Red licked his lips and eyed the aces in his hand. Peering over his cards, he watched the grimy gamblers around
the table. Each of them returned his stare, keeping one eye on Red and one eye on the mound of money in the middle.
Cigar haze danced with the dingy light of saloon chandeliers and played with Red's imagination. The pot assumed a
heavenly glow that whispered to him, tempted him.
* * *
Go all in, it said. This is your ticket out of Widow's Rest. No more watching over your shoulder. No more
living under the rich man's thumb.
The rich man watched him now, flipping his own cards with that same oppressive thumb. Jasper Tate owned the saloon
and half the men at the table, including Red. But not for long. Soon the fair-haired barber from Biloxi would lay
down his cards and walk away from this table (and this town) free and clear, maybe even a little flush.
"Another round, fellas?" A buxom waitress in a constricting corset cut the tension and cozied up behind Red. She
leaned over his shoulder, as if to press her own luck. Her smile was full of promise, and her tray was full of whiskey.
Red looked down and liked his chances. Meanwhile, the pile of money harmonized with the dreamy dissonance of a distant
upright piano and resumed its siren song.
Take it, Red. Take it all. Show Jasper Tate just who owns who.
"Darlin'," Red slurred, "If you're a sellin', I'm a buyin'." Emboldened by the virility of waiting wealth, he pushed his
entire pile of money to the center of the table. "Drinks on me!" His arm extended in a show of magnanimity. A cheer
erupted from the crowd.
Then, without warning, the lady lunged forward, pinning Red against the table.
"Hey!" he grunted. The tray teetered over his shoulder.
"Watch it, Mister!" the waitress shouted at a faceless cowboy who shoved his way past. Inertia took over, and the
top-heavy tart lost her balance. Whiskey rained. Glass shattered. And Red's cards (along with Red's future) went flying
out of his hands and across the prodigious kitty. As the table tumbled, one of Red's aces lodged in the woman's cleavage,
falling (like the kitty) hopelessly out of reach.
"Nooo!" Red cried. His eyes burned from the fumes of the whiskey. But he drew his tears from a different well. Once
again, Red had mined a mountain called Fortune. And once again, Fortune had failed to deliver. Tears followed a worn
path down his face, like a stream cutting through the mountainside, eroding Fortune, eroding hope. Like a forgotten
49er, Red was on his knees sifting silty pans of disappointment. The mountain was made of it, and so was Red.
"Mr. Graves!" someone shouted from the back of the room.
"What?" the groggy old man grumbled and shifted in the barber's chair.
"Wake up. I need some help," the distant voice pleaded.
"What is it?" Red slurred, this time for real. Perfumed haze, like smelling salts, smacked him back to a waking reality.
He rubbed his eyes. They really were burning, but not from whiskey.
"What in tarnation is that stench?"
"It's bad, sir. The whole case busted."
"Open the door, you coot!" Red choked out. "I can't breathe."
Harley Atwater stumbled to the door and flung it open. The room imploded with dust as precious oxygen rode in
on fire-breathing steeds of hot, Arizona air.
"Fan it, Harley. Fan the blasted door." Red covered his mouth with his apron and wrestled with the arm of the
recliner. Righting himself, he saw the labels on the broken glass. "Thayer's Witch Hazel Tonic." Noxious fumes
wafted through the twelve square, two-chair barbershop as the remains of fourteen containers spilled across the
floor. A blood-red cloud spread in a circle and tattooed raw wooden planks.
"Harley, you addle-headed moron!"
"I know, I know, Mr. Graves," Harley coughed. He spat and tried to catch his breath. "It weren't my fault, though.
Heflin Spears knocked 'em over. Honest!"
"Spears? Why?" Red coughed again.
"He just stormed out so fast. Didn't look where he was goin', I guess." Harley worked the door like a butter churn.
Red wiped water from his bloodshot sockets and tried to solve the sleepy puzzle in his mind.
"But I didn't even hear him come in."
"Well," Harley began, "you was sleeping." He stopped churning as if he just remembered something important to his
cause. "And you was a smiling." He smiled himself and laughed, despite the predicament. "That's right, Mr. Graves.
Smiling like a little baby nursing at his mama's bosom." He puckered in a ridiculous gesture. Understanding
descended on Red like Sitting Bull on Custard.
"You tried to give him a shave." Red reasoned aloud. Harley dropped his hands and answered the accusation with sheepish contrition.
"Yessir. Yessir, I did."
"And how far did you make it this time, young Harley?"
"Third stroke." Harley answered proudly.
"Before you nicked him?" If so, that was an improvement on which Red would not have wagered.
"No." Harley coughed again. "Before I drew blood. That's when he jumped up and said . . . ,"
Harley rubbed his nervous hands together and tried to remember the exchange. "He said, 'Blast it all
to . . . ' well, you know. Then, 'I'm a-gonna leave here and fetch my iron. Then we'll see
if you can sit still.' Because, see, I kept telling him to try and sit—"
"I got it," Red interrupted. "The man's lucky. You could've slit his throat like you did Miller's sow."
