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rode slowly watching the trail side. There wasn’t much to see in the moonlight,
but enough to follow if you knew where to look, and I did.

thing was, this fella was not no kind of careful anyways. And he was not no
horse man neither.

rubbed my geldings rump, patted a time, and silently promised him a little
extra rest time once we caught up to this fool sometime later in the night.

Johnson was a good horse. More used to plow than saddle, but circumstances
dictate those positions more’n I do. And this man I was trackin’ had dictated
tonight’s circumstances clear and straight.

turned Mister Johnson down a short chute of a canyon, keeping him to the side
so as not to mark the trail, and to keep his iron shoes from ringing out on the
stone. We come to a little stream that cut the canyon and I stopped, rolled
myself a smoke. I sat, hand cupped and smoked. Listening to the surrounding

this was a smart fella, no way would I have lit no smoke. But this was no smart
man at all. This, from what I could see, was a desperate man. Desperate or
dumb. Or, possibly, both. I’d know for sure before dawn.

finished the smoke, flipped it into the crik and went on my way again,
following the trail of my own other horse, Mizz Johnson.

had, had her as long as I had, had Mister Johnson. Truth be told I thought
Mister Johnson might be even more pissed off about the situation that I was. He
just didn’t know how to use a rope, if so I’m sure he’d a been out for a
hangin’ too.

worked my way sideways down a gully, leaving the actual trail behind me where
it out and did a loop back onto itself. The direction was clear enough, and he
was far enough ahead that I wouldn’t come up on him, and the shortcut would
save me time considerable.

had me a farm, a good woman and two boys old enough to help a little already. A
girl child who made me feel like crying ever time I looked at her. I don’t
figure how that is: That a girl child can do that, ‘cept I can see she will
have to live her life, and it’s a hard one, and I wisht better than what I got
to give her.

is men. The boys will grow up rough and tumble. That’s boys. That’s boys comin’
to be a man. But a girl child, seems to me, looks out at the world all pretty
and hope, and then the world sort of breaks her down. Sometimes fast, sometimes

seen that truth in the eyes of a whore down in Dodge several years back. A
young pretty whore, but resigned to be a whore. I’d paid my dollar and stayed
for a little conversation as it was a slow night. I don’t never want to see
that look in my Melissa’s eyes. But I can’t see that my Janey would ever let
her go down that path. We learn from our mistakes, we do: If we don’t we don’t
last long in this world.

made the trail and walked Mister Johnson on the up-slope at a steady pace. He
didn’t need much help or pointin’: I figured he could smell ol’ Mizz Johnson at
that point, and he was, as I said, a might upset himself.

was two days out from home. Me out from home meant that Janey had to do it all
with no help from no man. Plow what she could with that goddamn, son-of-a-bitch
mule we had. Be lucky if it didn’t kick her bad is what I’d be.

life don’t slow down for no horse thief. The kids got to be fed. The chicks fed
too. The cows milked. The other things a woman’s got to do. Cook, and clean,
what all. But she’s got to do all the things a man’s got to do as well. All
piled in there. No break at all. That was this life out here, how it had to be.
How it was.

caught the smell of fire and meat roastin’ on the air. Fresh, green wood. Not
much of a woodsman either, I opinioned. But, considering the horsemanship, the
theft itself and all of the rest of it, I’d say I was not too surprised. I
stopped, rolled another smoke, kept it cupped to hide the flame, didn’t worry
about the odor even though I was close now. The wind was at me after all, and
his own, smokey fire would hide all other smells if the wind did shift. Chances
were he had no idea of smells on the wind anyways.

let my eyes travel the sky, lookin’ and I spotted a few stray sparks as they
rose into the night sky not far away. All kinds of dumb. But I bet he
considered himself some sort of woodsman just because he could light that fire.

figure if they can build a fire they’s a woodsman. I laugh at that. I have
slept in snow banks and stayed warm. I tracked snowshoes in dead winter and got
them. I have been lived in the wild with just a knife for two months while I
was working out of the back country and my first horse dropped a leg in a
chuck-hole and I had to shoot him.

was green then. Used up one of my last four bullets on the horse, when I
could’a used the knife and saved that bullet. Packed some out with me, dried
over the fire, and et better those two months. I was young, dumb and life to
come. And for me I was goddamn lucky to have lived through it that time. But,
as I done said the one time, you learn or you die. Life, it don’t forgive a lot
out here.

