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
HIEF CALLICO stopped by our place of business, outside the Boston House, where Virgil and I were looking at the town and drinking coffee. He sat with us. He was neighborly Amos today.
“By God, Virgil,” he said. “You’ve put me in a bind.”
“Weren’t my intention,” Virgil said.
He sipped his coffee and looked over the rim of the mug past the rooftops of the town, at the higher country to the west. The land was mostly brown, with some moments of green, where there was water.
“Horatio Laird is the most important man in this part of the country,” Callico said.
“I believe he is,” Virgil said.
“Did you have to kill his only son?” Callico said.
“I did,” Virgil said.
“He’s pressing me real hard about it,” Callico said.
“Wants me arrested,” Virgil said.
“He wants that very bad,” Callico said.
“Can’t say I blame him,” Virgil said.
Tilda came out with a pot of coffee and poured some for us.
“Tilda,” Virgil said. “Why don’t you get a cup for our friend Amos here.”
“Yessir, Mr. Cole,” Tilda said.
“But we both know I can’t arrest you,” Callico said.
He took the cup from Tilda and held it while she poured.
“You got fifty eyewitnesses that it was self-defense,” Callico said.
“Didn’t know it was that many,” Virgil said. “You know that, Everett?”
“Knew there were enough,” I said.
“I got plans,” Callico said. “I’m trying to enforce the law in this town, and do it in a way will help me with those plans, you understand?”
“Heard you was aiming for president,” Virgil said.
“And, by God, I’d be a good one, Virgil,” Callico said.
“But there’s some stops ’fore we get there. And I got to make them.”
“And you don’t get to make them,” I said, “arresting people and having to turn them loose.”
“Correct. And I don’t make them unless I enforce the law right,” Callico said. “And I don’t make them unless I got support from important people, like General Laird.”
“And right now you’re in a squeeze,” I said.
“You see that,” Callico said.
Virgil drank some more coffee.
“Everett went to West Point,” he said.
“Smart fella,” Callico said. “Both of you are smart fellas. You give me any support you can, I’ll appreciate it, and I’ll remember it when I’ve made a few of those stops.”
“Need money to go where you want to go,” Virgil said.
“Sure do,” Callico said. “One reason people like the general are important.”
“Reason why you charge folks a fee for police services, too,” Virgil said.
“Town don’t give us enough operating budget,” Callico said. “Got to do what I can.”
Callico smiled a big, friendly smile.
“Opened up a little business for you boys, too,” he said.
“Did,” he said.
“I can do things like that,” Callico said.
Virgil and I didn’t say anything.
“I ain’t asking you boys for help. You’re the only ones round here could give me trouble. You stay out of my way, and I’ll consider it help.”
“We got no ill will,” Virgil said. “Do we, Everett.”
“Good,” Callico said. “Thanks for the coffee.”
He stood and walked back down Main Street.
I looked at Virgil.
“You sure we don’t have no ill will?” I said.
Still studying the western horizon, Virgil smiled slowly. “Well,” he said. “Maybe a little.”
HAD STARTED keeping company with Emma Scarlet. “Your partner killed General Laird’s son,” Emma said.
It was midafternoon and business was slow for both of us, so we took a siesta in her room.
“Yes,” I said.
“And I started it,” Emma said.
“I guess,” I said.
“It’ll get him in trouble with the general,” Emma said.
“Or it might get the general in trouble with Virgil,” I said.
The life hadn’t gotten her yet, and she still looked pretty good with her clothes off.
“General draws an awful lot of water, round here,” Emma said.
“I heard that,” I said.
“Be governor if he hadn’t been a reb,” Emma said.
“People still care?” I said.
“Not around here,” she said. “But lot of other voters. Don’t make much difference to me. I can’t vote, anyhow.”
“What you can do, though, you do pretty well,” I said.
“Pretty well?” she said.
“Best in the history of the goddamned world,” I said.
“Oh, Everett,” she said. “That’s real sweet.”
“Like me,” I said.
“Most men are scared of the general,” she said.
“Virgil ain’t,” I said.
“How do you know so sure?” Emma said.
“’Cause Virgil ain’t scared of anything,” I said.
“I feel kinda bad about Nicky getting killed,” Emma said. “You know? Like it was my fault. Couldn’t Virgil have just whonked him on the head with his gun?”
“Ever see a gunfight, Emma?”
