NOTE: As I have recently had issues with people stealing my stories and selling them as their own, I feel I have to put an explicit copyright warning on my stories. Be advised that I have properly documented and protected my copyright of these characters and situations and have enlisted a lawyer to protect them. Any violation of my copyright will result in legal action, beginning with, but not limited to, a cease and desist order. If that fails, further and harsher legal actions will be aggressively pursued to the full extent of the law.
Chapter 1: Rolling Thunder
By: John Westcott
© Copyrighted by John Westcott.
Disclaimer: All characters and situations are the property of John Westcott. Any similarities to real persons and/or events is entirely coincidental.
Montana - 1874
As night fell and cold front met warm, mother nature displayed her awesome power as lightening began to cleave the distance between heaven and earth while thunder rolled across the plains like an angry stampede. Max Rossiter lay on his bedroll, staring off into the distance at the spectacle with a sense of wonder. This was to be Rossiter's baptism.
Only here, in the sprawling and awe-inspiring expanse of the untamed west could he imagine such a beautiful and yet slightly terrifying phenomenon unfolding before his eyes. Not in twelve years had he seen such a magnificent display. He would have loved to have shown this new world to Hiroshi, but the old man's most fervent wish, to see the new world, died unfulfilled.
Absently, Rossiter reached out and touched the katana lying at his side as if it were a talisman that would bring him good luck. The sword was one of only two items that remained to remind him of his mentor and the past decade he spent in the orient, learning at Hiroshi's side and hoping to find some form of absolution for his past sins. The absolution, like Hiroshi's desire to see the new world, still went unfulfilled.
Somehow over the years the sword replaced the gun as Rossiter's weapon of choice. His Colt .45's remained packed away, along with his shotgun, in his saddlebags. Those were the weapons he wore in another life, a life that ended in shame and disgust... mostly with himself.
Though he kept them in perfect condition he hadn't fired his Colts since he first left Arizona in disgrace, hoping to carve a new life for himself somewhere overseas. It all seemed like it happened to another person a lifetime ago.
It was in Japan that he found Hiroshi, a man who appeared to be in his early 50's but was, in reality, a man of nearly 80. Rossiter had never known a man who lived to that age before, and certainly not one who appeared so healthy and full of life. At the age of 91 Hiroshi died of extreme old age, and for the first time in over a decade Max Rossiter decided to return to the country of his birth.
This was the type of spectacle Rossiter wanted Hiroshi to see: a roiling thunderstorm sweeping across the rough and yet starkly beautiful terrain. It was the type of thing one never saw in Japan, not in Rossiter's experience anyway. In a small sense he felt his friend was there by his side as he laid his hand on the sheath of his sword. Bushido taught that the samurai's soul resided in the katana, so in some small fashion Rossiter felt as if his only friend was there with him, watching the storm advance.
Rossiter didn't fear the idea of getting soaked by the driving rain, in fact he welcomed it. He had set up camp by a waterfall known as 'Angel Falls', several days ride south of a mining town called Diamond City, Montana. The powerful falls equaled the beauty of any he witnessed in Japan, and fostered a sensation of isolation and tranquility for Rossiter, out here far from civilization. Rossiter enjoyed the solitude provided by his location and yet found the roaring waterfall soothing.
His horse, a young stallion he won in a Ferro game back in New York City, was hitched to a thicket of trees a few feet behind him, as sheltered from the rain as he could possibly get out here. He immediately took a liking to the handsome beast, as did the horse to him. Rossiter sometimes wondered if this wasn't Hiroshi reincarnated and returned to his side. Out of fondness for his old friend, he named the horse 'Hiro'.
"Looks like we're gonna get some weather, Hiro." Rossiter called out.
The beautiful animal simply snorted his defiance at the crack of the thunder that pealed across the sky. Rossiter couldn't help but chuckle.
"Give 'em hell, old buddy."
In the distance, Rossiter could see the rain driving straight down and growing closer. He peeked out from under the brim of his hat and saw the small fire, surrounded by stones, he created early in the evening. It was still blazing hot. His gaze caught the coffee pot still suspended over the flames.
