A lone rider from the west slowly trotted his pony in anticipation of finding water at Weber’s spring. The spring sometimes went dry, but he hoped not at this time of the year. The approach to Weber’s spring brought the rider into a sliver of taller trees than the scrub of the prairie between there and the start of his journey. His horse was blacker than a moonless night, wearing an unmistakably Mexican saddle. The rider too wore unmistakably Mexican garb, though the hair hanging down from beneath his sombrero was the red of a Scotsman. For his father, a true Scot had loved a Mexican Indian somewhere near the border and he paid with his life to a jealous brave over it. Too late for the Indian suitor to halt the woman’s pregnancy. Thus, Mexican Red was born. His people fought the soldiers on both sides of the border until many had been lured away to work in the mines. Red had been groomed for mining, yet he slipped away, unwilling to live like a mole. The friends he made led the outlaw’s life. So, too, did he.
The sliver of trees allowed Red to approach the water unseen until the final ten yards. Which is the reason he came on an unaware posse, spelling their horses after filling up with water. A few were eating hardtack. Most, including Marshal Will Mosley, were simply standing, waiting. They had filled canteens and were themselves sated with water. Now they were eager to move. Marshal Mosley and his men were not alarmed at the sight of a casual stranger riding in for water, for they were peaceably natured and not inclined to be suspicious of a stranger. “Come in, stranger,” he said. “There’s good water aplenty.”
Red nodded courteously, coming in among them. “Been riding long, from Piedras Negras,” he said. He rolled his eyes. “Aye, the senoritas. God bless them, no?”
Kid Galley, who sat against a tree while examining his .44, nodded along with the others. He had recently dropped his pistol onto a bed of stones and was concerned, though it looked alright. He paused after getting a better look at the stranger. “I know you,” he said.
Red gave the Kid a benevolent smile. “You do?”
“You killed the outlaw, known as El Paso. I was working the Precker spread at the time,” said the Kid.
“He was a stone-cold murderer, not just a bad man. There are bad men and there are evil men,” Red observed. “I don’t tolerate the last one.”
“But you do the bad ones? I don’t see no difference,” the Kid said, pondering.
“If you live longer, maybe you will.”
Red dismounted and led his pony to the water. After kneeling and setting his hat aside, he and she drank together. Before getting back on his feet, he submerged a canteen in the water. He arose before closing it up and fixing it to his gear. When he turned, his pony affectionately put her head over his shoulder and he patted her with both hands. He moved to her side. His gaze swept over the posse. “Thank you for your hospitality,” he said. “My sympathy to the quarry, if you catch him.”
To the men on the ground, he looked like a giant once astraddle the pony.
“Come to think of it, I’ve seen you in Sulfur a time or two,” said the Marshal. “You ain’t been to no Piedras Negras. What is it you do with most of your time?”
“Hey,” said Kid Galley. “Look at them hoof prints.”
Before the posse could verify that these were the same tracks they had been chasing, Red had filled his hands, pointing two .44s threateningly. “I will thank you hombres to make a pile with your guns. Then I want for you all to stand beside the tree over yonder. That way, by the time you could get your hands on them irons I will be out of sight. Not that any of you would back shoot a feller, but accidents will happen.”
Red moved his pony around, collecting all the loose reins of the horses. He spoke to Marshal Mosley: “I will leave your mounts up the trail a piece on the way to Sulfur. Walking too long in them riding boots ain’t too comfortable.”
“I guess I’m obliged,” said the Marshal.
Red put his colts to rest and trotted away with the posse’s horses.
The town of Sulfur was a scab on nature. A row of poorly constructed buildings on two sides of a dusty street. Red came up the way until he reached the general store that also served as the post office. It figured to him that was the place to know where Sulfur’s people were all living. He was correct in that the clerk told him where Annie Gable could be found. It turned out she owned and ran a notions store about two doors down. He casually walked the wooden walkway, boots and spurs signaling his coming. The notions shop door made a tinkle sound when it opened. He saw that any customer was likely disappointed at what they saw once inside, for the shelves were sparely stocked. Annie sat behind the counter, sewing. She was a handsome woman of perhaps twenty-five. Red removed his hat. “Miss Gable, it’s not likely you will remember me. I was in the bank behind you when you were trying for a loan.”
