Shootout at Gentry's Junction The Mex would arrive in Gentry's Junction at 12:10. Or had arrived. Couldn't be sure. That's how it was with that damned Mex: you couldn't ever be sure. Not enough he was filthy and mean, but he was a cheating treacherous snake to boot.
Sheriff Henry Harmon grunted irritably and eased his long pointed boots to the floor. He knocked his big-bowled pipe out against one spurred heel, then fit the pipe with others in the rack on his desk. There were two empty notches and at first he bouldn't remember which one the pipe belonged in, nor what had happened to the other pipe. Yeah, goddamn it, he was probably already here. It'd be just like that uncivilized varmint. The Sheriff sighed with annoyance. He stuffed a few stray papers into cubby-boles, closed the lid on his humidor, slid Belle's picture back near the pipe rack, rolled down the desktop and locked it. Damn him! He slapped his thigh with a loud angry crack. Man, he really hated that brown bastard.
He stood wearily, hitched his pants, wiped his parched mouth with the back of his broad hand. He was a big man with bullish shoulders, a tall man who stooped through doorways, peered down with severe blue eyes over lean cheekbones at the folks of Gentry's Junction. Henry Harmon. Hank. A tough honest man with clear speech and powerful hands, fast hands, fair hands and sure. There was no sun in his eyes, here in his office, but still he squinted as he stared toward the old screen door, toward Main Street of Gentry's Junction. Out there somewhere. If he was here yet. Hank knew what he had to do. A man makes his own life, okay, but once it's made, it's made. (The wanted unwanted Mexican he stands himself at the bar. He laughs and laughs and he drinks. He is short to the extremity, nor is he lean. Squat. Squat she is the word, and dark with brown eyes like liquid. No severe. No honest. Hee hee hee! The Mexicanlaughs and laughs. Honest! He carries his pants and his belt ofthe gun low, under his marvelous world of the bouncing belly, and when he laughs he reveals teeth of the purest gold. There is much humor and much confusion in the old saloon. The Mexican he is very adored by all the world and when he tells stories with his teeth of gold and fat lips the saloon she explodes with great laughings. More than nothing, the Mexican he tells of twothings: of calentitas and putitas. Calentitas -- how you say? little hot ones, no? -- and putitas comprehend all the womans he knows. And the Mexican, Don Pedo the Mexican bandit, he knows very much womans. Si, senores! He knows all the womans of the men in the saloon and many many more. The men in the saloon they are not ignorant of the knowledge of Don Pedo, yet it may be seen that they laugh in felicity with him. Perhaps it is that the men of the saloon they laugh with a bitterness that is not revealed --? Who can know? Certainly it is full of doubts, for Don Pedo is he not the very same master of revelations? One man, but, he is not laughing. He sits alone at a table and he drinks and he does not laugh infelicity when the Mexican laughs, when all they laugh. Well, it may be that the ears of this discontented man are no good. May be he is too old. The Mexican he goes tobehind him and plants soft brown hands on the miserable shoulders. The old man does not respond, in absolute, but looks at some distance very far. "Ah, amigo mio, that you are so sad!" exclaims Pedo the Mexican with a big fat smile. It is told by an anonymous one present that the wife of the man she is expired in the night. "Hey, shuddup you!" greets the Mexican. "Who you telling? Pedo he sabe bien, no?" The laughter augments itself. "Don Pedo always savvies!" a thin voice cries. It is Señor Gentry the rich banquero. Señor Gentry he is white as an unplumed chicken and with red wet eyes. All the men in the bar they assent themselves with big laughs, for it is assumed, you know, that all the womans die beneath the Mexican later or sooner. It is the, how you say? the legend.) Hank Harmon clumped across his sheriff's office to the hat rack. He took down his belt and holster, buckled it around his hips. Hand moved lightly: gun was in it. He spun the silver cylinder, peered into it. Three shells, three empties: three dead badmen. Fit three new silver bullets in, eased the hammer into place, slipped the gun back gently into its warm sweet-smelling hollow. He lifted his hat off the rack and, swinging it at his side, strode out tall and lean-legged onto the old weather-bleached wooden porch, batting the screen door open and then closed behind him with his hard-polished boots.
Cold blue eyes squinting against the midday sun, Hank surveyed his town of Gentry's Junction. Main Street was empty. Painted wooden buildings aglare in the sun's relentless blast, but the windows all shut and curtained. A dry unwonted silence. Haze of hot dust skimming off toward the shimmering horizon that encircled the town like the edge of a hot coin. A child's curious nose pressed against one window across the street. Nothing else. Empty street. Stillness. Yeah. Probably here, all right.
