Red Valley – Chapter XIV

So this is the chapter that caused me such grief. It was roughly twenty pages of script and it all just seemed so daunting. But I got over it and have been speeding through ever since. I’m currently on Chapter XXII (22, for the lay person) and I would love to have it finished before my first Central Coast Writers meeting on the 21st. If I keep up at this pace I think I could make that happen.

The chapters since have mostly been very short, which was nice after adapting such a long one. But the new ones have barely taken up a full Google Docs page. Again, this is going to be a very short first draft. But at least it will be complete.

Anyways. Hope you enjoy, my imaginary audience. Cheers.

XIV

West and Charlie and Billy were tired. They’d been riding for days without any real sleep and it was finally catching up to them.
“Wasn’t there a place we used to hold up in in this town?” asked West.

“No. … No, I don’t think so,” said Charlie with false conviction.

As they rode down the main street the quiet town became quiet no longer, and wild piano music and unruly voices could be heard emenating from down the street. West grinned.

“Oh. That’s right,” said West, and he rode ahead. Charlie let out a heavy, burdensome sigh.

Fat Frank’s Saloon was a large, two-story building that served as the source of the noise the boys had heard down the street. Lights shown through the many windows and lit up the street in front of it, attracting West and Billy like moths. Charlie was more resistant.

“Not here, Hank.”

“Here’s as good a place as any.”

“I’m a married man.”

West didn’t reply and instead dismounted and hitched his horse. Billy followed his lead.

“Looks good to me,” said Billy.

Charlie gritted his teeth and inhaled slowly but violently before he, too, got down from his horse and followed West and Billy inside.

If they’d thought it had been loud outside they were deafened by the noise inside. The piano was playing a fierce tune and had a good crowd singing along. Then  of course you had your usual gamblers and drinkers and swine making their usual threats and outbursts. And that’s not even accounting for noises of love – in some form or another – coming from upstairs. It was a good place, all and all, and if you belonged you felt right at home. Billy did not belong.

While West, Charlie, and Billy were intially greeted by Layla, a seductive aspirant, it didn’t take long for Fat Frank to march up to the boys in a huff.

“You boys don’t come no further. We don’t serve their kind here,” Fat Frank said, pointing at Billy. Billy’s eyes narrowed. Fat Frank was a rotund being, sharply dressed, but Billy could take him. He didn’t dare, of course, because it was suicide, even with West by his side, and he knew that. Instead he stayed quiet and fantasized about putting out ol’ Fat Frank’s cigar on his obvious bald spot.

“Frank, don’t you remember me?”

“I remember you just fine, West.”

“Well this here’s Billy, and he’s ridin’ with me.” The hate within Billy subsided for but a moment. Then it all came back bubbling.

“Well ain’t that cute. We still don’t serve niggers.”

“Now I –”

“It’s okay,” said Billy, “I’ll just be outside, keepin’ a look out. ‘Sides, I don’t take drinks from no ignorant-ass peckerwoods.”

Billy walked out of the saloon, never taking his eyes off Fat Frank. Once the door closed, Fat Frank turned to West and nodded his head. West nodded back.

“C’mon, Chuck, lemme buy you a drink.”

“No.”

“You’ve come all this way with me, at least let me buy you a drink.”

“I quit drinkin’ when I got married.”

“Wish I’d learned how to do that.”

“Yeah, I wish you’d learned how to do some other things, too.”

West knew Charlie was referring to Mary…and Ellie…and a lot of other things that West would have liked very much not to have been thinking about at that moment. Maybe Charlie for the first time could see the humanity in West’s eyes. Maybe he always could. Maybe he simply decided the hell with it, but that night Charlie took West up on his offer. At first it was only going to be one, then just one more, followed by a one on the house. Before they knew it, Fat Frank was handing them their seventh shot each. As they sat there, good and drunk, West began looking over his shoulder at the merchandise on sale. Even in his redenned state, Charlie noticed, and he did not like what he saw.

“Hank.”

“Yeah, Charlie?”

“Were you ever faithful to my sister? I mean, ever, truly faithful?”

“I loved Mary.”

“If you loved her so much, why’d you bed every town you stepped foor in? Because you’re ‘West Steel, steel of the west.’ It all comes with it, am I right?”

“Knock it off, Chuck. I ain’t touched another woman since Ellie was born.”

“You were with Mary for a long time before Ellie was born.”

“…I… I always loved your sister, Chuck. Always. I… probably shouldn’t have married her when I did, but I knew that… if I didn’t, somebody else would. And I just couldn’t bear the thought.”

“So while you was out stealin’ and robbin’ and makin’ a name for yourself, she was home worryin’ and prayin’.

