Hard Men

Hard Men

The Kid stood up and with long strides and the clink of spurs on the hardwood floor strode over and placed his mug in the bin of breakfast dishes. Reston watched him slip into the oilskin he took from the coatrack next to the side door and pull it tight around him and snap it shut. He stepped over to the wooden table where Reston and Monty sipped their coffee.

Well, might as well get this done, he said.

Yep, Reston said looking up at the Kid.

The Kid turned, opened the side door and stepped into the dark mudroom, opened the outside door and stepped out into the dark rain. He pulled his hat down, his ears bent.

He’s a good kid, Reston said. He’ll do all right.

Monty’s hard, brown hands clutched the porcelain cup. Reston looked over at him. You’ll feel lucky to have him today, Reston said. Monty said nothing.

Ain’t you got nothing to say? he asked.

About what?

About anything?

You didn’t ask me about anything.

I asked you about the Kid.

No you didn’t. You asked ain’t I got anything to say?

Well, do you?

About what?

You’re the stubbornest sombitch I ever knowed.

Monty finished his coffee, stood up, stepped to the bin, put his empty cup in the bin, walked to the coatrack and took down his oilskin. He turned to Reston and said, I need a smoke. He stepped into the mudroom, slipped into his stiff oilskin, and stepped out into the cold wet morning, looking up into the dark sky. A long day lay ahead of them, he thought. He pulled his cigarettes from his vest pocket and his old Zippo lighter from his pants pocket, flipped open the lighter, lit a cigarette, and blew smoke and steam into the cold air. He leaned against the pole that supported a corner of the awning over the side door. The cowboys never used the front door, that was reserved for the cook, Geraldine, who lived in the small cabin next to the cookhouse. She had been at the ranch for as long as any of them could remember, but they rarely had the chance to talk to her because she came in the dark of early morning even before they were up, prepared breakfast, and left. And after all the cowboys were gone, she cleaned up. Every day.

Monty stood in the rain instead of underneath the awning. No sense in staying dry. He listened for Reston’s spurs on the hardwood floor. He knew Reston would wait a few minutes to give him the chance to finish his cigarette before he stepped outside. A good man, Monty thought. One of the hardest he’d ever known. But good.

The row of bare light bulbs hung high along its spine cast a solemn glow inside the barn. The Kid grabbed his halter from a wooden peg sticking out of one of the thick hewn logs that held up the loft and took his long rope from the saddle that straddled the feed bunk in the stall where he kept his tack. The Kid stepped out into the large corral outside the barn, slopped through the knee-high muck to the long alleyway that ran along one side of the corral, opened the gate into the alleyway, walked across the alleyway to the gate on the other side, opened it, and stepped into the paddock where he kept his saddle horse. The big sorrel came to him easily and dropped his head and the Kid slipped the halter over his nose and ears and led him back through the gates through the muck of the corral to the barn.  Inside, he stomped the heavy mud from his boots. In the somber silence of the barn, he saddled his horse, threw on his chinks, blew on the ring snaffle, slipped it into his horse’s mouth while slipping the headstall over his ears, led him out of the barn, tightened the cinch, and threw his leg over the saddle and rode into the gloom of drizzle and fog.

Monty knew that once Reston stepped outside he’d walk straight to the barn without another word. He threw his cigarette to the ground and cupped his hands over his warm breath and waited. When Reston stepped outside, Monty walked beside him to the barn.

Reston and Monty stood inside the double doors of the big barn staring out into the gloom, waiting for the Kid to bring in the cavvy. On the other side of the highway running up to Hamilton Dome, the Kid dismounted to open the gate into the horse pasture. He high-trotted along the two-track that followed the river to a crossing about a half-mile up, crossed the river and rode another mile along the river. He pulled up and listened. He was alone inside the silent drizzle of rain.

Yeeiii, he hollered into the silence. His horse pricked up his ears. He rode to the end of the pasture. When his horse whinnied, the Kid knew the cavvy was close by. He stayed put, they would find him. Horses are like that, he thought, they stick together.

