They call me Jumper. I guess it's better than coward. I am fast, but not with the pistol draw. In a gun fight I jump to the side and roll over on the ground. I am accurate with my shots, so it works every time. Better to eat dirt than eat lead. If there is a crowd it is usually disappointed, but I am alive. Used to causing disappointment. Disappointed my Ma. My Pa was just generally disappointed with life. I know the taste of the dirt is most of the towns 'round here. Ha! They could call me Dirt eater, so Jumper is better. Don't jumping out of the way violate the Rules of a gunfight? Only one rule that's important. Don't die. Some towns are making laws against gunfights. Ha! If there was the law, the gunfights wouldn't happen. Well, most of 'em wouldn't happen. Guys get annoyed, 'course there will be fights. Accept it or not, fights happen.
Another reason I win, I don't drink as much as most of the other rowdies do. Liquor don't make you quicker. You just think it does. I know it don't. Again, I am alive, most of them aren't. Rowdies come and go, townies don't like 'em much. They don't like me less because I am not a loudmouth drunk. Excess liquor, the root of most evil. Ha! I guess I like tickling the devil's toes now and against. My Ma's disappointment came from that trait. She believed in the church and its trappings. Didn't do either of them much good. That church fire must have disappointed the entire flock. They all died, even the preacher. God and his mysterious ways. I wasn't having any of it. Saved my life, obvious as anything.
So, now I'm laying in the dirt again. Had to shoot the rowdy a couple of times because of all the liquor numbing the pain. Its after sundown so the dirt is cool. Nobody is rushing to aid the rowdy or me. Just two more worthless bastards in the road. Even the horses just step 'round us. At least, I can get up on my own. Not sure if the rowdy is dead or just dead drunk. If the townies don't give a shit, why should I? And I don't. Might be a reward though. Most of the rowdies annoy the law too. I'm sort of a bounty hunter, but not really. Do odd jobs mostly. If I happen to take down a wanted guy, I will collect. I just got into this town. I haven't checked the posters yet. Too tired to check anything but Alex. He is my traveling companion. Got him when he was just a lamb. Some ship from South America had run into a storm at sea. Lost their masts and sails, just drifted out in the Pacific, I suppose. The crew that was left started eating the cargo. When I found the wreck, I was fifteen, all that was left was Alex. I think he is a Guanaco. Found a book on the wreck. Guanaco or llama, doesn't really matter. Either would confuse folks here in the North America. Ha! Alex confuses them a lot. Many of the fights are over Alex. No messing with Alex or me. Alex seemed annoyed too. He wanted to sleep. He had spat in the Rowdy's face. That pissed off the drunken rowdy and so he is now on the cool ground, eating dirt. Ha! Should call them Dirt eaters, ain't it the truth.
The livery in this town always gives me and Alex a stall. I do some fixing for him. His daughter Mary likes me way too much. "Marry Mary!" is always the first thing she says to me. She is ten years old. It is cute the first five times. Ha! Been like a hundred. So late she is in bed. Where both me and Alex want to be too.
* * *
"Jumper! Wake up! The Sheriff is here." Not a thing I want to hear first thing but it was better than what came next. "Marry Mary and she will be merry." Oh, God's nasal discharge. What now?
Mary and the Sheriff were standing at the stall entrance. Alex was awake. I could feel him tensed to stand. I rolled away from him and he stood. He could do it faster than I could. I just sat up. "What now?" I had to pee really good. My ole Johnson was standing on his own, so I didn't stand fast or slow. It's not something Mary should see.
Mary waved with her big smile. She had all her adult teeth. That was the other thing she would tell me.
The Sheriff stepped into the stall looking Alex directly in the eyes. They knew each other. There was caution more then respect between them. "About the guy in the road last night."
I sighed. Sometimes the family complains. Sometimes there is an inquest.
Sheriff handed me a $20 gold piece. "That rowdy fella had a price on him. Not much a one but a price."
"He dead? I didn't check." I was too tired as I said.
The Sheriff shook his big head. He wore a big hat too. A tan color with a wide brim. It made the rest of his body look small. It wasn't. "He'll live. In jail, but he'll live."
"I could test it. See if it is real gold. I have my adult teeth." Mary bounced over with her hand out.
