The Touch of the Gun
While it was not a packed house, The Long Road Saloon wasn’t accustomed to having so many customers on a Tuesday evening, but the men who were there weren’t the usual customers. There was no rowdiness among the bunch that would cause law enforcement to break up the fun. There weren’t any saloon girls making flirtatious eye contact among drunken cowboys tempting them to buy a drink. No young punks who would be quick to draw from his holster to show how much of a man he was and how he wouldn’t tolerate any offense, no matter how slight. No, these men who occupied the Long Road Saloon on that night were all respectable. Most did have a beer nearby that they sipped from at regulated intervals, but they weren’t there for liquid pleasure. They were there strictly for business. And that business was to tell Sheriff Lucas Covington his business. Lucas stood at the center of the bar, posture direct and upright. He was a tall man, but nevertheless, he wanted to make sure that he was seen by everyone and, more importantly, so he could see everyone.
He stood next to the mayor, Elmer Garrett, who wanted to side with his sheriff in the matter at hand, but political expediency and ever approaching elections dictated that he give his due respect and listen to the concerns of the local businessmen, ranchers, and other revered townsfolk. Lucas and Mayor Garrett were surrounded by a little over two dozen of these men. Their leader: Sam Brooks, the local bank president who lived just outside of Florence. He towered over all the men except Lucas and he was wide enough to bear hug two or three average sized men at the same time.
“Sheriff,” Sam said, “we’d like to know what you plan on doing about this here fella?”
“Well, Sam, what is it that you think I ought to do?” Lucas said. “Shall I draw on him the next time he hits the street?”
“We’re serious, Sheriff. And you should be, too. We’re all here because we love our town.”
Some of the men mumbled in agreement; others nodded their heads in approval.
“And, we just want to make sure that our little peaceful town stays just that. Peaceful. Now we have this out of towner ride into our little community and we’re just concerned.”
“Concerned? Or scared?”
“Concerned!” said Sam.
Sam had raised his voice a little louder than he had meant to and when his gaze met Lucas’s, he quickly cleared his throat and readjusted his tie.
“We’re just concerned is all, “Sam said.
“That’s right, Sheriff, we’re all concerned,” said another voice that was hidden among the crowd.
Lucas suspected that most of these men were only concerned because Sam made them concerned. Lucas knew them, knew every last one of them. Most of them were men who did love their town, but they also didn’t go around seeking to cause trouble or organize any type of committee to run one man out of town. He looked each of them in the eye and many of them looked away.
“What is it that you’re all concerned about?” Lucas asked.
“We’re concerned about this stranger, that’s what,” Sam said. “Who is he? Where did he come from? Why is he here?”
“If you wanted to know all of that, Sam, why didn’t you just ask him when he rode in?” Lucas said. “Better still, why don’t you go over to his hotel room and ask him right now?”
“Because I’m not so bold as to be so inquisitive about another man’s life. But you should be. That’s why you were hired. You were hired to protect this town. And whenever some stranger walks in,...”
“We were all strangers once upon a time,” Lucas said.
“Oh, this is ridiculous,” Sam said. “Mayor…”
Sam threw up his arm, gesturing, pleading for the mayor to intervene.
“Now, Lucas,” Mayor Garrett said, “the men do have legitimate concerns. After all, no one knows anything about him. And he has been here almost a week now. I don’t think there’s any harm in having some idea who he might be. We don’t have to dig into every detail about his life. Just some idea of who he is.”
“Or what he is,” Sam said.
Lucas raised the brim of his hat and scratched his head. He understood the men’s concerns. Florence wasn’t like other towns out West. It didn’t have the reputation of a Dodge City. Sure it had its few share of ruffians, town drunks, loose women who on occasion would get too loose, but Lucas prided himself on keeping it peaceful. He may not have had the stature of an Earp or Hickok or Tilghman, but just the same, he felt as if he too had a hand to play in the taming of the West, albeit smaller than others.
“Fine. I’ll look into him. I’ll check with a few peace officers I know back East. See what comes up. But just remember.”
Lucas’s eyes set and his face became as rigid as stone.
“He hasn’t broken any laws. At least, not that I know of. And certainly not around here. So I can’t just run him out of town. No matter what you think of his looks. Until I find out who he is or until he starts trouble, no one will harass him in any sort of manner. Is that understood?”
“There won’t be any trouble, Sheriff,” Sam said. “Just as soon as he gets on his horse and rides out…”
The saloon doors creaked as they were pushed open. Sam quickly shut his mouth as his eyes, along with everyone else’s, turned to the entrance. There stood the subject of their animated discussion. The stranger’s clothes were ill-fitting. There were cuts in the brim of his hat. He had whiskers that hadn’t met a razor in well over a month. And his cold, blue eyes simultaneously met the gaze of every man in the room. He stood stock still as if daring someone to speak to him and for a moment that seemed to reach out and clasp hands with eternity, no one did. The stranger dared to speak first.
“Can a fella get a drink around here?” he asked.
His voice was as coarse as if he had swallowed a fistful of the desert sand.
The response came from a rotund, balding man who stood in the corner with an apron around his waist.
“This here is a private meeting,” Sam said.
The stranger turned his attention towards Sam. He glared into Sam’s eyes. Sam glared back.
“Is there another saloon in town?” the stranger asked.
“Try the Express down the street,” the bartender said. “I can’t recommend it, but whatever poison you’re looking for, they’ll have it.”
The stranger nodded at the bartender and turned to leave.
“Hold it,” Sam said.
The stranger stopped and turned. Once more his eyes met Sam’s.
“Where you from?” Sam asked.
“South,” the stranger said.
“Where are you headed?”
Lucas tried to hide his smirk.
“Well, what brings you here to Florence?” asked Sam.
The stranger looked around at every man in the saloon. He could see anticipation crease their faces. He gave them all a little grin, but he didn’t respond. He turned and left the saloon with the question hanging in the air over everyone’s head.
