The once exuberant life of Gavin McKinley had plummeted drastically since the war with the North. Before he took up arms with a Southern regiment based out of Knoxville, Tennessee, he was head overseer of slaves and security at the Benton Plantation. Through his twenties, thirties and forties working for the Benton family, he aided in recapturing all but one of the runaway slaves, killed three horse thieves, and made sure that all crops were harvested to perfection, even in the drier seasons. And the rewards had proven to be exquisite. In addition to the provided home and beautiful horse, the Benton family constructed him a small tower with a thick oak ladder on the edge of the fields, where tobacco plants met the parched grass. When his mare needed a break, Gavin could climb to the top and look over the lands, king of his domain. But the war had changed things.
Gavin still worked at the Benton plantation, now as a humble sharecropper, working long hours in dreadful conditions. Overseers were unnecessary professions after the Emancipation, and the limp he acquired during the war made most labor jobs a hefty challenge. The Benton family only offered the job as a 'favor' for his time as overseer, but still forced him out of the home they had previously provided, and into a small shack on the western edge of the property. Soon, Gavin had sold everything he owned of value solely to survive, everything except for his rifle and his horse, Wrangler.
Gavin's life was now simple, and he hated it. He woke up at dawn, and farmed tobacco until his hands bled and the blisters on his feet made for a difficult walk back to the shack, his tower from the life before looming over him, providing the only shade across the vast fields. The Benton family did not allow him to ride Wrangler to work, as it made the other farmers jealous. And there were the nights. Night only providing guilt-ridden nightmares of his time as overseer and soldier. In the mornings he had grown to fear daybreak, and detest the anxiety that accompanied the undeniable return of the sun, beaconing and beckoning him to work the next day.
For the three years since the war, almost every day in the miserable life of Gavin McKinley had been the same. And the sweltering morning of April thirteenth had begun just like all the others.
It started like all the other glum days down in the fields. Gavin aided the other sharecroppers in picking the lugs from the tobacco plants, all attempting to ignore the penetrating heat. William Hicks acquired a rather nasty snakebite, while relieving himself in some bushes by the field, and had to be taken to the plantation house for treatment. Gavin and the rest were ordered to stop gawking and get back to work. Snake bites were nothing new on the Benton farm.
What truly gained Gavin's attention was the sight of Jeremy Benton making his way towards the tobacco field. Jeremy had been the smallest and youngest of the Benton sons, the 'runt' the others used to taunt. But that was a long time ago, and no one was left to make such jokes. Jeremy had been the only one to survive the war. His two older brothers had been ordered to Gettysburg and never returned. Gavin had rarely ever seen Jeremy in the three years since his homecoming, but today the young Benton boy strutted towards the field sporting a fancy short brimmed hat and an ox hide coat; dressing both warm and expensive despite the blistering heat.
Jeremy was accompanied by two men, who walked together a few paces behind him. One with a lengthy beard and a Confederate officer jacket that Gavin recognized from the war. It was the type of attire that would land a man in trouble north of the Carolinas but was still celebrated in the Southern states. The second man was younger, with long, stringy blond hair hanging out from beneath his large brimmed beaver-pelt Stetson. He wore two Colt Navy revolvers on his belt, which he gripped while he walked. Gavin had seen many cocky young gunslingers before the war, but this one was different. He had survived.
"Gather 'round, y'all!" Jeremy barked to Gavin and the other farmers, using the same tone Gavin remembered he had used to address the slaves, despite nearly all of the current sharecroppers being of European descent. Jeremy distrusted and loathed his former slaves after the war, and banished them from the plantation. "This here is Captain Jarret, and Sunrise Jackson." The name brought on a murmur from the crowd, so Jeremy paused to allow the excitement to pass.
"They here lookin' for a convict, up and killed two men in the mountains north of Jacksboro. They think he headed this way. Now, this convict is a colored boy so he'll be standin' out like a wolf in a chicken pen. You boys got the rest the day off to search the property, Captain Jarret is going take point. Any y'all find that boy, you'll be joining me for steak dinners and cold drinks in the house for a month. Now get on!"
