(WEST RIDES TO BENNY’S GRAVE?)
About a mile past the last building of the town, the road broadened into the flats. The buckskin had been fractious the whole way there and West let the horse have its head and soon they were flying over the grass and hard ground, the horse’s legs seeming to reach out and pull the ground towards it.
West never felt so free as when he was alone on his horse, galloping towards the horizon. Nothing hemmed him in. He could move, he could breathe. He could forget everything.
He could never forget San Augustine. If he wasn’t thinking about it when he was awake, he was swallowed up by it when he was asleep. The blood and bone and screams sometimes drowned out anything else until it felt to West that he really was drowning, sinking into bloody quicksand, fighting just to breathe.
No ride, no matter how fast or how far, had ever left those memories very far behind.
The horse carried them up a rise that led to the long way around and down to the ravine and stream. West could go down there and rest for a while, comb through his memories, figure everything out. He had to figure everything out.
He reined the buckskin in and headed it to turn them down the path to the ravine. When they got there, he tied the horse to a low branch, leaving the reins long enough to reach the water for a good long drink, and he sat himself against a flat topped boulder at the edge of the stream. He stayed there a good long while, staring at his bruised knuckles, thinking things over.
He’d hurt Tom. He probably hadn’t hurt him bad. It’d been a mistake, he done it out of instinct. But he’d still done it.
Tom would forgive him, West was pretty sure of it. West had spent a lot of time and breath trying to aggravate the daylights out Tom, and the worst Tom had ever done was laugh at him. No matter how hard West had ever tried to push Tom away, Tom never left. No matter how long West was gone from town, Tom always seemed to be one of the first people he saw when he came back. So Tom would forgive him for giving him a pounding.
But there was so many other secrets under West’s skin that so few people had ever forgiven. Who he was, where he came from, how he was made. And now Campbell was probably back in town spilling them all.
Tom would never forgive him for those secrets. Nobody else ever had. Nobody would.
West had long ago learned not to tolerate dread. If he felt something staring him down, he walked right up and met it. So he decided to do that now. He stood up and untied the horse. He swung up and rode back to town.
BENNY’S GRAVE? Not in the cemetery but somewhere else?
Tom finished his coffee and was about to stand up to get more when he saw West and his horse walking up to the livery. He breathed out a sigh of relief, set his cup down and made a slow hurry across the road where West was easing himself off of the horse.
When he was both feet on the ground, instead of leading the horse into the livery, he signaled Sam who came and took the reins.
“Y’get him squared away for me? I’ll be back soon’s I clean up some.”
(SOME MENTION OF THE FIGHT?)
Sam nodded and led the horse into the livery. West turned to Tom.
“Wouldn’t blame you if y’wanted me outta your sight.”
“You mean the sight in the eye I can still see out of?” Tom asked. He tried to make it sound lighthearted, but West looked stricken.
“I can tell you I’m sorry, if that makes a difference.”
Tom shook his head and saved himself trying to explain that there were no hard feelings. “You all right?”
West hmpfd a laugh at the question. “I oughtta be asking you that. Josephine must want a piece of my hide.”
Tom shook his head. “No, she doesn’t. And I’m fine.”
West quirked him a “really” look.
“Good to see I ain’t busted in your ability to lie. And lie poorly at that.”
(WEST GETS CLEANED UP)
The horse was fine, eating some grain from a bucket when West went to check on it. And he checked it, back to front, top to bottom, head to hoof, while Tom waited outside the stall. The horse was fine.
When the examination was over, West pulled a small leather pouch from his jacket pocket and poured some sugar out of it onto his palm and offered to the buckskin.
“There you go, crowbait,” he said as the horse licked his hand clean. “Sugar twice in a day and that’s something.”
He tugged on the strings to shut the bag and tucked it back into his pocket. Tom thought they’d go to the saloon, but West stayed by the horse, stroking the underside of its neck. Tom didn’t move from where he was leaning against the stall doorway.
“So – what’d Campbell say after I shinned out?” West asked. The way he sounded wary, looking at Tom out of the corner of his eye, Tom got an idea he was hiding something he hoped Campbell hadn’t shared.
“Nothing I didn’t already know.” Tom said, and West’s shoulders seem to come down a good bit. Time for the hard part. “What’s he holding over you, West? Every time he talks to you, you get a look on your face like you’re thumb’s caught in a vice and you can’t figure out how to get it out.”
West turned to Tom, a tight look on his face. “My business ain’t a safe place for you to be.”
Tom gestured to his own face. “Wasn’t exactly safe when I was staying out of it, either, was it?” He asked pointedly.
West scrubbed his fingers through his horse’s mane and seemed to be thinking about his answer. “Seems he knows me from when I was squirt, but I don’t light on him.”
Tom took West at his word. “Okay, then. What is it he could know about you from back then that he thinks is a threat to you?”
West shrugged. “If I knew, I’d stop him.” West said.
“So, am I getting that drink I been promised?” Tom asked. “Or ain’t you done molly coddlin’ that mule?”
He could see that the change of topic put West at ease, his shoulders came down and he blew out a breath.
“Don’t you listen to him,” West said to his horse, patting its neck a few times more. “He’s just jealous ‘cause you’re smarter than he is.”