The citizens of Florence bustled about like any other Saturday. The unrest caused by the presence of the stranger notwithstanding, the day was plenty peaceful. Women coming and going from various shops with children in tow. Men coming into town to conduct a little business and swing by the saloon for a quick drink or two. The telegraph office which stood just on the edge of town had an occasional visitor to either send a letter or face the disappointment of not receiving one.
The Florence Hotel only had a few occupants and all but one was known by at least one of the citizens of Florence. The stranger stood outside the door where he leaned on the post just under the awning. His eyes glared but not from the sun. He observed. As people walked by, he looked them directly in their faces. Women and even most of the men turned to avoid his gaze. A few men met his eye contact only to blink first and look away as they got closer.
He saw a few kids run by and he lifted his eyes towards the General Store just in time to see a young woman walk out. She was slender, pale, with a small bonnet on top of her head. There was a genteel manner in the way she walked. Very delicate and correct so it seemed that her feet didn’t actually touch the ground, but instead, they just lightly floated above it. Her dress was long, pristine, and white. The stranger focused in on her and watched her every move. He forgot everyone else. He pushed himself off the post and stood erect. He adjusted his hat, dusted himself off, and stepped off the porch into the sunlight. He sought to see her better. She stood just outside the store in anticipation. But not for him.
A wagon driven by Sam Brooks pulled up just short of where the young woman stood. He got off to grab her bags. He placed them in the back before helping her onto the wagon. Once she was aboard, he climbed in after her, took hold of the reins, and just as soon as he had arrived, they were off. The stranger watched as the wagon came near him and passed directly in front of him. Sam glared at him. The stranger barely noticed. His focus was on the young woman who sat there still as if posing for a portrait, her eyes directly ahead. Soon they disappeared out of town. An old man passed behind the stranger on the porch of the hotel.
“Excuse me,” the stranger said.
The old man stopped and turned towards the stranger.
“Do you know that young woman who just rode by?”
“You mean Mrs. Brooks?”
“Mrs. Brooks? Is that her name?”
The stranger said her name and he swirled it around his mouth as if it were a fresh shot of whisky.
“And I take it that man who sat beside her…”
“That would be Mr. Brooks.”
“Mr. Brooks. Right.”
The stranger rubbed at his stomach.
“How long has she been out here?”
“You mean they, don’t you?”
“Yeah. How long have they been out here?”
The old man looked up into the sky as he pondered the question.
“Oh, a few years now,” he said. “Perhaps three, going on four, maybe.”
The old man looked at the stranger and scratched his whiskers.
“You’re an inquisitive young man, ain’t you?”
“That he is, Moses.”
A voice came from over the stranger’s shoulder. He turned and saw Lucas in the middle of the street. The sheriff stepped closer until he was in arm’s distance from the stranger.
"For a man who seems to keep his personal affairs to himself, you sure are curious about the affairs of others,” Lucas said.
“Is there some law against asking questions, sheriff?” asked the stranger.
“A law? No, I can’t say that there is. But it’s the kind of questions that one asks. Now I know the Brookses. They’re a fine couple. They’ve been here almost four years now just like Moses told you. That answers your question. Now answer mine. Who are you?”
The stranger smirked.
“I’m sure you checked the register.”
“Well why don’t you tell me who I am?”
Lucas managed a small grin.
“Now we both know that the name in that book doesn’t belong to you. Let’s forget the name. For now. Answer this question. Where are you from? And I don’t want a direction. I want a place that actually exists on a map.”
“Shelby, Tennessee,” the stranger said.
“You’re plenty far from home,” Lucas said. “What brings you all the way out here to Florence?”
“I like to travel.”
“I’m afraid there isn’t much to see here in our small town.”
The stranger turned and looked at the edge of town where he last saw the wagon and Mrs. Brooks.
“It all depends on what you’re looking at,” he said.
Lucas tried to catch the gleam in the man’s eyes, but it disappeared so quickly he wasn’t sure if he actually saw a gleam or if he had imagined it.
“Well, look, son,” Lucas said, “I run a peaceful town. And I don’t want any trouble.”
The stranger turned his attention back to the sheriff.
“No one ever does,” he said. “But sometimes trouble likes to rear its head.”
“Well, if it does, it better rear its head someplace else. Otherwise..”
Lucas’s hand made a slight move toward his holster on his hip. The stranger watched him, but he didn’t flinch or move. There was no sign of aggression on his face.
“Good day, sheriff,” the stranger said.
He nodded at Lucas and Moses and walked back inside the hotel.
“What do you think he wants, Lucas?” Moses asked.
“I’m not sure,” said Lucas.
“Think he’s looking for trouble?”
“Looking for trouble? No, not him. I don’t think so. I’ve seen men who went looking for trouble. I don’t see that in him. Now what he’s looking for I can’t hardly say. But…”
Lucas turned and looked towards the edge of town. He searched for something that was no longer in view and then looked back to where the stranger just entered the hotel.
“Just because you’re not looking for trouble doesn’t mean trouble can’t come looking for you.”
Lucas nodded to Moses and then made his way to his office.
Once he arrived at his office, Lucas found his deputy, Clive Hodges, and Mayor Garrett. Clive stood next to Lucas’s desk and the mayor sat in the chair directly on the other side of his. Lucas could tell that he had interrupted them mid-conversation.
“What’s the matter?” Lucas asked.
The deputy and mayor looked at one another.
“Well?” Lucas said.
“Nothing, Lucas,” Mayor Garrett said. “Just idle rumors.”
“I’ve never known a rumor to remain idle long,” Lucas said. “Now what is it?”
“Lucas,” Clive said, “there’s some talk about town in regards to this stranger.”
“Him again. What about him?”
“People are saying that you won’t run him out of town because…you’re afraid of him.”
