Now there isn’t a lot of things that I believed in. Man my age grows to learn that there just isn’t a whole lot of things in this world worth clinging on to. Ideas and such. But if there were three things I had to believe in, it’ll be these: always check your boots for snakes; always keep a loaded gun with you; and never, ever get into a fistfight on a cliff.
Yet here I am, getting the snot kicked out of me, nothing but a sheer fall of two hundred feet about five steps behind, and no gun on me.
But hey, at least there aren’t any snakes in my boots.
Everything started, I think, at the bar. Maybe even earlier, outside Penny’s ice cream store, when Jones asked if I “had an hour and a quarter to spare”. Should’ve said no. Hell, should’ve decked him over the head and drowned him in the nearest barrel. But then I found myself in the bar later, a glass of piss-colored liquid in my hand, listening to him go on about the good old days.
I suppose it was around that time that I knew he was up to something. But I still had half a glass of whiskey, and it’d be a damn shame to see that go to waste. So I stayed, and he talked. There were a lot of things that he said, but I remember him talking about the last job we did with Chris, William, and Tom, God bless their souls. Our finest hour, he called it. People go through the drag of actually buying a ticket onto the freight before pulling an inside job, but not us. We rode horseback right alongside the screaming, chugging thing, and we hopped on board. Like land pirates, he said.
At this point my glass was near empty, and Jones must have saw that as well, because it was then that he closed in for the kill. There’s a convoy passing through at noon, and they’ll be taking a break from the sun before heading out again mid-afternoon. If we can make pals with the men, perhaps get a special drink in them, nothing harmful of course, just a little something to calm the nerves. While they’re resting, we’ll head further up the trail, where it gets narrow and windy, and there we’ll wait. They’ll come, sluggish as the evening ox, and we’ll be upon them, then off with a little gold for the both of us before the minute is over.
You should know, at this point, that Jones owed me money which he had no way of paying back. Further, it was a two-man job. Sounded like a good idea, too; better than most of the things cooking in the conversations going on in the bar. It was the worst possible sort of combination: alcohol, money, and the chance to do something illegal. So I said the dumbest thing I could have said to Jones.
Everything went according to plan. The three-cart convoy came in, and we got to know the six men who came walking in. We played the part of the friendly locale, trading drinks for stories of the trail. Jones was half as wise as a man should reasonably be, but he was twice more crafty, which I supposed made up for it. In the middle of a tale about the men being stuck between a stampeding herd and the edge of a canyon, Jones sprinkled the secret ingredient into their drinks, and they were none the wiser about it.
Later on we waited around the bend, hidden behind the bushes, just the two of us and our guns. We even walked all the way out here in the blistering heat, because horses were far too noticeable and uncooperative for our two-man plan. We laid in wait as the three carts passed, and the moment the third rolled past our sights, we sprang from our hiding place and hopped onto its back, and there we found the watch sleeping snugly. A quick kick to the head by Jones put him out for good, and at the same time I caught the driver’s neck in a stranglehold. Two more of these, and we now found ourselves on top of the cliff, with six unconscious men in the dirt and three carts for the taking.
It would be trouble if the men woke up anywhere in sight of town, and so we got what we needed, loaded the men onto their own carts, and sent their horses pulling their carts into the horizon. My gun kept getting in the way, so Jones helped to hold on to it as I stacked the two boxes one on top of the other. Then I felt the barrel of a gun sticking into my back.
“Really, Jones?” I said to the dirty double-crosser. “If you wanted more gold, we could’ve just taken another two boxes.”
“This isn’t about gold, or money for that matter,” his reply came, and he prodded me with the gun in his hand. “Walk over yonder. Go.”
Near the edge of the cliff, he ordered me to turn around, and I found him standing there, pointing my own gun at me. “Lawd,” I sighed, “If you have to shoot me, don’t do it with my gun. That’s like hiring a man’s son to kill him.”