“Sure, I have. I’m a whore. I work saloons. Seen a lot. Drunks, mostly. Usually they miss.”
“There’s another kind, too,” I said.
“Like the ones you and Virgil do?”
“Like those,” I said. “What I learned about those, I learned from Virgil. Because of what he does, what we do, mostly we’re outnumbered.”
“Like you were with Nicky,” Emma said.
“Yep. So we got to mean it, soon as it starts. No whonking people. No shooting them in the leg. They need to know, and we need to know, that we are ready to kill them.”
“Someone told me Nicky had six men with him,” Emma said. “How come they all didn’t just start shooting at the same time and kill both of you.”
“Couple reasons,” I said. “One, Virgil always makes it one against one. He always lets them know that if they draw first they are going to die first. And he’s so quick that he’s killed the first man before anyone else has cleared the holster. It tends to freeze everyone. Once they freeze, it’s over.”
“God,” Emma said. “You talk about this like it was some kind of regular work, like herding cows.”
“Seems like regular work after a while, I guess. How ’bout you?”
“Depends who I have to fuck,” Emma said.
“It would,” I said. “Wouldn’t it.”
“I do it ’cause, pretty much, I gotta. I got no money, no husband, don’t know how to do nothing else,” Emma said. “But you can do other stuff. You don’t have to do what you do. You been to the United States Military Academy. How come you just do gun work.”
“Me and Virgil,” I said. “We’re good at it. Hell, Virgil may be the best there is at it.”
“And you like that.”
“It’s pleasing,” I said. “To be good at what you do.”
“You like killing folks,” Emma said.
I thought about that for a while.
“Not so much killing,” I said. “But when we do it, and, Virgil would say, do it right, it’s like we say,
This is us; this is who we are; this is what we do.”
“And you like that.”
“Guess we do,” I said.
“You think I’m good at what I do?” Emma said.
“Best in history,” I said.
“Want me to do it again?”
“One’s all I can afford,” I said.
Emma rolled over on top of me.
“On the house,” she said.
ICKY LAIRD had been dead for three weeks. I was in the Golden Palace explaining to a very drunk mule skinner why he couldn’t buy more whiskey on credit. He was kind of stubborn about it, so I hit him in the stomach with the butt of the eight-gauge and threw him off the front steps into Third Street.
I came back into the saloon, and a man came in behind me. He was wearing a beaded buckskin shirt, an ivory-handled Colt on his hip, and a derby hat tilted forward over the bridge of his nose. He looked like somebody from a wild west show, except, somehow, I knew he wasn’t.
“Nicely done,” the man said to me.
He had black-and-white striped pants tucked into high black boots, and his skin was smooth and kind of pale, like a woman’s. He didn’t look like he spent much time outside. His hands were pale, too, with long fingers.
“No guns,” I said, “allowed in the saloon.”
“Oh,” he said. “Of course. Perhaps we could step out onto the veranda.”
First time I ever heard it called a veranda. But we stepped out onto it anyway.
“No wasted movement,” he said when we were outside.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Nice long gun, too,” the man said. “Eight-gauge?”
“Makes a big hole,” the man said.
“Does,” I said.
“You work here?” he said.
“Here and there,” I said.
“I’m looking for a fella named Virgil Cole,” the man said. “Might you be he?”
“Nope,” I said. “Name’s Everett Hitch.”
“Chauncey Teagarden,” he said. “You’re with Cole, are you not?”
He didn’t offer to shake hands. I didn’t, either.
“I am,” I said.
“Know where to find him?”
“I do,” I said. “Why do you want to see him?”
“Heard so much about him,” Teagarden said.
I nodded. We were both quiet.
“Seems to me,” I said after a short time, “that I’ve heard some ’bout you.”
“All good, I hope.”
“Heard you did gun work,” I said.
“What brings you to Appaloosa?” I said.
“Just drifting,” he said.
“Planning on staying?” I said.
“Don’t expect to be here long,” Teagarden said.
“Planning on any work while you’re here?” Teagarden smiled.
“See if any comes my way,” he said. “I’d surely like to meet Virgil Cole.”
“Probably sitting in front of the Boston House,” I said. “I’ll walk up with you.”
“’Preciate it,” Teagarden said.
