Life as a Ghost by Frank Siegrist - HTML preview
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Tom found a spot for himself at the wall from which he could keep an eye on all the others. They were quiet. It was still too early for lunch. They were talking softly or dozing. Tom watched the horses sniffing at each other. They were calm and seemed contented. It was soothing to watch them.
The horses knew that even a brute wouldn’t just suddenly start tormenting them if they did their work as was expected of them. In the same sense, Tom knew he wouldn’t suddenly be murdered either. Nacho had found some use fo r him, even if just as some kind of dummy. As long as he didn’t try to escape or do some other crazy thing, he would be left to live.
One of the horses lifted its tail and dropped big balls, in which some straw-stalks were still clearly visible, onto the church-floor. Tom wondered how it was possible that these elegant, high-legged animals with their long, slender heads, their wise eyes and their shiny fur could be nothing more than digesting machines like he was one himself. Even these proud animals had to admit, from time to time, that they couldn’t just keep everything inside them that they had eaten up so matter-of- factly. The biggest part of what they had swallowed, seemingly so irrevocably, had to be given back to nature. Even these noble steeds had no real sway over matter. Behind their long, beautiful tail there was a hole – an asshole, to be precise – out of which stuff kept falling that they hadn’t been able neither to keep nor to destroy. It had to be given back.
Tom looked at the outlaws and thought to himself that every single one of them had an asshole too, and that each one had to give back to nature most of what he devoured during their undoubtedly gruesome feasts. But unlike the horses, the outlaws surely went to hide when they had to stool. They were human, after all. They ate together, but they didn’t stool together. That was a weakness that each one more or less kept hidden from the others.
Tom’s eyes wandered on to the many statues of clay that were still standing around in the abandoned church. Some of them were being used as hat-stands. There were pious shepherds dressed in long robes, with sandals and a shepherd’s crook. There were female angels too, with beautiful and sad faces.
You would have liked to embrace them, to hold their head against your chest. But you couldn’t do that, because they had mighty wings on their back. There was no way your arms could have reached all the way around them.
Their hands were joined together in prayer, and their face was looking up into the sky, begging and yearning simultaneously. Unfortunately you couldn’t see the eyes, because they were hidden under a cowboy- hat…
The angel had come to the bad men to save their souls. But the bad men didn’t understand. They thought it was a hat-stand. They pretended not to see any other use in these angels. They put their hats on them to show their contempt.
Contempt means willfully overlooking certain facts whose meaning you refuse to acknowledge. If the bad men had REALLY overlooked the facts (rather than doing it willfully), they would have put their hats somewhere else. There were certainly other, more obvious places where hats could have been put in this church.
Tom thought to himself that these outlaws couldn’t be as strong as they wanted to seem if they couldn’t even bear the sight of the pious eyes of an angel and felt the need to cover them with a hat.
Tom was just thinking that the angel, if she has a mouth, must surely have an anus as well. But the big wings on her back would hinder you from ever getting close enough to find out. The anus of an angel can’t have any meaning for you, because you’re never going to approach it.
Now Tom’s eyes found a small, genderless cherub with short wings. He was short-limbed like a small child and had curly hair. He was holding some kind of cloth in front of himself, conveniently hiding his genitals. But his behind wasn’t hidden, and the two rounded buttocks had been modeled quite distinctly.
This one definitely must have an anus between those buttocks of his, mustn’t he? So angels definitely have anuses too, but either they are too young, or they have such big wings, that it becomes meaningless to us human beings.
But they are sufficiently similar to us mortals to be able to understand us. Surely that’s the point of angels.
It got time for lunch. A big fire was lit in front of a window without glass. Half a pig was skewered over it. After a while the still somewhat reddish meat was shared out. Nacho in person threw Tom a piece of ham and a piece of old bread. Wine was served in old beerjugs. It had a rotten smell. Tom later got a headache from it.
The tough, smoke- laden meat wasn’t appetizing, and the dry bread stayed stuck in his throat. The others seemed to enjoy their meal, though. Since Nacho was laughing and seemed in a good mood, they allowed themselves to become pretty loud too. The meal turned into a feast, and the wine was passed around generously.
The feast was still in full swing when Nacho suddenly turned silent. The men around him turned silent too, because when Nacho was quiet, everybody had to be quiet. Not everyone noticed the change, though, and Nacho had to call out: “Silence!” The laughter and talking died off instantly. A whole minute passed in utter silence. Nacho looked at his men, one after the other, his chin thrust forward and his eyes full of fake pity and sorrow. His men knew that look – it meant he could turn sadistic in the blink of an eye.
After a long while he turned to his jug and took a rather loud gulp.
Hereby he had broken the silence at last – he would get to the point now. With the jug still touching his lips he said: “Ned, Ted and Tom, it’s time for you to head to Earlham!”
Ned and Ted stood up and saddled their horses. Tom took a bit longer to stand up from the corner where he had been sitting or lying for the last few hours. He lifted up his saddle that he had used as a pillow and carried it over to Bess. Ned and Ted had practically thrown their saddles onto their horses. Tom put his on Bess gently and shifted it into position with care, as he had learned from his school- mate long ago. Ted and Ned jumped on their horses and rode out of the church. Tom followed them.
After a few hours of trotting, Ned decided it was time for a break. They stopped, unsaddled the horses, found some wood and lit a small fire. Tom filled the rusty pot with fresh water und placed it onto the fire.
Then he stopped caring about the two men and their coffee. He rather watched the horses who were grazing in their usual carefree manner.
Tom wasn’t carefree. He was wondering what the day held in store for him. He didn’t have any clear idea yet how he would finish off Nacho and his gang. He had even less of an idea how he would stop the two bank-robberies, and whether he really wanted to stop them. He had heard that the bank of Anthony held more than half a million dollars. How would it feel to plunge his hands into half a million dollars?
On the other hand, what could he have done with that much money? He couldn’t have spent it all in one go. That would have been more than suspicious – it would have been a glaring confession to the robbery! So he would have had to spend it in small amounts, but he wondered whether the life of a human being was really long enough to spend half a million dollars unsuspiciously…
For the first time Tom also wondered what Nacho and his gang might want to do with the money. Nacho’s face was known to everyone – how would he ever get a chance to pay for anything honestly, except maybe occasionally for whisky in a saloon? Besides, Tom couldn’t picture Nacho as a rich rancher and father of a large family. Nacho was an outlaw all the way through. He would never want to live on a farm with countless helping hands, a pretty wife and many nice children – that just wouldn’t fit his style. He would always have other dreams, criminal dreams. Money, money, money… just what could possibly be the point of it in Nacho’s case Tom couldn’t imagine! Maybe it wasn’t really about the money. Maybe it was about rising to the challenge and demonstrating power!
And then what? What the hell do you do with all that power? Power, just like money, allows you to reach goals. But if you don’t have any goals, then it all becomes rather useless.
Maybe Nacho had once had the same dreams of a fulfilled life as everyone else. A good job from which to make a decent living and a nice family. Deep down that’s all there is to a fulfilled life. It’s just strange that for some people it seems so hard to get. Nacho hadn’t been able to get it, obviously. Maybe he didn’t even know that it would have been the right thing for him. Maybe he was lost.
Power is always a good thing, because it allows you to do other things that you really want. So when Nacho got some power he was happy. Except that he didn’t know what to do with it, since he didn’t know what the other things were that he really wanted. Since gaining power had once given him some satisfaction, he went on to gain some more. It was better than doing nothing anyway. So then he went on to gain yet more. It was never enough, since he still never got as far as to know what to do with it. So he just went on getting more of it! For ever! It had become an addiction!
Until one day someone like Tom would come along and kill him.
Deep down this life couldn’t be very fulfilling for poor Nacho. But standing still would have been no option either. As long as there’s movement in your life, there’s at least a hope of change (and thus of betterment). Standing still means that either you’ve accepted the situation as it is, or you’ve given up hope.
Maybe Nacho knew, deep down, that he was never going to get anywhere. He was a great outlaw, and all he could do was to become a yet greater outlaw, or go to prison or be hanged. It wasn’t really an option anymore that he would ever become a decent, honest farmer or anything like that, was it? But the wilder his life was, the less chance there was of thinking about it too much. And wildness means continuous movement, continuous change, and thus continuous hope, even if it’s not really a real hope in this case… Maybe Tom was just as lost as Nacho, but he decided here and now never to fall in the same trap as Nacho. He would keep his hands off the money of the bank of Anthony! If you invest too much in a certain path, you end up becoming unable to follow any other. Tom didn’t want to make that mistake.
He was just wondering whether maybe his parents had made exactly this mistake by seeing their poverty as a kind of virtue (“at least we’re honest, not like certain other people!”) instead of fighting it, when he heard Ted’s voice behind himself: “Don’t you want any coffee?”
Tom turned around slowly. “Sure I want some!” he mumbled.
He sullenly sat down with his two comrades. Ted handed him a hot tin-cup. Tom took a few sips with long pauses in between.
After a little while Ned stood up and walked away a few steps into the bushes. He left behind his belt with his guns. He undoubtedly had a little private business to attend to. But his absence seemed to have a magical effect on Ted. He became talkative. “How did you join up with Nacho’s gang?” he asked Tom.
“Well,” said Tom, “I challenged The Boy. But he didn’t want to draw attention, so we didn’t fight it out. He took me along instead.”
Ted was flabbergasted.
“And you?” asked Tom. “What are you doing with these guys?”
Ted didn’t feel like answering. He was quite new to the gang himself, and he wasn’t really sure he wanted to stay part of it. But he didn’t know an easy way out. Instead of answering Tom’s question, he called out: “You challenged The Boy?! I don’t think you’ll live long! Why on Earth did you do that?”
“Well,” said Tom and scratched his elbow, “I wanted to shoot him and Nacho and cash in. They’re worth a fair amount of money, I’m told.”
“If that were so easy, someone would have done it before you,” said Ted. “Someone has to be first,” said Tom. “You’ll see, I’ll turn you all in, the whole lot of you.”
Tom said this so matter-of- factly that Ted didn’t quite understand what he meant. It wasn’t much of a joke, and yet, what else could it be?
In the end Ted pretended to take Tom seriously and said: “Nacho is kind of famous, you know. Not like you. Nobody ever heard of you.”
“They will, in time,” said Tom calmly.
“Why would they?” asked Ted.
“Because,” said Tom, “turning in a whole gang of killers, one as famo us as Nacho and his friends, isn’t an everyday thing.”
He said this so damn calmly once again. If it was all a joke, it really wasn’t all that entertaining. What’s the point of a joke that isn’t entertaining? Ted was getting a bit tired of this, and slightly annoyed too.
“Look,” Ted finally said, “you wouldn’t even be able to beat me in a duel, let alone The Boy or Nacho!”
“Let’s bet on it,” said Tom.
“What do you want to bet with?” asked Ted, “what do I get if I kill you?” Tom put his hand in his saddle-bag and got out a fistful of dollars.
“You get this,” he said dryly.
Ted’s pupils became huge, then they contracted and became very small.
Tom heard some rustling sound behind Ted. Ned was coming back.
Tom quickly put away his money.
Ned appeared from between the bushes and Ted pulled his gun. Tom’s left hand was still in the saddle-bag, but his right sprang forward with his own gun, cocked and ready to shoot.
But that wouldn’t have been necessary, because Ted had turned around and shot Ned rather than Tom.
The sudden bang was still singing in Tom’s ears when Ned’s lifeless body came crashing down almost on top of them, the head plunging into the glowing embers of the fire. Ted looked over to Tom and was a bit surprised to see that Tom was holding his gun in hand firmly pointed at Ted’s chest.
Tom said quite calmly, even though there was unmistakably some reproach in his voice: “You just shot an unarmed man!”
“In a fair fight even the two of us together would never have been able to beat him,” said Ted.
“Now I won’t ever be able to prove you wrong, will I? Why did you do that?” said Tom. “I’ve just decided, here and now, to leave Nacho’s gang,” said Ted, “I’ll be satisfied with half of your dollars!”
Tom didn’t answer at first. Then he said: “You can’t have half – either the whole lot or nothing!”
“Look,” said Ted, “I just did you a good turn – now you’re free! There’s no other way you could’ve gotten away alive from this adventure!”
Tom said: “Look Ted, I can see that you think I’m dreadfully naïve. I guess you need a practical demonstration. So let’s cut through the bullshit, okay?”
“What do you mean?” asked Ted, and now a glimmer of doubt came up in his mind. “How much are you worth?” asked Tom.
“I don’t have any money on me,” said Ted.
“If I turn you in, I mean,” said Tom.
“I don’t know whether I’m even wanted yet…” said Ted.
“Do you want to find out, or should I rather turn you in dead?” asked Tom. Ted said: “Look Tom, enough is enough. I guess you were right about one thing – let’s cut through the bullshit!”
They both stood up. Tom slowly lowered his hand with the gun. Ted’s gun-hand did the same, slowly.
Tom’s eyes weren’t looking into Ted’s eyes anymore. He was not looking at Ted as a person anymore, but rather as an object to be looked at whole. A fleeting thought crossed Ted’s mind: being stared at like this, that’s how a strip -tease dancer must feel… Tom dropped his gun into its holster. Ted did the same.
Tom’s right hand was hanging next to the holster, relaxed.
Ted begun to understand that he had probably badly underestimated Tom. Tom had seemed like such an ordinary young lad. Ted had thought that Tom was badly out of his depth in Nacho’s gang and that he was just hoping to bluff his way through, as inexperienced young men sometimes try to do.
Now he s aw that perhaps he had been wrong. Very wrong. Tom was a killer. Maybe he would really beat The Boy, and Nacho, and all the others...
Ted’s arm was tense, his hand nervously hovering above the holster. Ted’s eyes were looking at Tom’s face, hoping to see a glimmer of weakness there, but there was none. Ted’s tongue was sticking out between his teeth, but it wasn’t funny. It was pathetic. Tom’s outline seemed more and more like a shadowy threat and less and less like a tangible opponent.
Ted had the feeling he was losing his footing. His knees became weak. He felt he was in an impossible situation.
Maybe he should call out, while there was still time: “I give up! Let me live!” But then he remembered that he had shot men before, men who had seemed much more formidable than Tom. Tom was just a kid. A careless kid not knowing what he was doing, bluffing beyond reason out of inexperience.
So Ted pulled himself together, bit his tongue and drew his gun with a sudden burst of courage!
A quick spasm flicked through Tom’s arm, that was all. Else he stayed as immobile as before. The report of the gun echoed in Ted’s mind.
Ted’s gun fell back into its holster, from which he had barely started lifting it, as he clutched the wound in his chest. His last living impression was of the slim wisp of smoke rising from Tom’s gun.
Then he fell over.
Tom came over to the dead body and turned it round with his foot. The body was bleeding worse from the mouth than from the deadly wound in the chest. The silly bugger had almost bit off his tongue!
“Conceited little guy,” thought Tom to himself as he hauled him onto the horse. He tied him to the saddle.
Then he got Ned’s horse and hauled Ned’s body onto it and tied it on too. He tied the reins of one horse to the saddle-knob of the other. Then he saddled his own horse and mounted, holding the reins of Ted’s horse in one hand.
Finally he rode off, leading the other two horses behind himself.
And he continued on the way to Earlham.
So, he had stopped going west! For the first time since escaping from home he was purposefully going in another direction!
All this just for Nacho. Was Nacho worth it? Nacho wouldn’t be the first one Tom shot to get some money. The others he had done in just in passing. Why was he going to so many pains over Nacho? What was different about Nacho?
Well, Nacho wasn’t just Nacho. He had a whole gang of killers. If you didn’t kill them all, they would just find a new boss and come after you. They would find new members for their gang too. As long as you hadn’t killed every single member of the gang, the gang would survive.
So it would never do to just shoot Nacho and a few of his close mates. You had to wait for a chance to kill all the others too. You had to wait for a chance to kill all of them TOGETHER. It was the only way to uproot the gang, and that was Tom’s goal. Tom inwardly tapped himself on the shoulder for finding such a logical explanation. But actually he didn’t really believe in it, he had to admit to himself.
Nacho was the boss of the gang, and without such a boss the gang can’t survive. You can’t just find a new one just like that. His mocking, sadistic ways, combined with his fake childishness, made him unique.
Children are weak, but they don’t bear responsibilities. Nacho showed himself in a childlike way, BUT HE WASN’T WEAK, and that made his child- like unpredictability and moodiness extremely dangerous.
It was the continuous, complicated and unpredictable show of Nacho’s emotions that held the gang together. The members of the gang had no time to fuss or squabble among themselves, because they were all under the spell of Nacho’s every move. They all had to pay attention to Nacho and had no time for anything else – that’s what held them together!
If Nacho disappeared, the gang would collapse. They would probably finish each other off without any need for outside intervention. You don’t find a gifted charlatan like Nacho every day.
So it was quite useless to want to kill the whole gang – all you needed to do was to kill Nacho. The rest was trivial. And Tom should have done that the very first time he met Nacho. It would all be over by now. Tom would be on his way west again, with lots of fresh money in his pockets, instead of shuttling between Earlham and Anthony on some crazy mission!
There was but one other possible motive for Tom’s behavio ur – he hadn’t killed Nacho, because in principle he didn’t want to kill at all. He wanted to experience what makes you into a MAN. He challenged men so that they would “show the man”. So that he would see at last what made them into men. It was just an accident that he kept having to kill them. But it hadn’t happened with Nacho yet, so maybe there was still hope… And yet, did Tom really believe that a sadistic outlaw was going to make a good fatherfigure for him? Was he totally crazy or what?
Well yeah, he was undoubtedly crazy. Else he would be leading a normal life, wouldn’t he? He would have a proper job and he would be dancing with pretty girls in the townsquare…
But what is it really about, this whole matter of becoming a real man? Is it a question of power?
In terms of power, Tom had already reached the highest possible level, hadn’t he? The power to take another man’s life. Is there anything beyond that?
Power… Is that what power really is, to be able to kill other people?
What can power mean if not the ability to head for your own, personal goals? If you don’t have a goal, having power becomes pretty meaningless.
Killing people can help you reach some goals. So it’s a form of power. But wouldn’t it be much more powerful to get people on your side rather than killing them? Every living human being is a potential power, and whoever makes this power work for himself quickly becomes much more powerful than a lonely gun- man.