As always, his coffee tasted like it had been brewed in a miner's boot, but it was all he had to drink for the time being other than his canteen, which he filled earlier by the waterfalls. He decided that it might be best to drain the coffee pot before the rain hit and doused the fire. The only thing worse than Max Rossiter's coffee was Max Rossiter's cold coffee.
He sat up and poured himself the last cup. It smelled nearly as bad as it tasted. Rossiter was about to take a drink when the rolling thunder in the distance suddenly grew louder to the point of overwhelming. He glanced off in the distance. The storm was still several miles away. It wasn't until he glanced in the opposite direction that he noticed the source of the bedlam that he mistook for rolling thunder.
Rossiter knew the look on their faces well: a desperate fear common among those on the run. He was used to seeing it on the faces of people running from him. The horse they rode was nearly pure white in color, streaking across the plains, a middle aged man at the reigns with a woman holding on for dear life behind him, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist.
Behind them two more riders galloped hard after them, kicking up clouds of dust as they went. As the fugitives laid eyes upon the stranger camped out on the plains, they charged toward him, their eyes beseeching. Whoever these people were, they were clearly terrified.
Rossiter examined them as they approached. The man looked as if he were nearly 50, balding with a slight paunch. The woman behind him must have been his wife, for she appeared to be of a similar age, tiny specks of grey lighting up the wisps of dark brown hair that trailed out past her shoulders. Both their faces were haggard and worn. They knew what it meant to work hard. They stuck Rossiter as honest, hard working folk, not the grizzled and cold blooded criminal he was used to encountering.
"Help us! Please, in the name of all that's holy... please help us!"
Rossiter rolled to his feet, the katana in hand but still sheathed. It was clear that their mount was nearing the point of exhaustion. Carrying two riders at full speed across the plains for too long had taken its toll.
The newcomer leapt from the horse and brandished an old and rusted six shooter, his hands shaking so violently he could barely aim it. Still, Rossiter's sword remained sheathed.
"Give us your horse, friend!" The elder man commanded. "I ain't playing around! We're desperate and we'll do whatever we have to!"
Rossiter could easily make out the fear in the older man's voice. He could not detect any sadism or savagery, however.
"Listen, old man, why don't you just calm down and tell me what's wrong?" Rossiter asked in a soothing tone while keeping the katana by his side.
"Roy, they'll be here soon! For God's sake, hurry!" The woman shrieked. Clearly, she was near the point of hysterics. Whoever was chasing them on horseback struck the fear of God into them.
"God damn it! I don't have time for this! Our horse is near dead and we need yours! Now you're going to give it to us or..."
He stopped, looking at the gun in his trembling hand.
"Or you'll shoot me?" Rossiter finished for him.
"Yeah, that's right, stranger. Now give it to me or I'll shoot you I swear on my wife," He shouted as he gestured toward his wife wildly with his free hand.
Rossiter took in the sight of this desperate duo. He could tell just by looking at them that they weren't the type to kill. He could easily see the man in front of him standing behind the counter at a general store or working as a dispatcher for the local express, but a wild and unhinged desperado? No. He was anything but.
"I don't think you're the murdering kind, friend. Why don't you just put the gun down and we can talk about this like civilized people?"
"Roy, hurry!" The woman shrieked, desperately urging him on.
"I am, woman, I am!" He shouted back.
"Your name is Roy?" Rossiter interjected. "My name is Max. What's going on here, Roy?"
It was an old trick, but one of the most successful to defuse a dangerous situation. Any lawman would vouch for the technique. When everyone knew everyone else's first names, suddenly shooting them became a lot harder, unless they really were the hard cases Rossiter sometimes dealt with over the years. You could see the cold hearted ones coming a mile away. They had death in their eyes. This man wore no such look.
"My wife and I are running for our lives that's what's going on here! We can't go back! We won't go back! They're coming for us and they won't us leave! Do you know what they'll do to us when if they can drag us back there?"
"Where, Roy? Where are they going to drag you?"
Closer now, the two pursuing riders rode even harder toward their location. From the look of things, they didn't want their captives talking to anyone, even strangers they encountered out in the wild.
