XI. The Road Agent

Miles go without words and the sun passes to the moon then again to the sun. It is as it was; cycles of silence where the breath of the wind is loud and disturbing. The rider chews on his last cheroot and exhales the smoke from his nose. The woman is behind him and frowns while watching the horizon over his shoulder; she grips her wrists around his stomach tightly.

There are coyotes laughing in the brush and they are far from the river now. A valley yawns and they travel down the throat; the appaloosa’s hooves caked with red dust. He notices the sky is gray and feels her startle when the thunder strikes. The rider toys with the cheroot between his lips.

“Throw it down!”

His hand is already on the handle of his Colt though at the command he freezes; coming down from the ledge is a man in brown with a mask covering the lower half of his features, his features are covered in dirt. He carries a repeater rifle and keeps it trained on the rider; he seems unconcerned with the native woman.

“Throw it down I says!”

The rider removes the Colt slowly and tosses it to the dirt. “Rifle, too!” And the rifle. Rain begins to fall gently and it’s barely a drizzle but the red dust turns to dark mud. He spits his cheroot to the ground.

“What you got, Mister? Let me see the cash!”

His voice is young and the road agent’s hands shake feverishly. He does not meet the rider’s gaze but instead finds himself surveying the equipment on his saddle and on his person. The rider swings his boot over the saddle and drops down to the mud; these actions taken slow to not startle the road agent. The woman joins him and she sets her black eyes viciously on the young man.

“Easy! What are you doing?” The road agent moves his repeater barrel between the two.

“Settle down, son. Just want to talk. You ain’t got to do this. We haven’t much money, between the two of us, just travelers headin’ to town. Comprende?”

“I do not care how much money you have, Mister. But you have money. Now pitch it here!”

“Alright, partner. Hold on. I got to reach for it. But I ain’t got no weapon, trust me?”

“Yeah, Mister. I trust you. Now pitch it!” He snaps the repeater and keeps the weapon on the rider.

As his hand moves for his vest he clips the button and brings up a fold of some money held together by a burnished silver clasp. The rider prepares to toss it when something shoots past his vision.

“What!” He cries.

The long, rusted form of a bayonet has pierced the road agent’s eye diagonally and in an instant he dies, crumbled into a pile on the mud. Rain comes down harder and his dust covered face is washed clean by blood that pools to a dark shade.

The rider turns to her and his face is twisted in a confused anger, “You killed him for fifteen dollars! The hell is wrong with you!”

“I have no time for thieving white men. We leave now, tenahpu.”

The rider bends down to pick up his Colt, the mud is wiped from it with his sleeve. “He ain’t no man. Was just a boy, can’t you see that? Wager he was just lookin’ to make some money. You took away his life,” his voice is quiet as the gun is slipped into the scabbard. He does not look at her until he has reclaimed his effects. “Fifteen damn dollars.”

She meets his eyes and sees that there is disappointment and shame in them, but she lifts her chin and walks past the rider to the horse.

“I have seen death dealt for less. For nothing. Not even fifteen dollars.” The woman replies, thoughtfully.

The rider climbs onto the saddle and helps her up. He feels the rain beating down on the brim of his hat and he pulls it closer to shadow his eyes. He does not speak and they gallop away from the road agent’s body.

Miles go without words and the thunder screams.

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