Hal kicked his pinto horse into a full gallop as he peeled out of Armadillo. His life was in shambles but he tried to focus on what lay ahead of him: open stretches of rolling desert and miles of blue sky. The horse grunted as they flew past stands of cactus and saltbush. Dust flew up around them, kicked up from the hard packed road by the pounding hooves propelling them through the valley. He had ridden an hour, just like the bartender said, and found no sign of the small wooden shack. Hal kicked his horse again, pushing its limits of endurance. The horse, caked in a layer of sweat and mud, grunted again and pressed on.
They flew down the road, galloping across the rolling plane until the road narrowed to a trail. Buzzards circled above, but Hal paid them no mind. Teeth grinding, he kicked again, digging the heels of his boots into the horse's ribs. All he saw, all he cared about, was the trail winding through the brush under his horse's hooves. When he reached the end, he would be one step closer to getting his revenge. A dark cabin appeared on the horizon, white wisps of smoke puffed contentedly from its chimney and a lone dark horse wandered around the back, poking its nose into heaps of sage.
Hal leapt from the saddle as the horse skidded to a stop in the loose dusty soil and tossed the reins over the hitching post by the porch. Common courtesy, if it existed, could wait. He jumped up the stairs onto the rickety porch and raised his fist to knock, but the door flew open before the fist met the pine. Hal reached for his gun but the cold barrel of a rifle pressed against his chest froze him in place.
"What you doing way out here?" The owner of the gruff old voice stepped out into the dying sunlight on the porch. The gunslinger held the butt of his buffalo rifle firmly against his dark pants. His black leather vest covered most of his dark green shirt.
Hal raised his hands above his head. "I'm here for you."
The gunslinger raised a graying eyebrow and cocked his head to the side. "Me?" He reached up with his trigger hand and stroked his stubbly chin. "Why would anyone want me?" He pushed open Hal's vest with the barrel of the gun, then pressed it into his neck.
Hal wondered what it would be like to be eaten by buzzards. The ones on the trail looked hungry, but he would be dead by the time they had their meal. "I need your help." Hal coughed.
"Help?" The gunslinger laughed. "You need my help? It's been a long time since anyone needed my help." He jammed the barrel into Hal's neck, pushing him back. "What kind of help do you need?"
Sweat beaded on Hal's forehead. "Let me inside and I'll tell you." He reached down and unclipped his gun from its holster and dropped it to the porch. With the studded leather toe of his boot, he kicked it into the house. The steel barrel clattered against the poorly set floorboards.
The gunslinger watched as it slid past. "Dave." He lowered his rifle and stepped aside. "Come in. And get your gun off my floor."
Hal stepped through the door, his boots scraping the bits of dirt strewn across the floor. His eyes adjusted slowly to the dim light filtering through the grimy windows. The smoldering embers in the fireplace cast barely enough light to illuminate Hal's gun resting against the rocking chair by the stone fireplace. He bent down and retrieved it, sliding it back into the holster and locking the catch.
Dave closed the creaky door, jamming it into its frame. "Have a seat." He pulled a cigarette from a box on the mantle and lit the end with a stick from the fire. The acrid smoke filled the air, biting Hal's nostrils as Dave puffed smoke rings around the room. "What do you need help with?"
Hal pulled a chair from the table and sat down across from Dave. "I need to track down and kill my wife's killer." The chair popped loudly as it adjusted to Hal's weight.
Dave blew a cloud of smoke from his nostrils.
"I know who did it."
The end of Dave's cigarette glowed brighter.
"I need to kill him."
The fire popped, showering sparks across the stone hearth. Dave sent another cloud of smoke into the air and stood. "Well go ahead and kill him. Nobody here's going to stop you." He adjusted his pants.
"I need your help. I'm not a killer."
"I could have told you that." Dave sat back down and rocked in his chair. He tossed the remains of his cigarette into the fire. "So you want me to do it for you."
"No. I want your help killing him. You've tracked men like him down before, killed them. I need your help finding him, killing him if I can't." Hal pulled a sloppily folded paper from his vest pocket and opened it. A trickle of dirt fell out from the folds onto Hal's dusty brown pants and he brushed it onto the floor.
Dave took the paper and mused over it. "So it's Jesus Sollares you're after." He looked over the lip of the paper toward Hal. "That'll be mighty hard. He's got a very dangerous gang."
"You've killed more dangerous men than him."