Maybe a big part of the power residing in the ability to kill is more about threatening to kill rather than actually doing it. But threatened people will never be as faithful as true friends, and they never help you with ideas and motivation of their own. Extorting people through your power to k ill is powerful, but not as powerful as having friends. So it seems the power to kill is not the greatest of all powers after all. The power to make friends is far greater.
But it’s still all a questions of goals. Before you can say what you mean by “power” at all you need to have a goal. Whatever brings you closer to that goal is power. And whatever stops you from reaching it is weakness. But first you need to know your goal, else the concepts of “power” and “weakness” are meaningless.
If your goal is to kill outlaws to make money, then the ability to kill is definitely powerful!
Killing outlaws to make money. Yes, money. But money is just a means. When you have money, that means you have the means to… to do something else. To do whatever. It’s up to you.
You need to have a goal, else money is meaningless.
So the question is: what was Tom going to do with his money?
What’s it all for?
If you don’t know what it’s all for, then how can you say you have power? If you don’t know what you’re doing, then you’re just a chance-occurrence in the world. Then you’re just a piece of wood drifting on the river. A piece of wood which has no power to make decisions for itself.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, then you don’t have real power.
Tom wanted to be taken seriously. That’s why he wanted to make money. He had the power to kill in order to make money. It was a beginning. Ultimately he would have to find out what to do with that money, what to do with his LIFE!
Tom looked back at the two horses following him, carrying their gruesome loads. Ted - who was being carried along like a bag of potatoes - could perhaps have become Tom’s friend. Together they would have been stronger than just one. But neither Ted nor Tom had any proper goal in their life, and their combined strength would have been a sick joke!
Every man Tom killed could possibly have been his friend, but Tom didn’t know what to do with friends. His endless killings were nothing more than an indication of his clumsiness in life – it was a way of drawing attention, of calling for help! Tom proudly trotted into the town of Earlham. People watched him coming. He led the horses straight to the sheriff.
The sheriff came out of his office and grabbed Ted by the hair to see his face. He raised an eyebrow and nodded. But when he saw Ned’s face he said: “Oh!” with something like awe.
Tom got a thousand dollars for Ned, and a hundred for Ted. He also managed to sell the two horses of the outlaws for hundred apiece. So Ted hadn’t been worth more than the horse on which he had been riding. It’s really the peak of contempt to sell a human being for hundred dollars. There are lots of reasons to kill a human being, but hundred dollars are simply too little. Even outside of philosophical considerations, a human life is definitely worth more than that.
If Ted had worked for Tom, they would have made much more than a measly hundred dollars. You don’t even need to take into consideration the emotional value. Selling a human being for a hundred dollars means willfully overlooking this fact, thus it’s contempt.
Tom left the sheriff’s office and was glad not to have to lead the two other horses behind himself anymore. He was alone with Bess once again.
And he had a thousand and three hundred dollars more in his pockets than before. But the money didn’t mean so much to him. He had earned more with less effort previously. And he was used to earning his money in a more satisfactory way.
Things you do are satisfactory when you do them purposefully, which also means you could do them again, which means they’re not just down to luck.
Tom had defeated Ted. He could do it again anytime (in case Ted was resurrected), simply because he was faster than Ted. But Tom hadn’t defeated Ned, because it was Ted who had shot Ned.
If Ted had defeated Ned in a fair shoot-out, Tom would have felt okay about the whole thing. If Ted had been faster than Ned - and since Tom was yet faster than Ted -, that would automatically have meant that Tom was faster than Ned as well. This is basic logics. So Tom would have felt good about cashing in on Ned’s body.
But Ted had shot Ned while Ned was unarmed. If Ned was to be resurrected, Ted couldn’t have done that again, because Ned wouldn’t have gone into the bushes without his gun anymore. Ted hadn’t defeated Ned in a fa ir shoot-out, and so, even though Tom had easily defeated Ted, this meant nothing about him deserving to cash in on Ned’s body. Tom didn’t really deserve the victory over Ned.
What did it matter?
Well, it DID matter.
Wanting to win only in a fair way is called chivalrous, isn’t it? And why would anybody want to be chivalrous?
Winning in a fair way means you could repeat the heroic deed anytime. But winning unfairly can only be done once. If Ned was resurrected, he wouldn’t go back into the bushes without his gun anymore. He would be warned. So Ted couldn’t shoot him again. The unfair way Ted had defeated Ned couldn’t be repeated. And since it couldn’t be repeated anyway, it doesn’t command respect either. Bystanders wouldn’t admire Ted for what he had done. They wouldn’t be scared that Ted could do it to them next. They would be warned. The trick only works once. So they are not awed by it. The victory of the unfair winner doesn’t need to be taken into account so much, because he couldn’t repeat it anyway. Not taking something into account, in other words overlooking something willfully, that’s called contempt.
Contempt is what you feel towards an unfair winner.
Tom had a thousand dollars in his pockets that he had earned in a despicable way, by selling Ned’s body that he hadn’t deserved…
He knew that he would have defeated Ned anyway, but anybody can claim that. Now he just had to defeat Nacho. Nacho was Ned’s boss, so surely he was faster than Ned. If Tom defeated Nacho fairly, that would mean he would have defeated Ned as well, and then he would truly deserve the thousand dollars he had got for Ned’s body. And then he would be morally entitled to use those thousand dollars as well. For the time being he mustn’t touch them. He mustn’t even throw them away, because that would look as though he despised them. He had no right to despise that money, and he had no right to use it either. It was there in his pocket, dirty money, and there was no other way to get rid of it than to defeat Nacho.
On the other hand, nobody had witnessed the scene around the fire during the coffeebreak. Nobody still alive, except Tom himself, knew how Ned had been killed. Nobody could blame Tom for this unfairly earned money.
And yet Tom still had a feeling that some kind of invisible mo ral power had seen everything. Was it his own conscience?
To pacify this invisible power, Tom had to become the moral owner of these doubtful thousand dollars. He could only do that by defeating Nacho. It was like a secret link to his mission, his mission to defeat Nacho. He had to defeat Nacho to feel worthy. There was no way back anymore.
Tom needed to feel worthy, because in actual fact he just wished to be acknowledged by his fellow human beings and to find his place in the world. Deep down what he aspired to was nothing more than that…
Tom had accomplished great deeds – he had shot some of the greatest outlaws of his time. Unfortunately it didn’t really bring him any closer to fulfilling his dream. As he rode past the houses, people followed him with their eyes suspiciously. Tom had become a taciturn gunman. It began to show in his bearing. No feelings for others, no regard for living or dead things, no emotional responsiveness. He just went his way, calmly, and shot whoever had deserved it.
Tom was the archangel who purges mankind with holy thunderbolts, without even getting out of breath. He should have been highly respected. But it wasn’t truly respect that he commanded – it was rather fear that people felt for him. Anyone could suddenly, at a moment’s notice, deserve death at the hands of the archangel, and the archangel’s thunderbolt would slam into him mercilessly.
Perhaps Tom was even worse than Nacho.
Nacho was just an outlaw. An outlaw kills for money. An outlaw is still human, and he still has feelings like greed for money. These feelings make him predictable, perhaps even impressionable. In short they make him human.
But what about Tom? Does he have any feelings?
It’s impossible to tell...
Why does he only shoot outlaws when he could get a lot more money by robbing a bank? He has no reason to spare banks, since he isn’t part of any community. Perhaps money is not the real issue in his case. But then what is?
A sense of justice? Justice for whom? He doesn’t even belong anywhere. So what is he killing the outlaws for?
For revenge? Revenge for what? How can he take revenge on people he doesn’t even know? It’s impossible!
Unless of course he is the vengeful angel of God Himself!
Tom, the quiet, mysterious gunman…
While all he wanted in reality was to be a normal guy, to be part of things in his hometown, to be greeted like an equal by his mates. NOT to be the poorest and most selfrighteous small-scale sheep-farmer despised by everybody and despising everybody in return!
Was that so damn hard? How had this made him into the vengeful angel of God? It was crazy!
If cruel Nacho was a lost soul, maybe Tom was even more lost than that! It’s paradoxical that evil is adorned with feelings while goodness is so detached from humanity that it is feelingless and cold!
It’s probably due to evil being tangible while goodness is just a bit of foam crowning the swell of evil. Tom had become the representative of this foam crown!
Tom rode through town, not quite sure what to do next.
In a few hours Nacho would attack the bank in Anthony. And then he would realize that Tom was a traitor because Anthony would still be fully manned since nobody would have attacked the bank in Earlham to draw away a posse from Anthony.
Unless, of course, Tom attacked the bank here in Earlham right now.
If Tom robbed the bank here, Anthony would be warned by telegraph. This gave Tom an idea. He would just find the telegraph office and send a telegram himself. No need to attack the bank for real! Anthony would send out its men to help, and they would only realize that they had been cheated upon their arrival here in Earlham! After that they would ride back to Anthony in a hurry, no doubt, but they still wouldn’t be back soon enough to stop Nacho and his men, and Nacho wouldn’t guess that no attack had taken place in Earlham at all. Tom would meet up with him and his gang again, and he would have a sad story ready about how Ned and Ted got killed in the attack.
Okay, this would mean facilitating the bank robbery for Nacho and his men in Anthony. On the other hand, a big massacre would also be avoided that way.
So Tom rode through town till he saw the shield saying “telegraph office”. He led Bess to the front of the house, got off, tied her up and entered the office like any ordinary customer. A smell of frying eggs wafted towards him.
The telegrapher was standing in front of the stove preparing fried eggs. As Tom came in he turned around.
He was a small man, well past the middle of his life. His sparse hair was graying. He was wearing the typical kind of sun-shade above his eyes which seems to be the badge of trustworthiness for state officials. The skin of his face was deeply furrowed and colourless. But there was still a sparkle of life in his clear eyes. His nose was small and dainty, with small holes into which no finger would fit, Tom felt sure about that. When the man spoke, Tom had the feeling the dainty nose must be a bit congested. The rosy lips were moist, and the little mouth sprayed small droplets of spittle around as he spoke.
“Good day, sir, can I do something for you?”
Tom didn’t answer at first. He looked around in the room.
In a corner in the back stood a wooden rocking-chair, next to it a small table with a cup of coffee. In the middle of the room the stove stood with the pan on the fire and the eggs in it. Next to it a few spoons were lying around, and a battered coffee-pot that wasn’t in use right now.
Tom had a vision: he saw himself stretched out in the rocking-chair, the coffee-pot on the fire, and straw-bales blowing past outside the window. Then it started to rain. Big, warm drops splattered on the empty, dusty street which soon turned into a torrent. Tom lolled about in the rocking-chair and was glad to have a roof above his head. He heard the raindrops drumming on it. The co ffee-pot started whistling…
The vision passed. Unfortunately reality was quite different. When it rained, Tom was mostly somewhere in the prairie, and there was nothing else to do but to cower under his coat and wait for it to pass.
Sometimes he burned under the merciless sun, sometimes he shivered in his wet clothes when the rain hadn’t stopped before nightfall…
It was seldom enough that Tom had the chance to rest in a room, and he never felt completely safe in a room, in a town, among people.
The small-scale official here in this office led a totally different life, even though he and Tom were both human and surely had the same basic needs. Tom sometimes yearned for this kind of quiet life. But didn’t it ever get too boring?
Surely not! This man experienced other things that were exciting in another way. One day he had probably fallen in love and had had to fight for the one his heart had chosen. By and by he had evoked the favours of his loved one. The tenderness of the first kiss, the excitement of the first night, the birth of the first child…
All these are quite ordinary things. But Tom’s brilliant shoot-outs, were they in any way less ordinary?
This evening the rosy little mouth would kiss a woman, and the sparkling eyes would appraise the little handicrafts of the enthusiastic grandchildren.
Tom, on the other hand, would be on his way somewhere with his horse, seeking out an outlaw worth ten thousand dollars.
Right here and now Tom stood above this small-scale state official. Tom was stronger. The reaso n for this was mainly that Tom had burst into a peaceful world that he could destroy. The threat wasn’t mutual, because Tom had no world of his own that anyone could come and destroy…
“Can I do something for you, sir?” the official asked once again.
Tom said: “Nacho and his gang have robbed the bank. You should warn all the other towns around here.”
“But sir, I didn’t hear any shots!”
“Wanna hear some?” asked Tom and held his revolver under the nose of the man and pulled back the hammer.
„Just do what I say,“ said Tom and pushed the man down on a stool.
The equipment stood on a desk in the other corner of the room. Tom pushed the stool towards it.
There was a big box with wires coming out. Two wires went to a little device on which you could press with your finger, making contact, letting through the electrical current, pushing electrical charge to another, similar office far away, making a buzzer sound there.
After a little more encouragement the official got down to work: he put his middle finger on the small device and tapped the message.
The finger on the device almost had a life of its own. The steady tapping impressed Tom. He wouldn’t have expected this dexterity from the little old man.
Tom didn’t know the Morse-alphabet, but the man couldn’t know that, so Tom trusted him to tap the right message. After a few moments he stopped tapping and looked up at Tom.
Tom pulled the stool away from the desk and tied the man to it. He also tied up his mouth with a kerchief. Then he went to the box on the desk and pulled out the wires. He had a last look around, took the pan with the eggs off the fire and put it on the table to cool. Then he walked out of the office like an ordinary customer.
Bess was waiting outside. Tom gave her a piece of bread and mounted. He rode out of town without haste.
He rode off in the direction of Anthony. He was aware of his crime – he had overpowered a state official on duty, and he had just facilitated a bank robbery for the worst outlaw of the country. But it was the only way to stay in touch with the gang.
Tom was on his way to Anthony. He was alone with Bess, just like on the day of his escape from home. It was evening like it had been then. The sky embellished itself with deep, passionate colours.
Two fat clouds were coloured a deep red by the sun, like two swollen lips. The sky behind was of the deepest blue. The two lone clouds drifted apart, and Tom had a feeling the lips were parting to receive him.
Tom breathed in deeply to prepare himself for the heavenly kiss.
Unfortunately Tom didn’t really feel relaxed tonight – he was on a mission. He was riding to Anthony to meet an outlaw, not to get lost beyond the horizon. He wasn’t free, and whoever isn’t free can’t expect to kiss the sky. This sudden realization made him melancholic.
How had it been on the day of his departure from home? Had he felt free then? Surely not. At that time he had been fleeing into the unknown.
Freedom means personal choices. You cannot make choices in the unknown, because you don’t know what there is to choose. You have to take things as they come. Today Tom was much freer than he had been then, because today he had money, lots of it. Enough to live for many years.
Even before getting to know Jim, and before meeting Nacho, he had had money. But he hadn’t had a mission yet.
He had been free, free to let his horse carry him into the setting sun for ever. But he had lacked this kind of passionate revival that he was yearning for today. Today it looked as though his mission was hindering him from keeping his appointment with the heavenly kiss. But yesterday he had lacked a signpost telling him where to go. Every evening Tom could see the last rays of sunlight on the horizon, and yet he still never caught up with the sun. Of course the sun came back every morning, but Tom wouldn’t live for ever, after all. One day the sun would rise without Tom being there to see Her anymore…, unless he had somehow managed to catch up with Her by then. Maybe one needs a mission to be happy. A mission that somehow entails catching up with the sun.
Any task you undertake restricts your freedom. But what we’re yearning for isn’t just freedom as such. We want our freedom so that we may be free to reach out for the sun before She sinks for ever. Once we have found a mission taking us closer to the sun, we don’t need freedom anymore – we just need the mission.
Tom had taken on a mission because he felt lost. Now he wondered if it was the right mission. If not, it would just be an obstacle to his true yearning. But if it was the right mission, then he wouldn’t need any freedom anymore, except for the freedom to accomplish that mission.
And yet, what Tom really wanted was such an ordinary thing – to be someone. This included eventually raising a family. One day the sun would shine on his grave and he wouldn’t see Her anymore, but lots of little Toms would go on seeing Her in his place. No morning would ever appear without some descendant of his seeing the sun – Tom would have dissolved in the heavenly kiss.
If that was the true goal, if that was what he needed his freedom for, if that was supposed to be his mission, then what on Earth was he chasing after an outlaw named Nacho for? Tom was still watching the sky as it was losing its reddishness. Even if Tom hadn’t had a mission today, supper still wouldn’t have waited for him. Tom felt melancholic. Even without his crazy mission he would still have felt melancholic. It was that kind of melancholic evening, that’s all there was to it.
At least, thanks to his mission, he wasn’t lost in the void – he had this self-appointed task to fulfill before he could even think of doing anything else. This fact was almost a consolation, because, as long as you can feel yourself moving forwards, there is hope. You cannot know what’s coming next. It’s only once you’ve come to a standstill that hope gets lost.
So Tom looked upon his mission as an intermediate goal, and within this framework he moved forwards with fresh hope.
It was still dusk when Tom saw a group of about twenty riders on the horizon. Of course, it was the reinforcement from Anthony. They were coming to Earlham because of the telegraphic message!
Tom hoped they wouldn’t search him, because he carried a lot of money. They could mistake him for one of the fleeing robbers!
Tom made Bess slow do wn. The riders approached at great speed.
As Bess saw the other horses come towards her at a gallop, she changed from trotting to walking and finally stopped.
The leader of the group of riders, a tall, gaunt man with a well-combed, silver-grey moustache, spurred his horse on till the last. It was a splendid white horse that had evidently been masterfully trained. Its every slightest move was dictated by its rider. Tom thought to himself that in actual fact this wasn’t true obedience. The horse was being steered through its reflexes, like a machine. This wasn’t a horse to be trusted with making decisions. Not like Bess.
True obedience also entails some insight. One has to understand what the master wants, and then one tries to reach this goal in the best possible way.
But this horse had no insight – it just obeyed its rider because he didn’t leave it any time to have ideas of its own. Besides, it probably didn’t even matter to this horse who the rider was, and if it ever lost him, it definitely wouldn’t go looking for him. Without its rider this horse was just a horse, well-trained though it may be.
Bess was different. Tom could ride Bess even if he were blind, deaf and paralyzed, because Bess would take care of him. Bess was more than just a horse – she was a friend. In any case that’s definitely what Tom liked to think.
The rider of the white horse spurred the horse on for one more stride and then pulled it to a sudden stop right in front of Tom.
The gaunt man asked Tom: “Did you see or hear anything?”
“Like what?” asked Tom harmlessly.
“The bank in Earlham was robbed.”
