In 1880, Samuel Moss left his uncle's farm at the age of 29 years. The farm had been left to Sam by his late father's late brother, Sam's uncle, Jonah Moss when Sam was 14 years. The farm rested on a flat plain in the deepest reach of the state of California no more than a few miles outside of the town of San Martin, an old mission that had been settled by the Spanish sometime long ago. It had since been rundown by banditos and cowboys over the years. What was once a holy town with bells that rang on Sunday mornings, was now home to a saloon, a brothel, and a jail-house. San Martin had been kept under the leering eye of the Sheriff, Bill Watson, a man of near 60 who had come to California for gold in 1851 and had lost himself all the way down to San Martin which was in need of an honest lawman. And so he had worn the badge for the last 26 years and kept relative peace ever since. Where Bill Walton originated from was not public knowledge, but some wagered that he had come from somewhere down South.
On most nights, Samuel Moss would ride into San Martin for to drink and play a few hands of poker. If he had had enough to drink and had won enough money in cards, he might wander into the brothel down the way. Sam had a favorite girl there, a young brunette that Sam had first taken occupation with seven months ago. Sam had been in more often since he had first spent the night with her and had gone with her each time after that. If she was occupied, then he would wait. When they went into her room, Sam would always pay enough for the whole night so that no other man would have her. Sam had asked her name once, and she had put her finger over her lips. One night after they had spent most of the night laying in bed tickling and kissing and laughing, Sam told her that he loved her and then he asked her to come live with him on his farm. He had meant it and had been waiting weeks to get himself drunk enough to tell her. When he said these things, the girl giggled like a child and kissed Sam on the cheek and mouth and all over his face and said, "Sam, now how much money could you have won tonight to afford me on such permanent circumstance?"
On a hot night in June of 1880, Sam rode into San Martin. He went to the saloon where he drank the cheapest whiskey they offered and played cards with the town's grocer and a young mexican man that Sam had met on many nights like this. His name was Pedro. Or Pablo, or something like that. At close to 11, Samuel Moss left the saloon with much lighter pockets. He sauntered like a young boy across the street and down the way and into the brothel. He was greeted as he entered by an aged blonde who was sweaty and disheveled. She nodded towards the brunette's room so that Sam knew he could head right in. The girl smiled when she saw Sam come through the door. Sam grabbed the girl in his arms and kissed her.
"I lost all my money!" Sam laughed as he fell onto the bed. The girl said something about him leaving if that was the case, but she fell on top of him anyways. The two of them laid there for a while, whispering to each other. Every few moments, Sam would say something to make the girl laugh and then she'd kiss him, until soon Sam had fallen asleep, dressed and in his boots.
There was a loud slam as Sam slowly began to wake. He heard two voices; one an unrecognizable husk and the other, the girl's. The girl kept apologizing while the man kept saying, "please" even though it did not resemble a request. Sam pulled his suspenders over his shoulders as he sat up from the bed, not quite yet sober. He walked over to the girl who was standing against the door, looking into the hall. She was talking to another man who had hoped to spend an hour or two in her company. She kept telling him she was priorly engaged and he continued to insist that she take him on.
Sam stepped in front of the girl to talk.
" "Scuse me. What seems the matter?"
The other man, a tall mexican man with graying hair all over his face answered that it was no business of Sam's.
"Well, I'm sorry friend, but I've paid for the night."
The mexican man smiled and threw a small leather purse at Sam's feet.
"There! That ought to square us!"
Sam was getting angry and now two other men walked into the hall and stood in allegiance to the tall, gray, mexican man.
"Now listen!" Sam boomed, and he was down with a punch from the Mexican. The other two jumped on top of Sam before he could stand. The girl screamed and most rooms emptied into the hall to see the commotion. The Mexican's men got their share of blows in on Sam, and the Mexican grabbed the girl harshly by the waist and shoved his mouth against her as she tried to fight. Nobody on the outside dared help Sam or the girl.
"Bring him in here!" yelled the Mexican to his cronies.
"I want him to watch as I fuck his favorite whore!"
Sam struggled to free himself as he was dragged back into the room.
