The front door creaked open. Someone coughed, and before I could ask who was there, two blinding flashes tore into the night. I fired at the same time, at someone edging along the other side of the room. For a second, I couldn’t see a thing. Then the smoke began to clear, and I could make out two men dead on Pete Maxwell’s parlor floor. A breeze fluttered the room’s curtains, making ghostly wisps of them. Moonlight settled onto the remaining gunsmoke. I decided not to move until I knew who was standing and who was dead.
A tall, rangy, silhouetted man holstered his gun. “Poe.”
A shorter figure stepped forward. “Right here, Garrett. We got him, didn’t we? We got Billy the Kid.”
“Fetch that lamp off the wall,” said Garrett. “Get it lit, so we can see what’s what.”
Poe’s outline passed, wraithlike, to the far wall. His fingers tapped head-high until he found the glass lamp’s brass fixture, and he pulled it loose with a metallic whine.
“Hurry up, Poe. That marshal won’t be far behind.”
A scratch on the plank wall. Another. Poe swore. “Damn matches are old.”
Now I knew this much: these two were Sheriff Pat Garrett and John Poe, the New Mexico governor’s man. Before the ruckus started, I had been in the house with my old friend Pete and his Indian foreman, Charlie. But who else had been in here just now? Had one of them been Wainwright, the drunk Pat was known to have deputized?
Then yelling rose from the direction of the bunkhouse. Boots pounded across the hardpan out front, then some whispering, followed by a louder, deeper voice: Charlie. He must’ve eased out of the house in early evening and brought the marshal here. Probably got a bottle of rye for betraying Pat.
“Garrett!” the marshal called.
Pat didn’t answer.
“Garrett! I told you to bring the Kid in alive. Now I got to arrest you.”
The marshal told Charlie to bring a lantern from the barn.
“Poe,” Garrett said, “you going to light that lamp?”
Poe swore again as another match sparked but didn’t ignite. Outside, more voices. The marshal told Pete’s other hands to stay back, not to interfere. A few seconds later, Charlie returned with the lantern. He and the marshal edged toward the house, guns drawn. The lantern glow grew brighter. Inside, it only added to the parlor’s stark shadows.
Pat stomped a bootheel into the floor planks. “Goddamn it, Poe. I don’t want to go down in history for killing the wrong man.”
Charlie’s lantern began to paint the parlor with stronger light. Someone was standing in the corner opposite me.
“Hey, Pat!” Wainwright was calling from the crowd creeping along behind Charlie and the marshal. “You get him?”
“Shut up!” the marshal yelled. Wainwright cursed him. The marshal wheeled. They scuffled for a moment before the marshal cold-cocked him with his pistol barrel.
“Forget the lamp,” Pat said, an anxious touch to his voice. “Let’s get the bodies out back, into the smokehouse. Then I’ll deal with that marshal.”
I was beginning to make out the figure across the room. He was short, stoop-shouldered, old-looking. He started coughing.
Garrett and Poe grunted as they bent to the bodies.
Pat eyeballed the near corpse and sighed.
The old man in the corner, his coughing fit over, straightened, stiff as a ramrod. It was Pete. He was staring at the corpse to my right, pop-eyed, as if he’d just seen a ghost.
Poe turned from the far corpse and eyed Pat. “What the hell, Garrett. That’s old Pete.”
Then my heart rose to my throat as lantern light flowered about the body nearest me, the too-familiar face staring at the ceiling. After all these years, all the close calls, it was like staring into your own coffin.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.