Climbing a crest is no big deal. But doing it while carrying a saddle on my shoulder is something else entirely. Let’s hope that what I glimpsed in the distance, right before I shot my horse, is the main road and not something imagined because I don’t think I can walk much further. And it certainly wouldn’t do for Madrid to simply sit in the dirt, waiting for help of some sort.
My breath is short, my feet hurt, my back hurts and my legs feel kinda shaky, just like [those of] a newborn colt’s. My shoulders hurt too. Damn saddle is way too heavy. And to top it all, I’m almost out of water. God! I’m thirsty… and hungry… and tired. Don’t know what I’d give for a bottle of tequila along with hot tamales and beans, a soft bed and maybe some good company right now.
I’m almost at the top of the crest and none too soon as I can hear a rumbling sound in the distance – very close in fact. Guess I’m lucky. Seems it’s the main road after all. I transfer the saddle to my right arm and I hold my jacket with my left as I hurry up the crest and get onto the road embankment, my legs straining. Just in time to see a stage turning the bend and coming straight at me at full speed.
I step right out into the middle of the road. They’ll have to stop. Don’t think they’ll want to run me down. But then, who knows what they’ll do. Maybe shoot me on sight, if they don’t like what they see!
I look at them expectantly. Well, seems they won’t run me down... stage’s slowing down. I scoot right smart to the left. Don’t want to be in the way if they suddenly decide to keep going. But no, they really stop.
“You going to Morro Coyo?” I ask as I drop my heavy saddle on the ground.
“Unless I’m lost,” the driver says.
“Mind if I get a lift?”
“Sure thing. We’ll take that gun of yours,” he says again, eying my gun and giving me a stern look over.
He and his partner, they’re no fools. They know what I am. I don’t like to hand over my gun but what else can I do? If I refuse, they might leave me here and I really don’t feel like walking anymore. The blisters on my feet have blisters of their own. Can things get any worse than that?
I lick my lips and I hesitate for just a moment. My hat shields my eyes and I drop my head just a little. Don’t really want them to figure out what I’m thinking.
“Sure,” I finally say as I raise my head again. With a sigh, I remove my gun from my holster and I hand it over to the driver. Once again, I grab my saddle and hoist it up into the waiting hands of the co-driver who puts it away on the top, with the rest of the luggage.
I put my jacket on; I open the door and I climb aboard. Damn, the right side is already filled to capacity. A funny-looking man is squeezed between two women as strange looking as he is. They must be related, what with all of them being dressed in black as they are. Wonder if they’re mourning someone. I greet them with one of my smiles. One of the women smiles back at me too.
I glance on my left. Damn! Just my luck! A priest sits on the far end of the bench and a fancy dude takes the place near the left window. There’s barely enough space for one more person between them, not my favorite spot by any means. I snicker derisively. Don’t have much of a choice. At least, none of us is fat.
That fancy dude can hardly hide his impatience. Whooeee! I can’t help but grin. I must stink a bit too much from the way those three sittin’ across wrinkle their noses. The priest don’t seem to care. Haven’t had a chance to bathe since I left San Diego and Felicia’s bed and all that walking under the hot sun mustn’t have helped.
Ah Felicia! Never thought I’d miss a woman that much, but she… Well, Felicia is who she is and I can’t deny the fact I do have some feelings for her. Don’t rightly know whether this is really love but, hey, what the heck? Once I’m done here, maybe I’ll go back to see her, before I decide where I’ll go next and what I’ll do. Maybe she’ll come with me. With a thousand dollars, we can start afresh somewhere, far from here… up north maybe, where nobody ain’t ever heard of Johnny Madrid – that is if the Devil lets me ride away.
Before I even have time to settle down in my spot, the stage lurches forward. I lose my balance and find myself right in the dude’s lap.
Finally, I manage to place my butt square on the empty space. As I remove my gloves, I smile at the dude and look him up from head to toe and back. Never seen anyone dressed like him. He looks totally ridiculous. And that hat he’s wearing?
“Didn’t mean to mess your outfit,” I tell him, grinning.
“Can’t be helped,” he says to me.
I almost burst out laughing. Boy, I can tell he’s really annoyed, though he’s trying not to let on. Then, he just glances at me, takes his book and looks outside. Think it might be fun to rile him a bit, see how far I can go without having him getting back at me in any way. That will surely pass the time more quickly.
