An early semi, the 20-mule team wagon!

Doc waves goodbye as the wagon pulls out of town, Lou driving, me on the seat next to him—uh, her. That’s an idea that’s going to take some getting used to. I take a sideways peek at Lou, trying to see what Doc sees.
I don’t know. Maybe Doc is wrong on this one. Lou looks like a regular man to me.
“You done staring at me yet?” Lou growls.
“I wasn’t staring.”
“The hell you weren’t. You looking for something in particular, or you just the starin’ type?”
“I was just…I was…” I cast about for something to say that makes even a little bit of sense. Then it hits me. “I’ve never seen anyone with only one eye before.”
“Is that so?” Lou leans over close and pulls up the eye patch suddenly, shoves the lost eye right in my face. “Whaddya think?”
I think right there I almost lost whatever’s still sloshing around inside my gut. What’s underneath the eye patch is a terrible, grisly mess. “How did it happen?”
“Mule kicked me.”
“Sorry about that.” I don’t know what else to say.
“No you’re not.”
I have no answer to that. Lou’s right. I just said it because that’s what I learned you’re supposed to say around white people.
“I used to be a whole lot prettier before.”
“You did?”
“Sure. I had all the girls panting after me.” Lou gives me a dead pan expression. I decide he—Lou has to be a man, whatever Doc said—is messing with me.
We ride in silence for a couple of hours. I take out my handkerchief and wipe down my Winchester lever-action 1873. The Spencer rifle is in the bed of the wagon with the rest of my gear, including my saddle. It’s more of a long-range gun, while the Winchester rifle is better for up-close work, faster, shorter.
Lou looks at the rifle and says, “You any good with that?”
“I can shoot.”
Lou grunts. “Losing an eye didn’t help my shooting much. That’s why I carry Betsy now.” Lou reaches under the seat and pulls out a double-barreled shotgun. “Betsy don’t care how many eyes I have.”
I turn to check on Coyote, who is trotting along behind us. He’s pretty sore at me this morning, probably for leaving him out in the rain all night. He tried to bite part of my ear off when I was pulling off his saddle to put it in the wagon.
“Ain’t you worried your horse is going to run off, no bridle or nothing?”
“He doesn’t belong to me. If he wants to run off, he can.”
“Did you steal him?”
“No, I paid for him.”
“Then why’d you say he don’t belong to you?”
I think about it, how I fought Matthews when he was going to kill Coyote. I don’t feel like telling Lou about it. “It’s a long story.”
Lou grunts. I get the feeling he wouldn’t want to hear about it anyway.
A few more hours pass and I ask, “Where are we going?”
Lou pulls a plug of tobacco out of his shirt pocket, bites off a chunk and commences to chewing it. A couple minutes pass as he works the thing down, getting it to where it will ride comfortable in his cheek. He spits a brown glob over the side and finally responds. “North.”
Sure. That’s helpful.
The wagon is big, a good fifteen feet long, with a four-mule team pulling it. There are four long, wooden crates in the bed. “What’s in the boxes?”
Lou shrugs. “I dunno. I’m not paid to know. I’m paid to deliver and that’s what I aim to do.” He spits over the side. “Thought you said you weren’t going to talk the whole time.”
Lou doesn’t say a word the rest of the day. Not to me, anyway. He does talk to the mules, mostly to one of the front ones, who he calls Old Nibs, which sounds like a foolish name to me, but I don’t say anything. He seems to like Old Nibs better than people. That much I understand, feeling much the same way about Coyote.
He says things to the mule like “How’s it up there, Old Nibs? You making hay?”
Or “You reckon it will rain tonight, Old Nibs?”
Every time after he asks the mule a question he pauses, just like he’s listening for an answer. I wonder if Lou lost more than his eye when that mule kicked him. I wonder if it was Old Nibs who kicked him.
Like all mule skinners, Lou uses the bull whip steadily. Mules are naturally stubborn, lazy animals and they don’t seem all that happy about pulling heavy loads around. Without steady encouragement they’d do a whole lot of nothing. Lou provides that encouragement with the whip. Most of the time he just makes it pop by their ears, but when that doesn’t work he pops them on the rump, enough to raise up a bit of dust and remind them to pick up their feet.
He’s good with that whip, too. Along about midafternoon a horse fly lands on Old Nibs’ flank and proceeds to help himself to some mule blood. Lou snaps the whip and the horse fly falls dead.

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