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
LLIE AND LAUREL liked to walk up Main Street in the evening, but Laurel wouldn’t leave the house without Virgil, so when they wanted to go, we went, too, and strolled with them past the dress shop window, where Allie told Laurel how beautiful the clothes were. Laurel stared at them silently.
At the end of Main Street, past Seventh, were the short-time whorehouses, so we stopped before we reached them, and crossed the street and headed back down along Main Street. Walking ahead with Virgil, Laurel would pause sometimes and whisper to him. Allie and I dropped a few steps behind.
“You think she’ll ever talk to me, Everett?” Allie said.
“Might,” I said.
“I’ve been a mother to her since what happened,” Allie said.
“You’ve been a good one, Allie.”
“I guess she talks to Virgil because he saved her,” Allie said.
“I saved her, too,” I said. “And she won’t talk to me.”
“Or Pony Flores,” Allie said. “Virgil always says you wouldn’t have found her without Pony Flores.”
“True,” I said.
“She even hugs him, but doesn’t speak.”
“I know,” I said.
“There must be something about Virgil,” she said.
“Virgil’s not like other people, Allie.”
“No,” she said. “He certainly isn’t.”
We passed the Golden Palace. The light and sound spilled gladly out onto the street.
“Everything seems so peaceful now,” Allie said.
“Did Virgil ask Pony to leave?” Allie said.
“Pinkertons showed up looking for him,” I said. “We sent them up to Resolution. Know the law there.”
“Resolution was where you and Virgil were for a time, while I was . . . away.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Why doesn’t Kha-to-nay go back to his people?” Allie said.
“First place they’d look for him,” I said. “And Pony is afraid that if he’s back with the tribe he’ll instigate trouble.”
“So, it wasn’t because I asked him,” Allie said.
We passed the Boston House.
“How are things with the police chief,” Allie said.
“Mrs. Callico invited me and Laurel to tea after church last Sunday,” Allie said. “She’s so elegant. From New Orleans.”
“Never been to New Orleans,” I said.
“And she speaks French,” Allie said.
Ahead of us, Virgil walked with a slight forward bend, so he could listen when Laurel whispered to him.
“And she has clothes sent to her from there,” Allie said.
We reached First Street and turned right on it, toward Front Street.
“And she has a Mexican woman who cooks and serves,” Allie said.
“Can see why Callico needs income,” I said.
“Oh, he’s going to be very wealthy,” Allie said.
“Mrs. Callico says he has a plan worked out. He’ll get elected sheriff next year. And then, later, he’ll go to Congress and come back and be a governor, and he says one day he’ll be President.”
“Of the country?” I said.
“That’s what Mrs. Callico told me.”
“The United States of America,” I said.
“President of the United States,” Allie said.
“Amos Callico,” I said.
“Wouldn’t that be exciting if he was, and we knew him?”
“Why would anybody want to be President?” I said.
“Oh, Everett,” Allie said. “Don’t be so silly.”
VERY COUPLE OF HOURS, more often at night, Virgil or I toured the saloons we were hired to protect. The one not touring would be in place in front of the Boston House in case there was trouble and someone sent for us. On a pleasant evening, with a lot of starlight, I was on tour. As I came out of the Sweet Water Saloon, Tilda, the Boston House waitress, came running.
“Trouble,” she said. “Come fast.”
“Boston House?” I said.
I went up Main Street at a run, carrying the eight-gauge.
In the Boston House, Virgil was in the doorway that led to the hotel lobby. He was leaning his left shoulder against the jamb. Standing across the room, with a half dozen of his ranch hands behind him, Nicky Laird was drunk. So were the hands.
“Sign says no guns,” Nicky said to Virgil.
“Does,” Virgil said.
“We got guns.”
“Yeah, you do,” Virgil said.
“Gonna try to do something ’bout that?” Nicky said.
“Have to ask you to leave,” Virgil said.
“We ain’t goin’,” Nicky said.
“Then I have to disarm you.”
“All seven of us?” Nicky said.
“Even if you got a round under the hammer,” Nicky said. “You only got six.”
“Three choices,” Virgil said. “You leave, you take off the guns, or you pull on me. Anybody pulls on me, I kill you, too.”
Behind Nicky I thumbed both hammers back on the eight-gauge. It was a loud sound in the quiet room. Several patrons silently moved out of the line of fire.
Nicky glanced back at me.
“Your back-shooting friend,” he said to Virgil.