Jarret split off the sharecroppers into search parties of two or three. Gavin was partnered with Thomas Delmont, a younger man Gavin had always found bothersome. They were ordered by Jarret and Sunrise to search the southern region of the fields and report back by nightfall. Gavin decided such a futile pursuit was not worth voyaging back to his shack to retrieve his hunting rifle. No convict in his right mind would choose the vast fields located in the southern portion of the Benton property as a place to lay low. It offered little space to hide, and was far from the well. He grumbled as pain split through his feet. Hopefully someone else would find the convict before all the walking aggravated his blisters.
Only two minutes into the search Thomas began the expected endless buzzing in Gavin's ear. "Can you believe it? Only ten feet from Sunrise Jackson. My lord!"
"Ain't like he's the damn president. Just a man like you or me."
Thomas glanced at Gavin with a puzzled look. "You heard how he got that name?"
Like most people of the Confederacy, Gavin had heard. Sunrise Jackson earned his nickname near the end of the war, fighting for a small southern unit with dwindling supplies. Jackson's unit was low on everything from food to ammunition. The only thing they had in abundance was prisoners. One morning at sunrise, Jackson offered one of the prisoners a pistol. He stated if the man could draw before him and shoot him down, then they would be freed. The man agreed to the duel, and Jackson shot him dead in the middle of the camp. This went on for one whole week at every sunrise, each time Jackson proving faster and a better shot than the prisoner he faced. As news spread, he became a hero among the Confederates, who had lost hope by this point in the war. Gavin reckoned it was the only time shooting POWs made someone a hero, and he was far from impressed. "Thomas, those men he forced to face him were starvin' and damn half past dead. Hell, you may have even bested one or two of 'em."
"You really think I could?"
Gavin sighed. It was not meant to appear a compliment.
After a while, Gavin grew tired of the pains searing through his swollen feet and had a seat in the fields to await the end of the search, much to Thomas's dismay. They headed back to report to Captain Jarret at the allotted time, only to learn all the search parties had shared in their lack of success.
"Sorriest damn manhunt I ever seen," Sunrise taunted. "You boys had steak and whiskey on the line. Thought one y'all would find us that damn—"
"Maybe he ain't here," Gavin stated.
Jarret stepped in before Sunrise could respond. "Mr. McKinley, I am under the impression you were once an important overseer of this region, this knowledge correct?"
"Guess so," Gavin said. "Now tell me something," Gavin began, already regretting the decision, "that boy you ride with, Sunrise? . . . he ever tried as a war criminal? For what he done? How the hell a man like that get a job workin' for the law?'
This brought a hush from the crowd, but Sunrise only responded with a mere snicker. Jarret glanced towards Sunrise, before sighing loudly "Mr. McKinley, condemning those I ride with is far from your task at hand. If you want a killer to be judged, then find me that negro. I know a man like you has conducted searches such as this before."
Gavin limped towards his shack as the sun set overhead. He made up his mind he did not care much for Captain Jarret or Sunrise Jackson, and would not aid them any further. "Fuck the whiskey and steak, hotter than the devil's breathe out here anyway," he muttered as he approached the small, one room cabin. Wrangler neighed impatiently as Gavin made his way to the door. He paused a second to calm the excited horse before entering. Usually Wrangler was calmer; Gavin assumed one of the search parties must have aggravated her.
As he entered the shack, he stopped short to wipe growing tears from his eyes. The search for the black convict had opened the door to elapsed memories: the hunts of the past. He remembered the pursuits, chasing down runaway slaves like animals and whipping them into submission, only to be told by the North they were simply men as well. If the North was right in their assessment, then Gavin had done things that could never be forgotten, or forgiven. He wiped his eyes once more before noticed the corner of the room, where his hunting rifle usually sat, perched gathering dust, but now the corner was empty. Someone had taken it.
Gavin heard the familiar click of his rifle cocking and felt the barrel push into his cheek from the side of the doorway. "You one a da men lookin' for me?" asked a deep voice from behind the hunting rifle.
Gavin glanced to the side to see a skinny, dark-skinned man clutching his hunting rifle. The man's face was grimy and the frayed garments that hung loosely over his shoulders were soiled in coal. He held the rifle in an odd stance with the stock pressed into his cheek and both hands gripping desperately around the trigger. Gavin figured it would probably look funny if the barrel end was not planted against his own cheek. "You are holding that damn thing all wrong." Gavin moved slowly to take a seat on his bed, "You shoot me, holding it like that, knock your teeth right out."
