Thirteen Bullets by Laurence Raphael Brothers

The stagecoach lurches to a halt in a clearing beside the road. Four wild-eyed black geldings rear up and whinny as the top-hatted stage driver cracks a whip over their heads.

“Nous sommes ici,” says the driver. “Cimetière. La fin de la ligne!”

The coach door slams open and the No-Good Kid clambers out, bleary-eyed, cursing, unsteady on his feet. His blond hair is tousled and mussed. He had to leave Albuquerque without his hat but it’s obvious what color it was because all the rest of his gear is white. Or it used to be white. Now it’s dingy with the dust of the journey. Not the best choice for hard travelling, but then he didn’t have much time to pack. His luggage consists mainly of card decks and empty whiskey bottles.

“This it?” The Kid’s voice is cracked and raw. He desperately needs a drink. There’s got to be a full bottle left in there someplace.

“Oui. Cimetière.” The driver is a short man; so short his black cloak has swallowed him completely except for his face, which is dominated by the inhumanly long, thin spike of his nose.

“You know I can’t hardly speak your lingo. This Tombstone or ain’t it?”

The coachman cackles. “Ce sera votre tombe si vous ne partez pas avant l’aube.”

The Kid shakes his head and spits. He heard the word ‘tomb’ in there: that’s something, anyway. Then he looks around. It’s just after sunset, but the sky is still orange in the west, with streaks of red and pink and violet stretching all the way to the zenith. There’s a wooden building here with a stables behind it, likely the station house for the stage. A ways off down the road he can see a larger and much grander structure, a mansion or something like, behind a wrought-iron fence.

“Hey, this place is kinda… small, wouldn’t ya say? Ain’t there s’posed to be more to Tombstone than just this?”

The coachman doesn’t answer, not even in French; he just chuckles. Then he coughs. He pulls a tarnished silver flask out from under his cloak and takes a snort. The Kid reaches up and snags the flask. He drains it in a long gulp before handing it back. “Damn,” he says. “You had this fine brandy all along and I had to make do with rotgut? That ain’t neighborly.”

The coachman’s beady eyes are red with resentment somewhere a long way back of his nose, but he makes no protest.

“Guess this here is just the stage station. Guess they keep it out of town?”

There’s no reply from the driver. The Kid looks around some more. “Gotta say, I thought Arizona territory’d be dryer than this. More, y’know, desert-like.” The earth here is black and moist, and there are mossy cypresses everywhere.

“Y’know….” The Kid rounds on the coachman. “I’d almost be willing to say I ain’t in Arizona ‘tall. I’d almost be willing to say the driver I paid twenty US dollars for a private coach to Tombstone took me for a ride all right. But if I was to say that, the driver’d have to answer to me.” The Kid puts his hand on the gun at his hip, a Remington Frontier Army revolver. He’s never fired it before, doesn’t even have any cartridges, but in his profession it’s an essential part of his working garb.

“Non, non!” The driver is protesting, but the Kid doesn’t think he’s very frightened.
“Vous avez dit que vous vouliez aller au Cimetière, je vous ai pris au Cimetière!”

The driver points at the wooden building. Above the door, a faded sign: a gravestone with a cross.

“Huh,” says the Kid. “We’ll see.” Could there be two Tombstones? But there’s nowhere he could have gone by stagecoach that has so many cypress trees. The Kid’s been drinking, sure, and he might’ve lost track of time some on the journey, but it’s got to be at least a couple of weeks’ ride all the way east to Louisiana, the closest place he can think of with land like this.

He ducks back into the coach and emerges with a beat-up old carpetbag and his last, half-empty bottle. Rooting around in the bag he comes up with a pair of rusty old handcuffs. He strides over to the driver, yanks him down from his coach box with one hand and cuffs him to one of the wagon wheels. The driver says nothing while being manhandled. Then the Kid hands him the bottle.

“Whiskey to pay for your brandy. I’m gonna go into that stage station, and I’m gonna see what they say. You better hope this really is Tombstone.” As the Kid walks inside he hears the coachman laughing.

The front room is a neat little parlour. Not bad for the frontier. There’s a red and black wool rug on the floor, a cushioned settee to the side with a low table in front of it, and by the door there’s an elephant-foot stand in which a walking stick with a gold skull handle is propped. Off to the left through a doorway the Kid sees a barroom. It’s dark here in the parlour, but the light in the saloon draws him like a moth.

