Authors: Robert B. Parker
Tags: #Parker, #Everett (Fictitious character), #Westerns, #Fiction - Western, #Fiction, #Robert B. - Prose & Criticism, #General, #Virgil (Fictitious character), #American Western Fiction, #Westerns - General, #Hitch, #Cole
O FAR NO NOISE. The silence was as thick as the darkness. I edged my way back to the side wall of the laundry and retrieved my eight-gauge. Then I inched back to my spot next to the dead man behind the laundry kettles. Somewhere off to my right, out a ways on the incipient prairie, some sort of night animal snuffled for a moment. Then, again, nothing. To my left, I knew, in Chester Hamlin’s Dry Goods were two of Callico’s riflemen. Across the street were two more on the roof of Rockenwagner’s Hardware.
I listened to my own breath going in and out softly. In the east the sky was less black. I heard the horses. In the first dim light of morning they came, bunched up tight together, little more than a dark, moving mass as they came up Main Street toward the jail. And paused. A shot exploded from the jailhouse, and one of the horses reared and screamed and went down. I waited, watching the muzzle flashes as Callico’s men opened up from their rooftops and storefronts. The jail doors opened, and the rest of Callico’s men poured into the street, shooting into the cluster of surging horses fanning out around them.
I felt bad about the horses.
From the roof of the jail, Pony Flores started shooting down into the crowd of policemen in the street below him. The rest of us, from our own storefronts and rooftops, began firing. Callico’s people were confused, then panicked. They didn’t know who was shooting or where it was coming from. On the roof of the dry goods store the two shooters stood up, looking to see what was happening. I picked one off with each barrel of the eight-gauge. It’s easy to hit things with an eight-gauge shotgun.
In front of me, the street was littered with struggling horses and fallen men. Thick smoke drifted over them. From somewhere, one of us picked off the two men on Rockenwagner’s roof. The sound of gunfire was steady. Some of the horses screamed. Some of the men screamed.
And then it stopped. The chaos was too much for Callico’s men. They broke and ran, and in barely a minute, the street in front of the jail was empty of fighting. It wasn’t silent. Too many men and animals were hurt. But there was no gunfire, and it seemed almost still because of it.
It was daylight.
Virgil Cole walked out of the alley near the bank, and in his almost stately way walked down to the jail. In the middle of the wounded horses and men, he paused and squatted down. With the eight-gauge loaded, I walked out and joined him. He was sitting on his heels beside Chauncey Teagarden, who was sprawled protectively over the body of General Laird, with both Colts still in his hand.
“Couldn’t get him down in time,” Chauncey said, and sat up, and rolled back on his heels and stood. “Not sure he wanted to.”
He put both of his fancy handguns back into their holsters.
“You did what you could,” Virgil said.
“I did,” he said.
Pony came down from the jail’s roof and stood with us. Cato and Rose appeared. There was a thin line of blood on Rose’s cheek, as if a bullet had kicked up a splinter.
He looked around at the street.
“Damn,” he said. “We’re good.”
Virgil walked to the open door of the jail.
“Callico,” he said.
From inside Amos Callico said, “I’m not shooting with you, Cole.”
“Come out here,” Virgil said.
“I’m not shooting,” Callico said. “My hands are empty.”
He came through the door with a gun in his hand and got off one shot at Virgil before Virgil killed him.
Callico had a clean shot from a short distance, and he missed. I have always thought it was because he was shooting at the great Virgil Cole.
“Blue-Eyed Devil,” Pony said, “not speak from heart.”
“Sometimes they don’t,” Virgil said.
IRGIL AND I sat alone on his porch in the thick darkness, drinking corn whiskey.
“Think the general wanted to die?” I said.
“Don’t think he cared,” Virgil said.
“Whatcha gonna do with that ranch?” I said.
“Give it to Pony and Laurel,” Virgil said.
“The whole fucking ranch?” I said.
“I ain’t no rancher,” Virgil said.
“And you think Pony is?”
“Chance to find out,” Virgil said.
“What if you give it to him and he loses it?” I said.
“Be his to lose,” Virgil said.
“Laurel might help him keep it,” I said.
“Might,” Virgil said.
There was a lamp lit inside the house, and it was enough for us to see each other. Virgil drank some corn whiskey.
“Pony’s going down to Buffalo Springs tomorrow to get her,” I said.
“Allie, too,” Virgil said.
“Think Allie’ll want the ranch?” I said.
“Sure,” Virgil said.
“But she won’t get it.”
“No,” Virgil said.
I poured a little whiskey from the jug. Above us there was still no moon, but the clouds had moved away and there were stars. I looked at them for a while.
“Couldn’t be with Allie,” I said, “could you? If you paid too much attention to what she wanted.”
“Allie wants everything,” Virgil said.
“Be jumping around like a grasshopper,” I said. “In July.”
“Would,” Virgil said.
“She’ll get over it,” I said.
“She will,” Virgil said.
Virgil sipped some more whiskey. I liked whiskey. I didn’t like how it tasted. But I liked the way it made me feel, unless I drank too much. Virgil, on the other hand, never seemed to feel different when he drank whiskey. It was as if he just liked the taste.
We didn’t want to sleep. A big gunfight is exhausting. Even if it’s short. And we were exhausted. But we didn’t want to let it all go yet. So we sat in the starry darkness with each other and the whiskey.
“Wonder if that stallion’s still up in the hills with his mares,” Virgil said.
“Suppose he is,” I said.
“Strutting around stiff-legged with his tail up and his ears back.”
“If you come near the mares,” I said.
“Think he loves them mares?” Virgil said.
“They’re his,” I said.
“Likes to fuck ’em,” Virgil said.
“Sure,” I said.
“Think that’s all of it?” Virgil said.
“They’re his,” I said.
Virgil nodded silently. He poured some whiskey, took a sip, then held the glass up and looked through the clear whiskey for a time at the lamplight from the parlor.
“So,” I said. “We ain’t gonna be ranchers.”
“Don’t see no future to the barroom protection service,”lay I said. “Now that Callico’s gone.”
“So, what do we do now?” I said.
“Figure the town might need couple of experienced lawmen,” Virgil said.
“Since we shot up the previous,” I said.
“And we know how to do that,” I said.
“We do,” Virgil said.
“So, we sit tight,” I said. “See what develops.”
“Be my plan,” Virgil said.
He stood and carried his whiskey to the far corner of the porch and looked into the darkness.
“Remember the general talking ’bout power coming from the end of a gun?” Virgil said.
“Yep. Taught his kid that. I guess he wished he hadn’t,” I said.
Virgil was silent. Far out on the prairie, a coyote barked. Then silence.
“Thing is,” Virgil said. “He was right.”
“Depends on who’s holding the gun, don’t it?” I said.
“S’pose is does,” Virgil said.