The Sheriff sighed. "Mary! You think I would cheat Jumper here?"
Mary rolled her eyes.
"Well, I trust him." Ole Johnson had sat back down so I stood up. Still had to pee though. "If ya can't trust the Sheriff, who can you trust?" I needed to go more than converse.
"God." Mary smiled at me. She knew how I felt about that subject. I think she had her adult brains too, along with her teeth.
"I gotta see a man about a dog." I was not like Alex. He just let loose right there in the stall. There was a reason for everyone to leave. Guanaco piss do smell not too well.
* * *
So, I had just gotten ole Johnson out when I hear, "You Jumper."
I look to my side and there is a guy with a gun in his hand pointed at me. I only had my dick in my hand. He looked at Johnson. I looked at Johnson. I turned and pissed in the guy's face. I had to go I told ya. Alex would have been proud. Piss really stings the eyes; The guy screamed and dropped the gun. He tripped and fell face first. His face was in the mud, piss mud, that's the worst. A guy never dropped his gun. Well, a well-trained guy. I let Ole Johnson finish. I picked up the gun. "I'll get a bucket of water so you can soak your head."
* * *
He's head in a bucket. An interesting image. Kinda funny. Disgusting funny. Piss mud still is everywhere. The guy seems worthless. "You killed." He muttered.
What else could I do but agree. "Yah, when it is called for."
"You cheat." He snapped out.
"Depends on how you see it, I guess. I survive. That's what I do." Must be a family type. They track me down now and again. I don't like it. Who would? I could turn him over to the Sheriff. Don't like to bother the law. The law causes messes. I got another bucket of water for him. "For the shirt." I put down the bucket of fresh water. It was difficult to do all of this without Mary popping up. She should be at school but rules don't restrain her either.
They were all sons or brothers, ok maybe an only child in there. Can't say on that. "Names would be helpful but I can't guarantee." Alex walked up behind me. He leaned his neck on my back. He could still see over my head. He was relaxed. It relaxed me. I had the gun, anyway.
"Sherman, Bobby Sherman." He threw his head back and yelled it at me. His wet hair threw water at me. I hoped Alex wouldn't give a like reply.
I don't know. I shook my head. "How many years ago." I had been a handy man coming on ten years. Alex grew up with me.
"Four years ago. I had to grow up to come after ya." He snorted. The snort was just like one Alex did. Both Alex and I were surprised.
"Half a lifetime ago." I still didn't remember. "Was he, did he have a bounty?" I usually remember the money ones.
"He was no criminal." He shouted.
I could not remember. I stopped counting the gunfights. Never counted the dead. Shouldn't count the dead. Not respectful. Not at all. "How you know I was the responsible one?"
The wet guy with piss mud on him started to cry. A gun dropper and a crier, how will he survive? "Hey, I remember that five years ago, there was a smallpox. Killed a bunch a folks. I grew up 'round cows. Had their pox, kept the small one away from me. I helped the doctor. Maybe, maybe that was it. Lot of people were mad I survived and the patients didn't. Maybe that was it." It was a terrible time. I helped as much as I could. But a handy man, well, somethings he can't fix. I buried a lot of folks. A lot of sorrow. A lot of tears. Glad my folks had died earlier. Smallpox takes you a while to die. Painful too. I tried to forget it all. I seemed to have succeeded there. I went to get more water. Alex stayed and watched. I know, you think Alex is a dumb beast, he is not. He smarter than dogs or pigs. Way smarter than cows. Cows aren't as dumb as you think. Alex understood the situation at an emotional level. I mean, Alex can sympathize with me. He knows how I feel. He is better than most girls I knew. Alex will do the right things most times. More often than most guys. I never tell anybody this fact; they would think me crazy. I am not. Ya just have to pay attention to the animals. Humans are dumb about this. And most guys I have met have fleas too. Alex hasn't gotten anything from them. Alex is smart, he keeps his distance with strangers.