Virgil didn’t answer.
“Don’t change nothing,” Nicky said.
Virgil nodded gently. His shoulders were relaxed. He seemed almost a little bored.
“The Laird name gets respect,” Nicky said. “And if it don’t, somebody pays hell for it.”
“No reason it has to be you,” Virgil said.
“Man’s right,” one of the hands said. “The general won’t like this.”
“Fuck the general,” Nicky said. “I run things.”
“You’re a boy,” Virgil said. “And you’re drunk. I’ll take no pride in killing you.”
“Fuck you, too,” Nicky said, and went for his gun.
Virgil shot him and a man on either side of him before anyone cleared leather. Everyone else froze. I didn’t even have to shoot.
Someone said, “Jesus!”
“You boys leave the saloon,” Virgil said, “and take them three with you.”
The four men did as they were told. No one looked at Virgil or me. I let the hammers down on the eight-gauge. Virgil carefully took the spent shells from his Colt and fed in three fresh ones.
“Kid had choices,” Virgil said.
“Had three,” I said.
“Took the wrong one,” Virgil said.
“Kinda thought he would,” I said.
“Drunk,” Virgil said.
“And young,” I said.
“Too young,” Virgil said.
“Maybe,” I said. “But old enough to kill you, if you let him.”
“’Fraid so,” Virgil said.
HEN WE COULD, Virgil liked to take the horses out and run them so’s to keep their wind good. On Sunday morning, while Allie and Laurel were in church, we were in the hills back of Bragg’s old spread, which was now the Lazy L.
The Appaloosa stallion was still there with his mares. He looked at us, stiff-legged, as we sat our horses on the west flank of a hill. He tossed his head.
“Smells the geldings,” I said.
“Stallions don’t like geldings,” Virgil said.
“Wonder why?” I said. “Ain’t no competition.”
“Maybe he don’t know that,” Virgil said.
“But you and I both seen a stallion attack a gelding without no mares around. Gelding minding his own business.”
“Maybe the stud just don’t like the idea of geldings,” Virgil said.
“Can’t say I’m all that fond of it myself,” I said.
“Probably don’t smell like a mare,” Virgil said. “And don’t smell like a stallion, and he don’t know what it is.”
“Creatures don’t seem to like things they don’t know what it is,” I said.
The stallion moved nervously around his herd of mares. Head up, tail up, ears forward. One of the mares was cropping grass a few feet away, separate from the herd. The stallion nipped her on the flank, and she closed with the other mares.
“Stays right around here,” Virgil said.
“Why you suppose he keeps them here?” I said. “Lotta herds drift.”
“Good grass,” Virgil said. “Water, lotta shelter in the winter.”
“Not much competition, I’d guess.”
“I dunno, see a couple new scars on him,” Virgil said. “One on his neck there, and one on his left shoulder.”
“Could be wolves,” I said.
“Looks like horse to me,” Virgil said.
“Ain’t seen no other wild horses around here,” I said.
“Maybe somebody rides a stud,” Virgil said. “And it wandered.”
“Lotta work being a stud,” I said.
“It is,” Virgil said.
“Gets a lot of humping,” I said.
“Wonder if it’s worth it,” Virgil said.
“He keeps at it,” I said.
Another mare strayed, and the stallion dashed around the herd with his head low and his neck out flat, and drove her back.
“Worth it to him, I guess,” Virgil said.
HE FUNERAL for Nicky Laird was held on Monday morning. Virgil and I watched the procession from the window of Café Paris, where we were eating fried salt pork and biscuits and all four of the eggs the Chinaman had that day.
The Appaloosa police force in full uniform marched behind the hearse, and Chief Callico sat in the black funeral carriage with a starchy-looking old man who was probably General Laird.
“Callico appears to be a friend of the family,” I said.
“Seems so,” Virgil said.
There was a sturdy-looking Mexican woman in the carriage, too. She was crying.
“Not the mother,” I said. “The general didn’t marry no Mexican.”
Virgil shook his head.
“Don’t see no mother,” Virgil said.
“Probably the housekeeper,” I said. “Maybe raised the boy.”
“Must be hard burying a child,” Virgil said.
“Must be,” I said.
“Got no children, so I guess we can’t know,” Virgil said.
“Got Laurel,” I said.
“Be hard burying Laurel,” Virgil said.
“Would,” I said.
We drank our coffee. The funeral proceeded past.
