The Tall T | 1955, 1957, 2011

Elmore Leonard, The Captives, Argosy, February, 1955

Maybe she is a little plain, he thought. Her nose doesn’t have the kind of a clean-cut shape that stays in your mind. And her hair— if she didn’t have it pulled back so tight she’d look a little younger, and happier. She could do something with her hair. She could do something with her clothes, too, to let you know she’s a woman.

He felt sorry for her, seeing her biting her lower lip, still staring off through the trees. And for a reason he did not understand, though he knew it had nothing to do with sympathy, he felt very close to her, as if he had known her for a long time, as if he could look into her eyes— not just now, but anytime— and know what she was thinking. He realized that it was sympathy, in a sense, but not the feeling-sorry kind. He could picture her as a little girl, and self-consciously growing up, and he could imagine vaguely what her father was like. And now— a sensitive girl, afraid of saying the wrong thing; afraid of speaking out of turn even if it meant wondering about instead of knowing what had happened to her husband. Afraid of sounding silly, while men like her husband talked and talked and said nothing. But even having to listen to him, she would not speak against him, because he was her husband.

That’s the kind of woman to have, Brennan thought. One that’ll stick by you, no matter what. And, he thought, still looking at her, one that’s got some insides to her. Not just all on the surface. Probably you would have to lose a woman like that to really appreciate her.

“Mrs. Mims.”

She looked at him, her eyes still bearing the anxiety of watching through the trees.

“He’ll come, Mrs. Mims. Pretty soon now.”

Frank Usher returned and motioned them into the hut again. He talked to Chink for a few minutes and now the gunman walked off through the trees.

Looking out from the doorway of the hut, Brennan said over his shoulder, “One of them’s going out now to watch for your husband.” He glanced around at Doretta Mims and she answered him with a hesitant smile.

Frank Usher was standing by the lean-to when Chink came back through the trees some time later. He walked out to meet him.

“They coming?”

Chink nodded. “Starting across the slope."

Minutes later two horses came into view crossing the grade. As they came through the trees, Frank Usher called, “Tie up in the shade there!” He and Chink watched the two men dismount, then come across the clearing toward them.

“It’s all set!” Willard Mims called.

Frank Usher waited until they reached him. “What’d he say?”

“He said he’d bring the money.”

“That right, Billy-Jack?”

Billy-Jack nodded. “That’s what he said.” He was carrying Rintoon’s sawed-off shotgun.

“You didn’t suspect any funny business?”

Billy-Jack shook his head.

Usher fingered his beard gently, holding Mims with his gaze. “He can scare up that much money?”

“He said he could, though it will take most of today to do it.”

“That means he’ll come out tomorrow,” Usher said.

Willard Mims nodded. “That’s right.”

Usher’s eyes went to Billy-Jack. “You gave him directions?”

“Like you said, right to the mouth of that barranca, chock full of willow. Then one of us brings him in from there.”

“You’re sure he can find it?”

“I made him say it twice,” Billy-Jack said. “Every turn.”

Usher looked at Willard Mims again. “How’d he take it?”

“How do you think he took it?

Usher was silent, staring at Mims. Then he began to stroke his beard again. “I’m asking you,” he said.

Mims shrugged. “Of course, he was mad, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He’s a reasonable man.”

Billy-Jack was grinning. “Frank, this time tomorrow we’re sitting on top of the world.”

Willard Mims nodded. “I think you made yourself a pretty good deal.”

Frank Usher’s eyes had not left Mims. “You want to stay here or go on back?”


“You heard what I said.”

“You mean you’d let me go… now?”

“We don’t need you anymore.”

Willard Mims’s eyes flicked to the hut, then back to Frank Usher. He said, almost too eagerly, “I could go back now and lead old man Gateway out here in the morning.”

“Sure you could,” Usher said.

“Listen, I’d rather stay with my wife, but if it means getting the old man out here faster, then I think I better go back.”

Usher nodded. “I know what you mean.”

“You played square with me. By God, I’ll play square with you.”

Mims started to turn away.

Usher said, “Don’t you want to see your wife first?”

Mims hesitated. “Well, the quicker I start traveling, the better. She’ll understand.”

“We’ll see you tomorrow then, huh?”

Mims smiled. “About the same time.” He hesitated. “All right to get going now?”

Mims backed away a few steps, still smiling, then turned and started to walk toward the trees. He looked back once and waved.

Frank Usher watched him, his eyes half closed in the sunlight. When Mims was almost to the trees, Usher said, quietly, “Chink, bust him.”

Chink fired, the .44 held halfway between waist and shoulders, the long barrel raising slightly as he fired again and again until Mims went down, lying still as the heavy reports faded into dead silence.