“I must have left town before that. I didn’t know…” said Tom.
“Will you join us?” asked the man.
“No, I have an appointment in Anthony.”
The gaunt man looked at Tom contemptfully with colourless eyes, spurred his horse and disappeared at a full gallop, just as he had come. His twenty followers started off behind him once again, though not as elegantly as he just had.
Tom turned his head and looked after them for a moment. They obviously hadn’t seen through him. They were looking for Nacho and his gang, and Tom seemed too insignificant for wasting time on.
The leader hadn’t even had time to halt progressively. He had stopped his horse in the midst of a canter and blasted off again at a full gallop without a single step of walk or trot. It had been masterfully done. A well-trained horse indeed!
Well, Tom hadn’t joined the posse, and he was glad to have nothing to do with such people as those!
He said: “Okay Bess, let’s go on.” Bess obediently set herself in motion. When Tom arrived in Anthony, it was night and the half- moon hung in the sky with a silvery glow. Tom got off Bess and walked next to her. He led her to the hotel that they had left early in the morning.
When he had brushed and fed Bess, he quickly went up to Jim’s room and knocked. “Who’s there?”
“Are you alone?”
Up till now Jim’s voice had been dry, but when Tom had opened the door, Jim asked excitedly: “How was it? What did you do?”
“The gang took me on. The robbery takes place tonight.”
“Then what are you doing here? I thought you would attack the gang from the inside. But now you’re obviously not with them.”
“I was sent to Earlham to attack the bank there as a diversion.”
“YOU attacked the bank in Earlham?”
“I just sent a false telegram.”
“But what are we to do now? The two of us alone cannot confront Nacho’s whole gang!” “Why couldn’t we? We shoot from up here with the long guns. There are fourteen of them. If we are cold -blooded enough, each of us can shoot down seven of them before they can save themselves.”
“How could we possibly do that?”
“They will stand on the moonlit street while we lurk up here in our dark rooms.” Jim was only half convinced, but he was ready to try.
Tom went into his own room to get ready. He shoved the bed to the window and with pillows and covers he built some kind of embankment reaching till the window-sill. He lied down and boxed the embankment into shape till it felt comfortable enough. Then he shouldered the long gun and looked out of the open window down into the street. The position was strategically just right for a sniper, and Tom felt proud of himself. He stood up once more and went into the room next door to give some advice to Jim about setting himself up in a similar way.
When he came back he lied down with his gun, intending not to move until he saw Nacho’s men.
Time seemed long. The big bank lied still on the other side of the street. The masonry shimmered whitely in the cold moon- light.
The watchful guards appeared at the corner, walked along the building till the other corner and disappeared again. Probably for the fortieth time, which means Tom had been waiting for more than twenty minutes already.
If Nacho didn’t hurry, the posse that went to Earlham would be back! Every few seconds Tom peered along the empty street into the distance and then quickly fastened his eyes onto the bank again, which was just lying there like a ship on a windless sea. But now Tom had seen something at the other end of the street.
He strained his eyes – there were four riders. The horses came along with measured steps. Broad figures were squatting on the horses, wearing their hats even at night. They had already come a good deal closer when Tom could be sure at last that they were really four of Nacho’s men. Tom had seen them in the old church. One of them in particular Tom remembered well because he was a stout hunchback and his silhouette was unmistakable. The four men parked their horses in front of the hotel, right under Tom’s window. They sneaked towards the bank on foot.
The bank stood somewhat apart from the other buildings – an empty, moonlit expanse separated the last wooden house from the bank made of stones and bricks and mortar. The guards were just disappearing behind the far-off corner when two of Nacho’s men ran over to the closer corner where the guards would reappear in about twenty seconds. And so the four men waited, two of them at the corner where the guards would reappear and the other two in the shadow of the last house of the row of houses across the street from Tom.
Tom watched, feeling tense. In front of his eyes a series of events was unfolding in which he wasn’t involved (yet). If Tom decided to be content with just watching without intervening, he would witness the whole thing, and nobody would ever know. Nobody would ever hold it against him that he hadn’t intervened (but what about Jim? – he had completely forgotten about him!).
Watching from this first-class seat, Tom might even get a chance to analyze and grasp Nacho’s genius! Tom felt strangely detached from what was going to happen down there. The scene of the bank-robbery fascinated him, but he felt just fine as a spectator, comfortably embedded in his cozy hotel room. He had quite forgotten that he was breathing the same air as the four bad men down there.
But then Tom was suddenly torn out of his meditative mood and drawn right into the harshness of the adventure in front of his window as a shot rang out all close to him. And he saw one of the men at the corner of the bank twitch with his whole body and then fall from the darkness into the moonlit street.
The other man from the corner of the bank stepped forward, raised his revolver out of his holster with lightening speed and fired a few shots in Tom’s general direction, or rather in the direction from which the rifle shot had come from. The man must have seen the flash from Jim’s rifle and was aiming at it (because it had of course been Jim who had fired the first shot). Since Jim didn’t shoot back, Tom had to assume he had been hit. Tom shouldered his gun and aimed at Jim’s murderer who was standing at the corner of the bank. But he didn’t shoot straight away. He didn’t want to give himself away to the other men who were still lurking in the shadow of the last house from the row of wooden houses. He didn’t want to make the same deadly mistake as Jim. He knew that the flash from his rifle would be enough for Nacho’s men to target and hit him.
Since nothing more was happening the men assumed that the danger from the hotel had been successfully dealt with. They had to concentrate on something else anyway, because the guards came running around the corner – they had heard the shots too! The two men who had been waiting in the shadow of the house jumped out into the moonlight while Tom pulled the trigger. As his first victim was staggering at the corner of the bank he turned his gun towards the two men who had just jumped out of the shadows – and who were turning towards him now - and shot once more and yet once more.
All three men fell dead.
Only the guards who had come around the corner of the bank were still standing, and since they hadn’t understood what had happened, they shot in the direction of the hotel where Tom’s shots had come from. But Tom had nothing to fear from them – their bullets went wide off the mark.
Tom was already wondering whether this was the end of the story when a mighty explosion taught him otherwise. For a split second the sky behind the bank lit up as in broad daylight.
The guards stood there like dummies that had taken root.
Tom felt as if he was glued to his bed, his eyes staring wide.
Several men seemed to be busying themselves at the back of the bank – one could hear them call out to each other. Then there was the sound of horses galloping away and then silence. The bank robbery had succeeded!
Tom was dismayed! It had never occurred to him that the bank could be robbed from BEHIND! Four of Nacho’s men were dead, but the ten others had undoubtedly disappeared with the safe!
Tom pushed his bed back into its usual place and got ready for a nap before morning. The next day he would meet Nacho’s gang as had been agreed. Till then he wanted to sleep a bit.
Only now did he think of Jim. He went over to Jim’s room.
Jim was lying on his bed facing the window with the gun in front of him. Tom came closer. Jim wasn’t moving. Tom bent down over him to see his face. Jim’s eyes were staring at the corner of the bank where his victim had stood. Jim had been petrified in the midst of action.
Tom saw the dark hole on his forehead.
Tom remembered that one normally shuts the eyes of a deceased person and smoothes the lines in his face. Then he has to be laid out as though he were peacefully sleeping. But Tom didn’t feel like performing this ultimate duty on his friend’s body. Not yet anyway. As Jim was lying there right now he just seemed frozen solid, not dead. Tom would be able to accept Jim’s death and come to terms with it once he had killed Nacho and his whole gang.
For the time being he didn’t even feel the slightest premonition of sorrow yet. On the contrary, he almost felt relieved. Jim had been a good comrade, but Tom had to finish the job on his own. He needed to do this alone, alone with Bess.
Tom went back to his room, lied down in bed and even managed to sleep.
When Tom woke up the next morning, the sun was already shining with all its might through the yellowish curtains in front of the window from which Tom had lived through a whole adventure last night.
Tom stood up slowly, sat on the edge of the bed for a while to give his blood time to rise up to his head, then stood up for good and went over to the window.
He pulled the curtains to the side and looked down into the street. Here and there a rider was trotting by, a group of cowboys was strolling to the saloon and a hay wagon was leisurely being drawn along the street – it all seemed unhurried and normal. The bank was standing there on the other side of the street as always. What Tom had been part of at night belonged to another world that didn’t fit into the usual way of life of this one. And yet it had all happened right here, and surely there were traces of the alien staging production to be found all over the place – the four dead bodies were surely lying on some boards on top of trestles in the shop of the undertaker somewhere, and the bank must have a great big hole at the back, and of course the money was gone! But nobody seemed to care. None of this seemed to bother the inhabitants of Anthony all that much. They were events from another world, and although they were strangely bound to this one, they still didn’t touch any of the inhabitants personally. Perhaps they didn’t keep their money in the bank anyway, or only the very rich ones did. So they weren’t concerned.
Tom moved away from the window and got dressed. He slipped into his richly decorated boots and buckled his belt with the holster hanging from it. Then he felt ready for the new day.
He left his room and briskly walked to the stairs, but as he passed Jim’s door he slowed down, sighed imperceptibly and sped up again. He ate a quick breakfast in the dinning room, paid for his room for the next few days in advance and went on to the stable. He gave the stable-boy a big tip so that he would take good care of the gelding and of Jim’s mule. Then he saddled Bess, led her out of the stable and mounted her. As always when he got ready to be on his way, he felt a tingle of excitement in his belly. A bit of fear was there too, of course. Bess set herself in motion, and Tom left the town in which he had lost his friend Jim.
After an hour- long ride through the heat, he reached the old lonesome church. As soon as he was within reach he pulled his gun and shot at the big bell. The aggressive bark of his revolver made a strange contrast to the sad clang of the old bell which reminded Tom of good old times in his home-town.
The big door at the front of the church opened up, and The Boy appeared in the entrance. Tom dismounted and led Bess into the church. As his eyes got used to the dimness, he tied Bess to the trough and loosened her saddle-belt. The Boy stood next to him, waiting. When he had finished with Bess, Tom followed The Boy who led him through the church to Nacho.
Nacho was sitting in a corner, his legs spread out in front of him, smoking a cigar. He held the cigar between his ring finger and his pinkie, and when he brought it to his lips his hand almost covered his whole face.
The rest of the gang was nearby, crouching or sitting around their boss.
“Well,” said Nacho, “where are the other two?”
Nacho took a long draw on his cigar, and when he finally pulled it away from his mouth his fingers caressed his face as though they were reluctant to leave it.
“Dead?” he repeated without showing much surprise, and the smoke poured out of his mouth.
Then his eyes lifted to stare straight at Tom. A warning glowered in them. It was the kind of look you wouldn’t ever forget.
“Nobody followed you?” he asked.
“No,” answered Tom with conviction.
“Okay, then let’s go,” said Nacho and stood up. All the others immediately followed suit. A hay wagon was waiting outside behind the church. Two big horses were harnessed to it. A big safe was lying on it, looking incongruous there, a big box of iron. Two of Nacho’s men jumped into the seat and set the vehicle in motion. To m and the other eight men escorted the wagon on horseback.
The wagon left deep tracks behind. The tracks led all the way from Anthony to the ruined church. The twenty men of the posse that had ridden to Earlham were now back in Anthony looking at the hole in the bank. They saw the wooden ramp that Nacho’s men had left behind. The ramp led from the hole in the wall over the platform to where the deep tracks began in the sand. The safe had been dragged over the ramp right onto the hay wagon.
They got fresh ho rses, and now all they needed to do was follow the tracks. They had to lead to Nacho and his gang and the stolen safe sooner or later.
Nacho’s gang had no idea that they were already being followed. They were leisurely riding towards a small Mexican village where they intended to hole up for a while till the bank-robbery would be less fresh on everybody’s mind. They weren’t very fast with the hay wagon and its heavy load. But they didn’t expect the posse to be back from Earlham yet, and they counted on the wind to eventually wipe out the tracks.
Nacho had personally destroyed the telegraph wires before he and his gang had arrived in Anthony, so that nobody could warn Earlham about what was happening in Anthony. He couldn’t guess that the posse would find out that there had been foul-play as soon as they arrived in Earlham where the bank had never even been robbed at all!
It all started with the two last members of the troop somehow feeling they weren’t the last. When they looked back, they really seemed to see a cloud of dust in the distance. They told the men in front of them, and soon the rumour reached Nacho’s ears: we’re being followed!
First Nacho got angry with his men for spreading such a rumour. It occurred to Tom that he might be a bit superstitious, believing that such rumours attract bad luck – just a moment ago they had all been riding along happily and Nacho had been delighting himself with the thought of having robbed the bank in Anthony, while now they were all agitated and nervous, just because two idiots believed they had seen a damn dust cloud. But the dust-cloud became more and more distinct, and Nacho’s anger gradually directed itself against Tom.
Tom had claimed that nobody had followed him. But the pursuers must have picked up his trail in Earlham, since there wasn’t anybody left in Anthony who could compete with his gang, Nacho was sure of that.
But now wasn’t the time to work on Tom – even if he was guilty all by himself, it was still a fact that they were ALL being followed now. Nacho urged them on, but even so, the pursuers kept coming closer. Unlike Nacho’s gang they weren’t slowed down by a heavy cart – they only had their guns with them!
The way they were going became rougher and rougher. It was no problem for the horses, but it was getting harder and harder to pull along the wagon.
Now the way winded through a group of rock-formations. This was an ideal place for an ambush. The driver of the cart wanted to park it behind a big outcropping of rocks, but Nacho suddenly stopped him: “Leave the wagon with its load out in the open!” The man obeyed, not quite managing to hide his surprise. Nacho made him pull the wagon back part of the way and started piling up the remaining dynamite under it. He explained his idea: “Our pursuers will think we abandoned the loot. As soon as they assemble around it to check if the safe is still whole, I’ll shoot on the dynamite. The explosion will kill some of them, and we’ll shoot down the others from behind these rocks in the general mayhem that will follow the explosion.”
Some dummy asked if the safe couldn’t be damaged by the explosion. Nacho didn’t take the time to make a show of child-like expressions disguising his sadism but just answered frankly for once: “The worst that can happen to the safe is that it will open up.” So Nacho and his men left behind their loot as bait and hid behind the rock-formations. They saw how the silhouettes of riders gradually materialized out of the dust-cloud. After a while that was rather shorter than expected the pursuers were standing there in front of them as living beings of flesh and blood. But they were distrustful of the bait. They just sat on their horses, at a safe distance, and waited to see if something would happen. The minutes that passed now seemed very slow.
The boss of the pursuers, the man with the moustaches whom Tom had already met, finally reached a decision: he sent one of his men forward to the abandoned cart. The man who had been sent was forced to go if he didn’t want to be accused of cowardice. But he wondered, quite legitimately, if it could really be called cowardice to avoid a hidden enemy. If the enemy was hidden nearby, the man would just be shot without having had a chance to defend himself. And if the enemy wasn’t around, nothing at all would happen, and his deed wouldn’t even be considered heroic. It was a game in which you could lose (your life), but you couldn’t win…
The man wasn’t thinking of death too much. He was still very young. He just thought of the injustice of having been chosen for this invidious mission for no other reason than because he was the most inexperienced member of the posse.
The young man spurred his horse. It wouldn’t go. It advanced a few hesitant steps and stood still again. The man dug his heels into the horse’s belly. The horse unwillingly advanced some more. The man spurred it ruthlessly. He hid his own indecision behind the ruthlessness towards his horse. The poor animal could feel the indecision and fear of its rider very well, and that’s why it was so unwilling. It also felt the spurs – two contradicting messages. It wondered once again, as it often did, about the inconsistency of human beings.
After several laborious seconds the rider and his horse arrived at the abandoned cart at last. The man got off his horse and clambered onto the wagon. There was no movement anywhere, but the man hardly dared to breathe.
He checked out the safe which seemed completely intact. He could hardly believe it – in this safe, directly beneath his hands, almost a million dollars were waiting! The team of horses harnessed to the wagon were unsuspectingly chasing away flies with their tails. The man climbed into the seat and took the reins. Now all he needed to do was to steer the wagon away from these sinister rock- formations, and his task would be completed and he would be safe!
He lifted the reins and called out: “Yaaah!”
And that’s when Nacho pulled the trigger. The bullet went into the midst of the pile of dynamite concealed under the wagon. The brunt of the explosion lifted the wagon up into the air. The horses bolted off, dragging the man by the reins. The remains of the wagon flew around like angry wasps and the safe fell back down with a dull thud, quite intact, into the sand.
The two horses of the team were still galloping away, dragging the young man behind them. The other horse with which the man had come was lying dead on the ground. Before the dust had time to settle, the shooting from the rock- formations started. The pursuers were escaping to all sides, but Nacho’s men shot them off their horses. It was easy – their horses had all gone wild and so they couldn’t shoot back. They fell like rotten apples.
The man with the grey moustaches had managed to calm his horse, dismounted and stood behind it. He tried to assemble his men around him. With some difficulty he finally managed to get ten men to position themselves behind their horses in front of the evil rock-formations.
Nacho’s men now unscrupulously started shooting down the horses. Apart from one horse that bolted off and exposed the man behind it who promptly got shot, this wasn’t so easy at all, because the horses could bear several shots before sinking to the ground, and the men standing behind them were smart enough to make them turn their heads away from the rock- formations where the shots came from.
Furthermore the pursuers were now shooting back. One of Nacho’s men lost his index and screamed his head off.
Several of the pursuers were now lying behind their dead horses, but they were tenaciously defending their positions. The battle wasn’t evolving much anymore, and Nacho was afraid that one of the pursuers would escape to get reinforcements while the others would stay put and stop Nacho’s gang from moving on.
Nacho didn’t like this whole situation. He would much rather have finished off all the pursuers with the explosion rather than having to shoot them one by one. Why oh why were people so suspicious nowadays that they wouldn’t even approach an obviously abandoned cart?
Nacho worked his way over to Tom who had hardly fired any bullets yet. “Get yourself a horse and ride out towards the enemy!”
“What??” Tom called out startled, but Nacho didn’t repeat his order. Three men came and lifted him up on a horse, and the horse was driven out from among the rockformations. He heard a heartening voice calling out behind him: “Go! We’re covering you!”
The horse galloped towards the pursuers in suicidal fear. Tom felt uncomfortable on this alien horse – the stirrups were far too long for him and he was losing the reins which weren’t tied together in the middle. He was badly shaken. He held on to the neck of the horse. The poor horse must have felt that a bob-cat was clinging to its neck. The desperate mood of the horse had gotten totally out of control and Tom lost all power over his mount.
