This is actually a novel excerpt, but I'm posting it here *out of context* as a short story to see what people think of the style and narrative. it is a first draft. would love to hear any and all comments! Thank you.
In the hot of the dawn, the salts of his clothes seemed alive with a bitter pulse. He could smell himself as he walked, his case clutched beneath his aching arm and his coat slung over his shoulder like a dirty sack of emptied manure. In the daylight the quiet of the small main street gave him a strange sensation, a noxious mixture of hostility and weariness with a jigger of fervent terror. The words 'no going back now' punched over and over into his brain like a volley of gloved punches. He walked down the endless riddle of the street until he felt a twist on his heart and had to stop. He dropped the case onto the dust of the unpaved street, smearing his sweating hands on his pants. The gray of the linen was already threaded with the skin of an amber dust, flailed in from the desert through wind. With shallow, pained breathing he looked up. Across the street, he saw the figure of a woman. She was watching him from the stoop of a shuttered drug store, sitting with a hunched back and dressed in a short black dress that moved in the wind with the slightness of a dark flame. Above her a sign of peeling paint thrust a shadow over her dark enough so he almost didn't catch eye of her at all, and when he did such was the power of her stare he felt himself look away as though glancing the sun. But her eyes were on him and he felt the stare beat down like that of a raven. He stood back up and looked around but the street was empty as it faded into the silent haze either side. He picked up his case and wiped the sweat from his face. He was a stranger here. A stranger who was lost. Somewhere he heard a bell ring. It was Monday, he thought. The past few days had flown by, as though eaten by an indigestable illness. But what now? He wondered. He looked over to the figure again.
"Excuse me, ma'am." He did not shout but his call sounded loud even so. The woman kept watching him, he saw her eyes narrow as he made noise. He approached her slowly, smiling in the friendly way. It was only when he got close he noticed how young she looked. She could not have been more than twenty. She had dark hair that fell around a face of burnt olive skin. On the side of her face there were a collection of small yet deep looking scars. In her mouth hung the last of a cigarette, its paper yellowed as though it had been smoked by an army of other ragamuffins. Her legs were dusty, clenched up beneath her with nothing but the threading ends of her dress and a pair of worn boots for cover. He nodded politely. "How do you do?" The girl looked confused.
"Quién es usted?" She whispered. He shook his head. He again wiped his forehead. Damn this heat, he thought to himself. And it's only dawn. What on earth can it be like when the sun comes up? Kneeling down he took his hat off and vaguely fanned it in the direction of his face. He tried to scooch in so as to be below the shade where the girl sat, but he felt uncomfortable getting to close to her.
"I'm a stranger here, see," he said. "A stranger and I'm looking for somebody. Do you speak English? English?"
The girl stared blankly back. "Quién es usted?" She repeated, her eyes widening.
"No," he replied. "Me no understand." He got up, grunting from the weight of his bones in the heat. He felt her watch him as he picked up his case from the ground.
"Estás perdido?" He did not understand the language but he knew the question from the way she spoke.
"Yeah," he replied. "Uh, si, that's right ain't it? Si. I'm a stranger in this town."
"Del extranjer?" She repeated, her accent heavy as a fist of thorns. "Stranger, si." She nodded thoughtfully, watching as he turned around and began to head further down the street. Suddenly he felt a cold sting hit the back of his sweating neck. "Parada," he heard her cry. "Senor, por favor párese. Un momento." There was another sting, on his wrist this time. He turned. She smiled back, her small hands holding a couple of flinted pieces of gravel and her eyes septic with the color of an acute desperation.
"What the hell are you doing?" He grunted, irritably. "Listen, ma'am ,I don't understand what you're saying, I told you that. I don't speak Spanish." He was interrupted by a sudden cackle of laughter. Her eyes gleamed, dancing over his crumpled figure, her grin wide.
"Del extranjer," she giggled. "Del guapo extranjer." He watched her, wondering what she was saying. Shaking his head, he jammed a dirty hand into his left pocket.