"To Angelwing, God damn it! It's really the Devil's Claw! We won't go back!"
"They're almost here!" Roy's wife called out, her voice cracking with fear. Whoever it was pursuing them, they might as well have been the devil himself.
"Give me your horse!" Roy shouted, pointing the weapon once more at Rossiter.
"I can't do that, Roy, and I don't think you're going to kill me for it, either."
In response, Roy fired the gun at Rossiter's feet, kicking up dirt and startling the horses.
"I think you're a good man that got himself into a lot of trouble, Roy. Maybe I can help. Why don't you tell me who those men are? The ones chasing you?"
At Rossiter's mention of the riders charging toward them, Roy's eyes grew as wide as saucers with terror. Rossiter watched Roy's fingers whiten as he pressed the trigger on his gun. If he was lucky, the dilapidated weapon wouldn't explode in his face. Roy closed his eyes and fired just as Rossiter leapt for safety. The weapon barked once, and Rossiter felt a sharp pain as a bullet grazed his left forearm.
Kindly old man on the run or not, Roy proved himself a danger to others, and Max Rossiter wasn't about to let his only horse get stolen at gunpoint without a fight. Lightening arced across the sky, ripping the heavens open as torrential rains began to pelt down on them. A brief glint of steel reflected off the lightening as the katana was drawn from its sheath in one swift and fluid motion.
The weapon sang as it cleaved the air in a blinding flash. Roy swore as the tip pierced the skin of his right shoulder, barely a scratch, but enough to make him drop his gun to the ground.
"God damn!" Roy exclaimed as he realized Rossiter's blade was now held to this throat. Wisely, the old man decided not to make any more threatening gestures.
"That hurt, Roy!" Rossiter shouted. "I thought we were making progress here!"
"I've never seen a man move so fast before," Roy whispered in fear.
"Help us, please!" Roy's wife pleaded.
"What's your name, Ma'am?" Rossiter asked.
"I'm Karen. This is my husband Roy. We can't go back there! We're good people and we've done nothing wrong!"
"Except try and shoot me, you mean?" Rossiter shot back.
"We're desperate, here. We're running for our lives," Roy answered back.
"That's what all fugitives say, Roy. You're going to have to do better than that."
By now, the thunderstorm was fully upon them, with thunder pealing across the sky and lightening streaking all around them as a punishing rain fell. Rossiter couldn't help but feel that the entire situation seemed a little bizarre, almost biblical in nature.
"We're running from Angelwing!" Karen shouted over the violent weather.
"What the hell is Angelwing?" Rossiter asked, growing frustrated with the lack of answers.
"It's a town... a few miles back that way," Roy answered, gesturing back in the direction he came from. "It's hell on earth. We had to get away. It's run by Damian..."
A loud crack cut through the powerful storm, and a bullet found its way into the back of Roy's skull, causing it to explode like an overripe melon. The force of the bullet sent Roy toppling forward, causing Rossiter's sword to accidentally impale him.
"Jesus!" Rossiter shouted.
Roy's wife Karen shrieked with grief and despair as she watched her husband's head explode and the two riders come charging into view. They were dressed almost entirely in black, the long brims of their hats pulled down over their eyes and their weapons drawn.
Rossiter was just lying Roy down on the cold ground and sheathing his katana when another gunshot resounded across the wilderness. Rossiter spun around just in time to see Karen join her husband in death as her bloody form toppled from the saddle and landed in an ugly heap.
"What the hell?" Rosssiter exclaimed, horrified at the thought of shooting an unarmed woman.
"Stay right where you are, stranger!" The lead rider commanded as he brandished his gun.
"Who are you?" The second rider asked. "What's your name?"
Rossiter stepped forward, his chin high in defiance. "I might ask you boys the same question. Who the hell are you and why are you chasing a poor old couple through the night?"
In response, the lead rider unbuttoned his duster and opened his jacket to reveal a shiny badge pinned to his chest.
"Jim Bradley, town sheriff. This is my deputy, Harrison Chidress. We're the law in these parts."