Lucas looked at his young deputy with a touch of sadness. Clive could barely grow a stubble, and it was this youth and small stature that often led him to go for his guns before first seeking a less permanent resolution. He was good with a gun (Lucas had to give him that), but those fighting fists had been known to get Clive into a couple of scrapes that a law officer ought to avoid. Lucas knew the young man’s father and gave him a job as a deputy while promising to keep a watch over him. There had been a few times when Clive came through for Lucas and saved his backside. However, there were days when Lucas wanted to wash his hands of the kid and send him back home to Lincoln. Let him prove his mettle there.
“What do you say, Clive?” Lucas asked. “Do you think I’m afraid?”
“No, sir, I know better than that,” Clive said. “But I don’t think you ought to let people talk…”
“Now, Clive, I can’t stop people from talking. That’s what they’re going to do. Why some people, that’s their entire existence. Talk. It makes their life worth living and who am I to take meaning out of another man’s life?”
“Lucas, there might be something to what Clive is saying,” said Mayor Garrett.
“How do you figure that?” Lucas asked.
“If people start thinking that you’re afraid to do your job, then the hard work you’ve put in to keep this place peaceful goes for nought. All the good work comes undone. Right now, you command a lot of respect. But this man, he…well, he…”
“He challenges your respect,” Clive said.
Lucas stood there a moment and pondered what was being said. He had hoped to find at least one person on his side in this matter, but the only person besides him that was least threatened by the stranger was the stranger himself.
“I see. All right then. Since you two have been talking about my problems, I assume you’ve landed on a solution. Now let’s hear it.”
"Most of the people think you should run him out of town, no questions asked,” Clive said.
“Is that where you stand?” Lucas asked him.
Lucas looked at Mayor Garrett, but the mayor avoided looking at him. Instead, he cast his gaze downwards at his hat as he pursed his lips.
“You agree,” Lucas said.
“It’s not that I agree,” the mayor said, “it’s just that I think something has to be done. Find out who he is.”
“Is he not entitled to privacy?”
“He is. But you must admit, there’s something about him that isn’t quite right. He’s not just passing through. He’s not a businessman or a rancher or anything like that.”
“How do you know?” Lucas asked.
“That’s just it. We don’t. And I’m telling you to find out. Lucas…I’ve always backed you. Even when I thought it was against my better judgment, I’ve backed you. And so far, you’ve proven me right. That’s why I’m willing to extend you a little leash. But hear me. There are forces and pressures stirring among the people. They are beginning to feel that if you are no longer capable of doing the job, then it’s time to find someone who is.”
So there it was. Lucas didn’t have any words. His eyes went from the mayor, his boss, to his deputy, his subordinate. He felt hard pressed from all sides. Lucas admitted that the stranger was different. He could even say that there was something just a bit unpleasant although he couldn’t say for sure what it was. But the man hadn’t committed any crimes. At least, not in Florence. Elsewhere? Lucas couldn’t say. If the man wanted to move on from his past, and live a new quiet life, then who were they to try and disturb him? Lucas had been reluctant to reach out to his colleagues although he promised he would.There was something about the stranger that made him want to hold out for a little longer, but he couldn’t see how he could delay any further.
“All right,” Lucas said.
“All right?” Mayor Garrett said.
“All right. I’ll find out who he is. I’ll telegraph a few of the other sheriffs and peace officers like I said I would. I’ll see what comes back. I haven’t seen any wanted posters with his face on it cross my desk. I know that doesn’t mean anything. I’ll see what I can find.”
“Good,” the mayor said, “that’s all we’re asking.”
Mayor Garrett rose to his feet and placed his hat on his head. He then walked over to Lucas and looked him in the eyes.
“Lucas, I want you to stay. That’s why I’m backing you, but you have to remember. I can only back you for so long. You don’t have much time. Just find out who he is and calm all our fears and this will be over like it never happened.”
The mayor turned and looked back at the deputy.
“Good day, Clive,” he said. “Lucas.”
The mayor nodded at the sheriff and then left.
It was only a few days after the mayor’s directive to the sheriff that the stranger made a surprise visit to the Bank of Florence. It was the lone bank in town and it featured prominently near the town’s center. As the stranger walked in, the two tellers behind the counter collectively held their breaths. He stood just inside the doorway and looked around. He seemed to be impressed by his surroundings. He stepped forward to one of the tellers.
“Good…good afternoon,” the teller said.
“Morning,” the stranger said.
“How can I help you?”
“The bank president. Mr. –”
“Right. That’s his name. Mr. Brooks. Where can I find him? I have something important to discuss with him.”
“Well, he’s not in today. He took the day off.”
“Did he now?”
The teller vigorously nodded his head as if trying to convince the stranger of the veracity of his statement.
“Is there anything that I can help you with?” the teller asked again.
“No. I have a proposition that I need to discuss with him directly. He and I go back aways. I want to talk to him in person. Where can I find him?”
“Well, I’m assuming he’s at home.”
“And where might that be?”
The teller froze. He darted his eyes to his fellow banker who had already scurried away to fiddle with papers on a desk and avoid any potential conflict.
“Uhh…,” the teller said.
The stranger kept his eyes on the teller before him. Under the glare of the stranger’s eyes, the teller could feel his palms sweat.
“He…he lives just outside of town. It’s a nice sized house with a barn just off to the side. Follow the road…”
At this the teller gestured his hand in the direction that the stranger should take.
“And about four miles out, you’ll come to a path that veers off to the right. Take it and in about another couple miles, you’ll find Mr. Brooks’s place.”
The stranger let an easy smile crease his face.
“Thanks,” he said.
He nodded and made his way to leave. Once he was out of the bank, the teller who had
been speaking to the stranger released his breath and wiped his palms on his pants leg. He went from behind the counter and stood at the window. He watched the stranger climb onto his horse and trot his way towards the end of town. His coworker, no longer fiddling with papers, came to his side.
“Cal, I think you need to find the sheriff, and fast,” he said.