“Good day. Yes, I remember you,” Annie replied. “You about fill up a room.”
“The bank turned you down,” Red persevered. “Ma’am, I will say out what I came for. I recently came into a large sum of money. I know that you will not take any free money, so I want to buy this bin of buttons.”
Annie was taken by surprise. “All of them?” she asked.
Red produced a pouch full of golden coins. “I think four or five will do,” he said.
He laid out several gold coins as he took up the buttons.
“But I don’t have change for gold coins,” she protested.
But Red pocketed the buttons, turning away to leave.
“What are you doing?” Annie protested.
Red put on his hat. “Good day, Miss Gable. Pleasure doing business with you.”
He let himself outside and walked quickly up the wooden walk, leaving the dumbfounded woman to marvel over five hundred dollars in coins. His next stop would be the bank, the location of which he well knew. He took a heavy bag from his saddlebag before crossing the street. It was a quiet time of day as he went unobserved into the bank lobby. An old man, the clerk at the teller window, studied him closely.
“Yes?” he said, eyeing the bag, which looked extremely familiar.
“I’d like to see the president,” said Red.
The clerk scurried like a frightened mouse into the bank president’s office. After a few moments, they both emerged and the clerk said, “See? It’s the bank bag from the burglary.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” the president, who wore the name Carson Williams, said sourly. “Go man your station, Wesley.”
“Yes sir,” the meek little clerk replied, though apparently reluctant to leave without getting a look at the content of the bag.
Williams glared until the clerk complied before turning his attention to Red. Unintimidated by the man’s great size, he said, “You. Bring that into my office.”
He returned to his desk and waited for Red to comply. Red beamed a good-natured look at the teller window, where the clerk pretended to do work. “Nice feller you work for,” he said.
Red lugged the bag through the door and slammed it down on top of the desk. He stood near the desk, towering over the president in his chair. Carson Williams studied the bag, likely wondering how it was that this man walked right in with it. “Is that my bank’s money?” he said.
Red pushed his hair back from where it wandered from hanging over his ears to nearly covering one eye. Then, after he readjusted his sombrero, he said, “All but my reward for bringing it in.”
Carson’s face went from sour to angry. “See here,” he began.
“No, you see here. If you aren’t grateful enough to get this money that you reward me, then I will take it back out of here.”
“I’ll get the marshal,” Williams threatened.
Red smiled smugly. “No, you won’t.”
Red put his .44 in one hand and put the other hand on the bag. “What will it be?” he said.
Williams stared straight ahead. “Take your reward, then get out.”
“Already took it,” Red replied. He tipped his hat. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
Red backed out of the office. He turned around in the lobby to discover a shotgun aimed upward at his head. Red considered grim little men with nervous fingers the most dangerous of all the men he ever encountered, being extra likely to accidentally pull the trigger as they were. He returned the .44 to the holster, then told the clerk, “Wait here.”
He backed very slowly back into Carson Williams’ office. He reached past Williams, who had begun counting the bag’s contents, and plucked up a one hundred dollar gold piece. Again, he tipped his sombrero and eased back out.
He held out the coin and said to the clerk, “Put that thing away and take your share of the loot.”
After that, the clerk was his man. He patted Wesley’s shoulder and left the bank.
The next place was the saloon, with thirst and hunger the top priority. He knew the barkeep slightly from a few days before. He was The Swede. Few really knew his name or cared. “I need a bottle,” he said. "Bring me a bloody steak."
The Swede pulled up a bottle and a glass. He wiped the glass before setting it down. “Two dollars,” he said.
Red screwed up his face. “That must be some patent whiskey from back east to cost that much. 'Cause a steak costs just fifty cents.”
He threw down the money and took it to a table to sit back and watch the activity of the card games, the piano playing, and such. No sooner had his great frame settled on the chair than a grizzled old man approached. “Can I bum a drink, mister?”
At that point The Swede bore down on the old man, wrapping a ham fist about his neck and steering him toward the door. “Wait a minute,” said Red. “The gentleman’s a guest of mine. Please push him back to my table.”
The Swede pushed the man into the street. He returned to explain himself to the red-headed Mexican. “I did you a favor,” he said. “Old Ed’s a leach and he stinks up the place. I won’t have it in here.”