Where to first? Flem's general store looked empty. Door half-closed. Damn it, Harmon liked to see activity. He liked to see men at work, or riding sweaty into town with their pay, or lounging between chores on Flem's front porch. He liked to see women in the streets, buying things, or showing off a hat, or walking their small kids. He liked to see kids playing, getting up ballgames, chasing around with toy guns, or singing together in church. Harmon knew he was not himself a profoundly religious man, but he went to church. Things didn't seem complete unless he did. He liked that, he liked order and completeness. At church, he sang the songs and dropped coins in the plate. He knew that the profoundly religious man kept faith in the middle of things and looked out on everything else from there. There was something troublesome about that notion for Hank, something womanish and spooky. Sheriff Hank Harmon was a man, to put it plain, who had both feet on the ground.
He looked over toward Gentry's bank. Locked up. Yeah, Hank was sure now, the Mex was here. The stage was due in soon with the Judge and the Marshal. But would it make it by 12:10? Or whenever? He could only hope. Their arrival would liven the place up some. As it was now, the emptiness and the silence were oppressive. Unnatural. They were hid. The whole goddamn town. Buncha babies. Hank spat out into the dust of the street. They all knew what he had to do, but they were leaving him to do it alone. That's how it always was.
The Sheriff shrugged, clamped his big hat down over his brow. He glanced at his watch. 11:35. Any time now. Yet Hank couldn't get 12:10 out of his mind. He had put it there for some goddamn reason, and now he couldn't get it out. Well, by God, he'd meet that Mexican at 12:10 even if the sonuvabitch had been here for a hundred years. Or if he didn't come for another hundred. 12:10. Harmon made his own life. He stamped down off the porch, his spurs ringing clearly in the weighted noonday hush. (And where is the Mexican that infamous one? He is in the office of the Sheriff. He is crumbling cowchips into the humidor. On the desk of Sheriff Henry there is a photograph of his -- cómo? sí! his calentita! the guapísima calentita of the Sheriff who names herself Belle. The Mexican with a fat stump of a pencil he tracesupon the photograph his own esplendid self, Don Pedo the Mexican bandit, in a posture not to be misunderstood. Festive carcajadas intrude themselves from outside the screen door where are coming together many very laughing persons of Gentry's Junction. The Mexican now he empties all the cubicles and drawers of the desk into a grand mountain in the center of the office, and to this mountain he puts a match. While the papers burn themselves, he with consummate art escribes filthy words on all the walls. He will not permit of course that the papers they burn themselves completely, oh no! He makes water on them when they are but half consumed. Hee hee hee! Now the Sheriff will always ask himself what was on the other half of each fragrant piece! The little round brown Mexican bandit he is wobbling all over with delicious laughing. He makes pipi and laughs and wobbles and his golden teeth they shine gloriously in the obscure office of the Sheriff of Gentry's Junction.) "Awright, men, now I want you t' listen t' me!" His voice rang out clear and resonant. They stared back, blankly, irresolutely. They were scared of him, Hank knew that. He stood tall and lean as a pillar, just inside the swinging doors of the old town saloon, his wide-shouldered frame silhouetted against the glare of the outdoors. They were scared of him, but they also didn't like him. They didn't want him in here. Hank wasn't surprised, and in a way he enjoyed it. In the end, he knew he'd have to go it alone anyway. But first he had to give them their chance. They had to know afterwards where they'd failed, feel guilt for it. If they couldn't be heroes, they anyway had to learn to be men. He settled his right hand down easily on the butt of his gun. "I'm meetin' the Mex at 12:10, men. I need your help." He gazed narrow-eyed around the room at their dull flat faces. Some turned away. Or stared past him. "If we go as a group, we can take him. He'll get a trial, fair and square. Gentry's Junction will be free of him." He paused. "Otherwise, it's likely to get pretty rough. Lotta people apt to get hurt. Hurt bad."