The sheriff was hanging out at the telegraph office. It had been a few days and he was expecting word soon. The concerned citizens, while not openly hostile, had given Lucas a collective cold shoulder any chance they could. He’d fulfilled his promise to the mayor and his deputy by increasing his efforts to find any information on the stranger, but he hadn’t had any luck up to that point. Lucas began to think that he was right all along and everyone’s fears were groundless. He had made up his mind he’d pursue his inquiry only a few more days and if nothing came back, then he’d drop the matter. Lucas stood and listened to Irving, the old man who operated the telegraph. Whenever Lucas, or anyone for that matter, dropped by to either deliver or receive a message, Irving would complain. It didn’t matter what it was about. It was always in the form of a complaint. At that moment, he was on a tirade about some new change that was coming. He didn’t like it. It disrupted the order of life, he said. Lucas nearly said that it was only going to be a disruption to the order of Irving’s life, but the door of the telegraph office flung open and in walked the mail carrier. He greeted Irving and Lucas. He passed a few letters to Irving and a handful to Lucas, and then he was gone. Lucas flipped through the first couple of pages. Nothing but handbills, and none were of the stranger. But then he got to the last couple of pages. One was a letter from a sheriff he knew in the nearest county. He read through it with great interest. He then took a look at the last page. Another handbill. His eyes widened. He folded the pages up and dashed out of the office.
He hopped into the saddle and made his way to the hotel where he knew the stranger was staying. Before he could reach his destination, he saw Cal, the bank teller, standing in the street, waving him down. Lucas pulled his reins and stopped his horse just beside the bank teller.
“What’s wrong, Cal?” said Lucas.
“Sheriff, that, that stranger,” Cal said.
“Well, what about him, man? Spit it out.”
“I don’t know. He was asking about Mr. Brooks. He wanted to speak to him. He said he had something to discuss with him. He wouldn’t say what, though. Just asked where he was. And where he lived.”
“Did you tell him?”
“When did he leave?” he asked.
“Maybe 10, 15 minutes ago,” Cal said.
Lucas pulled his reins and turned his horse around. He quickly made his way out of town.
The stranger rode onto the property of the Brookses. He climbed off his horse and took a long look around. He took in the grandeur of the home and the land it sat on. He spotted a corral off to the side when he first rode up. Inside it were four fine horses that lazily walked about. A barn sat off to the side of the house. The siding was freshly coated and the roof looked as if it had never experienced inclement weather of any sort. The stranger took a moment and thought about going up to the front door. He took a deep breath and he started towards it, but he stopped. He thought he heard something behind the barn. Curious, he instead decided to go see what it was.
She didn’t see him. Her back was to him as she stood underneath a tree. She enjoyed the tranquil breeze that the shade provided. The stranger realized that she was singing a hymn to herself. It was vaguely familiar to him, but he couldn’t call it by name. He just listened. Her voice was soft and easy, and while not that of an angel, it still nearly lifted him off his feet. That voice, that song, belonged to a past so distant and so near.
The stranger took a step forward and another. He didn’t want to startle her, but she heard the grass crunch underneath his feet. She turned and froze. He froze. They locked eyes and both held their breath. The stranger released his first and a smile spread across his face.
“Lynn,” the stranger said.
“Jenson,” Lynn said.
“Glad to know that you remember my name.”
“How could I forget?”
“It’s been awhile.”
“Four years. It has been awhile. But that doesn’t mean a girl easily forgets. Even if she wants to.”
“When did you get out?” Lynn asked.
“A few weeks ago,” Jenson said.
He saw her expression change to one of bewilderment.
“Good behavior,” he said.
“I see. How did you find me here?”
Jenson shifted his weight and looked down at his feet.
“I asked around. It wasn’t easy, though. I looked up old friends. None of them wanted to tell me anything. Not even where you’d gone. Eventually someone did tell me that you had left and made your way out further west. They didn’t say where or why. But I see why.”
At that last comment, he paused and brought his eyes to meet hers.
Jenson chuckled to himself.
“Do you find that amusing?” Lynn asked.
“Only slightly,” Jenson replied. “It’s a name.”
“It’s just as good as any other, I’d say.”
“Oh, trust me, I agree! I’m just…”
“You’re just what?”
“Curious how it happened.”
“A girl…can learn to love the right guy at the right time.”
“Hm. Is he?”
“He’s kind. He’s reliable. His face doesn’t make wanted posters.”
“No, of course it doesn’t.”
“He’s an important man,” Lynn continued. “He’s respectable. We’re respectable.”
“I get all of that. You just couldn’t wait, though, could you? All of that respectability was just too alluring for you to wait…”
“Wait? Wait for what? Wait for you to be respectable? Wait for you to get out of prison? Wait only for you to go back to prison? Wait for you between the next robbery? Wait for an honest life, a family? You would have me wait for a lifetime. I refuse to wait that long.”
Jenson removed his hat and his face was fully revealed. Lynn could see how worn he really looked. He was tired. Four years didn’t seem long, but she could see that prison had aged Jenson perhaps a decade. Even his hands had knots and creases. Jenson held a solemn expression on his face.
“I know I shouldn’t have expected you to wait,” Jenson said.
He took just a couple small steps forward. He didn’t want to get too close as if he were afraid Lynn would suddenly dash off.
“But I did a lot of thinking in that cell. A whole lot. There was a time when I thought I would eventually break and crack with all of that thinking. That’s what they want you to do anyway. But I didn’t. This may surprise you, but while I was down in that prison, at my lowest point, I actually found God. I know I made my mistakes. It took me so long, too long, to admit that. But once I did, believe me, I repented. I repented for every single thing I’ve done. Honest to goodness, I begged for God’s forgiveness. And you know what? He did. I tell you, I couldn’t believe it, but He forgave me of every last one of those wicked things I’d done. That’s why I’m standing here before you. I’m hoping that you can do the same. I’m not the Jenson you once knew.”