"Now, that weren't my fault, neither," Harley defended with an indignant finger. "That practice pig
was too fidgety for shavin'."
"That pig feared for its very life, and with good reason. It was good sausage, though."
"I think I cost you a customer," demurred Harley. Red considered the supplies spilling across the floor.
"I think you cost me a dollar and forty cents is what you did! I swear, I oughta hide you for this."
Harley hung his head. "I'm awful sorry. Say, I'll go get a crate and a mop and clean this up."
"You do that."
"Mr. Graves," Harley whirled around. "I think next time, if I just angle it a little better—"
"Yessir." Harley hurried off.
Red rocked his head on its post and tried to dispel the rigamortis from his afternoon nap. His dry mouth
tasted like a buzzard's breakfast. He walked carefully past the spill and pulled a flask from his coat. He
took a drink and watched out the window as the heat imposed its will on deserted streets. Waiting for
customers who didn't come, he held the liquor in his mouth and let it burn. Then he choked it down and took
another swig. Anything to wash away the dreamy residue of reality. He didn't want to think about Tate and
his thumb the rest of the afternoon.
But he didn't have to. Suddenly, he had other things to worry about.
"Harley!" he yelled. The flask fell to the floor, and whiskey added its own color to the blood red planks.
"What day is it?" Red trembled in disbelief as he watched the Twitch ride into town. This was no dream. This
was a nightmare.
Tucker "the Twitch" Maynard was a legendary outlaw, at least in Widow's Rest. He was too ugly and simple for the
world-wide fame that belonged to Billy the Kid or Hoodoo Brown. But most of the widows in Widow's Rest owed their
titles and their tears to his erratic temper and unpredictable pistol.
Red was betting on an inside straight the first time he encountered the half-crazed outlaw. Justo Fuente, an
aspiring bandito himself, was about to take Red's money with little more than a pair of tens when he suddenly
pulled the brim of his sombrero over his dark eyes and buried his face deep in his cards. Red, hunched over
with his back to the door, noticed Justo's fingers inching toward the six-shooter strapped to his waist. This
made Red want to reach for his own gun, but he never carried one. He did keep a Henry rifle in the back of the
barbershop, a leftover from his days with the Confederacy. But he had never fired it. As a medic, he had never
needed to. Of course, he had never met the Twitch. Clearly, Justo had.
A fog of silence fell over the saloon. The only sound came from the irregular gait of heavy boots limping across
a creaky, wooden floor. Shump, drag, shump. For ten full minutes, an eternity, the room died.
Red's curiosity held claim over his common sense. Call it a character flaw. So, of course, he glanced over his
shoulder. But his timing was worse than his card playing, and he instantly locked eyes with Tucker Maynard.
What Redmond saw in that briefest of moments was not a mere man. Instead, he beheld what that voodoo queen from
New Orleans had once called the "black djab," an evil spirit of darkness she warned would come knocking upon Red's
door one fateful day. As a young boy, Red had dismissed the ancient mambo's musings. But she had also foretold of
his life as a fou kwafè, a foolish barber. Now, looking back in time and into the eyes of Tucker Maynard, the old
hag seemed downright prescient. Maynard was a giant, amorphous darkness beneath an oily hat, with renegade hair
that (frankly) needed a trim. Red resented life, but he feared death. And the image before him was death incarnate.
The barber turned back to his cards and (like everyone else) held his breath. When the Twitch drank his fill, he
pushed back the stool with a screech, released a seismic belch, and limped out. Shump, drag, shump. The sound
alone raised the rust-colored hairs on the back of Red's ivory neck. He sat paralyzed by the pulse of that
irregular gait. Without so much as a word, the dreaded djab of Widow's Rest had cast a voodoo spell on ole Red
de kwafè. Shump, drag, shump. Red would remember that sound as long as he lived, however long that might be.
"A mule," Justo whispered, breaking the silence.
"What's that?" Red whispered back. Eventually, low murmurs crescendoed into a steady roar of relief around the
entire room. Then Justo continued.
"A mule. Dis is why he leemps," his compadre explained. "But why he kills," Justo shook his head, "ees longer
estory. Gringo is muy loco, I tell you."
Justo's fingers, now trembling slightly, left his gun and labored to deliver a steady dose of tequila to his lips.
A heavy sigh signaled his reluctance to recount the story. He threw his head back and downed a shot of medicine.
Then he peered through his empty shot glass, as if looking back in time, and somehow found the strength to begin.
"Was in de mountains of East Kentucky on coldest night of longest winter en seis décadas. Wind howling, esnow
blinding. Ees kind of night animals don' survive. Muy frio!" he wheezed. He shivered and slammed the shot glass
on the table.
