John Colton chambered another round. In the room, a wisp of gun smoke hovered in the pale glow of lamplight.
He said, “I won’t say it again, Everett.”
Beside the bed, Everett Wilcox stared at the pillow where his head had been only a moment earlier. Before John barged into the room and shouted to get out of bed. John would later say seeing Everett like that was nearly the ugliest thing he’d seen all year, Everett wearing nothing but his underwear, a pair of grungy socks. What kind of man wore socks to bed anyway?
Everett said, “Okay, John,” his tone slightly irritated like a father might have toward a son. “I done what you asked. You mind telling me what this is about?”
In the corner of the room, Francine Love, Sundown’s well-used whore, clutched a bed sheet against her frumpy body. Her mouth hung open, her eyes on the brink of tears.
John cocked his head toward the door.
“I think it’s best you leave, Francine.” His words came out slow and lazy, the whiskey already taking over more control than he wanted; however, the time had finally come to do what he should have done long ago and he couldn’t have gone this far without drinking up a few shots of courage first.
Francine nodded, her eyes filling up with tears now, and she jumped through the doorway, clearly not concerned that he could see the clumpy skin on her backside. He would later Henry Clausen, the Livery owner, that Francine naked was indeed the ugliest thing he’d seen all year.
John turned and stared at the pillow, the blackened hole punched through by his bullet. When Everett didn’t fully comply but lifted up and demanded that John get out, John fired off a round just to let Everett know who was going to be in charge this time. Looking at the pillow now, though, he was surprised, practically shocked, that he’d actually done it. For one thing, he could have hit Everett, which would have required a good story for Judge Hardings, like how he thought Everett was drawing on him. And for another thing, as drunk as he was he could have hit Francine, for which there would have been no good excuse.
He glanced back at Everett, who stood by the bed, an expectant look on his face.
“I’m taking you in.”
Everett dropped his hands. His shoulders slumped.
“You’re drunk. Maybe you should go back to your little jailhouse and sleep it off, uh?”
“Maybe,” John said. “Before I do, though, I’m gonna walk you over with me, put you in the cell.” When Everett blinked, John added, “Oh, I’m serious. If you don’t think so, I’ll put the next bullet in your chest just to prove it. And in case you’re thinking it, I won’t care what God will have to say about it.”
After a moment, Everett said, “On what charge?”
“The murder of Roberto Mendoza.”
“Roberto?” Everett snorted. “Everybody knows I shot him in self-defense. I got witnesses.”
“Who’ll testify to what? How your bullet somehow circled the man and hit him in the back?”
Everett pursed his lips. “You not only accusing me of killing a man, you saying I’m a coward, too?”
“The body speaks for itself.”
“Don’t matter. He came looking for me, saying how he was going to kill me. People’ll testify to that.”
“What did you expect? You raped his sister.”
“That was just a woman who thought I was serious about her. When she found out otherwise, she made up a story. Surely you know how some people are, how they can misrepresent the facts.” He paused and smiled. “Or maybe that’s what this is all about.”
John shook his head. “This is about a dead man and your bullet in his back.”
“He had a pistol on him.”
“And you know what the funny thing is about that pistol? I remember seeing it another time, too. Only then, it was a younger Everett Wilcox, sneaking his daddy’s gun out, saying how he was going to shoot a coyote with it. I’ll even say how I remember you shooting it out there in the desert, and how afterwards you twirled it on your finger.”
Everett narrowed his eyes. “You try telling that to the judge, and I’ll have three witnesses standing in line to say how they saw Roberto purchase the gun. I’ll even have the general store owner tell how he sold it for five dollars.”
John nodded. “Bring your witnesses, and I’ll bring me. We’ll see who the judge believes.”
The room drew silent.
Finally Everett said, “He was just a lazy goat farmer. Nothing nobody else cared about.”
“I care,” John said. He jerked the rifle toward the door. “Now let’s go.”
“Can’t I even get dressed?”
John shook his head. “You take one step toward your clothes, the gun you most likely have with them, and it’ll be the last step you take. Just to be fair though…” He walked over to the chair where Everett had tossed his clothes. He kicked one boot, sent it across the floor where it stopped at Everett’s feet. He kicked the second one, and it went almost as far.
“There,” he said. “And if you don’t start moving, being seen in your shorts will be the least of your concerns.”
Everett looked down at his boots and then glared at John. “This ain’t gonna go well for you. I guarantee it.”
John nodded. “Maybe. You gonna put a bullet in my back, murder me like you did Mendoza?”
“If it comes to that.”
John smiled. “I may be a little drunk, Everett, but I’m not nearly as dumb as you just proved yourself to be.” He cocked his head toward the floor. “Now get those on before I decide justice ain’t worth waiting for.”
Everett looked at him for a moment, but then reached down and grabbed his boots.