I’m three steps from meeting my maker. Three more steps to the noose. I’m ready to die; I reckon I deserve to die. I’ve killed before, but never for such a frivolous reason as brings me to these last three steps.
The whole mess started down El Paso way when I walked into that little cantina. It was a bucket of blood, a real dive. But I had a raging thirst and it was the first saloon I passed as I rode into town. I had just ridden twenty-five weary and hostile miles. A posse had been on my trail because I had killed a man. But he was trying to kill me, so I figured it was self-defense. The posse had other ideas. I eventually lost them in the badlands. Now I’m only a few miles from Mexico and freedom.
I made my way to the bar and put my foot on the brass rail. The barman was a little slow in coming my way. When he was finally opposite me, I grabbed his vest and pulled his face to mine. “Give me some rotgut and don’t dilly-dally about.” I then drew my .45 from its leather and pointed the barrel in his general direction. His eyes widened and he wasted no time placing a bottle of some good stuff, along with a glass, on the bar. “Here, mister … it’s on the house,” he stuttered. I flipped him a gold half eagle. I could pay for my own booze.
With that taken care of, I pulled the cork with my teeth and took a good, hard pull right from the bottle. That’s when she pushed through the swing doors like she owned the place. One glance at her, and all of a sudden, I wasn’t in such an all-fired hurry to cross over the border. She was tall and blonde. She wore her hair up. Her figure had more curves than a coiled rattler. Her eyes were dusky gray. She strolled right up, and in a sugary-sweet voice that would have made strong men weep, she said, “Ain’t you the big one.”
I filled the glass on the bar and handed it to her. She smiled and said, “My name’s Rose and I like a man who will buy a girl a drink.”
We retired to a table with the intent of putting a good-size dent in the bottle. We didn’t talk about much of anything. I was too busy looking into those shrewd gray eyes of hers, sizing her up. In between demure sips of whiskey, she fluttered her long eyelashes at me. When we had worked the bottle down to half, she picked it up, took me by the hand, and led me to a room upstairs. “This is where I call home,” she purred. By now I had forgotten about killing that hombre, the twenty-five dust-coated miles, the posse … everything.
“You’ll find some glasses on that table over there. Pour us a shot,” she said. I found the glasses, blew the dust out of ’em, and did as I was told. When I turned back around, she was sitting on the bed. Patting the mattress, she beckoned softly. “Come and sit by me.”
Well, partners, that was all she wrote. For the next three days, we barely left that room. We had our hooch and food sent up. I had never known a woman like her. I’d mostly only been with whores, but she was no whore. She told me that she loved me. We spent three days exploring every inch of each other’s bodies, and I fell in love for the first time in my life.
On the morning of the fourth day, my head started to clear. We were lying in bed. I was on my back and she was propped up on one elbow, running a lazy finger up and down my chest. She said she wanted to go to Mexico with me. I told her that was fine by me, but there was no rush. That’s when she got a funny look in her eyes and exclaimed, “No, we have to leave today!” Before I could respond, there was a knock on the door. I got out of bed and slipped on my pants. I knew who it was; it was the little Mex boy who had been bringing us our food and booze. I always took the tray at the door and gave him a good tip, usually two bits. But this time was different. He beckoned me out into the hall and whispered that I should shut the door. “Señor, you have been good to me, so I must tell you that you are in great danger.”
I took the tray from his hands and winked. “Don’t worry, son. This is the kind of danger I like.”
I started to turn, but he grabbed my arm. “You do not understand, señor. She belongs to another man, a bad man. She has done this before and men have died. Her man will be back tomorrow, so today she will ask you to leave and take her with you. If you are still here tomorrow, José will kill you.”
He told me the town’s people were making bets if I’d get away before José got back or if I’d be planted up on the hill with the other men she had fooled. It seemed Rose – my great love – was using me to get away from her man José. In this country, a woman can’t very well travel alone. And besides, as the boy told me, José leaves her with no money when he goes away.
The news kinda punched me in the gut, took the bloom off the rose, so to speak. I gave the boy a silver dollar and thanked him. I entered the room … with a smile on my face.
“Where have you been? I missed you, big boy.”
Still smiling, I placed the tray on the bed. “You chow down. I’m gonna have me a drink.”
I had me some thinking to do.
As I sat in the chair and watched her eat, I weighed my options. We could leave together and avoid this man José, or I could leave alone. Or, we could stay and I could have it out with José. The problem was I didn’t know if she was worth it. She had played me. If I took her to Mexico, would she ditch me once we were there?
I was still thinking those thoughts when she said, “I want to be out of here by noon. I’m going to take a bath; you pack and then settle our bill. I’ll meet you at the livery stable.”
Still smiling, I said, “Sure, I’ll see you at the livery.” She gathered up some clothes, got herself dressed, and left to take her bath.
After she had gone, I thought of a fourth option to add to the other three. I could just shoot the lying bitch and be done with her.
I put on my shirt and boots, strapped on my .45, and went downstairs still undecided. By the time I reached the livery, I had made up my mind that I’d leave without her. She was a fine-looking woman, and the sex had been real good. But I had enough trouble in my life without no crazy man coming after me. I saddled my horse and started down the street at a slow pace. Just as I passed the saloon, she pushed through the swing doors. Seeing me, she dropped her bag, ran into the street, and grabbed ahold of the saddle horn. Walking alongside and looking up at me, she cried, “Where you going? Wait! Let me get my horse.”
“I’m sorry, Rose. It’s been nice, but this here is where we split up and go down our separate trails.”
She wouldn’t let go. So, I picked up the pace a mite, but still she hung on. Then she looked down the street and the fear in her eyes said it all. She turned and hightailed it back to the saloon.
Astride a large sorrel rode a big man … a big, mean-looking man. It had to be José. As we came abreast of each other, he grabbed the reins of my horse. “Whatcha doin’ with my woman?”
“Nothing. Just tryin’ to get outta town.”
I saw it in his eyes; he was going to draw on me. I may be slow when it comes to women, but I’m fast when it comes to gunplay. I had a bullet through his forehead before he cleared leather. That was my mistake – that and taking up with Rose. I should have let him draw first. The whole thing was witnessed by the town marshal and I was quickly arrested. I thought for a moment of killing the marshal before he arrested me, but I never did kill no man who was not trying to kill me.
For three days, I knew of love. In three steps, I die.