A couple of months ago, my friend Jake Rivers put out a call for writers to participate in a story invitational based on three classic songs by Marty Robbins: "El Paso," "Feleena" and "El Paso City."
This is a follow-up on to our first invitational in the fall of 2006 with entries based on the Statler Brother's song, "This Bed of Rose's." If there is continuing support we might make this a regular semi-annual event
This is my interpretation of the El Paso saga.
EL PASO, 2007
It was one of those crystal-clear desert days in mid-spring, not a cloud to be seen in any direction as far as the eye could see.
And I could see an awfully long way, seeing as how I was cruising at 30,000 feet in the sleek LearJet that my company uses for business trips. I was on my way, as I often am, from Houston to Los Angeles to meet with our main vendor on some new lines.
My family owns a successful drilling company based in Houston, and I'm head of the division that's responsible for buying and selling drilling equipment.
Our main thrust is petroleum, and we have oil drilling rigs all over the world, but we also drill for natural gas and even water in some especially arid areas. If it involves boring into the ground for whatever Mother Nature has produced down there, we're the best there is.
Over the years, my flight route has taken me over the acres and acres of dusty hills and empty deserts that make up West Texas and New Mexico. As my daddy used to say, there ain't much out there, but there's a lot of it.
On a day like this, I could see all the way to the ground, and I picked out the Rio Grande, flowing slow and muddy through the brown-clad landscape.
As I did, I felt it again, the strong pull, like some force was trying to drag me into something I couldn't understand, something to do with a long-buried murder that was a whispered part of my family lore.
My name is Ray Temple, and my roots are in the country over which I was flying, the area just west of Midland-Odessa in the Permian Basin. My people had been ranchers until oil was discovered on land my great-grandfather owned along the Pecos River.
He didn't quite hit it as rich as some other families that cashed in on West Texas oil, but he did pretty well and he was smart enough to plow his fortune into drilling.
But long before oil was discovered on family property, there was an incident involving some member of the family, a cousin or nephew or some such.
Supposedly, he had been killed in El Paso by a drifter in a jealous rage, and the man's friends and family members — my ancestors — chased the drifter down and killed him in retaliation. It sounded like a brutal little love triangle, settled Old West fashion.
When I was a kid, I used to love stories about the Old West — books, movies and television shows — and I immersed myself in the culture.
I read everything Louis L'Amour ever wrote, but disdained the likes of Zane Grey and Max Brand. Their Old West was the stylized, fictional West of pearl-button shirts and fancy boots made of patent leather; pretty to look at, but not the real deal.
L'Amour, though, told about the real West. His locales were right on the money, and so was the attitude. Oh, the good guys usually won in his novels, but they often paid a high price in the process.
I remember one of his Sackett tales, where Tell Sackett avenged himself against a wealthy rancher who had ruined his life. The man had ambushed Tell, shot him and left him for dead, stolen his new bride, then raped and killed her. You didn't find that sort of thing in Zane Grey.
It was a simpler time, with a simple code of honor; someone does you wrong, you right that wrong yourself, and life goes on.
As I watched the meandering river, and saw the sprawl of modern El Paso begin to take shape far below, I found myself thinking about that incident. I wondered how and why it affected me, only that it did somehow, some way.
It was almost like I was reincarnated as one of the principals, the wronged lover or the dashing stranger.
It was giving me a headache, so I leaned my seat back and closed my eyes just for a second, it seemed. Instead of rest and a welcome sleep, though, I found myself falling into an abyss, like I was uprooted from reality.
I saw in my mind clear as day, the dusty streets and weathered buildings of the Old West, and somehow I realized that I was seeing a glimpse into the past, to the old West Texas town of El Paso...
I came around to find myself in a dusty saloon, seated at a rough wooden table on a searing hot Texas day. I looked down at myself and saw I was still wearing my business suit, only now I was sweating to beat the band.