Rossiter shook his head and looked around. "You're the law in these parts? What parts would that be? There isn't a town around here for fifty miles."
"Wrong, stranger. Just a few miles over the ridge there's a town called Angelwing. The mayor is Damain Durrant and he appointed us as the law. We answer to him. That means everyone else answers to us. These two broke the law and ran for the hills. We did what we had to do."
Rossiter took in the visage of the lead rider, the one calling himself Bradley. He was tall and broad shouldered with a potato-nose and a strong jaw. His dark eyes betrayed an excitement borne of the chase and his barrel shaped chest was heaving. His meaty hands were nearly as big as Rossiter's head and his legs a thick as tree trunks. Like Rossiter he appeared to be in his late 30's. Rossiter noticed something else, as well, something in Bradley's eyes.
Unlike Roy, Jim Bradley had death in his eyes.
Bradley's deputy, the one called Chidress, appeared far younger, in his very early 20's at best. He was rail thin and pale, but he also wore an air of arrogance similar to that of Bradley's. His pencil-thin blonde mustache was perfectly trimmed and his guns were at the ready. Chidress gave the impression of a caged cat, full of nervous energy and ready to pounce, unlike Bradley, who appeared nearly serene in comparison.
Rossiter's curiosity was aroused. The fleeing duo mentioned Angelwing, also referring it to the 'Devil's Claw'. They also said that they couldn't escape.
"Funny, there's no town on my map called Angelwing," Rossiter said.
"It's... new," The one known as Bradley spat, clearly growing impatient.
"Now you know our names, so who the hell are you?" Chidress asked.
From behind, Rossiter felt a shotgun barrel pressed into his back.
"You got a first name, boy?" Chidress asked from behind.
He sighed heavily. He managed to get this far without giving out his full name. He could only hope that his legend was long forgotten.
"Max... Max Rossiter, and just for the record, I don't like being called 'boy' by someone younger than I am."
Rossiter cringed as he saw the light of recognition dawn on Jim Bradley's face.
"Max Rossiter..." He sifted the name over in his mind a few times, repeating it to himself. "Rossiter... Rossiter... I know that name. Where have I heard that name before?"
"I don't know," Rossiter answered back almost too quickly. "I'm new to these parts."
Bradley didn't seem the type to just let it go. "No, I know I know that name from somewhere."
"Well I haven't," Chidress shouted. "Come on, Jim. Let's get these lowlifes back to town. I'm getting drenched out here!"
The light of recognition dawned on Bradley's face as he stared down into Rossiter's eyes. He heard the tales of Max Rossiter a few years ago, no doubt blown completely out of proportion over some drunken Ferro game. Those stories haunted Rossiter no matter where he went. It was only when he fled to the Orient that he managed to escape them.
"Yeah, I know you," Bradley shouted over the storm. "Max Rossiter... from Texas wasn't it? I heard you up and died."
"Must have been somebody else," Rossiter shot back, point blank.
"I never heard of no Max Rossiter before, Jim. Let's get out of here already!" Chidress shouted again.
"Of course you never heard of him," Bradley spat. "What are you, twenty-two years old? You were a baby when Max Rossiter was a U.S. Marshall... before all that... unpleasantness. Right, Mr. Rossiter?"
Rossiter smiled in an effort to disarm the line of questioning, but on the inside his skin was crawling. Like a patch of unwanted weeds in a garden, his buried past was already crawling up to the surface to haunt him.
"Like I said, friend, it must have been somebody else."
Bradley looked down from his mount at Rossiter warily. "Yeah... right. I must have the wrong person."
"Come on, Jim! Are we gonna get out of here or what?"
It seemed as if for the first time, Jim Bradley realized that they were all standing in the middle of a torrential downpour.
"Okay, boy, just keep your shirt on. Let's round up the bodies and take them back."
At that point, Rossiter stepped in front of Bradley's horse.
"Just one second, Sheriff Bradley. What the hell do you call what happened back there? That wasn't an arrest, that was an execution! Those people had their backs turned to you! What kind of coward shoots a man and an unarmed woman in the back?"