"Here," he said, pulling out a creased fold of dollar bills and stepping towards her with his arm extended as though feeding a rattlesnake. "Here's some money. I have to go now, all right? So quit throwing that shit at me." The girl quieted as she stared at the money.
"Que?" She murmured. "Regalo?"
"That's right," he nodded. "Regalo. Here, take it." The girl snatched the bills hungrily. She smiled.
"Extranjer," she murmured. "Un hombre acaudalado, si?" She suddenly reached forward and he felt her tiny hand grasp at the center of his pants. He gasped.
"The hell are you doing?" He yelled, grabbing her arm. The girl recoiled instatly, her eyes wincing in fright. She looked up at him, with a confused expression.
"Usted me quiere?" She mumbled. "No?" He stared back into her small, dirt-stained face.
"No," he said, shaking his head firmly. "No. It ain't like that. Ain't that way at all." He paused, dropping her arm as he stepped away. "Please just take the money," he said, brushing his arm on his side. "For the love of God, just take it and let me alone. I really don't got time for this." He turned and again began to walk away.
"You are looking for somebody, Senor?" He stopped dead in his step and turned, frowning curiously.
"The hell," he muttered. "So you do speak English?" The girl giggled again. She reached down and picked up another cigarette butt from the street. He watched her pull out an old match case from a seam in her dress and light it, sucking deeply. She winked coyly.
"A little," she said. "But we are in America, are we not Senor?" He shrugged, looking around the desolate morning.
"So I thought," he said. "But, so far, this ain't the America I know." The girl laughed, spraying a cloud of old smoke into the thick air.
"That's funny," she said, her eyes flickering to his waist. "You sure look like you belong here." She flicked a bead of ash onto the ground where it glowed like a dead firefly. "But I suppose things ain't always what they seem. Are they?" He said nothing. The girl grinned broadly. "Welcome to the border," she said. "Si, welcome, Senor Lacey." He felt his eyes widen sharply as a shot laced through his heart like a cold steel coil.
"Hey," he cried. He looked at her, his eyes narrowed. "How in the hell do you know who I am?"
The girl smiled. "This is a small town, in case you didn't notice." She sucked the last from her cigarette and stubbed it out before rising slowly, brushing her palms on the front of her dress. "And, when you're a working girl, a small town gets even smaller." She winked again, a smile that was a mixture of dirt and guilt smeared across her lips. Nick looked at her, his mind racing.
"But," he stammered, "my name. How do you know my g name?" The girl slowly walked towards him, her smile evaporating into a look of concern. Nick looked at her. She was a strange looking creature. Small and dark skinned, there was no doubt she was very young and yet her eyes seemed far older somehow. There was an uncomfortable look to her. She might almost have been beautiful, he thought, but there was something too troubling about her appearance. It was not the filth that covered her that was to blame for that, he thought, no it was something far deeper. The dirt was incidental. It no more conjured ugliness than a made-up face did beauty. It was just there, a symbol of her desperation. Perhaps it was the scars, he wondered. They were not large but they were there and screamed of questions. But the only real question he had was of far greater importance at the moment. "I said how do you know my goddamn name?" He grabbed her arm in consternation. He felt her sighing.
"Nick," she said, the sound of her accent cutting deep through him. "They're looking for you." He looked at her in disbelief.
"Who?" He said. The girl shook her head.
"I can't tell you, Senor," she whispered. "If I do they'll come for me too. But you must know I know, Nick. I know all about you. I know why you're here, where you're going, what happened last night-"
"I slept rough last night," Nick snapped back. "Can't you smell me? Nothing happened last night. I slept rough in a fucking ditch behind the rail-station. That's all." The girl smiled coldly. Nick suddenly felt his heart beating in his Neck.
"No, Nick," she said softly. "There is no point in lying to me, Senor. Just know that I know what happened. And, more important, so do they."
"What the hell are you saying?"
"They think you killed him Nick. There's a warrant out for your arrest. They think you killed him."