He felt he was slipping out of the saddle.
He didn’t hear the shots anymore. He only heard the thrumming of the hooves. He saw the ground swishing past under him, and he saw the hooves flying over sand and stones. Now he saw an angular structure in the corner of his eye. It was coming closer– of course, it was the safe lying in the middle of the battle-field!
He felt how the body of the horse slipped away from him for good and he fell to the ground heavily. He rolled over on the ground once or twice and came to rest against some kind of wall with a thud. When he opened his eyes he saw that he was lying behind the big safe. He quickly pulled in his legs so that they would be protected too. Now he lifted up his head and risked a quick peak over the edge of the safe. His halfcrazy horse had been caught by the pursuers. Tom saw the unprotected legs of the men standing behind it. Some other horses were still on their feet too, and the legs of the men standing behind them were just as unprotected. Tom’s current position was actually very good for a sniper – since he was close to the ground while Nacho’s men were higher up among the rocks, as well as being much further away, he really represented an additional threat to the pursuers!
Whenever the shooting from Nacho’s side got the most intensive, Tom quickly lifted his head and his revolver over the edge of the safe and fired a few shots at the legs of the pursuers whose position was now getting untenable.
Tom didn’t get properly aware of what he was actually doing here – helping the gang! All he was thinking of was how to get rid of those pursuers.
All of a sudden the following happened: the man with the grey moustaches called out “Chaaaarge!” and jumped on his horse. The others – those who were still able to followed his example. In a narrow formation they came galloping, heading towards the path through the rock- formations. First it seemed they were going to overrun the safe and Tom. The first horse made a small sideways jump to avoid it. Tom quickly stood up and shot the rider. All he saw of him was a gaping mouth and two staring eyes. The next two horses galloped past the safe on either side. Tom shot down the two riders, twisted his body like a snake and jumped up at the horses, catching a saddle-knob with each hand. He was now half hanging, half stuck between the bodies of the two galloping horses. Other horses were galloping all around them, but their riders were too busy shooting at the rock-formations to have time to aim at Tom (who didn’t represent an immediate threat at this very moment anyway).
Stuck between the two horses, Tom was carried through the narrow passage between the rock-formations. Bullets were whizzing past, but he was well protected between the bodies of the two horses.
A few seconds later he was on the other side of the rock- formations. The shooting had quieted down. Exhausted, his cramped hands finally let go of the saddle-knobs. He fell on the coarse, sandy ground and the two horses galloped past him.
There was sand in his mouth and his face was covered with sores and wounds. He felt so sick that he was going to vomit. But Nacho’s men were already running towards him. “Bravo!” they cried out. „That was great!“
They lifted him onto his feet and held him up. They brought him to a horse and helped him mount. It wasn’t Bess, but he was too weak to ask for Bess. For a while he fell into a kind of dreamy senselessness.
When he got back to his senses somewhat, he saw that all of Nacho’s men were sitting on horses. Not a single one had died. The pursuers, however, were lying all over the place, and their horses were scattered in the landscape.
Nacho’s men had rounded up the two big heavy horses that had pulled the wagon with the safe. They stood side by side and the safe was now secured across their backs. The arrangement didn’t look very stable, but it was the best that could be done under the circumstances.
The troop got on its way. Nacho in person was leading the big horses carrying the safe. Tom saw that Bess was being ridden by a small man with a black beard and dark, shifting, dishonest eyes. Bess was chewing on her mouth-peace. The man pulled on the reins with a jerk and simultaneously pushed his heels into her belly. Bess stopped chewing, lifted her head fearfully and sprang forwards. She contorted her eyes so that Tom could see the whites in them. She was nervous and fearful, but she didn’t throw off her rider – she was under his control.
Tom was upset that his faithful Bess would just let herself be submitted so easily. But he himself was sitting on a stranger too. A stranger whose unprejudiced indifference towards its rider seemed almost friendly. This horse wasn’t in the least bad-willed towards him, and all he needed to do was to let himself be carried along… There was no need for Tom to be irritated by Bess’ lack of faithfulness – after all, he was just as unfaithful, sitting on someone else’s horse.
In the evening Nacho and his gang arrived in the small Mexican village. On the way there Tom had admired the multicoloured, well- tended fields. This was the land of simple farmers. Stocky, brown people in white clothes and large-rimmed sun-hats. Nacho led his men through the middle of the village. He seemed to know where he was going. Squat, white buildings of stone with small holes as windows. All the shutters were being closed loudly as they passed. The street was empty. The only movement to be seen anywhere were the thin plumes of smoke rising from some of the flat roofs. Under these white cubes that were lying around everywhere, forming a village, there was obviously some kind of humble life going on.
A cat on heat, meowing in that typical plaintive and demanding way, suddenly ran across the street in front of the horses – it was the first creature here in this village which obviously didn’t mind being seen by Nacho and his men. The poor animal was plagued by it sexual instinct – else it wouldn’t have let itself be seen either.
Nacho led his men to a “taberna”. At first Tom didn’t realize that it was some kind of restaurant, because it wa s a square white house like all the others. But all the men dismounted from their horses and walked through the open door, and so Tom followed them.
Inside there was a long table with many chairs and a kind of bar. The men went to the bar first for a drink , then they sat at the table to eat. The host, a small fat man with scared eyes, didn’t speak. He just served the food. When the men had eaten enough, they left the “taberna” in a rather boisterous mood.
Some of them had got rather drunk and were hiccupping loudly. They had lost the sinister dignity they otherwise had, and Tom lost the last of his doubts that he could finish them off, every single one of them.
Except maybe for Nacho. He had drunk a bit too much too, but the effect was different on him. His eyes protruded, the pupils dilated, and his mouth opened a slit. His tongue stuck out a bit in a not very conscious way and lecherously moistened his lips. Tom felt he saw some unfathomable depth of horror in those eyes. The state of intoxication showed more of this man than was visible otherwise, and it was just more of the same, more horror, more danger…
Alcohol reveals hidden feelings. In Nacho’s men it was just coarse humour tainted with undifferentiated sexual lust that rose to the surface. But in Nacho himself it was a new kind of threat that started dangerously glistening in his swollen eyes behind half- shut lids. As always, Nacho demanded absolute obedience. He sat on his horse, which meant for everybody that they had to mount too. Tom tried to get to Bess, but the other man who had been riding her was there first. Tom quickly had to mount the horse he had been riding earlier, because Nacho wouldn’t tolerate any delays.
Nacho’s gang left the village now and went off to squat in a farm- house nearby. As the men brought their horses into the stables, Nacho knocked at the door of the main part of the building.
The door opened and a scared farmer with a long gun in his arms appeared in the entrance. Nacho brushed the gun aside and entered the house. His men who had finished providing for their horses flowed into the house after him. They made themselves comfortable in the living area and totally ignored the farmer and his wife – the two of them had no chance against ten revolver-toting, tough men, and they knew it. The Boy and a few others brought the safe into the room. The rest of the evening Nacho and his men spent working out how to break it open. They were all crowded around it, and as some of them were hammering and heaving, others were giving good advice. Tom was happy just to watch.
After several hours they gave up even though the safe didn’t appear to have suffered much damage yet. In the end they would still need to dynamite it. The problem was that the explosion might destroy a good part of the bank- notes too.
A fire was kindled in the fire-place and the men threw on wood generously. Tom thought of the farmer who had felled the trees, cut up all that wood and carried it home. The men laid down to sleep. Tom settled in a corner too. Under himself he felt his saddle with the side-bag full of dollars. His own saddle from Bess’ back. He had gotten it back. He felt wonderfully at ease. He was snuggling up into his own intimacy. He experienced himself, his own bodily smell and touching the skin of his forearm with his lips in an almost passionate way. He wondered why that was so.
Is one happier in danger than in familiar surroundings? Why is it that you get alienated from yourself in the all too familiar surroundings? Why do you need danger to feel and enjoy your own existence once again?
Tom just had to start philosophizing a bit.
Familiar surroundings also mean static surroundings, because things can only be familiar if we already know them, which means they were there before, hence static. When the static surroundings provide all we need, then we are happy. But when they don’t, while at the same time keeping us imprisoned, then we end up losing our will to live. Since static surroundings by definition don’t change, we have no hope of ever becoming happy.
But it’s different when you live in uncertainty. Even if nothing especially positive has happened yet, you still always have hope, since uncertainty precisely means that nothing is certain which also means that everything is possible.
Uncertainty is very dynamic. You experience yourself with a whole new feeling. A feeling almost like being in love, because it’s so full of youthful hope!
Maybe Tom would die, but maybe he would appear triumphantly in Anthony with Nacho’s corpse and the undamaged safe! In this adventure everything was possible. With the reward- money Tom would buy himself a nice ranch, then find a wife and start raising a family. And he would provide for his children. He would give them all those things his own parents had failed to give him. He would have a peaceful life, but this time peace wouldn’t mean despair, because it would be a happy peace!
The danger- zone in which Tom was now was a bridge to a new life, and that’s why he paradoxically felt so hopeful in it.
Tom forgot his sweet feeling of self- love for a second, because he saw something truly astonishing.
Nacho was slumbering in front of the fire with half-closed eye-lids. In the lower corner of his mouth a cigarette was still dangling, but it had long gone out. The Boy, that huge, bell-shaped giant, in whose beer-mug Tom had once spat, went over to Nacho, bent down over him and looked at him. Something like a smile went over his hard, scarred face. The Boy pulled the cigarette out from between Nacho’s limp lips and covered him with a coat.
Like a mother!
Even a morose being like The Boy was obviously capable of some kind of solicitousness when he wasn’t aware of being watched. Or was it actually some kind of …love? Unbelievable!
Maybe Tom should study the social life of these outlaws rather than just shooting them all down and selling their hides…
The Boy lied down too and yawned. Tom turned over on his other side and fell asleep. He slept peacefully for several hours until he suddenly felt some pressure on his chest. He fought against that pressure, tried to push it away so that he could sleep some more. He felt leather in the shape of a boot. Somebody was stepping on him!
Tom’s heart-rate accelerated and he woke up. But for a while he pretended still to be half asleep. With the left hand he stroked the boot that was crushing his chest, while the right hand went down to his hip. For an anxious split-second he feared his revolver wouldn’t be there, but it was. It felt good to touch its wooden grip.
Now the revolver was in his hand and pointing straight up. Above himself he saw the leg sticking out from the boot, and above the leg the wide coat was hanging down, and yet much higher up, sticking out of the collar of the coat was The Boy’s head whose face looked as worn and expressionless as the face of a water- logged corpse.
Tom’s gun was aiming straight at that leaden face, but The Boy ignored it completely. He just whispered: “Nacho wants to talk to you. He’s waiting for you in the court-yard.” The whispering tone somehow made The Boy seem trustworthy. Tom lowered his revolver, then he slowly stood up. He put the revolver back in the holster and walked to the door to the court-yard. He opened the old, creaky door and stepped out into the night. The sky was already lightening with the first hints of dawn, but the moon was still gleaming brightly, hanging there like a big, silent, silver gong.
Tom noticed some movement in the dark shadows of a low wall. His eyes turned towards it and he saw the barrel of a revolver waving at him!
Nacho was sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall. In his left hand he held a cigar, in his right the gun. The barrel was pointing at Tom’s belly.
Now Tom felt more than saw some movement behind himself – The Boy’s hand came round and pulled Tom’s gun out of the holster.
Practically simultaneously The Boy shoved Tom further into the court- yard and closed the door behind himself. He threw Tom’s revolver behind the wall against which Nacho was leaning. Tom stood before Nacho unarmed, and The Boy was standing next to him as a guard.
Tom felt damn stupid – this was the second time he faced these two men unarmed! Why did he let this happen again? Why hadn’t he just shot them long ago? He knew he could do it, didn’t he? And instead of that he kept standing in front of them without his gun! Why? It was like a bad dream!
Nacho brought his left hand up to his face, sucked air through the cigar, so that it sounded like a kiss, while caressing his nose and chin with his fingers. It was as if he was making love to his hand and to the cigar stuck between his fingers.
After a while his left hand drifted away from his face again, exposing the half-open mouth. Nacho’s eyes longingly followed its movement as it floated away, as if it wasn’t really part of his own body.
But then Nacho’s e yes turned to Tom. They stared at him penetratingly and darkly. “Do you have anything to tell me?” he asked, but the tone of the voice showed it was no real question.
Tom answered back, trying to keep his voice under control: “I have nothing to tell you.” Nacho’s eyes slipped away from Tom’s fearfully expectant stare. They focused inwards. Dreamily Nacho waited for his left hand that was coming back towards his face with the cigar. He pressed his face into the hand, suckled on the cigar and snuggled against the fingers.
“That’s what I feared,” he whispered as if to himself. He nodded towards The Boy and looked up at Tom with deep pity in his eyes.
Tom got a mighty punch in his belly. As he bent over in pain, the callous edge of The Boy’s huge hand came smashing into the nape of his neck. Tom felt his whole personality inside himself come crashing down and crumbling to dust.
He was lifted up by the collar, and Nacho asked once again, with a somewhat sweeter voice: “Don’t you have anything to tell me?”
Tom didn’t answer and was hit once again.
Then the question came again in the same tone of voice.
Tom just said: “No.”
He was hit again and again, but he only said no, no, no, no, without even being asked. He didn’t feel the blows anymore, and he didn’t hear Nacho’s voice either.
Finally he was left lying on his back on the ground.
“He is obdurate,” said Nacho, “we must try something else.”
Now The Boy kneeled down beside Tom. Tom saw the leaden face with the evil eyes right in front of him.
“You still don’t have anything to tell us?” The Boy himself asked this time. The voice was deep, grainy and without melody.
Tom heard the voice and saw the dirty strands of hair in The Boy’s face. But he didn’t answer.
The Boy’s hands came over Tom’s face. Slowly The Boy pressed his thumbs onto Tom’s eye- lids.
Tom saw blinding flames in front of himself and he had to scream. The pressure eased, and the flames transformed themselves into flickering, dark-red spots.
“I’ll tell you everything… everything…” whimpered Tom. And then he started telling a messy story that he himself didn’t remember later on. Anyway, what was there really to tell? That he had shot Ned and Ted? But that wasn’t even true, he had only shot Ted. Then why was Ned killed? Who killed him? Ted. And why did Ted kill him? And then why did Tom kill Ted? Because Ted had killed Ned? Tom had wanted to protect Ned, maybe? It all didn’t make sense. What about the posse? Did Tom warn the authorities in Anthony? No, of course not. But where did the pursuers suddenly come from? From Earlham where no robbery had ever taken place. But if no robbery had even taken place there, why had they gone to Earlham to start with? The whole thing made strictly no sense, but Tom was talking freely.
Nacho kept interrupting Tom, urged him with questions and slapped him. Tom felt the ash from Nacho’s cigar under his nose. He was being held down by The Boy while Nacho was working on him. Nacho’s voice was not falsely mild or sweet anymore, and his affected child-like ways had turned to eager sadism.
At some point Tom’s eyes cleared, and he saw the wide-open eyes and quivering lips of a totally out-of-control Nacho right above himself.
Next to Nacho’s face there was The Boy’s head, coarsely carved out of rock, unmoved as always.
Tom was just babbling non-sense that he didn’t even understand himself, and he hardly felt how he was being slapped. He knew that Nacho would give up soon. Tom would be shot, probably with more than one bullet, but it would all be over with the first. Indeed, Nacho gave up. He stood up and made Tom, who was still babbling, shut up with a kick in the temple.
Tom lost consciousness.
Eventually he saw many stars above himself. They were blinking at him in a friendly way from a moist sky. He felt the dew-wet grass on his swollen cheeks. The grass-blades were ticklish but their touch was pleasant. Tom felt that all his surroundings were distinctly kind and friendly. He was undoubtedly inclined to find everything quite friendly that happened not to be punching him…
It took a while till Tom became aware of his returned awareness and started wondering where he was and why. The beating he had taken came back to him straight away – Nacho’s face floated in front of his inner eye and darkened the peacefully star-lit sky. Tom tried to chase away the evil image and to clear his thoughts. He tensed some of his muscles to discover the position his body was lying in. He managed to turn onto his tummy. The weight of his body shifted from his right arm, on which it had been lying, onto his tummy. The blood circulation in the arm started up again, and Tom felt an excruciating pain, as if of a thousand prickling ants. Tom wanted to stretch his arms and move them, but he couldn’t, because they were tied together across his back. Tom wanted to stand up , but without the help of his arms his weakened body wouldn’t do it. Exhausted he fell asleep again in the new position he was in. He had confused dreams and woke up again a few hours later with a strange humming in his head. This time he managed to get to his knees. The humming in his head became stronger, and he felt sick. He vomited, and a sparse, nauseous liquid foamed at the edges of his mouth. The stomach-acid hurt on his sore lips. Tom licked his lips clean and spat out the awful juice. Now he really felt a bit better. He deeply breathed in the night-air and tried to stand up once again, still without managing. At least he could think clearly again. Why had Nacho left Tom alive? There was just one sensible answer – there was still a role for him to play. The role of a dummy, undoubtedly. Perhaps the idea was that Tom should dehydrate and starve, and then his body would be left outside of Anthony, its pockets stuffed full of money. After finding his body, the sheriff would undoubtedly start looking for the rest of the gang nearby…
A hint of a smile came over Tom’s face, a grim smile, but his skin hurt too much for the smile to take shape completely. Nacho had thought it out real nicely, but he had been mistaken about Tom. Tom was going to escape. He would wear out the rope against the edge of some rock somewhere and then he would get back his revolver. And then Nacho would be sorry for having let him live!
Tom couldn’t stand up yet, but he was sure it was only a matter of time.
It still seemed odd to him that his escape would be made so easy. But now he saw, in the dim light of dawn, that he was locked up in a pasture surrounded by a fence of thick barbed wire. A man with both hands free would have had a hard time climbing over it. Tom had a sickly feeling when he imagined getting stuck in those barbs! The sky became lighter by the minute. In the distance Tom saw a few horses waking up and plucking some grass in the pasture. They were Nacho’s horses, and Bess was among them too.
