When old Carl Hennessey burst through the doors of Rosa’s cantina his face was grim and he held a quivering Colt Frontier in his right hand. I stared at him through the cracked bar mirror, while nursing my whiskey - a half-empty bottle beside me. He looked around - ignored the boys playing poker and the lipstick ladies - removed his hat, and wiped a blackened hand across his gray stubble. Then he came up behind me.
He stopped two feet away and gulped in the smoky atmosphere. He wheezed, offered me the gun.
‘Rustlers, Jake. Your homestead’s been razed, son.’
The cantina went quiet. His words pierced my soul like steel blades. I slugged my drink and slammed the glass on the bar top. ‘I’ve hung up my guns.’ I stood up, reached into my pocket, and tossed a few bits on the counter. ‘I gotta go,’ I said.
Carl tugged at my sleeve as started to pass. He started to shake again, his voice welled-up. ‘There’s more.’
I stopped, looked at him. His eyes were red. Any other man that gets a hold of me would be looking at Doc Martin patching him up, but Carl – he gave me a break and I repaid him by marrying his daughter. Time stood still. I knew that look on his face. Death staring at me through his black pupils.
He grabbed the whiskey bottle and took a deep draught. Coughed as the spirit burned down his throat. ‘By the time I drove the wagon down there, Jake, they’d fled south with a few head of cattle.’
‘I gotta go.’
‘Your Pa’s dead, son.’ He turned his head away, and started to sob. I could sense tension and fear in the bar. The bartender reached for his shotgun.
I shook my head at him, moved over and put my hand on Carl’s shoulder - whispered the one word that demanded an answer. ‘Sara.’ I squeezed his arm and raised my voice. ‘Damn it, Carl. Your daughter is carrying my child.’
I could see them all trying not to look at me, boys with cigarettes hanging loosely from their grimy lips, ladies with cheroots held between manicured fingers. No coughing or spitting in the sawdust, no one cursing. Just listening.
Gunslingers have short lives, but I had been lucky, up to now. Pa, Sara and me had built that homestead with our bare hands and borrowed tools. I blocked out the danger – those who would find me. Those who were out for my head. A trophy.
He shook his head. Collapsed on the nearest chair to the sympathetic mutterings of the ladies. ‘I couldn’t help ...’ he said.
I picked up my gun and looked at it as though it would tell me something different. I clicked open the chamber and touched the bullets. I snapped it shut again.
They weren’t rustlers.
‘We’re wasting time,’ I said.