He waited. He was aware no one would move or speak if he didn't, and that they'd suffer until he broke it. He was aware, but he didn't care, or if he cared, it was to burn them a little with this pained silence. Hank knew for whom law and order in this town came natural. He'd start with them. One by one, all alone. In a group, they sometimes got confused about things. Like in here, for example. Others if he had to, if finally he really needed more help, he could cajole into a kind of temporary cooperation on some pretense or other. The rest, the goddamn cabbageheads of this town, had to have their arms bent. But it was easy to bend them, soft as they were, only providing the overarching structure looked solid and sure of itself. United. So that was his job now. "I'm comin' back here in fifteen minutes. I want alla you men t' be here waitin'. I want you t' have your shootin' irons strapped on and be ready t' go with me." He gazed hard at their weak faces. They looked down or away. The bartender quietly mopped the bar with a rag and avoided Hank's eyes. No one said a word. The Sheriff turned and pushed out through the old swinging doors. (All the world are laughing, the bar she is in a roar-up. The Mexican from behind the sad old man he is twisting on the ears of him so until they are bleeding. "Eh, amigo! Why you no laugh, eh? We all happy here! You laugh!" But still the man sits himself there, pallid and miserable, as though he no hears nothing or even feels his ears not coming away now from his head. "Pedo say: YOU LAUGH!" The soft brown fingers of the Mexican bandit they insert in the sides of the mouth of the melancholic widower. The turning-down mouth is becoming into a wide and scaring grin. All the men in the saloon they laugh with big eyes to see it. Oh! Oh! Qué susto. It is so funny! The weeping man with the prodigious grin he is a most very funny man to see! Ah. . .! The flesh she is breaking. She is cracking down across the face from the white hair to the white throat and then away she is tearing from the skull with a peculiar very sucking sound. Only are remaining the big wet eyes in their mournful sockets. Very funny, yes, of course, but, eh. . . macabre. Yes, of truth onewould say, I think, macabre. The round brown Mexican he is giggling as a young boy with the teared-away flesh bunching up like bar rags in his fat hands. He looks at one hand and he looks at the other hand. He laughs in himself and his grand balloon of a belly she shakes and shakes. Ay! How comic is she the grand balloon of a belly of the Mexican! Laughing and laughing! Hee hee hee! Now all the persons laugh! There is a sound of little firecrackers and the aroma of carnivals and rodeos. Hee hee hee hee! Who could but help not laugh with Don Pedo the Mexican, eh? Ah, happy indeed is the life in the town saloon!) The big roan stood waiting in the sun. No shadows now in Gentry's Junction under the high hot sun. Sheriff Harmon unhitched his horse and swung smoothly up into the saddle. Nearly 11:45. Had to move. He struck sharp spurs to his big blotched chestnut and rode at a swift easy gallop out south and west toward the ample spread of old man Gentry, the town banker. There was no time to lose.
Lean in the saddle rode the tall Sheriff, the hooves of his sturdy roan popping up thick spurts of dry yellow dust. No wind to tease the raised dust. Idly it settled. Dry. A heavy still dry day, and Sheriff Henry Harmon was pounding through it, hoping to stir it alive.
At Gentry's ranch, Hank pulled up, dropped quickly out of the saddle, leaving his roan ground-reined. "He ain't here, Hank, he's up at the saloon," said the small weary woman who stood in the door.
"Just come from there, ma'am," said Hank coldly, and stepped on by the woman into the house. She tried to block him, but the Sheriff moved too fast for her. Thick carpets, best ones west of the Alleghenies, muffled his tread, but his silver spurs rang with alarm, sounding off the bright-polished furniture, gilt-edged mirrors, and hung portraits of the Gentry line. Hank threw open the bedroom door, revealing the chickenhearted banker cowering pale and damp-eyed behind it. "Awright, let's go, Gentry."
"Let the M-Mex be, Hank," he whimpered. "Don't do no g-good botherin' him --"
Harmon spat in disgust, rug or no. "I'm goin' after that Mex, Gentry. And you're goin' with me."
The banker didn't answer. Just quivered in a pale squat in that frilly bedroom there, licking his dry pinkish lips.
"Now, you listen t' me, Gentry! This town's in trouble. Real trouble. And hidin' behind women's skirts and pretendin' it ain't the case ain't gonna get us outa trouble!"
"I-I know, Hank, b-but --"
"Gentry, for God's sake, stand up!"
The banker scrambled, flushing, to his feet. Still wouldn't meet the Sheriff's eyes though. "Hank, believe me, I do want t' help, G-God knows -- why, we worked together a l-long time now, and, but -- Hank, it ain't the same, this ain't the same!" And now he was looking, he was looking up at Hank's cool gaze, his pink eyes were pleading -- "Hank, I'm tellin' you, it just ain't no use!"
"Gentry, you're scared!"
"W-well, so what? So what if I am? If y-you're so all-fired fu-fulla guts, why don't you just go g-g-g-git him yourself?" The banker's eyes dropped away again, falling on an envelope stuffed full of money on the French dresser. He cast a sly quivering glance up at the Sheriff. It made Harmon sick to his stomach.
"Keep it, Gentry," he snapped. "If I have t' go after that Mex alone, goddamn it, I will. But when I'm done, there's apt t' be a few changes made in this town!" Gentry's watery eyes winced as he looked up at the Sheriff and his hand clutched at his collar as though he were cold. Harmon didn't like to make that kind of threat. Smacked of taking things into your own hands, and that wasn't the way of the law. But sometimes you had to do that. Sometimes the so-called men of this town were a bunch of stuttering goddamn crybabies. "Let's face it, Gentry, that Mex has got this town so's it's forgot what law and decency is. Everbody's layin' everbody else's women and daughters, kids and old folks is stealin' the town bare, why, it ain't safe t' cross the damned street no more. It's all fallin' apart, Gentry, and so long as I'm around here, by God, I don't mean t' let it! Am I speakin' plain enough?"