Tom wondered why the morning was starting only now, even though he remembered clearly having been beaten up till dawn. The thought startled him that he must have lain unconscious for a whole day and a night, or perhaps even several of them. Tom must have been in a really critical state. But now he was fully conscious again, and all his wounds would heal. And even if he had lost many millions of brain-cells, he still had enough of them left to finish off Nacho and his gang!
The grazing horses came in his direction by chance. Tom didn’t move, so as not to startle them. When Bess was within hearing, he started talking to her. His voice was hoarse, but Bess recognized it. She went on grazing contentedly, but she sharpened her ears and steered somewhat towards Tom. After a little while she stood right in front of him. She lifted her head from the grass and blew warm air from her wide nostrils into his face. Tom, still on his knees, bent forwards and gave her a kiss on her soft snout. Bess rubbed her brow against Tom’s chest till he fell over. When that happened, she sniffed at him a bit surprised. Tom talked to her soothingly, and she lost her concern. She turned away and started plucking grass again nearby.
Tom wondered if there was a way for him to mount Bess. He was sure he would be saved if only he managed to get on her back. But Bess wasn’t wearing any saddle and thus no stirrups either, and Tom couldn’t use his hands and he couldn’t even stand on his feet. Horses aren’t ruminants, but they still lie down sometimes, for relaxing or sleeping. Tom had found Bess lying down in the early morning more than once. He dearly hoped she would lie down now!
Bess seemed to want to eat endlessly, but she didn’t go far from her master. As the day got lighter, the juicy grass became less interesting, though. Bess lifted her head a few times, sniffed the air and listened. Suddenly she trotted away, but she soon came back close to Tom. The fresh, new day, breaking anew every day as if it were always the first, fresh and innocent morning of this corrupt world, gave the horses high spirits. Bess lied down and rolled in the grass like a little dog. Her long, muscular legs thrashed about clumsily in the air.
Now Bess was lying on her side, listening. Her back was turned towards Tom. Tom waddled over to her on his knees and laid himself halfway over her. He put one leg across her tummy and let the other one lie on the ground next to her back. He laid his chest and head onto her neck, took a bushel of her mane into his mouth and bit on it hard. Bess didn’t quite understand what this was supposed to mean, and in a slight fit of panic she tried to get up. Which she managed, pulling Tom up with her.
Tom was now sitting astride the horse, and even though he was badly bent forward, he felt he would be able to ride a short distance. He held on to Bess’ mane with his teeth. He had a strange feeling in his stomach, but he also felt a tingle of excitement in his testicles.
He still felt a bit dizzy, but he didn’t want to postpone his plan too much. He pressed his heels gently into Bess’ tummy. She walked off all naturally, without surprise. She hadn’t quite understood how Tom had gotten onto her back, but obviously he was there now, so she obeyed him like usual.
Tom was riding across the pasture at a leisurely walk. He pushed his heels back into the ticklish part of her tummy. She started trotting. Tom was badly shaken on he r bare back. He couldn’t straighten himself up to catch the rhythm of her movements. Grimly and hoarsely he whispered: “Gallop! Gallop!”
Bess laid back her ears, stretched her neck forward and… blasted off!
A fair distance ahead of them Tom could see the fence of the pasture. Behind the fence there was the open horizon. Tom hoped Bess understood that they were leaving now, and that he meant her to jump over the fence.
Tom had never ridden Bess round and round in a paddock. Surely she must know that their goal lay straight ahead, mustn’t she?
But would she be able to clear that high fence with her lame rider? After all it was high enough to discourage such be haviour, since it was precisely meant to pen in the horses! But it is common knowledge that a well-trained horse will jump much higher with its rider than it ever would left to its own devices (unless it was escaping from something in a panic).
Tom and his horse swept over the grass of the pasture like a gun-bullet. The landscape opened up in front of them, swished past on either side and closed itself again seamlessly behind them.
But the fence still dominated the whole breadth of the view in front of them. Instead of opening up, it just became threateningly bigger, till Tom saw individual spikes in the barbed wire.
Bess was aware of the fence too, and she measured her paces and then sped up to an allout sprint.
Tom’s legs clamped her tightly.
Now they were there – Bess pulled her hind legs far under her rump and gave a tremendous shove. At the same moment, with a superhuman effort, Tom pushed himself up from her back, holding on to her only with his knees and his teeth, and saw the fence flying by underneath.
They landed, Bess lifted up her head and Tom was flung back into a sitting position. His teeth had to let go of her mane. Bess gradually slowed from the all-out gallop to a canter. And when the ground became rocky, Tom managed to slow her down to a walk with his voice. They went on between some boulders till they were out of sight from the pasture, and Tom stopped her with his voice. He bent forward and caught her mane with his teeth once more, and then he slipped off her back. The bristly strands of ha ir hurt in his mouth, but when he was standing next to her he let go. At first he thought his legs wouldn’t support him, but they did. He even managed to set down one foot in front of the other and to walk a few wobbly steps.
With a sigh he sank down next to a big rock and started with the long job of wearing off the rope.
Tom felt life boiling and bubbling within himself – he felt more alive than ever! Slowly, almost with awe, he brought his hands - now that they were free - up to his eyes and moved each finger individually.
Tom stood up (yes, he could stand up!) and went over to Bess. He called Bess to a small rock from which he could climb on her back and mounted her.
Well now, where should he go? Nacho and his men had surely discovered his disappearance by now. They would be looking for him by now. But Tom didn’t have a weapon yet. At night he would creep up to the wall of the court and get his revolver back, provided it was still lying where Nacho had thrown it so casually on the night of the beating. But there was a long while to go till then, since the day was all fresh – it was morning!
Tom should find something to eat. The strange feeling in his stomach (a feeling of emptiness and queasiness) wasn’t exactly hunger, but Tom knew he had to eat in order to survive. So he rode towards the village. There he would eat and hide till the evening. He wanted to make use of today to get back into shape. In the evening he would go and get back his revolver, and the next day he would show himself, so that Nacho’s men would come to hunt for him. He would shoot them all, and then the great moment would come when Nacho turned up in person. And then they would be face to face at last! Tom arrived in the village. He was back among the squat houses once again. Those white cubes out of which a slender plume of smoke was rising into the morning air here and there. It was peaceful and quiet. No one was to be seen anywhere. What should he do? Knock at the nicest- looking door? Did he have any money at all to pay for some food? He put his hand in his pocket – yes, there were some coins there…
Nacho obviously hadn’t found it necessary to search his unconscious body and to put his hands into Tom’s dirty pockets.
Of course the biggest part of Tom’s money had stayed in the saddle-bags, and the saddle was lying in the hide-out of Nacho’s gang. Tom’s skin cringed at the thought of Nacho laying hands on his dollars. But having a few cents was decidedly better than nothing at all, and Tom by far hadn’t lost all his possessions – he was conscious and he had his horse!
Nearby there was a door that looked like the entrance to a stable. The door was ajar. A smell of frying eggs and bacon wafted out from the door right into Tom’s nostrils, and he felt he could really do with some food. He got off his horse and went over to the door and pushed it open. In front of himself he saw a full manger, and on the other side of the room, without being separated from the stable, there was a table, behind it a comfortable chair, and in the corner there was a fire-place over which the bacon and eggs were bathing in a frying pan in the cheerfully bubbling fat. Else the room was empty. Nobody was around anywhere. A hat stand was standing all forlornat the door. A poncho was hanging on it, and a hat, so that the hat stand looked just like a person seen from behind. Tom called Bess into the stable and led her to the manger. Then he approached the fireplace to take the frying pan off the fire. An inconspicuous movement in the corner of his eye made him turn around as if struck by lightening, and his right hand clapped against his right hip where the revolver should have been.
Sunk deep into the chair a small human form was sitting. Tom hadn’t noticed it before. Tom could make out the features of an old man with a white beard.
“Good morning,” said Tom.
The man answered something that Tom couldn’t understand and pointed at the pan with a skinny hand. Tom took the pan off the fire and decidedly put it down next to a wooden spoon on the table. The old man pointed at the pan and then at Tom. If Tom wasn’t mistaken, he was being invited to eat.
The eggs were still much too hot to be eaten since the fat was still bubbling. Tom bent over the pan and blew on the eggs. The old man nodded, stood up slowly and tottered to the door. He went out and disappeared.
Tom shook his head because he couldn’t understand all this. But then he pulled the chair to the table and started eating.
After a while he wondered what the behaviour of the old man might mean. Tom obviously belonged to the undoubtedly unpopular gang of outlaws. So why was he being shown such hospitality? Or was the old man going to return with three young men to beat him up once more? Tom discarded this distasteful possibility.
It was much more likely, he told himself, tha t the old man had seen his wounds and blue marks and thus knew that Tom had been rejected by the gang. For the inhabitants of this village, Tom thought to himself, he was the enemy of the enemy. Tom convinced himself so much of the support of the village people that he soon felt quite homely on the comfortable chair.
It was a swivel chair, worthy of a president. Or maybe it was, in actual fact, just a hairdresser’s or a dentist’s chair. In any case it was comfortable, and Tom soon started slumbering in it.
A bit later the old man came back. He said something, but Tom didn’t understand. Tom couldn’t even make out whether he was speaking English or Spanish. The old man’s mumbling didn’t seem to form any clearly defined sounds. The old man gave Tom some bread and ham, and Tom slowly ate it, sinking back into his drowse.
The flames in the fire-place were licking at the wood and nibbling at it. The air-draft caused by the fire was roaring like a distant waterfall. Tom let it fill his mind. Tom spent most of the day in the chair in front of the fire-place. He only stood up a couple of times to go out and urinate or refresh himself at the well. In those cases he always put on the poncho and the hat, so that Nacho’s men wouldn’t recognize him straight away if any of them were hanging around.
But nothing could be seen or heard of Nacho’s band. Tom was suddenly afraid they might all have left. Maybe Nacho thought Tom had gone to denounce them. But Tom discarded this thought straight away – Nacho wouldn’t run away from him. That wouldn’t be his style. And if it had to come to a fight once more, he was better off here, in this village full of potential hostages, rather than out in the open.
In the evening the old man brought some olives and other fruit. Tom ate them all, even though he didn’t like all of them so much. He didn’t feel sleepy anymore. Soon he would set out to get his revolver back. And then he would kill off Nacho’s gang, laboriously or swiftly, that still remained to be seen…
Tom waited another few hours which seemed very long with respect to the lazy day he had had. His heart was pounding hard as he wondered what the night might hold in store for him!
At about midnight Tom started off on foot. He went slowly, since he had plenty of time. He went the same way as the day when he had first arrived in the village. He wanted to make sure he wouldn’t miss the farm where Nacho and his men had set up their headquarters. He found it easily enough, even in the dark. He saw the pasture in which he had lain unconscious, who knows for how long. The cool moonlight shimmered on the wet grass. In the distance Tom saw the dark shapes of the horses which had been Bess’ colleagues for a time. Tom looked for the small court in which he had been beaten up so badly. He followed a we ll- trodden path leading away from the gate of the pasture, and was thinking how his lifeless body must have been dragged along this very same path in the other direction not so long ago. The thought made him shudder.
At last he reached the wall near which his revolver must be lying. It was a low wall, and Tom saw that it was lit up on its inner side by a flickering yellowish glow. A fire was obviously burning in the court.
Tom slowly raised his eyes above the wall, and quickly lowered his head again – two men were sitting next to the fire in the court and were obviously keeping watch. Tom had to be very quiet!
But how would he ever find the revolver without betraying himself with rustling sounds? Which alternative would rouse less suspicions – continuous, light rustling, or just a quick, careless rustle every once in a while? Tom decided he just mustn’t rustle at all and to check out the ground really, really slowly. He could take all night if necessary. After all his life was in the balance.
Tom lied down flat on the ground and started with the job. He couldn’t avoid making a crackling sound here and there when his hand moved or broke a twig.
One of the men in the court stood up and started walking up and down. Suddenly he stopped and looked directly in Tom’ s direction. His right hand went down to his hip. Tom didn’t move. His heart was beating so hard that he thought the whole world should hear it.
The right hand of the man came up again, and the face of the man was suddenly lit up by the flare of a match. Then the light went out and the man blew a long cloud of smoke towards the moon and turned away again.
Hissing, but not too loudly, the breath he had held back came out between Tom’s clenched teeth.
Tom went on with his job. The man in the court had finally sat down again. Tom’s heart skipped a beat when his little finger grazed something ice-cold. Tom groped for it, trying to keep his excitement under control. It was the revolver!
The matter-of- fact coldness of the metal cooled down Tom’s overheated feelings. His fear left him. Tom slowly raised himself and looked over the wall.
The two men were sitting on either side of the fire which was flickering happily. Tom wondered whether he should shoot them. But they were too far apart.
While Tom would shoot one of them, the other one might have time to react. Tom didn’t want to make the same mistake as his friend Jim had made.
So Tom slipped away soundlessly. He would save up his grand revenge for tomorrow.
Early the next morning Tom woke up on the comfortable cha ir and didn’t feel sleepy anymore at all. He stood up and put on the poncho and the hat and left the room to refresh himself outside at the well. The hat and the poncho weren’t really necessary as a disguise anymore, since Tom had his gun in his holster no w. But the day before he had always put them on before leaving the stable, and now he felt it was like some kind of luck-bringing ceremony.
Anyway, he wanted to eat breakfast before hunting down Nacho’s men.
As he came back into the room, he hanged up the poncho carefully and set the hat on top, exactly according to the ceremony. Then he settled on the chair once more and waited for breakfast.
Inwardly he smiled about his own superstition, but he also had a strong feeling that he needed to be at peace with himself today, and this feeling wasn’t to be laughed at. Tom hadn’t waited long when the door of the stable suddenly burst open and a man hurled himself into the room. He had a revolver in hand and started pumping bullets into the hat-stand.
Tom leaned fo rward in his chair, his mouth gaping. He couldn’t believe it! But then he swiveled round in the chair till he faced the man and gave him a single bullet into his chest.
The man’s eyes stared in surprise as he collapsed and died.
Tom stood up and went over to the hat-stand. It stood there unmoved and was not at all deader than before. Tom felt the poncho that he had started to like. He found one of the holes, but else the material was as nicely woolly as before – not much harm done. Tom went to the door, and as he walked past the body he savoured for a moment his contempt towards this man whom he had tricked without even intending to! Then he was outside and had to pay attention.
Slowly he walked down the street. He looked neither to the right nor to the left. He stared straight ahead, keeping his eyes still, while paying attention to his peripheral vision. When you do that, your stare looks empty and emotionless – it’s the dangerous stare of the gun-slinger.
Tom suspected that Nacho’s men would try to shoot him from a window or a roof-top. He was right – suddenly he felt more than saw a movement on his right.
The suspicious spot was about to move out of his field of vision. Tom took a step back while turning right and drawing his gun.
Under the dark opening of a window there was a long, narrow shadow. Some kind of shaft or handle was sticking out of the window, and its shadow had moved a tiny bit over the white-washed wall. That’s what had drawn Tom’s attention. That thing sticking out must be the barrel of a gun!
Tom didn’t stop to think about it – he fired a bullet into the dark hole right above the suspicious, moving shadow.
The man hidden in the shade fromthe white-washed walls had just straightened himself up to shoot Tom.
He fell forward and his body spilled out of the dark hole that he had wanted to use as an embrasure.
Tom left the body hanging there over the window-sill and walked onwards. No danger seemed to be lurking anywhere, but a few hundred steps ahead he saw three men step into the middle of the street and block it. They stood there stoutly with their arms crossed. Tom walked onwards unflustered, directly towards them. He stared ahead with his vacant stare as before.
The distance between Tom and the three men became smaller and smaller. When Tom started feeling close enough for shooting, he put half a cigar in his mouth and lit it with a miraculously intact match he had found in his chest pocket.
The three men just stood there. Tom was attentive to the movement of his hips as he walked. They moved back and forth and to either side ever so slightly. His arms swung back and forth casually. Back and forth, back and forth. Another five steps, Tom decided, and he would be able to shoot right on target.
He started counting from five downwards. His hips moved from side to side and his arms swung back and forth.
“Go!” said Tom without moving his lips.
His right hip moved forward and to the right just as his right arm was swinging past. It picked up the revolver in passing.
He hit the first man while his arms were still crossed over his chest. He fell over like a doll.
The second man’s arms were already hovering tautly above his revolvers in the symmetrical holsters. The man seemed to want to leap forward, but he missed and landed head- first in the dirt.
The third man tore his arms right above his head as he was hit. The revolver which was already in his hand went flying. He too ended up in the dirt quite unceremoniously. Tom lifted the barrel of his revolver to his nose and took a quick sniff of the pungent smell of death.
But the intoxicating feeling of triumph subsided rather quickly and Tom felt low. He dragged his feet through the dust towards his victims. He sucked in the smoke from his cigar and bent over one of the bodies so that he could steal some ammunition. He reloaded his gun and stepped over the bodies.
Now he was walking down the street again. The revolver was in its holster again, fully loaded, and he had put on his gun-slinger stare again. He was inescapably getting closer to Nacho’s headquarters. Soon the main building was right in front of him. He saw the main entrance through which Nacho had penetrated into the farm- house so shamelessly a few days ago. Tom unerringly steered towards it. He was already crossing the plastered surface in front ofthe door.
Now the door-handle was within reach of his hand.
It was one of these timeless moments again. Tom half expected his inner voice to say something. It didn’t, but he felt its approval.
These thoughts just crossed his mind in a blink. Without a pause he tore the door open and penetrated into the house.
Revolver in hand he burst into a lovely family-scene - Nacho and four of his men were sitting on the ground, peacefully assembled around the safe. Obviously they had been working on it, trying to find a way to pry it open. Tom pointed his revolver at Nacho’s brow, and Nacho’s face turned white. Even his dark-red lips lost their sheen. Tom hadn’t imagined he would ever get to see such a thing.
Nacho knew he would be the first to die if anybody moved. He just wondered how it was possible that Tom suddenly appeared here. He had sent out five of his men to get him! And yet Tom had got through!
Nacho swallowed noisily and thus interrupted the deadly silence. He lifted his eyes to Tom and started talking, his voice barely shaking at all: “What are you going to do, Tom? You stand no chance against the five of us.”
Tom answered casually, chewing on his cigar: “If your men care about you enough, then I have a chance.”
Nacho asked: “How?”
His voice was steady, but the affected child- likeness was absolutely missing. Tom had already won over that.