"That was a long time ago." He folded up the paper, tapping the corner against his mouth as he stared into the fire. The embers in his eyes leapt for a moment, recalling, Hal hoped, the thrill of taking down gangs of outlaws and gunning down murderers. He tossed the paper into the fire and watched the flames leap up, licking and curling the edges of the charred paper until all that remained was a leafy sheet of ash that crumbled into dust. "I'll help you do it." Dave pushed himself out of the rocking chair and walked over to his bed, tucked in the back corner of his house. With a grunt, he pulled a pine chest, reinforced with steel brackets, from under the mattress. The latches flicked open and the hinges squealed as he opened the lid. "In the mean time, I'll teach you how to use one of these." Dave held up a revolver.
Hal stood up from his chair and peered over Dave's back into the chest. It was filled with a number of guns and boxes of bullets. In his whole life, Hal had seen less than half the number of guns Dave had in that one chest. "Where did you get all those from?"
"Collected them as I traveled." Dave shut the lid on the chest and latched it shut. "I trust you do know how to aim and fire."
Hal puffed. "I've been aiming and firing since before I could walk."
He clipped the catch on the holster back in place. "Rabbits, mostly."
"Then the hard work is done. Aiming and firing is the same, it's what the gun points at that makes killing men different than killing rabbits."
Hal mounted his horse, throwing his leg high over its back. The worn saddle creaked a protest as he settled in. The sun peeked above the horizon, the young light glistening off the dew scattered across the sage plumes of thorny brush and bright green of the cactus dotting the plane. The stillness that surrounded Hal was not matched by serenity in his heart. His only thoughts were of his wife and her bleached bones on his porch on a similar morning just days ago. There was no way he could have paid her ransom. There was no way he could have stopped Jesus from dragging her across the desert behind a galloping horse. He laid her to rest on a hill overlooking their homestead and swore to kill Jesus Sollares.
Hal closed his eyes, his fingers feathering the bone inlays on the gun grip and trigger. Memories flooded back, his small wedding back in Kansas, the adventure of moving west with the promise of a new life full of fortune. Things had been good for the first few weeks, before the train robberies and kidnappings. Hal thought he and Julia were okay, beyond the reach of the bandits. But she disappeared on her way to town. His hand hovered above the gun.
Draw. His fingers wrapped around the grip and the gun flew from its holster, the barrel aiming towards the figure of Jesus in his mind.
His horse shifted its weight, shuffling its hooves across the dusty ground. Hal opened his eyes. Dave sat mounted on his horse, resting his weigh on the pommel of the saddle, watching Hal. Dave covered his bald head with a black derby hat, his eyes peering out from underneath the short brim. "Put that gun away." He pulled at the wrists of his black leather gloves, clenching his hands into fists. "Unless you plan on using it." Dave picked up the reins and kicked his horse into a walk.
Hal shoved the gun deep into its holster and turned his horse to follow Dave.
They wound their way through the rolling hills towards Armadillo. At the slower pace, Hal took time to look around and appreciate what had been just a blur yesterday. Tall mountains that rose rapidly from the earth flanked the wide valley, their feet covered in sediment fanned out at the bottom of steep gorges. Trees huddled together in clumps at the upper reaches, weathering years of brilliant sun and howling winds. A river cast a long green scar down the center of the valley, the bright green leaves of thirsty trees lapping at the ribbon of water. A few feet from the river, the trees turned into cactus and the grass turned into sagebrush.
The desert lay quiet around them, the occasional grunt of a horse or snapping of a grasshopper's wings were the only sounds to break the silence. Dust clouded the air, filling Hal's nostrils and sucking the moisture from his mouth. Hal took a long swig of water from his leather water pouch and wiped the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his shirt.
In the distance, Hal could hear gunshots. They must be getting close to Armadillo.
"Someone's not doing their job properly." Dave pulled up his horse. "You don't have to ride into this."
Hal's horse came to a stop beside Dave's. "I don't have a choice. I got to start somewhere." He tugged at the reigns and swayed as his horse shifted its weight.
Dave studied the confidence on Hal's face. "Don't shoot at anything you don't intend to hit." Dave kicked his horse into a gallop and took off in a cloud of dust, Hal following close behind, neck rag pulled up around his nose and mouth. They raced through the shantytown outskirts and onto the main street of Armadillo. People were ducked behind barrels and hidden inside stores; Hal could see their eyes peaking from behind curtains and half-open doors. The pop of the gunshots grew louder; Dave pulled a revolver from his holster and Hal followed suit.