For a long time, Jim Bradley froze, staring down from his horse at Max Rossiter. Beside him, young Harrison Chidress looked to be entranced in a fearful awe as this stranger dared to question the methods of Jim Bradley and his men. Rossiter refused to be intimidated and met Bradley's level gaze, steady in his resolve. If looks could kill, Max Rossiter would be lying dead on the rain-soaked ground.
"You don't know what these two did, stranger. You don't know anything about what happens in these parts. All you have to remember is this: we are the law, and what we say goes. Now I say that these two were desperate criminals on the run from the law."
"They seemed more frightened than violent to me," Rossiter countered stonily, refusing to back down.
"Trust me when I say this, stranger. I don't give a damn how it seemed to you. Understand?"
Max Rossiter felt his pulse rise along with his blood pressure. This man, Jim Bradley, appeared to be every inch the bully, and if there was one thing Rossiter didn't like, it was bullies.
As quickly as his anger rose, he squelched it like a fire. Giving bullies a taste of their own medicine was what forced Rossiter to leave this country in the first place. Never again did he want to face the beast that resided within him. It was too ugly for him to face ever again.
He realized that Bradley had a point. Rossiter was newly returned to the area and viewed the entire chase out of context. Who knew what Roy and Karen were capable of? Perhaps they were expert cons, who knew? He knew too little about the situation to make judgements. Slowly, he stepped aside. What he didn't notice was Harrison Chidress slowly pulling back the hammer on his gun, waiting for Bradley's cue to cut the stranger in half from behind.
"Well, like you said, you're the law here. I'm just a nobody."
Bradley nodded in deference to the Rossiter. "We're just doing our jobs, friend."
"Yeah... I'm sure you are, Sheriff."
"Does that wound need looking at?"
"No thanks. I'll be okay. Funnily enough, for a criminal, he couldn't aim a gun worth a damn."
Rossiter watched as Bradley gave Chidress a slight nod, and the younger of the duo gathered up the dead bodies and slung them over the back of their white horse as Rossiter looked on with a slightly suspicious look in his eye. He then took the reigns in hand and started back in the direction from which they'd come, toward the town that appeared on no map... Angelwing.
Bradley stayed behind for a moment, glaring at Rossiter as he watched Chidress take the bodies away. He wondered why they'd bother to take the bodies back to town. Was it for a reward? Usually, when someone died out here, the bodies stayed out here. The only answer he would receive to his queries for the time being was a lash of lightening across the sky and a jarring peal of thunder. The storm was almost directly overhead now.
"Where are you headed, Rossiter?" Bradley asked.
"That way," Rossiter replied, pointing to the west.
Bradley's gaze fell upon the sword Rossiter held in his right hand.
"Where'd you pick that up?"
Rossiter tried to speak, but his voice failed him. The thought of his old departed friend's memory clutched his heart for a moment. After a time he found his voice.
"It belonged to a friend of mine."
Bradley watched closely as Rossiter's eyes drifted off to the horizon, clearly lost in the thoughts and memories that clutched at his heart. Saying nothing, he turned his horse back in the direction he had come and started off at a modest pace now that the chase was over. Just before he was out of earshot, Bradley turned and shouted back toward Rossiter.
"Hey, tell the truth. Are you the Max Rossiter?"
Rossiter shook his head. "No. You've got me confused with someone else."
"Whatever you say."
With that, Sheriff Jim Bradley rode away, back in the direction he had come. Max Rossiter, now fully drenched by the downpour, felt overwhelmed by sadness. Death always haunted him, and this death especially left him with a lot of questions.
The old couple, Roy and Karen, they didn't seem to be the violent type. Rossiter had seen the violent ones up close and personal many times over the years. They all had a certain look in their eyes that Roy lacked. If anything, Roy seemed desperate and frightened. Jim Bradley, now he had the look of a hardened killer, as did his deputy.
"Damn," Rossiter said to himself. "How can I enjoy a force of nature when shit like this happens to ruin everything?"
Max Rossiter retreated to the relative dryness beneath the trees with his horse, Ichi. The animal was put off by the sudden violence combined with the storm. He patted his steed on his broad back to calm it.