The Kid stops short as he walks into the room. Mahogany tables and luxurious red-cushioned club chairs, a glossy ebony bar with a brass railing polished to a perfect shine, and candelabra everywhere. There’s a big plate mirror behind the bar and racks of expensive-looking liquor bottles. The impact is so staggering it takes the Kid a moment to notice the host, who would normally have caught his eye first. The bartender is the only person in the room. He’s a tall, slender, black man, youthful but with a seigneurial air. His long hair is tied back with a red ribbon to make a ponytail that radiates like a comet from the back of his head. Clean-shaven except for a small triangular beard. He’s wearing elegant black and white evening attire with gold buttons on his waistcoat and a ruby stickpin in the old-fashioned cravat at his throat.

“A guest! How unexpected! Come in, sir, come in!” The man’s voice is surprisingly deep and rich.

“Well, now,” says the Kid, walking up to the bar. “I was wonderin’–”

“Our specialty? Here you go, sir. First drink is on the house.” The bartender produces a musty brown bottle with no label. He uncorks it, pours a double shot into a snifter and slides it across the bar.

Much as the Kid would like to slam the drink back, it’s in a snifter and so it’s pretty much impossible not to sip it. As he raises it to his mouth a wave of spirit essence hits his nostrils. It’s so strong he nearly stumbles. Only years of hard-drinking reflexes save him from dropping the glass.

“Whoa!” The Kid takes a sip. Caramel. Blood orange. Cayenne pepper. A bolt of lightning burns down his throat into his belly, igniting a bonfire of glowing warmth. This is why he drinks, for this feeling; but outside of a distant memory, a dream maybe, he’s never tasted anything like this before. Only a sip, but the snifter is empty.

“What– What is this?”

“The baron’s own rum,” says the bartender. “Another?”

The Kid puts the snifter back down on the bar and the bartender pours. A triple-shot this time and the last drop from the bottle. “No sense in holding back. The compliments of the house, sir, to a man who appreciates the finer things.” The barman smiles so warmly the Kid feels like he’s found his way home.

Another long sip. It’s so good the Kid wants to cry when it’s gone. His veins are on fire; his hands are tingling and he feels a column of heat rising in his spine.

“More. Please.” The Kid’s eloquence has decamped in the face of desire.

“Oh, sir,” says the bartender. “Désolé! It seems that was our last bottle. But the baron is always welcoming to guests. Perhaps if you pay a call he will be generous.”

“The baron?”

“Yes, sir. That’s his place up the road.”

“I– well. I guess I’ll stop by. I– uh–” The Kid is sure this isn’t Tombstone. He really wants to know where he is, but he didn’t reckon on how embarrassing it would be to have to ask.

“What’s he the baron of?” asks the Kid, slyly.

“But of course he is the Baron La Croix.”

“Huh.”

The Kid doesn’t know much French, but he can work out La Croix. And the sign on the station door. That stage driver took him to the baron’s place, instead of Tombstone. No doubt it’s somewhere he knows, being French or maybe French Creole like the folks here. He should by rights be mightily peeved, but the truth is the Kid’s travel plans involved leaving Albuquerque a lot more urgently than heading anywhere in particular. Tombstone was more in the way of an afterthought than anything else because he’d heard of some high-stakes games going on there. The Kid has banknotes in his pockets, and gold coins too. He allows how this might be a pretty nice place to camp out for a while. And if this baron will offer hospitality — and some more of that rum — the Kid won’t turn it down.

So he tips his imaginary hat to the bartender and says, “Thanks. B’lieve I’ll pay that call. I’ll be back if they’re not taking guests, otherwise maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The bartender smiles. His teeth are perfect. “I’m sure you’ll find a warm welcome.”

When the Kid emerges from the saloon it’s gotten darker, but there’s still enough light to see by. The stage driver has freed himself somehow, and he’s walking around to his horses, offering each a swig of whiskey from the Kid’s bottle. The Kid has no hard feelings; he was going to uncuff him anyway, so he just waves as he heads down the road toward the baron’s mansion.

The wrought iron gate stands open, but the grass here is wildly overgrown — and are those gravestones? Yes; the entire expanse of the Baron’s estate is a cemetery. Grave markers shrouded in weeds, funereal statues half-hidden in the undergrowth, and even marble tombs. The Kid is dismayed, but the barman and the stage driver will know if he turns back now.

He makes his way onto the porch and yanks at the bell-pull. A muted ding-dong sounds, and a minute later the door opens. An elderly black man in livery and a powdered wig stands there. “M’sieu?”