Tom answered: “If your men lay down their weapons, I’ll drop mine in its holster.” Nacho was about to agree, but The Boy, who normally hardly ever spoke, interrupted him with his deep, colourless voice: “I’ll only lay down my gun if Tom unloads his own down to one bullet.”
Tom had to admit this was a perfectly sensible suggestion. Once he had shot Nacho with his one bullet, he would be on equal footing with the four remaining members of the gang.
Nacho lowered his head and nodded slowly. It was sensible all right. He just wished nobody had thought of it. It meant that The Boy, his most faithful man, considered it possible that he could lose…
Tom let one bullet after the othe r glide out of his revolver and drop on the floor, so that all the men could keep count. In the meantime the four men unbuckled their belts and laid them down in a corner of the room.
Tom had let out five bullets from his revolver and so everyone knew there could only be one more left. The one that would kill Nacho unless Nacho killed Tom first. The Boy was the last to unbuckle his belt, and as he did so, Tom slipped his gun into its holster and let it go. Nacho stood up and his men formed a half-circle around him. Now Tom was standing with a single bullet in his revolver in front of five men of whom only one was armed.
Tom and Nacho were facing each other. They were going to fight it out now. The big moment of which Tom had dreamed so often was here at last!
Nacho held his head to one side. His eyes were rather wide open and very much alive. For the first time Tom noticed that Nacho had quite long eye- lashes. Nacho blinked a few times. His eyes were a bit moist. His big nostrils opened slightly, and quivered, like the nostrils of a horse catching a scent. Tom had never noticed Nacho’s big nose before. Nacho’s lips were resting silently one against the other. They were old, leathery lips with a few cracks. Wind and weather had worked on them. Tom had never paid attention to these things before.
Nacho laid his right hand across his belly, as if he had a stomach-ache. It was resting only inches from the flat shoulder-holster from which the wooden grip of the big gun was sticking out.
That wooden grip was the only thing Nacho had ever held in his hand lovingly. Nacho stretched out his index and gently caressed the rough, worn wood. But his hand wasn’t ready for its leap yet. Perhaps its last.
Tom just stood there like someone filing a just claim.
Nacho stood in front of Tom and looked a bit like a sick child.
How was it possible, Nacho wondered? How was it possible that he should be standing in front of this ordinary- looking kid like this?
He retracted his index, and his hand didn’t move anymore, not yet.
His lips separated, and for a while a thin, transparent veil of saliva hung between them. When the tension became too big, the veil popped soundlessly, and then Nacho’s voice rang out, melodiously like in his best times, but this time the sentences weren’t cut off in the middle of their melody. Each one faded away gently. That seems to be the difference between real and ironic melancholy.
“Will you tell me now who you are and why you seeked me out?”
The same question again as in that dreadful night, just asked in a different tone. Tom thought up all kinds of stupid excuses – he hadn’t seeked out Nacho at all. It was him who had seeked out Tom. But what had happened to Ned and Ted? Why did the posse come back from Earlham so quickly? Who had been shooting on Nacho’s men from the hotel? And above all – WHY?
Nacho deserved a proper answer now.
“All I want is to sell your skin.”
It was a devastating answer, but it was also the only honest one, and Nacho had deserved it.
After all the terrible things he had done in his life, all the people he had hurt and who had a thousand reasons to want him dead, he was finally going to die for nothing more glorious than a stupid handful of dollars!
Nacho laid his lips one onto the other and said nothing more.
His hand awoke to fresh life. It started moving back and forth across his dirty shirt, preparing to leap.
Tom’s eyes narrowed to slits, and now To m couldn’t see the expression on Nacho’s face anymore.
Nacho’s hand jumped at the grip of his revolver!
Tom’s arm twitched.
Nacho’s hand was on the grip of the revolver.
Tom’s single bullet flew upwards from the region of his hips and broke through Nacho’s brow.
Blood spewed from the hole in Nacho’s brow. He jerked back as if he had been hit by a fist.
The Boy was counting on Tom being appalled and sprang towards the corner where all the guns were lying. But Tom forestalled him by diving to the floor and skidding into the heap of guns on his tummy. He drew one of the revolvers from its holster and shot The Boy who was still standing and bend ing over the guns.
Tom rolled to the side to avoid being squashed under The Boy’s huge collapsing body and fired three more shots.
The last three of Nacho’s men who were in the midst of hurling themselves at Tom and the pile of guns were held up in mid- flight. They stumbled and fell over each other with open mouths.
Tom delighted in the authority a loaded gun gave him – he decided “Stop!”, and all he needed to do was to pull a little trigger, and the men immediately stopped in their tracks. They stopped with whatever they were doing, even the most emotional, intensive stuff! But unlike a faithful slave who stands to attention, dead bodies aren’t receptive for new orders. You might indeed have the power to make them stop in their tracks, but that’s the last order they’ll ever obey. After that you can sell their skin, but beyond that they’re useless…
So a revolver just gives you the power to clear the way. But once the way is cleared, you have to follow it on your own. If you kill everybody you meet, you’ll never be accompanied anywhere by anybody. That’s the fundamental loneliness of the gun-slinger. Tom felt this loneliness very clearly as he started collecting the bodies and piling them up on a hay wagon he had found in the barn. Then he tied a solid rope around the safe and made Bess lug it up a ramp onto the wagon. He shoved the metallic box - that had so stubbornly resisted all attempts to open it and so was still intact - against the dead bodies. Then he fetched the two big horses from the pasture and harnessed them to the wagon, and he tied Bess to the back of it.
He climbed onto the seat and set the horses into motion. He was quite aware of stealing the wagon, but after all he left ten of Nacho’s horses behind, and that was surely more than enough to compensate.
He stopped for a moment at the house with the hat-stand. The hat-stand looked like an empty skeleton. Tom quickly dressed it up with the poncho and hat again. He stole some food that had materialized in the room adjoining the stable as if by magic, and then he set off again.
Soon he had left behind the quiet Mexican village with its white houses and brown inhabitants. He reached the ominous canyon where ten outlaws had massacred their twenty pursuers. The bodies on the path looked like old piles of rags. Soon only bones and tatters of clothing would be lying here. Tom led his precious cargo of fresh bodies past the old ones and then through the canyon.
He clearly felt the lonesomeness of the gun-slinger once again – he was in the middle of the traces of worldly occurrences that he alone had survived because he somehow hadn’t really belonged into them at all.
He wandered back to Anthony where he would take up his life with Bess and the fat gelding once again.
Tom drove into town with his well- loaded wagon. He paid no attention to the people who were turning towards him. But soon he heard the astonished calls: “Nacho!.. He’s bringing us Nacho’s body!”
People streamed out of the houses onto the street and walked behind the wagon in droves. Some of them pressed forward till they could touch Nacho’s boots or spit in his face. They accompanied Tom all the way to the house of the sheriff, and as soon as they were there a dozen helpful men started unloading the bodies. Tom jumped down from the seat of the wagon and the crowd respectfully made space for him. The sheriff had already been called out of his office and was washed up to Tom by the excited crowd. The sheriff didn’t like being called by his people like that. He didn’t like being the last to know what’s going on. He much rather wanted to be the first and to lead his people. He was quite new in Anthony and he was still fighting for his place there. So he looked at Tom - this hero who had suddenly appeared from nowhere – rather darkly. But he said “Good day, sir” very politely.
Tom wasn’t used to being called „sir“, especially by a sheriff. And just now, when he was dirty and his body full of cramps, it happened for the first time!
The sheriff said: “I hear you’re bringing us Nacho and his whole gang.”
It wasn’t a question, just an observation full of appreciation.
Tom answered: “As far as I know, they’re all here.”
The sheriff was led to the bodies who had all been neatly laid out by now. He saw them lying there, quite dead, unmistakably dead.
How can one believe in spirits and ghosts, he wondered? These bodies were lying here so wretchedly and helplessly and so utterly dead that Nacho’s spirit, if it still existed in the ether somewhere, must feel much too humiliated to ever want to show itself again! He turned away and asked Tom to follow him into his office. There he started adding up the money he owed Tom. Ten thousand for Nacho, five thousand for The Boy… The sheriff named the eight other names with which Tom wasn’t even familiar at all and added a few thousand dollars for each one of them. It added up to twenty-seven thousand all in all. The sheriff wrote a cheque to be cashed in at the bank as soon as the safe would be set back into its place.
Tom took the cheque, thanked him, left the office, mounted on Bess and rode away. He rode to the hotel and put Bess into the stable next to the gelding. The gelding lifted his head and pushed it over to Bess’s side and gave her a friendly nudge with his nose. Then he nudged Tom as well, inviting him to give him a piece of carrot. Tom went off to fetch an apple for his two horses. He decided that he liked the big gelding after all, and that he had missed him.
In another stall nearby he found Jim’s old mule. He didn’t seem to recognize Tom, but he looked contended all in all – he had obviously been cared for well too, even if he didn’t look very precious.
Tom brushed down Bess, patted all the horses and left the stable.
He wanted to go to his room, but he was held back at the reception desk. “So you brought us Nacho?” asked the hotelier, and the admiration in his voice made it clear that he already knew the answer. Tom shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t understand how the news could have traveled so fast, and he didn’t like it much that now he wasn’t a normal man anymo re at all!
A man excitedly ran through the door and said out of breath: “Tom Miller, you’re expected at the bank!”
The hotelier hanged the key to Tom’s room back onto its hook without having given it to Tom. Tom let himself be guided through the open door and stared into the crowd that was waiting for him outside.
He had never even seen so many faces at once before. It was like a sea of faces. He couldn’t make out individual features. It was unimaginable that behind each of these faces there was a thinking brain like his own. Perhaps there really wasn’t. How could there be? He felt very much alone with his thinking brain all of a sudden… The flowing crowd took hold of Tom and washed him across the street to the bank. Now Tom was standing at the entrance to the bank. He saw the imperfections of the white-washed stone -work and the splinters in the weather-worn wooden door right in front of him.
He hadn’t stepped this close to the bank before, because he would have been afraid of seeming suspicious. Tom didn’t like to be in places without having a clearly stated business there. There was a kind of shyness in him. Strange when you consider that he could beat just about anybody he wanted on the draw…
But being fast on the draw is just one aspect of life. In others Tom by far didn’t feel so self-confident.
Today Tom was being celebrated as a great hero, and everyone expected him to know how to behave like a hero, to make speeches and such. Tom didn’t really know how to deal with this sudden fame, and he felt dreadfully forlorn and alone as he was facing this tumultuous, sensation-hungry crowd.
The hay-wagon had moved up to the bank. The banker came out of the main door of his bank, rolled up his sleeves in a theatrical way and climbed onto the wagon. One of his clerks handed him a big key, and he opened the battered safe with it. The iron door of the safe was very hard to move, and the clerk jumped up on the wagon to help. The door screeched in complaint, but finally it swung open and the safe revealed its contents – many big, neatly piled up bank- notes!
Tom was astonished that the contents were still so orderly, after all the safe had gone through! The banknotes were packed so tightly that they hadn’t been able to move at all…
The banker’s face beamed as he plunged his arms into the safe.
“Tom Miller, please!” he called.
Tom came closer to the wagon and was handed forty thousand dollars. That was the reward offered by the bank for returning the money. Tom stuffed the huge bundle into his shirt and signed the receipt that was ceremoniously held up to him.
Then he pulled out the cheque for the twenty-seven thousand dollars the sheriff had written out for him and handed it to the banker. The banker plunged his arms into the safe once more and fished out more thousand-dollar bills. He counted them out for Tom. Finally Tom had sixty-seven of them all told. That was a LOT of money! With his shirt almost bursting, Tom gravely marched back to the hotel through the crowd. At the reception desk he was respectfully handed the key to his room, and then he could finally go up and hide from the crowd at last.
He felt dead-tired as he washed himself with cold water. Half- naked he slipped into the clean bed. But he couldn’t fall asleep, because the bed seemed to be heaved around by huge waves, as if it were floating on a billowy ocean rather than standing firmly on the floor. Tom felt a bit sick. The events of the last few days had been too much for him. Now that it was all over, Tom was too shaken to sleep. For days he had had a single goal in front of his eyes. Now he had reached it, and now he had to find his next step. In the meantime his memories were shaking him and he couldn’t reach any inner peace. His newly found fame didn’t really please him all that much – it was more of a burde n at this point. Of course it is nice on some level to meet awed stares wherever you go, but in times of trouble he would have to face the expectations as well. It was surely easier to be an anonymous figure who isn’t exposed to all these worldly matters so much and only has himself to take care of.
Tom woke up late the next morning, and he was almost sorry for not being able to sleep longer. Even just the thought of getting up made his bones ache. But he didn’t feel comfortable in bed any longer either. It was time to start something else, something new. He had defeated Nacho, but he felt restless as before. Or rather, he felt more restless because he didn’t have a goal to focus on anymore.
He had to find a new goal. He was tired of his adventures. They tired him out, made him rich and ever richer, but never seemed to lead to anything beyond that.
Tom owned almost a hundred thousand dollars now, and that was surely enough to buy a nice piece of land with a water-source, a herd of cows, and a ranch…
He felt like going back to his home -town and playing the big man there. And he should certainly pay a visit to his mother... Tom felt like setting off straight away. But first he had to take care of Jim’s belongings, including his trusty old mule. He somehow had to find Jim’s mother and give her all Jim’s money – which Jim had been saving up for her all these years. And he had to find a good home for the old mule, because he definitely didn’t want to leave it in careless hands…
After a while Tom had made up his mind – he would leave Jim’s money with a trustworthy lawyer, and he would just take the old mule home with him. It would perhaps slow him down a bit, but after all he wasn’t in such a big hurry – it would give him time to think and sort things out in his mind.
Having made this decision, Tom got up. Once out of bed he quickly got dressed and went down to eat breakfast. Then he paid the hotel-bill and went off to find a lawyer. He managed to settle this matter to his entire satisfaction at a steadfast law firm, and then he went off to buy food for his trip. He packed up the gelding and the mule with it and finally rode out of Anthony, feeling good to be on his way again!
The atmosphere in Anthony had gradually gotten on his nerves. Indeed, he was served before anyone else in the saloon, and everybody called him “sir”, and maybe this meant he was really a man now, a real one, but somehow he still hadn’t imagined it like that. Besides, being a hero means that people expect things from you. And as time goes by and you become more and more of a legend, the expectancies grow accordingly. They grow beyond what is sensible. But if you ever disappoint your believers, you will be considered a swindler. Even if it isn’t your fault that they believed in you so exaggeratedly in the first place…
Tom wouldn’t have that problem in his home town. Even if the rumours of his great deeds ever reached it, people would find it hard to believe them. How could the awkward little boy of those pitiful sheep- farmers have grown into such a hero? Surely there must be some mistake…
It’s hard to be seen as a hero in a place where you were previously seen as a stupid little kid.
Tom might gain some respect in his home-town, the same kind of respect as the Davidsons had. The Davidsons, however respected, were still ordinary humans whom you could love or hate, admire or despise.
That’s what Tom would be too. Or would he?
After a few days Tom arrived in the town where he had first met Jim. Tom rode to the saloon.
There were two other horses in front of the saloon – a big, black stallion and a rather plain, brown mare.
After Tom had tied up his horses and unloaded them, he pushed his way through the swinging doors of the saloon and…
Stopped dead in his tracks!
He discreetly turned round and looked at the horses outside. He hadn’t paid them enough attention. There was no possible doubt – the black horse was Blackie, Jack Davidson’s proud stallion!
Jack and Theresa were sitting at a table in the saloon. It could even have been the very same table at which Tom had sat with Jim long ago (or in any case it seemed long ago). Tom put up an unconcerned face, walked through the empty saloon and sociably joined the two siblings at their table.
“Hallo!” he said jovially, “what are you doing here?”
The girl looked away as though she wanted to ignore Tom.
Jack’s dark eyes bored into him.
Nobody spoke, but Jack’s stare didn’t waver. It was a silent challenge.
After a little while, shortly before the tension became truly unbearable, Jack stood up, cleared his throat and said curtly: “Excuse me!”
Then he walked out through the swinging doors, and soon afterwards his horse could be heard galloping away.
Now the girl turned to Tom: “And what are YOU doing here? You smell like a rutty buck!”
Tom felt like screaming at he r that he really was a rutty buck. He was continuously and madly rutty, because he had never in his life managed to copulate with a female. When o when would he be relieved of this torment?
But all he said was: “I’m sorry.”
They were both silent again.
Theresa was patting the sleeve of her blouse, and Tom scrutinized her.
She had completely lost her child- like chubbiness. She looked grown up and feminine. Her chin was graceful but protruding in a resolute way, as it always had in her childhood too. Her face was much more elongated than before, but the cheeks were still quite full and had a healthy red colour. Her lips were rather plain and thin, but when she parted them halfway, a longing sigh seemed to escape from them inaudibly…
Her eyes were as dark as Jack’s, but - unlike in Jack’s case - the look in them was clear. In Jack’s eyes there was a kind of murky depth and a permanently malicious sparkle which contradicted any friendly word he might ever pronounce. Theresa’s eyes showed depth too, but not of the murky kind, and there was no malicious sparkle in them either. Rather, the full, dark colour of her eyes expressed the sensuality that was missing from her thin lips.
She carried her hair loose and half- long, just right for a long trip on horse-back. Her eyebrows expressed the same kind of decidedness as her small but protruding chin. Tom wasn’t sure whether he really found her pretty, but the memories that stirred in him were sweet and sent a tingling shiver across his back…
As though she wanted to start an everyday conversation, Theresa said: “How about telling me of your adventures?”
But those few words seemed theatrical and her voice sounded false, disguised. It was obvious that Jack had left his sister alone with Tom so that she would sound him out. But Tom played along, and so he started talking, in an equally affected manner: “One fine day I was being pursued. So what do I do? I go into my room and hang my poncho and my hat on the hat-stand. Then I comfortably settle in my easy-chair and wait. Soon enough my pursuer bursts into my room and pumps the hat-stand full of bullets. I casually swivel around in my chair, lazily lift my gun out of my lap and give him a bullet.”
The girl had listened with her chin leaning in her hand. Without removing her chin from her hand, her eyes shining with the faintest taint of irony, she said:
“Unbelievable. You outwitted your pursuer. With your cold, discrete thoughtfulness you defeated his brute power!”
