Later that night, after supper, the old folks gathered in the front room, the way they did every evening. The women had their sewing, and Tio and Tom talked about trivial things while Tio smoked his pipe. West felt weariness setting heavily behind his eyes and he figured he might as well go to bed. He wanted to be up early and get back on the trail.
He excused himself and went into his room and sat on the bed, preparing to pull his boots off. No surprise, Pepina was almost immediately behind him. She lit the candle on his bureau and gave him a searching look.
“Are you going to bed, Chiquito? I should check the bandage on your shoulder before you do.”
“I know I shouldn’t be tired, y’had me sleeping half the day away already today. But I am. I’m powerful tired.”
“Good. It means you’re body is healing. Now, take off your shirt and I’ll bring the poultice and dressings.”
While she stepped back into the kitchen for her supplies, West pulled his shirt and undershirt off then he started unwrapping the bandages from around his shoulder. Pepina brought her supplies in and sat behind him on the bed to tend to his wound.
At first she worked quietly, but then she said,
“You have new scars.”
“Some,” West allowed after some consideration.
Pepina took in a very deep breath, a sure sign that she was getting aggravated. Then she let it out slowly, a sure sign that she was trying not to give into the aggravation.
“I like Tom,” she said, changing the subject. West smiled. Pepina saying she liked somebody was the highest compliment there was. (dialogue)
“He’s ornery, bossy, and he’ll talk your ear off if you let him,” West said, then added, “But I’d ride the river with him.”
“He feels the same about you, you know.”
“Naah.” West shrugged, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. “I wouldn’t know about that.”
“Then take my word for it, Chiquito. You’re the best friend he has.”
“Then he needs to meet more people,” West said automatically. But then he wondered if it was maybe true. Or even possible.
“He followed you all the way out here, just to be sure you were safe.” Pepina stood and placed a warm hand gently on the side of West’s battered face. “What doesn’t that say?”
“He’s wanting to catch Maldad. That’s why he come.”
“No, Chiquito. That’s not why.” She sighed. “I will have provisions ready for you and Tom tomorrow before you leave.”
“You know I’m leaving?” West asked.
“I know you, Chiquito. I can tell when your eyes are on the horizon, wishing it would come closer to you. It is less than a day whenever I see that look that you leave us. Tell me – will it be another six months before we see you again?”
On top of his weariness, now West felt sad. He hated leaving the old folks on their own, but he couldn’t help it.
“I gotta go after Maldad. I gotta find him.” He said. “Whatever it takes, I gotta find him and make him pay.”
Pepina didn’t say anything and West couldn’t see her face to know what she might be thinking. Her silence usually meant she disagreed with whatever had been said.
“I gotta get back on the trail. This is the closest I’ve been to Maldad since that night in San Augustine. I gotta catch him. I’m gonna catch him and I’m gonna nail his guts to Padre’s gravemarker.”
“I think Maldad isn’t the one you’re truly chasing, Chiquito. And if you do catch him, you’ll have to face that. And I think you don’t want to face that.”
Her words surprised West.
“Who the dang else am I chasing, if it ain’t him?”
“You’re chasing forgiveness for not saving Padre.” She finally said.
“Kinda stupid to chase something y’know you’ll never catch.”
“Stupid to chase after something that’s already in your hand.” Pepina answered.
“It ain’t in my hand. It ain’t anywhere in my life.” He said in a low voice. What Pepina said felt so close to the truth, it annoyed West. “It ain’t what I’m after. I’m after Maldad.”
“And what will you have when you catch him?”
“But not peace.”
“Peace is for dead folks.”
When the women said their goodnights and had gone to their rooms, West padded in his stocking feet out toward the front room where Tio and Tom were still awake.
West stopped before they knew he was there.
Tom apparently was telling Tio a story of when they first met.
“So, my Josephine is at the desk in the jail when West come in and asked for the sheriff. ‘How d’you know I ain’t the sheriff?’ she says and West don’t blink, he just says, ‘don’t see no badge’.”
They laughed and West stayed where he was and didn’t let them know he was there. He listened to them talk.
“He can be sharp, but I’ll tell you,” Tom went on. “I never knew anybody disliked the sound of his own voice as much as West does.”
“He’s always been frugal with words.” Tio said. “Losing Padre, and the way we lost him, made it worse. For a month after it happened, he didn’t say two words in a row.”
“I can imagine.”
They were quiet for a minute, West thought maybe they were drinking coffee. Then Tio said,
“Chiquito is a good man. Life has done its best to make him hard and bad-tempered, but he’s a good man.”
To West it sounded like Tio was trying to convince Tom of that, and he wondered if Tom could be convinced. He wondered if it was true.
“Yeah, he is a good man.” Tom agreed warmly, to West’s surprise. “We might peeve each other up most of a day, but I’m glad to know him. It’s always a good day when he rides into town. I’m glad he’s my friend.”
“You’ll watch out for him? Going after Maldad, if he catches Maldad, will do worse to him than he knows. It will be a particular kindness to our family if you’ll watch out for him.”
“I will.” Tom said.
West padded quietly back to his room. He blew out the candle and laid down on his bed and pretended he was asleep when Tom came in a while later, and Tio walked past on his way to bed.
Tio who considered West family. Tom, who considered West his friend.
Tom’d stuck by all day, helping Tio with chores, fetching for Pepina, carrying for Dora, charming Lucy by praising her sewing skills.
Sticking close by whenever West was awake and out of bed.
That kept West awake a long while after Tom fell asleep.