John tossed the empty bottle back into the drawer.
Everett smiled faintly. “The bottle may be empty, but you’re still a drunk. Always have been.”
John shook his head. “Not always.”
Everett laughed. “Oh yeah, that’s right. Back when your daddy was alive.”
“Leave him out of this.”
“Boy, he would have skinned you, he ever found you with booze.”
“No telling how he’d react now, he knew how you turned out.”
John snatched the Remington from against the wall and pointed it toward the cell.
“I said that’s enough.”
Everett leaned forward, his forearms on both knees. “What’re gonna do, John, shoot me?”
John took a deep breath, let it out slowly. He closed his eyes. Once again, he’d let Everett take him across the line.
“No,” he said finally. He shook his head and laid the rifle across the desk. “I’m not like you.”
Everett pursed his lips. “No. You never have been. That was always the problem.”
“No, the problem was your willingness to kill a man with no thought otherwise. To you it was like riding a horse on a warm summer day. It didn’t matter who. Or that he didn’t do anything to you. All you needed was to listen to your cold heart.”
Everett’s smile widened.
“See, I knew there was something more than a new-found concern over a dead goat farmer.” He leaned back and sucked at his teeth. “You must think I’m dumb or something, but I noticed right away how you never answered my question.”
John didn’t say anything.
Everett said, “You still haven’t gotten over that night, have you? In fact, that night has probably haunted you every night since.”
John stared at the desk drawer. Why did he have to pour it all out? Boy, another drink would go down good right now.
He shook the thought off and reached into the drawer. Grabbing the bottle, he tossed it into the belly of the wood stove where glass popped against metal and shattered into pieces.
Everett chuckled. “Touched a sore spot there, huh?”
John turned in his chair and faced the window. Outside, the sky had finally turned the color of an old bruise.
“You can say all you want to, Everett. It don’t mean a thing.”
“I think it does,” Everett said. “So tell me. Have you settled all your debts?”
John sighed. “What’re you talking about now?”
“Aw, don’t play dumb. This is me you’re talking to, your old killin’ buddy.”
“We are not buddies. As I said, I’m not like you. I never was.”
“That’s right,” Everett said. "Even when it came to Lois, you were never half the man I was.”
“What’s she got to do with anything?”
At that, Everett’s smile was so big it showed a mouth full of crooked, yellow teeth. “The reason I asked had you settled up everything. Because if you haven’t, you still got time.”
John narrowed his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Everett’s face looked amused. “You really don’t know, do you?”
“Lois. She’s back. Been back, actually, going on a month or two now. But I guess you been too busy drinking away your miseries and playing sheriff to notice something like that.”
John shook his head. “If Lois had come to Sundance, I would have noticed it.”
“Did I say she’d returned to Sundance? Nah, she’s over in Wilson. Apparently shacked up with some preacher man who likes to go around sharing the Gospel, trying to save people for Jesus. Tried to save me too, but I told I was having none of it. Heaven doesn’t have any place for a man like me. He told me it wasn’t true, and I said, ‘Save it for someone else, preacher, someone who might actually place a gold piece in the plate for ya.’” Everett snorted. “He didn’t think that was too funny. I certainly did though.” Everett raised his eyebrows. “Oh, and there’s something else you might like to know. In fact, I think you’ll appreciate the irony of it. Her husband, the feller who rides around preachin’ to anyone who’ll listen? Turns out, he also goes by the name of John. John Summerfield. Now, ain’t that a stitch?”
“Good for her,” John said, fighting against the emotions rising up within him. “I still don’t see your point. Lois has got nothing to do with your being in jail.”
“So you say.”
John stood. “And I’ve done all the talking I want to this morning.” He grabbed the Remington and walked toward the door.
Everett said, “Where you going?”
John looked out the window.
“The sun’s almost up, and you said you were hungry. I best get you something to eat.”
“Uh-huh.” Everett chuckled some more. “When you see her, tell Lois I said howdy, okay?”
She couldn’t believe how real the dream had been. Even now, slipping into consciousness, the hint of smoke and firewood tickled at her nose. She had been at her mother’s house, back in Abilene, her mother the wife of a general and what Francine would later learn also the part-time lover of a young corporal who liked to ride more than horses out on the prairie. She had been trying to tell her mother about the soiled clothes, crying because she knew there would be another beating involved, when the smell of smoke rose up around her. Fire licked at her flesh, boiling it into blisters. And, then she heard her mother’s voice; only it didn’t sound like her mother at all, but something dark and feral.
In the darkness of her room, the voice called out again and brought her fully awake.
“C’mon Francine, time to wake up.”
Though she couldn’t see him, she felt him and smelled him, and she knew that voice. Hayworth.
She heard the click of gun’s hammer, felt the cold steel against press against her temple.
“We need to talk.”