When Thomas Ketchum had all the money he went over to the shadowman and he bent down over him and then he unsnapped the other man's shirt pocket and reached inside of it and pulled out several coins. One of them appeared to be larger than the others and was solid black. Not a coin at all really, but some kind of medallion it looked like from where Billy was sitting. His father held it up before him and Billy could see a ray of light come through what looked to be a nail-hole driven right through the center of the coin.
"Well, I'll be a damned sonofabitch," Ketchum said to no one in particular, perhaps to himself, perhaps to the room entire, for they were his audience now and he was directing himself on a stage that only he could see, it seemed. Ketchum was holding the coin and simultaneously looking down at the prostrate man and yet he kept his gun hand steady on the bartender still and was watching him too, out the corner of his eye. "He's from that damned Hole-in-the-Wall gang. All them sonsabitches carry these with 'em. Figures. Hell."
Billy had read about this gang before, had seen the handbills announcing their crimes—train robberies and stagecoaches mostly, but also some holdups like this one—and the rewards being offered for their capture. The gang stretched up as far as Wyoming and their numbers were legion it seemed. Sometimes the handbills even said that it didn't matter if these criminals were caught dead or alive, just so long as they were caught. That's how bad some of them were. Billy wondered what kind of trouble his father would be in now for hurting one of them. Had Ketchum not robbed the place himself, he probably would have gotten a reward. Been called a hero. Who knows? Now Billy didn't know what would happen. What could be worse, he thought: owing your neck to the gang or to the law?
Nobody said anything as Billy sat there, wondering about these things. He watched his father toss the black coin (or whatever it was) back down, where it spun and then rolled, finally sliding through one of the cracks in the wooden floor and then disappearing into the dark and dusty space beneath the saloon, where it landed in a puddle of wet dirt and among a rill of steadily-dripping water from above. The other coins, which Billy couldn't make out, his father stuffed in his pockets with the rest of the purloined money and then he told Billy to get up and follow him outside, which Billy did. Mutely. His father backing out of the saloon so that his gun was still pointed at the bartender and the old men sitting at the bar and watching him and Billy in the greasy backbar mirror still.
They walked across the sagging porch and down the steps, which curved like so many clotheslines in the breeze, Ketchum carefully backing down the stairs as he watched the swinging doors, and then he went over to his horse and stuffed the money in his saddlebag and unhitched the animal and then threw his leg over the saddle.
"Come on," he said to the boy.
Billy looked around the streets. Nothing stirred. No one in sight. The wooden facades of the buildings seemed to stare back at him, as if they knew some secret about his life now, a secret which he wasn't even aware of himself. Then he looked up at his father who was cantering his horse into the muddy road and staring down at his son. He was holding on simultaneously to the worn round pommel of his saddle and the horse's weathered reins with his left hand. He had his pistol in his right, still pointing it at the door to The Jersey Lilly—in case someone were to come out firing, Billy guessed.
"I done said to come on," Ketchum growled, and so the boy unhitched his horse and pulled it away from the hitching rail and then he put his left boot into the stirrup and threw his right leg across the saddle until he was astride and facing forward. Before the boy had any time to think about going the other way or questioning his father about what had just happened, the barman suddenly burst through the creaking doors holding a Winchester Model 1866 rifle with a sawed-off barrel in front of him. He pointed it at Ketchum.
"Now y'all just hold it right there," said the barman.
Billy's father didn't hesitate. He pointed his Colt at the bartender and shot him—just like that—the man dropping to the porch like a wet sack of horse feed. Then Ketchum smacked his horse in the ribs with his bootheel and yelled for Billy to come on. So the boy kicked his horse too and the father and his only son finally rode out of Langtry, Texas, a few hundred dollars richer than when they had first gotten there, their horses kicking up a cloud of brown dust now, which by the time it settled down on the caliche, they and their horses would already be reduced to just two black specks among the wide open space. A space into which their figures would slowly diminish until they were gone entirely.
* * *
That is what had happened and now, because of it, Billy looked down at his father one last time—perhaps the last time he would ever see him—and he watched for a minute as the old man slept, the firelight clicking across his prostrate frame, that same coyote howling somewhere off in the distance. And then he took the holster from the arched branch of the Joshua tree again and this time buckled it around his own narrow waist. The holster hung low on him, the gun inside almost touching his knee. Then he walked over to his father's horse and removed the saddlebag with the stolen money inside of it and he draped it over his own horse before getting on, the animal's shoulder twitching in anticipation of the boy's weight, and then Billy pulled himself up on the saddle.
He looked out over the prairie and at his father again, gently nudging the horse's ribs with his bootheel until the animal cantered away from the campsite and once he was far enough so that his father couldn't hear, he kicked the horse into motion, a full run over the hardpan now as he left the dying fire and his sleeping father in the distance. Billy knew his old man would eventually wake up, perhaps with the sun, angry, hungover and dry-mouthed from the whiskey, only to find his boy had taken off and left him with no gun and no money. Just his horse and the hat on his head. And there was one other thing that Billy hadn't known about: a black over-sized coin with a nail-hole pierced through its center, which Thomas Ketchum had kept in his shirtpocket for years. Right next to his beating heart.