The banker nodded and dropped his eyes. He was chewing miserably on his lower lip. Pale skinny man with permanent bluish circles under his weak eyes. In crisis, as now, his nose ran and his lips pulled back, showing his incisors.
"Awright, now strop on that there gun! You be at Flem's store in fifteen minutes or you can go packin' -- you and all your wife's half-breed brats!"
"Okay, Hank, okay. I-I'll be there," Gentry stammered. Bastard was nearly bawling. "D-don't rub it in. I'll be there."
Hank swung around and shoved out the door. Guys like Gentry always got him sore, broke his composure. Going out, he caught a glimpse of the missus, huddled in a corner, dressed in black, wearing a veil. What did she mean by it? Stupid woman, he couldn't stop to worry about it. Outside, the solid earth felt good beneath his stride. He mounted his roan on the run. "Come on, podnuh, we got work t' do!" (Don Pedo the most contented Mexican he is in all the parts at once. He is burning the prairies and stealing the catties and derailing the foolish trains. Don Pedo finds great pleasure in the life. He is never never sad. Here he is in the schoolhouse demonstrating for the little childrens the exemplary marvels of his private member. Ay, the childrens! How they all love Pedo! One whiff of the coming of the bandit and Olé! Out of their seats they leap! Out with the books! Out with do this and do that! Don Pedo! Don Pedo! More! More! The schoolteacher -- or, how you say? ah, yes, the schoolmarm -- the schoolmarm she participates herself too in an inprecise manner of to speak. She is gagged and bound to her desk. The Mexican he lifts the petticoats which the schoolmarm has brought in all vanity from the East, and the little childrens crowd eagerly around to discover that what she has been hiding in there. Arre! Arre! they cry out in childish excitation as the Mexican he with the grand punzón is destroying aI-don't-know-what that the schoolmarm has been keeping in that place for years and years: POP! There she goes! Olé! The children roll about in imitative postures to the monumental delight of their looking elders, who press around at the doors and windows, wishing only to be possible to be childrens again. The Mexican noisily he consumes the schoolmarm's bright red apple -- chomp! chomp! chomp! -- to the rhythm of the conclusion of his demonstration. Or perhaps the Mexican he is rather or also in the saloon playing cards. Yes, yes, see him there! There are five aces revealing themselves on the table. Three of the aces are spades. All three of the aces of spades they lie beneath the clever fingers of the smiling gold-toothed Mexican. Señor Gentry, the rich banquero, who has lost his wife, his mother, and three of his female childrens in the disastrous wagering, he suggests with a timid smile that, ah, the Sheriff, he's been told, he has, eh, just overheard, the Sheriff is perhaps out to, p-p-pardon the expression, extuh-tuh-tuh-terminate our good friend, Señor Don Pedo, heh heh. Don Pedo the grand Mexican bandit his laughter she is exploding. Hee hee hee! Kill Pedo? Hoo haw hee! The Mexican he laughs with abundance and emits thunderously that for which he is famoso. Hooo-eee! Mercy, Don Pedo! Mercy! All the world stagger out laughing into the street fanning their noses. Or it may be that the Mexican he is in the little church to instruct the young boys how to find happiness in their choir robes of silk and elsewhere. Hee hee, así es, niños! Now, all togedder! In the loft, the plump preacher he is lamenting softly for their lost and losing souls. "Dear Father! Forgive them, for they know not how they do!" Ah, the childrens! How they all adore their Don Pedo! For Don Pedo he is indeed adorable! True, true! To the extremity!) Sheriff Harmon reined up his sweat-streaked roan outside the small white-frame church and, swinging lightly to the ground, hitched the horse to a post. 11:50. He jogged in long lean strides up to the big double door of the church, removed his wide-brimmed hat, swept back his white hair. A red impression along his brow marked where the hat had sat. He cleared his throat and stepped brusquely on into the church. It was empty but for the preacher, the good Reverend Slough, who stood alone, seemingly waiting for him, up at the shadowy pulpit. Puffy little fellow like a feather pillow, with eyes like shotgun pellets. The Sheriff strode down the center aisle of the one-room church, down the aisle he hoped to lead Belle one day soon, and on up to the preacher.
Before Hank could get a word in, however, the preacher said: "There is great evil afoot in our community, Henry." His voice was warm and mellifluous, his dewlaps beetling out wistfully over his starchy white collar. "Gentry's Junction is in a state of sin!"