Monty lit another cigarette and looked over at Reston. Reston turned away from the muck and rain and walked to his stall to grab his long rope. He was eager to get a start on the day. Monty watched him move away, a knot of muscle and bone. Monty turned back to the drizzle outside, blowing the last of the smoke into the darkness.

He stepped over to his stall to grab his rope. Inside the stall where his custom-made saddle sat astride the bunk, and his headstall and chaps hung from heavy dowels, he looked down at his muddy boots. He had cowboyed his whole life and this is what he had to show for it. Saddle, headstall, chaps, boots and spurs. Broken bones. Twisted fingers. Scars from a lifetime of chasing wild cattle. Lungs clogged with dust and cigarette smoke.

He looked over at Reston who seemed to be studying the same things, his head bowed, quiet inside the solemn light from the bare bulbs overhead. There was a hollowness inside the barn, the same hollowness found inside a cathedral. This was their church and only another cowboy could understand their faith. As he looked at Reston, Monty wondered why they did it. Why risk so much for so little?

The cavvy strung out in front of the Kid, moving in a steamy rhythm toward the gate that led out of the pasture, across the highway, and into the muck of the corral next to the big barn. The gates were set and the horses filed in as they did every morning when the cowboys were at headquarters. In the summer, the cowboys and the cavvy were up on the mountain. In the fall, they worked out of headquarters, when the mud and drizzle foretold of the long cold days and bitter nights ahead of them.

Monty’s wife left him over twenty years ago when they were still young and frisky with love, and Reston’s wife left him three years ago, but if truth be told, more likely long before then because it was never a life for her.

Once the cavvy was settled inside the large corral, Monty and Reston waded into the steam coming from the horses. They paused. The horses snorted and stamped and turned their butts to the two men in a semi-circle. Reston spotted the big buckskin and from the middle of the corral dropped the big houlihan loop softly over the buckskin’s head. Monty built a loop and threw it softly over the grulla. They led their horses inside the barn, brushed them, threw on blankets and saddles and draped headstalls over the saddle horns and secured them with saddle strings, threw their chaps over the saddles, led them out of the barn and loaded them into the gooseneck stock trailer attached to the flatbed pickup truck. The Kid, already outside, waited until last to load his horse.

Reston slid in behind the steering wheel, the Kid jumped in the back seat, and Monty slid into the passenger seat. The rain came down harder as they pulled away from the barn and turned onto the highway that took them into Gateway, through the sleeping little town, and on a few miles more to where they turned off the highway onto the gravel road that took them up the steep slope to Breakson Peak.

The clouds seemed to touch the ground when they pulled off the gravel road onto a dirt track heading east. The Kid stared out the streaked window into the drizzle of rain and pulled his collar up tight against the wild rag wrapped around his neck. Monty turned in his seat. Hey, Kid, you ready for this?

I guess so, the Kid said. Don’t have much choice.

No, not much. Sums up life pretty much. You’ll find that life is a hard bucket of frozen water.

The Kid wondered what this meant. He’d seen plenty of buckets of frozen water, but couldn’t see how any of them related to life. Didn’t do anyone much good, but they always thawed. At least, that’s how he saw it.

Reston pulled off the dirt track when they got to the gate that led into the Breakson Peak pasture. The fog hung low and bleak and the rain was steady. They sat inside the warm cab, staring out into the gloom. None of them wanted to move. But without a word, Reston opened his door and stepped outside, his hot breath lingering on the cold air. He walked to the back of the trailer and swung open the gate. The horses jumped out. He took the lead rope of the buckskin and led him to the side of the trailer. Monty stepped out carrying the scabbard that held his Winchester 94, grabbed up his lead rope, led his horse to the other side of the trailer, threw the left fender of the saddle up and over the seat, and tied the scabbard to the side of the saddle, underneath the fender, with the butt of the rifle facing away from the horse’s head.

The Kid, in no hurry for his horse to jump out of the trailer, blew into his hands. Damn, it’s cold, he said. Reston and Monty said nothing.

They took down the chaps that hung across the seats of their saddles, threw them around their waists, and reached for the buckles in back, buckled them, and then buckled the three buckles down each leg. They took down the headstalls, blew hot breath onto the ring snaffles, slipped the snaffles gently into their horses’ mouths, and reached the crowns over the ears and buckled the throat latches loosely.