They rounded the corner and rode straight into the middle of the gun battle engulfing the main street, unloading his gun into six bandits. Hal followed behind, barely distinguishing the navy suits of the Army against the dull reds, blues and greens of the bandits. A bandit in a blue shirt raised his gun, tracking Hal down the street. Hal took aim and began firing as he sped past, unloading three bullets—bang bang bang—in his general direction. The man clutched at his chest and fell to his knees, a dark spot growing on the front of his shirt. His body hit the ground as Hal pulled his horse into an alley and stopped.
Empty bottles littered the ground, but Hal's focus was on his still smoking gun. He dropped it to the ground. The gun went off, firing a bullet into the side of the building.
"Is that what you were aiming at?"
"I had to start somewhere."
Dave poured the hazy brown liquid into a tumbler and set it down in front of Hal. "Drink this."
Hal lifted the glass and swirled it, his eyes unfocused on the glassy bar. The reflection of the bottom of the glass stared back. "I killed him." He covered up the reflection.
"It was justified." Dave downed his tumbler, splashing some onto his shirt and vest. "Drink. It'll clear your mind."
Hal swirled the glass again. The face in the bottom of the glass frowned at him. Hal tossed his head back and drank the tumbler dry. Dave was right; the strong drink cleared his thoughts, but not his conscious. More whiskey was required. Hal poured himself another glass and downed it.
"How bout now?" Dave dropped off the barstool and stood up. He wobbled a bit, steadied himself, then braced himself against Hal's shoulder. "Enough drink'll clear a man's head. Clear it right up."
"Better." Hal lifted the bottle, but only drops left the spout. He held it up, examining the light as it bounced around the sculpted glass façade. "I killed a man, Dave."
Dave's head turned towards Hal, but his bloodshot eyes stared right through. With a grunt, he settled himself back onto the barstool. "You see, Hal, he had it coming. He was a criminal, a murderer, a thief!" He slapped the bar. "You were right to kill 'im. He woulda killed you. Killed you like the killer he is. But you—you killed him like the farmer you are kills the rabbit he is. Killed him real good." Dave slouched over the bar and continued to mumble into his arms.
Hal set the glass bottle down and spun it towards the pile of empty bottles in front of Dave. "I think…I think you've had enough to clear your mind, Dave." Slinking an arm around Dave's back, Hal pulled the gunslinger to his feet and stumbled across the bar to the stairs, bumping into chairs and tables as they teetered by. As they passed the window, Hal took a quick glance outside. A body in a blue shirt lay dead in the middle of the street.
Pain. Darkness and head spinning, throat throbbing pain. Hal cracked his eyes open. Oh! The blinding light! His eyes slammed shut and he massaged his temples. A groan escaped his throat. "Whiskey didn't work." He sat up and tested his eyes again. Still blindingly bright. "Is that how you forget?"
"It was." Dave sat in a plush armchair across the room, smoking a cigarette. "If you kill Jesus, you can't let it change you." He took a long drag. "The world will be less one criminal and less one farmer." The chair creaked as he stood and walked to the window. Through the pane, the sun had just finished clearing the horizon and began making its way into the sky. Dave wiped his hand across the glass and rubbed the grit between his fingers. "The Army wants to give you a reward."
Hal turned away from the light and sat on the edge of his bed. "I don't deserve it." His boots were at the foot of his bed, thrown there in the haze of the last night. They slid snugly over his feet. "I deal in cattle, not lead. Killing for money doesn't suit me."
Dave peered over his shoulder.
"The cost is too much." Hal strapped his gun around his waist and stood up, fighting dizziness and the urge to vomit.
"Bullets aren't cheap." Dave opened the window and tossed the butt out onto the street. "Don't let the death of one man weigh on you. The life he lived was full of chaos. You gave him peace."
Through the open window, Hal heard the loud, deep whistle of an approaching train, its breaks squealing and whining in the morning air. Dave put on his derby hat and adjusted its fit. "If he gives you a chance to kill him, you take that chance." He pulled on his gloves. "He isn't going to give you a second one."
Hal stood beside Dave on the platform, watching as the porters struggled to unload a cartful of crates, suitcases, bags and one horse. Their burgundy uniforms dashed to and fro, their arms laden with the baggage of the new arrivals. Weeks before, Hal had been one of those passengers, stepping off the platform into the hot desert sun, watching those same porters struggle to unload all his possessions, six crates of clothes and farm equipment. The feeling of hope and luck had welled up within him; he was ready to conquer the world with Julia at his side.