"Killed who?" Nick felt his skin begin to itch. The sweat had frozen into a cold sheen down his back. "You mean that old drunk at the saloon?" He shook his head desperately. "But the barkeep, Mr Elkhorn, but he knows I didn't do it. He saw the goddamn mark. He knows it was-" He stopped, his eyes searching the girl's solemn face.
"No, Senor," she said. "You ain't understanding right. The warrant is for the murder of Mr. Elkhorn. Just look." The girl turned and pointed to the shutter of the drug store where she'd sat. Nick stared dumbly. There was a small, fresh leaf of paper, hastily daubed in thick black ink. Nick felt his stomach flush as he wandered over to it. He read it silently, his lips trembling:
WANTED FOR QUESTIONING
PERSUANT TO MURDER OF GEORGE T. ELKHORN & FAMILY
& ARSON OF ELKHORN RANCH TAVERN
SUSPECT 'NICK LACEY' YOUNG, WHITE, MALE.
PRESUMED ARMED & DEADLY
$100 REWARD PAID ON CAPTURE
BY ORDER OF THE HIDALGO CTY SHERIFF
Nick stared at the notice, his head shaking. "Don't make any sense," he said. “Don’t make no sense at all. He angrily reached forward, ripping the paper from the shutter. It wrenched off and lay partially torn in his palm. The shutter let out a clunk with the force. "Why me?" He spat, furiously, brandishing the paper in his hand. "This ain't right." The girl watched him silently. "I didn't do a damn thing."
"I know, Senor," the girl replied. "I know." He felt her reach out and touch his arm comfortingly. "But, Senor, you haven't the time to ask these things now. The sun," he paused, her eyes pointing up at the misted newborn sky. "The sun will have risen soon and there will be people looking for you. I will help you, but I don't know what it is you want. That's one thing I don't know." She looked at him whistfully, her eyes seeming to search his soul for a single right decision hidden within all the confusion and fear that swam through his heart. Nick closed his eyes and, for a moment, he wanted more than ever to give up. To go back to the station and get the hell back to Massachusetts where he belonged and away from the misfortune that seemed to have haunted him ever since he'd signed on with Farber back in Cliftonville just a day ago. But at the same time he knew he couldn't, that it was too late. Even if he could quit, how could he walk to the train station where more of those terrible notices were sure to be, not to mention the folks who would read them and recognize a would-be murderer kicking town. For a moment he thought of going to the sheriff and turning himself in. Hell, that was the right thing to do by all accounts. An innocent man gets wrongly accused he don't kick town and have the whole of this godforsaken county after him. But then he thought of the circumstances. He remembered the barkeep, the now-dead Mr Elkhorn, and how he'd been so sure that he'd murdered that crazed fool right up until he'd seen the marks. But Mr Elkhorn was now dead. Worst still, if the notice was right, he'd probably burned up in whatever arson that ocurred. Nobody would believe he was innocent of that, especially not a 'perdido', an armed stranger sent here to murder a man. He looked at the notice again and shivered. In a way, the notice was right. He was here to kill a man, and rob him too. The only thing wrong about it was the timing, and the name of the victim. He shook his head. There was no going back. He turned to the girl. She was staring at him. He wondered why she believed him innocent. If she truly knew everything, he thought, then she'd know he was an outlaw and a bandit now in any case. Perhaps she did know, but was afraid he'd hurt her.
"Do you know a man named Pablo Perez?" Nick asked, slowly. "A blacksmith. I am looking for him." The girl looked at him questioningly, before nodding.
"Si," she replied, nodding hesitantly. "I know who he is." Nick reached into his pocket and pulled out another handful of dollars. He handed them to her before looking down at the crumpled remains of the notice he was still holding. Wordlessly, Nick squeezed the paper into a crumpled ball and threw it into the earth.
"I need you to take me to him." He said.
"Now?" She gasped. "But, what of the law, Senor? They'll be looking for you." Nick shook his head as he stared at the lump of paper that lay in the dirt gathering sand. He looked up.