"Yeah, mister? You'd 'till be dead," the man responded, following Gavin with the barrel end still lodged firmly to Gavin's head.
"How the hell you kill two men when you can't even hold a rifle right?"
The man appeared taken aback by the question. "I ain't never kill nobody. Who tell you I do dis?"
Gavin reached under his bed to retrieve a small jar of moonshine. "Well, guess we both got some 'splaining to do."
Both men studied each other carefully as Gavin leisurely drank from his jar. "Da poison all white men love." The man muttered. Gavin said nothing. Everything was silent, aside from the restless horse outside. The man eyed him, as if expecting him to say something, before he finally spoke. "I am Bouazza—"
"Can I have my rifle back now?"
"No!" Bouazza responded, before sitting back, stunned and surprised with himself. Gavin guessed he probably had never taken such a tone with a white man before, so he shrugged and returned to his jar, he was too tired for such ordeals "So you never kill nobody, why them lawmen after you?"
Bouazza studied him one last time, before speaking. "Dey aint't no lawmen. I escaped Black Mountain Mine, mister."
"Don't nobody mister me. Name is Gavin McKinley. Hell is Black Mountain?"
"A mine company. 'Dier mine caved on top, and we were stuck on other side 'way from white men. We climb rocks, see 'way out. Went our own ways, and . . . run." It appeared a simple story when recited, but Gavin knew the complexities involved in the chase, even if he had only witnessed it from the opposing side.
"Wait . . . " Gavin set down the jar and looked up towards Bouazza, "You were a slave?"
"Yes, I run away."
"God damn. Son, how long you been running? Slavery has been over for 'bout three years."
Bouazza stared at Gavin as if wondering if that was a joke or a lie. "Only nine days."
A slave-operated mine still functioning post-Emancipation, Gavin had to admit, it sounded like some colored campfire story that blacks would recite to scare each other at night. But this man had details, horrible details. Stories no imagination could conjure out of thin air, and he was scared, truly scared. So Gavin decided to listen, and after Bouazza was willing to talk, he told Gavin all about Black Mountain Mine, deep in the Smoky Mountains.
Black Mountain Mining Company flourished in the previous few decades before the Emancipation, supplying coal to most of Tennessee and the neighboring states. Production slowed drastically after the start of the war and never resumed to previous heights. Those who returned from the war claimed the South had won, and things would pick back where they had left off. They forced Bouazza and the other mine slaves deeper into the mountains, into more treacherous mines than ever before. After a mere few months, less and less of them would began to exit the mine than enter. There were not many slaves left when Bouazza and the others made their escape during the cave in.
"Why should I believe you?" Gavin waited patiently for the end of the story before becoming inquisitive. "What if that's all a bunch of horse piss, and you're a killer, like the good ol' Captain Jarret say?"
Bouazza fumbled for speech, before setting the rifle to the ground. "Would a killer do that?"
"One who couldn't hold a damn gun to begin with may." Gavin glanced down towards the gun and reached down slowly towards the floor. Bouazza did not move in response. Gavin grabbed the bottle of shine next to the rifle and rose again. He took another long sip as he slouched back on the bed.
"Dis whole time . . . " Bouazza sat amongst the dust covering the shack floor. "I been a free man. The South never won like dey say."
The shock on his face told Gavin everything he needed to know. This was a man, not a slave, a concept Gavin previously failed to recognize. This situation that found him, that sought him out could be his final chance to fix his past, to end the nightmares. This could be the only way to escape the cracking whip that chased him through his dreams, "Reckon you stay for one night, long as you quiet." Bouazza stared up at him. "Tomorrow we get you on your feet. If them men ain't lawmen, but lyin' mining company gun-hands they surely got no problem killin' the both of us. So keep damn quiet." Bouazza nodded as he struggled to keep his eyes open. Gavin guessed it must have been days since he had the safety to attempt sleep. Gavin took one more sip of the shine before lying back in the bed, trying in vain to ignore the voice in his head asking him what the hell he was doing harboring this tired, wreck of a man.