Neither had realized that during Jenson’s speech that they had drawn closer to one another without their feet moving. They stood so close that they could reach out and hold hands without fully extending their arms. Lynn’s eyes had softened. She looked into his. While his eyes were just as dark as she remembered them, there was something in them that she didn’t recognize. There was a gentleness, a hopefulness, that was so unexpected in Jenson that just for a second she wasn’t sure if it indeed was the same person she knew once before.
“I’m glad for you, Jenson,” Lynn said. “I’m glad He did that for you.”
Lynn’s eyes glistened and she dropped her gaze.
“But, I can’t love you anymore,” she said.
Jenson felt a knot rise in his throat and he shifted backwards just slightly.
“I’m sorry. I have moved on. I have all this. I’m not going back to what we had just because you found God. I’m glad you found Him, and you found that peace. I did, too. And I moved on.”
“You’ve moved on?” Jenson asked.
Lynn looked up and Jenson saw a solitary tear down her face.
“I…I have…,” she said.
Jenson leaned in and kissed her. She tensed up. Her hands pressed against him, first in resistance, but just as quickly, her resistance gave way to passion and she clutched at his chest. She kissed him back as the memories flowed between them. Jenson had his arms around her waist and he pressed her body close to his.
The two simultaneously jumped at the sound of the hammer clicking just over Jenson’s shoulder. They turned and saw Sam standing there with a rifle aimed at Jenson. Hatred loomed in his eyes.
“It’s loaded,” Sam said. “That is your warning to get off my property. Now.”
He spoke with a resounding force that reached a crescendo at the final word. His command cut through the afternoon air that had grown thick.
“Sam!” Lynn said.
She ran to her husband’s side.
“Get inside,” Sam said.
“Please, Sam. Put the gun down.”
“Not until he gets off my property.”
“You’d shoot me?” Jenson asked. “Without giving me a word, you’d shoot me?”
“Only if you force me. I don’t want any of your words. Your horse is still out front. Get on it and ride.”
“I don’t like a gun being pulled on me.”
“And I don’t like other men kissing my wife!”
“Sam, don’t do this,” Lynn said. “You can’t. He’ll leave.”
Lynn looked at Jenson as she said this. There was a desperate plea in her face that begged for him to go.
“Why should I?” Jenson said.
“Because you’re not wanted here,” said Sam. “Your kind isn’t needed around these parts.”
“My kind? And what exactly is my kind?”
“Scum. Gutter trash. I know your type. I know who you are, and what you are.”
Sam paused. His face was scalded red.
“I know you.”
“Yes, you do at that,” Jenson said. “You plan on using that?”
Jenson pointed at the rifle in Sam’s hand.
“I don’t want to. But I will.”
“Suppose I refuse?”
“Then it’ll be your last.”
Jenson’s face, while not nearly so red, had grown rigid and an intense flame burned in his eyes.
“Well, I’m standing here,” he said.
Jenson’s hand hovered just above the pistol in his holster. Sam gritted his teeth.
“No, Sam!” Lynn yelled.
She reached out for Sam’s rifle. Sam struggled with her and pushed her aside. The rifle was no longer trained on Jenson and in that moment, he drew out his six-shooter, cocked the hammer, and fired. Lynn screamed. Sam nearly howled as he dropped the rifle and fell to the ground. He was hit in the thigh. Lynn rushed to his side. There was a cry of “Oh my God!” along with some other words jumbled together. Jenson took a step forward and cocked the hammer once again. Lynn looked at him and then she threw herself over her husband.
“No!” she yelled.
“Lynn, move,” Jenson said.
“How can you?”
“He pulled the gun first. All I wanted was to talk.”
Sam flung his wife off of him.
“Let him finish what he started,” Sam said.
He looked Jenson directly in the eyes.
“Go ahead. Pull the trigger. It’s what you’ve been waiting for. It’s what you’ve wanted for a long time now, isn’t it? Just as you found that she wanted me and not you. This is what you were thinking about while sitting in that prison cell. This is what you’re really after. Look at you. And here I had hoped prison might have softened you up, taken some of the starch out of you. Prison didn’t change you. You’re still quick to go for your gun thinking that can solve every problem. You still haven’t figured it out. That gun in your hand is the problem. Lynn in one hand.”
Sam looked over at his wife as she silently wept.
“And your pistol in the other. You chose the pistol. She chose me.”
Jenson’s hand shook with a ferocity that he could barely bring the barrel to aim at Sam. He raised the pistol.
“Go on,” Sam said. “You wanted to talk. Start talking. Oh, that’s right. You let that gun do the talking. Well, then, go for it. Pull the trigger. Show me the type of man you are. That you’ve always been.”
Jenson took a step forward and the two men stared into each other for what seemed like long, forgotten years. It seemed that so much time had passed before a voice cried “Daddy!” in the wind. A little girl ran from the side of the barn right past Lynn and in between the two men. She wrapped every inch of her tiny body around Sam. She held him close. Sam didn’t throw his daughter aside. He just waited. Jenson looked. He saw the girl who was a smaller version of Lynn, the woman he once loved. He then looked at Sam. He could remember a time when…
Jenson snapped back to the present and holstered his gun. He looked over at Lynn who was watching him anxious for his next move. He took one last look at Sam and then turned to walk away.
A jarring, sharp crack reverberated across the land. Jenson stopped walking. Somewhere in the distance a voice cried out. He could barely make out who it belonged to. For a moment, he thought it belonged to someone he once knew. Maybe from a time before he became an outlaw and a prisoner. He couldn’t figure it out. He simply fell to the earth face first. Dead.
Sam rose to his feet. Smoke escaped the barrel of his gun. He walked over to the dead man and looked down on him. The only sound that filled the air was the whimpers of his wife who was on her knees. He didn’t pay her any attention. He continued to inspect Jenson’s body as if he were inspecting a calf. Sam only looked up as he heard a horse trot from the other side of the barn. It was Lucas.
Lucas rode up and got out of the saddle only a few feet from Sam and the corpse. He had papers clutched in his hands. He rushed to Lynn and her daughter to see if they were okay. Once he established that they were, he turned his attention to the body on the ground, then at Sam. He walked over to the dead man, kneeled down beside him, and turned him over. When he saw the face, he looked up at Sam. He took off his hat and wiped his brow before rising up.