He eyed the door of the sparse buildings that lay around them. It was just minutes later but the dawn was rising fast. They were on the quieter side of the town, the girl had called it 'the dead side.' She had led him there quickly, her thin legs flickering as she stepped with a nervous fever to the stride. It was still very early and there was still nobody around except for a dew furred wolfhound who was chained to the outside of a run-down shack eyeing them wearily as he lay with paws folded. He knew the quiet was a fortunate thing. Less than a mile behind up the street he could hear the sounds of early morning noise riding the wind, simmering somewhere in the yonder haze that began just a dozen or so yards behind them and persisted though the dawn was fast turning into the day. He closed his eyes and thought hard for redemption, for a lucky break. He heard the sounds clearer when he closed his eyes. There was an engine somewhere, a motorcar. He wondered if it was the sheriff's wagon searching the town for the 'presumed armed and deadly' fugitive. It was a strange feeling. Then he heard the howl of a train horn. For a moment he could almost smell the carriage, could almost hear the chatter and the turn of the pages of newspapers and feel the soft hands of decency and civilization. He heard all of it pull away with the dawn train back to Tucson and beyond. He shook his head. No point in thinking like that. There wasn't much time. He thought of the gun in his case, of its shimmering cold. He thought of the knife. Suddenly he could feel their jagged weight in the case he had clenched in his left hand. He opened his eyes. The girl had turned and stood there smiling with a demure expression of triumph, the breeze of the Sonoran morning blowing her dark hair around her shoulders like the rags of a charred flag.
"Well? He grunted.
"We are here now," she replied simply. "The blacksmith." She waved her hand toward a broken wooden door on a small shack at the end of the row. The last of the street. Nick frowned.
"Are you sure?" He said. He squinted through the dusty air. "Don't look like there's nobody living there, least of all a business. You sure you brought be to the right place? Pablo Perez is here?" The girl looked at him and laughed.
"You think there's another blacksmith in this town, Senor?" She giggled. "No," she whispered confidently. "This is the right place."
"All right," said Nick. He felt the churn in his stomach. The weight of the case had seemed to grow with every second. Now it felt like a skid of bricks. He swallowed. Turning to the girl he pulled out another couple of dollar bills. "Here you go," he muttered. "Thank you for your help. Now I expect you'll have your...business to be getting back to." The girl stared, her eyes narrowing as though she'd suddenly seen something dark loom over the horizon.
"Senor," she began quietly. "Excuse me, I know it ain't my business to ask, but--" She paused, before continuing in a low voice. "What exactly are you wanting with old Senor Perez for anyhow?" As she looked at him Nick felt his tongue suddenly seem to swell in his throat. He shook his head.
"You're right," he replied. "It ain't your business to ask." He took her hand and firmly pulled apart her fingers and closed them around the clutch of bills before nudging it towards her chest. "Ma'am, again, I thank you for your help. Have a nice day." He smiled. The girl stared back searchingly. Suddenly her face crumpled into a look of worry and guilt. Nick heard the distant clock chime the hour again, quieter this time. It was already six o'clock.
"Algo malo," the girl breathed, her eyes drilling into his gaze as though recognizing a coldness in it. "You're going to do something to him, Senor?" Nick said nothing for a moment, his heart beat hard as he stared back and saw her lip quiver. "You are," she said, shaking her head disbelievingly. "I can tell."
"No," he replied. He paused. "No."
"Then please," she said. "Tell me." Nick shook his head. He spat into the ground.
"I'm just here about a horse," he muttered, pushing past the girl and striding toward the door. "I asked you nice, miss. Now please, please leave." He turned. She was still standing there, watching him with the bead of a tear rolling down her cheek. Nick shook his head, a sick feeling balling up in his belly. He couldn't stand her being there like that, watching him. He couldn't stand her knowing about it.
"Go," he hissed. The girl stood there, frozen with those sad eyes all over him. Nick felt the sickness swell fast into a ball of anger. He felt his skin start to shake. The girl's mouth moved in a silent plea. A sickening plea. A pathetic plea.
"Please, Senor, don't do this," he heard her quietly beg. "He's a sick old man." Suddenly, Nick, felt the anger jet into his throat.