Outside of the room, the blonde woman knew enough was enough and what would happen to the girl. She adjusted her corset and was walking out the door to find a deputy when a fourth man grabbed her arm. Startled, she didn't try to get loose and the man told her to stay put as he flashed a revolver. Now, all who had come to see a fight retired back into their rooms. Inside, some women tried to earn their money and some tried to give the men their money back. Some men got dressed and waited until it was safe for them to leave and some men told their girl to ignore the screaming. When a very young man, probably not even 16 tried to enter, the man with the revolver told him to git and showed him his gun. The boy mistook him for the law and ran as fast as he could somewhere else.
Sam yelled out for help he was forced to watch each of the three men rape the girl throughout the night. He began to cry and beg them to stop when she began to scream frantically and he could hear her shake from where he sat, tied against a pillar so that he could not move to help or to look in another direction. Not soon enough, the screaming stopped and all Sam could hear was the banditos grunting. Sam held his eyes shut tight as he could, refusing to see the woman he loved be defiled and brutalized. After some time, the grunting stopped too and Sam could hear the men buckling their belts. He opened his eyes at last, when one of the men, laughing, untied him. The Mexican walked over and spit in Sam's face right before kicking him in the stomach.
By the time Sam regained his breath, the men had left the brothel. Sam hurried over to the bed and threw himself on top of the girl, naked and face down. Her back was red where bruises had yet to settle, and blue where they had. Sam whispered that all would be okay through waves of tears. She would not turn over to look at him, staying buried beneath the linens and pillows. Sam laid his head on the arch of her back and breathed in heavy and slow. The girl did not breathe in unison. Sam turned her onto her back violently and put his head to her chest, absent a beat. Tears that had not yet ceased came back to him and he began to shake against his breath. He kissed her shoulder as the blonde woman from earlier rushed in.
Soon, Bill Watson and his deputies had arrived. The deputies surveyed the scene and Bill asked questions. There were no shots fired and no blood drawn. Just a dead whore and a sad man. The blonde, good with names and faces gave a good description of the gang, and Bill Watson seemed sure that whoever the Mexican was, he was not notorious and not wanted. Bill Watson was not a bad man. He was not adventurous and he was not stupid. He knew the way that men work, he understood them, whether that was good or bad was up to someone else. Bill Watson was not a good man either. He was content to let the Mexican and his gang of nameless banditos ride off far away from the long arm of his law. He knew they would not be back; if they were senseless enough to do that, their faces would be posted outside the jail-house with large numbers printed underneath them. Bill Watson wanted to go home, pray, and fall asleep. But when Bill spoke to Samuel Moss that night, he knew he must go after those men and take them in or put them down. Samuel Moss, through tears and rushed sentences made it clear to Bill Watson that he would ride until he found the Mexican and his gang and he would shoot them dead or he, himself, be shot. Bill Watson was not a good man, but if someone was going to be shot in all of this, he couldn't let it be Samuel Moss.
Now it was morning in San Martin and roosters crowed. Bill Watson and his two deputies had brought Samuel Moss to the jail-house to gather arms and munitions for the trek. Sam didn't say anything, but noticed how chatty the deputies were. Both seemed nervous and excited for the hunt as they loaded bullets into guns. One of them, short and stalky with blonde hair that was swept back and under his hat, asked Sam if he knew how to use a shotgun. Sam nodded yes. Sam had been shooting guns his entire life, first taught how to aim and keep them by his father, and later by his uncle. He was a good enough shot with any sort of gun and he kept a Colt at his side most of the time and a Henry Repeater on his horse. Bill Watson was cleaning out a Henry of his own. Sam had never shot at a man. He wondered if Bill Watson or his deputies had.
As the four of them loaded their weapons and supplies onto their mounts, Sam began to get nervous and felt like he might throw up. For the first time since he had met Bill Watson hours earlier, Sam remembered why he was doing all of this. When he saw her face in his head he hunched over and vomited. Bill Watson walked over to him and handed him a flask of water. Sam took a swig and stood up straight. He looked at Bill's shoulder, embarrassed.
"It ain't gonna be pretty and you're not gonna feel any better. Not unless they shoot you first."
