Bill likes to say ain't nothin' as talked about as an outlaw since we was throwin' tea in the Boston harbor.
Bill is a fool, but I followed him out here anyway. More fool you, Jack Dawlins.
William Wynsom, Handsome Bill, the Wynsom Kid, the Wynsom Gunslinger, the Snake Charmer. There are others.
Bill likes to make up names for hisself and any time he gets someone to repeat one, it's like he were Billy
The Kid come again. I don't got any name but my own. Ole Sean Mckenzie, Irish stock, calls me Grumpy Jack
Dawlins sometimes and the others call me Papa Jack on occasion, on account o' my need to be their damn daddy
sometimes when they get up to some foolishness, but I don't count them. I try not to complain too much either.
It is true that I'm too serious sometimes and Bill sure is "winsome" as he says, since he happens to know what
that fancy ole word means. He says it's spelled different from his last name, but they sound the same and he
tries to live up to it.
Anyhow, I don't really think we're cut out for this outlaw stuff, but here we are somewhere 'tween Kansas and
Utah, no one seems to know exactly, with eyes pointed down yonder at the road. We are waitin' for a carriage to
come through and when it does we're gonna ride on down and rob the damn thing. Fella in Dawson town, a mile or
four back east, told us so when Bill paid him a half dollar. Said there was a few Pinkertons on it with ten
thousand dollars cash. Real cash, not real Pinkertons, he says. Them Pinks is baby Pinks, new boys. They'll
have guns, but not the guts to give us much fight so we gonna take that real cash from them fake Pinks and
give it to Ugly Joe Walker, some bigshot outlaw out here. We give him the money and we get ourselves in with
his gang instead o' havin' to fight 'em for it. I think we're gonna get shot personally, but you can't tell
Bill Wynsom nothin' when he puts his mind on somethin'.
I'm layin' on the ground with my rifle laid 'cross a rock to steady it when Bill asks, "Hey Jack, you think
that sumbitch back in Dawson lied to me?"
"Bout what?" The sumbitch did lie, for my money, but it's best to humor him.
"You think he was just makin' up the whole damn thing to get a half dollar outta' me?"
I turn to him with my Papa Jack face on. "This just now occurrin' to ya?"
He gets a little red in the face, the way he only gets with me sometimes. "Well no. I shoorly considered it
before, just not so much as now. That carriage was s'posed to come through already, but I ain't seen shit
with these things." He has a pair of binoculars he brought with him from home. They were his daddy's, who
was a cavalry officer huntin' injuns a long time ago, who bought them from an Italian man even before that.
It was a good idea to bring them 'em, but I don't tell him that. He has a big enough head already.
"Well what the hell we doin' then?" My hair is plastered to my forehead and I wipe the sweat off my face. One
thing I ain't quite got used to out here is the sun. Damn thing burns hotter here'n anywhere else in the world, I figure.
He thinks on it a little while. His face scrunches up when he does and he squints down at the road some more.
"Nothin' for right now." He has his six-shooter in hand and he clicks the hammer in an' out o' position, over and over.
He's been doin' that for a few nights now, since we walked into Dawson. He ain't never used the damn thing, 'cept for
shooting at squirrels or beer bottles.
Him and the other boys use pistols, but I like my rifle. I got iron on my hip o' course, but them hand cannons is for the
close-up work. The boys like it 'cause it's the outlaw's tool, least in the tales. They wave it 'round and dream o' havin'
quick draw duels at sunset. The rifle is the man's tool, says I, the reliable weapon o' war. If I aim to do any killin',
I'm surely gonna look to my rifle first.
Sean Mckenzie and Jake West is up in the rocks on the other side o' the track. We figured it made more sense to flank them
Pinks if it does come to a fight. Rowdy Rob Parker is set up further down afore the trail comes through the pass, but Bill
gets antsy and tells him to ride up the track a ways and see if anyone's coming or not. Rob mumbles somethin', the way he does, but he goes.