I should too. I have the guy's gun. Mine is still in the stall. Apparently, this guy brought his Ma. There, at the side of the house, is an old lady with a shotgun. She has an expression of hate on her face. I have my pants buttoned up, so Ole Johnson is not involved with her disgust, nor can he be as useful as before. I could only jump right but also, I went forward. The shotgun blast was so loud. I was right next to it. She killed some dirt. I rolled up behind her and pulled the shotgun toward her. Pinning her arms to her chest. She screamed. She cried. She and the guy were clearly related. "Mrs. Sherman, I only tried to help Bobby. I am sorry he didn't make it. I buried him with respect. I swear I did." She was hysterical for a few moments, pushing and kicking. That was ok. At least, there was no piss mud to clean up. Livery always smells like horse piss, Guanaco too, no other species needed.
The wet guy had just been standing there watching. It was a good move for him, Alex was watching closely too. The Sheriff strolled up to the scene. "Making friends are ya, Jumper?" The Sheriff actually chuckled. I didn't think it was an appropriate thing to do, but I didn't comment. "Family feels wronged somehow?" The Sheriff stated as he took the shotgun and the other gun. "Don't want to arrest a lady or shoot one." The Sheriff waved his hand for me to release her. She collapsed on the ground when I did. The wet guy rushed over to his mother. He gave her a wet hug. "Jumper, you just a trouble magnet. That you are. Had to take Mary into her dad so she wouldn't get in the middle of your trouble."
I nodded at the Sheriff. "Yeah, thanks for the aid." Alex was still keeping his distance. Smart boy, domestic disputes are so messy. Another inappropriate chuckle.
"Do you want to go or should I run them out of town?" The Sheriff looked at the gun. It wasn't in very good shape. They Sherman's were crying in a heap in the dirt.
I looked at the livery. "For the night shelter I should fix the roof there. Guess I can get it done before dinner. I can go after that. Maybe earlier."
The Sheriff bent down to the crying heap. "I'll fix you two up with a place to stay for a few days. Let things settle. Yeah, settle down. Jumper here is a good guy. An annoying one at times, but not as much as most. Sure, what you think he did is just a misunderstanding." He said it in a comforting tone. For a big man, he could be so sweet. "Come. Let's get you out of the dirt." They got up and followed him without looking back at me or Alex. It's why I like moving 'round these little town, most are decent folks. Well, except for the rowdies, but they were every where too.
* * *
I had wanted to stop by the widow's, I had planned for next week. So, I would appear early. She wasn't expecting me at any specific time, I always make the rounds though. Even Alex was happy when he realized where we were heading. He liked the widow very much too. Guanacos have a split upper lip. They sort of smile with it. Sure, it's a smile. So, expectations were high as we rounded the bend in the road and there was no house. It should have been there but it wasn't. We were both confused as we walked over the spot the house had been. It was gone. Even the support posts were gone. Sawed off at ground level. It had been a hodgepodge of a house. Part log cabin, the earliest part with add-ons at different times. I had done some of those add on. But it was gone. Not a fire, no burn marks or charcoal ash. Like someone took it up and moved it some where. I looked 'round for graves. Maybe she died, but I hadn't heard anything. Gossip is pretty thorough 'round these parts. "What a week Alex. What a week." It had been a dosey. Alex agreed. I know he did. So, we just setup camp there to figure out what to do. "Maybe faeries took her in the night." Alex believed in faeries. "The wood faeries had to be out there. You could hear them at night. They will follow wherever you go, just for a chance to get you." My Ma used to tell me that so I wouldn't wander off as a boy. Back then, I thought the cows were the faeries. They used to follow me when I walked 'round the pastures. Never let a cow lick you, I still have scares in the back of my neck.
Trying to keep a useful attitude. I just want to cry like the Shermans but what is the point? Gets you nowhere. Alex would be dead on that ship. Ma and Pa had burned in the church before I found him. Wanted to cry into eternity then but kept moving. Nothing else to do. Keep moving. And hell, might as well smile. I was wishing to see the widow though. She always had a smile to exchange for mine. Alex grunted. I like his grunts. Reassurance from a grunt? Yes, I get that. "With the light, let's try to find the widow and her house." Another grunt, this one was for agreement. Alex and I thought alike.