"Get the fuck out of here, bitch," Nick suddenly yelled, with a savageness that surprised even himself. It was not loud, but Nick could feel t it hit her like the strike of a rattlesnake on the throat of a cornered hare. "Get the fuck out of here," he growled, "else you'll be the one. You'll be the one to die." For a few moments there was nothing. He felt nothing. Nothing but a strange sense of disconnection, as though watching himself from some dark theater within. He watched as the words spat like venom into the warm morning air and the girl recoiled with a trepidation he had not seen in her since they'd met. He watched as she turned and ran off sobbing, disappearing into the haze, leaving him alone with nothing but the sound of the air as it rippled the dirt on the ground and the curious eyes of the chained sphinx of the watching wolfhound. He stood there motionless, looking into the haze as the rage vanished with her.
Nick wondered or a moment if she'd tell the sheriff she'd found the one they wanted. He supposed thst she would. Quickly, he set the case on the ground and opened it up, glancing first at the windows to make sure Perez wasn't watching. There was no time to consider the perfect way to do it, he thought, but stupid mistakes must be avoided and time was precious now. He wrenched off his jacket and flung it on top of his coat on the ground before fumbling open the case and pulling out what he needed. He carefully fixed it all before jerking his jacket and coat back on, panting with the heat and excitement. Everything is ready now, he thought. He slowly opened the door. Quietly, he walked in.
The house smelled like old horse-shit and older tallow. There was no more charitable a way to put it. Nick walked in, with a step both charged with the cold precision of a killer and the weariness born of the exhaustion he felt, had felt, since he'd arrived in town. He'd fought against it since he'd woken and avoided it when it failed to back down. But now there was no avoiding he, he thought. I am the hunter now, just doing my job. Just doing my job.
The heel of his boots pounded slow and fluffed across the belly of the dry aged wood. Like a slow drum of a funeral march, he thought. Like weak fists pounding at the pall. He slowly reached into his coat where the knife Farber had given to him was fixed to his belt above the left hip. For a moment he'd felt faintly ridiculous fumbling it all on there like that, the different metal weights scattered across his aching torso like a series of obscene medical devices. He felt the gun, in the shoulder holster Farber had packed, jabbing into his chest. Its need had not been mentioned, but he'd fixed it anyway, leaving the emptied case outside the shack behind the stump of Perez's bust fence. Who knew what would happen, he wondered, after I've done what I'm here to do. His mouth suddenly frosted dry. He swallowed the bitter air, looking around carefully.
There was no answer. Nick felt his fingers start to tremble as he listened but heard only the blood juicing in his ears. The only sound was the faint whistle of the wind from the still-quiet street outside blowing in through the underside of the frail door that hung behind him. Looking around, he felt a strange disappointment settle over his heart. The place was almost empty. Hardly any furniture, but for a broke chair in the far corner and a few yellow shards of newspaper littered across the floor. This ain't a house, he thought. And it sure as shit ain't no blacksmith shop. There was nothing here but stink bugs and old ghosts. Across the small room, facing the doorway there was a shelf, lined with shadows and old webs. Above it he saw an old crucifix hanging on a crooked nail. Nick slowly walked over to it, the yellowed papers mussing with his step.
There was only one thing on that shelf. Nick picked it up, grimacing at the cloud of gray dust that clouded from the movement. It was an old wooden frame, a portrait frame, propped on a stander no sturdier than a match-stick. The frame looked home-crafted, probably from junk. Homely enough to disregard. He could tell from the feel of it that it was almost completely rotted, as though it had been flung to sea for centuries. He sighed He could barely make out the image it contained through the thick layer of grime and dust, and was in no mood to be interested. He threw it back on the shelf-top where it clattered onto the flat of its base like the body of a dead sparrow. Suddenly he heard a rattling sound and felt something fall down by his feet.
"Huh" He murmured, peering down to the mess of old papers that lined Perez's old wooden floor. He squatted and rummaged through the papers, his hands fast yellowing from their dirt. He suddenly felt something smooth slide into his grasp.