I watch Bill play with his pistol some more. He's like a kid if you watch him close when nothin's happening and he's not
payin' any attention. I know if that carriage does come through and them Pinks are made o' anythin' tough at all, I'm gonna
need to be quick with my rifle, 'cause I don't know if Bill's ready for that sorta business yet.
Rob Parker soon comes ridin' back hollerin' that he seen the carriage comin'. Bill hoots and the two of us hop on our
horses and ride on down to block the road. Rob stays there while Sean and Jake stay hid on the other side until we get
a look at the Pinks.
When the carriage does come, we see there's just two men sittin' on top. One has a rifle and the other has a pistol on
his hip. The driver is a old man, beard gone all white. The rifleman is just a boy, no older'n twenty. Me an' Bill ain't
no older though and t'other three's even younger.
Bill calls for them to halt and they do. The old man is suspicious on the spot, but the boy is just confused. They both
stay sittin', which tells me somethin' is up. Never seen a Pinkerton carriage with only one guard aside from the driver
either. Sure as hell not one with ten thousand dollars on it.
"Out of the road sirs and let us on our way!" the boy calls, findin' some courage while the old man stares.
"No sir," says Bill. "I say the two of you get down off that carriage and throw us your shootin' irons afore we gun you down here and now."
"Sir, this is a federal carriage and will not be waylaid by the likes of you. I say again, make the way clear and let us
on our way." He eyes my rifle nervously where I got it leaned against my shoulder. It's not pointed at him, but it ain't
in my gun bag either so I can whip it down and shoot in a second. Bill's pistol stays holstered the whole time.
Bill whistles and Sean and Jake and Rob come running down to point their pistols at the Pinks from all sides. Bill draws
his gun, but don't point it anywhere yet. The boy is all shook up, but the old man looks the same. "You boys is makin' a
mistake," the old timer says.
"We are makin' ourselves rich," Bill replies. "The only mistake is yours if you don't do like I said and get down off that carriage."
"Look at 'em," the old man says, showin' a grin. "Just a buncha goddamn boys think they's outlaws." He spits.
As he spits, his hand jerks for his iron. I know without looking that Bill and the others ain't ready for it so I do what
Papa Jack needs to do. I bring my rifle down and put a bullet 'tween that sumbitch's eyes.
The Pink boy flinches, but does nothing more. I'm thankful for that. The boys are shocked, but Bill at least pretends
otherwise since there's business to be done. I never kilt no one before, but I always figured I was made o' tougher stuff.
Bill spurs his horse over so he can get close to the Pink, who is shaking in his seat. "Get down off the damn carriage!"
he shouts, pointing his pistol at the Pink's face.
Turns out, yellin' at some kid with your pistol in his face and his buddy freshly deceased beside him weren't the smartest
thing. That damn Pink jerked harder than anyone I ever saw when Bill yelled at him and accidentally shot off his rifle in
the air. Bill weren't too prepared for that and blasted the poor bastard right then an' there.
The boys is surprised at first, but then Rob Parker gives a hoot and rides over to clap Bill on the back. Bill stares at
the dead Pink a little while, then fakes a smile at the boys. I can see he's shook up by it, but he'd never tell them that.
He's Bill Wynsom, a goddamn outlaw gunslinger and killin' Pinkertons is just business.
Sean checks inside the carriage and finds the chest we're lookin' for. Billy hangs back, fishin' through the dead boy's
pockets for somethin', so me and the others head over to have ourselves a look at that ten thousand dollars.
Turns out, it weren't ten thousand dollars, not even close. What we did snatch were a bunch o' government bonds, whole
damn stack of 'em. None of us knew how much they was worth exactly, but we knew it was a lot. Joe Walker'd take 'em anyhow,
Billy figured. For once, I figured he was right.
We check the driver's pockets and cut the horses free, but the carriage and the corpses stay. Billy slashes his name in the
side of the carriage, because he wants his name in the papers and a missin' carriage don't say so much as a robbed one with
two dead men inside.
Sean breaks out some Irish whiskey he brought from home and the boys get proper soused 'round the campfire. Billy takes a
few sips and I down enough to get dizzy, but that's it. "You alright?"
