As soon as West got to the livery, he walked right back to his horse. The animal was cribbing the stall wall but put its head up when it saw West, ears forward with interest.
“Yeah, I got your sugar, y’bangtail. Here you go.”
He poured a dollop into his hand and offered it to the horse. He put the leather pouch away and stroked the horse’s neck.
“I remember that night you wandered into Padre’s yard, y’know that? Somebody’d sure been mean to you. But you let me look out for you. Weren’t always easy, but you stood it. Padre said -.” West’s voice broke and he sniffed in a breath before continuing. “He said you was meant to come into his yard. He said you was meant to be mine. Lotta folks looked at you those first few seasons, said I oughtta just leave you for the buzzards, but I knew. I knew.”
The horse finished all the sugar and turned its attention to West’s hat, lipping the brim and snuffling his face.
“All right, y’crowbait. I’ll come take you out for a run later. I got me a task over to the jail.”
He walked to the jail. It was empty. There was coffee perking on the stove, so Tom had been there, but he wasn’t there now. West figured he could just sit at the desk and get started on that list, he knew there was paper and pencil in the top drawer.
But then he remembered what else was in that top drawer.
He wasn’t sure he could even stay in the same room with that knife.
“I moved it.”
West jumped at the sudden voice. It was Sheriff Curran, coming in the door behind him.
“The knife. I had Casper lock it in the bank’s safe.”
“Near my money?” West tried to joke, but something heavy sat on his guts.
“I knew it bothered you to be near it. And it’s evidence. So – better it’s locked away. C’mon, let’s get started on that list.”
He pulled paper and pencil out of the top drawer and waved West to the chair at the desk.
“Whatever you can remember, whatever you can think of. Even the smallest thing.”
West’s brain felt old and rusty and creaking as he turned his mind to information about his Pa. He hated thinking about it. About them. But he wrote down everything thing he could think of as thoroughly and as quickly as he could.
“Here.” He said, half an hour later. He stood up and carried the paper over to the Sheriff. “That’s all I can remember.”
The Sheriff moved to take it, but West hesitated actually handing it over.
“There’s a half dozen names on here or more. I wouldn’t want anybody thinking any of ‘em is my name. None a’these ever was my name but one and I ain’t had it used on me since I was a squirt.”
“You have my word.” The Sheriff said and West handed over the paper.
“I ‘preciate it. I’m gonna head to the Preacher’s house, see if they fired me yet. Y’let me know soon’s you hear anything?”
West started to leave but thought of something.
“What about Campbell? He still fouling the water here abouts?”
“Not that I’ve seen or I’d run him out on a rail.”
“Y’even know where’s from? I been all over Texas the last five years, lotsa towns, lotta Sheriffs. Never seen him.”
“Yeah, he says he’s from (small town). Telegraph from there says he is. I telegraphed ‘em maybe it’s time he goes back.”
West walked down the street to the far end of town and the Gaskell’s home. No one was outside but he could hear Mrs. Gaskell’s voice through the open kitchen window, singing. He knocked on the door and she called,
West opened the door but only stood in the doorway, he didn’t go all the way in. He pulled his hat off.
“Ma’am. I’m sorry I been behind my time today. I’ll get started on the roof if that’s all right by you.”
Mrs. Gaskell smiled.
“Of course, West. My husband said you were with the Sheriff, that it had something to do with the man you caught in our yard last night.”
“Wish I had caught him, Ma’am. Be one less problem to sort out today. I’ll be on the roof if you need anything.”
He started to move off and let the door close gently, but Mrs. Gaskell followed him into the yard and he held the door for her. She went to the (corn cob shed) and gathered some into her apron.
“Let me tote those in for you, Mz. Gaskell.” West said. He grabbed the bushel basket that was sitting there (conveniently) and Mrs. Gaskell let the corn cobs in her apron fall into it.
She carefully lowered herself to sit on a stump in the shade of the shed while West filled the basket. She used the corner of her apron to fan herself.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, West, but you’re not like any bounty hunter I’ve ever met.”
He snorted a laugh but it was in humor.
“Had a lot of truck with bounty hunters, have you?”
She didn’t answer that. She said,
“My husband said you read Shakespeare. That alone is rare in any part of this country.”