It was still difficult the next morning, but I shook off the sadness with the morning dew. Where did she and the house go? Yesterday, I was looking for a grave, but today I looked for cart tracks. It would have to be a big cart to take a house away. Over to the side was tracks, big tracks of an Ox cart. An ox has the strength. Alex watched me from where we bunked down for the night. He was calm. I was not. The tracks gave me a direction. Track down the house maybe she would be there? Maybe? Maybe?
The Ox cart went off to a region I don't go. It is native land. Best not to bring on trouble. But in this case, I will risk it. I followed the tracks and Alex followed me. The land was rich with growth. A large river was near. Trees were multiple. The land had not been worked. It was native land, the land of the Stewt. The originals I call them. I don't like the term Indian. Injun is worse. Originals makes more sense to me. They fit into the land. They don't chew it up like the whites. By the afternoon, the land changed, there were crops. I had not been here so maybe this was the way it was. Further on though, there was the house, sort of. It wasn't quite right. I remembered how it was, this was not right. They must have dismantled the structure, hauled it over here and rebuilt it. They didn't do it very well. The widow would have known the right way. "Was the widow here?" Alex raised his head high for a better look. He grunted sourly. Had to go ask.
The old man opened to door before we got to the house. He yelled something I didn't understand. I smiled and waved back. At the side of the house was the Ox cart. The ox wasn't. "Hello!" I shouted back. "The Widow Talbert? She here?" I walked slowly forward. Alex followed behind. "The Widow Talbert?"
"Who?" He shouted. I wasn't certain who he was asking about.
"They call me Jumper. I know the Widow. I built some of her place, which is here now. It used to be way back there by the town"
"Yeah, so what's it to you?" He had a small axe in his hands. "Who's the Widow?"
"How? Ah, did you come by this place?" I wasn't sure what to do. "It had been the Widow's house. But back by the town."
"Found it abandoned back there. No furniture, no nothing. Couldn't let good lumber go to waste." He clicked his tongue and then spit on the ground. "Hey. No one was there. I wouldn't kill a woman, anyway. They are too useful in the other way, ya know. Ha! It all comes with a price, yeah it does. But I kilt no woman in my life. So? What ja want. You just jawing. I got a chicken to kill. Don't mind killing chickens. No sir ree."
I stood there, finally I said. "This is native land, you know." I wasn't sure what to do or why I said that.
"Didn't see no fences or signs. Open ground to me." He coughed and then spit again. "What ja want?"
"It belongs to the Stewts." I don't know why I was standing there. The widow wasn't here. She wouldn't do this.
"Who that?" He coughed and spit again.
"The Originals, the natives." I pointed to the ground.
"The Injuns? Nosey lot, they." He swung the ax in the air. "I try an shoot 'em, but they are fast little bastards. Like chickens, I don't mind killing them. But their women, they look pretty good. Ya, they do." He licked his old dry lips.
If he were younger, I would shoot him. He must have been a rowdy in his young years. I certainly would have shot him. And then Alex bumped me. Two young rowdies were coming around the ox cart. "What an ugly dog. A giant ugly dog." One of them said. See what I mean about people's reaction to Alex. Never want to fight three rowdies even if one is old.
"Time to move on, I guess. The Widow is not here." I backed away. Alex did too. "No need to bother." The guy who insulted Alex glanced at the old guy. The old guy made a sour face but shook his head. I guess I'm not a chicken. Everyone remained silent, including me and Alex. We departed without further comment or an incident. I want to get off the Originals' land too. Everyone's property should be respected. I believed what the old man said. He would lie about most things I know, but he seemed to have no reason to here. What happened to the widow? She moved on for some reason. It was disappointing. I found the house but not her. Both me and Alex are sad. We'll just go back to our normal routine, maybe people in the next town know what happened. But a whole lot of things happen out here that no one hears about. Like when Stewts wipe out that old rowdy. It will happen, likely at night. The Stewts are crafty and strong. Old rowdy there will disappear with no word. But I know what you're thinking. Like the widow? The widow never done anything to the Stewt. The Stewt generally don't care what the whites do as long as they stay off the Stewt land. The widow did. The old rowdy didn't. The white folk are always saying you can never tell what the originals will do. Not true, if you pay attention, you will know exactly what they will do. It is why I don't settle down in a town, it is the white folk that are unpredictable. Well, shouldn't generalize, because if you pay attention to them, you can see ahead for what they will do. I think Alex can smell the difference between good and bad white folk. He is usually ahead of me on the predictions.