Reston led his horse over to the wide gate and propped it open. In the low clouds and rain, they could barely see a hundred feet beyond the gate. He pulled his cinch tight, stepped up into the stirrup, threw his right leg over the saddle, and rocking back and forth, the saddle creaking underneath him, he waited for Monty and the Kid. And then, nudging their horses with their spurs, they rode off through the gloom in the direction of Breakson Peak.

They rode in silence. They knew what needed to be done, and it didn’t require discussion. Only who needed to go where. Reston told them. He’d take the rim of the big canyon, the longest circle, the Kid would check the backside of Breakson and then come down the middle, and Monty would drop down on Rawson Flat and take everything between the Kid and the fenceline. There was over a thousand head of cattle in the big pasture, but once they started them off, they were confident they’d line out for the gate. He’d be sure to be at the gate to turn them into the Red Mountain pasture, Reston said.

Be careful in this soup, Reston said. I don’t need any heroes.

The Kid nodded and high-trotted off. Eager sombitch, ain’t he? Monty said.

He’ll do all right, Reston said. Just wait and see.

I ain’t worried, Monty said. He’ll do what he does, that’s all.

You don’t seem convinced, Reston said.

I ain’t convinced about nothing, Monty said. Don’t need to be.

Reston looked over at Monty. He had known and rode alongside him for over twenty years and knew he could always count on Monty to be there when he needed him. In everything horses and cattle. Reston wasn’t so sure he could count on him if he needed a shoulder to cry on. But then he didn’t much bother about crying.

The Kid was already out of sight in the eerie fog. Monty looked straight ahead while Reston tried to get his bearings. On a rise off to the north, Reston saw three dark objects, too small to be cattle, too large to be dogs or coyotes. He reached over and tugged on Monty’s oilskin. Monty looked over and pulled up. What the fuck? he asked.

Without consulting Reston, he spurred his horse in the direction of the three black objects on the rise. The animals pricked their ears, swung around and took off. Monty hadn’t seen many wolves, but when they took to their heels he knew immediately what they were. He pulled up, there wasn’t much point in chasing them in this soup. Reston pulled up alongside him. Wolves? he asked. Yeah, Monty said. Big sombitches. I didn’t know they’d come this far east.

They won’t be a problem, Reston said.

You don’t think so? Monty asked. It’s a bad omen.

Omen? How is it a bad omen?

They’ll bring trouble, wait and see.

I can’t see how they’ll bring any trouble.

You’re a cattleman, they’ll bring trouble, count on it.

I don’t count on anything.

Well, you should get your head out of the clouds, Monty said.

Reston looked at Monty. Sometimes he just didn’t get him, what he thought, what he believed in. He wanted to respond but was hesitant to get Monty’s hackles up. But he couldn’t help himself and said, You see the bad in everything.

I see what’s there, Monty said.

No, you see what you want to see, Reston said.

I see the truth in the situation, that’s all.

No, you don’t, Reston said. You see the ugly and dark side.

If it’s dark, that’s what I see, he said. You got your head stuck in the clouds.

If I do it’s because I like the sunshine, Reston said.

Sunshine. Not every day is filled with sunshine, in case you didn’t notice.

It doesn’t matter, every day doesn’t need to be, but it shouldn’t keep you from enjoying those days that are, Reston said.

I like the sun as much as any man, Monty said, but I know when something ain’t right. And I see it for what it is. You, on the other hand, are a dreamer, and there’s no sense in trying to tame dreamers – or cattle. Or wolves, for that matter.

I ain’t asking you to, Reston said.

Good. I’m not about trying to change any man, Monty said. He got to be the way he is through the sweat of living. It don’t pay to change him.

No, it don’t, Reston agreed. And wolves got to be the way they are through surviving the best way they can. They have a right to be here. They were here long before us, my friend.

I ain’t saying they don’t have a right to be here, I’m saying they’d better not stir up any trouble. They don’t have the right to do that.

It’s how you look at it. They’re doing what they are designed to do. They happen to be designed to kill. And that’s what they do.

And I have a right to protect what belongs to me, Monty said.

