In Wilson, it didn’t take long for John to find out more information. The General Store owner, a grey haired man with stubble for a beard, whose full name was William Henry Wadsworth Bishop, but who also liked to be called Hank, said, yes indeed, he’d heard of the new preacher man, a feller who lived with his young bride about a mile or so northwest of town. “Just follow the river,” he said, “and you’ll eventually run into ‘em.”
John thanked the store owner, making sure to call him Hank but not believing it to be that big of an issue one way or the other. After all, if the man wanted to be called Hank, why not just say so? Why go on about his birth name like it really mattered to a perfect stranger?
Heading north now, John felt a gust of air. He smelled the earthly scent of prairie dust and remembered how it smelled that same way fifteen years ago. In fact, there were many things he remembered about that night. How the moon, blazing like fire, rose up out of the east. And how in the west, lightning sparked and lit up the clouds that boiled into the sky. He remembered the clop-clop-clop of horse hooves as Everett and he rode out of town, Everett showing off the gun he’d stolen out of his daddy’s war chest. At one time, Everett’s father had been a sergeant in the Tenth Cavalry stationed in Fort Concho. Since his wife’s death, though, he’d been nothing more than a broken down cowpoke who spent most of his time, and his earnings, drinking whiskey in the local saloon--that is, when he wasn’t cussing Everett or accusing him of being the death of the best woman who ever lived.
John remembered Everett bragging about the gun.
“I done shot me a coyote with it once already.”
“Really,” John said, amazed at this new revelation. “When?”
“Other night. My daddy and me rode out after one that Mr. Dix said was attacking his herd.” Everett spun the gun around his finger. He grabbed the grip and raised it up, taking aim. “Shot him from over a hundred paces, probably two.”
John thought about that. “Wow,” he said. “How’d you get that close?”
They rode in silence for a moment until Everett said, “’Cause he was too busy eatin’ on one of Mr. Dix’s steers, John, what else?”
John shrugged. “I dunno. Strikes me as unusual, though.”
Everett turned and stared hard at John. “You sayin’ I’m a liar?”
John looked away. “I didn’t mean any by it, Everett, I was just asking a question."
Everett stuffed the pistol down inside his pants. “Yeah, well, don’t question me again.”
They cleared the Mill Creek Bridge and continued riding into the night. In the distance, John heard the lowing of cattle as they finally crossed into Mr. Dix’s ranch, a twelve hundred acre spread of grassland and spidery cholla cactus.
To change the subject, John said, “So how’s Lois?”
Everett turned and gave him another hard look. “She’s fine, John. Why’re you asking?”
“Just something to talk about, I guess.” He reached up and adjusted his hat. “I mean, how’re you two getting along, now that her daddy told you to leave her alone?”
Everett looked away. “Her daddy ain’t the final say.”
“Really.” John felt his curiosity rising up, but didn’t want to press it. Asking too many questions could lead Everett to asking a few of his own.
Everett pulled up on his reigns. “Whoa.”
John stopped his horse.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Over there.” Everett pointed. “You see it?”
John looked into the darkness. About a hundred feet away, he saw a dark shape flopping around on the ground.
“I don’t believe it,” Everett said.
“What? What is it?”
Everett smiled. “My coyote trap actually worked.”
“A coyote trap. I done caught me one.”
John stared into the darkness.
“So what’re you gonna do?”
Everett pulled the pistol out. “What do you think I’m gonna do?” He fired off two rounds, each shot followed by a shrill scream as bullets struck hard rock. The dark form flopped around furiously.
“You got to get closer, Everett.”
Everett looked at him. “You think you can do better, huh?”
“That’s not what--”
“First I’m a liar and now you’re better than me?”
“No, Everett, I--”
“Well, here’s your chance, cowboy. Pull your rifle and you hit it.”
John shook his head.
Everett pointed the pistol at John. “You better pull that thing, you know what’s good for you.”
“Look, Everett, I got nothin’ to prove.”
Everett cocked the hammer. “But I do.”
John looked at the gun. “Don’t do this.”
Everett pulled the gun back. “You scared, John.”
John remained quiet for a moment. Finally, he said, “C’mon, Everett, this is dumb.”
Everett smiled. “Tell you what, I’ll even be a gentleman. I’ll put a wager on it.”
“Enough talk. Now’s the time to put up, though I don't think you can. Bet you money you can’t do it, John. Not from here, anyways.”
John stared into the distance at the dark figure. It had finally stopped thrashing around.
“One shot,” Everett added. “You hit it, and then I’ll know you’re a better man than me.”
John took a deep breath as he thought about it. This was the way it had always been between them, Everett flaring up and John taking a step back. And just for once, money or not, wouldn’t it be nice to stop taking those backward steps?
Riding through the plains, the hot sun burning at his face now, John watched himself pull the rifle from the scabbard. He heard the shot ring out in his mind, and he stopped his horse.
Leaning to the side, he threw up again and again until nothing else came out.