Friday, August 16, 2013

Work in Progress: Chapter 2 of 'The Last Gunfighters'

The sun was high in the sky by the time they’d secured all five corpses across the backs of the outlaws’ horses.

Usually averse to manual labor, for once Jacob bent to with a will. The incentive of half of five thousand dollars overcame his usual reluctance to get his hands dirty.

“You done good back there, Jacob,” Esau said as they cinched the last rope around the last body and prepared to ride.

“I remembered what you said ‘bout takin’ it slow and easy,” Jacob said. “And, sure nuff, I snuck up on them two boys ‘fore they even knowed I was there.”

“Hope you didn’t shoot ‘em in the back. Ain’t right shootin’ a man in the back, not even an outlaw.”

“Naw, I done give ‘em fair warnin’. I cleared my throat, and when they turned, I shot ‘em.”

Esau nodded his satisfaction.

“We got our reputations to worry ‘bout,” he said. “Don’t look good bringin’ bodies what been shot in the back. Make people wonder ‘bout you.”

“You right ‘bout that. Say, where we gone take these boys?”

Esau rubbed his smooth brown chin. He narrowed his amber eyes, deep in thought.

“Well, I reckon the town of Briscoe is closest; ‘bout ten mile east of here if I remember correctly.”

“Briscoe? Oh yeah, I remember. That’s the one what’s got that silver mine just outside town.”

“The same one,” Esau said. “Reckon we might not even have to wait to collect the bounty.”

He pulled the sheepskin collar of his jacket close. Now that the effort of hoisting the bodies onto the horses was done, he could feel the chill in the air. Even at midday, up high where they were there was still a bit of a nip in the air in early March. Looking up, he could see only a few wisps of white cloud in the crystal blue sky. Several large buzzards were circling above them. It always amazed Esau how these ugly, hooked beak birds seemed to know when there was dead meat on the ground. It was like they could smell death even from a long way off. In the narrow cut of the high walls and off in the distance he could see the rolling green prairie that stretched endlessly to the east. He could see the glint of light off a lake somewhere in the middle distance. Here in the northeast part of New Mexico there were lots of lakes, so the ground was covered in deep green most of the year, unlike the parts farther west that got little rainfall and were mostly desert covered in cactus and stunted scrub in colors of dusty green and brown.

Esau was still a bit put out with Jacob. If he’d taken his time like Esau wanted to do, they might have found the Quintons’ hideout, where it was rumored they kept most of the loot from their depredations. That, along with the bounty, would have really had them chopping in tall cotton. But, Jacob had tried to make amends, and hadn’t done too bad of job of it, so Esau held his tongue.

“Well,” he said. “We might’s well git started. Reckon it’ll take two hours to git down to Briscoe. I’d like to git our business with the sheriff there settled ‘fore nightfall.”

“We plannin’ to spend the night ain’t we?” Jacob asked. He had a hopeful look on his sun-bronzed face. “I ain’t slept in a proper bed in months.”

At the thought Esau smiled. While he didn’t care one way or another about what he slept on, he relished the thought of sitting in a tub of hot, soapy water for an hour or so. He sniffed. He and Jacob both smelled a bit gamy after only washing off in the occasional stream for so long.

“Yeah, I reckon we can stay one night. I ain’t to partial ‘bout hangin’ ‘round town folk too long, but I don’t think it’d hurt just one night.”

“And, we can git ourselves one of them fancy steak dinners, with corn bread and beer? I love me some corn bread.”

Even though they were only a few months apart in age, there were times when Esau thought of Jacob as a slightly retarded baby brother. The things that ran through his mind were truly wondrous to behold, Esau thought.

“Sure, Jacob, we can git ourselves a big dinner. Shoot, we can even have apple pie for desert.”

“Now you talkin’,” Jacob said.

They mounted. Esau grabbed the reins of the five horses. He handed two to Jacob.

“I reckon since you done shot three of ‘em and I only got two,” he said. “I’ll hold onto three and you take the other two.”

Jacob took the two reins with a broad smile on his face. The ends of his mustache quivered.

“Shoot, I’d be happy to take all five iffen you wanted, Esau,” he said. “For apple pie, I’d do just ‘bout anything.”

Esau shook his head. He kicked his horse forward. The three horses with their grisly burdens meekly followed. Jacob nudged his horse in the flank, and the animal pulled alongside Esau’s.

They headed back down the trail, leaving a low hanging cloud of dust in their wake.

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