I suppose you do, Reston said, if you believe in ownership. That can always be debated. The only thing that really belongs to anyone is his dreams, and that’s the only thing that needs protecting.

Monty looked over at Reston and shook his head. You and your fuckin’ dreams, I swear they’ll get you in trouble. Just like those black wolves coming out of the fog, your dreams come as illusions, evil omens, and, believe me, trouble is not far behind.

My dreams are my concern. And they have nothing to do with black wolves in the fog. You’re just looking for a reason for your gloom. It isn’t so simple, my friend.

Monty smiled for the first time today. But it is, it is that simple, he said.

I swear, Monty, you’ll be the death of me. But we got cattle to gather. And they rode off together through the gloom of clouds and slow drizzle. They were happiest when they weren’t thinking, when they were just trying to stay warm, focused on gathering cattle. Like wolves were designed to kill, they were cowboys designed to work cattle, it is what they did, and they did it well. The rest of it was just chasing a wild dream. No, their life was fixed and wishing your life was different somehow just caused heartache.


The Kid broke over the ridge and rode to a point on the flat below Breakson Peak where he could be sure there wouldn’t be any cattle farther down the south slope. The fog wasn’t as thick on this side of the mountain. He rode west and pushed the cattle along the breaks back to and over the ridge of the mountain. He kept to the rim of the flat until he came to the steep canyon that fell off toward the broad scrub far below. The broad scrub on the south side of the mountain would wait for another day, they had enough to do with gathering the Breakson Peak pasture.

He looked up at the thick clouds that hung along the ridge above him. He spurred the big sorrel to stay close behind the cattle so they wouldn’t scatter once they broke over the rise. He didn’t want to disappoint Reston. He didn’t trust Monty, couldn’t figure him out. Monty never said much, wouldn’t let on what he was thinking, so the Kid wasn’t sure whether he just didn’t care for thinking or didn’t think the Kid was worth wasting his breath on. Reston, at least, let the Kid know what was on his mind.

Reston and Monty split up and Reston headed toward the big canyon that fell off steeply toward the big river far below and Monty headed toward the ridge above Rawson Flat. Even before he got there, he saw cattle coming hard off the ridge and he knew the Kid was where he was supposed to be. The low clouds and drizzle of rain pressed in on him. Life never seemed to smooth out for him. Why did it have to be so goddamned hard? He could take a little pain but why so much? Every day, day in, day out, nothing but relentless suffering. A man can only take so much before he breaks. But how much?

He spurred his horse, racing up the rise to the top of the ridge. The southside was steep and rocky and he leaned far back in the saddle as the big grulla stepped stiff-legged down the steep slope. He could hear the Kid off to the east hollering at the cattle as he gathered to the top of the ridge.

Monty rode with a rugged stubbornness down the breaks, he’d be damned if he’d let the Kid get out ahead of him. If the Kid had a lick of sense, he’d wait on the ridge until he was sure Monty was up from Rawson Flat and headed down the fence line before he started off the ridge with his cattle to make sure nothing broke back over the top of him. But the Kid was green. He hadn’t had a chance to learn yet. Life hadn’t turned him over enough. Hadn’t kicked in his teeth enough. You have to get your teeth kicked in more than once before you learn. To really learn. You have to bleed a lot. Get busted up. You have to hurt. Then you learn. Then you begin to figure out how much you can take. After you bleed enough. The Kid was a virgin. A fuckin’ virgin. He hadn’t even begun to bleed.

But the Kid was waiting on the ridge, peering through the thick soup, listening. He waited until he was sure Monty had started off the north side ahead of him. He knew Reston would be moving steadily along the rim of the canyon and would be there at the gate to turn the cattle when they got there. Reston was about as good as it gets.

Reston high-trotted along the rim of the steep canyon, cattle moving away from him toward the interior of the wide pasture. They would keep moving until they joined up with the cattle the Kid and Monty were bringing from the flat below the peak and off the ridge. He could count on them to keep the cattle moving down the face of the slope, his job was to kick cattle away from the steep canyon to join up with the herd, and to be at the gate when they got there so he could turn everything. In the fog and drizzle, he could only see a hundred feet ahead of him but he listened. The cattle moved easily away from him.

