Now it was night. The blistering cold stabbed Lucas's skin over and over again with each gust of wind. The wind howled, like a coyote. Or maybe that was a coyote, thought Lucas. He could barely see the hoof prints, but just barely, only being able to make out the circular outlines. Some had horseshoes, some didn't, he could tell.
The pitch black shapes of the canyons and towering rocks made him think that they would kill him, for some reason. Just simply shoot forward and run him over, or chase after him, or come alive. I'm a teacher. I shouldn't be thinking these kinds of things.
Then what the hell am I doing?
He took out his pocket watch again but couldn't make out where the arrows were pointing, so he put it back. Now I'm going to die out here. I don't know where I am, he continued to think. Just follow the tracks. They can't just shoot you right away, can they?
You're a teacher, don't be ridiculous.
He trudged up a shallow hill. He was tired. He was-.
A faint glow. Lucas could see it. Then the crackling of wood. A quiet chatter of men. They'll kill you when they see you. Don't be stupid. I'm a teacher, I'm not stupid.
You're stupid for doing this. You're not a teacher anymore; you gave that steady life up.
He inched towards the light, over the opposite side of the hill. He could see the fire reflect off the man's face. The hairy man, chuckling about some profane joke another made. They weren't wearing masks anymore. He could tell the man to the left of the hairy man was the knifeman, recognizing the tattered pants. An equally tall man of about six feet four inches, a ginger, the flaming hairs starting at the top of him as a jumbled mess, and then going down his jaw line to his chin, patchy. He looked young.
That meant the other two were the shooters. The first shooter was bulky with a disfigured nose that has been broken one too many times. He had an unhealthy hunch about him like Igor, but more handsome, considering the dented nose. The other shooter, who was the hardest to make out, most of his face to the fire, looked the shortest and had black hair that gleamed. The sharpest chin and longest face, but the biggest feet, which he tapped to a tune in his head. He cracked his neck and knuckles a lot.
He watched for a while. He crept forward. He was about to say something, then stopped himself. Then, after a minute of thinking about it, he spoke. "Er, excuse me?"
One of the shooters twitched to his general direction and fired a revolver into the black. Lucas jumped. "Jesus, stop! I'm unarmed."
"You a lawman?" said the knifeman.
"No. I just want to talk to you four."
"So you've been following us?"
"Yes, I followed you."
"I say we just kill him. Let me do it, Willis." He turned to the hairy man.
Willis gulped, took out a revolver of his own, and sat it on his lap. "That seems like the logical thing to do."
"Oh, no it isn't, I assure you, that is not the logical thing to do. I just want to talk."
A silence fell. "You said you're unarmed?" asked Willis, tensely.
"That's right. Can I come closer?"
"You're close enough."
"You with anybody?"
"No, I'm alone."
Willis turned to one of the shooters. "Bruno, go check around."
"I need a lamp."
"It's in the wagon." Said the knifeman.
Bruno got up, got the lamp from the wagon, and had a little trouble lighting it. He finally got it, but burned his hand on the glass, shook it off, and walked into the night.
"I say we just kill 'em." said the other shooter.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." said Lucas.
"But you're not us." Willis said flatly.
The knifeman cocked his revolver.
"That wouldn't be very wise." Lucas said.
"We're not very wise men."
"I just want to talk."
A shooting star shot across the blue sky and disappeared behind the oncoming black clouds. They were distant, countries away it seemed. "Then talk." said Willis.
"Where are you four gentlemen headed?"
"We're not gentlemen. And how's that your business?"
"Well, I was going to California, and I was wondering if you four gentlemen could escort me there."
Another silence, then Willis began to chuckle. "You followed us two hours out to the middle of the desert when you was just 'wondering?' Boy, I should kill you right now for being so clueless."
"But you won't?"
"No, I won't. But don't call us gentlemen, you'll get your views all mixed up."
"We stay right here." said the knifeman.
"You don't go anywhere? You just live here?"
"What if we do?"
"I didn't mean anything by it."
"Wh-, I know what I said, and I know what I meant by it."
Wills still stared into the blackness, though a few degrees off from Lucas. Then he motioned Lucas over. He timidly entered the firelight.
"You tellin' me this runt followed us all the way here with no horse? I didn't hear a horse. Is it over that hill?" The knifeman nodded towards the hill to the East. It wasn't visible.
"Hell of a lot of stamina."
Bruno came back, passing by Lucas, giving the other three a look. He sat down with the criminals. "So who's this guy?"
"We don't know yet." Said Willis.
"What's he want?"
"We're just figuring this out. You check over that hill?"
"You see a horse?"
"No." His face flickered with surprise. "So he just walked here?"
Willis shrugged. "I guess."
"Was he checked?"
"No. Somebody should get on that, Bruno."
Bruno started feeling Lucas up, patting around his legs and torso, even providing a fondling to his crotch area. "What are you doing?" Lucas asked uneasily.
"Checking to see if you're armed."
"I said I wasn't."
"There is such a thing as lyin', you know that?"
Then he finished and sat back down. They just look at him. "Why didn't you get a ride back in town?" Bruno asked.
"I've already ridden a month with them; I don't want to do it for another."
"You saw what we did earlier today, right?"
"How are we any better?"
"That doesn't make any sense." said Willis. "Because we killed six men, that makes us better?"
"If that's how you want to put it."
Willis looked about the criminals, and laughed. "I seen some crazy things in my life, but nothing like some scrawny man like yourself saying you want to get yourself killed."
"I didn't say I wanted to be killed."
"Then why did you follow us?" Willis grinned and cocked his head. "Just maybe, we might want to kill you right now, eh?"
"I thought you said you wouldn't?"
"Oh, I did, but that was then. Your look and your, ahem, personality, they don't fit. And it bugs me."
