “What does Captain Baylor put off doing because he dreads it?”
“He don’t dread nothing I can think of. Well, we both hate doing our own wash I suppose. That month we were running Buffalo Hump and his band of merry men, we didn’t even bother to change clothes, much less wash anything.”
“That was before or after the Battle of Plum Creek?”
“What’s he afraid of?”
Wallace chuckled. “You’re going to have to come up with some better questions. Levi Baylor ain’t afraid of nothing.” He put his hands up then pointed at her. “Hold it. There is something he fears—disappointing his Aunt Sue or Uncle Henry. She raised him after he got orphaned.”
“Very interesting. What would you say he wants out of life? More than anything.”
Leaning his chair back onto two legs, he pondered that a bit, then slammed the floor with the front two. “Peace. A nice little spread with a few head of cattle. A good wife and some little Baylor babies running around.”
“Paint a pretty scene, Sergeant. What’s the one most important thing to him?”
Wallace smiled. “Already told you. Hanging onto our hair, so we can keep on watching over Texas. This here is our personal Promised Land, ma’am. That’s what he calls it all the time. And we’ll do whatever it takes, Comanche, Mexican, Yankees, don’t matter, someone threatens the Republic, we’ll handle ‘em. Single handed if we have to.”
The lady stared at him a while. Seemed she couldn’t decide if he was yanking her chain or not. He raised an eyebrow, and she looked away. Oh, well.
“Does the captain read? What are his favorite titles?”
He laughed. “No time to read. Well, he reads his sister’s letters over and over, but books? Hold it. That would be a lie. He’s mentioned he liked reading Shakespeare. Told me a few of the author’s stories late of a night while the camp fire’s dying down. You been here long enough to see the Texas skies at night, ma’am?”
“I arrived yesterday, but stayed locked in my room after dark.”
“Well, you need to at least take a gander to your window and check ‘em out. New York couldn’t have as many stars as we do.”
Seeming a little disgusted, she ignored the bait, not even a little smile. “So Shakespeare, you say?”
He scooted forward and rested his elbows on the table. “That’s right. Does those count? Them being plays and all.”
“Of course. Is there anything the captain would like to change about himself?”
“Figured if there was, he would, but I’d like to change a few things on his behalf. The man’s too kind hearted. Just last night, this guy tries to cheat him. When the captain calls him on it, the idiot pulls his pistol. But did Levi plug the guy like he needed? No. He just knocked him out, turned him over to the sheriff.”
“So is cheating a crime in Texas?”
“No, but forging head rights sure enough is, not to mention attempted murder. Should never pull a gun on a Texas Ranger, ma’am.” The woman was some kind of cold fish. He couldn’t figure her out. “Guess we both hate killing. Even when they have it coming.” Why’d he say that? Now she’d think he needed a wet nurse.
“Does he have any pets?”
“Besides me you mean?”
She smiled. What do you know? He finally got through that thick skin of hers. “Yes, other than you.”
“One day, we both want us a Blue Dog pup, but not now. Too much traveling.”
“And who is this Blue Dog?”
“Lady, you telling me you haven’t heard about Henry Buckmeyer’s famous mutt that saved the Republic?”
“No, guess I haven’t. Who’s Henry Buckmeyer, and how’d his dog save Texas?”
Wallace retold the Battle of Jacinto for maybe the hundredth time—of course leaving out how scared he and Levi were—worst and best eighteen minutes of his life. Tickled him how she never stopped taking notes. She’d probably sit listening to his yarn spinning all day if he was a mind to talk that long.
She especially seemed to like the part about Blue finding Santa Anna hiding under a blanket. Finally he stopped.
After three slow breaths, she leaned back. “Where were we? Oh, yes. If the captain could go back in time. Where would he go and why?”
“That’s an easy one. We’d both go straight back to ’39 and kill Nick Ward dead.”
“Pure evil, but someday we’ll cross paths again.”