Sam laughed a little bit, and looked at Bill in the face and nodded so that he knew he was ready. The four climbed their horses and began to ride.
The Mexican had not made a quiet getaway, and had made way clear south-southeast. Bill Watson reckoned that they had a three hour head start and that if Sam, the deputies, and he rode all day without stopping to eat or piss, they could catch them by night while the banditos slept. By noon, the short blonde deputy was groaning like a child. The other deputy, a man about Sam's age with freckles and acne, said less, but was equally as miserable and disappointed by the absence of gunfire and blood. Bill Watson and Sam rode further ahead with Bill doing all the tracking. He would mutter quietly under his breath every now and then and Sam would ask what he had seen, to which Bill would not reply, but to put a hand into the air so as to indicate he was not to be disturbed. Sam soon became restless just like the deputies, but he was careful not to let it show. He didn't want to fight, he was scared and if he thought too much about it, his hands shook. He knew that if it came to a fight, he wouldn't be of much use. He worried that he might shake while aiming and shoot Bill or a deputy and that the banditos would come upon him and kill him. But he kept riding and never complained, even when he had drunk too much water and needed to piss. He said nothing in agreeance with the deputies who were both asking to stop so they could relieve themselves. Instead he took Bill Watson's advice to simply go right there atop his horse.
Around four, Sam was eating an apple that the blonde deputy had thrown him when Bill Watson quickly stopped his horse and dismounted. Caught off-guard, the other three did the same. Sam's legs almost gave up on him as he landed on the dirt trail. Bill Watson kept his hand in the air as he examined the dirt under his feet. He started off the trail and into the wooded area that surrounded them. The other three hurried to keep up with him before he hurried back out of the woods to the horses.
"Got "em." The Sheriff declared, "Or we got someone."
The deputies looked at each other as Sam's brow furrowed in confusion. Then he remembered what was going on, why he had been riding. Sam wondered why he was so far away from himself right now, why couldn't he settle on what was going on around him, what he needed to do. He kept forgetting about the girl and the Mexican. He saw the three lawmen grabbing their guns and did the same. He patted his horse as he pulled his Henry Repeater out and threw it over his shoulder. He unholstered his Colt and checked the barrel. Six bullets. The tall deputy tapped his shoulder and waved a flask in his face.
Sam took a swig and wiped the drippings from his chin. He breathed deeply and coughed. He closed his eyes, embarrassed in front of Bill Watson once more.
"Let's go, gentlemen." said Bill Watson.
Sam unholstered his Colt and checked the chamber. Six bullets.
Bill Watson led Sam and the deputies into the woods about 200 yards before he pulled up and crouched down. Further in, Sam could make out two figures Standing against adjacent trees. Squinting his eyes, he saw that in front of them, two other men sat with their legs crossed, throwing something at each other. Sam crouched down the same as the lawmen.
"Well "sthat them?" wondered the taller deputy, apparently too loud as Bill Watson quickly hushed him.
"I don't know." Sam said plainly. He could taste everything right now, his tongue, his throat, the spit in his mouth and the bourbon. He spit onto the ground and breathed. He concentrated as hard as he could on the men he could see clearest, the two standing. He thought they looked familiar. Yes, they looked familiar, he was sure it was them. But was it really? Sam began to question himself, perhaps he just wanted it so badly to be them that he had tricked himself into thinking it was.
"That's them. I'm sure it's them. I recognize the one's shirt. It was red."
Bill Watson looked heavily into Sam's eyes, like he was trying to hypnotize him. Sam couldn't look away while the Sheriff maintained his stare. Alright, Bill Said.
"If its them, its them."
"What're we gon' do, Bill?" asked the taller deputy. He sounded like a young boy when he said it, as if he was asking his father to take him hunting. Sam could tell that he had caught himself sounding so young because he quickly covered his face by scratching at his acne. Sam felt sorry for him and wanted to tell him he was scared too.
"Well, things would be easier if they were asleep. But they's not and there's no sense in waitin' "till they are." Sam moved swung his Henry off of his shoulder and onto the leafy ground. He readied his right hand, holding the grip of his Colt firmly, as if he was about to draw.