* * *
The next town has a railroad stop. Maybe the Widow took a train? But who would know her there? I don't have a picture of her. She looked pretty average. She looked like most white women. The folks know me, I fix things broken. Everybody got something broken. Done stuff for most of 'em.
Like I thought, when I asked the ticket guy for the train, he just wrinkled his face and said, "Talbert?" The town didn't have a Sheriff. There was a small bank. The Marshall would come by every week or so. There was a school. Well, there must still be one. There are young ones around. Hotel and General store. Worked on both. Hotel needs some visible repairs. Maybe some sleeping in a bed? Alex can sleep in the storeroom. I have a feed bag for him. Done it before. Ah, but I won't find her. Why does it bother me so? She didn't run away from me. She had other business which is none of my business. She didn't know I would come, specifically. Not for sure.
A bath first then sleep. Feeling pretty blue right now. Alex grunts and pushes me slightly with his neck. I have been standing in the street thinking. It is getting dark. He wants a decision. He is so bossy.
* * *
I was working on the hotel balcony after a bath and a sleep. Feather bed. Slept like I was dead. Luck had it, their best room was the only one open. Have to do an extra good job for Marcus. He's a reasonable guy. Solider in the Union army during that evil war. Came out here to get away from all that. About mid morning there is shouting in the bank. Two men burst out of the bank door. "They robbed the bank!" The shouts became clearer with the doors open. I looked for my gun, but it was not necessary. Mr. Spitter of the general store had been sitting outside the store waiting for customers to arrive. He always had loaded shotguns around the store. With the shouts, he stood up with a double-barreled shotgun in hand. He stepped out into the street and as the robbers ran toward him, he pulled both triggers. The robbers fell into the dirt. Better them than me for a change. Mr. Jackson from the bank ran up behind the fallen robbers, he bent down and picked up the money. He had a revolver in his hand. He stood up and waved with gun in hand. "Thanks Spitter."
Spitter waved back. He walked calmly back to his chair in the front of his store, reloaded the shotgun and kept it on his lap as he sat down. I kept working. They didn't need me. The doc was walking slowly up the street to the fallen robbers. It didn't matter to him whether they were alive or dead. He just needed to get them out of the street. The youngins didn't need to see that. Here is the explanation for the town's lack of a resident Sheriff. The town's justice is harsh, but it is ok by me. I went to check on Alex. Gun fire worries him. He was out in the back pasture playing with some deer. He met me before I got 'round the hotel. He came to find me, likely for the same reason.
"You the one looking for Talbert woman?" It was an old man standing on the hotel walkway. "The widow?"
I didn't understand at first. I just stared at him. Alex did too.
"The Widow Talbert?" He shouted. "Don't have ta help nobody."
"Yea, no. Yes, it is me. Yes, the Widow Talbert. You know her?" I was still confused.
He shook his dried-out face. "Not know. Knowed about."
"Ok. What about her." I was recovering. Alex was leaning on me in a gentle reassuring manner.
"Few months back, she stayed in this here hotel." He pointed to the ground. "She a looker, so I looked." He smacked his lips. It annoyed me greatly. "She was waiting for something, What? I don't know." He clicked his teeth and started picking at them with his long fingernails.
"And?" I finally intruded.
"And, well, eventually she got on a train. She left." He threw his hands in the air. "There she go." He pointed west.
"Ah, oh." I exhaled deeply. Alex did too in support. "Ah, thank you." The old man had his hand out. I gave him a nickel in thanks, like you do at church. He smacked his lips again the same way and limped away. I didn't know if I should believe him or not. He could have heard me asking people about her and made up a story for the nickel, just like the church. I wanted to believe it. I wanted her to be alright. That she followed her plans for the future. I wanted her to have a future. I guess I had wanted to be in it. But things don't work well out here in the dreams category. Most you can dream for is being able to wake up in the morning. Live another day. Just sleep through the night and wake in the morning. Alex is happy with it. So, should I.
Another two days on the hotel roof and I can move on. Go back to my regular rounds.