“I, uh– at the saloon, they said I should apply to the baron for hospitality.”

“Of course! Monsieur le Baron is indisposed, but he will see you later. For now, Madame will receive you.”

The butler gestures the Kid inside. The antechamber is dimly lit, but it’s finely appointed, with a carpet running from the doorway into a main hall beyond. The butler bows and the Kid unstraps his gunbelt and hands it over with his bag to be stowed in a closet. The butler leads the Kid deeper into the mansion. Everything he sees is rich, fancy stuff, but also old and worn. At last they come to a doorway from which pours a flood of warm candlelight. The butler knocks on the frame. The Kid hears him say, “The baron’s guest, Madame.” From deeper within, a contralto reply, “But of course. I will see him now.”

The Kid has never been in a room like this before. The boudoir is ornate to the point of lushness, rich fabric and polished wood everywhere. A young black woman is reclining on a cushioned divan. She’s wearing a sleeveless green velvet gown: very dark green, and very rich. Green gloves of the same material. A gold band with a black rooster cameo is at her throat. Ordinarily her beauty would rivet the Kid’s attention, but next to the divan is a cherrywood table bearing a familiar brown bottle and two snifters, along with a black lacquered humidor.

The woman looks at him and smiles. “Please,” she says, “do come in and sit down.”

The Kid walks in hesitantly. He’s handicapped by not having a hat he can take off. After an uncertain pause he finds a chair to perch on, right by the woman’s divan.

“You may call me Brigitte,” she says.

The No-Good Kid isn’t often embarrassed by his nickname. He got it because that’s what he says after the call when his opponent’s hand is a loser. But there’s a time and a place for nicknames.

“Carlton,” he says. “Carlton Lee, ma’am.”

“Enchantée, m’sieu. May I offer you a drink?”

“Why, thank you kindly, ma’am.” The sincerest thanks he’s ever uttered.

A snifter and some small talk. The Kid can’t remember what he said last, or what Brigitte said either. But she’s pouring him another drink. Lighting him a cigar and taking one for herself. The Kid smokes mainly because it’s a convenient distraction at the card table. But this cigar is like nothing he’s ever imagined. His body is already tingling from the rum. After a single puff he’s suffused with fairy fire radiating outward from his lungs and his head is spinning, but not in that heavy, dull way he’s used to from hard drinking; he feels light: so light, he wants to fly…. Beyond Brigitte’s bare shoulder he sees an open doorway. And past that doorway he sees an enormous four-poster bed. She follows his gaze, and smiles.

“Let us repair within. If that is your desire, m’sieu.”

“My desire,” says the Kid hoarsely, and he can’t say anything more. Brigitte is standing now and the Kid is standing too. She takes his hand and she leads him inside….

 

#

 

“Ah, Brigitte. And my esteemed guest. How delightful.”

The words from the doorway divert the Kid’s attention from the woman he’s in bed with. They’ve been playing a game of disrobing. Brigitte is down to one velvet glove and the Kid is completely naked, the two of them lounging on green satin sheets.

“Monsieur le Baron,” says Brigitte. “Perhaps you would care to join us?”

The Kid is paralyzed by shock, shame, and sheer amazement. The man in the doorway is the bartender from the station. He has an opera cape around his shoulders and the gold skull cane is in his hand.

The baron sheds his cloak, puts down his stick, and strides over to the bedside. “It wouldn’t do,” he says, “to disregard a guest’s comfort.” He kneels, holds out his hand to the Kid. “What do you say, Mr. Lee? Shall I join you?”

Just then it doesn’t occur to the Kid to wonder how the Baron knows his name. He’s never considered an encounter like this before. Never even imagined– But he’s looking into the baron’s eyes. There’s warmth there, and humor, and something more. He can’t break away. He swallows. “Yes,” he manages. “Yes. Please.”

The baron laughs and repeats his words from earlier in the evening. “No sense in holding back. The compliments of the house, sir, to a man who appreciates the finer things.” He pulls at the ribbon binding his hair and trails it across both Brigitte and the Kid’s bodies. And now his hand is under the Kid’s chin. As they kiss, the Kid hears Brigitte chuckling at his side, feels her caress….

 

#

 

The Kid is lying between the two of them; the warmth of their bodies contrasts pleasantly with a cool draft from the shuttered window across the room.