"You two'll circle around behind "em," Bill told the deputies, "Sam and I're gonna walk right in and when I give the signal, we'll pull our weapons on "em and arrest the sonsabitches." Everyone nodded. Sam hadn't thought about arresting the Mexican. It hadn't crossed his mind, not once. He didn't mind the idea. He'd have justice all the same and he wouldn't have to worry about shooting the wrong man.
The men nodded at each other once again and the deputies took off back the way they came from so that they could circle around behind the banditos without being seen or heard. Sam and Bill sat, each on one knee, peering through the bush into the clearing so that they would see when the deputies were in position. Sam's heart was racing and he feared that Bill Watson could hear it through his chest. Sweat was dripping all down his face and he kept having to leave his revolver to wipe it away, each time cursing himself for not using his other hand. Bill Watson looked calm, and Sam could tell that at that very moment, when he was sweating like a whore in July, Bill was prayerful. Sam closed his eyes and began to pray himself.
"Dear God. Help me, please." Sam opened his eyes and nodded again as if it was the only thing he knew how to do right anymore.
A few minutes later, Bill could see the deputies through the clearing. They waved over so that Bill knew they could see him too. Bill put his hands in the air to signal across the clearing. The banditos stood, none the wiser, two deputies not fifteen feet behind them. They laughed to each other about something right then that made Bill put his hands down. The two banditos that were standing walked over the two that were sitting and looked over one's shoulder to see something he was holding in his hand. Sam thought how perfect it was that the four banditos had placed themselves so close to one another. They could not spread out to escape. This would be clean and easy. Bill put his hands back in the air and counted to three with his fingers. On three Bill and Sam moved.
"GET YOUR FILTHY FUCKING HANDS IN THE AIR!" Bill's voice was an earthquake. Sam moved forward behind Bill, both with their Henry's pointed at the four banditos, huddled close to one another, admiring the hand of cards that one had drawn. The banditos looked up, eyes wide with thoughts to draw their guns.
"NO YOU DON'T!" Yelled the blonde deputy from behind, and the banditos turned to find two shotguns pointed in their faces from behind them. Sam kept control of his body, forcing himself not to shake, breathing as heavy as he ever had, feeling every shake he pushed away explode in his stomach. He twitched, but kept his rifle steady. They had them, the banditos. Sam recognized the Mexican and the man in the red shirt. The third man, he didn't recognize, the man who had kept the blonde woman from getting the law. Sam realized suddenly that the third man from the girl's room was missing. There were four men huddled in between Sam, Bill, and the deputies, but none of them was the third man from the room.
"BOOM" Sam turned his gun to where the shot had been fired from, the third man stood in the on the edge of the clearing with a revolver in his hand. Sam swung his rifle back to the banditos in the middle who had taken the opportunity to scatter. Bill Watson, distracted for a moment, fired his Henry Repeater at the the man with the revolver. The man fell down, shot in the shoulder. Sam was frozen, everything moving a million times faster than he was. Bill grabbed him by the shirt sleeve and pulled him behind a mound of rocks. Sam shaking uncontrollably now, fought to come back to himself. He looked over the rocks as shots were fired from across the clearing. The banditos had taken cover behind a large tree. A shot was fired and one of the deputies cried out. Bill looked across Sam's body into the clearing and saw the tall deputy fall, grabbing his leg. Without thought of himself, Bill ran into the clearing, shooting his revolver into the general direction of the tree. With the help of the blonde deputy, who had taken to crouching and moving in circles, Bill dragged the deputy behind a tree across from Sam. Bill and the blonde deputy continued to exchange fire with the banditos. A bandito yelled out that he was shot and Sam looked over his cover to see the man in the red shirt on the ground, holding onto his stomach.
Sam looked to aim his Henry, but couldn't see either of the two remaining banditos from where he was crouched. He fired a wild shot at the tree they were hiding behind, hitting nothing but bark. The banditos who had all but forgotten about Sam began to shoot his way and Sam had to hunch as low as possible behind the mound of rocks to avoid being hit. Sam threw down his Henry and pulled his Colt out of its holster. There were two more shots and then there was silence. Then there were shots again, both from the banditos and the lawmen. Sam, almost laying on the ground now, rolled over to look at the lawmen. Bill and the blonde deputy were still firing away, neither hurt. The wounded deputy had been sat upright against a tree, protected from the fire. Sam looked into the clearing and saw a bandito hurrying across it. He fired his Colt but missed and the bandito ducked back into the woods.