“If I learned anything from those days… it’s that you only got one shot at this. And for a long time I felt like… if I passed up an opportunity, I’d regret it for the rest of my days. I regret it now. But if I didn’t then, I’d be on the opposite side regrettin’ it just the same. So what’s the difference?” Charlie just looked at West. “Go have fun tonight. ‘Cause like I told ya, I’m goin’ after these guys. All out. No tellin’ what’s comin’ next, or when we’re goin’ home, so enjoy it while ya can. Or at least before Liz pumps out a couple ‘a little Char –”

Before the words even left his lips West felt shame. He’d made a mental note earlier in their journey not to broach the subject of children with Charlie, but the whiskey had dulled his already-failing mental filter.

“Jesus, Charlie, I’m sorry. I –”

Charlie shot back the last of his drink.

“I’m going to bed.”

Charlie got up and walked away. West sat there, staring into his drink. He shot it back and before he could protest the bartender poured him another. Then he heard a voice he’d not heard in a very long time, yet it remained familiar all the same.

“Well, well, well, if it ain’t ol’ West Steel, the steel of the west –”

West turned around and put his hand up in protest.

“Please, no more of that stupid shit,” he said, cracking a smile. “It’s good to see a familiar face. How are you, Salma?”

Salma was the best looking saloon worker in any of the saloons West had ever visited. And he’d been to most of them. West found her light brown skin exotic, and in his mind her accent almost made her seem innocent. Almost.

“Been a while.”

“Been too long if you ask me, that’s for damn sure.”

They smiled at each other, their eyes dancing.

“So. What brings you to Colby?”

West smiled uncomfortably and bowed his head, ashamed with himself.

“My family.”

Salma felt rebuked.

“Oh.”

“It’s not like that. …They killed my wife. Took my little girl.”

“Jesus, West. That’s awful.”

“You ain’t seen me for a while ‘cause I been bein’ good.”

He smiled the saddest smile and she just wanted to make it all better for him but she knew that was impossible.

Charlie couldn’t sleep. He layed in bed and stared at the ceiling. He ran his hands over his face several times but his eyes remained wide open. He paced the room several times and thought maybe another drink would knock him out. He walked out of his room on the second floor but before he headed down the stairs he saw West and Salma. He stopped and watched them, a rage building inside of him.

“Do you have any idea who would…” asked Salma.

“Calls himseld Sanchero. I ain’t ever heard the name before in my life, but apparently the gang holds up in a ranch in Red Valley. So that’s where we’re headed.”

“You know… a few towns over, in La Fe, there is a church there, Our Lady of Guadalupe… and a priest… Father Sanchero.”

“Is that right?”

“…He comes here often,” said Salma, unable to look up at West. “It may be worth checking out. It’s on your way to Red Valley.”

West nodded his head. The plan was already forming inside his brain and Salma knew she only had precious little time to procure his attention. She took his hand gently in hers.

“Come to bed with me. You can think about all this la mañana.”

Stretching on her tip toes, Salma met West’s face with her own and kissed him softly. Upon seeing the kiss Charlie retreated back into his room and slammed the door. West looked up, startled by the noise, but Salma just chuckled.

“It was just a door, you paranoid old man.”

West looked down at Salma, and her beautiful face smiled up at him.

“Come on.”

She took West by the hand and led him upstairs to her room. It was a nice little place, elegant for the surroundings, and she kept it up well. She took West’s coat from him and nudged him to take a seat on the bed. Something was different, though. West seemed distracted. Something she’d never observed in him before, even when he had half the country’s law on his tail. No bother, she’d retained the attention of much more distracted men before, and her charms never came up short.

She kissed him passionately and deeply, and for a second she thought she felt resistance. But only for a second. She pulled away and smiled up at him. Then she stood up and blew out the candle lighting the room. In the dark she felt even more powerful, and she crawled over to West like a panther stalking its prey. She took his shirt off and kissed his chest. Then she straddled him and kissed him on the mouth. Her tongue darted into his mouth and he was grateful that she knew how to use it. He put his arms around her and she pulled herself closer to him. Still, his eyes were shut too tight and his mind was not fully present.

Still, West tried to enjoy Salma’s kisses. He never remembered it being this hard before. She took off his trousers and knelt down between his legs. With a sly little smile she took him in her mouth but it wasn’t working. After several moments she brought her head up and looked at him with a puzzled expression. He took her head in his hands.

“What’s wrong? Don’t you like me anymore?”

“I like you. I like you plenty. I just… my wife…”

“She never stopped you before.”

“Yeah… well. She’s stoppin’ me now.”

Salma looked at West with hurt and rejection in her eyes. He gave her a sorry grin.

“You can blame it on the whiskey if you like.”