Tom shook his head, slowly and deliberately, like someone who doesn’t really need to convince his counterpart but who is still sorry to see that he was misunderstood. “Not at all,” he said. He started explaining patiently: “When you outwit someone, that means you do something special that your opponent didn’t expect. I d id no such thing. I just hung up my poncho and my hat, as anyone would. I wasn’t even aware of my opponent – I just ignored him. He was a great outlaw, but for me he was meaningless. I shot him with a yawn while he thought he was pumping me full of bullets.” The girl laid her index on her brow and held her head to the side. With an amused smile she said: “You describe your contempt for this outlaw very convincingly, but I see this matter somewhat differently – either you knew that your opponent would shoot at the hatstand or you didn’t know it, right?”
Theresa smiled with false naivety. Tom nodded earnestly, and she continued: “If you knew it, then that was because you had thought about it, and by thinking about it you acknowledged the existence of that outlaw. That means you didn’t ignore him, since you thought about him.”
Theresa uttered a nervous little laugh and continued:
“The other possibility is that you didn’t know your opponent would shoot at the hatstand. In that case you were just lucky.”
Tom didn’t understand anything anymore: “What?”
Theresa summarized her idea: “As I see it, you defeated that opponent either through cunning or through luck, but definitely not through some kind of inherent superiority that would allow you to despise him the way you do.”
Theresa looked at Tom in a kind of small- girlish and at the same time provocative way. Tom was speechless – he had nothing to say to this crystal-clear way of reasoning. He tried again and started somewhere else in his story: “When I arrived in Anthony, hundreds of men were cheering me. They came out on the street and followed my wagon. Some of them felt particularly brave when they dared to touch the corpses I was transporting. Me, I hadn’t just touched them as corpses. My bullets had caught them when they were still full of life, long before they lay piled up on that wagon like rotten cabbages. When I loaded them on the wagon, their bodies were still warm and pliable. On the way to Anthony, their beard-stubbles even still grew a bit!”
The girl had listened to the crazy story like a patient mother. Now she stretched her arms stifling a yawn, opening her mouth only a tiny bit and keeping her faint smile on her face. “But Tom,” she said, “how could the people of Anthony know that it was really you who killed the outlaws?”
Tom didn’t speak like someone who doesn’t need to convince his counterpart anymore. On the contrary, he answered eagerly: “Nacho and his men couldn’t be killed through cowardice. If that was possible, someone would have done it long ago. Nacho and his men could only be killed heroically, as I did. There wasn’t any other way. Everybody knows that.”
Tom paused a second, then he added: “If I bring home Nacho as my prey, then I either defeated him directly, or I defeated the man who had defeated him before me. In either case I’m better than Nacho and deserve to have him as my prey.”
The girl was not impressed by these logics. She made the same slightly amused face as before, but this time some triumph was shining in her eyes: “I see a third possibility,” she said. “You might have defeated Nacho together with several other gun- men. Everybody died in the gun-fight, except you. So now you’re collecting all the glory and all the rewards for yourself.”
Tom said quickly: “If I was the last survivor, I must at least have killed the second last survivor. Else the whole thing doesn’t ad up. And if we assume that Nacho…” Theresa interrupted Tom with a cute smile: “The second last survivor that you killed might also have been one of your own men whom you then beat through cowardice to get the rewards for yourself. You can’t prove to me that it wasn’t like that.”
Tom was startled – how could he prove that he had killed Nacho and his gang all alone? He couldn’t! And so nobody needed to believe it, even though it was really true! In despair he called out: “You have to believe me, I defeated Nacho in a fair fight!” “I believe you,” Theresa assured Tom, “but you cannot prove it to me.” And she turned her shoulder to wards Tom.
Tom got a hold of himself again: “And you Theresa, what is your specialty? I guess it isn’t shooting like for me!”
Theresa didn’t answer at first, and Tom couldn’t tell whether she was embarrassed because of not finding any example, or whether she had to choose from so many possibilities that it was hard to find the most striking. Tom felt it was the latter. Finally Theresa’s astonishing answer came: “I play the piano.”
Tom flared up like a yapping cur feeling safe on his leash: “What can you do with a piano? Playing music is just a kind of self-sufficiency that doesn’t impress anybody!” “Why don’t you wait till you’ve heard me play?” asked Theresa bravely. “Of course!” said Tom with a shrug. “There’s a piano over there.”
“No, no, not like that! You have to take it seriously, just as seriously as your revolver!” Then Theresa looked him straight in the eye and said: “Show me your revolver first, and then I’ll play you something on the piano.”
Tom let his right hand glide down to his hip.
Slowly, slowly he pulled out the revolver. Then he laid it on the table in front of Theresa. “So this device,” said Theresa, “comes from the shop of my father, doesn’t it? How many deadly shots have been fired with it since then?”
Tom was going to count them in his mind, but Theresa didn’t leave him time for that. She grabbed the revolver, weighed it in her hand, felt it all over (which made Tom’s bodyhair stand on end) and finally stood up and pointed it at Tom. She held it with two hands, her arms stretched out, her legs wide apart in a gun-man’s stance.
Tom felt a tingling excitement in his crotch. He was being targeted, and something in him was ready to target her right back!
For so long already he had worried about maybe being impotent, about being unable to act in front of a woman. Right now, in a flash, he could tell that he was not… He just sat there, in front of her, feeling larger than life, and finally he asked: “So, what do you want of me?”
The girl didn’t loosen her posture: “My brother asked me to disarm you so that we can arrest you.”
“Arrest? What for?” asked Tom, surprised.
Theresa answered grimly: “You know that very well – you shot two men back home. We want to bring you back, so that you can be judged.”
Bloody hell! Tom had really forgotten all about that! He was a hero now. Were they really still going to hold that old stuff against him?
He said harmlessly: “You’re forgetting your promise. You were going to play me something on the piano.”
Theresa let out a sigh and lowered the gun. She turned around and went over to the piano. Tom stood up and followed her.
She sat down at the piano, laid down the revolver and set her fingers on the keys. Now she started playing.
The piece started with a slow trill drawing attention, then the melody melancholically went down to the lower keys.
Now the lower voice started, coming from far down and rising high up.
Then the slow trill started again, and the whole melody repeated itself, drawing Tom into its spell. It sounded vaguely familiar to him. He couldn’t quite make out where he might have heard it before. He had a vision of afternoon sun slanting in through a dusty window in a room where he was waiting for something with his mother, long ago… In the same way as the mechanism of a steam-engine pulls a train out into the wide prairie, Tom was pulled by the simple cycle of the sentimental melody into a world of nostalgic feelings that a more complicated musical piece couldn’t have opened up for him.
Tom felt the wind of the train-ride on his face, and the trill wasn’t necessary anymore to capture his attention.
And indeed, there was no trill anymore this time. Instead, the melody drifted high up in the air, continuously supported by the rising bass.
But then it slowly sank back down nevertheless, like a long sigh finally running out of breath. The lower voice came up from very far down and swung up very high, but then it wasn’t clear what had happened, because now the slow trill started again. Obviously the composer had taken a deep breath, but now he took up his nostalgic daydream once again. The simple melody did another one of its rounds, supported by the rising bass with which it finally gently ended.
Now came three chords, almost hardening themselves into something dissonant, but then came a naïve little melody which, in its lighthearted gaiety, didn’t at all seem to fit with the general theme.
But then the silly little melody became more serious, swung back and forth a little moment between naïve lightheartedness and more somber feelings, and then suddenly took off in a little sprint that tore every listener out of the painful indecision through its surprising virtuosity.
The little sprint repeated itself and finally came to a standstill in the vicinity of the trill. And so the sad trill, begging for attention, started again, and the original melancholic melody took Tom for another ride.
Tom let the music carry him and he soared in a stream of longing. It was a new kind of longing, and yet he felt it was what he had been waiting for all along. The sounds of the piano produced the longing, but the longing was directed at the pianist… For years Tom had been seeking this girl, but only now he felt properly in love. The sentimental melody came to an end, but this time the lower voice didn’t rise up like before but rather stayed down there. Theresa was hammering dull notes out of the piano with her left middle finger. The upper voice played a chord, but the bass kept banging on. A new chord, then the prolog to a third one that sounded hard and cruel until it dissolved in a fourth, friendlier chord.
The dull bass became softer and lost its insistence, then it became double but stayed friendly, and the chords in the upper voice gradually retreated, marching away majestically.
The bass became single again and turned back into a dull beat. The bitter chords in the upper voice came back. The bitterest one wasn’t as bitter as last time, because an undertone was missing, but on the other hand it wouldn’t dissolve as easily either. The lower voice urged it on, and so it finally became reasonable and retreated. The upper voice let itself drop now, but suddenly a breath of fresh energy seized the melody and it bolted like a horse gone wild. The lower voice hardly had time to support the upper one with its chords. Theresa’s right hand leaped over the keys with wild ease. Tom could hardly follow its movements! Higher and higher it went!
Theresa played the piano just as deftly as Tom handled his revolver - faster than anyone could comprehend.
The speed was inebriating!
Now Theresa’s right hand was running down the scale, and it was as if she were pulling a string of pearls through her hands, because every single note was so round and full and sparkly!
As her hand reached the middle of the keyboard again, it made a hint of the familiar trill, and then the sentimental melody took off for the last time. The harsh intermediate part had been overcome, and the sentimental melody was allowed to treat Beethoven’s piece to a gentle and melancholic ending.
Theresa looked up at Tom. She had played a piece that never fails to impress, and she could tell it had worked on Tom too.
“Beautiful,” said Tom. He didn’t know what else to say.
“Oh well,” said Theresa pretending to be annoyed, “you didn’t even really listen. You just saw the chance to get your revolver back, that’s all!”
Tom looked down at his holster. Indeed, his revolver was back in there. Tom had taken it back and put it away without even noticing.
“That’s not true,” said Tom. “I enjoyed it very much!”
Theresa’s eyes glowed, and she said earnestly: “You can bring a mighty beast to its knees with your revolver, but only if it doesn’t have body-armor. Me, I can pacify an overmighty beast with the piano even if it has body-armor. So, you know, a piano is a mightier tool than a revolver!”
Tom didn’t quite know what to say. Theresa had a point, although Tom doubted whether she could have pacified Nacho with her piano.
And yet Tom couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t have been possible. He remembered The Boy covering up Nacho when he was sleeping - there had been a human side to those guys, hidden somewhere deep down…
Tom asked Theresa: “What is your greatest wish?” and expected an answer having something to do with musical ambitions.
Instead of answering, Theresa asked back: “What is yours?”
Since Tom didn’t know any answer either, Theresa finally explained: “I would like to be carried stark naked through town in an unbreakable glass-bubble!”
Theresa stood up and left the saloon with a monosyllabic parting word. Tom just stood there, a bit stunned, then he emptied his whisky.
After a while he felt it was time for him to find a hotel. He paid his drink and left the saloon feeling strangely self-conscious of every step he took.
Outside the last rays of sunlight were glowing above the roof-tops across the street and hit Tom straight in his face as he pushed his way through the swinging doors of the saloon.
Before Tom had time to look out for his horses, a voice called over to him from the other side of the street. Blinking in the light, Tom managed to make out his enemy Jack. “Hey Tom! The time has come for you to face up to me!”
Tom was familiar with this kind of moments. He pulled a long cigar and a match from his shirt-pocket. He slowly pushed the cigar into the left corner of his mouth while lighting the match with his other hand. Without haste – even tho ugh the flame was greedily consuming the match – he brought it to the tip of his cigar. He breathed in, not much more deeply than a sleeping man, and the tip of the cigar began to glow. Shortly before the flame was going to reach his fingers he shook out and dropped the match. There, at his feet, it still glowed for a second and then died. As he let out his breath, it formed a visible structure in the evening air. It slowly drifted off high above the street, like a daydream made of cigar smoke, and then gradually dissipated. Tom periodically added new plumes of smoke to it.
Jack, facing Tom, knew very well that the cigar would go out one day and that the smoke would dissipate utterly in the end. But the thought that all this smoke would finally, in endlessly diluted form, cover the whole world, and that he would never be able to escape from it, was uncomfortable.
Arrogantly despising the whole world Tom was puffing out oversized spirits from his small lungs. A bullet from a revolver would be able to pierce those lungs, but the spirits it had puffed out would remain, spooky and unfathomable.
What did Tom care about his lungs while his spirits were floating above him? Jack got the feeling there was nothing he could do against Tom. Tom could only win while he could only lose.
Jack bravely remained facing Tom and fought the feeling of unease the best he could. Tom took the cigar out of his mouth, turned it around in his hand and looked at its glowing tip. He said: “You know, Jack, if you want to arrest me, you have to draw your gun.”
Jack said nothing, and Tom stood in front of him patiently.
He put the cigar back into the left corner of his mouth. The right corner of his mouth was smiling.
Jack saw the smile. The smudgy smile of little Tom, the next-door boy. Jack had never imagined that he could possibly keep that smile into adulthood!
And yet Tom had definitely grown into a man now. He wasn’t next-door’s boy anymore – he wasn’t NEXT to Jack in any way anymore. Rather, they were facing each other as deadly opponents! He was the same person, but his meaning for Jack had changed radically!
For Tom the greatest moment in his life had come – for years he had stood in the shadow of this oversize role-model, and now he had stepped out of the shadow at last and was blinking in the stark sun- light!
Jack took the blinking for a sign from heaven and laid his hand on the grip of his revolver.
This triggered the usual epileptic attack in Tom.
Jack instantly knew his mistake. He knew he was a dead man.
The hammer clicked twice but there was no recoil, no bang, no smoke… Tom’s revolver wasn’t loaded!
Tom couldn’t understand it. As he tried to grasp the situation, a dirty smile appeared on Jack’s face.
He finished straightening up his revolver – slowly, since there was no hurry anymore – and said: “I will be able to tell everybody with a clear conscience that I defeated you in a duel.”
He laid his thumb on the hammer of his revolver.
Suddenly a lasso-loop came flying out of nowhere, seized Jack around the waist and pulled him to the ground.
Tom’s left hand flew to his belt, and his fingers slipped a bullet into his hand. He pushed the bullet into a chamber of the revolver, turned the drum and pulled back the hammer. When Jack, sitting on the ground now, had come to his senses, Tom’s revolver was loaded and pointing at him with deadly accuracy.
“Stop!” called out a commanding voice, and now Tom saw the girl. She was on horseback, the other end of the lasso twisted around the saddle-knob, and she had suddenly materialized from behind the corner of the nearest house.
Jack left his revolver lying on the ground and stood up slowly. His dark eyes smoldered as he looked up at his sister, and he said ominously: “What do you think YOU’re doing?” He said it slowly enough to give Theresa time to lose her composure. But she didn’t. She just yelled at her brother: “And what the hell do you think YOU’re doing? You promised you would only arrest him, not shoot him!”
Jack had nothing to say. He turned to Tom.
Tom had put away his revolver and smiled sheepishly. He shrugged and showed Jack his empty palms.
After a while Jack shrugged too and said: “Forgive me, Tom.”
“So, did you make peace now?” asked Theresa.
Jack and Tom nodded gravely.
The three of them set off towards the hotel together.
Theresa shook out her pocket and gave back the six bullets of the revolver to Tom. She had quickly and neatly slipped them into her hand and then in her pocket on the way to the piano in the saloon, and Tom had never noticed…
Her hand touched Tom’s as she handed them back. Tom put five of them back into his revolver and stuck the last one in his belt.
Now Theresa asked Tom: “Would you come back home with us of your own accord?” “Why should I?” Tom asked back.
Theresa didn’t answer. Jack didn’t say anything either. He had a warrant to bring back Tom, and his intent had been to make himself into a hero. There was nothing in it for him if Tom came back with them of his own accord.
Then Theresa asked Tom: “Wouldn’t you perhaps like to know what became of your mother?”
Tom stopped and Theresa and Jack turned around and faced him.
Theresa was right, of course. Why hadn’t Tom even thought of asking about his mother? He was going to now, but Theresa continued anyway: “Our father is paying her a pension and lets her live in the little house for free.”
“Why does he do that?” asked Tom, surprised.
Theresa answered: “He feels guilty because of you. You tried to challenge him, but the sheriff got in between and you had to flee. My father feels he acted like a coward towards you. He feels guilty because of that.”
Now Jack spoke, half- heartedly: „Yeah, you see, Tom, that’s why I wanted to bring you back dead... Because actually my father wants to testify that you shot the sheriff and the other man out of self-defense – if the matter is deliberated in court, you would almost certainly be acquitted.”
And then Theresa said: “Tom, come back home with us! Then you don’t need to flee from your own shadow anymore and you can start a normal life again!”
It sounded as if Theresa were actually begging him, so Tom was moved and agreed.
The next morning Theresa, Tom and Jack got under way. Jack was riding on his big black stallion, Theresa on her brown mare, and Tom was between them, like a captive, on his Bess. But he wasn’t a captive, and he carried his gun. Behind them they led Jim’s mule and the big gelding with the luggage.
Tom was going to see his mother and his home-town again soon, and he looked forward to it. He had Theresa to thank for that. He kept having to look at her as she rode next to him, leaning slightly backwards in the saddle, her chest self-confidently arched forward, and again and again he thought to himself that she was a great girl.
They didn’t talk much. They enjoyed the fresh morning air and rode at a steady rate. Towards midday the heat came, the landscape became monotonous and lifeless. The ground was reflecting the heat, roasting the riders and their horses from both above and below.
The horses dreamed of a soft, juicy meadow.
Theresa dreamed of the full bathtub she had left behind at the hotel.
Jack thought of lunch with a frothy beer.
But Tom just saw the uniform, rocky desert, and he had his first doubts about whether he was acting sensibly. Was it smart to trust the two siblings and follow them home? Tom felt more and more uncomfortable next to them. Theresa meant well, he was sure of that. What Jack thought no one could tell. But how would the marshal see the matter? Would he see it Theresa’s way? Or would Tom, after endless promises and various lawyers unrolling the case for him again and again, end up being… hanged?!!? It was a relief from his thoughts when he spotted three riders in the distance. You never know what to expect when you come across another rider in the prairie. The easiest is not to get within gunshot of each other. If you have business with each other, it will always seem safer to do it in a town.
But the three riders ignored this unwritten rule. They came towards Tom and the two siblings purposefully. The shadow of fear spread itself out over Tom and his companions. The relief Tom had felt a minute ago was gone. Now he felt more uncomfortable than he had ever felt before. Not even in his worst times in the midst of Nacho’s men had he felt quite like this, it seemed to him…
It was Theresa’s presence that made all the difference. Had he been alone, he would just have waited for the three strangers stoically.
