THE SMOKE BEGAN TO CLEAR
Pete’s cough woke me a second before the front door swung open. I raised my pistol and six flashes tore through the dark. I went deaf from the gun blasts, and for a few seconds I couldn’t see. Then the smoke began to clear. A breeze fluttered the parlor curtains beside me. Faint New Mexican moonlight lit up the remaining gunsmoke. Two men lay dead on Pete Maxwell’s floor. I decided not to move until I knew who was standing and who was dead.
A rangy shadow of a man holstered his gun. “Poe.”
“Right here, Garrett. We got him, didn’t we? We got Billy the Kid.”
“There’s a lamp on the wall, Poe. Fetch it.”
Poe’s outline passed along the far wall like a wraith. His fingers tapped head-high until he found the glass lamp’s brass fixture, and he pulled it loose with a metallic whine.
“Hurry it up, Poe.”
Poe scratched a match against the plank wall. It fizzled and went out.
These two were Sheriff Pat Garrett and the governor’s man, John Poe, all right. I’d been waiting for ‘em with my old friend Pete and his Navajo foreman, Charlie. But who else had been lurking around? One of ‘em might’ve been Wainwright, the old drunk Pat deputized. Was Charlie the other? Had my two shots done them in?
Voices started hooting out behind the bunkhouse, and then a crowd of men strode toward us, their boots kicking dust into the moonlight. A voice rose above the others: Charlie’s. He must’ve eased out of the house while Pete and I were napping. He never did like Pat, so he must’ve been the one who brought the marshal in. Probably got a bottle of rye for it.
Pat didn’t answer the marshal.
“Garrett! I told you to bring the Kid in alive. Now I got to arrest you.”
The marshal told Charlie to bring a lantern from the barn.
“Poe, you going to light that lamp?”
Another match of Poe’s flared and went out. Then a lot of shouting. Pete’s ranch hands were boiling out of the bunkhouse, rubbing their eyes and pulling up their pants. Some were fumbling with their guns. The marshal hollered to ‘em to drop the guns and back away, or he’d have his boys start shooting. Things quieted, and a minute later, Charlie returned with the lantern. He and the marshal edged toward the house, guns drawn. The lantern glow brightened and the shadows inside grew a bit clearer.
Pat stomped a boot heel. “Goddamn it, Poe. I don’t want to go down in history for killing the wrong man.”
Charlie’s lantern began to paint the parlor with stronger light. Someone was standing against the wall behind Pat.
“Hey, Pat, I’m with the marshal now!” Wainwright called out from the crowd creeping along behind Charlie and the marshal. “You get him?”
“Shut up!” the marshal yelled. Wainwright cursed him. The marshal wheeled, they scuffled for a moment, and then the marshal cold-cocked him with his pistol barrel.
“Forget the lamp,” Pat said, an anxious touch to his voice. “Let’s get the bodies out back, into the smokehouse. Then I’ll deal with that marshal.”
I was beginning to make out the figure across the room. An old, stoop-shouldered man. His shoulders quaked as if he was coughing, but I couldn’t hear any of it.
Garrett bent over the body nearest him. He groaned.
The old man, his coughing fit over, straightened, stiff as a ramrod. It was Pete. He was staring pop-eyed at the corpse nearest to Pat.
Poe stepped past Pat and eyeballed that first body. “What the hell, Garrett. That’s old Pete.”
Then Charlie’s lantern light found the body nearest me, a blank look on the too-familiar face. After all these years, the close calls, it was like staring into your own coffin.