“Push him back to this table,” Red insisted.
“Mister, I could make you leave as quick as him. Don’t pursue this.”
Red heaved a great sigh. He left his chair and marched outside. He returned moments later half dragging Ed all the way to his table. He slung a chair around from the next table to his and installed the old one in it.
The Swede took hold of Red’s shoulder, attempting to turn him around. Red twisted away. He saw a great fist coming at his head. So quick were his reflexes, so great his strength, he was able to grab the fist, hold it, and shove The Swede back so hard as to fall over a table.
The Swede picked himself up. He set about up-righting the table and a couple of chairs. Red joined him in setting everything straight again. The Swede paused long enough to tell Red, “I will get another glass.”
Red nodded. “Obliged,” he said.
Mexican Red and old Ed were on a third drink when Marshal Mosley and Kid Galley came in. Red held up his drink and saluted the Marshal. Mosley had no smile in return.
“How was the walk?” Red wanted to know.
“I’m grateful you didn’t see fit to make it longer,” said Mosley.
The Marshal called over the room. “Swede. Two glasses here.”
The Swede waved and complied.
Red poured out the liquid and the Marshal and the Kid picked up their drinks. Mosley locked in his stare and told Red, “I’m going to arrest you. Should I expect a fight?”
Red drained his glass. Poured another one. “Nope,” he said at last.
He handed off the bottle. “Take more,” he said.
In this wise, they emptied the bottle. Red handed old Ed a twenty-dollar gold piece. “Don’t spend it all right now,” he said.
Ed thanked Red profusely. He vowed to sleep on that twenty. He wandered out in full dignity.
Red motioned to Mosley. Mosley leaned forward. “Ain’t no crime been committed to arrest me for,” he confided. “Ask the banker. The money was all recovered and we’re fine.”
Mosley took the Kid’s glass and set it together with his own on the table. “Care to walk over to the bank with me?”
“Of course, Marshal. Bottle’s empty. I was gonna leave out of here anyhow,” Red answered.
“You’re at least temporarily under arrest, mister,” Mosley said.
“You’re my kind of lawman, Marshal. I never did like the bully type,” Red observed, his corner eyes watching the Kid for sign of treachery.
“Carson’s word might free you,” said Mosley. “But I wouldn’t count on it. The man’s a snake. You should have given me the money first.”
Red made it a point to first shake The Swede’s hand and thank him for the hospitality, then he fell in beside the Marshal and Kid. He ducked behind the Marshal to the best of his ability passing the notions shop. Once in the bank lobby they swept past the clerk and walked right in on Carson Williams.
Williams threw down his pen across the papers he had been working on and came to his feet. “Any news, Marshal?” he said before cutting his eyes at the red-haired one.
“I thought you might tell me,” Mosley replied. “I have one story from this man. Now I need to hear yours.”
“Is the man under arrest?” Williams said nervously.
“He is,” the Marshal stated.
“Then why does he still have a gun?” Williams said almost choking.
“Don’t worry,” the Marshal said. “Your story?”
“My bank was robbed. I am waiting for you to bring back my money,” Williams said, now sweating.
“Are you certain that is your full story?”
Williams had inched back toward his desk, where a drawer held a derringer and a Colt .44. “I don’t know what you are trying to say,” he stammered, sitting again in his chair.
“That’s the empty bank bag that held the bank’s money,” Red said, pointing.
“Is that it?” said the banker. “Then I say he lies if he claims to have turned in my money.”
“The bank’s money,” the Marshal amended.
He turned to Red. “Well, I guess I’m going to have to make the arrest official. Hand me your gun.”
Red amiably handed over the gun. He went toward the door. The Marshal and the Kid went with him out into the lobby, where Red paused. “Marshal,” he said. “How much do you make in a year?”
“Almost five hundred dollars,” Mosley said. “Why?”
“Because you could use about a five hundred dollar bonus,” Red replied. He looked at the Kid. “Him too.”
“Are you out to bribe an officer of the law?”
“Of course not. All I am going to ask is you let me go back in there alone and politely ask the banker for it.”
Mosley grinned. “I won’t send you in with a gun. Also, don’t hurt him.”
“Un-arrest me before I go in. Keep it legal.”
“I hope I won’t regret this,” the Marshal said.