“Sam,” Lucas said. “What…what happened?”
Sam lowered his head.
“He said he just wanted to talk,” Sam said.
Lucas noticed a tear forming in the corner of his eye. Lucas reached out, slowly, and removed the rifle from Sam’s hand. Sam let it slip through his grasp as if he wanted it to be taken from him.
“Do you know who he was?” Lucas asked.
Sam said nothing. Lucas unfolded the papers in his hand.
“He was known as Two-Gun Jerry in some places. Some places, he was The Kid. His assumed name was Jerry Logan. Alias Jenson Logan. Alias Jenson…”
“Alias Jenson Brooks,” Sam finally said.
Lucas looked at Sam.
“That’s right, Sheriff. He was my brother. And I just killed him.”
All the Way Home
He looked at his smart watch. The time was 8:43pm. He looked down the street. Nothing yet. Slight annoyance. He should have gotten a rental while his car was in the shop. But it was just one day. It would be ready the following morning. But it was raining that night. It had rained all day in fact. How fitting, he thought, that it should rain on this day. He stood outside the closed performing arts center waiting for his ride. It had been 20 minutes since he had placed an order on the ride sharing app and still no sign of the car assigned to pick him up. He looked at his watch again. 21 minutes. Slightly more annoyance. He huddled under his umbrella as the rain eased its way out of the night sky. He had asked the usher if he could wait for the car inside.
I’m sorry, but we’re closing.
Just for a few minutes?
The usher looked outside. Shrug.
Damian took his umbrella and defeat outside. One covered him more than the other.
Headlights. Damian felt a tinge of hope. He pulled out his phone and opened the ride hailing app. He checked the make and model. Honda Civic. He checked the color. It was red. He tried to make out the license plate as it got closer. The rain prevented him from seeing it completely, but it had to be the right car. He stepped forward to the curb. He reached above his head and closed his umbrella. Relief spread across his face. The car approached. The car passed him by. Damian’s face dissolved into a look of disbelief. He threw up his hand and waved frantically.
Hey! He yelled. Hey! To no avail.
Raindrops slapped his head. No longer was Damian annoyed. He was outraged. He mumbled one or two four-letter words to himself. He pulled out his cellphone and opened the app. He reported the incident on a live chat option. The sales representative gave him some tired, obligatory apology, told him that they would log the incident, and another car would be on its way. Shortly. The chat ended. Damian became exasperated. He opened his umbrella back up. He stood there and waited. Some minutes passed before another car drove up. Damian kept his hope in check after what had already taken place. The car stopped at the curb just in front of him. Damian opened up the door and got in.
Damian? The driver asked.
Good. Thank you. I just wanted to make sure I got the right person.
Off they went. Damian settled into the backseat and got warm. He hadn’t realized how cold he was until he was inside the car. It would be some time before he was home. He figured he’d just sit there and unwind a bit. Maybe wrestle with his thoughts. He had been thinking a lot that day. He didn’t want to think, though. That’s why he went to see the show. A little play a friend from college told him about. She had a bit role in it. He wanted to show his support and hide from his own worries for a few hours at least. The show was good although not quite his preferred style. What was with all of the dark, depraved, nihilistic drama? Damian thought to himself. Where had all the good comedy gone? Didn’t anyone laugh anymore? Oh well. He closed his eyes and thought about the show.
A voice interrupted him from nodding off to dim lights and garish costumes.
What was that?
I said, long day?
Oh. Yeah. Something like that.
I understand. I have a lot of long days. Long nights. Some nights are smooth. Quiet. Not too busy. Now, you may think, that sounds good, right? The work is easy, simple. I should like a night like that.
The driver shook his head.
No. I hate it. Those quiet nights. I hate them. There’s no money in that. When it’s quiet, it’s not busy. And if it’s not busy, I’m not making much money. Besides. Life shouldn’t be so quiet. I mean, look around you. Look up at the stars and see how big this place, the universe, is. If something else is out there like God. Let’s go with God. Can He really hear us if we don’t make a loud enough noise?
Damian closed his eyes. Maybe if I pretend to be asleep he’ll stop.
Now say that God can hear us. But what about other life forms out there? I’m convinced, and this is just me now, but I’m convinced there has to be other life forms on other planets.
Damian wished that some other life form was driving his taxi. Then at least it couldn’t communicate in his language.
Again, it’s just my theory. Either way, I like nights that have a little excitement about them. The little old lady taking her groceries home from the grocery store is fine, but I don’t mind a little puke in the back seat from some rowdy broad that went to one too many bars. I don’t know man. It just makes me breathe again.
Damian opened his eyes and looked down at the floor of the cab. And at his seat. He wondered how recently the driver breathed in someone else’s vomit. A car sped by and cut in front of them. Damian’s driver hammered his horn.
Crazy bastard, he said. Weather like this, you think people would drive just a little slower. You know, just a little more cautious. But nope. There’s always some jackass out here thinking his car can’t slide off the road. At least signal. Jerk.
He shook his head and mumbled something inaudible.
So where was I? The driver asked.
Somewhere between broads and vomit, Damian said.
Yes. Man, I have some stories. Don’t I have some stories. I have so many stories I need to start a YouTube channel.
Why not? Everyone else is.
Exactly! I may make that my second job after this one. I enjoy this, though. I meet people from all walks of life. I get to hear their stories. I get to see the city. I mean, really see it. Some people will go through a neighborhood that they’ve passed through hundreds of times, maybe more than that, and they’ll just look at the place. They won’t see it for what it is or what it was. What it will be. Take for instance where you just came from. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I mean, that entire area today compared to what it looked like even 10 years ago is just not the same. But.
The driver paused as if to gather his thoughts from flushing down the sewer drain.
Some places do remain the same, he said. For better. For worse.