"C'mon, I'd pay, you know? If you're heading out to California, or just West, I'd stay in the back of that wagon over there, it'd be like I was never there." Lucas pleaded.
"Then why don't we just kill you now and take the payment?" asked the knifeman.
"I don't have it with me."
"Then how d'you pay?"
"It'd be on margin."
The knifeman looked at Willis, and whispered "Margin?"
"Mean's he'd pay us later." He whispered back. Then he turned back to Lucas. "What do you need to go to California for?"
"In search for gold. I'd pay you a great sum."
"Should kill him right now for just being stupid." The knifeman said.
"What do you mean?" Asked Lucas.
"The ground's been drained of gold for a while now, which surprises me that you don't know that." Began Willis. "You look like a person who would know these things. Looks do lie sometimes, though."
Lucas's legs have been shaking for a few minutes, ever since he started talking. The second shooter just glared at him.
"What'd the pay be?"
"I'd say twenty thousand." said Lucas, now confident.
"You say it, or will it be twenty thousand?"
"It'll be that much."
"Sure is a lot. You think you can hold up?"
"I know I can."
"Wait a minute!" began Bruno, "Digging up gold takes a while, we'd need to stay around. I'm not too fond of staying in one place for that long."
"That's right." Said Willis, then he turned to Lucas. "We'd need to stay around, and we don't exactly have time for that unless we are rewarded for it."
"I'd pay you extra."
"What do you want?"
"All of the money in the world, but that's improbable. Give us a set amount."
"I don't know, a thousand each?"
"So twenty four thousand total?"
A fat grin spread over the knifeman. Willis puckered his lips, and pointed in the direction of the hill. "We need to discuss this in private."
Lucas hesitated then left. He sat on the sandy incline. The wind kept blowing and a sharp sting of sand hit his face and a grain got in his eye. He winced and attempted to rub it out, but couldn't. Lying on his side, he palmed his closed eye. It began to turn red.
"I say we do it." Said Willis, huddled together with the criminals over the fire. "That amount would sure do us well."
"And we're sure he's not a lawman?" Asked the other shooter.
"He may, we don't know, but if he is, we can always kill him. If we do, it wouldn't have done us any worse moving. It's all the same sand and ferns."
"So wait, would he pay us in gold?"
"I'm sure there's some exchange market for gold and paper."
Nobody spoke. Bruno glanced over towards Lucas, and then whispered to Willis, "You're the boss."
Willis grinned at that and turned towards the hill. He waved Lucas over. "Boy, you try to fuck us, and we'll shoot you down like a dog, ya' hear? That means you always stay in our view. You will not run off alone, you will not talk to any lawmen on our travels. You stay with us and only us, okay?"
"I had no intention of running off." He said, still holding his eye.
Willis stood up and raised his hands as sparks from the fire spat and burst up. "Then I think we have a mutual agreement."
Lucas wasn't sure what do from there, so he just threw up his arm and said "Great."
"Hey," The other shooter called out, falling over his stump playfully, "I'm tired, who's keeping watch tonight?"
"Ajax, then you'll wake me up in the middle and I'll watch." Then Willis looked over to the knifeman. "And Lewis," turning to the second shooter, "this man will be taking your place in the wagon tonight."
"The hell he is!" Lewis lurched up, "That's where I sleep!"
"That's why I said he'd be takin' your place, Lewis, we have a guest, and we need to make him comfortable, especially if he's going to pay us enough to make us. Bruno, fix er," He turned to Lucas, holding out a finger. "Who are you?"
"No, just Lucas."
"Good. I call no one mister." Back to Bruno, "Fix him up a sleeping commendation that is much more comfortable than usual, will you?"
"Yeah, Will." Bruno got up and left, rummaging with things in the back of the wagon. "Where should we put the shotgun? We don't want him gettin' at it."
"I'll hang on to it for the night. Then tomorrow morning, we move out."
"How early?" Lewis asked.
Willis took out a pocket watch of his own, gold, and engravings of angels on the flap. The ticking was louder than Lucas's. He held it to the fire. "Let's go at 4:00. Should give us enough time to get back into America by sun rise."
Lucas became puzzled. "Aren't we… already in America?" He finally blinked the sand out.
The hairy man simply looked up into the night, and then rolled his head to Lucas, smirking. "I don't believe you're being serious with me, are you?"
"Nope, we're in Mexico. Right below New Mexico territory, but we're in a different country." Bruno took out the shotgun; a chrome looking breach-loaded coach gun. Willis held out his hand and he tossed it to him at a distance. He checked the barrels. Both shells loaded. "If you try anything funny, I'll blow your brains all over the sand, got that? You need to go to the bathroom, you wake one of my boys up and they'll go with you. Otherwise, you won't leave that wagon, is that clear?"
He took a heavy woof of the desert air. Dry, but cool. "Fabulous." And then Willis walked off to the wagon.
Lucas just stood there. Lewis kept glaring at him while Ajax held his hands near the fire. "We don't have the patience for the faint, or the dim," said Lewis.
"I could imagine."
"Then don't act like it."
"Am I acting like it now?"
"No, but I'm warning you."
"Okay men," Willis began by the wagon, "we will all by lying down, asleep in ten minutes, is that clear?"
"Sir, yes sir!" said everyone but Lucas.
Willis then escaped into the wagon, came out and walked towards the fire. "Lucas, bed, now." He pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. Lucas hesitated, looking around at the dark clouds marching across the sky. "Are you dim? Wagon, now."
"Oh, okay." He walked off into the wagon and fell fast asleep, even with the nervousness he was feeling. Two minutes later, Bruno and Lewis got into their blankets beside the wagon. Willis stayed with Ajax for a little while, until he fell asleep by the stump.