“The fact is,” says Brigitte, trailing her hand across his chest, “you are in a position to do both of us a favor.”

“I– a favor?”

“Well, yes,” says La Croix, on his other side. “You see, while my dear Brigitte is indeed a baron’s wife, she is not at present this baron’s wife.”

This baron?”

“I have brothers, you see.” The baron props himself up on an elbow. “Two of them. Or perhaps three, depending how you count. Barons, all of us. We’re supposed to share. But I’m afraid our eldest has rather a greedy attitude….”

“Yes.” The Kid can feel Brigitte shuddering. “Samedi. He– he hurts me. I fled from his hall. And now– It’s November first. He’ll be here soon.”

“November first? Not Hallowe’en?” The Kid knows something odd is going on. Knew it, honestly, since he got out of the stagecoach. At first he didn’t mind. Considering his situation, he still doesn’t mind. And yet….

Brigitte frowns, but the baron says, “Ah, yes. All Hallows’ eve. But for such as us that night doesn’t signify. Tomorrow, though. Tomorrow is All Souls’. That is our day, the day of the Guede. Saturday: Samedi. He will come. And to face him we beg your assistance.”

The Kid is not one for confrontation. If he was, he’d still be back in Albuquerque. Or Amarillo. Or Tulsa. Or even Baton Rouge. But Brigitte’s hand is tracing its way down his spine toward the small of his back, and the baron’s eyes are looking into his own.

“Well, now,” he says. “I’m no marriage-breaker. Not deliberate, anyway. But t’ain’t right to hurt a woman. And if y’all have an– an arrangement, and he’s the one breaking it–”

“Oh, sir,” says the baron. “I knew — I knew you’d help us. I simply cannot stand against my brother. He’s too overbearing for me. But a strong man such as yourself — a strong, living man….”

The Kid wants to reply; but the baron and Brigitte both have their hands on him and for quite some time he has no thought for anything more than that.

 

#

 

Sunrise. The Kid wakes alone in the four-poster bed. His clothes are laid out on a dresser, as clean and pristine white as the day he bought them. A shimmering white derby hat, as well. Also on the dresser is his gunbelt, a gleaming row of cartridges standing in a row alongside it. He picks one up. A silver bullet, for sure: polished silver, and engraved with a cross on the tip. There are thirteen of them.

It was just before he fell asleep, his body languid and replete with pleasure, a faint current of concern moving in his mind. So he asked, “What, exactly, do y’all have in mind for me to do about this Baron Samedi?”

He remembers the baron’s words, murmured into his ear. “My brother has no fear of any who live. But thirteen bullets would be enough to put him off. At least until next year.”

The Kid draws his pistol from its holster. Thirteen bullets. He’s never shot anyone in his life and he’s proud of it. He imagines Baron Samedi, in his mind a monstrous beast of a man, bleeding from six wounds, politely waiting for the Kid to reload. He has to laugh. And yet… well, he is committed, isn’t he? He can’t just back out of it.

There’s a knock on the door. He looks up to see the butler approaching, carrying a snifter on a silver salver. The Kid latches onto the drink like it’s to save a dying man. Not the best figure, perhaps, but he drinks it down anyway and feels much better.

“Their apologies, m’sieu, but Monsieur le Baron and Madame are indisposed this morning. It is inquired whether the gentleman is still willing to receive the brother of the baron.”

“Oh. I s’pose.” It’s then he has the idea. Ridiculous, maybe, but it’s better than trying to shoot a man — or whatever — with thirteen bullets. “Say, butler, I don’t think I’m gonna invite this guy in. Could you set up a table and a couple of chairs on the porch?”

“Certainly, m’sieu. I will see to it immediately. I fear, by the scent of smoke on the air, he will arrive shortly.”

The butler departs on his mission and the Kid sniffs the air. Smoke. Definitely smoke. He finishes dressing and hurries to the front of the mansion and out onto the porch. The butler has already set up a table and two chairs. Bless him, thinks the Kid: a bottle and two snifters are there, too. It’s a bright sunny day, or it would be if there wasn’t all this smoke drifting on the air.

Then he sees him. A tall, burly figure, elegantly dressed in a dove-gray morning coat with a matching top hat. He’s striding purposefully towards the mansion. And as he comes, fire comes with him. Cypress trees by the side of the road are bursting into flame and turning to ash as he comes, and a wave of flames rushes over the overgrown cemetery lawn like it was drenched with kerosene.