* * *
Sunrise Jackson gnawed on the remnants of his chicken breast as he stared up at the large decorative painting of the Benton family that hung on the wall in the dining hall. The family appeared united and jubilant, with a youthful McKinley, atop his short wooden tower, frozen into the better times of the painting's background. Only two members of the unmoving joyful family still lived; Jeremy and his young niece, Luanne. War and sickness had confined the rest to paintings and memories. Luanne and Jeremy sat across Sunrise and Jarret at the enormous dining table, built when the family was much larger than its present state.
"You know, Sunrise, being a guest in the Benton house also entitles us to the use of their silverware," Jarret joked, watching his counterpart pick apart his meal.
"Pay it no mind," Jeremy smiled. "You catch that Negro running amuck, you may eat in any manner you please." Luanne watched Sunrise devour the chicken breast with a mix of fear and disgust, appearing not to share Jeremy's sentiments. Sunrise took a long sip of whiskey, smiling towards Luanne as he set the cup down, before returning to dismantling the remains of his chicken. Luanne excused herself early.
When the meat was picked clean, Sunrise finally spoke. "Who was that old timer farmhand who gave me that back talk down in them fields?"
Jeremy grinned. "Jarret hasn't told you? Well, my apologies for his behavior earlier. Mr. McKinley has always been set in his ways. My father hired him as head overseer long ago. After the war I didn't have much use for a crippled has-been overseer. But he's always been part of this place since I was a youngin. Let him stay as a cropper."
"He talks to me like that 'gin, may be inclined to shoot 'em," Sunrise stated bluntly, staring at Jeremy to measure his reaction. The words echoed throughout the plantation home, through the large, empty rooms.
Jeremy straightened up as if attempting to grow beyond his small stature. "I do not mean to upset this joyful meal and lead down a path of vulgarity but Mr. McKinley is . . . a relic of my plantation here. Only thing left here that reminds me of father. It would be a grave mistake to remove him from the world."
Captain Jarret laughed loudly, nudging Sunrise under the table. "My apologies Mr. Benton. My partner here has a rather perplexing sense of humor." Sunrise hated when Jarret treated him like a child, as if he could not speak for himself. People had begun to forget who he was; his legacy. Working for a slave-operated mine had provided another opportunity instead of bowing down before the 'mighty North,' but Black Mountain Mining Company was not what he had hoped. There was too much tracking of runaways, and pretending to be lawmen had quickly grown tiresome. He missed the war. Sunrise stared back up at the painting, his eyes meeting those of McKinley, unmoved upon his tower surrounded by painted fields. As Jarret and Jeremy began plotting new areas to search, Sunrise paid them no mind. He simply smiled, staring towards the painting, as he imagined shooting McKinley from his post in the low glow of the rising sun.
* * *
Gavin woke at dawn to the rhythmic, painful pounding of his skull. Moonshine had once again proved to be a cruel mistress. He sat up from his small cot as the memories from the night flooded back to him. Gavin sighed, staring down at Bouazza sleeping on the wooden floorboards. He had drunkenly handed sanctuary to a man who was pursued by Black Mountain thugs posing as lawmen, and one of them was debatably the most dangerous man of the Confederacy. Gavin ran his hands over his face as he tried to make sense of it. After the war, once the slaves were emancipated, Gavin was more than willing to cooperate. He had always been a stickler for the law and had figured if a war was fought to free these men, then there must be some justice involved. Maybe that was why he let the poor man take shelter. Maybe he was simply bored with his miserable farm life. Maybe he had a death wish. Gavin sat up as he came to a realization; he had no idea why he did what he did. It could be the guilt, the guilt that rose every dark night since the war, when his mind replayed every crack of the whip, and every returning scream.
Gavin nudged the sleeping Bouazza with his foot. It took a few more nudges before Bouazza finally opened his eyes and awoke. "There is a supply shack the Bentons use a little north from here. Reckon I steal you a little food and you can get on your way." Gavin felt strange, as if he somehow owed this man something, a debt for all those before him.
Bouazza stretched before sitting up. "Tank you. You . . . you not like other white men. You are . . . good."
Gavin stared down at Bouazza before giving a quick nod and walking out of the shack door. He wondered if there was truth behind Bouazza's words as he climbed atop Wrangler. Perhaps that was the reason he helped the unfortunate man in need. Maybe, despite all he had done in the past, he was a good man.