“You had to kill him, Virgil,” I said. “Don’t see what else you coulda done.”
“Killing don’t bother me,” Virgil said. “Long as I follow the rules.”
“You gave him a choice,” I said.
“He’s got to know what he’s up against,” Virgil said. “He’s got to have a chance to walk away.”
“He knew who you were. He was looking for a fight. He coulda chosen not to fight,” I said.
“He could,” Virgil said.
“That one of the rules?” I said.
Virgil always seemed clear on the rules, but I never exactly knew how the rules got made.
“Sometimes,” Virgil said.
“How ’bout the five men had Laurel and her mother,” I said. “Didn’t give them no chance.”
“The rule there was
save the women
,” Virgil said.
“How ’bout if somebody shoots first,” I said.
“Rule there is
save your ass,”
“So, the rules change,” I said.
“’Course they do,” Virgil said. “Ain’t no one rule for everything.”
I said, “Which means sometimes you have to make one up pretty quick.”
“Sometimes the fight makes the rules for you,” Virgil said. “And you only know afterwards that it was a rule at all.”
“You do have some ideas,” I said. “You reading books again?”
“Still reading this Emerson fella,” Virgil said. “Mostly it’s mush, but sometimes he says something.”
“Say much about gunfight rules?” I said.
“Ain’t touched on that, so far,” Virgil said.
“How ’bout that drummer you shot, the one run off with Allie?”
“I broke the rules,” Virgil said.
“You shot him ’cause you were mad,” I said.
“I did. He hadn’t broken no law.”
“And you were the law,” I said.
“So, the law was the rule then,” I said.
“But now we ain’t the law,” I said.
“Hell,” Virgil said. “We’re on the other side of the law in this town.”
“But there’s still rules,” I said.
“’Course there are,” Virgil said. “Don’t you got any rules, Everett?”
“Don’t think much about it,” I said. “Mostly I just follow yours.”
Virgil smiled slightly and looked at me silently for a while.
Then he said, “Good.”
IRGIL AND I were thinking about lunch, and fearing that Allie would bring some, when a man on a tall gray horse rode alone up Main Street and stopped in front of the Boston House, where Virgil and I were sitting. He was a tall man, barrel-bodied, with a white beard and thick white hair, under the kind of gray slouch hat that Confederate cavalry officers used to wear.
“I’m Horatio Laird,” he said to Virgil. “You killed my son.”
“I’m sorry about that, sir,” Virgil said. “He left me no choice.”
“I know you,” Laird said. “You’re a professional killer. My son was wild, but he was no gunfighter.”
“He was drunk, sir,” Virgil said. “He pulled on me.”
“He didn’t have a chance,” Laird said.
“He did,” Virgil said. “I gave him one. He didn’t take it.”
“He was a proud boy,” General Laird said. “Hotheaded, never a boy to back down.”
Virgil nodded. The general’s voice thickened.
“I . . . I taught him that,” he said.
Neither Virgil nor I said anything.
“God help me,” the general said.
His big-boned gray was a stallion, with a black mane and tail. I wondered if he was the one that had been after the Appaloosa’s mares. He was so big a horse that the general was high above us, the reins slack over the saddle horn, hands folded on top of them, the knuckles white with effort. He didn’t seem to be carrying a weapon.
“He thought he was faster than he was, sir,” Virgil said.
The general was shaking his head slowly left, right, left, right.
“Wasn’t me,” Virgil said. “It was gonna be somebody.”
“He died standing up,” I said. “Facing the man who killed him.”
“You . . . think . . . that matters . . . to . . . me?” the general said.
“No, sir,” Virgil said. “Probably don’t. But there ain’t much else to say.”
He shook his head some more. Left, right. Left, right.
“My son’s dead, Cole, and you’re not,” the general said.
“That ain’t right.”
He seemed to be having trouble with his breath.
“I could, I’d kill you where you’re sitting. But you’re too fast.”
His breath was harsh.
“But I’ll make it happen,” he rasped, “if I have to shoot you in the back.”
Nobody spoke. The general struggled with his breath for moment, and then wheeled the stallion and rode off down the street.
“Think he means it?” I said.
“Not about shooting me in the back,” Virgil said. “I expect he can’t. Man like him. Be against the rules.”
“Those rules again,” I said.
“He pretty surely got more than I do,” Virgil said. “He’ll find another way.”
“Hire somebody?” I said.
“S’pect he might,” Virgil said.