"Shoor," he says.
"You know where Joe Walker n' his gang hide out?"
He motions off to the west vaguely. "Place called Snake-Belly. Some damn crevice that bends this a way and that way, like
a snake, see, just past the next river we're gonna come to."
"How many boys he got?" I been wonderin' if he even needs five more guns in the first place.
"That bastad back in Dawson said he got ten or fifteen. Janey, that whore from the other night, says he got a hunnerd.
Guess I don't rightly know for sure."
"Big difference." Ten or fifteen men says Joe Walker could probably use a few more pistols. A hundred men and Joe Walker
don't give a goddamn cow fart 'bout five city boys headed west lookin' for fortune.
"Don't matter," he insists. "We gonna give 'im them bonds as a gift and ask all nice and polite if he kin use us or not.
With the kind o' money them bonds'll bring 'im, ain't no way he says no."
"Sure, Bill. Sounds like a good 'nuff plan to me." I'm lyin', but I never could just tell Billy Wynsom when he was bein'
an idiot. We been runnin' together since we was kids and it's hard to call him out when you're used to letting him be for
so long. I get tired o' havin' to be Papa Jack sometimes though.
I lay down and try to go to sleep, but the last thing I notice before I'm out is that Billy done took off his belt and
laid it off to the side. I never seen him do that before. He likes to keep the thing close, usually he wears it all the
way until he goes to bed and plays with it by the fire most nights. More than once I listened to him loadin' and unloadin'
the blasted thing over n' over until I was fast asleep. Tonight, he just took off his gun belt and set it there and didn't
touch it all night. Damn small thing, but damn strange thing to see when you run with Billy Wynsom long enough.
Next day we ride out for Snake-Belly and find it a helluva lot easier that I figured. Sure enough, we came up on a little
ole river an hour and maybe fifteen minutes down the road, then Jake West says he seen a little thing off the path a ways.
Damn thing was a sliver of a canyon sorta thing, only wide enough for one of us to go at a time and that was on foot. It
were dark all down the sides, but the path were sun-bleached white as bone. We tie up our horses and walk down into that
little canyon, not at all knowin' what was waitin' for us.
Billy goes first since he's the boss, then Sean, then Jake and Rob, and I got the rear with my rifle. They's all lookin'
ahead o' course, but I'm eyein' the cliff edges above. The path starts bendin' and turnin' and we keep gettin' deeper
below the earth as we go until I start gettin' nervous. "Hell oughta be pretty close," Rob says. They all laugh.
I don't see anyone 'cause the path is too tight to see or walk around anybody, but Billy's hands jerk up and I know we
found Joe Walker's gang. "Easy now," Billy says. "We brung a gift to Joe Walker so don't go shootin' me now."
A voice, mean as hell, says, "Ugly Joe Walker don't want yer mammy's wedding ring so be on yer way."
"I can show ya, if you'll allow me to reach in my pocket here." He slowly drops a hand and fumbles in his front pocket
before holdin' up one o' them bonds so the man can see. The fella takes it and gives it a good look, but I figure he
can't read any better than I can.
"Hand yer guns over to them fellas there and you kin go on through," he finally says. One by one we pass through and
hand over our pistols, plus my rifle. I feel naked without it, but I still got my buck knife in my boot. Big damn help
it'll be if it comes to drawn iron though.
We're led into a wider cavern with a buncha caves along the sides where Walker's gang has tents and such thrown up.
Men watch us from all sides, mean as you can imagine, pistols at their belts or rifles in their hands. A fella with
grey hair and a patch of scars all across one side of his face steps up to us. He wears all black, but it's his stump
of an ear and the nose that's missing a sizeable chunk that we see first. Yep, Ugly Joe Walker sure was one ugly sumbitch.
And there damn sure was more than fifteen of them boys in there. A lot more.
He lights up a cigarette and looks us over. "What the hell you boys want?"
Billy don't say anything. I wait for him to speak up, but he's clammed up or somethin' and it takes him a minute to
get his throat clear. Finally, he says, "Mister Walker, my name is Bill Wynsom and with me is Sean Mckenzie, Jake West,
Rob Parker, and Jack Dawlins. We come to join your gang."