At first he didn't recognize it, such was the warped shape of the arm and the shattered base of the clay bowl. The bad light did not help. It was only when he noticed the shallow brown stain from years on the lip he realized the object was indeed a pipe. He nodded, thinking of the hobos who had surely camped out in this pit of dung. In any case, there was nothing here. His first thought had been the right one. Farber was certainly insane. This wasn't a house and it sure as shit wasn't a blacksmith shop. It was nothing but a tomb. A goddamn tomb.
"Who are you?" A voice suddenly rasped beind him. Nick felt the pipe tumble from his fingers as he turned. There was a small clatter followed by a light tinker as he heard it smash on the floor, the fragments of clay spilling into the pages below. Over by the doorway and staring towards him like a manged old dog, stood the weathered and small figure of a hunched old man. He was holding something between the fingers of his right hand. Nick eyed it, warily before identifying it as a small bottle. "I said, who the hell are you and what are you doing in my house?" The old dog said again, his voice deep and lightly accented.
Nick stared back, struck dumb for a second. "I'm looking for the blacksmith," he replied, quietly. The man grunted with a kind of baffled amusement. He slowly walked over to the other side of the room where he set the bottle down on an overturned crate, strewn with old plates covered with bones of old meet and mould. Muttering something, the old dog stooped and picked up what appeared to be some kind of a vessel from the floor beside the upturned crate. Nick watched him blow the mould off the vessel in a sandy-colored cloud and wordlessly filled it with the contents of the bottle.
"He's gone," he muttered, squatting down his back hunched over the crate-table. He lifted the cup to his lips and drank. "He don't live here no more." Nick watched him sett it back down, instantly reaching back to the bottle and re-filling it, coughing as he watched the brown liquor flow. Nick found himself cautiously approaching. He watched the man take another drink, his dark eyes glimmering with some kind of relieved calm as he drank.
"In that case," Nick said softly, "can you tell me where I can find him." The old man looked up, surprised.
"You still here?" he mumbled. "Hell, boy, I just told you. He's gone. I never even kenw the man, There hasn't been no blacksmith here for years." He paused, reaching into the pocket of the stained linen shirt he wore and pulling out a half-crushed box of cigarettes. "That's right," he said with a gleam of triumph, "I never even met him." He lanced one into his lips and silently struck a match to light it. He slowly breathed a cloud of thick smoke. "And, hell, if you ask me he's probably dead."
"Dead?" The old man shrugged.
"Yeah. For all I know." Nick grinned.
"Aw come on, man," he said. "You expect me to believe that? You expect me to believe don't know nothing aboutwhere he went? Wasn't this his house?" Nick reached forward and pulled the cigarette from where it was nestled in the man's lips, billowing its blue tarred smoke around the ruts of his weathered face. Grinning, he placed it between his own lips and took a deep drag, trying to ignore the foul taint of the sour mash on the butt. The old man scowled back furiously, but said nothing, even as the young stranger exhaled a cloud from his own smoke towards him, stinking his eyes. He felt the young man stare at him with a hard, menacing gaze that was almost hypnotic. He shook his head angrily.
"Give that back," he grunted, snatching back the remains of his cigarette. Nick continued to grin as he watched the old dog begin to sweat angrily. "I don't know who you think you is, busting in here like that, but you better believe me when I tell you, boy. I don't know nothing about it. You hear me?" He paused to take one final, emptying slug from the jar before standing up angrily. "The man you're looking for is probably dead, sir," the old man hissed. "Heaven knows there ain't no better explanation for where he is. But I don't know nothing about Perez nor where he is and—" Suddenly he felt the jolt of a crashing sensation flooding over his tongue, the imagined bullet embedding itself in his foot. The young stranger's eyes widened devilishly, a little smile forming on his face.