Damian looked around. Speaking of places, he didn’t recognize the place they were in.
Not to be rude or anything, but are you sure we’re going the right way? Damian asked.
Yep. Says so right here on the map. The driver tapped his GPS screen.
What, is it a shortcut, maybe?
Shortcut? No. No shortcut. The farthest way round is the shortest way home.
Oh great, Damian thought. A driver who spoke in riddles. He didn’t want the farthest way round. He just wanted to get home. And soon.
The driver looked at Damian in his rear view mirror.
You’re worried. Don’t be. Trust me. I’ve never gotten a passenger lost before. Not once. I get them just exactly where they need to go.
Damian rubbed his left temple. He sat back and hoped this ride would soon be over.
You know I pick up people all over the city, right? And some people call for rides and they’re literally going one or two blocks over. Can you believe that? That’s a waste. I’m not driving 20, 30 minutes across town to pick someone up for a five-minute ride and a $10 fare. That won’t cover the gas I’ve just used up. Nope. It’s not worth it man.
No, I don’t guess it is, said Damian. He didn’t care to listen to the man’s complaints, but maybe if he gave a little, that would get him to be silent.
What do you do, if you don’t mind me asking? The driver said.
Yes. For work. You look like someone important. Like a manager or something.
No, nothing like that. I’m a software developer for a small marketing agency.
Nice. I don’t think I could get into something like that. I don’t have the brains for it. Hence, that’s why I’m doing this for a living.
Damian chuckled. The two sat in silence for a few minutes. Damian then spoke up.
What did you want to be? He asked.
Like when I was a kid? The cab driver asked.
Yeah. I used to love going outside and looking up at the night sky. Wondering what was up there. I always wanted to go. Only trouble was I found out that math and science was involved in being an astronaut. I didn’t have the brain for math and science. I mean, to be honest, I didn’t have the brain for much of anything. I didn’t have much ambition, either.
Damian heard a slight break in the driver’s voice as he made that last comment.
I’ve made a good living, though. I’m not rich, you understand. I mean, say you thought about robbing me. You wouldn’t make off with much. A few singles, loose coins, some lent, and a wallet sized photo of my ex-wife and kids. Don’t ask why I have a picture of my ex-wife.
All right, I won’t.
It’s the only photo I ever had of them that fit in my wallet. My kids I mean. The only ones. All the others were too big for a wallet. I kept it in my wallet even after the divorce because sometimes it was the only way I’d get to see my kids. Brats.
Even though he said it, Damian caught a gleam in the man’s eyes and could sense that there was a touch of affection and sorrow.
Do you see your kids? Damian asked.
On occasion. Not just in my wallet, either. They visit every once in a while. They’re all grown up. Three of them. They all went through college. Got good jobs. Thankfully, they all had brains. That ran on their mother’s side of the family.
The driver and Damian shared a laugh.
Do you have any siblings? The driver asked Damian.
Damian sat there for a moment. The muscles in his throat tightened.
I. I have a brother. He replied.
Nice. Me too. Well, I have a couple of brothers actually. One older, one younger. Me in the middle. The forgotten one. What about you? You the oldest? You seem to be the oldest if I were to guess.
What makes you guess that?
A maturity about you. Something about you just says…old. No offense.
None taken. But no, I’m the younger one.
Yeah, brothers are nice. The driver said. But I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a sister. Do you have any sisters?
No, it was just my brother and me.
Got it. Got it.
Damian looked at his watch. How long before he got home? The ride seemed to be longer than he originally anticipated. He took another look out the window and saw a familiar building. It wasn’t one in his neighborhood, though. He saw more familiar buildings. They definitely weren’t on the right side of town.
Hey man, I don’t know what’s going on, but your GPS has us lost. Damian said.
No, sir. My GPS has never gotten me lost. The driver responded.
Dude, I know where I live. And this isn’t it. We’re all the way on the other side of town.
Damian saw more buildings. More familiar streetlamps. Some of the buildings were abandoned. Some were hanging on but barely. An empty lot was still empty. Then the cab pulled up to the park. A torrential pouring of emotions overcame Damian. Anger. Disbelief. Fear. Hurt. Sorrow. A sorrow that he had buried years ago. There was a glassy look in his eyes. He hadn’t been to that park in 20 years. But he remembered it. He looked at the driver.
Why did you bring me here? How did you–
I didn’t. Look.
The driver pointed at the small GPS device on the dashboard.
I don’t enter the location. I enter the name. I enter your name. My name. Anyone’s name. It doesn’t matter. It automatically sets the destination. Maybe not where you want to go. But where you need to be.
How is that possible?
Don’t ask silly questions. The driver said. Get out and go face whatever it is you have coming to you.
Damian sat there and looked out the window. Memories rushed through his head. He turned forward and looked at the driver.
No. He said. Damian had a stern look on his face. I’m not getting out. Keep driving and take me home.
I can’t do that.
Yes, you can. I didn’t pay you to bring me here.
Damian’s voice began to tremble.
Yes, you did. You may not have wanted to be brought here, but here we are. I can’t go anywhere until you–
Listen. I don’t want to be here.
I can’t help that. I know you don’t want to be here. Most people who get in here don’t want to be where this ride takes them. People have a strange idea about the past. About how to solve past hurts. They think that if you look away from it long enough it’ll cease to exist. But that can’t be. For if it was so, you’d cease to exist. No one likes to solve problems, but we have to at some point. Now get out.
I just told you I’m not getting out.
Now you listen. The driver barked. I don’t know why you belong here. I don’t have any idea what happened here or when it happened or why it happened. It’s not my business.
The driver turned off the vehicle. He turned over his shoulder and his eyes met Damian’s.
But we’re not going anywhere. So go in there. Get it over with. I’ll wait for you.