finished the smoke, crushed it out between my thumb and forefinger, then angled
Mister Johnson down toward the fire I’d seen. I could be, maybe, cocky and ride
right up on him, but I don’t like to misjudge. I tied Mister Johnson to a tree
to keep him out of it in case there was gun-play, which I intended there might
be. I’d just have to hope there were none that got Mister Johnson. But he’d
fare better hidden away. A man will always try in shoot a man’s horse at first
sight if he can.

walked the last hundred or so yards into his camp. My old sprung boots was so
mushy and soft they was like walkin’ in Indian mocs anyhow. He never heard me

had a chuck spitted over the fire, and probably ever cat, wolf, bear and wild
dog for two miles around was sniffing on the air. He was stupid alright. I’d
seen some green eyes, and two sets of red eyes as I had made my way into his

sat before the fire. A fat man: I’d knowed that from the depth of the hoof
print though. And a stupid man just as I had guessed, as he had allowed me to
walk right up to him, too busy tryin’ to twist the cap off’n a store bought
bottle of whiskey he’d got from somewhere.

decided on the spot to save the bullet: Put my gun away and pulled the rope
that I had bought with me free from my shoulder. If a man ever works with
cattle, branding, he don’t forget how to rope. And, as a younger man, I done my
share of that. I had him in on one toss, and cinched it tight as I walked up on
him face to face like.

he says, but me, I go about my business. I got me a limb picked out. We wrestle
a little while I drag him to the limb, shift that rope quick like to his neck,
and haul him up. He don’t say nothin’ after ‘Hey’, he tries to though.

think hanging a man is easy. And, it can at times be easy, but this wasn’t no
easy time: This was one a them hard times. A fat man, a thick neck, and me
being plain tired out. He kicked and thrashed for all of ten minutes before he
slowed. Me hanging on the end of that rope to keep him stretched, but I could
not get him to swinging. And then, me being tired as I was, I looped that rope
around Mizz Johnson’s saddle horn, the dumb bastard didn’t know enough to take
a saddle off’n a horse, and walked her a bit to get him swinging free. Goddamn
if he didn’t kick some more at that. I waited ten more minutes, ticked ’em off
on my Elgin. I seen men come back if they neck ain’t broke, and I was sure it
was not.

let him down after that time, rope don’t come cheap to me, and left him laying
there for the coyotes, wolves, bear and cats the damn fool had called down. Fat
man might not be their favorite, but when times is tough it will do I’d bet.

gathered up Mizz Johnson, went back and got Mister Johnson. They was happy to
see each other. Blowing and touching noses to necks.

fat man had two pair a saddle bags. The first had a food store, no surprise
there, except why he’d been about to eat chuck when he had bacon. The second
was a surprise: Gold, and not a little. I will tell you it was enough to sit me
right down there by the fire to look it over.

can count, but there’s a limit. What I knowed, I did, and then I had reached
the limit and there was a long ways to go yet. A very long ways. And the
trouble was I did not know for absolute what each piece was worth. Coin,
stamped, but I could not read none. I could only say there was five times
of  counting to one hundred and a way to
go after that.

could read and write too. And she could cypher figures a sight farther than I
could when it come to that. Whoring had taught her that. No whore could afford
to get cheated.

looked at it there in the moonlight for a piece, then put it all back in the
saddlebags except a few pieces I kept for my pocket. Janey could count it;
whatever it was we were a huge sight better off than we had been. It almost
made me want to thank the fat man. I didn’t though. He stole my horse and he
got what a horse thief is supposed to get.

tied Mizz Johnson to the saddle horn of old Mister Johnson’s saddle by a longish
lead and we rode out of there. I did put that fire out before we left. I left
the chuck where it was, dug me out a piece of jerky my own Janey had made. I
chewed thoughtful, thinking about the money as I rode. I was gonna stop at
Abilene, which was on the way, and buy Janey a dress. She’d always had such
pretty dresses when I’d met her, but times being as they was there weren’t no
money for pretty dresses.

smiled to myself thinkin’ about Janey’s eyes when she saw a new dress or two
and then a saddlebag full a gold pieces. It made me feel good inside. I looked
up at the moon, sent a prayer to God above up there somewhere, turned Mister
Johnson for the next ridge and headed towards Abilene.