I'm so tired of having the back of my neck tingle with apprehension. It's been that way since before I came down from the top of the ridge. Nothing is happening yet, but on it's own, my hand keeps straying down to my right hip. It surprises me at times that my body knows more than my brain, but other times it doesn't, since my instincts have sharpened over the years. Lonely years, ... and dangerous ones at that.
I see the flickering lights coming from the windows of the small town up ahead. Just to stop for a few minutes and have a drink seems too much to ask for, but, ... just for tonight, I will. My horse hasn't had anything to drink for so long and he's been a good fellow to carry me so far today. The trough is ahead and I don't have to encourage him to drink, only to stop drinking. I don't want him to get sick, I depend on him too much. He's not happy when I make him move away, but I promise him more water soon and a longer stop to eat. The cantina is just ahead and I guide him to the hitching post out front. Ouch! That shoulder wound hasn't finished healing yet and I hit the ground too hard. I'll have to remember that next time I dismount and go it slower.
It's funny how I know where the saloons are in each town. I guess I have an instinct for it, they sure don't look alike or smell alike. This one ... this one smells right and I'm hungry too. It must be the stew I'm smelling. It draws me on to the batwings, but I stop just within and adjust my vision. I don't want to be caught unaware of my surroundings and the people around me. This time, it's okay, just a bartender and one saloon gal inside.
My rifle is on my shoulder and I swing it down to cradle in my arms. The room is on the darker side with shadows cast by the oil lamps hanging from above. I glance quickly at each corner and relax to find them empty. Noting that the far table is clear, I make my way over to it, kick the chair out and sit down to lean against the wall. It sure feels good to sit on something that hasn't been moving all day. The rifle I prop up against the wall.
He sends her over to get my order and her voice is so sweet and soothing. It's a temptation to buy what she's selling, especially when she bends over to show her wares and flitters those long eyelashes at me. I tell her, “Not tonight, Sunshine, maybe another time. This cowboy is hungry for that stew on the stove and some tequila.” She pouts, but brightens up when I rub my fingers gently across her cheek. I have to be careful and a romp in a upstairs bed would be deadly. She flounces away to get a bottle and two glasses. She looks back over her shoulder and I nod my agreement. I can still be aware of my surroundings with a pretty girl before me. I've had that experience before.
Once the tequila is on the table, I pour two drinks and watch as she returns with two bowls of steaming stew. It'll be nice to have something soothing to look at as I eat. All too soon, the meal is done and I'm left with a half-filled bottle of tequila, salt, lime, and the senorita has wandered off to talk to the bartender. I guess she was disappointed that I turned down her second invitation, but I'm not in the mood tonight. I'm coming down from a range war job and too much is haunting my thoughts.
It seems that all I do is fight other people's battles, that and participate in gunfights with would-be shooters. This last range war was messy and I didn't get paid, barely got away before the rancher sent his cowhands after me. It seems he never intended to pay me for my services, just kill me and leave me to rot. I grin as I think of the presents I sent back his way on their horses.
She saw my grin and starts to come back over, but I wave her away. My mood is getting darker and she would be disappointed with my company. He's coming for me. I know it, but I'm tired of running and I'll stick around until he gets here. He was a participant in the range war on the other side. Now, he's after me. Well, let him find me. I'm taking my stand right here where I'll be able to see him and not get back shot. He's dirty. He'll take a man out any way he can and pretend that he's the fastest around. Out to make a name for himself, but not on my life. He's got another thing coming, because I'm at my prime and he's not that fast.
It's taken me a long time to be fast and build a name for myself. I didn't set out to do that, but things happen and sometimes a person gets shoved into that route. I sure did when Mama's lover killed her and started in on me. He didn't know that I'd been fighting for my life for some time and I wasn't about to stop. I left him on the floor with a bullet in his heart and I haven't stopped drifting since.
I've thought about going up into the San Joaquin valley and confront my father. After what Mama told me about him tossing us out, I think he deserves a bullet between his eyes ... after I remind him what he did to us. I still have time, though. First I need to take care of the guy trailing me.
Sometimes it sure would be nice if I had someone to watch my back. Wish I had a brother. Mama didn't give me one and I never had a close friend I could trust. I thought I had a one once, two, in fact, in Sexton Joe and Isham, but after a time I knew they had gone too far down that road to hell. Well, ... they still are the best next thing to a friend; you don't get any when you're in this trade of selling your gun.
Still wish I had a brother. A big brother, maybe a couple of years older. Yeah, that'd be nice. He'd probably look like me, with these blue eyes I've got. Mama said that's the only thing I got from my old man and there's many of days I wish I hadn't. They mark me and make it harder to blend in with the other Mex down here. It'll help to identify the old man, although, he probably would be easy to find with him being the high and mighty rancher.
I've kept my ears open and heard he has a girl living with him, young enough to be his daughter. Didn't know the old goat had it in him. What a laugh. Huh ... on second thought, I wonder what it would be like to have a sister?
She's coming back over from the bar with another bottle of tequila in hand. When did I finish up the other? I've got enough left in the glass that I don't need more. I wave her away and she curses me. It's not the first time some gal has gotten upset with me and, it won't be the last. She sure does have a pretty back end as she turns. No. Better not go that route.
Wait. I can hear a horse walking up and stop at the hitching post. It's probably him. Time to stop dreaming and pay attention ... even though he won't notice it. I lean back and pull my hat down over my eyes. I'm surprised as my finger tips caress the top of my thigh, just inches from my gun. It seems my body is taking over, but that's what happens each time I'm invited to dance.
He comes through the door, pauses, and turns toward me. He strides across a part of the room and stops. His voice is low, but loud as he issues his challenge. I've heard those words so many times I could recite them with him. Maybe one day I will. I bet it would rattle my competitor. That's just what I want to do, rattle him, make him lose his cool. I enjoy watching the sweat dripping down their faces. I'm very slow as I rise with my glass in my left hand. I step away from the table, still holding the glass. It's half-full and his eyes keep flickering toward it. I raise it a little as a salute to him, but I don't give a reply other than a large smile.
There it is, the sweat is dripping, but I can tell from his eyes that he'll go through with the fight. I wait, relaxed, until his body catches up to what his eyes are telegraphing to me. Just a second, that's all I have to wait until his hand makes his move. Purely instinctively, that's how my body reacts and I'm left standing with a smoking gun with the smell of hell hanging in the air. He slowly slithers to the floor, not realizing that he was dead long before his muscles relaxed for the last time.
I step over and kick his gun away from his hand, but it really isn't necessary. He's no longer a danger to me. I raise the glass, drink down the last of the tequila and gently lower it to the nearest table. I feel the need to escape, to leave the walls that are closing in on me. Turning to retrieve my rifle, I see her face, the fear leading to revulsion written across her beauty and transfiguring it to ugliness. Striding over, I grab my rifle and toss it over my shoulder. Pulling some coins from my pocket, I toss them onto the table, pick up my hat and put it on. Tipping it and my head to her and the bartender, I leave through the doors I first entered.
My horse gives a soft nicker as I come up and stroke his soft nose. Settling the rifle on him, I vault into the saddle and turn him toward the road leading out of town. I'm tired and I know a cave large enough to hold us both and where a fire will be hidden from view. It's nearby and I'm ready to get some rest before I head south to fight again.
As he rode away the ghostly fingers of mist reached up to envelope him and he disappeared into the evening fog, leaving the watching bartender to wonder who he was.