They sat at the kitchen table. Observing the man most respected by himself, Robert Ford studied Jesse James with a nervous patience. His hands shook, clinched as fists in his lap, as he watched Jesse unfold the newspaper, fear filling his heart as he waited for Jesse to find out what he did.
Dick Liddil, turned in by his own partner... Jesse would never forgive Bob for that kind of crime.
Robert gave Charley a nervous look before staring at Jesse's coffee mug as Jesse swirled around the spoon.
Jesse James spoke at last, letting his spoon clang against his mug.
"Well, hello now," He exclaimed, leaning back in his chair. "The arrest and confession of Dick Liddil," He raised his eyes and stared at Bob. Bob stared right back, his blue eyes red and shining.
"You don't say so," Charley chuckled, glancing from Bob to Jesse. Bob watched Jesse as he traced the words of the paper, reading the article.
With all amusement gone from his voice, Jesse spoke. "That's very strange. Says here Dick was arrested three weeks ago." He looked up sharply and gazed at Robert Ford. "Well, you must've been right in the neighborhood."
Bob recoiled slightly and spoke, his voice barely under control. "Well, apparently, they kept it a secret." His eyes flickered down at the table, then back up at Jesse. Jesse James stared at Bob with calm resolve, daring him to confess his obvious crime. Charley kept his head down, his face wrinkled with the perplexing situation, not wanting to get involved, but also not wanting to throw his brother to the lions.
"If I get to Kansas City soon, I'll ask somebody about it." Robert forced out at last, staring down at the table, shifting in his seat anxiously. Suddenly he stood up and walked out of the room.
Jesse James gazed silently at nothing in particular, lost in his thoughts.
Robert Ford walked to the front room of the house, red-faced, with his breath catching in his throat. His heart beat with considerable quickness, making him feel dizzy, out of touch, insane. A rotten feeling filled his stomach as he imagined Jesse James shooting him in the back as he walked. However, Bob made it to the sitting room. He sat down in the rocking chair and massaged his forehead with his left hand, rocking slowly to calm himself.
It didn't work.
He winced as he thought for a moment that he would cry, but he quickly fought for control as he heard footsteps coming down the hall.
He raised his head and watched Charley clump into the room, sitting down on the small couch across from him. Charley gazed at his brother with concern, and Bob leaned back in the chair, distraught and afraid.
They both looked up at Jesse as he walked into the room.
"You two ready?" He asked calmly, standing in the doorway, watching them.
Charley stood up and grinned. "I will be, by noon." He replied, glancing at Bob before going to stand at the front door.
Robert rubbed his face with the back of his hand, rocking, rocking, breathing. He made quick glances at Jesse as he stepped into the room, and their eyes locked in a fierce kind of staring contest. Bob couldn't look away, though his eyes blinked rapidly and became red with the threat of tears. He was sure his guilt was evident. His face twitched and his body shook, yet in a feeble attempt to disguise it, his feet remained planted on the floor, pushing the chair back and forth.
Jesse walked to the window and gazed out at the fields. His daughter sat in the grass by the fence, quoting a nursery rhyme.
Jesse's eyes fixed on the shoe in the yard, lost from a time when he played with his girl, a time that seemed so long ago.
Robert stared at Jesse from the rocking chair, and Charley peered over at Jesse from the doorway. Jesse merely watched his daughter, a melancholy look of calm pasted onto his face.
"I guess I'll take my guns off," Jesse spoke at last, his words seeming rehearsed just for Bob, "for fear the neighbors might spy them."
He unbuckled his belt with slow dignity, laying his guns out onto the couch across from Bob. Robert's lip quivered, his eyes bright and miserable, as he watched Jesse's proceedings.
In the yard, Jesse's daughter continued to sing her little song.
Charley leaned up against the door frame, staring down at the floor.
Jesse James turned slowly and gazed at the picture above the mantle.
"Don't that picture look dusty?" He asked tonelessly. He walked over to the mantle, taking up a chair that sat beside the fireplace, and climbed up on it.