"Oh," Nick said, with mock curiously. "So you know his name?" The old dog's face hung there all wounded. He said nothing. "Come on, Pablo," Nick coaxed. "We both know I know who you are." Pablo hunched there pathetically. He shook his head like a guilty child. Nick eyed him coldly, slowly pulling back his coat to reveal Farber's gun mounted on the shoulder holster. "Come on, Pablo," he said again, slowly pulling out the revolver. The sound of the cocking arm echoed round the small room. "You're only making it worse, old man. I know who you are. I know."
"You know, do you?" Pablo rasped as he looked up, his eyes rapidly clouding with anger. "Well, what do you want?" He grunted and suddenly hauled himself up with some kind of bare aggression Nick took to be either crazy brave or just plain crazy. He stepped towards him with a thunderous gaze. "See now, you listen to me, boy," he snapped. "I don't know who you think you are, coming into my property like this and threatening me. But either you tell me who you are and what the hell you're doing here or else, well, you'd better just go ahead and shoot me, boy. I ain't scared." Nick felt his hand tremble as the old man's small eyes glared into his, there was something about those eyes that hit him hard and strange. He found himself smiling back nervously.
"Now see here, Mister," he said. "I'm not here to shoot you." It wasn't quite a lie. Nick thought of the knife in his pocket. Then he thought of Farber, his cold and unusual voice. 'Stab him in the heart', he'd said. Nick shivered just thinking about it. For a moment, he felt a dull sense of hopelessness, as though the Texan was stood behind him right now with a gun pointed at him even as he stood pointing one at the angry old fellow he was supposed to murder. He looked back into the old man's angry eyes. The chaos and despair of the surroundings fed into his peripheral's with the same warmth that made so many bad things seem necessary It wouldn't be so hard, he told himself. It did not matter. Perez did not need to live. "I'm not here to shoot you," he repeated, calmly.
"Then why are you here, Mister," the old man asked, he paused. "Mister, what?"
"Lacey," Nick replied after a brief hesitation. A thousand false names had shimmered through his brain for a moment, but he reasoned that there was no need to lie about who he was to a man he would soon murder. "My name is Nick Lacey." He watched for the horror to spread across the old man's face when he realized he was face to face with the killer of the barkeep, but that look never came. The old man sniffed.
"Nick Lacey," he said. "Funny, I didn't take you for one of them." He chortled to himself and pulled out another cigarette. Nick frowned.
"What do you mean?" He said.
"Nothing," Pablo shrugged. "I thought you were from my country, is all." He paused, lighting the cigarette and taking a deep drag. He coughed another thick stream of smoke into the air. "Though I figured you probably didn't speak no Spanish," he added.
"Why would you think that?" Nick said.
"No reason, Senor Lacey," he replied, smiling. "Or should I say, Mister Lacey. Ah, that's a fine name indeed. Nick Lacey, si. A fine guero name." He giggled.
"Surprised you don't know," Nick murmured, softly.
"I'm wanted by the law," Nick said. "There's a dozen wanted posters out around town." He paused, eyeing the old man intently. "I'm wanted for murdering George Elkhorn, the barkeep." Pablo nodded, followed by an indifferent shrug as he quietly puffed on his cigarette.
"I wouldn't know nothing about that," he said with a thin smile, a mass of old decaying teeth jutting from his mouth like the rotted ivories on an old and broken piano-top. "I never learned to read." Nick blinked, saying nothing for a moment. Again his mind lept to the weight of the knife in his pocket. Again he could almost feel Farber stood behind him, though somehow closer this time, as though this lips were brushing against his ear, their whiskers gently scratching.
"I need a horse," he said, finally lowering the barrel of the gun. "Your horse. And provissions." Perez looked up, his eyes narrowing.
"My horse?" He repeated.
"That's right," said Nick. "I was told by, uh, an acquaintance that you'd have one. You are a blacksmith ain't you? I need a horse. For a journey. A journey across the border." Pablo said nothing for a moment. Suddenly he threw back his head, bursting into a grate of ugly laughter. Nick watched as the old man laughed relentlessly. He laughed until his face was moist with sweat.
