Thursday, June 22, 2017


This was a story I started thirty-odd years ago, my first Weird Western, in fact. I was reading a whole lot of Joe Lansdale o' course, and decided to give it a shot. Science fiction wasn't working for me and my detective novel just wouldn't take. I called it Aztec Gold before it changed to Priests of the Black Sun, then Hayes and the Hellriders. Five, six years ago I went back to it after at least a decade. Dumped 120 pages of 150 and just got to work. Whole lot about it's changed, but then again, it ain't changed a bit.

Chapter 1: The Game
Bosch sat in a town at the edge of the desert and waited to go insane. He drank and played cards and paced the saloon floor. He stood outside and stared into the sun to speed up the process. The wind flapped curtains out broken windows and signs swung on chains. The horses tied in front shifted and shook their heads.
Down the street, a door clapped shut and someone threw their leg over a glossy pinto. High above, the clouds were fat bellied empires, sliding over the too blue sky. Bosch ruled them in his mind and made rash, violent proclamations. The clouds kept on. The horseman galloped up dust goin’ by, his brim pulled low.
There was no more war and the gold was gone out the mountain. The town was dying and tryin’a take him with it. He’d lost his last ten at the table and thought about selling his Susies. Good Guns. Smiths.
He had half a bottle left and gulped some, sitting on the saloon porch in his shitty clothes, his only clothes. Shitty jeans and a shitty shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms so long they was glued there. He looked around for his hat and unholstered a gun from his shitty crossed belts and gripped it tight. Good gun, though. He twitched, like it might end up in his mouth.
“Best be gettin’ then, chief,” said a voice and he looked over. The cardplayer, Grant, tugged up the collar of his duster and stomped down the steps, his men close behind. It was Bosch and Asa, now. A couple whores down the street, maybe. The doc had been around earlier.
“This it?” asked Grant, his hand on a bay mustang tied to the post.
Bosch nodded, thinking of that last hand, throwing in his ten and raising the horse on top, hell yes, the saddle too. He’d pointed out the window, Grant nodding and matching the bet with a few notes. Bosch’s hand was laid out to low groans and embarrassed snorts. He’d pounded the table. There’d been three of a kind, goddammit! Then the pacing, the drinking and staring into the sun.
Grant untied the animal and kept the rein loose, boot in his own stirrup to swing up.
“Thanks, chief.”
The group trotted off, leadin’ Bosch’s mount behind.
“Don’t mind it,” said Asa, wiping his hands on a cloth. “Just addin’ insult to injury.”
“I ain’t fuckin’ Injun.”
“Uh huh.”
“Y’let Injuns in yer fuckin’ saloon?”
“I do not.”
“There it be, then.”
“I got my wagon comin’ in with Doc’s this afternoon.”
Bosch had his back to the porch post, leg in the street. He nodded and watched Grant’s crew fade in a swelling billow o’ dust.
“Uh huh.”
“I’ll leave a few things if y’stay on.”
“Or come with one of us.”
Bosch shrugged.
“Mayor’s gone, Bosch. Don’t need another one.”
He watched Asa part the wing doors and head on in. Shot him twice through the back and stepped in his blood and sacked the place for a cashbox. Bosch propped the body in a chair and sat across over bottle after bottle, recounting that last hand.
“Y’hear me?”
Asa’s shoes appeared in the space Bosch stared at under the wings, somehow not bursting into flame for the intensity of his lurid thoughts.
He blinked and dragged his stare up the saloon doors.
“Yeah,” he said, the man’s face spattered with blood. The two exit wounds gaped, big enough to crawl into. Bosch put a palm in his eye.
“Y’hear me?”
“Plate o’ beans, I hear ya.”
“They’re gettin’ cold.”
Bosch shinnied his shoulders up the porch post and stumbled inside. Slammed his bottle on the bar. He ate the beans and soaked the plate with a heel o’ bread. A glance at Asa, the shelves behind him bare, everything crated in back. In the mirror over the bar room was empty save a table left out for their game, the other three chairs already dragged away.
He went back outside. Last meal, that was all he needed. Middle of the street he unholstered again, knees sagging. He was breathing heavy through the booze, the sun pounding his back.
A man needed a smoke, though.
He swung his head toward the saloon and jerked a shoulder to twist the rest of him after.
Last meal, last smoke.
Asa stood behind as he sat on the porch some more, the tobacco fluttering down between his boots. He was shaking too much.
“I got it, Bosch.”
He sat down beside and took the curl of paper, the pouch and started rolling. Bosch nearly apologized for killing him. He watched the mountains over the rooftops across.
“Which o’ them’s left?” he asked.
Asa licked it shut and put the smoke between Bosch’s lips. A match snapped off the edge of the step.
Bosch turned to let him light the end, nodded. He exhaled a gust through his nose. Jerked his head up the street, hand cupped to his chest over an invisible tit.
“Marlene, I think,” said Asa. “Ellen or Sadie with ‘er. Headin’ south.”
They were only a half day from the border. South sounded just fine to Bosch. He could kill himself in Mexico just fine. He got up.
“Hell, three-four hours now,” said the doc, sitting at his desk back of the cathouse. Bosch kept his forearm braced on the doorframe. He swayed. The lantern on the blotter hissed.
“You aren’t in shape for a throw anyway, Bosch.”
“Was gonna leave with ‘em.”
“I see,” Doc kept writing in his ledger. “Ride with me, if you want. Room in the wagon.”
“It matter?”
Bosch didn’t answer. Doc had his head back, staring at the ceiling. His throat was cut, blood like a bib on his chest. Snakes writhed over the desk, rain slashed the windows.
“Does it?”
Doc clapped the ledger shut and put it in his split handle bag. He stood and checked the watch in his vest.
“Wagon’s comin’ before three, they said. Find me at home.”
He brushed past and Bosch followed him a few feet across the empty front parlor. He stumbled and held a hand out for the counter where Marlene would sit, taking money for the cashbox she kept back there. Bosch weaved behind it, bending down to look.
He kept falling.


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