Some men laugh. Joe don't. "What I want four city boys and a Irishman in my gang for?"
Sean looks like he wants to say somethin', but I nudge him and shake my head. The boy has an Irish temper, but Joe
Walker surely has a worse one. "Sir, we come from the city, but we's outlaws now. Yesterday we robbed a Pinkerton
carriage and snatched us a whole chest full o' federal bonds. They's surely worth a pretty penny and we coulda sold
'em ourselves, but we wanna be in a real gang, sir. So they're yours now and we'd appreciate it if you would consider
us some since we just made you some money." His men have been lookin' at the bonds enough to know they're real.
"Did we what?"
"Make me money?" Joe puffs out some smoke and throws his cigarette on the ground, watchin' us. My blood goes cold.
"You seen the bonds. They're real enough," Billy says, voice shaky.
"I seen 'em alright," Joe says. "Problem is, they was already mine."
Billy doesn't have anything to say to that so Joe continues. "You see, fella, that carriage you robbed was bein'
drove by one o' my boys and the Pink on board was on my payroll. Them bonds was on their way here when you stopped
it and them boys you kilt were mine. Way I see it, you stole my money, brung it right back to me in person, and
lost me a couple men while you was doin' it."
The boys is confused and don't know what to do, 'bout the same as me. I know Billy done messed up good this time,
but for once, I don't know how to get us out of it. I feel a strange sense of freedom knowing it's outta my power.
Papa Jack is dead and gone. Unfortunately, Jack Dawlins is still here.
Joe seems amused by us. "You boys shoulda stayed home. Fellas!" A dozen men step up with pistols and rifles drawn on us.
Billy drops to his knees in front of Joe, hands clasped together in front of him. He's cryin' and I know that's another
mistake. "Mister, I beg ya. We's just kids. We dreamed too damn big, we didn't know better. I beg ya, please just let
us go and you'll never see us again. I swear. I got a momma. We all got mommas."
Joe considers it a moment, but that's it. His pistol comes out and he puts a bullet through Billy Wynsom's forehead.
I throw myself back just as the guns start shootin'. Sean and Jake and Rob hit the ground same as I do, but I know
they're dead or near enough. I feel blood pourin' down my right shoulder, but I'm still breathin'. I hope I'm rolled
over the right way so they can't see as I slip my knife out o' my boot. It takes everything I got not to move when I
hear Jake West groan and then another gunshot after.
I hear Walker's gang checkin' the boy's pockets, but I wait. Pretty soon, one of 'em rolls me over and I stick my buck
knife in his neck. Bastard spits blood in my face as he dies and I grab up his gun before it falls. I jump up and point
the pistol at Joe Walker, who stares at me. His men have their guns on me, but they don't shoot.
"Well hell, boy, what was the point o' that?" he asks.
I shrug. "Just wanted to take one o' you sumbitches with me when I go." It's the damn truth. I weren't never one to go down easy.
"I'm guessin' was you that kilt my boys on the carriage? Don't figure any o' yer friends had the guts for it."
"Billy kilt the Pink by accident. The driver tried to draw on me so I put 'im down."
"Hell, you got some mean in ya, boy. I like that." He chuckles. "I'll give ya a choice. Shoot me now and get shot,
or lower that gun and join a proper gang."
"I kilt two o' yer boys. What the hell you want me for?"
"I'm down three men 'cause o' you, but it always made sense to me to get the men that kilt my men to be my men, if ya
follow. Cuz my men is some mean devils and it takes a meaner one to put 'em down."
I think it over for a while and lower my pistol. Joe's boys do the same and Joe walks over to me. "Sorry 'bout your friends,
but, well . . . the west ain't no place for handsome young boys. It's a ugly place for ugly men with
ugly guns. Out here's our place and when you step outta your place, you better at least know where yer steppin'."
Don't I know it, I think. Well I may kill you someday, Ugly Joe Walker, but today I feel like livin'.