“Can’t say as I’ve read it as much as I’ve had it read to me. That might make it a difference.”
“Who read it to you? A teacher?”
West didn’t want to answer that. But he paused only briefly before Mrs. Gaskell continued.
“My father loved to read Shakespeare. I grew up listening to him read every evening. He’d read (titles of educated books). He never had his fill of reading.”
The basket was full of corn cobs. Mrs. Gaskell stood up, pressing a hand to her back like it ached. West held the door to the house open and followed her inside. He set the basket next to the stove and turned to leave again.
“Tom and Josephine are coming for supper tonight.” Mrs. Gaskell said. “I hope you’ll join us.”
West had gotten used to having more suppers than not with the Gaskells. It’d even gotten so he could eat in the kitchen with them, as long as he had the chair closest to the door. But tonight he hoped to be on the trail to his Pa and whoever had been holding that monster of a knife last night.
“I’ll try my best, Mz. Gaskell. Less’n some errand comes to hand.”
Working in the shimmering heat, shingling the Gaskell’s roof, gave West a lot of time to think about things he didn’t want to be thinking about. Like his Pa. Like how he came to be born. Like how he came to live with Padre and lose Padre and turn bounty hunter because of it.
The more he thought about it, the more annoyed he got, the harder he hammered each nail until he near put the hammer clear through the roof.
He scraped sweat off his face with his forearm. The heat and the damp was making him cranky, and he knew it. Crankier than maybe he ought to get. But here he was, living the easy life, while the scum who butchered Padre were still out there, just as free as you please. He had to find them. He had to find his Pa and the other monsters and make them pay for what they did to Padre.
Finally, West couldn’t stand thinking about it one second more. He had to do something about it and he had to do it now. When he’d used the last shingle in his batch, he gathered his hammer and nails and hurried down the ladder back to the ground. He set the hammer and nails into the basket of tools near the piles of roofing shingles and headed straight for the livery.
He saddled his horse and led it to his shack to get his saddlebags. He had to get on the road right now. He shoved the bureau off the loose floor boards and grabbed his saddlebags.
Sheriff Curran appeared while West was locking up his door again.
“Saw you at the livery from the front window of the jail.” He said. “Where you headed?”
“T’find my Pa. I can’t let it go any more. I gotta find him.”
“I thought you were gonna give me time to get some leads on him.”
West tried to think of some good answer to give him, but finally just blurted,
“I can’t just sit here. I can’t stay here and have some kind of fine life while those butchering monsters are still out there.”
“You been looking for him five years, now, haven’t you? What better information you think you got today?”
West dragged a hand over his mouth in frustration.
“Nothing. I got nothing new. I just need to move. I need to be outta this town and on the road to somewhere I might find my Pa.”
Sheriff Curran pursed his lips and looked at the ground, considering.
“Next town is Rigby, that’s eight miles away. You ride there and find out what you can.”
West nodded, glad that the Sheriff was seeing things his way, even if it sounded like he thought he was the boss of West. He tossed the saddlebags in place over his horse and gathered the reins, getting ready to mount up.
The Sheriff turned to him, clearly with one more thing to say.
“I’ll take it as personal favor if you turn around and come back home when you’re done in Rigby. Even if you find some bit of information you can use, come back first and let us help you.”
“Why?” West asked. His throat felt like it had a dry hollow spot in it, just behind his tongue. “If there’s news, I can telegram you faster than riding it back. What’s it matter if it’s from my hand or my mouth?”
“It matters,” Curran said. He folded his arms across his chest and stared level at West, waiting for an answer.
“I got no sure answer I can give you.” West said, dipping his head to hide behind the brim of his hat. “If I got a clear chance, I’m taking it.” He wanted to give Sheriff Curran something for his concern though. “If I need to take off, I’ll telegram you where I’m headed. And why, if I can. I can promise that.”
Curran seemed to be thinking about it. He took a deep breath and let his arms drop to his sides.
“Fair enough. If you need to, if it helps, you tell the law there that I sent you.”
“I ‘preciate.” West said. “Look, I left the preacher’s house without so much as a word. If you see ‘em, you tell ‘em for me I’m sorry? I’ll be back when I can?”
West nodded and mounted up.
“Good luck.” Curran said, and West rode out of town.