“You shut your mouth,” he spat with poison in his words. “Sara told me everything.”
I cursed at this. Women and their guilty conscience. “An elaborate plan,” I said, “Concocting all of this just so you can get me out here to shoot me. How long did it take you to figure it all?”
“Longer than I’d care to admit,” he said, “But you’re wrong, man. I didn’t bring you here to shoot you. You’ll do that yourself.”
He gave me a look that begged me to as him why, and so I humored him.
“Because,” he began, now beginning to shake, “Far as my journal is concerned, you were the one who called me all the way out here. So that you can return the gun you borrowed from me.”
“I have my own gun,” I said. “Why would I borrow yours?”
“The details don’t matter,” Jones shook his head. “What matters is the story, and the story goes that you called me out here to return my gun. I didn’t know why you would ask of such a thing, but since I trusted you, I went along with it. The story goes that I left an hour earlier, because I didn’t want to be late to a meeting with my old friend. You want to know what I did after that, man? You want to know what I did?”
I asked him what, and his lips trembled, then tears came out of his eyes as he spoke.
“Then I called Sara into our room,” he said, sobbing. “I called her into our room, and I told her to sit down. She- she asked me why, and I told her to just do it, and face the wall. I guess- Guess she must’ve been feeling s-sorry about what she told me about- about what you did, because she just did. She sat on the bed, and she faced the wall. I… I had my gun in my pocket.”
Then I really cursed, and there was a terrible wrenching in my guts as I watched a grown man break down in front of me. Here was a man broken by grief, and it was an ugly thing to see. He seemed to be aware of the damnation of his soul, and if I guessed correctly, he was intending to make the best out of it.
“She was the only thing I ever loved,” he said as he cried, “Did you know that, you bastard? She was the only thing I ever loved… and I couldn’t live knowing what I did. I couldn’t.”
His face twisted grotesquely, and then an evil look of determination came into his eyes. “I didn’t put anything into the drinks earlier,” he confessed. “They’ll soon be awake, and they’ll come back here. Good luck man, because even if you escape them, the sheriff will hang you for what you did to Sara and I.”
He then tossed my gun to the floor, raised his own, and pressed it against his skull.
“Christ, man! NO!” I howled, sprinting the distance between us as Jones pulled the trigger. I wasn’t sure what went wrong with his gun, but it remains that his gun did not go off when he pulled the trigger on himself, and that gave me just enough time to tackle him. I heard a click as I crashed into him, and only then his gun went off in a delayed shot, tearing off half his cheek when it did.
Jones screamed, slamming his knee into me, trying to push me off. I pulled him off the ground, intending to slam him into it as many times as it took to knock him out, but the man was slippery. He rolled in my grasp and shoved me to the ground before scrambling up, chambering the next round as he did. I got to my feet and rushed for him, only this time he was ready, and struck me across the head with the butt of his gun when I got close enough.
I spun, and my wobbly feet drove themselves closer to the edge of the cliff. I turned, expecting to see Jones trying to shoot himself again, but instead found him waiting and ready. His foot came up hard into my ribs, and something broke beneath my skin.
So now we’re right back where we started: with me caught in a fistfight on a cliff. Jones cried still, dripping chunks of blood and all, as he landed blow after blow into my face, and I did nothing to stop him. I deserved this. One hard strike from Jones now sent me sprawling, and my head landed in the dirt just at the edge.
There was a silence, and there were footsteps. Then with a clattering, my gun was dropped in front of my face. In the horizon, I could see the cloud of dust rising, no mistake about who it was.
“Do it man,” I heard Jones say, and then I heard him walking away. There came a crash like thunder, and a body hit the floor close by.
It felt like a long time before I managed to roll myself onto my back. It hurt too much for me to sit up, so I laid there. I found my gun in the dirt and brought it close to my chest. Finally, when the rumble of hooves could be heard, I raised the gun to my mouth, biting the barrel.
I closed my eyes, and it was all over.