E LEFT the Golden Palace and turned up Main Street. Virgil was sitting where we sat, in front of the Boston House. He stood as we came toward him. There was nothing sudden in the movement. He was seated. Then he wasn’t. I’d never seen Virgil hurry, except that everything he did, he seemed to do it before anyone else.
“Virgil Cole?” Teagarden said.
Virgil nodded. Neither man put his hand out.
“You was up in Telford,” Virgil said.
“Indeed,” Teagarden said.
“Osage County War,” Virgil said.
“Pleasure,” Teagarden said.
“Likewise,” Virgil said.
Since they had come in sight, each had looked exclusively at the other.
“Not doing law work,” Teagarden said.
“You and Hitch keeping order in some saloons,” Teagarden said.
Then Teagarden nodded slightly.
“Well, I’m glad I got to meet you,” Teagarden said. “The great Virgil Cole.”
Virgil didn’t comment.
“Maybe see you again,” Teagarden said.
“Maybe,” Virgil said.
Teagarden turned and walked off down Main Street. Virgil watched him go.
“Says he’s just drifting,” I said.
“He ain’t just drifting,” Virgil said.
“Here on business?”
“He’s here to kill somebody.”
“You now that,” I said.
“It’s what he does,” Virgil said.
“Why’d he want to see you?”
“So he’d know what I looked like,” Virgil said.
“You think it’s you?” I said.
“I don’t think he was just being neighborly,” Virgil said.
“Anything personal?” I said.
“Chauncey Teagarden? Hell, no. He got no feelings. Somebody hired him.”
“We know who that would be,” I said.
“Probably,” Virgil said.
“We gonna do anything about it?” I said.
“We’ll await developments,” Virgil said.
WAS LEAVING the Boston House to start my evening rounds when Laurel came full speed through the swinging doors and ran into me. I caught her and held her for a moment as she looked wildly around the room.
“Virgil?” I said.
She nodded. I knew she couldn’t talk to me. So with my arms still around her I bellowed back into the saloon for Virgil. When he appeared I let her go, and she pressed herself against him. He put his head down, and she whispered in his ear. Virgil listened to Laurel completely, like he always did.
“Okay,” he said. “We’ll go out and you can sit with me and Everett while we discuss this.”
Laurel nodded. We sat in front of the saloon.
“Laurel says that Allie told Mrs. Callico that Pony and his brother are up in Resolution.”
Laurel leaned over and whispered for a long time to Virgil. He nodded gravely as he listened. Then, when she stopped, he spoke to me.
“Laurel says Mrs. Callico’s first name is Olivia.”
He looked at Laurel. She nodded.
“Says Mrs. Callico told Laurel to call her Aunt Olivia.” I smiled.
“But since Laurel don’t talk,” Virgil said, “don’t make much difference what she calls her.”
“True,” I said.
“Laurel says she thinks Mrs. Callico is a horse’s ass,” Virgil went on. “But that Allie thinks she’s the queen of England or somebody.”
“So, she told her where Pony went, to suck up,” I said.
Laurel pulled at Virgil’s sleeve, and he leaned down again. She whispered to him. Virgil nodded.
“Allie was bragging about how she can get her way when she wants it,” Virgil said. “Told Mrs. Callico that she made us send Pony away.”
“You tell her that?” I said to Virgil.
“I did,” Virgil said. “Thought she’d like it.”
“Keep forgetting that you can’t always count on her,” he said.
“Easy mistake to make,” I said. “Shot Choctaw Brown for you in Brimstone.”
“Keep remembering that,” Virgil said. “Keep forgetting how we got to be in Brimstone in the first place.”
“Have to assume she’ll tell Amos,” I said.
“And there’s a reward on both Pony and Kha-to-nay,” Virgil said.
“Figure we should ride up there,” I said.
“We’ll go on home, and tell Allie we got to go north for a few days,” Virgil said to Laurel. “You don’t say a word to her ’bout anything you told me.”
Laurel nodded. Then she leaned close to Virgil again and whispered.
When she was done, Virgil said, “Don’t worry ’bout Pony. Pony can take care of himself pretty good. And we’ll go up.”
Laurel nodded. She leaned over again. Again Virgil listened carefully.
Then he said, “Nothing going to happen to Pony Flores. I promise.”
She whispered again. Virgil nodded.
“You promise, too, Everett?” he said.
“I promise,” I said to Laurel.
She looked at Virgil. He nodded. She looked at me. I nodded. Then she nodded back at both of us. And smiled.