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ROBERT B. PARKER

Appaloosa

The Boston House Saloon was the best in Appaloosa. It had a long, teak bar with a big, gilt-framed mirror behind it. At night, the room was lit by coal oil lamps on a chandelier that could be lowered and raised on a chain and pulley. It was late afternoon, and the place was empty except for the bartender and three off-shift copper miners drinking beer. The bartender was Willis McDonough. McDonough was a fat man who always wore white shirts fresh from the Chinaman. He moved easily and with great dignity up and down the bar. He was polishing glasses with a clean towel when the two men came into the saloon and ordered two glasses of whiskey.

One of the men, the shorter one, had a small face with a narrow mouth and prominent front teeth, which he tried to conceal with a big, sweeping moustache. He carried a gun cross draw in a cheap holster. He wasn’t a miner, and he wasn’t a cowboy. The other man was taller, with a thick body and long, black hair that looked oily. He too had a gun. It was stuck into his right-hand pants pocket, with its dark walnut butt showing.

Between them, they drank a bottle of whiskey. They spoke only to each other. They paid no attention to McDonough or the three miners. When the whiskey was gone, they turned to leave.

“That’ll be three dollars,” McDonough said.

Both men turned and stared silently at McDonough for a moment. McDonough looked back at them and felt uncomfortable. They both had guns. Looking at them, he realized, as if they had told him, that they would shoot him if he persisted. He didn’t wish to die for three dollars. He shrugged.

“On the house, gentlemen.”

Neither one showed any reaction. They turned and left the bar. McDonough’s heart felt shaky in his chest.

THEY HAD JUSTcome from seeing a stereopticon show about Venice, Italy. Now they walked up Second Street, lit mostly by the moon and a little by the light that spilled out of the barrooms. She put her arm through his. She could feel how strong he was. It would be so exciting if they could ever go to Venice-or anyplace, really, as long as they were together. Coming toward them on the board sidewalk were three men. From the way they walked, she could tell they were drunk. She wanted to cross the street, but he said no. He didn’t cross the street for anyone. They met by the livery stable. One of the men asked them where they were going. He was a tall man, she remembered, with narrow shoulders and a walleye. His beard was scraggly, as if he had trouble growing one.

“We’re going home,” her husband said, “if you’ll kindly step out of the way.”

“Good-looking lady you got,” the walleyed man said.

“My wife,” her husband said, and she could hear the warning in his voice.

“She fuck as good as she looks?” the walleyed man said.

Her husband hit him very hard, and he staggered backward. One of his friends, a short, thick man with no hat, drew his gun and shot her husband in the chest. She screamed. Her husband collapsed in a heap. The tall man got his balance back and dragged her away from her husband and into the livery stable. The two other men followed. They forced her onto the floor and began to take off her clothes. She struggled as hard as she could. Then she was naked and one of them was on her. She felt as if she was surrounded by a vast, empty space in which her own screams echoed like those of someone else. Then she closed her eyes and set her jaw and waited.

JACK BELL had worked all the tough towns. He’d been a city marshal in cattle-trail towns and worked the wild mining towns like Tombstone and Silver City. He’d scouted for the army and rode shotgun for Wells Fargo. He’d once arrested John Wesley Hardin. When Clayton Johansson’s wife described the men who shot her husband and raped her, Bell was pretty sure who did it. With two deputies, he rode out to the Circle RB ranch to talk with Randall Bragg, who owned the ranch and for whom the suspects worked. They met in the open area of hard, trampled dirt between the ranch house and the barn. Most of his hands stood near Bragg. All of them were armed.

“Randall,” Bell said. “I’m afraid I need to bring three of your boys back into town with me.”

Bragg was a spare man, wearing a black duster and a high-crowned black hat. He held a Winchester rifle. Bell could see that the hammer was back.

“Can’t spare ’em, Jack,” he said.

His voice was deep, but it had a hard sound to it, as if it were forced out through his nose.

“It’s serious legal business, Randall. I got to take them in.”

“No.”

Bell looked at Bragg and the cowboys ranged behind him. He looked over his shoulder at one of the deputies, and nodded at the walleyed man standing with his two friends near one end of the group.

“Cut those three out,” he said.

The deputy looked uncertain. Bell’s hand rested gently on his gun’s butt.

“Do what I tell you,” Bell said.

The deputy moved his horse forward and pitched suddenly off the horse as a shot was fired from the barn. Bell knew it was a Winchester; he’d heard enough of them. He turned his horse toward the shot and pulled his gun free, and a bullet hit him in the face and knocked him backward out of the saddle. The second deputy sat, frozen, in his saddle. He looked at the deputy and Bell sprawled in the dirt. He glanced at the barn and then at Bragg. Bragg, still holding the Winchester, smiled.

“Time to see what you’re made of,” he said to the deputy. “Ain’t it.”

The deputy pulled his horse sharply around and headed out at a gallop. No one in town knew where he went.

1

It was a long time ago, now, and there were many gunfights to follow, but I remember as well, perhaps, as I remember anything, the first time I saw Virgil Cole shoot. Time slowed down for him. He fought with an odd stateliness. Always steady and never fast, but always faster than the man he was fighting.

Like my father, I’d been to West Point, and I was good at soldiering. But soldiering didn’t allow too much for expansion of the soul. So after five years in the Indian Wars, I turned in my commission and rode away to see how far I could expand it. To keep from starving to death while I was expanding it, I shot buffalo for the railroad, and rode beside the driver on Wells Fargo coaches with an eight-gauge shotgun, and scouted now and then for the Army. I sat lookout for a while in a gambling parlor in Durango. I did a short turn as a bouncer in a whorehouse in Canon City. I got in a fight in Tres Piedras, and killed the man and had to move on pretty quick. I tried to find a little gold in the mountains in Colorado and didn’t, and came down out of the San Juan Mountains, looking for something else to do. Along the way, I read a lot of books and fucked a lot of women, all of whom I liked. Now, with thirty dollars’ worth of gold in my pocket, on a dark bay gelding named Sugar that I’d won playing poker in Esmeralda, I came on into Trinidad in the midafternoon on a summer day with the sun warm on my back.

It wasn’t much of a town then. Two streets north and south. Three streets crossing east and west. Twelve

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