The three riders fanned out and galloped towards them from three different directions. They stopped their horses sharply when they reached Jack, Theresa and Tom. Now they stood there, three lonesome riders surrounding three other lonesome riders. Tom cursed himself for not having told his companions that they should put some distance between themselves, just as their opponents had done when they had fanned out. Except that it would have meant leaving Theresa to face one of the strangers alone. But as things stood now, Tom and his companions were crowded together, easy to keep an eye on, while their opponents were all over the place, unmanageable even for Tom. Tom could only see the one in the middle who was standing directly in front of him. The two others were on either side. They were so far apart that Tom could never shoot them all three before getting shot himself. He couldn’t even keep an eye on all three at once! One of them could distract him and another could shoot him in the meantime. It was that easy! Tom, who was the one who had killed Nacho and his whole gang, would now be finished off by three of the most ordinary small-time outlaws, the kind who haunted the prairie because of being too cowardly to attack a bank!
Just because he had let them get him in the middle!
Yet maybe this was fair, after all. The glorious Nacho had been shot by a snot-nosed kid who had run off from home, after all (because that’s definitely what Tom must have looked like to him). You can be the greatest hero, and then death catches you where you would least have expected Him…
Tom was aware that this thought might be one of his last.
He felt Theresa’s presence next to him and was afraid for her. He felt strange and his thoughts turned into colourful visions. He didn’t hear anything when the stranger facing him started talking. The stranger’s face was like the crust of a loaf of bread. There were two raisins that had been pushed into the dough to figure the eyes. The mouth was just a cleft that had allowed the dough to rise in the oven…
The nose was a piece of gristle with two big holes out of which long hairs were poking out. The whole rind was studded with small bristles. The smile was totally empty, as if it were cut into a pumpkin.
In broken English he said: “Well, my friends, what are you doing here? Don’t you know that there are dangerous outlaws around here?”
Smirking, he turned to one and then the other of his companions: “Isn’t that so?” Then he turned his dark eyes on Tom again and said laughing: “Maybe we should accompany you to protect you? Where are you headed?”
As he talked, he snatched his hat from his head, as if in greeting, performed a hint of a bow, bringing the hand with the hat down to his hips…
When the hat covered his right hand, Tom immediately knew what it meant. He drew his gun and shot the man, turned to Theresa’s side and shot the other man there and then let himself drop to the ground as he heard the heavy report of another, large-caliber gun. When he looked up, trying to aim his gun at the third man from between Bess’ legs, he just saw the third man’s empty horse standing there. The man was lying at its feet, motionless.
Tom slowly got up.
„Are you hurt?“ asked Theresa anxiously.
“No,” said Tom, “I let myself fall off on purpose.”
Now he saw that Jack was holding his big revolver in his hand. A thin wisp of smoke was curling up out of its barrel. Jack had shot the third outlaw and so most probably saved Tom’s life!
Theresa, Jack and Tom looked at each other in wonder.
Theresa had witnessed her first shoot-out.
For the first time, Tom had been saved by someone else. And, what’s more, someone who had once been his worst enemy!
You couldn’t tell what Jack felt, as usual. He didn’t say anything when they started off on their way again.
The rest of the way was uneventful. And then, one day, in the evening, as the sun was just going down, the three travelers came past the signboard announcing their home-town! They came past the cemetery where Tom’s father had only recently been buried. Then came the small school-house where Tom and Theresa had sat at their little benches… Jack too, but he had been among the bigger kids.
Then they were in the main street among the town houses.
So Tom was back in the narrow confines of what had been his whole world for twenty years. Now, as he came back from his big adventures in the wide world, it all seemed to have shrunk. Everything seemed to be so small – small, but also neat and endearing! Tom felt his heart cramp and uncramp – at last it knew what it was beating for! Night came on fast, and the bustle in town was quickly coming to a rest. The three travelers suddenly felt sweaty and dusty from their long trip. This wasn’t how they wished to present themselves at anyone’s door!
It was Theresa who suggested: “Let’s go down to the lake to clean up first!” Jack agreed and Tom even found it a good idea. So they went down to the lake-side, unsaddled the horses, brushed and washed them, and then it was time to wash themselves as well.
Jack said: “Men on this side, women on the other!”
Theresa replied: “It’s almost dark anyway. No need to separate!”
“As you wish,” said Jack, but he still went across the little headland over to the side he had declared to be the “men’s side”. So Theresa and Tom stayed back alone with the horses who were plucking a few stalks of grass here and there or drinking from the cool water. The surface of the lake was as smooth as glass and gleamed weakly in the dying light.
Tom had already taken off his shirt. Theresa was unbuttoning her blouse. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” Tom mumbled so quietly that Theresa didn’t need to hear it if she didn’t want to.
“We always did it like that in the past too, remember?” said Theresa.
“And what about the unbreakable glass-bubble?” Tom asked with his normal voice, and Theresa called back, as she ran to the water: “I don’t need it when you’re there!” Tom had been fussily unbuckling his belt, but now he looked up, and what he saw was Theresa, nothing but Theresa, because there was nothing on her. He dropped all his clothes and plunged into the water after her!
They played and splashed a while in the shallow water. Then they raced till the other side of the lake. They rested a bit there, sitting next to each other in the soft sand, their feet still in the water. After a while Tom laid his arm over her bare shoulders. It seemed perfectly natural to do that. With his toes he stroked her foot. She laid a hand on his knee. Together they watched as the last traces of red disappeared in the west.
It was time to swim back. They let go of each other and dived back into the coolness of the dark water. When their heads broke the surface again, they swam abreast and talked a bit about the character of their horses.
As Tom climbed out of the water behind Theresa, he mused how beautiful the human body is. It is as nicely shaped as the body of a noble steed, even though it walks upright on two legs.
It’s the clothes that take away this nobility from the human body.
Tom particularly liked the transition from the back to the curvature of the buttocks – it was so elegant! Each buttock actually already belongs to the corresponding leg, and the hole between them – without which no creature can live - is discreetly hidden between the joints that couldn’t be grown together without a cleft anyway.
Theresa dried herself, dressed up, and the magic spell of the common bath was over. But she was still Theresa, and Tom felt an urge to run over to her and hold and kiss her. He didn’t do it. He wouldn’t have known how to or whether it could possibly have been acceptable or not…
Theresa was now wearing a pretty even if a bit formal dress. Tom dressed up in some more elegant clothes too that he had bought not long ago, and then Jack came along quite elegantly dressed as well. Theresa brushed through Tom’s hair with her hand, because he obviously hadn’t noticed that his mop of hair looked like a haystack. After this the three of them looked neat and fresh and ready for a party!
Earlier they could have been mistaken for dangerous outlaws coming to plunder the town. Bathing and putting on nice and clean clothes was just a superficial change, but it symbolized something deeper – indeed, real outlaws wouldn’t have gone to such pains. Cleaning up was a proof of the good intentions of these three travelers. It had taken the scary wildness out of them.
They took their horses by the reins and started off on their way to the mansion of the Davidsons.
The three travelers were welcomed at the door by Theresa and Jack’s mother whom Tom hardly knew by sight, unlike the rest of the family, since she had always spent most of her time indoors. She was a complicated and somewhat overdrawn woman. She made surprised sounds when she saw Theresa and kissed her like a teddy-bear. When Jack came in, she became ecstatic. She embraced him like a little kid, even though he was much bigger than her. When Jack could loosen himself from her at last and introduced her to Tom, she seemed taken aback. An inconstant smile flickered on her quivering face. Tom didn’t know how to behave towards her.
“Tall you’ve become! Beautiful you’ve become!” she finally exclaimed and let Tom in. Mr. Davidson was just coming down the stairs. He affectionately rubbed the nape of Theresa’s neck with one big hand and hit Jack’s shoulder with the other. “Nice to have you both back!” he said in his droll manner. His personal principle of treating everybody with a patronizing joviality didn’t allow him to show any kind of embarrassment towards Tom. So, with a broad smile he said: “Good evening, Tom Miller!” Then he added with a jocularly faked bad conscience: “You forgive me, don’t you?”
Jack said quickly but not very loudly: “What should he forgive you, dad?” The malicious sparkle, that Tom knew so well, was in his dark eyes again.
Mr. Davidson ignored the question. “You forgive me that bygone misunderstanding, don’t you, Tom?”
Tom only nodded and said: “Good evening, Mr. Davidson.”
Mr. Davidson led the children into the living room.
“You stay for supper of course, don’t you, Tom?” he asked.
Tom answered he would like to see his mother first. Mr. Davidson hit himself on the brow with the flat of the hand and of course found Tom’s wish completely natural and self-evident. He called for the family’s coach to be made ready, so that Tom could go and fetch his mother who was of course cordially invited too.
And so Tom let himself be driven to the small house where he had lived for twenty years. Before he had time to prepare inwardly he was already standing in front of the door of his old life, while behind him the magnificent coach of his new life was waiting for him. He knocked on the door, which felt incongruous since he had gone in and out through this very door for twenty years without ever knocking.
It was dark and he felt that his mother was perhaps afraid of nightly visitors, so he opened the door a crack and called in: “It’s me, Tom!”
Now he heard running footsteps, and then his mother tore the door open. She didn’t seem able to be happy straight away – it was too sudden.
“It’s you!” she said, shaken, and then she asked anxiously: “Is everything okay?” Tom was surprised how disconcertingly old his mother seemed. First he couldn’t say a word, but then he bent himself over her and whispered: “Everything is fine again, for good!”
He entered the paltry home and looked about himself. Even though it was very small it also seemed very empty. The handicraft his mother had been working on was lying on the kitchen table. It was hard to believe that the atmosphere that had reigned at this very table every evening had ruled his life day after day for twenty years. It was hard to believe that his whole life had taken place in these narrow surroundings, even though it had been a life full of love, hatred, sorrow and joy like any other life!
Tom entered his room that was little bigger than a horse’s stall, and in which he had lived all his wildest dreams for twenty years. The bed was freshly made, and his few belongings, toys and clothes, were neatly laid out. Tears of emotion came to his eyes when he saw that.
“I’ll cook you some soup!” said his mother who couldn’t keep still anymore. Tom had a hard time making her understand that Davidson’s coach was waiting for them outside. Finally he led his nervous mother out of the house, and the coachman helped her into the coach without a comment.
During the short ride Tom had to answer all the questions she asked in confusion. Tom was afraid he didn’t manage to give her a very clear picture of how things stood now and why.
The coach came to a halt at the front door of the Davidsons’ mansion, and the coachman helped Tom’s mother climb out. Mr. Davidson came out of the house to greet them, and she behaved towards him like a faithful employee. Tom hated to see that. But soon he forgot about it, because the evening turned into a sparkling feast. Good wine and candle- light, Theresa’s smile through the dancing flames, meant only for him, made him happier than he had ever been before.
It was already dawn whe n the coach finally brought Tom and his mother back home. Tom staggered to his room and trustfully lied down in bed. He was already practically asleep when his mother came to the side of his bed, bent over him and gave him a kiss on the brow.
Now that Tom was in love, all kisses seemed sugar-sweet to him. He effortlessly slipped into a blissful sleep.
Tom’s first thought as he woke up the next morning was for Bess. He stood up and greeted his mother, just as he had done every morning for twenty years. He was surprised himself how fast one is back inside old habits. Luckily it wasn’t unpleasant – there was a holidayish atmosphere to it today.
As his mother prepared breakfast, Tom went over to the Davidsons’ place where he had left Bess the evening before. The morning walk reminded him of old times, when he went to school. All in all they hadn’t only been unhappy times, he had to admit. The beautiful mansion of the Davidsons came in sight. Further off Tom saw the corner of the house where he had often met up with Theresa so that they could walk to school together. Like every other morning for twenty years, a light, frizzy smoke was rising into the still air above the house of the Davidsons. It was the only sign of life. Higher up in the sky the smoke formed a wafer-thin cloud that was mixing with the smoke from all the other houses. Associated like this the plumes of smoke took on a tremendous size and sailed across the endless prairie in which the tiny houses of the little town were crouching, huddled up together at the lake-side… Tom had a vision of this, as if he could fly. Every morning, when Tom had walked to school through the awakening town and when the day was still fresh and dewy, he felt the soul of the town, embodied by the thin but endless smoke that arose through coffee- making. The animosity between certain neighbours seemed ridiculous in the face of this bonding infinity.
Tom arrived at the stables of the Davidsons and greeted the farmhand who had been the coachman the evening before. He found Bess in the stable together with the most beautiful horses of the property, and they were all eating from the finest hay that had just been freshly spread for them.
Mr. Davidson came along with a pipe in his hand and greeted his farmhand with a nod. Then he saw Tom.
“Good morning, Tom!” he called out. “Surely you’ve come to get your horse?” They shook hands and Davidson behaved as though he was delighted to see Tom. Then he said that he would call up a meeting for the whole town at one o’clock in the afternoon in the saloon. Tom should come too, and then they, Davidson and Tom, would explain together publicly how it had happened that the previous sheriff got shot in that big misunderstanding some time ago. After that public statement Tom would be a fullfledged c itizen of the town again.
Tom thanked him, and then, as Davidson made his rounds of his property, he saddled Bess. As he rode home he went over the possible form the public explanation would take in his thoughts. The small house of his mother came in sight. A thin plume of smoke was rising from its chimney into the morning sky too and Tom looked forward to breakfast. Bess went towards the house all naturally, even though it wasn’t clear whether she was happy to be home or just thinking resignedly that her old life would undoubtedly start again.
In front of the house Tom jumped off Bess and led her to the stable which his mother had cleaned every day, even though it had not been in use for some time. Tom brushed her down caringly as he had always done ever since she was his, and then he went into the house to have his own breakfast.
In the early afternoon Tom harnessed Bess to the milk -wagon and drove to the saloon with his mother. The saloon was already pretty full when they arrived. The atmosphere was merry. School mates from the past came over to Tom, shook his hand, tapped him on the shoulder and wanted to hear if all that had been said about him was really true. They were all proud that the greatest gunman of all times was one of them. At one o’clock sharp Mr. Davidson and the new sheriff came to the saloon. The sheriff stood up on a table in front of the bar and held up his hand, asking for silence. Then he greeted all those who were present, introduced Tom and Mr. Davidson, and then followed a long speech in which he explained how his predecessor had unfairly intervened in a squabble between Mr. Miller and Mr. Davidson, how Mr. Miller was forced to defend himself and how he had to flee, fearing that he would be seen as a murderer. But in the meantime he had proven his worth, and now followed an enumeration of his heroic deeds. The whole town cheered, and Tom turned quite red.
„Does anyone have anything to ad to this verdict?“ the sheriff finally asked, and his pouting mouth, half covered by his drooping grey moustache, made it very clear that he didn’t expect anyone to answer, and that he didn’t want it either.
And yet a voice arose out of the crowd, a high and thin voice that belonged to a tall man dressed entirely in black. He wore a black tie and he hadn’t taken off his black hat. He was about a head taller than the people around him and thus stood out from the crowd. In his right hand he held a short horsewhip, and he let it glide sensually through the fingers of his left hand. On either side of him a cowboy stood, each with his thumbs hooked into his belt, apparently employees of his who had accompanied him when he brought his cattle to town.
“The defendant shot my brother. All my brother did was to try to help the sheriff,” said the black man in his twangy voice. “My brother was obviously the only real man in this town,” he added and looked around himself with contempt.
The sheriff stayed calm. In his rough, deep and warm voice and his Southern accent he asked: “So what do you demand, sir?”
The black man dropped his horsewhip and his hand glided down to his belt. A beautiful black revolver appeared, turned around in his fingers a couple of times and landed in the holster again.
The sheriff hadn’t even had time to bring his own hand down to the grip of his gun. This man was fast!
“I demand,” he said, “that the defendant faces me for a duel.”
This started off a commotion in the crowd. The sheriff wanted to say something, but Tom interrupted him. “Any time you want!” he called out.
“Then let us go outside!” said the black man with overdone friendliness and solemnly marched out of the saloon. Tom followed him through the crowd that was cheering and beseeching him. He didn’t give it any mind and went out into the street.
They marched down the street in opposite directions. When there were about a hundred feet between them, they turned around and faced each other.
The black man slowly, deliberately pulled on white leather gloves.
Tom stuck a cigar in his mouth and slowly, deliberately lit it. The rim of his hat was covering his eyes. That was lucky, because they were a bit moist. Smoke rose from the cigar. Tom sweated a bit.
Tom had already shot many men, including the great Nacho. He shouldn’t be nervous. He knew he could do it.
And yet it was different now, because he felt there was really something at stake. In the last few days Tom had become hopeful, and so now there was something he could lose. He waited in vain for the super- natural carelessness to flood him that he had always been able to count on in similar situations in the past…
The black man’s hands hovered above the two colts in the symmetrical holsters. He was grinning, and his eyes shone!
Tom’s lower jaw trembled, as though he were counting tenths of seconds. The cigar started wobbling in his mouth. His cheeks glistened with sweat. His hand went closer and closer to the grip of his gun.
The white hands of the black man swung downwards, as if he were a bird taking off. Tom’s automatisms took over. His revolver- hand darted forward white-knuckled. There were three reports. Then the smoke drifted away and Tom saw the black man contorting himself in the distance, falling to his knees, staring emptily, until he finally dropped dead. Tom walked over to his victim as if in a dream. His eyes wandered over the dead body. He held his revolver up to his nose and took a quick sniff, as if to convince himself that it had really been him firing the deadly shots.
He was talked to from behind. He lifted his head a little bit and slowly started turning round, dragging his feet through the dust.
The crowd had assembled behind him, and now they all clapped!
Tom looked down at his revolver still hanging in his hand. Then he let it sink into its holster and let it go at last.
He felt tears welling up in his eyes.
Luckily Theresa appeared out of the crowd and pulled him into her arms. He buried his face in her shoulder, and then she led him away by the hand as the crowd just cheered louder!
“Will you marry me?” he asked her, and she said: “Yes.”
Later Tom became the father of many children and the owner of the largest ranch in the region. He lovingly cared for his family and the community in his home-town, and although he remained handy with a gun till practically the end of his life, with advancing age he developed an increasingly strong sense of fairness and justice.Part 3