* * *
Sunrise tossed back and forth as morning light engulfed the room, invading the darkness through the thick white curtains. He was not used to curtains, or oversized fluff-filled pillows. All the time spent in the war and in the Tennessee Mountains had made him become all too familiar with pitched tents and hard ground. It was now hard to sleep anywhere else.
Sunrise finally admitted defeat and sat up to face the day. A golden teapot sat on a table next to his gun belt at the foot of his bed, awaiting his indulgence. Sunrise shook his head as he grabbed one of his revolvers from the table and poked at the tea pot, pushing it to the edge. He thought about shattering it upon the floor, possibly blaming one of the Negro maids if Jeremy inquired. He had quickly grown to hate this house, and all of the glorified 'dècor.' It had a pristine fakeness about it camouflaging the sorrow and loss. A purple curtains and golden teapots, it made him sick.
Captain Jarret opened the enormous doors and entered the room, frowning in disproval as he watched Sunrise pushing the teapot to the side with his sidearm. "Thought it was 'polite' to knock," Sunrise said bitterly. "You see this damn shit? Golden god damn tea-thing! Now I know what these fancy folks were doin' while we fightin' their war."
"Benton family was decimated in the war, Sunrise." Jarret responded, as he moved to sit in a cushion-filled armchair by the bed.
Decimated, Sunrise wondered what it meant but did not dare ask for fear of a smug response.
"I came here to inform you that Jeremy has sent for dogs from some former trackers in which he is acquainted, a mere half day away. They should be here by sometime this afternoon. We will finally get this done. I cannot tell you how I long to get back to my wife, hell, even back to those mines."
"We caught the others without no damn dogs." Sunrise grumbled pushing the pot off the table's edge with a light tap of the gun. Tea spilled onto the decorative rug, a brown smudge spreading through the expensive fabric. Sunrise smiled as he watched.
Jarret sighed, as he crouched and attempted to wipe the growing muddle. "I need your assurance that the white man from yesterday's search will see no harm by your hand. After the war he returned different . . . the man is just a farmhand, haunted by those days he bore the whip."
Sunrise observed Jarret with disgust. "Them your words? Or Mr. Benton?"
"Suppose a mixture of both. Sunrise, I need your word. We do not harm people like him, it is not our assignment. People like Jeremy may seem like pushovers, but, I'm telling you boy, you do not want to turn against them. They are the authority out here."
Sunrise scoffed. It had taken no time for the extravagant mansion to expose his partner. Jarret was just like many others he had met, placing wealth above legacy. Bowing before golden teapots and oversized bed sheets, pretending he was not a common mining company gun-hand. "You just lucky he ain't know what we really are, lawman," Sunrise glanced down towards the spilled tea, and back to Jarret. "Finish cleaning that shit up." Placing his hat firmly on his head, Sunrise headed down the elaborate staircase, dirt from his soiled boots following his every step.
* * *
An hour or so later Gavin returned back at the shack with food from the storage. After tying the horse back on the old familiar post, he entered into his cabin, but stopped short at the sight before him. Bouaazza sat on his knees, staring down at Gavin's old overseer whip, a whip Gavin himself had long forgotten. His old black whip made mostly of cowhide. It lay roughly eight feet in length not including the handle, which was composed of a thick lead. He could tell Bouazza knew whips such as this all too well.
"I was goin' to run 'way when I seen dis under da bed," Bouazza said. The Caribbean accent sounding stronger when distraught, "But den I remember, dere nowhere to run.
"That whip . . . it's from another life. Long ago. That man . . . he ain't 'round no more." Gavin did not know what he was attempting to say. Guilt and shame rose in his chest. He no longer was the acclaimed head overseer of the Benton plantation. He was an older, broken man, but possibly a better man as well.
"Dis man, he ever coming back?"
"You know, sometimes I wish he would." Gavin snatched the whip and tossed it back under the bed. "But I 'spose he is long gone now."
Bouazza remained still for a moment before rising. "Lies, like all white men," he muttered as he passed Gavin and proceeded out the door.