"SAM! YOU OKAY?"
Sam fell back hunched back down as far as he could. He closed his eyes tight and opened them. He rolled over, pointing his gun into the clearing and saw nothing. He rolled back behind the rocks.
"CHARLIE'S COMING OVER TO YOU! DON'T SHOOT!"
Sam didn't realize that Charlie was the blonde deputy until he dove behind the rocks next to Sam. He was sweating and his nose was bleeding.
Sam screamed as a hot pain shot from his hip all the way through his body.
Sam's left hand, holding down on his hip was covered in blood. He looked down first to see his wound, a bullet a had hit him on the edge of his hip-bone. It had torn right across his skin. Three inches higher and to the left and he'd be bleeding out. He was lucky, but the pain was searing and he had to clench his teeth to keep from screaming. He looked around to see what had happened. The first man that Bill had shot was laying 10 feet in front of him, on his stomach, shot dead for good this time. Sam looked over to Charlie, the blonde deputy. Charlie's face was contorted into a mass of bloody flesh, teeth hung out of his mouth. A plain expression was hidden underneath the blood and Sam screamed again. He had never seen a dead man his entire life, and in three seconds he saw two. Suddenly, he couldn't feel his hip. He stared empty into what had been Charlie's face. Sam's left hand, almost independent from the rest of his body pushed Charlie's body away so that he lay face down in the dirt. Sam breathed in and tried to breath out and choked and he started to vomit again. There was another loud boom, this time from Sam's gun. He had accidently pulled on the trigger and shot a bullet straight into the air.
Across the clearing, Bill Watson crouched down behind his tree. There were still two banditos. Charlie was dead, the tall deputy, Mikey, was shot and Samuel Moss was useless. Bill moved slowly into the clearing, pointing his gun in the direction of where he had last seen the banditos. Crouched down, Bill saw one hiding between two trees. Standing straight up, Bill bullrushed the man, tackling him to the ground and fired two shots into the man's chest. The man stared up at Bill with nothingness in his eyes. Bill turned back toward the clearing and the Mexican was upon him. Bill pulled the trigger of his gun, but was in no position to aim for anyone. He fell to the ground with the Mexican on top of him. Bill struggled with the Mexican, who was using both hands to pry the revolver out of the sheriff's hand. Using all of his strength, Bill rolled over so that he was now on top of the Mexican. The Mexican continued to try to pull the revolver from Bill's hands. Using both hands, he wedged his elbow into Bill's throat blocking his airway. As he pulled the gun toward himself, Bill pulled the trigger, shooting the Mexican's pinky finger clean off his left hand. The Mexican screamed as he pulled away from Bill. Bill yelled primally as he sat upright and fired the gun at the Mexican again. But he was empty and nothing happened. The Mexican continued to scream and Bill hurried to reload his gun. The Mexican screamed again, louder than before, something in spanish and tackled Bill onto his back. The Mexican threw punches full forced into Bill who threw his hands over his face in defense. On top of him, The Mexican punched and spit at Bill as the blood from his hand spilled onto Bill's face. Bill's hands fell down over his face. The Mexican reached for Bill's gun which had fallen to the ground a moment earlier. Flipping it around so that he held it by the barrel, The Mexican slammed the butt of the gun into Bill's cheek, cutting it open.
The bullet hit the Mexican in the shoulder and Sam fell down onto his knees as soon as he had pulled the trigger. The Mexican began to scream again as he rolled onto his back next to Bill Watson. Sam crawled over so that he was on top of the lawman and cocked the hammer once again. His hands shook and he put the barrel of the gun as close to The Mexican's chest as he could without touching it and fired once again. The bullet hit The Mexican right in the heart, or close enough so that he died almost immediately. Sam again readied the Colt and shot The Mexican a third time. Sam rolled back over so that The Mexican, Bill Watson, and he all laid right next to each other. The three of them laid there for a long time together and then Bill Watson and Samuel Moss got up.