"Senor," he spluttered, wiping his face with the cleaner of his shirt-sleeves. "Mister Lacey, pardon me, but I think you must be from the lunatic assylum." He paused to regain his composure. "You want to go across the border? You want to run away from America, or perhaps find cheap pretty lady? Well then you take the train to El Paso and go normal way 'cross el rio." He shook his head, chuckling softly. "You find nothing across the border down here, Senor. No, nothing but desert and desert and lot more desert. Nothing south of here, Senor. No money, no ladies, no city, no town."
"I'm looking for a town," Nick said. "A town called Colonia." No sooner had he spoken the name when Pablo's gleeful gaze vanished with the same rapid disintegration of the smoke that spiralled from his cigarette. The old man dropped the butt to the floor and stared and Nick noticed his lower lip begin to tremble faintly.
"Colonia," he repeated, as though the word brought back some unpleasant taste. Wiping his sweating brow, the Pablo said nothing for a moment before briskly shaking himself. "Senor, I think you are mistaken, yes very mistaken."
"No," said Nick. He calmy slid his hand into his jacket and brought out the object, the medallion Farber had given him. "See now, I've been sent to you to ask for your help, Mister. And the man who sent me here, well, he told me to give you this." He opened his hand slowly and the old man's eyes settled on the opened palm, his eyes widening. "Might this mean something to you?" Nick said quietly.
"Where did you get that?" Perez muttered, staring at the medallion as a man might stare into the eyes of a hawk spider. Nick shrugged. He put it on the table beside the mess of liquor and cigarette ash.
"My employer," he said, simply. He watched as the old man cautiously picked it up, his hands trembling faintly. For a moment Nick thought he saw the hint of a tear in the pit of his eye, but it had vanished when Perez looked up.
"I will help you, Senor," he murmured, with a mysterious kind of a smile. There was a fresh note of kindness in his voice. "Yes, I will help you. But first you must tell me something. You must tell me. Tell me who gave you this, and why you say you must go to-" He was suddenly interrupted by a loud crash at the brittle wood of Perez's door, followed immediately by the shuffle of boot steps outside.
"Open up!" The sound of a gruff voice came barking through the wood. "This is the Sheriff. Open the door."
"Shit," Nick hissed, his head spinning. He looked at the Perez with his eyes laced in panic. "They're here. Jesus, I didn't think they'd find me so fast. How the hell-" But the old man had already fled into the parlor doorway beside the crate. "Perez?" Nick called, over the noise of the fists slamming into the wood of the front door like the heads of a legion of trapped and rabid dogs. "Perez! Where the hell did you go?" Suddenly the old man reappeared, grasping a pointed Winchester .405 towards the door with a grim expression.
"Get out of here, Senor" he said. "Go out the back way. I have my horse out there already saddled. Take it and ride the hell away from here, Senor. I will take care of 'em. Take care of 'em when they come through." Nick shook his head, his mouth hanging open.
"Mr. Lacey?" Yelled a voice outside. "Come on out." There was another slam, followed by a rattle as one of the hinge-bolts came loose from the door. The wood groaned as a crack of the morning sun rippled through at the edge.
"The hell you will!" Snapped Nick. "You won't stand a damn chance." Perez shook his head violently, aiming the barrel of the shotgun at the center of the doorway. "Come on, old man, put the gun down. I'll give myself up. Hell, you know I didn't really kill that man anyhow, Pablo." Nick reached out and grabbed at the pointed barrel of the gun. The old man let out a furious yell, suddenly reaching out and backhanding Nick across the face hard.
"Get out of here!" He shrieked. Nick staggered for a moment as the pounding on the door began to smash through what was left of the hinges. Suddenly the world seemed doused in a tint of shimmering violet as he reached for his neck and hauled him screaming and cursing back through the parlor. Stumbling out into the daylight quiet of the yard where the old man's pony was tethered sleepily to the wall. He shoved him up onto its back, before hauling himself up, just in time to hear the muffled smash of Perez' door bust in. The noise of the sheriff's men filled the house.
"Lacey!" Came the gruff bellow, echoing through and out into the hot air of the waking town as they galloped out into the still underworld of the desert.