riginally published in Misplaced Identity
Callum Bane was riding to Mesa Roja, and according to the gentleman he nearly had to murder to get directions, he had another fifteen miles to go. It was a cold January afternoon. The sun was high in the sky, but the temperature sitting somewhere between “a little nippy” and “too goddamn cold”, depending on who you asked. The wind bit at Callum’s face as he pressed on through the valley. The hills on either side of him funneled the wind directly at him as he headed north. He wished he’d went south instead.
Over in the distance, he saw a thin column of smoke rising just over the horizon off the road. A little warmth couldn’t hurt, he thought, and kicked his horse into a steady gallop towards the smoke. As he drew closer, he saw a woman waving a torn piece of cloth on the end of a stick like she was surrendering to the cold biting dryness of the desert.
“Little cold to be wearing so little,” he said, drawing closer. He surveyed the land around her. Her cart, missing a wheel, was lying close to the fire. The contents of a trunk scattered about the site, a tarp weighed down with a stone, and no horse. The area she happened to break down in was in the middle of a cloister of boulders, protected from the wind.
“I know, my horse got spooked and ran. Spilt all my clothes out and left me stranded,” she said, batting her eyes.
“Where ya headed?”
“Mesa Roja, I’ve got a friend who lives there, she’ll take care of me.”
“I was hoping you’d be able to give me a ride up there. I could,” she winked, “make it worth your while.” She took a step closer to Callum, and put her hand on the horses hindquarter.
“Listen, I’m in a bit of a hurry miss, but you’re pretty enough to attract any passers-by. I’m sure there will be someone else along shortly,” Callum tapped his heels against his horse, who started to trot forward.
“No wait!” the woman called out. Callum pulled his horse to a stop and rode back towards the woman.
“What is it?” he grumbled. Time was wasting.
“I can pay you. Fifty dollars, I’ve got it right over in the trunk here,” she pointed a few feet behind the fire to the trunk.
Callum sighed. “Fine. Grab the money and let’s go.”
“Could you come help me? I want to grab a few other things.”
“Listen, lady, I need to-” Callum was interrupted by the lady pulling hard at his jacket. He fell off his horse. The woman kicked him in the stomach and climbed up on the horse. Callum pulled out his Colt 45 and aimed at the lady riding off when a bullet whizzed by his ear, missing by inches.
He rolled around and saw three men come out from behind the rocks, all with pistols drawn. Callum groaned and shot at one, firing twice, hitting once in the chest. The remaining two instinctively ducked as the shots rang out. Callum rolled to his side and shuffled over to behind one of the rocks near the cart, where the woman was originally standing. She seemed to have dropped her homemade flag. He cursed under his breath. Should’ve kept riding, he thought. A bullet hit the rock and ricocheted off to the side.
“Give up gringo, you’re outnumbered!” shouted one of the men. Callum looked to the road and saw the woman maybe a quarter mile away, watching.
Callum turned to one side to peek out from behind the rock. Another shot came close to his head and he ducked back into cover. He saw all he needed to see. He grabbed the flag and turned so that he was crouching, facing the rock, and the men behind it. He threw the flag to the left of him and heard it hit one of the men. Jumping out to the right side of the rock so that he was still protected from one of the men, Callum took aim and shot the other thief. The bullet hit and the man went down, leaving the man who he’d previously hit with the flag, and the woman, still watching the battle from a quarter mile away. Callum hid behind the rock again.
“Let’s make a deal,” he called to the last thief.
“What do you want?” the thief called back.
“Let me leave in peace, and you can have the money I’m carrying with me. A thousand dollars.”
“And where’s the money?”
“Right here,” he lied.
“Show me,” the thief called.
“What, you want me to hold up a fistful of dollars in this wind?”
“How badly do you want to live? Hold it up. Show me you’re not bluffing,” the thief called.
Callum sighed. He only had two hundred on him, the rest was on his horse. He pulled out the money and arranged it to look like a lot more than two hundred dollars. He stuck his hand up from behind the rock.
“I can’t see it so good.”
Really? “Maybe you should come closer to look then,” Callum called. He heard the soft crunching of the desert floor as the thief came closer. Callum looked around the corner and as his eyes focused on the thief, he snatched the money from his hand and started to count.
Before the thief could even roll back the first bill, Callum sprang to his feet and planted two servings of leaded glory into the thief’s belly. He grabbed the money before the thief hit the floor. Then he heard the fast machine gun sound of horse hooves running towards him. He looked up as the lady ran back. She screamed in shock.
“You no-good dirty-” she started.
“Save it,” Callum said and shot her as well. His horse jumped up on its hind legs, scared of the gunshot. Callum looked around the site one last time. At second glance, it wasn’t even a convincing crash site. He squinted his eyes and looked north. On to Mesa Roja.