Outside, Billy had fallen asleep outside the stables. He awoke to the horses’ neighs and was instantly alert. He gathered himself for a moment and listened. He could hear the galloping of the law – they all rode the same way, with gleeful abuse. Finally, a posse of five, led by Marshal Long, came into view and Billy knew they were in trouble. As Long dismounted from his horse he could feel Billy’s gaze upon him and so he turned around and smiled his most vicious smile.

“You wanna see some fireworks, boy?”

He gargled a laugh and he and his posse entered the saloon.

As soon as Fat Frank saw the lawmen enter his establishment he clutched a shotgun he had stashed away just below the bartop. Marshal Long approached the bar and smiled condescendingly at Fat Frank.

“Well look-y here. Fat Frank himself.”

“What do you want, Long?”

Marshal Long reached behind the bar to grab a bottle. His fingers nearly grazed the barrel but he found a bottle first. He poured himself a shot and downed it.

“Now this is some good whiskey. Best whiskey I’ve had in the last four towns.”

Fat Frank clutched the gun even tighter.

“Most expensive, too,” muttered Frank.

Long smiled at him and proceeded to pour himself another shot. He finished that one the same way.

“I don’t appreciate your tone, Frankie.”

“I don’t appreciate your men comin’ in here and bustin’ up a good time.”

“Fair enough. We’re lookin’ for the outlaw known as West Steel. You seen him?”

“I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“‘Course you don’t.”

Long went to pour himself another shot but the bottle was empty. He reached back around the counter for another bottle when he heard the cocking of a gun. When he looked up, Fat Frank’s shotgun was staring him in the face.

“Now I told you I ain’t seen him. If you wanna walk outta here with your head on your shoulders, put down my whiskey unless you intend on payin’ for it.”

Long laughed.

“Oh, Frank.”
One of the posse shot Fat Frank square in the head and he fell back into the bottles on the shelf behind him.

The gunshot startled West and Salma up from bed and they could hear Long downstairs.

“Alright, everybody! We have reason to believe this establishment is hiding the outlaw known as West Steel!”

Salma looked at West with worry, but he only seemed annoyed. This was the old West she remembered. He put his ear to the door and continued to listen.

“Now hear this! For every minute you continue to conceal yourself I will kill one of these not-so-innocent young whores!”

West bowed his head and grinned sadly at Salma.

“It was nice seeing you again, Salma.”

Marshal Long had his pistol aimed at one of the young prostitutes. She was crying and this only seemed to excite him.

“I’mma count to three! Understood? One! … Two!…”

“Marshal!”

Long looked up to see West. He smiled a sick smile at him and pulled the trigger, shooting the poor girl dead.

“Three.”

West grit his teeth.

“Now get your ass down here, boy.”

Charlie stepped out from his room and joined West on the stairs. The two shared a look of somber acceptance and made their way downstairs. They stood face to face with Marshal Long.

“How’s the leg?” asked West.

Long let out a rage-filled laugh.

“I have waited a long time for this. I’m gonna take my time with you. Maximum. Enjoyment.”

“Well, will you get to it then?”

At that moment the saloon doors bursted open and young Billy Douglas came in firing. Chaos erupted, and as Long turned around West punched him in the back of his head and took one of his guns. West and Charlie then made quick use of one of the tables, turning it over on its side for cover. It was just like the old days again.

Billy shot one of Long’s posse through the neck. Marshal Long took cover behind the bar next to Fat Frank’s corpse. Billy shot another of the posse in the head and then took cover in the doorway.

“Well who knew you’d be the one supplyin’ the fireworks!”Marshal Long shot at Billy and missed, but only barely so.

West took out another member of the posse, shooting him in the stomach, but it was his last bullet.

“Fuck, I’m out. Where’s your gun?”

“Upstairs.”

West looked at Charlie like he could have killed him.

Billy swung around the doorway and fired three times, killing the last member of Marshal Long’s posse.

“Come out Marshal! Your men are all dead and we’ve got you outnumbered.”

Long slowly rose from behind the bar.

“Drop your gun,” ordered Billy, but Long just laughed.

“I would. However, if I heard correctly, Mr. Steel is out of bullets. His companion has no weapon. And if I’ve been counting your shots correctly, you are out as well.”

Billy fired twice at Long but Long was right. Billy was empty. Long turned to fire on West but Billy threw his gun at him and the cold two pounds of steel hit Long in the head.

“Run!”

West and Charlie took the opportunity and made it out the front door. Billy began to follow but a bullet whizzed passed his head, stopping him in his tracks. Marshal Long walked up to Billy, his gun drawn on him the whole time.

“Now you’s a good shot for a nigger.”

Marshal Long smiled at Billy.

 

 

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