The same sun beat down mercilessly on his face as the last passenger stepped off the train. He wore the dark navy uniform of the cavalry, trimmed with gold thread; a saber and a six-shooter strapped low on his each thigh. His high riding boots were polished black enough to reflect the sun and his brass buttons sparkled in the light.
"Captain." Dave stuck out his gloved hand.
"Dave? I didn't expect to see you in these parts. Or at all." The Captain removed his hat and shook Dave's hand. "I thought you retired." The leather of their gloves creaked and popped, sending chills down Hal's spine.
"I did. But I'm back for one last job."
"Interesting." The Captain brushed his moustache. "What brought you back?"
"My friend here is set on killing Jesus Sollares." Dave gestured to Hal. "We need anything you have on him."
The Captain nodded. "I'll help however I can. My name is Brannigan." Hal shook the Captains outstretched hand and they exchanged pleasantries. "I have two men working on the Sollares Gang at my offices."
They walked down the boardwalk, keeping out of the midmorning sun and dust throwing wagons on the street. The Captain talked at length to Dave about current bounties and jobs ranging from Idaho all the way down to Mexico. Dave followed each new offer with a shake of his head and reassurance that after he had helped Hal, he was done with his old life. The Captain finally turned to Hal and asked why he wanted Sollares dead.
"He kidnapped and killed my wife."
Brannigan stroked his beard. "That's a noble deed for the court."
They approached a low adobe building, tucked in between two shanties. A few horses stood hitched outside, swatting flies with their tails and a sentry stood guard at the wooden door, his navy uniform lacking the gold trim of Brannigan's. "Welcome back, Sir." He pushed the door open and they ducked inside. Two oil lamps spilled light across the inside of the room. Maps of the western territories and states littered the walls with blue pins doted across them. Most of pins were clumped at the Mexican border. Two Lieutenants studied a set of maps on a long wooden table, talking in hushed voices and pointing to a set of red pins.
The two officers snapped to attention. "Sir."
"I'd like a report on Jesus Sollares." The Captain returned their salutes and took off his hat.
"Sir, we've had reports of kidnappings and murders around the towns of Steamboat Mills and the Redcliff area and some of their men have popped up in the Armaldillo Saloon. Everything fits with the Sollares Gang." He pointed to a spot a day's ride along the train tracks. "The telegraph wire has been cut here." His finger slid to a small black dot on the map a small ways off the tracks. "We think they're hiding out here, at the abandoned Dos Rios Ranch."
"What makes you think that?" Dave removed his hat and studied the map, tracing the lines the Lieutenant had made.
"It's within a day of the three, has a good location for holding up trains and the drop site for the kidnapping ransom is not far away."
The Captain looked over Dave's shoulder. "Is that what you needed?"
Dave picked up the map and studied it again. "It makes our job a hell of a lot easier." He folded up the map and tucked it into his breast pocket. "If you're right."
"I trust their judgment."
"Why haven't you caught them if they've been in Armadillo? You're the Army for God's sake." Hal glared at the Captain. "It's your job to protect this territory."
"We did." The Captain turned the dial on a safe behind his desk. The dial ticked as it spun through the numbers and the hinges creaked open. He pulled a small leather pouch from the metal box. "This is for your help yesterday." He tossed the bag to Hal, the contents jingled as it flew through the air. "You two get Jesus for us, that bag will be much heavier." The safe slammed shut and locked with a click.
The day was growing old, the shadows grew long across the streets and the swishing of horsetails filled the air. Hal walked into the gunsmith's shop, eager to rid himself of the money in the little pouch. Killing men shouldn't pay, he thought. He picked out a new revolver, a long barreled repeater and few boxes of bullets, enough to empty his money pouch. Hal left the gunsmith counting out the change and returned to the saloon, following the sound of its beer-stained and bullet-ridden honky-tonk as it drifted through the lonely streets.
In the bar, he found Dave deeply invested in a game of poker. Before him stood colorful towers of chips, much higher than the stacks of the other players who scowled as Dave dealt the cards. Hal pulled a chair up behind Dave and watched over his shoulder. A few more rounds and Dave had cleaned out the table. He gathered up the chips and collected his winnings and a bottle of whiskey from the bartender. Hal chose to leave him and head up to the room, treading lightly on the squeaking old floor.
Hal sat at the small table in their room, inspecting his new weapons, calibrating their sights, practicing loading and reloading. If only they were for just shooting at rabbits, he thought. He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair.
