The farm came into view after about twenty minutes of slow riding, which was nearly past when they needed to get there. Tom kept his eye on West, who seemed to lose strength with every hoof beat. Tom expected him at every step to fall clean off his horse.
An old man with a new rifle appeared in the front doorway. After just a moment’s consideration, he was hurrying towards them.
“What happened?” he demanded.
“Found Maldad.” West managed to breathe out just before he did collapse off his horse. The old man – Tio, Tom expected – dropped the rifle and caught West and lowered him to the ground.
Tom jumped down from his horse and went to West’s side.
“Where did you find him?” Tio asked.
“In town, in the church there. He said his father did this to him.”
“Maldad.” Tio spat. West started to rouse. He blinked his eyes open and looked around. When he finally seemed to realize that he was on the ground, he pushed himself up fast to sitting.
“What – is there a holiday I don’t know about, ain’t nobody doing any work today?”
He made a show of pushing at Tom, but Tom felt him use that hand on his shoulder to push himself to his shaky feet. Tom and Tio both stood with him. They each put a hand out to steady West, but West shook them off.
“Where’s my horse? I gotta see to my horse.”
“Chiquito, even your horse thinks you should be seen to first.”
West made some sound of derision and reached for his horse’s reins.
“Tom – Tio. Tio – Tom.” He waved a hand between them. “Y’all can work out the rest of the details between you. I gotta – I gotta – “
His legs buckled and he went down to his knees on the ground again.
“Will you help Chiquito into the house?” Tio asked Tom. Then he leaned closer to West and said with some emphasis. “And I’ll see to your horses.”
West made the derisive sound again but let Tio help him to his feet. Tom got next to him and got West’s arm around his shoulders.
“I don’t need to be helped.” West complained and Tio turned a look on him.
“One more word and I carry you, Chiquito. Comprende?”
“Si, comprendo.” West answered after a hesitation.
Tom got them started for the front door of the house while Tio gathered up the reins of both horses and his rifle and headed for the barn.
A woman met them at the door. She didn’t bother with pleasantries.
“Put him here.” She indicated a little room off of the kitchen. Tom maneuvered West onto the bed and eased him down onto the pillow.
“Tom – Pepina. Pepina – Tom.” West said.
Taking his cue from Pepina who didn’t acknowledge the introduction, Tom didn’t acknowledge it either. He stepped back out of the way while Pepina began stripping West’s coat off of him. Soon two other women joined them in the little room. One carried a basin of warm water and a towel over her arm. She set them down on the little table next to the bed and started helping Pepina with West.
The other woman, with a puckered scar where her left eye probably wasn’t anymore, put a hand on Tom’s elbow and drew him away from West and to the kitchen.
“Are you Tom?” She asked. As she asked, she pushed Tom towards a chair at the table that was already set and apparently waiting supper. “I’m Lucy. When Tio comes in, you’ll have your supper.”
“Can I help take care of West?” Tom asked.
“Pepina and Dora can take care of him. They take care of him every time.”
But Tom felt he should be doing something.
“I’ll go help Tio with the horses.” He said and Lucy nodded like it was a good idea and gestured to the back door.
The barn was a hundred feet or so behind the house. It was small, but still bigger than the house. Tio had both horses in stalls and had already taken the saddles off. He was rubbing Tom’s horse down with a rough piece of cloth. He handed that to Tom and got another one for himself.
“Chiquito is in good hands?” He asked and went over to begin rubbing down West’s horse.
“Seems like you’ve been through this before?”
“Too many times.” Tio agreed. “West doesn’t know how to stop unless his body demands it of him.” He thought a moment. “Never this bad though. This is the first time he’s ever caught up with Maldad.”
“Maldad?” Tom asked. “That’s Spanish, ain’t it? What’s it mean?”
Tio narrowed his eyes.
“It means evil.”