Hank nodded gravely, gazed down at his boots, back up at the preacher. "That's what I come t' talk t' you about, Rev'rend. About the community. It's forgettin' all the things that has made it great."
"Great?" The good Reverend Slough gazed down upon Sheriff Harmon from his elevated pulpit, big silvery tears welling in his tiny eyes. "It is perhaps worse than you truly know," he gasped, and then began to weep.
"I'm, uh, proud t' know I can count on you, Rev'rend," murmured Hank, somewhat taken aback by Slough's impulsive sobbing.
The wee wet eyes of the preacher peered dolefully down on the Sheriff. "Seek your salvation, Henry," he snuffled solemnly, leaning forward, "while there is still time!"
Harmon fidgeted. He didn't like the personal touch. "Well, I mean t' seek the salvation, as you put it, Rev'rend, of all of Gentry's Junction."
Reverend Slough shook his head slowly, his jowls wobbling. "Henry, my son," he said gently, and touched a handkerchief to his eyes.
"I'm goin' after the Mex in just twenty minutes. I want you there. I need you, Rev'rend."
"There is no question, Henry," sighed the preacher, straightening up and gripping the pulpit, "to which violence is the answer."
"Now wait a minute, Rev'rend. We all know what the story is here. That Mex is the cause of this town's trouble. I mean t' get rid of the cause. It's as simple as that."
"No, the cause is here, Henry," insisted Reverend Slough, pressing a pink hand against his black-robed breast. "In each and every one of us."
"Aw, come on now, Rev'rend --"
"I tell you, if there be chaos and evil in this corral of sorrows, my son, it is by God's --"
"Don't call me son, Slough! Remember who you're talkin' to!"
"We are all sons of the one Father, Henry. We must live by the laws not of man but of God Almighty. Our duty is to get a rope on our wayward souls, to throw them and brand them for the Lord! We must ride herd on --"
"Cut the horseshit, Slough! I want you down at --"
"Henry Harmon! This is the camping place of the Lord! In the name of all that's holy --!"
"Shut up and listen, goddamn it!" Henry bellowed up at the preacher. "I want you in Flem's general store at twelve noon sharp -- that's less than twelve minutes from now! I ain't askin' you t' wear a sidearm, so don't look so sick in the face! I just want you there as a witness. I want you t' show the riffraff of this damned town what side God's on. You hear? It's up t' us, Slough, t' hold things together!"
The Sheriff watched the words seep slowly through the damp pink flesh of the preacher's face. The beady little eyes glittered a moment, then went opaque, looked away. "You don't understand, Henry. I'm not a man of this world. But all right. All right. I'll be there." (Pedo: He is in the saloon? It may be. Standing toetips, eggplant of a nose pressed on the edge of the bar. Or distributing little cards at a table in that place with thick but transcendently clever brown fingers. Yes, he is very maybe in the saloon, for Don Pedo the Mexican he has an insatiable -- one would say, insatiable, no? -- an insatiable thirst, sí. Or it may be he is in Señor Flem'sgeneral store, perched as like a fat egg on an old barrel of crackers in there, his blade in a slab of ripe old cheese, his gold teeth glittering, for this grand Mexican bandit he has an insatiable -- again the word seems possible to employ -- an insatiable hunger. Or perhaps, and quite more rather, he is in the bank of Señor Gentry, standing toetips at the counter window, his gun up the nose of Señor Gentry. Señor Gentry, white as curdled milk, is most magnanimous, he is giving pronto to the happy Mexican bandit that which he the happy Mexican is requiring. And Don Pedo he requires not little for he possesses an insatiable -- a fine word, insatiable! -- an insatiable greed. He rolls now a hundred-dollar bill around a pouch of black powder and this he introduces indelicately into the disnuded culo of Señor Gentry, discharging the magnanimous man like a rocket into the festive streets of Gentry's Junction. Ha ha! The wit, too, she is insatiable! Or perhaps -- sí, señores, now without doubts! -- Don Pedo the Mexican bandit is inplanting the much-inplanted señora of Señor Gentry upon a litter of sweet green bills in that same vault of security. Ah! Ah! Adelante, hombre! That this is the most insatiable insatiable of all!) Once back on Main Street, Sheriff Harmon reined in his wire-tough roan and jogged along meditatively in the saddle. Five minutes yet before he'd meet the others in Flem's store. Street still as death. No sign yet of the stagecoach. He hoped they'd make it, but he knew better than to count on it. But he wasn't thinking about that. Something else had been troubling Hank for some time now. A little thing, but it ate away at him. 11:55. Five minutes. Well, damn it, it should be time enough. He jerked harshly on the reins; the roan reared. "Hah!" Hank ordered. The roan turned down a side street off the main run.