The Kid could hear the scrape of feet across brush and rocks and knew it was time for him to start off the ridge. Monty was there somewhere inside the thick fog. The cold and rain and fog made everything seem surreal as if he were inside someone else’s dream. But he stayed focused on what he needed to do. He listened. This is all he had to go on, what he heard out ahead of him. He thought of letting out a yelp to see if Monty would respond but decided against it. In this heavy fog, it would only echo inside his head. He wanted more than anything to fit in, to do a good job so they would accept him.

Monty wasn’t concerned about the Kid, he would either have his flank or he wouldn’t. He’d seen enough of them come and go it didn’t matter to him anymore. The world was overrun with wannabes. Get tough or get out. That’s all. This life didn’t have room for try. Cattle are unpredictable, cowboys shouldn’t be.

When he came on to a patch of pinon and juniper, Reston knew he was getting closer to the canyon that formed the north side of the long pasture. Through the heavy fog, he could see the edge of the steep slope that ran down toward the wild river in the bottom of the big canyon. He’d seen cattle break over the rim before but it was rare. He wasn’t worried about this today. Along the trail that ran along the rim he looked for tracks and fresh manure. He thought about how he’d been doing this so long that, like the coyote, he could smell cattle a mile away. He often thought of himself as a wolf or coyote, he even tried to put himself inside their heads, to think like them, to see like them, to smell like them. Humans were limited in their abilities to see and smell. Even in their thinking, humans were stupid because of their stubborn egos. He hated ego. It got in the way of everything. And the world drifted away.

The cold pressed in on the Kid but he tried not to think about it. He had a job to do, that’s all he could afford to think about. Monty and Reston were cold, too, but they didn’t let it interfere with what they had to do. He peered through the low clouds and drizzle and wondered if Monty was over there.  What if he wasn’t? What if he rode right out in front of him and spooked Monty’s cattle back over the top of him? He pulled back a little.

Reston approached the breaks and swells along the canyon on the north side and turned west toward the pasture fence, where he would turn back to the south to be in position at the gate halfway up the fenceline. He spurred the big buckskin. Horatio, Reston said the name out loud, Horatio, and in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain, to tell my story. Horatio snorted and Reston laughed. They rode on.

When he came to the fence line, he pulled up and stepped down. He had to pee. Numb with cold, he struggled with the buckle at the back of his chaps. He stamped his feet to find some feeling. Dammit, he said. Horatio’s head shot up, his ears straight in the air. Something was out there. Reston, after managing to unbuckle his chaps, blew into his hands before he reached for his penis. As he peed, he peered into the heavy fog. Wolves, he thought. They were close by, watching.

OK, boy, easy, he said. He stepped into the stirrup and threw his leg over the saddle. Horatio spun around and Reston spurred him up the fenceline toward the gate. He was in a hurry now, everything depended on him getting there before Monty and the Kid. Horatio kept his head up and turned to the west. There was definitely something out there.

The cattle out ahead of Monty moved quietly along the fence line toward the gate. Some of the cattle the Kid had gathered moved in to join the growing herd. The Kid stayed out on the broad pasture to turn everything in toward Monty. Monty pressed to keep the cattle moving down the fenceline and the Kid was alert to any noise. As they got closer to the gate, things seemed to speed up. Monty pulled back a little to give Reston the chance to get in place. In the heavy fog, he couldn’t see the gate but knew it was just ahead of him. He pulled up and whistled for the Kid. Nothing. He knew the Kid was out there because of the cattle the Kid had thrown at him. Monty waited. He whistled again, a hollow echo inside his head. Goddamn fog, he thought. What was Reston thinking trying to gather in this goddamn fog? The big grulla’s head shot up and turned east. The Kid was out there. It was something, at least. He reached down to feel for his rifle inside the scabbard under his left leg. And then he heard the Kid. A long echoing whistle. Good, he thought. The Kid is there.

Reston scrambled now to get to the gate. He could hear the rustling cattle ahead of him. His horse whinnied and was answered by Monty’s grulla. Good, he thought. Everything was going smoothly. Horatio spun his butt around and sidestepped up the fenceline. Easy boy, Reston said running his hand along his neck. What’s out there?