The Kid is frozen in place as he watches the flames coming closer. But then he relaxes. Nothing he can do. Either the fire will burn the mansion or it won’t. And indeed as the gray-clad figure strides through the open gate, the blaze halts just before the front porch. The flames are already dying away, though a pall hangs over the landscape; the mansion is now an island in a sea of smoke.

Emerging from the smoke: Baron Samedi.

He’s a big man who looks more like a thug than an aristocrat, very different from his debonair brother. The Kid’s never seen anyone less suited to wear such elegant garments, though they’re tailored perfectly to the baron’s prize-fighter frame.

“I have come for that which is mine,” says the baron as he pauses on the steps of the porch. The Kid is a tall man, but the baron overtops him by a head.

The Kid coughs. “I– uh, I’m afraid that Baron La Croix does not, uh, choose to extend his hospitality your way. Er, at this time.”

“Mr. Lee.” Shit, thinks the Kid, he knows my name, too? The baron smiles. His teeth are as white and as prominent as a skull’s. “You’re best advised to step out of my way. I don’t require my pervert brother’s hospitality. I require him to yield up my wife.”

The Kid takes a deep breath. “Sir. I’m a guest of Baron La Croix, and since he is indisposed it falls to me to defy you in his place.”

The baron laughs. His deep leonine roar goes on and on. “Defy me? Mr. Lee! You amuse me. Surely you don’t plan to challenge me to a duel?”

“Well, sir–” The Kid is having second thoughts about his idea, and third thoughts too. But at this point he doesn’t see much else to do. “I do intend to challenge you. But not to a fight. Since we’re both gentlemen I thought maybe we could resolve our differences in a more, uh, suitable manner?”

“Hm?”

The Kid produces a pack of cards. “A time-honored tradition. And here’s a bottle of my host’s rum to pass the time as we play.”

Baron Samedi smiles. “You interest me strangely, Mr. Lee. But the thing is, in a duel the loser forfeits his life. In a game of cards, if you should happen to lose….”

He steps forward, wraps the Kid up in a bear-hug, his breath hot in the Kid’s face, one of his hands squeezing the Kid’s bottom. The Kid feels like a newborn kitten in Samedi’s arms. “Your body should do as a stake. My brother has had his fill of you. Seems only fair that you should offer me the same privilege… when you lose.”

The Kid feels a surge of desire; ashamed, he suppresses it with rage.

“But I must tell you,” says the baron, “that I’ll not use you gently. You’ll be my horse to ride, boy, and I promise you I will dig in my spurs. So do you still wish to make this foolish challenge?”

“I– I do.” He has to choke out the words.

Baron Samedi releases him abruptly. He pours two snifters of rum, then picks up the Kid’s deck. “Very well, Mr. Lee. The game is piquet. One hundred points. I trust you know the rules.”

The Kid has recovered some of his composure. “I b’lieve I may’ve heard of the game.”

Samedi smiles thinly. They cut for the deal, and the Kid wins. He shuffles, offers the cut to the baron, and deals two hands of twelve cards and a talon of eight. They exchange a few cards, and:

“Point of four,” says the baron. “No good,” says the Kid. This is where he picked up his handle and his meager knowledge of French. A long hot summer of piquet, moving from back-room to back-room in the taverns of Baton Rouge until at last no one would gamble with him anymore.

Ths Kid’s usual luck is in, and at the end of the first hand he’s up 32 points to 12. But now Samedi picks up the deck and shuffles fluidly. He’s using the mechanic’s grip to deal. The Kid’s heart sinks when he sees it; and it bottoms out when he sees he’s been dealt an almost-perfect hand. That can only mean one thing: the baron is cheating, and more than that he’s showing off. And even though he holds three aces, the Kid’s every declaration fails and he only barely avoids being beaten by taking a few paltry tricks at the end. The score is now 96 to 38 in the baron’s favor.

“Four points, Mr. Lee. I don’t think it’s possible to stop me now.”

The Kid nods. He’s quailing inside, but he’ll be damned if he lets the baron see it on his face. “We’ll see, sir,” he says. “We’ll see.”

The Kid has the deal back and it’s time for one last gamble. He plays honest when he can. Not out of morality, but expedience. It’s not healthy to be thought a cheat, not in the games he plays. But this time, cheating is necessary. First, though, before he deals, he fills the baron’s glass and his own with rum, and as the two of them drink the Kid switches out the deck for another already prepared….

