Chapters 5 - 6
Dead Men Can’t Talk
… 5 …
There were only flickering points of lantern lights drifting through the windows and doors of the saloon, and the houses at the end of the street. The street was deserted, and even when Virgil passed the livery, there were no lights, and the stillness was unnatural and disturbing.
The town’s buildings crowded the empty street like living and menacing souls.
In the distance, against the last faint glimmer of the day, Virgil could make out the skeletal shape of Widow Bridges’ boarding house, and he welcomed the thought of a warm meal and a soft bed.
Just beyond the livery, not more than a hundred feet, a figure moved in the darkling shadows, just a mixture of merging shades at first, then becoming bolder as it stepped out into the street. Virgil strained his vision, lifting his eyes from the gravel road.
Instantly his hand dropped to his hip, but a nakedness swept over him as his fingers searched for his missing pistol.
“Have you a reason to be nervous, Virgil?” came a voice through the dim light.
For a moment, Virgil stared into the shadows, his eyes collecting the image before him.
“Slate,” he said finally. “What do you want?”
“I thought you might like to join me for a whiskey before you turned in.”
Virgil shook his head. “No, ”he answered with concern, troubled by the thought of spending time with this arrogant and dangerous man. “Why would you want to buy me a drink? You don’t know me.”
“I thought it would be nice to get to know each other before we start out in the morning. We’ve got a long ride ahead of us.”
Virgil scuffed his boots in the dust. “To where?” he asked.
“Your mine’s a good place to start.”
“There’s no reason for me to take you out there. I told sheriff Farley it wasn’t the O’Brien gang who robbed me. He showed me their posters.”
“Maybe the shot in your head deprived you of your memory?”
Virgil touched the linen cloth bound about his head. “My memory is just fine,” he said. “Besides a headache, I know what I remember. It wasn’t them.”
“I think differently,” Slate coughed a teasing chortle. “I know you,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on it, but I know you.”
“You’re mistaken,” Virgil came back at him. “If we had met, I would remember.”
Slate didn’t answer, instead be turned and disappeared silently into the now dark night.
Widow Bridges open the door to Virgil’s third knock. A woman of medium height, auburn colored hair held together at the top of her head, in a bun, with a wide-tooth comb. An attractive woman, thin-faced with wide brown eyes that suddenly lit up with glee at the sight of him. She loosened the scarf that wrapped her slender shoulders, revealing a deep cleavage that parted her well-formed breasts that swelled above her dress line. “I’ve been waiting for you, Virgil,” she said. “I heard you were back in town.”
Virgil removed his hat and held it to his chest. “Betty,” he greeted her. “I’ve got troubles —”
Don’t worry about them, Virgil.” She cut him short and reached for his wound. “Your mishap is all over town. Come inside with you now, I have your supper waiting for you in the warming oven.”
Betty Bridgers kept a clean and well-fitted kitchen. She pointed to the kitchen table. “Take your normal place, Virgil, my other boarders have eaten already.”
While Virgil ate a hearty meal of beef and potato, sided with freshly baked homemade bread, she moved about the kitchen fussing over the smallest things while she waited for the water to boil. “I heard about your robbery,” she said across her shoulder as she reached for the kettle standing on a black, cast iron coal stove. When she returned to the kitchen table, she placed a mug of coffee on the table in front of him, and then slid onto the bench beside him, her hand resting gently on his upper leg. “It’s good to have you home again, Virgil.”
Despite the pain in his head, Virgil felt the crotch of his jeans tightening, but he checked himself and removed her hand from his leg and placed it gently on the wooden bench between them. “Not tonight, Betty, I’m not in the mood. My head hurts. All I want is sleep.”
When he had first visited the boarding house the year before, the only pleasure he had taken from her was that of friendship and companionship. Her blatant esteem had filled some void in his heart, and he felt protective, almost brotherly towards her. She, on the other hand, wanted more. She had sensed instantly, with some feminine instant, that she wanted to share his life, to be with him through his troubles and needs.
Now her smile on her lips died, and her eyes went grave, and there were shadows in them of dread or apprehension — but she turned to face him, lifting her face to him, seeming to steel herself with a conscious act of courage. “I understand,” she offered sweetly. “I’m afraid for you, Virgil. When they find out you’re alive, will they come back?” She reached for his hand and squeezed it warmly.
Later that night, Virgil awoke to a tingling sensation growing in his tummy. Betty lay snuggled against his back, her hand gently caressing the flesh of his lower belly.
The last thing Virgil remembered was entering her.
“Oh, you naughty boy,” she uttered quietly and pushed him gently from her. With her head sunk deep into her pillow, she lay still, smiling up into the darkness. For now, she was content just to have him by her side again, if only for a short time.
… 6 …
After Virgil had collected the Winchester rifle and Colt from sheriff Farley’s office, he stopped over at Glen Walkers’ grocery store to purchase his essentials; two slabs of salted pork, one bag of cornmeal, coffee, sugar, and salt, and a box of .45 cartridges.
Benjamin Adams was already hard at work when Virgil finally arrived at the livery stable. The early sun lit the desert sands to a deep, golden brown, and the morning breeze that drifted off the rocky mounds smelt of dust and dried Joshua trees. A crisp, clinging smell that wove deep into the fibers of men’s clothing, and Virgil felt the warmth of it gathering beneath his riding jacket.
Benjamin looked up as Virgil approached, lowered his forging hammer, and moved out from behind his workbench. “You’re leaving,” he asked, and Virgil nodded. “Give me a minute then, and I’ll fetch your horse and mule.”
“Only my horse, Benjamin,” Virgil instructed him. “I’ll come back for the mule in a couple of days.”
Virgil followed him to the side of the building. Five horses stood in the corral leaned over an eating trough, enjoying a breakfast of dry hay mixed with oats and molasses. The mule stood its distance, looking on waitingly.
Benjamin excused himself and entered the livery through a side door, and when he returned, he was carrying a saddle and bridle. “I rented out one of my horses to a Pinkerton agent this morning, “he said. “Said he was heading out after the O'Brien gang.”
“Did he say where he was headed?”
Benjamin pointed out into the desert. He had sandy brown hair, and he stood with the posture of a hanging judge, proud of his achievements. “No,” he said. “But a few minutes earlier, Virgil, you could have ridden out together, seen you both headed in the same direction.”
Virgil cringed at the thought of Sean and Noah. To save themselves a few years of jail time or a hanging, they wouldn’t think twice about offering up his name. He took the leash from Benjamin and fitted the bit to the mouth of his horse, while Benjamin set the blanket and saddle to its back.
“Where do you think they’ll go to spend all that money, Virgil?”
“Across the border, maybe. How much did the bank lose?”
“Ten thousand dollars, according to Smithy. The army’s, and a few of the farmer’s payrolls.”
“That’s quite a load.”
“It sure is. A man could settle down real good with that kind of money.”
“Their kind don’t think of tomorrow, Benjamin. All they want is whiskey, lose women, and the excitement of the kill. Nothing more.”
Virgil stepped up into the stirrup and flung his leg over the saddle. “Before I leave, Benjamin, I want you to give this back to the sheriff.” He unbuckled his gun belt, removed the Colt, and handed the belt and holster to Benjamin. The Colt he slipped into his saddlebag. “No need to show the world what you’re carrying,” he teased. Tightening his hold on the reins, Virgil turned his horse to the desert. “Well, I think I’ll be going now, Benjamin. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”
… 7 …