The black wolves were moving fast. They appeared as apparitions out of the thick fog. Horatio spun around and kicked at the fence even though the wolves were twenty yards away. Whoa, boy, Reston said pulling in on the reins. His nerves on high alert, Horatio spun round and round. He bolted up the fenceline toward the gate, scattering cattle. And then just ahead of him, the wolves cut through the heart of the herd.

What the hell? Monty screamed. He spun his horse around, cattle on the wind. He raced back toward the broad interior of the pasture hoping to get ahead of the stampeding cattle, screaming at the Kid.

Reston managed to get his horse pulled in, but it was too late. Damn the luck, he thought. Just bad timing, that’s all.

The cattle scattered out ahead of him.

Monty raced full out trying to get a fix on the situation. He tried to turn the cattle back toward the gate but they were having nothing to do with it. They flew toward the south ridge. If they got to the ridge all would be lost. As he raced through the fog and rain, he screamed for the Kid.

What do you expect, he thought. A fuckin’ kid, that’s all. But he knew it wasn’t the Kid’s fault. No, it was something else that ate at him, something deep inside him, something he knew was there but couldn’t quite grasp. And he knew if he didn’t get a hold of it, it would eat a hole clean through him.

The cattle broke out of the fog and the Kid didn’t have time to think, something had spooked them and he needed to get back to the ridge before they did. In the back of his mind, he knew it was futile, but he had to try. Off to the west, he could see Monty flying back toward the ridge. He moved away from him to flank the cattle on the east, thinking if he could slow them down even a little it would give Monty a chance to turn them. But nothing doing. They were panicked and running wild. Still, he spurred his horse, getting everything he could out of him. He wasn’t giving up. If Monty didn’t pull up, he wouldn’t either.

When Monty saw the black wolves running hard, their tongues hanging out, their heads bent low, he forgot about the cattle.  As he pulled alongside the Kid, he told him to get to the ridge, he was going after the wolves. The Kid said, OK.

He wanted to make Monty proud of him. He knew Monty didn’t think much of him, this was his chance to show him that he was a cowboy. Through the fog and rain, over the slick brush and grass, he asked his horse to give him everything he had.

Monty slid his rifle from the scabbard. Holding on with just his legs, he levered a shell into the chamber and lifted the rifle to his shoulder. He fired short, the wolves lowered their ears. The Kid had no chance but refused to quit. He heard another shot and knew Monty was off in another direction.

When the Kid reached the ridge the cattle were already breaking over the ridge moving hard toward the narrow trail that led down the steep canyon to the wide expanse of scrub to the south. The Kid had no chance to turn them and not wanting to risk injury to his horse, he pulled up. He couldn’t stand to look at the cattle spilling down the narrow trail that cut through the twist of pinon and juniper.

His horse, lathered up, tried to catch its breath. The Kid stepped off and looked back to the ridge over which he’d just come. He listened expecting to hear another report from Monty’s rifle, but nothing came. He loosened the cinch and drug the saddle and blankets off and threw them on the ground, steam pouring off the horse’s back. He had ridden him hard, he would let him rest a bit. There wasn’t anything to be done now.

The Kid had no idea where Reston ended up or if he’d come over the ridge. He suspected that Reston would realize there was no point. And what about Monty? Would he come? He didn’t want to face Monty. He would have to sooner or later, he’d just as soon it were later.

Reston searched for Monty and the Kid through the fog, knowing the cattle had spilled over the ridge and were gone. Inside the close fog, he pulled up and whistled, his whistle piercing the eerie silence. Damn the luck, he thought. But that’s how it sometimes goes. Bad luck. Things blow up and we’re left with the mess to clean up. As long as everyone was all right, that’s all that matters. He whistled again into the silence of the fog.

The Kid’s horse perked up its ears. Reston? He brushed off the sweat the best he could with his gloved hand, threw up the blankets and saddle, pulled the cinch tight and stepped into the stirrup and threw his leg over. The saddle creaked. His legs weary and his spirit broken, the Kid rode off in the direction of the last gunshot he’d heard. In the thick fog, he felt lost. He broke over the ridge and headed toward the big canyon to the east. Somewhere over there, he thought, this is where he’d heard the gunshot, off in the direction of the big canyon.

