Charlie awoke slowly, drifting
in and out of consciousness. There was an extreme burning
pain in his gut and an almost blinding pain at the back of
his head. He took a look around once his eyes started to work.
The ground he was lying on was a mixture of rock and dirt
and not very comfortable. Not much he could do about it
his legs wouldn't work. It felt like they weren't there, though
looking down confirmed they were still attached. The fiery
pain in his gut kept coming in waves, getting worse. There
was a lot of blood on his hand after he touched his gut
too much blood. He felt woozy, on the edge of passing out
off and on. The baking sun was making him feel like over-cooked
bacon in a frying pan. He looked around for his horse, but
then remembered it was stolen by his betraying son of a bitch
partner. He would give anything for his canteen and the glorious
water that would be inside. His mouth felt like dry leather.
There was something circling in the sky above. He didn't want
to think about what it was.
* * *
His partner, Jeb, had thought
it would be a good idea to rob the 2:10 payroll train out
of Albuquerque. They had laid up a good-sized wooden barrier
across the tracks and set it on fire with some thick pitch
so it would be burning good when the train came into sight.
The train had no choice but to stop. Charlie and Jeb had hidden
behind some boulders nearby, waiting for the security detail
to come out of the stopped train to check on the situation.
Jeb was a crack shot with his Henry rifle. The distance from
the boulders to the train was just right and he was able to
take down all four security guards after they had hopped down;
luckily all exited on their side of the train. Damn good shootin'.
The guards had been stupid. They should have realized this
was an ambush. There was no one left to protect the payroll
cargo. They must have gotten away with at least at fifty thousand,
easy. Yes sir, a lot of money. They rode off into the desert
as quick as possible to put some distance between themselves
and the train.
"Damn good takin's, Charlie."
"Amen, Jeb. We could
live on our splits for several years, unless you get into
the gamblin' and whores."
"Well, what the hell's
wrong with that?"
"Nothin', but not me
this time. Gonna lay low and just take it easy for a while.
Might look into buying a ranch. See how it goes from there."
"To each his own, amigo."
"Let's go ahead and break
for camp. We been ridin' for over a day now, and that across
some rough ground. It would be hard for anyone tryin' to catch
up to us to do any trackin'."
* * *
The sun kept beating down
relentlessly. What parts of his body that had feeling were
beginning to feel like overdone beef jerky. His hat was within
arm's reach, so he grabbed for it and used it to cover his
over-exposed face. Not that it would matte, anyway
couldn't be that far off.
It felt as if his life was
draining into the rocky soil he was lying on, and the way
his gut kept bleeding, it wouldn't be long. Yes
that the shapes circling in the sky off and on were definitely
buzzards. Damn bastard land sharks.
* * *
It hadn't always been this
way, the way of the outlaw. He remembered playing civil war
with his friends in the open prairie on the land behind his
home. His mother would call him to come in to supper. They
would all sit down to eat, his father always praying before
the meal. Charlie always had an interest in going away to
school and learning how to write and become a newspaper columnist.
Every time his mother took him into town he would pick up
the local paper from the general store. Thank goodness his
mother had taught him how to read. Charlie would devour the
paper, imagining the glamorous life and prestige that went
along with being a newspaper writer.
But one evening outlaws burst
into their home while they were eating supper and violently
killed his mother and father. Charlie got slapped around some,
but they left him with only cuts and bruises. They took whatever
valuables they could find and left Charlie alone with his
parents' dead bodies. It was up to him to bury them on the
property out back of their home. His life was shattered. The
only people he truly loved in this world were taken from him.
He sat around the house blubbering
to himself for three days, then something changed. He felt
his heart grow hard, and he put the grief down deep, where
it couldn't be reached. After that, the way Charlie viewed
the world changed drastically. It became a violent, volatile
place where life could change in an instant of time. He packed
up and left the home he had grown up in, taking along his
father's prized, nickel-plated Colt six-shooter from up in
the closet. The outlaws had missed it in their search of the
house. His father had loved that gun, and so had Charlie.
He remembered good times target practicing with his father
shooting bottles off the wooden fence out back, the Colt jumping
in his grip each timed he fired.
He drifted around for a few
years, finding a few odd jobs or stealing what he needed.
That's when he had run into Jeb, who convinced him that there
were better ways of stealing that would bring in a lot more
money. Charlie and Jeb had fallen into a form of partnership,
robbing and stealing what they needed. They eventually graduated
up to banks and train robberies. Charlie had no problem with
any of this. His world view was now one of violence and theft.
His parents' murder had started him on this eventual path,
and he wasn't willing to veer away from it.
* * *
Charlie and Jeb broke for
camp, tying the horses off to a lone, scrubby tree. Charlie
looked up into the night sky. It was always a treat for him
to look up on a cloudless night and see the countless pinpoint
lights. How could there be so many? It was warm enough out
in the desert to not have to use tents
the stars would do. They started up a campfire and cooked
up some beans, bacon and coffee. After dinner Jeb said, "Let's
count this money out
see exactly how much we took them
for. Then we can divide it up." He threw the money satchels
at Charlie's feet. As Charlie reached for the satchels, Jeb
struck him hard on the back of the head with the butt of his
pistol. Charlie blacked out momentarily. When he came to,
Jeb was in front of him, pointing the .45 at his belly.
"Sorry, Charlie, but
this is too much money to be split up, and I aim to keep all
of it. And I don't want you following me, so this is where
we part ways, so to speak."
He punctuated his speech with
three .45 slugs fired into Charlie's midsection. Charlie must
have blacked out for a while after that. When he came to,
Jeb, the money, and both horses were gone. Most of the night
had passed, and the dawn was just starting up.
* * *
Two gunmen were riding along
the trail through the desert, edging along a large washed
out, rocky area. They had just pulled off a successful bank
job in Albuquerque and were making their way to the next state.
They were the gunmen who had killed Charlie's parents several
years back. One of the men saw a glint of metal in the noon
day sun out in the desert area.
"Hey, I saw something
shiny out there. Could be valuable." Both of them, being
greedy, turned their horses off the trail and headed towards
whatever had flashed.
They rode for about five minutes,
stopping when they saw what looked like a body lying in the
desert. Both of them stopped their horses, raising up some
dust from the arid soil.
They dismounted and walked
towards the figure. The sun was offset just enough for their
shadows to fall over the figure on the ground.
* * *
Amazingly, Charlie lasted
two days and nights in the desert. It was around high noon
on the third day, and Charlie felt that this would probably
be the last. He had managed to keep the encroaching buzzards
at bay with a stick that had been within reach, but he was
so weak that he couldn't keep it up much longer. His vision
and hearing were going.
Charlie had just enough life
left to feel horse hoofs striking the ground coming his way.
He couldn't see very well, but he could feel shadows pass
over his body, blocking out the sun. He managed to barely
croak out, "Strangers, please help me."
* * *
"There, that's what must
have kicked up a reflection." One man pointed towards
a nickel-plated revolver still in the holster around the decimated
"Definitely worth takin'."
He reached over and pulled the pistol and entire holster up
and through the now loose bones.
"What do you think happened
"Dunno, can't tell if
he was shot or killed by something else."
Looking closer through the
tattered clothing, he saw some mangled lead slugs mixed in
with the bones.
he was shot
and left for dead."
"As long as it was him
and not me. Be a helluva way to go, dyin' alone in the desert.
Let's get outta here; we still got some distance to git quick
"Yeah," the other
man said, "let's go."
He kicked the skeleton and
scattered bones over the desert floor before getting back
on his horse.