In the Gutter, country blues ain't close to the saddest thing you'll ever hear.
Lordsburg Blues by Bill Baber
If ever there was a town that was misnamed, it was Lordsburg, New Mexico. The Lord had truly forsaken this place. Hellhole would have been more fitting. I’m not sure why Gaff chose it as a place to lie up after a job in El Paso. The cheap hotel room almost made me yearn for my cell in Huntsville.
Gaff sat on the bed picking out Mojo Hand on his old Martin. I looked out the fly specked window. There was only one side to Main Street and it was comprised of the dump we were in, boarded up store fronts, and a diner that served the worst food I had ever eaten. A west bound freight rumbled by across the street, blasting its horn without slowing, and a dust devil danced across the desert toward a hazy line of hills to the north like it couldn’t get away fast enough.
“Wrote a new song,” Gaff said.
“Let me guess,” I replied. “Somethin’ called Lord I Got The Lordsburg Blues?”
He conveniently ignored me, instead started playing a medium tempo blues shuffle.
“I got a woman sure do treat me mean.
Treats me like a clown
I treat her like a doggone queen…”
Bob Abel was holding a .12 gauge and from my vantage point the double barrels looked like twin tunnels to hell. I thought we were about to die. We’d done time with Bob and we weren’t friendly for any of it.
Gaff didn’t seem concerned. If he was he didn’t let it show.
“Well Bob, what brings you to New Mexico? Thought you were goin’ back to Galveston when you got out. You’re a long way from the coast.”
He reached over and got a pint of Beam from the bedside table.
“You fellas left El Paso with a hell of a score. See, Dalton and me went way back. I recommended you as someone he could trust. You cut his throat and robbed him. Pretty chickenshit you ask me. I come to get the money you stole from him.”
Dalton Crawford was a degenerate gambler who wanted to hire us to clip his old man, a connected Texas oil man. Crawford was his only heir. Gaff thought it was too risky. And Crawford had been counting cards in Vegas. The mob had an open hit on him. We closed it and double dipped; taking the fee he was going to pay us to kill his dad and collecting the bounty on him.
Gaff gave him an icy glare with those cold blue eyes. I saw Bob shiver a little.
Gaff sipped from the bourbon, tossed the bottle to me.
“You hear that, Carson? Old Bob hear thinks he’s going to kick in our door and take our hard earned money. And the funny part is, he came alone. You really think you’re up for that, Bob? You think you can take me and Carson?”
Beads of sweat had broken out on Abel’s forehead. He looked scared and he was the one holding the shotgun. I lobbed the bottle back to Gaff.
“How do you see this goin’, Bob? “ Gaff asked. “You gonna kill Carson and me? Hell, you don’t even know if we have that money. I don’t think you planned this too well.”
Abel was lookin’ more unsure of himself all the time.
Back when he was a kid in Waco, Gaff had had been a hell of a pitcher. He had a couple of offers from Texas schools to play college ball before taking up a life of crime. He continued his career on the Huntsville Prison team.
He hurled that Beam bottle at Abel like he was Bob Feller, hitting him right at the top of the nose. Gaff was on him in a minute, the razor sharp switchblade he had bought in Juarez in his right hand.
I’m not sure if Bob Abel ever saw himself being left to bleed out in a dumpy Lordsburg hotel room but that was the hand he dealt. He gambled his life on it and came out on the losing end. He wasn’t the first to make that wager against Gaff and me and he wouldn’t be the last I figured.
As we had done many times before, we quickly gathered our meager belongings, stuffing them into our grips. We raced down the stairs and out into the hot desert air.
We left Lordsburg and in a way I was thankful to old Bob Abel for getting us out of there. I hoped if I ever saw that town again it would be in the rear view. Like the dust devil I’d watched minutes before, all I wanted was to get the hell out of there.
“Damnit,” Gaff proclaimed as he lit a Lucky. “I left that pint behind. Next liquor store ain’t until we get to Wilcox, cross the Arizona line. I could use a drink.”
I reached into the back seat, rummaged through my grip and produced a fresh pint. Gaff broke into a smile.
“You’re all right, kid. I knew I made a good choice in a partner, tell ya what, I’ll buy you a steak in Tucson tonight.”
“You’re on,” I said.” And we’ll toast Bob Abel.”
“What the hell for?” Gaff shot back.
“For getting us the hell out of Lordsburg.”
We both had a snort and a good laugh as we left Lordsburg behind and sped across the desert toward Arizona and whatever waited in Tucson. Lightning flashed over the Chiricahuas as we headed west. There was nothing on the radio.
“Hey Gaff, “I said. “Sing me the rest of that song.”
The bastard sang all the way to Tucson. That and a week in Lordsburg was the price I paid for a steak. That and a spare bottle of bourbon.