Charley turned from the doorway to stare at Robert Ford, who stood up as Jesse got the chair. Robert walked up behind Jesse, and gazed at his brother for a moment. Charley leaned his head into the door frame and fingered his gun. Robert Ford had a moment of choice. Kill or be killed.
With his heart hammering in his chest, Robert suddenly pulled out his gun, the gun Jesse himself had given him, and aimed for Jesse's head. Charley aimed at Jesse as well, and Jesse watched them from the reflection in the picture. He heard the gun click as Robert cocked the gun, and Jesse's eyes drifted down to where his gun belt would be, knowing that this moment of trust, of weakness, would be the end of him.
Robert's finger flickered over the trigger, and a coldness came over him. He stared for a moment, seeing nothing, and lowered his gun.
Charley took the opportunity, and cocked his gun. Suddenly Robert jerked up his gun and shot at Charley, hitting him in the arm.
Smoke erupted into the air.
Charley yelped with surprise and his gun fell to the floor. Robert quickly put his gun back in the belt. J
esse James slowly stepped down from the picture and turned to Bob with an expression that could only be described as love.
Zee, Jesse's wife, ran into the room.
"What happened?" She cried, her eyes darting around the room, taking in the scene.
Charley winced and held onto his bleeding arm, saying nothing.
"Pistol went off accidentally," Robert heard himself say, collapsing back into the rocking chair.
"Oh Charley! You need to be more careful, especially around the children!" She scolded lightly, taking Charley by the other arm and leading him to the couch. "Jesse. Your guns?" She said to Jesse, gesturing for him to move his weapons.
"Right," Jesse James went over and gathered up his guns, buckling the belt back around his waist. He looked at Robert, but this time Robert couldn't look at him. Bob shivered uncontrollably, his knuckles white as they grasped the arms of the chair. He stared down into his lap, biting his lip until he tasted blood.
Charley sat quietly while Zee bandaged his arm. He wouldn't look at Robert or Jesse, but he muttered his thanks to Zee while she worked.
Jesse walked over to the doorway and picked up Charley's gun. Robert looked up and watched Jesse helplessly. Jesse held Charley's gun silently for a breathless moment, staring down at it in deep concentration. Quite suddenly, Jesse went over to Charley and handed him the gun. Their eyes locked and Charley swallowed, his eyes glistening. He took the gun, unable to speak.
Jesse James walked to the door and went outside. His daughter hadn't been disturbed by the gun-shot. She played with a caterpillar, giggling as it ran across her fingers. Jesse sat down beside her, talking in a low, inaudible voice, before kissing her on the forehead.
Robert Ford, eyes closed, rocked quietly in the chair.
Zee finally left the room, and Charley stared at him, waiting for an explanation.
"You were right," Robert said, opening his eyes. "He's our friend. I..." He broke off, and his face dropped into his hands. He rubbed his face roughly before combing his hair with his fingers, then returning them to the arm rests. "I couldn't. We can't. I don't care about the reward. I'm sorry, Charley. I'm... I can't."
Charley nodded his head and sighed. "It's all right, Bob. It's all right." He said softly. "It's just not respectable."
He stared down at the blood drying on his pants. "I admit I'm a bit ashamed, myself.
They could hear Jesse laughing outside with his daughter.
"He's going to kill us, now." Charley added hoarsely.
Robert shook his head. "No, no. He...he wouldn't do that to us. He knows we're loyal to him, now." Bob reasoned.
"Bob, he's a killer. He knows we've got it in our minds to do him in. As soon as we're away from his family, he's going to kill us. He is, Bob."Charley insisted, sitting up and staring at Robert, who was shaking his head.
"I don't believe it. Besides, I'd rather die by his hands as a nobody than be known as the man who killed him." Bob said quietly, staring at the cracks in the floor.
"You're messed up, Bob." Charley said, standing up. He stuck his gun back in his belt. "I'm going to get some more coffee. You want some?"
Robert Ford shook his head, so Charley left him alone.
Robert Ford chewed on his fingernails, and tears began to roll from his eyes.
At noon, Jesse James gathered up the two Ford brothers and told them to get their horses: They were going for a ride.