"Don't worry, pal. It'll be over soon."
Rossiter was correct. Like most thunderstorms, it rolled on across the plains and into the distance relatively quickly, leaving them wet but no worse for wear. In the distance, he could just make out Bradley and Chidress disappearing over the horizon to the west. He had a change of clothes in his saddlebag. He would dry off, bind his wound, change and get some much needed sleep.
A short time later, Jim Bradley sat in the comfort of a spacious study with a fire roaring. His employer sat in the shadows, looking out the open window at the thunderstorm in the distance. The only light in the room other than the crackling fire was the glow of his employer's cigar as he took a draw on it.
"What did he say his name was?" The voice was deep and resonant and commanding.
"He said his name was Max Rossiter," Bradley answered as he downed a shot glass of whiskey.
"The Max Rossiter?"
Bradley shrugged. "I don't know. He denied it."
The man in the darkness chuckled dryly. "Well of course he would, Jim. Who would admit to being the Max Rossiter?"
"I heard he was dead," Bradley countered. "Maybe it's just someone trading on his name."
The silhouette in the darkness nodded. "Also a strong possibility. Either way, you say he watched you gun those two vermin down and did nothing to stop it?"
Bradley nodded again. "Yes, sir. The whole thing happened pretty quick, though. He seemed confused about what happened. He had questions. Maybe I should have shot him, too. If you want, I know where he's camped, out by Angel Falls. Me and the boys can go out there and hang him or drown him or whatever you want."
Bradley's employer smiled, though there was no joy behind it. He took another long draw on his cigar before responding.
"No, I don't think so, Jimmy-Boy. If it really was Max Rossiter, than you'd probably have little chance of killing him anyway. No, let him go. If it is him, he's a broken shell of a man. The old Max Rossiter would have shot you full of holes if he thought you were threatening him."
Bradley sat forward on his chair. "That's another thing, sir. He didn't have no guns, just a long, flat, skinny sword."
Bradley's employer cocked his head to the side as if he were trying to shake loose an idea. He puffed on his cigar as the description took shape in his mind. Without a word, he rose from his chair and approached a bookshelf on the far wall. He scanned the assembled library and picked one book from the second shelf, flipping to a certain page. He shoved the book toward Bradley, who took it and held the pages up to the light of the fire so that he could see the details.
"A skinny sword, did it look like that?"
Bradley recognized the sword type drawn on the page in exquisite detail. "Yeah, it looked a lot like that. Same type of thing, yeah."
The dark figure clucked his tongue, mulling over the clue.
"It's called a katana, Mr. Bradley. It's Japanese. It's the weapon of the samurai. You don't get those at the general store. They're either given to you... or you take it from them... from thier cold dead hands."
Bradley looked on, a blank expression on his face.
"The samurai is something like a lawman in our country."
Bradley shrugged once more. "Well, it doesn't look like it'd be much use against my six- shooters."
"Possibly not, depending on who's using it, but it's telling just the same. Perhaps Mr. Rossiter fled to distant lands upon his disgrace?"
Bradley was dismissed by his employer, who remained silent for the next hour, his fingers steepled together in a menacing fashion. Who was that stranger in the wild outside his town? Could he be a potential enemy... or a potential ally?
Rossiter sat at up, wondering who started the warm fire and put the coffee pot on. He looked off into the distance and saw the thunderstorm receding across the plains, heading west, and yet the ground beneath him was dry. When he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and recognized the familiar face smiling down at him, Rossiter realized what was happening.
"I'm still asleep. I'm dreaming."
"Obviously," Hiroshi's smile beamed like a ray of sunshine as he poured a cup of coffee for his friend.
"I haven't dreamt of you since..." Rossiter's voice trailed off.
"Since I died?"
Rossiter's face contorted as if he had just gulped down a mouthful of the worst homemade whiskey in the history of spirits.
"You've were never one to beat around the bush were you?"
Hiroshi poured himself some coffee and drank it down and his expression soured.
"This tastes horrible. Even in your dreams you don't make good coffee."
"I guess that's why you always made the coffee."