Hank swung up in front of Gentry's Junction Hotel, unmounted, hitched the horse. Inside, he walked on past the clerk with a brief nod -- the Sheriff was well known in the hotel -- and up the stairs. At room 1210 he hesitated, then walked on in.
Belle, that sweet taunting virgin, lay naked on her broad four-poster, scratching herself idly.
"You mighta knocked," she said dryly.
Hank flushed. "Sorry, Belle," he gulped, but he couldn't help staring at her. Man, she sure looked good. She seemed sort of pale and flushed at the same time. He remembered to push the door shut, but couldn't recollect why he had to do this other thing just now, just today. "But I -- Belle, listen, I'm goin' out t' meet the Mex!"
She stared at him without emotion. That hurt him. She made no move to get up from the bed or in any other way to ease the awkwardness of the situation. "How nice," she said. "Say hello for the rest of us."
"Hey, Belle!" He took a step toward her, but, though she didn't move, he sensed a revulsion in her. Something. . . but he couldn't put his finger on it. If finger was the right word. Still her lily-white hand, that hand he'd so chastely caressed, the one meant for the golden ring he'd bought, crawled and dug there between her legs. It was a pretty thing she had there, all right, but he hadn't wanted to get introduced to it exactly like this. "Belle, dontcha see! I-I don't know if -- well, if I'm comin' back. That sonuvabitch is gonna be tough. And, Belle, what I gotta know is, I mean, before I go out there, are you, has he -- you know what I mean: has that goddamn Mex --?" Hank swallowed. "It's hard for me t' say it, Belle, but you know what they say about him. I gotta know." It was stupid. He wished now he hadn't come. Or at least that he hadn't asked.
"Go play cops and bandidos, Sheriff," said Belle like ice.
Hank gazed greedily on her rising and falling breasts, on her soft white belly, and the pretty wad of fur where her fingers were burrowing. Then he noticed the open window. Distantly, he heard obscene laughter. A faint odor still: the Mexican's trademark. "Belle --!" He was aghast.
"That dirty rotten Mex!" Belle sobbed suddenly and pitched over on the sheets, burying her face in the pillows, her body convulsive with weeping. The sheets where she'd been lying were one goddamn mess.
The muscles around Sheriff Harmon's mouth tightened, his eyes narrowed. He gazed one last time on Belle's bloody rear, then turned and ran out of the room, down the stairs, and on out of the Gentry's Junction Hotel. (Don Pedo the Mexican bandit he is famoso for many talents, but none has attracted more notices than that for which his dear mama bruja named him. No importance the occasion, the Mexican he is prepared. In that illimitable orb he maintains an infinite variety of ultimate commentaries upon any subject. Sweet or acrid, silent or with thunders, scientific or metaphysical, the Mexican touches an inner resort and the correct especies she emerges in all her ambrosian glory. His bowels intricately reply wrath with wrath, love with love, but always with a spice of obscene humor. It is never entirely satisfactory, and yet nothing is ever more satisfactory. Ay de mí! Such are our happy perplexities, no? Well, come then, Don Pedo! That we may be friends! If it must be foul, let it be sweetly foul!) The Sheriff pulled up at a slow bitter lope in front of Flem's general store. It was noon and the zenith sun was blistering hot. The roan dripped sweat and frothed at the mouth. Harmon swung off, tied up the animal, clumped up the steps and into the store. Flem was alone.
"Flem, I'm meetin' the Mex in ten minutes. Gentry and Slough are on the way over. District Judge and the Marshal are due in on the stagecoach." Together they could do it. Damn it, they had to! "Is it here yet?"
Flem looked up at Sheriff Harmon over a pair of rimless spectacles. He was chewing lazily on a wad of tobacco. He turned and sent a thick yellow oyster into the brass spittoon some feet away. "Nope," he drawled, "it ain't."
There was an awkward pause. Hank was troubled by Gentry's and Slough's absence. "Listen, Flem, you got some rope?"
Flem sighed, aimed another gob at the spittoon. He peered slowly around the store. "Yep, reckon I got a piece." He sat on an old three-legged stool, poking his glasses up higher on the sloping bridge of his nose from time to time with a crooked yellow finger. "Gonna tie up the Mex, are ye?"
"That's right. We're gonna tie up the Mex, Flem."
"Well," drawled the old storekeeper, and turned his eye on the spittoon again. "Well."
"Now listen, Flem. You know damned well if we don't get that Mex once and for all, this town is finished. And if this town is finished, you're finished."
"Yep. Well. That's prob'ly so." Flem arched his white eyebrows, gazed wearily up at the Sheriff over his spectacles, then turned and shot some more juice spittoonward. "It ain't I don't appreciate what you're doin', Hank. The law's a good thing." He sighed, rubbed his old grizzled jaw. "Yep. It's a good thing."