Darkness had fallen outside. Hal turned up the burner on the oil lamp, throwing sickly orange light into the corners of the room and turning the window into a mirror. He stood in front of the window, hand hovering over his revolver. The blue shirted man in the window stared back.
Draw. Hand on gun. Pull. Aim. Squeeze trigger. Click. The hammer struck the firing pin. Not fast enough; again. He dropped the revolver into the holster. Pull, aim, squeeze. Click. Again. Pull, aim, squeeze. Better; again. Pull, aim, squeeze. Just like shooting rabbits.
The oil lamp faded, the gun grew heavier with each draw. The man in the window was faster. Hal lifted his gun and aimed between the reflection's eyes. Aim, breathe, squeeze. Click. Dead.
Hal tore through the room, tossing the undisturbed sheets off Dave's bed. The outhouse and alley were empty; there was no sign of Dave in the saloon below. A small drawer on the nightstand caught his eye. He pulled it out of its tracks and dumped the contents on the floor. One Bible, Hal tossed it across the room, the pages fluttering through the air. A small stack of money, a revolver Hal stashed down the back of his pants. The maps! Hal kissed the folded up maps and opened them on the bed, scanning the yellowed paper for the Dos Rios Ranch. There! That little black dot. Those men at the poker table, they must have been from Sollares' gang. He folded up the map and stuffed it into his vest.
Hal grabbed his new repeater and revolver and headed out the door to the crisp morning air. Dave's horse stood hitched at the saloon's post, quietly munching on a pile of hay. It looked up blankly as Hal approached and took the rifle holster off the saddle. "I'll bring him back, boy." Hal patted the horse's neck.
Strapping the holster onto his saddle, Hal dropped the repeater into its new resting place and tossed himself into the saddle, kicking the horse into full gallop before even settling in. Hal searched the streets on his way to the Army offices, but he knew Dave was gone. He pulled up to the low adobe building and jumped from the horse to the ground, crashing through the door and straight into the startled Captain.
"They've taken him."
"The Sollares Gang. They've taken Dave." Hal caught his breath. "Last night."
"How do you know it's them?" He sat down at his desk and straightened a few papers.
"Who else could it be?" Hal pounded his fist on the Captain's desk.
Brannigan stared up at Hal and reorganized the papers. "Then go after them."
"Aren't you going to dispatch the troops or something?"
"Why not?" Hal banged the desk again.
The Captain began picking the dirt from his nails, flicking it onto the floor. "This is a recruitment office. We have few, if any, troops to dispatch." He pulled a brush out from the desk and continued to clean his nails. "And I won't waste what troops I have on a suicide mission."
Hal glared at the Captain. Paper pushing scumbag. He would get Dave back on his own; having the Army along would only slow him down with bureaucracy. Pushing through the door, he jumped back onto his horse and kicked it to a trot, winding his way through the shanties to the train station. A trail paralleled the tracks to the Dos Rios Ranch and Hal kicked his horse into a gallop. The scenery started to fly by, a long day of riding lay ahead of him.
In the late afternoon, he passed the Redcliff turnoff at a leisurely trot. The tracks rose on a trestle over the river below where Hal took his horse down for a drink. Another hour and he would be at the Dos Rios Ranch. Hal rested by the river, washing the sweat off his head and filling his water pouch from the cool water. He let his horse wander to a clump of grass and munch away; it had earned that much.
A bush on the other side of the river rustled. Hal stood up and undid the clasp on the holster. The bush quieted, then shook again, snapping twigs. Hal's hand hovered above the gun grip. A small tan rabbit emerged from the bush onto the pebbles of the creek bank. Just like shooting rabbits. Pull, aim, squeeze. The rabbit fell to its side.
Hal stared across the rushing water at the dead animal. The time for shooting rabbits was over.
Hal crouched low and poked the barrel of the repeater over the canyon lip. The Dos Rios Ranch spread out in the basin below: a barn and corral, aging farmhouse and several small outbuildings. If it was abandoned, the ghostly inhabitants liked to keep a small herd of saddled horses in the coral. A light was on in the house, shadows dancing back and forth in front of it. That's where they're keeping Dave, Hal thought, aiming for the open window. He paused for a moment, let out a long breath and looked up from the sights.
The Sollares Gang was small but fierce, a dozen Mexican bandits led by the mastermind of their crime, Jesus Sollares. They would not run from a fight. Hal put the window in his sights again, zeroing in on the point of light within. Aim, breathe, squeeze. The shot exploded out of the barrel, echoing through the basin. The point of light in the room grew brighter and yelling filtered out of the cracked walls. Hal reloaded, pumping the lever to refill the chamber and cocked the hammer, and took aim at the door. Hopefully none of the gang had seen where the shot came from.