Red wasted no more time. He marched back in and straight to the wholly surprised banker. He reached across the desk and pulled him over to his side. He shoved Williams against the wall. “Get that money,” he said.
The terrified banker went to one of two strongboxes piled against the wall behind his desk. He put the strongbox on his desk and opened it up. “Marshal,” Red called. “He’s about to give you your bonus.”
Williams attempted to melt into the corner as Mosley and the Kid ambled in. Red took Williams by the collar and guided him to the strongbox. “Count out two five hundred dollar bonuses. Or else the Marshal will have to arrest you for stealing the bank’s money.”
The banker presented the Marshall a mealy-mouthed grin. “What’s going to happen to me?”
“Depends how this bonus goes,” the Marshal replied, eyeing the growing stacks of money.
“Of course,” the banker said.
He presented each law official his bonus. He turned to Red. “You have taken my stake in the bank and left just enough to serve the customers. It will take a few years to rebuild. If a chance for revenge ever should present itself -”
Red ran his flat palm down Thomas’s face. “You’re a fierce, funny man,” he said.
Red accepted an offer from Mosley to engage a game of cards. Both vied for a chair offering the most view over the barroom and especially the swinging doors. They found a compromise before a fresh deck was opened and the first hand was dealt. After a few moments of gathering the cards and evaluating their hands, Red looked all around the establishment, looking puzzled. “Where is Kid Galley?” he said.
The Marshal too looked around. “Don’t know,” he said. “Maybe getting some new duds with his bonus money or getting a real professional cut and shave.”
“I don’t like when his sort disappears without notice,” Red said, as he threw down three cards. “How well do you know him?”
The Marshal threw down three cards. “I don’t know him at all. Picked him up for the posse and he just sorta stuck.”
“Do you mark him for a good guy or something other?”
Mosley paused to roll a smoke. “I may offer him a deputy position. Depends, I guess, on whether he’s stable and wants to be here.”
Red dealt the extra cards. “I haven’t trusted him in some way. Nothing to put a finger on. It’s just a feeling.”
“By the way,” said the Marshal. “Don’t ever try that trick with the bank again. It won’t work the second time. I won’t allow it.”
“Wouldn’t do it again, Marshal. I just skimmed off the ill-gotten part. The rest is for the regular folks’ benefit.”
“That’s kinda like splitting hairs. You ready to call?”
Red threw down some paper money. “No. I raise you this much.”
At that point, old Ed came in. He waved his money at The Swede, then hurried to the table to address the red-haired Mexican.
“Mister,” he said. “There’s a man wants to see you outside. Same one been following the Marshal around. He’s been telling everyone to clear the street.”
Red reached for his hat. “Looks like somebody got his bonus increased,” he said. “You gonna watch our cards?” he asked Mosley.
Mosley put his hand on the table, face down. “Nope,” he said. “Going to see this plays out legal, so we see who’s responsible for burying the loser.”
“I can watch the cards,” Ed volunteered.
He signaled The Swede to bring him a bottle.
Red handed the old man ten more dollars.
In the street, it was a sunny morning. No clouds had in fact been sighted around Sulfer in over two weeks. Red paused with both of his arms resting atop the swinging doors, looking out at the lone figure in the dusty street. He released the doors, then stepped out and walked out to meet him. Coming from the dim interior into the brightness of day was but a fleeting hindrance. He positioned himself to make sure stray bullets would likely play down the street, not into some likely occupied buildings.
No words were to be spoken between them.
The Marshal looked on, shaking his head at the wastefulness of such a duel.
The contest was short and swift. The kid made his move and cleared leather before Red’s bullets tore into his flesh. The Kid brought his 44. up and fired two bullets that tore holes in the loose fold of Red’s shirt, traveling on to an unknown destination.
Red had presented a bouquet of lead into the Kid’s heart. He turned to the Marshal. “Do I owe anything for the burial?”
“No. You’re good.”
“If it’s all the same to you, Marshal, I don’t feel like playing any more cards,” Red allowed, sadly. “I don’t feel happy here anymore. Think I will be riding on.”
“I’ve enjoyed your company, but I think that’s best,” the Marshal said. “Will you shake my hand, mister?”
“Of course I will,” Red readily said.
“Then,” the Marshal added, “I’m going to go sock a banker.”