Ten miles to Morro Coyo, so the sign said. That’s plenty of time for me to think about the bastard that threw us out, Mama and me. Why the hell would he want to see me and why now? These thoughts sober me up a bit.
I snort. I suppose he’s learned that his ‘mistake’ is a pistolero – a famous pistolero at that. Maybe he needs my gun. Why else would he be willing to pay me one thousand dollars for one hour of my time?
I will listen but once the hour is over, I’ll tell him what I think of him. I’ll tell him I despise him and hate him. Then, I’ll show him the business end of my gun and I’ll kill him. His blood will feed the earth and satisfy my hunger for justice. Guess I’ll thank him first. After all, he did save me from the firing squad. Then, I’ll be free. Free to go where the wind will take me, free from any ties at last.
But then, what if he has a family? I can’t possibly kill him in front of them. Oh God, if he is married and if he has children, those children… they’re… Shit, I might have half-brothers and half-sisters. And what if Mama lied to me? No, I can’t possibly go in blind. I’ll have to ask around. See what the people think of him. Just like I do before I accept any job.
My mind made up, I pull my hat over my eyes and lean onto the shoulder of the fancy dude. He moves away from me… as far as he can, which isn’t much considering we’re so cramped inside the stage. Boy, I hate travelling by stage. Hate the enclosed space. Hate not having my working gun. Sure, I have my hidden gun but that’s not quite the same.
Mierda, I can’t even stretch my legs. I smile inwardly. Dude must find that very hard too… he’s taller than me and his legs are longer. I lean into him even more, pretending it’s the movement of the stage. I know he’s not fooled, though.
I remove my hat and lean into his shoulder again to peek at the book he’s reading. Sure is a big book. Don’t think I’d have the patience to read that. Looks like he’s almost halfway through. Must spend all his free time reading. Wonder what he finds so interesting in that. Me, I’d rather spend my free time practicing my draw and my accuracy. I bet this dude can’t even hit the side of a barn door. Hell, he’s probably never touched a firearm in his life.
“What’s it about?”
I look carefully at his face when I ask him. I expect he’s gonna be annoyed and I’m not disappointed. He shrugs and closes his book with a snap.
“Nothing that would interest you, I’m sure,” he tells me.
His voice sounds weary-like. Oh yeah, I’m getting to him, alright. He tries to move further away but I just shift myself a little.
“Care if I make up my mind by myself?” I ask while I quickly grab the book, open it and pretend to read.
Now, he glares at me and I smile innocently. He takes the book back from my hands.
“Are you always like that?”
“Like what?” I ask, still smiling.
“Do you always annoy the people around you?”
“Only when I’m bored,” I reply.
The woman who smiled at me chuckles and the man beside her shushes her. Then, the fancy dude looks at me once again.
“Then maybe you should have brought something to amuse yourself. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to resume my reading.”
With that said, he reopens his book, turns himself slightly toward the window and starts reading again. I sigh loudly and bump into him once again. Then I pull my hat back on my face and cross my arms.
“Suit yourself,” I answer back.
Two minutes after, I look him over once again. He pretends he’s not aware of it but I know he is. I can feel it in the way his shoulders tighten and the sigh he lets escape from his lips.
“What now?” he asks.
“Oh! Just wondering about your outfit, you know. It ain’t quite the style here. Where’re you from?”
“Do they all dress like you back East?”
He looks at me from head to toe, just like I done to him. Then I see him smiling, kinda sly.
“Do they all dress like you do back where you’re from, wherever that is?”
Boy, I wasn’t expecting that. I’m ashamed to say he did succeed in cooling me off a bit. Not for long, though.
“Never had any complaints from anybody ‘bout the way I dress, certainly not from females,” I tell him, with a big smile while I glance at the two women sitting in front of me.
The youngest one, the one who smiled at me earlier, tries to stifle her giggles but without any success. The other woman looks at her and tells her sharply to stop, and the dude? Oh boy, the dude’s face is all red. Think I got the last word.
With these thoughts in mind, I lean again into his shoulder, excuse myself and pull down my hat over my eyes. Can’t stop smiling.
Ah! Morro Coyo at last. And it’s about time. I feel so cramped in here. Can’t wait to get off and stretch my back and my legs and get my gun back. Think I’ll spend the day here, get the lay of the place and move on early tomorrow morning toward my destiny.