“Aren’t you going to look in on that?” He nodded toward the hut.

“What do you mean?”

“The woman,” Brennan said matter-of-factly. He took another sip of the coffee.

“What about her?” Billy-Jack asked.

Brennan shrugged. “I thought you were taking turns.”


“Now, look, you can’t be so young, I got to draw you a map—” Brennan smiled. “Oh, I see. …Frank didn’t say anything to you. Or Chink…. Keeping her for themselves….”

Billy-Jack’s eyes flicked to the hut, then back to Brennan. “They were with her?”

“Well, all I know is Frank went in there yesterday morning and Chink yesterday afternoon while you were gone.” He took another sip of the coffee and threw out what was left in the cup. Turning, he said, “No skin off my nose,” and walked slowly back to the lean-to.

He began scraping the tin plates, his head down, but watching Billy- Jack. Let it sink through that thick skull of yours. But do it quick! Come on, move, you animal! There! He watched Billy-Jack walk slowly toward the hut. God, make him move faster! Billy-Jack was out of view then beyond the corner of the hut.

All right. Brennan put down the tin plate he was holding and moved quickly, noiselessly, to the side of the hut and edged along the rough logs until he reached the corner. He listened first before he looked around. Billy-Jack had gone inside.

He wanted to make sure, some way, that Billy-Jack would be looking at Doretta, but there was not time. And then he was moving again— along the front, and suddenly he was inside the hut, seeing the back of Billy-Jack’s head, seeing him turning, and a glimpse of Doretta’s face, and the sawed-off shotgun coming around. One of his hands shot out to grip the stubby barrel, pushing it, turning it up and back violently, and the other hand closed over the trigger guard before it jerked down on Billy-Jack’s wrist.

Deafeningly, a shot exploded, with the twin barrels jammed under the outlaw’s jaw. Smoke and a crimson smear, and Brennan was on top of him wrenching the shotgun from squeezed fingers, clutching Billy- Jack’s revolver as he came to his feet.

He heard Doretta gasp, still with the ringing in his ears, and he said, “Don’t look at him!” already turning to the doorway as he jammed the Colt into his empty holster.

Frank Usher was running across the clearing, his gun in his hand.

Brennan stepped into the doorway leveling the shotgun. “Frank, hold it there!”

Usher stopped dead, but in the next second he was aiming, his revolver coming up even with his face, and Brennan’s hand squeezed the second trigger of the shotgun.

Usher screamed and went down, grabbing his knees, and he rolled to his side as he hit the ground. His right hand came up, still holding the Colt.
“Don’t do it, Frank!” Brennan had dropped the scattergun and now Billy-Jack’s revolver was in his hand. He saw Usher’s gun coming in line, and he fired, aiming dead center at the half-reclined figure, hearing the sharp, heavy report, and seeing Usher’s gun hand raise straight up into the air as he slumped over on his back.

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Tall T Elevation Profile

Cartographic Drawing Tall T Site

Brennan hesitated. Get him out of there, quick. Chink’s not deaf.   

He ran out to Frank Usher and dragged him back to the hut, laying him next to Billy-Jack. He jammed Usher’s pistol into his belt. Then, “Come on!” he told Doretta, and took her hand and ran out of the hut and across the clearing toward the side where the horses were.   

They moved into the denser pines, where he stopped and pulled her down next to him in the warm sand. Then he rolled over on his stomach and parted the branches to look back out across the clearing.   

The hut was to the right. Straight across were more pines, but they were scattered thinly, and through them he could see the sand-colored expanse of the open grade. Chink would come that way, Brennan knew. There was no other way he could.   

Close to him, Doretta said, “We could leave before he comes.” She was afraid, and it was in the sound of her voice.   

“No,” Brennan said. “We’ll finish this. When Chink comes we’ll finish it once and for all.”  

“But you don’t know! How can you be sure you’ll—”   

“Listen, I’m not sure of anything, but I know what I have to do.” She was silent and he said quietly, “Move back and stay close to the ground.”
And as he looked across the clearing his eyes caught the dark speck of movement beyond the trees, out on the open slope. There he was. It had to be him. Brennan could feel the sharp knot in his stomach again as he watched, as the figure grew larger.  

Now he was sure. Chink was on foot leading his horse, not coming straight across, but angling higher up on the slope. He’ll come in where the trees are thicker, Brennan thought. He’ll come out beyond the lean-to and you won’t see him until he turns the corner of the hut. That’s it. He can’t climb the slope back of the hut, so he’ll have to come around the front way. He estimated the distance from where he was lying to the front of the hut— seventy or eighty feet— and his thumb eased back the hammer of the revolver in front of him. There was a dead silence for perhaps ten minutes before he heard, coming from beyond the hut, “Frank?” Silence again. Then, “Where the hell are you?”   