Samedi takes no pains to conceal his face when he sees his cards. Malice and glee are both written large. Much as it pains him, the Kid has to let all the baron’s declarations succeed. Point of seven. Septième. Quatorze. Near-perfection. Of course he did just deal the baron a stacked hand but even so it’s hard to take.

“You lose, Mr. Lee,” says Samedi, grinning maliciously at the end of the declarations. “Repique. That’s 98 more points even before we take our tricks.”

“Alas,” says the Kid. “But of course we must play out the hand. A mere formality.”

The baron chuckles. “As you wish. The hunt is always better when the prey struggles till the end.”

Samedi opens with the king of hearts. The Kid beats it with his ace. “No good,” he says.

The baron waits for the next lead, but instead the Kid places his whole hand face down.

“The rest are mine.”

“What? What? You can’t possibly–”

The Kid turns up his cards with a flourish, using one card corner to flip the whole hand over in a cascade. Twelve aces. They’re all hearts.

“That’s capot,” says the Kid. “And you, sir, are kaput.”

Baron Samedi’s face contorts with wrath. “You dare to cheat me! Me! With twelve aces!”

“No more cheating than your deal the hand before,” says the Kid.

Samedi growls. “Anyway, capot is only 40 points. I still have you beat.”

“Maybe so,” says the Kid. “But you know what? Out west we call aces bullets.”

“Bullets? So?” But the baron’s face pales.

“I’m informed you might be vulnerable to them. To a certain extent.”

“You think I can be defeated by words and pasteboard? Like some lesser spirit? I am Samedi, lord of the Guede and–” The baron pauses “–and anyway, there’s only twelve cards in a piquet hand. Only twelve!”

“Oh?” says the Kid. “So sorry. I must have miscounted.” He snaps his fingers and a final palmed ace of hearts spins into the baron’s lap. “Here you go. Thanks for the game.”

The Kid was not honestly expecting this to work. So he’s surprised when smoke starts rising from Samedi’s collar, when flames burst from his elegant gray cuffs, and when at last the baron’s body flares up in a blaze so intense the Kid has to cover his face and turn away from the conflagration.

“My most sincere thanks,” says the baron. The Kid turns back to see Baron La Croix sitting where Samedi was a moment before.

“And mine as well.” He feels a touch against his cheek. Brigitte is standing behind him.

“Well now,” says the Kid. “It wasn’t so much. For you two– for your sakes– I mean–”

“There,” says the baron, taking his hand. “There,” says Brigitte, and he feels her lips on the back of his neck. “We will remember your service,” says the baron. “But this passage at arms has come to its natural conclusion. Cimetière is no more, and we two spirits must bid our adieux.”

“But–” says the Kid and “Wait–”

“Have no regrets,” says Brigitte. “The time may come again. Should you encounter a black-clad coachman next All Souls’ Eve….”

“Oh,” says the Kid. “Oh, yes! Please–”

Neither the baron nor Brigitte are present any longer. The Kid looks around, confused. The smoke swirls around him, begins to clear.

“Au plaisir de vous rencontrer!”

The Kid turns. A stagecoach is driving away. The top-hatted driver waves as the coach turns a corner and disappears. Turns a corner. Wait– Something’s wrong. The Kid looks around. He’s standing in front of a saloon in a bustling town. Across the street is a corral where a stable hand is throwing water on the remains of a still-smoking brush fire. The Kid feels faint, sits down heavily on the ground, leans up against the hitching post out front of the saloon.

“You all right?”

The Kid looks up to see a gaunt man with thick mustachios has stepped out of the saloon. He clambers to his feet, feels dizzy and sways a little, and the man grabs his shoulder for a moment to keep him upright.

“Thanks.”

The man shakes his head. “You must have been on some bender.”

“I– well, maybe I was at that.”

The man laughs, starts coughing, and now it’s the Kid’s turn to hold him up till the fit is over.

“‘Preciate it,” says the man. “Wish I could blame drink on that, but….”

The Kid nods. He knows consumption when he hears it.

“You new in town, friend?” asks the man.

“Guess so.”

“Any interest in games of chance? Cards, say?”

“Some,” says the Kid. “Must admit it.”

“Thought as much,” says the man. Like calls to like, they say. Maybe we can locate us a game later on. In the meantime, let’s step out of the sun and find ourselves a drink or two. Sound right?”

“Right as rain,” says the Kid.

“Always nice to make a new friend. And oh yeah, ‘fore I forget: Welcome to Tombstone!”