According to Justo, this inauspicious evening found homely Celia Maynard, alone and unsettled, with a low turmoil
in her gut which she feared to be more than her chamber pot could bear. By the time she made it to the door, she
could hardly stand. Pain-ridden and oblivious to the elements, she stumbled barefoot through winter's worst to an
outhouse more than fifty frigid feet from her front door. But what she mistook for irritable bowels was instead
the painful miracle of labor. And thus Tucker Maynard tumbled unassisted and head first into the bottom of a frosty latrine.
Poor Celia, the haggard, yet portly matron, could hardly claim fault for such an oversight, novice as she was to
childbearing. Tucker was the offspring of a passing tragedy on horseback and was not planned, expected, nor wanted.
Celia didn't even know she was pregnant.
"That's terrible," Red had exclaimed.
"Sí. Infortunado. Eet gets worse," Justo frowned as he dealt a new hand. From day one, little Tucker bore the
unfortunate resemblance of his incidental outlaw father, even after his mother cleaned him up. With each passing
day, he was a constant reminder of the worst night of Celia's sad life, (the night of Tucker's birth coming in a
close second.) Yet, as difficult as motherhood was for the solitary spinster, she nonetheless tried to do right
by the child. She nursed and knitted away his needs, even attending to his midnight cries, despite her own exhaustion.
One night, however, Tucker's wails reached a new level of persistence. All night long, he screamed for his mother's
attention. But after a full day of pushing needles and thread with bleeding fingers, Celia was simply too tired to
hear her child's duress. The next morning, however, she screamed herself and recoiled in horror at the sight of a
fugitive cottonmouth nestled next to Tucker in his crib. Two small puncture wounds flared on the infant's thighs.
But they were the only evidence of injury.
"For Tucker," Justo clarified. He looked around as if sharing a secret. "De snake," he whispered, "was deed."
As young Tucker grew into a boy, signs of venomous corruption began to surface. A hobbled hound, a nervous goat, a
bare-backed chicken, were all indicators that the Maynard homestead was now a very scary place to live. Even Thimble,
Celia's shorthaired tabby, cashed in all nine lives before its master found it starved, frozen, and swinging by a broken tail.
"Pobre gatito," Justo wept openly then. "What man does dees ting to a little kitten?" After a few moments, Justo took
a deep breath through his nose and let it out with another sigh. "How many?"
Red looked at his cards. "I'll take two."
"Okay." Justo nodded and dealt two cards. Red was glad the draw was finally catching on out here. He had played
this way on the riverboats back home, and with full decks of fifty-two as well. So it surprised him upon his
arrival in Widow's Rest to learn that tens to aces with no draw was still the local custom. In Red's opinion,
a man ought to have a second chance, a way to overcome whatever bad hand he held. Not that it was helping him
now. His new cards were worse than the ones he had just given back.
As Justo drew his own cards, he fell into a pensive silence.
"So, the mule?" Red asked. After a moment, Justo wiped his eyes and resumed his sad tale.
"De señorita, she died. Officially, consumption. But you ask me," Justo's voice grew strained with contempt, "I
say she died of a broken heart." He shook his head and crossed himself with his free hand. "And little niño,
older and meaner, finally met som'ting as mean and as stubborn as he was."
"Sí. One swift kick to de head." Justo slapped his hands together loud enough to draw attention. Hatred filled
the blacks of his eyes as his voice grew louder and louder. "Little diablo awoke two days later with a limp leg
and a nervous twitch that plagues him to dis very day!" He slapped his hand on the table, rattling the glasses,
which by now had accumulated significantly. Then, as pleasantly as a spring breeze on a Sunday afternoon, he
Justo smiled as he raked in the last of Red's money. He seemed to feel much better. Red did not.
"Years later," Justo added as he stood to leave, "he kill de mule." Then, pausing for dramatic effect, he
continued. "And de mule's owner." Justo drained the last of his tequila and pointed a wobbly finger at Red.
"Amigo! You no go near dees man. Comprende?" Red nodded. Nothing lost in translation there.
But that wasn't the end of the story. Red would later learn from others that, to date, Tucker Maynard had killed
forty-one men. That was, of course, in addition to the mule and the cat. Sadly, due to the aforementioned
infirmity for which he would eventually receive his nickname, almost half of the Twitch's kills were completely
unintentional. One did not want to be in the line of fire when Tucker's twitch took control.
Since that day with Justo Fuente, Redmond took great pains to steer clear of Tucker Maynard. It wasn't hard.
The man might disappear for months on end. Other than operating as a hired gun for Jasper Tate, no one really
knew what the Twitch did with his time. But if a poor soul were to get himself in too deep with the Colonel,
that pale horse of death was certain to ride into town. Plenty of men owed money to Jasper Tate. But currently
there was only one resident of Widow's Rest in so deep as to enlist the services of the Twitch. And that man
was Redmond Graves.