Brennan waited, feeling the smooth, heavy, hickory grip of the Colt in his hand, his finger lightly caressing the trigger. It was in his mind to fire as soon as Chink turned the corner. He was ready. But it came and it went. It went as he saw Chink suddenly, unexpectedly, slip around the corner of the hut and flatten himself against the wall, his gun pointed toward the door. Brennan’s front sight was dead on Chink’s belt, but he couldn’t pull the trigger. Not like this. He watched Chink edge slowly toward the door.   

“Throw it down, boy!”   

Chink moved and Brennan squeezed the trigger a split second late. He fired again, hearing the bullet thump solidly into the door frame, but it was too late. Chink was inside.  

Brennan let his breath out slowly, relaxing somewhat. Well, that’s what you get. You wait, and all you do is make it harder for yourself. He could picture Chink now looking at Usher and Billy-Jack. That’ll give him something to think about. Look at them good. Then look at the door you’ve got to come out of sooner or later.   

I’m glad he’s seeing them like that. And he thought then: How long could you stand something like that? He can cover up Billy-Jack and stand it a little longer. But when dark comes…. If he holds out tilldark he’s got a chance. And now he was sorry he had not pulled the trigger before. You got to make him come out, that’s all.   


There was no answer.   

“Chink, come on out!”   

Suddenly gunfire came from the doorway and Brennan, hugging the ground, could hear the swishing of the bullets through the foliage above him.
Don’t throw it away, he thought, looking up again. He backed up and moved over a few yards to take up a new position. He’d be on the left side of the doorway as you look at it, Brennan thought, to shoot on an angle like that.   

He sighted on the inside edge of the door frame and called, “Chink, come out and get it!” He saw the powder flash, and he fired on top of it, cocked and fired again. Then silence.   

Now you don’t know, Brennan thought. He reloaded and called out, “Chink!” but there was no answer, and he thought: You just keep digging your hole deeper.   

Maybe you did hit him. No, that’s what he wants you to think. Walk in the door and you’ll find out. He’ll wait now. He’ll take it slow and start adding up his chances. Wait till night? That’s his best bet— but he can’t count on his horse being there then. I could have worked around and run it off. And he knows he wouldn’t be worth a damn on foot, even if he did get away. So the longer he waits, the less he can count on his horse.   

All right, what would you do? Immediately he thought: I’d count shots. So you hear five shots go off in a row and you make a break out the door, and while you’re doing it the one shooting picks up another gun. But even picking up another gun takes time.   

He studied the distance from the doorway to the corner of the hut. Three long strides. Out of sight in less than three seconds. That’s if he’s thinking of it. And if he tried it, you’d have only that long to aim and fire. Unless…   

Unless Doretta pulls off the five shots. He thought about this for some time before he was sure it could be done without endangering her. But first you have to give him the idea.   

He rolled to his side to pull Usher’s gun from his belt. Then, holding it in his left hand, he emptied it at the doorway. Silence followed.   

I’m reloading now, Chink. Get it through your cat-eyed head. I’m reloading and you’ve got time to do something.   

He explained it to Doretta unhurriedly— how she would wait about ten minutes before firing the first time; she would count to five and fire again, and so on until the gun was empty. She was behind the thick bole of a pine and only the gun would be exposed as she fired.   

She said, “And if he doesn’t come out?”   

“Then we’ll think of something else.”   

Their faces were close. She leaned toward him, closing her eyes, and kissed him softly. “I’ll be waiting,” she said.   

Brennan moved off through the trees, circling wide, well back from the edge of the clearing. He came to the thin section directly across from Doretta’s position and went quickly from tree to tree, keeping to the shadows until he was into thicker pines again. He saw Chink’s horse off to the left of him. Only a few minutes remained as he came out of the trees to the off side of the lean-to, and there he went down to his knees, keeping his eyes on the corner of the hut.   

The first shot rang out and he heard it whump into the front of the hut. One… then the second …two… he was counting them, not moving his eyes from the front edge of the hut… three… four …be ready…. Five! Now, Chink!   

He heard him— hurried steps on the packed sand— and almost immediately he saw him cutting sharply around the edge of the hut, stopping, leaning against the wall, breathing heavily but thinking he was safe. Then Brennan stood up.   

“Here’s one facing you, Chink.”   

He saw the look of surprise, the momentary expression of shock, a full second before Chink’s revolver flashed up from his side and Brennan’s finger tightened on the trigger. With the report Chink lurched back against the wall, a look of bewilderment still on his face, although he was dead even as he slumped to the ground.

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