Plans sometimes go awry. And with cattle, things can blow up in a hurry. Things sure as hell blew up. The Kid called out through the hollow silence, Monty. His voice came back to him. Monty. He rode on in silence, half-heartedly calling out, are you out there? He felt so alone inside the heavy fog.

The rustle of the horse came to him through the fog. He peered ahead and saw the silhouette. He rushed ahead and pulled up alongside Monty’s horse. Where was Monty? He jumped from his saddle and reached for the reins. Monty, he cried out. No answer. He dropped the reins and walked toward the canyon, his head bent low looking for any sign. And there in the distance, he could just make out a figure on the ground. He ran, sliding down to his knees next to Monty.

Monty, he said. He picked up Monty’s head and slid a leg underneath. Hey, Monty, are you all right? Monty didn’t respond. He bent close. Monty’s breath was broken and shallow. He took Monty’s head between his hands, he was out cold. He laid Monty’s head down gently, stood up and took off his oilskin and spread it over Monty. He kneeled next to Monty. You’re going to be all right, Monty, you’re going to be all right. He pulled off his vest and placed it underneath Monty’s head.

The Kid looked out into the thick fog. The two horses stood twenty feet away. He didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t sure if he could get Monty back on his horse, and even if he could, what good would it do? Where would they go? He wished Reston were here. But he wasn’t. He’d find them, the Kid was sure of it, but when? No, it was up to him now.

And then as if an angel had heard the Kid’s whispered prayer, Monty reached up and touched the Kid’s face. Hey, Monty, the Kid said. Yeah, Kid, how’re you doing? I’m fine, the Kid said. You busted up? the Kid asked. Yeah, I’m not so good, Monty said. My horse kind of took a disliking to me…found out he doesn’t particularly like the noise of gunfire. Can you do me a favor? Sure, the Kid said. Reach into my vest pocket and get me a cigarette, would you? Sure, the Kid said.

The Kid found the pack of cigarettes, pulled one out, stuck it between his lips, reached inside Monty’s pants pocket for the heavy stainless steel Zippo, brushed his finger across the engraving, To M from R, flicked it open, lit the cigarette, and held the cigarette to Monty’s lips. Monty closed his eyes and took a deep drag. The Kid wiped the rain from Monty’s face with his shirtsleeve. Are you cold? he asked. Nah, I’m doing OK, Monty said. Are you comfortable? the Kid asked. Through a twisted smile, he nodded. I’m fine, Kid. The Kid held the cigarette and Monty blew out a long trail of smoke into the drizzle and fog.

Was it the wolves? the Kid asked. Was it the wolves you was shooting at?

Wolves? How did you know about the wolves?

I don’t know, I just did. Were they out there?

Yeah, they were out there, Monty said. They’re always out there somewhere. What would we do without them, right?

Yeah, what would we do without them? the Kid said stroking Monty’s hard face.

Hey, Kid, Monty said imploring the Kid with the crook of a finger to lean in closer. What’s your name?

The Kid bent down so close he could feel Monty’s warm cigarette breath and the scratch of his ragged beard. Orvis, he whispered in Monty’s ear.

Monty smiled up into the steady drizzle. The Kid took off Monty’s cowboy hat and laid it gently on the soft ground next to him and wiped the rain from Monty’s face with his shirtsleeve.

I ain’t feeling so good, Monty said. I know, the Kid said. I’m sorry, I should have done better.

You did good, Kid, Monty said. You did good. Hey, Kid, Monty said closing his eyes, what’d you say your name was? But before the Kid had time to answer, Monty whispered, never mind. The Kid wiped Monty’s face and bent over him to keep the rain off. He reached the cigarette back between Monty’s lips but they were cold. The Kid took the cigarette away and looked out into the dreary fog and rain and shivered, his breath coming out in slow gulps. I should have done better, he whispered, rocking back and forth. And the rain fell harder.

  1. Good story David. You’ve been there.

    • Thank you very much, Mark. I appreciate you reading the story and the nice comment. I have been there.

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