"Hey now, stop!" Gavin yelled, hoping to remedy the situation. "What if . . . let me come with you." Bouazza halted, and turned. A look of cautious curiosity spread across his face.
In a way, the idea even astonished Gavin. Then he gave the notion time to sink in. He had worked in the Benton employ in one occupation or another for nearly all his life, but now had nothing to show for all his time, besides a horse, a shack and a crippled leg. Aiding this man in need revived the thought of a world he had long forgotten: the land beyond the fields.
Bouazza said nothing. He simply stood, surprised and stunned as Gavin continued, "We'll head north, tell the right folks 'bout what Black Mountain Mining Company is pullin' down here with them illegal slaves. They'll pay some mind to what you got to say. Then we can start headin' west. Hear they got rivers of gold. Now, I don't believe all that hogwash, but rumors got to come from somewhere, ain't they? I could dicker away what I got, get us more supplies at trading posts . . . " It was the most Gavin had talked in ages, rambling on through imagined adventures of the western frontier. Bouazza turned and listen, as rumors and facts of the west flooded over him. He listened closely and even smiling on occasion.
* * *
The laughter from the yard agitated Sunrise, and forced him to choose a seat further away from the window. Jeremy and Jarret had been playing croquet all morning, with Luanne bringing refreshments, and sometimes joining in on the game as well. Sunrise found the game idiotic and pointless (especially given the fact there was a runaway slave to hunt), but Jeremy said the hunt would not begin until the dogs arrived. Somewhere along the way, Jeremy Benton had taken charge of his manhunt. Sunrise forced a smile as Luanne entered to retrieve more tea. "Think, you got my partner feelin' right at home out there, actin' all sweet, ain't ya?"
"We—me and Jeremy—try to accommodate our guests, to the best of our abilities, Mr. Jackson. Besides, the m-maids are busy creating a dinner f-feast." She shuffled nervously as she passed him. Sunrise enjoyed her discomfort.
"Why don't you put down them glasses, let your hair down and come here to 'accomm-ate' me some?" Sunrise moved his feet up onto the table as he lounged. Luanne's eyes darted towards the kitchen.
Before she could respond with an excuse to make a quick exit, Thomas Delmont burst into the room from the main doors. "I-I am sorry for my intrusion, Miss Benton, but I got something real important that needs saying." He attempted to catch his breath before continuing. "McKinley ain't show up for work today. I got scared that killer negro got 'em so I go alookin.' That's when I see him over by the supply shack takin' things that ain't his. I followed him and seen him talkin' with some fella. Get closer and realize the fella was black as night! He . . . I think McKinley is helpin' the Negro hide, Mr. Jackson."
Sunrise sneered as he rose from his decorative chair and perched his hat delicately onto his head. He now had a perfect excuse to eliminate the old man who had humiliated him the previous day, and catch the runaway too, all while Captain Jarret played croquet.
"Should I tell Mr. Benton and Captain Jarret what I seen?" Thomas asked, still hunched regaining his strength.
"There will be no need to bother them none," Sunrise responded.
"What will you do to him, Mr. Jackson?" Luanne inquired, the fear evident in her voice. Sunrise gripped his gun belt and tilted his hat in her direction as he exited, leaving the two watching him walk slowly towards the fields. Luanne gripped tightly to her dress. She knew her question had answered itself.
* * *
The dirt path that led to the main gate of the Benton property was located far from the tobacco fields that were currently in use, so Gavin decided there should be no harm in using it for their exit route. He aided Bouazza in packing the little supplies available onto Wrangler, and they began their journey. Gavin whistled and grinned with excitement as the two hurried along the path. He had never considered a life away from the harsh world of the plantation. He had always felt a close relation to the Benton family, and his injury would have made it hard to survive in the world alone. Now, in helping a man he would have surely condemned in his life before, the whole world had opened up to him to experience for the first time outside of war. Gavin and Bouazza rode along towards the gate, discussing ox-driven caravans and their usage in long travels. Bouazza had never seen an ox before and was naturally inquisitive over the beast.
Gavin's enthusiasm swiftly diminished, as he noticed a figure in the dirt road before them. With his hat low over his eyes and his hands gripping the twin Colts at his sides, stood Sunrise Jackson. A pose Gavin imagined the man had long practiced in his downtime.