Hiroshi was about to pour himself another drink, but looked as if he thought the better of it. He poured the rest of the pot out onto the ground behind him. Rossiter watched him, as lithe and graceful as ever, his slim form like a coiled spring and ready to explode with energy at any moment. His flawless and soft Asian features were as warm and welcoming as they were wise. The rising sun reflected off his completely bald head, blinding Rossiter momentarily.
"Why am I dreaming about you, old man?"
Hiroshi cocked his head in a quizzical manner, his smile never fading.
"It's your dream, my friend. You tell me why I'm here."
Rossiter removed his hat and scratched his head. It was always Hiroshi's way to lead his friend to an answer, but to also make him work for knowledge. Hiroshi's theory was that no one learned anything of value if they were simply given the answers.
"You always seem to come to me when I'm feeling guilt... when I need direction."
Hiroshi winked at his friend. "Then that must be what you need now. Why do you think you need direction? Why are you feeling guilt?"
Rossiter sighed heavily as the burdens of the past came back to rest on his shoulders once more.
"I watched someone die and it all just seemed wrong, and yet I didn't do anything about it."
Hiroshi glowered. "What do you think you should have done, my friend?"
Rossiter shook his head.
"I don't know. Maybe Bradley was right. I didn't know the context of what was happening. Maybe those two really were lawbreakers, but everything I know and everything I've learned tells me that they weren't. I'm not law anymore, old friend. I have no right to interfere."
A long silence passed between the two. Finally, as he grew sick of the silence, Rossiter waved his hand in front of his friend's face.
"Hello? What do you have to say?"
Hiroshi shrugged. "I am merely your dream, Maxwell. I cannot give you any real answers. You know that. All I can give you is the advice you cannot give yourself when you are awake, the answer you avoid because you fear it may lead to more violence. You always had a problem with violence, Maxwell, but during your time as a samurai in your homeland you could work past it because you felt you were on the side of right. You cannot stomach it if you begin to doubt your righteousness."
Rossiter almost laughed. "You know, for my conscience you're mighty chatty. Tell me what you think before I wake up."
Hiroshi held up a forefinger as he stared into the fire. "Not what I think... what you think."
Frustrated, Rossiter threw his wide-brimmed hat into the air and swore. "Damn it, just please get to the point!"
Hiroshi bowed slightly to his friend of over a decade.
"You are troubled because you feel you witnessed a wrong that you didn't make right, even though it was within your power to do so. You have taken life in the past, but only one death haunts you, the one you took while lost in the depths of your rage. As I have said many times before, you cannot let that one moment wipe away all the good you've done. You took that life, but you saved mine. Are the scales not balanced?"
Rossiter's shoulders sagged as if the weight of the world were upon him. "No, not to me they aren't."
Hiroshi nodded slightly. "Then you must do what you can to see that the scales are finally righted. You do not need to wear a badge to do what is right. If there are people in need here, perhaps only you can help them."
Max Rossiter's eyes snapped open and he sat up quickly, looking all about. He was alone but for his horse. The fire was not burning. Hiroshi was not sitting by his side giving out sage advice. He shook his head and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. The sun was beaming down brightly. Hiroshi often said that the dawning of a new day meant a chance to start all over again.
A new day had begun.
For Rossiter, it could very well be a new beginning.
Feeling rested, Rossiter packed up his belongings in his saddlebag and mounted his horse. He had to decide where he was going next. He had the four points of the compass and all its increments to choose from. He recalled Hiroshi's words to him during his dream.
You do not need to wear a badge to do what is right.
Rossiter wondered if that was true. He had done good in the past, but his final moments as a lawman proved to be disastrous. He corrected himself, he did in fact throw his badge away before committing that final, heinous act. He looked to the east, the direct from which he had come. He could go back to New York and make a life for himself there.
If there are people in need here, perhaps only you can help them.
The look in Roy and Karen's faces haunted him, much as the face of his last victim haunted him. He could do nothing to help any of them now, but perhaps he could do something for others in that same situation.
"Come on, Hiro, let's see what trouble I can get myself into this time."
Max Rossiter decided it was time to stop running from himself.
He headed west...
... toward Angelwing.