The first bandit bashed down the door and ran into the middle of the yard, his sombrero turning wildly, a six-shooter in his raised hand. Hal took careful aim. Squeeze. The bandit fell. Gunfire erupted out of the windows of the farmhouse, the bullets flying in all directions. One hit a dirt mound a few feet to Hal's right.
Hal reloaded, keeping his head low. The room he had first shot into was now ablaze, the flames pouring out the windows. Puffs of smoke poured out of the other windows as the bandits continued to fire bullets at shadows that danced on the canyon rim. Hal picked off four bandits firing from the downstairs windows, waiting until they poked their heads out to deliver a shot.
The fire tore through the old rotted timbers in the house, the crackle and pop of the inferno mixing with the gunshots, engulfing it into a massive inferno. The surviving members of the Sollares Gang ran out of the house, concentrating their fire in Hal's direction as he dropped a new magazine into the buttstock. Hal waited until they had reached the horses and began galloping for the hills before picking them off.
Hal dropped over the ridge, tossing the empty repeater to the ground in front of him and pulling out his revolver. The light pop of a pocket pistol caught Hal's ear and the ball kicked up a puff of dust as it skipped past. Hal turned, catching a glimpse of the shooter as he ducked behind a wagon. Pull, aim, squeeze. His shot sailed over the back of the wagon. Taking cover behind a nearby rock, Hal slotted a bullet into the empty chamber as he waited for the man to reload. Another shot zipped past and he jumped out from behind the rock, unloading his round into the man's shoulder.
The barn behind Hal erupted into a ball of fire throwing heat and light across the yard. The remaining horses in the coral panicked, jumping the fence to fell the blaze.
"So! You came to rescue your friend, eh?" Hal recognized the heavy Mexican accent.
Hal whirled around, pointing his gun towards the man standing in the middle of the yard. In the flickering red light, Hal could make out the long flowing hair and slick moustache of Jesus Sollares. His hands rested on two guns strapped to his hips and his red shirt was crossed by bandoliers. Pull, aim, squeeze. But the bullet stayed in the barrel.
"You want to kill me." He laughed. "You aren't the first. Do I know you?"
"No, and I don't care if you do." Hal cocked the hammer. "You killed my wife, Jesus. You destroyed my life. It's time you returned to the layer of hell you came from. I may not be the first to want you dead, but I'll be the last."
"Hal!" Dave's voice carried above the roar of the burning barn.
"Your friend is stuck inside that barn. You kill me, he dies too."
"Hal! Open the barn doors, Hal!"
Hal lowered his gun.
A smirk flashed across Jesus' face.
"I'm sorry Dave" —Hal raised the gun and pointed it at Jesus— "I can't do that." Squeeze.
Boom! A blast of heat threw Hal to the ground and rained flaming chunks of wood down on the yard. Hal pushed to his feet, brushing away the embers on his vest, and surveyed the scene. Flames shot out from holes in the collapsing farmhouse and the smell of burning flesh filled the air. Hal turned and ran towards the burning husk that was left of the barn. The doors and walls had been blown out and bits of the roof lay strewn around the hillside. Hal pushed through the blaze and found Dave pinned under a beam of wood beside the remains of a box of dynamite.
"Dave!" Hal pushed the beam away. Dave's body was crushed, his chest collapsed. Hal picked him up and dashed out of the remnants of the barn, fleeing through the scattered shards of steel and wood.
Dave groaned as Hal set him down on the ground a safe distance from the burning farm. "You get him?" He coughed, his mouth spattered blood across his shirt.
Hal looked around the debris field and spotted Jesus' body caught under a piece of the barn. A pool of blood soaked dirt grew around his corpse. "I killed him." Hal's eyes stayed fixed on the body.
"You lost." Dave coughed again, his eyes glazing over. "Killing never suited me either." His eyes closed and body went limp.
A cold wind blew across, kicking up dust as it passed. Bodies dotted the yard, bodies of men he had shot and killed trying to get his life back. Hal stared down at the man stretched across his lap, listening as the barn slowly burned itself to embers. "You're right: I lost." He picked up the derby hat from the dirt beside the body and brushed off the ash and dust. Standing up, he put the hat on, testing the fit. Not too tight, not too loose.