"You two best think twice 'bout high tailin' away! Got Jarrett up in your former tower with his rifle, just waitin' for yal to turn 'round, and come back that way!" Sunrise called.
"Don't break pace. Can you ride a horse?" Gavin muttered, attempting to hide his fear and dismay from his new friend.
"Yessir," Bouazza whispered. They were now close to twenty paces from the man in the road. The hot sun beat down overhead.
"Well, Mr. McKinley," Sunrise smirked, "I spent all morning and good bit o' last night thinkin' for a reason to shoot you after your mouthin', but you made it damn easy." His eyes locked on Bouazza, before returning to Gavin.
"Your feelings hurt a bit easy, Mr. Jackson. Lively character such as you should 'spect some ridicule," Gavin said. He was met by silence, so he continued as Bouazza shuffled nervously. "Bou-azza here told me you ain't no lawman or no bounty hunter." Still, Sunrise offered nothing in way of response. "Slavery is over, Mr. Jack—"
"Hell it is," Sunrise replied, pulling a revolver from his holster and tossing it to Gavin's feet. "I heard from Mr. Benton you killed a posse of horse thieves while back, so I'll make this interestin'. Pick it up and we duel like damn men and I put you down, or you hand over my prisoner."
Fear nearly caused Gavin to consider handing Bouazza over, but he quickly dismissed such thoughts. "I believe prisoners of yours' got a long history of gettin' shot. You ain't no man; just mining company scum. "
Sunrise's smirk widened, "No? Was hopin' you'd say that. "If I truly am 'mining company scum, reckon I shoot you whether you join in this here duel or don't." Sunrise reached across his gun belt. From his belt, he withdrew an extra holster, as if he had planned on a situation such as this to occur. "Stick that on your belt side there." He said, tossing it next to the pistol in the grass. Bouazza remained still, his face subdued in petrified silence.
Gavin squinted towards Sunrise, "This here is murder—"
"Don't go talkin' no more!" Sunrise shouted. "Pick it up, cripple!"
Gavin glanced back to the revolver. He wondered if it was too late. It all had escalated so quickly, he was unsure where things actually stood. One minute he was attempting to aid a poor man in a bad situation, now he found himself in a forced duel with an angry gun thug who was known to excel at such an activity. Gavin half-heartedly placed the holster and gun on his side. "You look for a chance, you take my horse and ride." Gavin whispered to Bouazza.
Gavin felt his trembling, blistered fingers on the holster. Cold sweat trickled down his face into his eyes. He wondered what those Yanks were thinking when Sunrise forced them to duel. He glanced towards Bouazza, and noticed tears rolling slowly down the man's cheeks. This man truly cared about him, despite all the evil he had done before. A sense of calm swept over him, Gavin had to help this man escape to the North.
Gavin reached, but it was already too late. Sunrise drew, catching Gavin twice in the chest before Gavin could clear the holster. The shots rang out into the silent morning air. Before Sunrise could turn the gun upon him, Bouazza hopped onto Wrangler's back and galloping across the field towards the main gate. Sunrise took aim, but before he could fire, another shot rang out. It came from the grass before him. Gavin struggled to sit as he fired the gun against the ground. Sunrise noticed Gavin stirring and attempting to raise the revolver from his side towards him despite the blood trickling down from his chest. Sunrise's eyes darted from Gavin to Bouazza. "Stay down, you old son of a bitch!" he yelled, yet Gavin still rose. Sunrise cursed as he turned to Gavin, shooting him again, and then twice more out of anger. When looking back up to return to Bouazza, Wrangler had nearly reached the gate. Sunrise attempted the shot, but missed wide to the right. His gun was empty and the man was gone. Sunrise threw the revolver in anger. Sharecropper gathered around, some shouting angrily towards Sunrise at the sight of McKinley prone and unmoved in the grass. None applauded; none treated him like a legend, only words of hate and agitation range out. Sunrise pulled his hat from his head. It was over.
* * *
Gavin smiled, as he sprawled in the tall grass. A cold feeling lulled over him, despite the heat. He thought of Bouazza, but with new clothes, sporting a black suit. Up north, or out in the west, smiling and laughing, surrounded by buildings and friends, walking along paved roads. Far from the mines, in the land beyond the fields.