Tom rode into Temperance late that afternoon. He kept on the lookout for any sign of West. The first sign he had was West’s horse, tied to the hitching rail outside the saloon. The horse seemed nervous, tugging on its reins, snorting and tossing its head. Tom dismounted next to it.
“Hey, boy. What’s going on? Where’s West?”
He looked the animal over, looking for blood or wounds or any evidence of trouble. But there was no new damage to be found. He gave another look around town. West wouldn’t leave his horse alone and fractious if he could help it. He loved the mule too much for that. So he had to be in trouble.
Another look, this one bordering on frantic, and Tom saw the church steeple halfway down the muddy street. (Something tells him that’s where West is.)
He mounted up again and galloped down to the squat structure. The front door was half open and the inside was dark with shadows.
There was West, in a dim corner behind the last pew. He was sitting up but half leaning over, with one leg stretched out and one knee pulled up. That knee supported the hand that held his gun. He was all over bloody and bruised and looked exactly like the loser of a bare knuckle boxing match. He was looking at Tom, but Tom wasn’t sure what West was seeing, if anything.
“West?” Tom said, lifting his hands a little and trying to seem as unthreatening as possible with that hog leg pointed at his privates. “West? You hearing me? It’s me. Tom. All right? You put that gun down and I’ll help you get out of here.”
“Tom? What the hell you doing here?” He sounded peeved.
“Looking for you, you – “ But the insult died away. “What happened? Are you okay?”
The gun wavered and then fell off of West’s knee and his head fell back against the wall of the church.
“M’horse – y’seen m’horse out there?” He mumbled. “He didn’t get m’horse did he?”
“No, that old cow pony a’yours is fine. Tied up outside the saloon.”
Tom hurried to West’s side and tried to gauge the damage.
“Don’t call him names.” West said, seriously. Tom held off saying he’d heard West call that animal worse things.
“Who did this to you? How long have you been here? Why didn’t you call for help?”
“Which one y’want me t’answer first?”
“Always gotta be stubborn, don’t you?” He asked, only slightly relieved that West was all right enough to be difficult. “Are you all right?”
“Ain’t died yet. Reckon I’ll keep a while longer.”
“Who did this to you?”
West grimaced and shifted himself against the wall and scrubbed some blood off the corner of his mouth with his left arm. But he didn’t answer the question.
“Maldad.” West said softly.
“Who?” Tom demanded. The word sounded Spanish, but Tom only knew enough of that language to deal with the Mexicans in town. He didn’t know that word.
“My Pa. He found me in here. I shoulda killed him when I had the chance.”
“Do you know where he might be headed now?” Tom asked. Taking care of West was his first concern, but taking care of the monster that did this to West was a real close second. “Did he say anything?”
“If he did, I didn’t hear it.”
“All right.” Tom fisted his hands into the front of West’s jacket. “Can you stand up? We’ll get you on my horse and get you to a doctor.”
West nodded and put some effort into helping Tom help him to his feet.
“Don’t want no doctor. Don’t need no doctor. Just get me t’my horse. I can get to the old folks if you get me to my horse.”
“Old folks? Who the blazes are the old folks?”
West peered at him through battered eyes with an expression that seemed confused that Tom was confused.
“They’re my family.”
“Family?” Tom asked, shocked. He carefully pulled West’s arm over his shoulder, really surprised that West was allowing it. But now West looked at him like his feelings were hurt.
“You think maybe a fella like me ain’t got nobody?”
“Ain’t like you ever mentioned ‘em.” Tom said.
“What’s the matter? Y’sound like a girl’s been stood up for a dance.” West said, but he sounded distracted saying it. Like he was mocking Tom from habit. “My business is my own.”
“I know.” Tom said quietly. “C’mon. Let’s get you to my horse, then I can take you to – wherever you want to go.”
“I can walk. Just get my horse for me. All right? He’s been there all day. Don’t want nothing happening to him.”
“You care more for that mule than you do yourself.” Tom complained.
“You don’t call him names.” West insisted. He sounded petulant. “He’s saved my skin more times being fast than ever I saved it being smart.”
Tom heard what he said but was too busy getting them both through the doorway to pay much attention.
“What – y’got nothing to say to that?” West asked. “I must be dying.”
“Button your lip and keep moving.”
Tom brought West to his horse, tied outside the church. Knowing better than to argue with him about his own horse, Tom let him lean against the hitching rail.
“All right. I’ll go get your horse. Try staying out of trouble until I get back.”
“Pfft.” But West got a white knuckled grip around the saddle horn with one hand and around the back of the saddle with the other. “Just untie him, he’ll come to me.”
Tom scoffed at that but sure enough, as he got to West’s horse and untied it, he heard a sharp whistle and the horse wheeled from its place at the rail and galloped down the street. When Tom got back to the church, the darn plug was nuzzling West’s hat and snorting in his ear like a drunken fancy lady.
“Don’t you two make a cute couple.” Tom said. “You want me to give you some privacy?”
“Just ‘cause your horse don’t appreciate you, don’t blame me. All right, c’mon.”
Before Tom could move in to help, West pulled himself into his saddle with a sharp intake of breath. It took a minute after he was mounted to pull himself upright and get his breathing under control. Only then did Tom get into his own saddle.
“Where’re we headed?” he asked.
West jerked his chin down the street.
“It’s ‘bout mile n’half west of here.”
They got started down the street. There were more people down at the end of town away from the church but hardly anybody looked at them.
“So – family.” Tom tried when they were clear of town and headed out into the countryside. “Your Ma?”
“Ha.” West barked a sharp laugh. “She’s down to Mexico somewheres. She lit out soon’s she could. She got some fella from down in Juarez married her when I was five or six I reckon. I ain’t seen her since.”
He didn’t offer any more information.
“So, where’re we headed?” Tom asked after a minute.
And waited another minute for West to answer.
“Friends, I guess, if I was to have to give ‘em a right name. But they’re the only real family I ever had me. Them n’Padre.” Those last few words were whispered out. “Tio and Pepina, they’s married. They got ‘em Pepina’s sisters, Dora and Lucy live with ‘em. They got ‘em a farm and a house on some land Tio’s nephew owns. They come here after Padre – after Padre – died.”
“You never mentioned them.” Tom said, sounding even to himself a little jealous. West might’ve thought so too, from the look he was giving Tom. But it might’ve just been the way his left eye was swollen shut.
“Seems to me there’s lots of things I ain’t mentioned. Never took you to be so particular.”
“Ain’t being particular. Just curious.”
West let out a long breath but didn’t say anything else, just led the way to the farm.
Tom knew that he was feeling jealous though. He didn’t have much family. Just his Pa and Josephine. And with no little ones on the horizon after three years of marriage, it seemed like there would never be any little ones.
Sure, Tom had friends and lots of them. He’d considered West his friends most of the two years they’d known each other. But for a good nearly year of that time, he’d come to consider West part of his family. He kinda hope West felt the same way too.
Now to find out West had friends he considered family out here in Temperance, well, yeah, Tom was feeling jealous.