Hank's fury was mounting again. But before he could come back at Flem, the door opened. Sheriff Harmon spun, the gun already in his hand. It was Slough. "I'm here, Henry. It's wrong. It's a sin against the cloth. Against the Almighty Himself. But I'm here."
Hank sighed, holstered his gun. "I'm glad you come, Rev'rend. Now all we're lackin' is Gentry and the stage." He stamped over to the door, spurs ringing, looked out. Street was empty. No, wait! There he was, creeping furtively along the edges of the buildings. That cowardly sonuvabitch. Hank turned back to the others. "Gentry's comin'." Things would work out now.
"Now listen a minnit, Hank," said the old storekeeper, shifting warily on the stool. "Ye kin have all the rope ye want. Anything else in the store ye want, too. Understand? And mebbe I'll even kinder cover you like with my old Winchester, from here inside. Mebbe, I say." He spat. "But, Sheriff, I ain't goin' out there in the street. I ain't gittin' off this stool, Hank. I'm an old man and I ain't gittin' off this stool."
Gentry had slipped quietly in through the side door. He was white as a sun-baked dog turd and all atremble. Sheriff Harmon stared as though stupefied at the three of them, at the old storekeeper, the preacher, and the doddering banker. He grunted. Maybe he ought to just get on his horse and ride out of here. If he had any place to go. He thought of Belle. "Okay," he said quietly. "Okay. We'll let easy do it. I'll meet the Mex alone and disarm him." They seemed to relax a bit at this, but no one looked at him. "You chickenshits got nothin' t' worry about. Nothin'. All I want you t' do is when I got the Mex licked, I want you t' come out together, bring some rope, and show all the other yella-bellies of this goddamn town how the cards lie. That's all. Got it?"
The three of them nodded glumly. None of them spoke. Finally, Flem said in his soft easy drawl, "I wish the stage'd come in. Bring the Judge and the Marshal. I'd feel better about it." (Don Pedo the grand terrible Mexican he is raising up the bandanna on his fat nose, concealing his gold-tooth smile. He gives a spur to the flank of his decrepit pinto and wobbles down into the path of the speeding stagecoach. The driver, growing white, pulls hard on the reins. The dust makes clouds in the dry air, while the stagecoach with abandon she skids to a halt. Bang! Bang bang! pop the guns of the Mexican. Just for fun. Hee hee hee! The horses they rear like goats and whinny in sweaty excitation. "Ain't c-c-carryin' m-much, Don Puh-Puh-Pedo, suh!" exclaims the driver making water in his pantalones. "J-jist this!" And the stagecoach driver magnanimously (ah, this is indeed a land of magnanimity!) he extracts a box from under his seat and throws it down to Pedo. The little bandido catches the strongbox with the agility that always amazes and into one of his fat saddlebags it goes like from the arts of magic. "Eh, amigo! Who you got in dere?" he laughs, indicating a fat brown finger to the coach. "You bring Pedo calentitas fresquitas from beeg city, I think?" The driver is commencing to laugh helplessly through pressed-together teeth. "They's a -- hee hee! -- Judge, Pedo, and the Marshal and summa his -- hoo hah! wheeze! -- kin!" The Mexican he fires one shot into the air. "Hey! Allabody out! Youwanna die like peegs! Àndale!" Two men, a woman, and a young girl creep like mouses from the coach. The happy Mexican he takes down his bandanna and he smiles his smile of thick lips and gold teeth. Ay! It is ever a thing to see! One of the men he is fat like a pear with a big black hat and curls of white hair on top and soft lips that tremble. Without explanation he too must commence to weep and laugh through his nose at the smile of Don Pedo the Mexican. The other man, the Marshal it must be, is tall and erect, unmoving, with eyes of smoked glass. Eh, mierda, the Mexican he disdains to not look at this bad milk. He observes rather and of course the woman and the little girl. The señora of the Marshal she is noble and grandly bosomed with long much-speaking lashes. The child is a tender thing, and she holds to her mama with fear and temblores. The famous belly of Don Pedo he vibrates and bright gleams his mouth of golden teeth. There is a sound like of tent stakes being placed and in the air a remembering of circuses. Shyly then she smiles the little one up at the friendly Mexican. Ah! the childrens, how they all love Don -- The hand of the Marshal she flicks toward the holster. The Mexican is firing and the hand of the Marshal she is ripping away -- spluf! -- at the wrist. The driver and the pear -- or, one wishes to say, the Judge -- cannot it would seem stop laughing like tontos. Perhaps it is the look on the face of the Marshal that is so comic. It is as like he has lost something but he knows not still what. The Mexican now provides certain instructions, and in consequence, the Marshal he sits himself in blind estupor on the road behind the coach, while the Judge ties his feet with a rope to the behind -- how you say? ax-le, no? sí -- to the behind ax-le. Then the Judge he himself attaches in the same manner, tee-hee-hee-ing all the time like a plump imbécil bird. "Tu, la primera," smiles Don Pedo the adored to the timid chiquita. He displays with a glory that cannot be denied his luminous golden teeth. "You good one only time." Ay, Pedo! A man of genius! A man of arts! A man of quantity and resolution! The driver and the Judge they possess tears in their eyes from such dolorous laughter. Finally, to the deception of all the world, the Mexican he uprisesand draws on his pantalones, though as always he forgets them to button. "Hey! Giddap!" he shouts, and the driver in a laughing terror cracks the whip over the unquiet horses. The stagecoach she is launching herself off like a lighted-up puppy into the distance, snapping the Judge and the Marshal behind like a forked tail of the devil. The warm-blooded Mexican lover he uplifts now with jubilation the grandly bosomed Señora the Marshal upon his escabrous pinto, smiling with the Mexican hospitality that it is his custom. His breath is perhaps not pure, but the blushing lady she seems not to notice. She has twice the grandness of little Pedo, but for that the globous bandit he smiles the more proudly. The pinto is clapping wearily under his magnificent cargo up into the inviting hills. The limp little girl on the road, alas, too delicate after all, she cannot see them go.) The stagecoach arrived grotesquely at 12:05. Sheriff Harmon left Slough and Gentry vomiting miserably, foolishly, at the sight and strode in a rage toward the town saloon. He batted through the swinging doors. Empty. He peered over the bar. No one. Not even the goddamn bartender. He slapped the doors open again and stepped out onto the one main street. It stretched off east and west toward the distant horizon, a hot unbroken line. The street was banked here by ramshackle frame buildings, mostly false storefronts, their windows all shrouded. Seemed to be telling Hank something. The futility of it all maybe. He sighed. He was alone. Alone with the Mexican. But: where was the Mexican?
The Sheriff of Gentry's Junction, tall, lean, proud, his cold blue eyes squinting into the glare of the noon sun, walked silently, utterly alone, down the dusty Main Street, the jingle of his spurs muffled only slightly by the puffs of dust kicked up by his high heels. Sun straight overhead. He hauled out his pocket watch. Just a couple of minutes now to 12:10. It was on. Like it or not. He slid the watch back into his pocket as though dropping anchor. He felt his right hand sweat and itch.
A foul insulting odor reached his nostrils. He spun, hands at the ready. Pedo the notorious Mexican bandit sat on an old overturned bucket about ten feet back of him in the middle of the dusty street, idly picking his teeth with a splinter of wood. He was smiling broadly around the splinter, that fat-lipped sonuvabitch, and his gold teeth gleamed blindingly in the midday sun. Hank returned icily the Mexican's hot gaze. The stinking little runt. Now that he had him here, he wasn't scared of him. With cool measured steps, aware of the multitude of hidden eyes on him, the Sheriff approached the Mexican. The Mex had something in his hands. Something that shone in the sun. Knife? Gun? A watch! The Mex was grinning and holding up a gold goddamn pocket watch! Henry recognized it. It was his own. Warily, the Sheriff accepted it. He looked: 12:09. Too soon, but to hell with it, he couldn't hold himself back. He reached down toward the Mexican to disarm him. Everything seemed wrong, but he reached down. Felt like he was reaching down into death. The goddamn Mex had let one that smelled like a tomb. Still, the bastard offered no resistance. Harmon drew the Mex's six-shooters out of their moldy holsters. Rusty old relics. One of them didn't even have a goddamn hammer. He pitched them away. Easy as that. He grunted. Old fraud after all. He turned to signal for Flem and the others to bring the rope. Heard a soft click. Hand flicked: holster was empty! Henry Harmon the Sheriff of Gentry's Junction spun and met the silver bullet from his own gun square in his handsome suntanned face. (Don Pedo the grand Mexican bandit away he is riding on his little pinto into the setting sun, the silver star of the Sheriff" pinned on his bouncing barriga like a jewel, his saddlebags full to the top, his gold teeth capturing the last gleams of the dying red sun. Clop clop clop clop. Adiós to Gentry's Junction! Behind him, the little town he is in the most festive of roar-ups. Ay! A moment for always to remember! The storekeeper, the banker, the preacher, they swing with soft felicity from scaffolds and the whiskey he is running like blood. Flames leap into the obscuringsky and the womans scream merrily. A remarkable scene! A glorious scene! Ay de mí! How sad to depart it, eh, little pinto? But these are the things of the life, no? Pues -- hee hee! -- adiós! Clop clop clop clop. Red red gleams the little five-pointed star in the ultimate light of the western sun.)