What the fuck was going on here? How did I get here out of a jet airplane streaking 30,000 feet in the sky?
Suddenly, I heard the sound of boots coming down the wooden staircase, boots that had to have a man filling them.
I stared at the apparition that approached my table, then sat down in a chair across from me. He sat a dusty bottle of whisky on the table, and I noticed for the first time that two glasses sat on the table, one in front of each of us.
The man was fairly tall and lanky, handsome, but with a hard look to his eyes. He was dressed after the fashion of the Old West: dungarees, worn boots, plain cotton shirt covered by a leather vest, beat-up hat and a holster with a shiny revolver inside.
Still not saying a word, he pulled the cork out of the bottle, poured some of the amber liquor into each glass, then replaced the cork and picked up his glass. He seemed to be waiting for me to pick mine up, so I did. He nodded to me and we each drank.
Being a true-blue Texan, I know my way around liquor, but the stuff that came out of that bottle was serious business indeed. It was tart and had a kick like moonshine, which I had tasted a few times during my college days at SMU.
"I suppose yer wonderin' why you been brought here," the man spoke finally.
"Pretty vivid dream, I have to say," I said, trying to keep the hysteria out of my voice.
"Ain't no dream," the man said. "You been brought here so's you can hear a story. See, my name's Martin Claymore, but folks always knew me as Marty."
"Pleased to meet you... I think," I said. "I'm Ray, Ray Temple."
"I know who you are," Marty said. "It was your'n that put me out there in boot hill back around 1875. Course, that was after I killed their buddy. But he was fuckin' around with the wrong woman and he drew on me, or at least he started to. Shoulda never done that. I been wanderin' around in purgatory ever since. Now, I got me one chance to get outta here, and that's to make amends, settle the score with you Temples. Ain't somethin' I like doin'. Far's I'm concerned, all you pissants can go rot in hell."
Just then a look of intense pain crossed the man's face, and he quickly uncorked the bottle, poured another glassful and downed it quickly.
Then he sat back and told a sad tale of love, betrayal and revenge.
EL PASO, 1875
Folks in El Paso always said that Feleena Menendez was trouble, but they never said it where Marty Claymore could hear. Marty was a lanky Scotsman who didn't say much unless he was riled, then he could be a terror.
At the time, nobody knew much about Marty's background, only that he arrived with some cattle train and stayed on. He never talked much about himself or where he came from.
It was only later, after it was all over, that it was learned that he was originally from South Carolina, from the high country, and that he had fought for the South in the War Between the States, as a scout for Jeb Stuart's cavalry regiment.
As a youngster, he'd developed a dead eye with a rifle and the skills of an accomplished outdoorsman. After the war, he'd gone west, and had spent some time as a civilian scout for Custer.
Since leaving Custer, Marty had done a series of odd jobs, working on cattle drives or on a railroad gang. He was never too proud to do any kind of honest work, and during his short time in El Paso he'd worked at the livery, taking care of horses, with which he had a natural affinity.
He was handsome in a rustic fashion, with a head full of red hair and a thick moustache. He was a little taller than average and lean, with long legs slightly bowed from so many years in the saddle.
About the second or third night he was in El Paso, he wandered into Rosa's Cantina and suddenly everything changed.
Rosa's was a Mexican-style tavern on the main drag in El Paso, where most nights a small group of musicians would play the traditional love songs. It was a place where the whores and other women of ill repute plied their trade and where men of all ages went looking for illicit romance.
There had been nothing to distinguish it from dozens of other honky-tonks until about a year earlier, when Feleena Menendez blew into town.
No one was quite sure where she'd come from originally, but she came to El Paso from Santa Fe, where it was rumored she'd been in the middle of some sort of scandal.
Rosa's was the perfect place for Feleena. She showed up one night in a tight black satin dress that displayed her assets in a most enticing manner. She danced and laughed and flirted with every man there, stirring their lust and inviting the envy of the other women who were there.
.... There is more of this story ...