And having said that, he turned back around. His entire face and body became rigid and Damian could tell the man wasn’t going to say anything more. He hesitated. He got out of the car. He shut the door and stood before the park. He opened up his umbrella. There was the same gate that was the entry into the park. He trod towards the gate and opened it. The gate screeched as he pushed it open. Damian looked back. The vehicle was still there. Damian turned back around and entered the park. He walked along that old path he had traveled so many years before. He looked around to see what was different. The path took him past the baseball field. It was a pool of mud. The white lines had faded and there were no bases at first or third. The gate behind home sagged under its own decrepitness. Damian kept on walking. There was the playground. He had hoped to find a new swing set, a new slide, a new jungle gym. But these things were not so. They were the very ones he played on as a kid with his brother. Metal slides where the color had faded. The swings blew back and forth in the wind.
He kept walking. He went past the lake where the old men would fish or feed the geese. He went past the miniature playground. He went past the ancient brick shed that housed the restrooms. He arrived at the basketball court. One hoop was still missing a net. The other hoop had a net, but a few threads were missing.
Damian stood there and gazed upon the court. The rain stopped. The night faded into dusk where there was just a hint of sunlight. Damian saw a seven-year old boy. That seven-year old was running after his older brother. The older brother dribbled circles around his younger sibling before taking a shot at the basket. The ball clanged off the rim of the basketball hoop. The younger brother retrieved the ball with a wide grin. The older one smirked. He crouched in a defensive stance only halfway interested in trying to steal the ball from his brother’s smaller hands. The younger one turned his attention to the basket. He dribbled. He dribbled. He dribbled. Suddenly, he picked the ball up, launched himself into the air, and shot the ball just above his older brother’s outstretched hand. Swish. The younger brother gestured and held his arms out wide for an invisible crowd just in awe of him on the sidelines. He bowed. He blew kisses. The older brother grinned from ear to ear. He went to retrieve the basketball. Kids bigger than Damian had joined the court. Taj, Damian’s older brother, knew them from his high school. Taj directed Damian off the court. Tension settled in the center of the court. Rising tempers. Rising voices. Curse words. Threats.
Before seven-year old Damian could understand, gunshots. The group fled. A body laid at halfcourt. It was Taj. Damian stood still. He wanted to yell but couldn’t. He ran to Taj. His L.A. Lakers jersey had a splotch of blood in the center of it. Seven-year old Damian began to cry. 27 year old Damian began to cry. Others gathered around the small boy. Damian’s parents were among them. His mother made some awful noise that was akin to a wounded bat. She wept into Damian’s father’s arms. Damian’s father, a strong pillar of a man, made no noise. But tears fell down his face. Rage turned him bright red. Police soon cordoned off the scene. They asked Damian questions. He understood the questions; he didn’t understand the answers.
The crowd faded. There was no more yellow tape. Eventually, Taj was removed. The shooting was talked about but quickly forgotten. Just another day in the neighborhood for most people. Damian didn’t forget. 20 years to the day. He never thought he’d be back at that park. He’d avoided it ever since Taj was murdered. He couldn’t bear to face the pain. But there he was standing on the asphalt of grief. He had often wondered how life would have been if he had grown up with an older brother all the way through middle school and high school. He longed for a day when he could have told his brother about his first crush. The first girl he kissed. The time he lost his virginity. He wished Taj could have been there when he crossed the stage at high school and then again in college. He imagined Taj was looking down with that smirk he always wore.
The rain had eased up. The night had grown late. He really needed to get home. He headed back to the entrance ready to go home. He swung open the gate to find his ride was no longer there. He wasn’t angry so much as he was surprised. He still couldn’t believe that the driver had driven him there of all places. But so it had. He pulled out his cell and opened up the app to order a new ride. In a matter of minutes, another car appeared just as the final drops of rain were settling on the ground. Damian hoped it was the same car. It wasn’t. He settled in and they took off.
Fine night to go playing on the swingset, huh? The driver asked.
Damian just sat there in thought. He thought of Taj pushing him on that same swingset so many years ago. And he smiled in the memory and at the memory.
No. The previous driver dropped me off here. Damian said.
What, was he lost? Wrong location? You know, in this rain, he might’ve had trouble seeing the streets and–
No. This is exactly where I needed to be.
An Act of Expressing Recognition
I acknowledge you—you acknowledge
Me—we acknowledge ourselves here
In this present moment, and let us—
acknowledge all of our moments before—
They seem so far away gone—my
Memory fades, but my imagination
Remains—strong, your touch remains
Strong—each gentle caress lingers
On: this is a passion that reminds me
Of eternity—we acknowledge our
Promise to press onward into eternity
Where we will—shut our wild eyes
And we will form our own strange language—
Our own foreign lands—to delight in one another,
Framing ourselves within a structure solid
On our beautiful reality—there
How do you do poetry
How do you do poetry?
Do you make
Off the page
Like the last drop
Of rain from
Do you shape words
Into images that open the mind
And calibrates the man into a new
And is this poetry -- however you do it --
Released only to the gifted
The learned -- or is this free to
Like a healing stream through which flows
Men at Work
Some are hunched over
Some are limping
Some have dull and disciplined hands
All day they move in uniform
Grinding under the intimidating sun
Lifting and pulling and pushing and toiling
Looking for the next rest period
Where they sit
Where they eat
Where they fill the air with small talk
Where they smoke a cigarette (or two)
Where they take a shit--
Don’t be general;
They are generals
These microcosms of an undying universe
Making themselves hiding themselves
Being themselves amongst friends
These men lay the foundation
These men are the foundation
Their skins crisp under a most forgiving
#poetry #freeverse #poem
At Vow’s End
Our love once bloomed in
a fresh spring: that's where
you were perfect and pure as
though baptized in a triumphant morning --
But now you suffer through a bitter
winter: a disobedient sickness that
refuses to release you from its
long shadow -- And
All through the night, I hold your
hand: a delicate posture that requires
us to isolate ourselves within one
another's trust --
As you lie there, I look
into your eyes and see a
foreign distance --
oh, how far we have travelled
Down this road to the
stripping darkness, the moment
our love was made for