He never much cared for kerosene lamps. The shadows cast, steady and foreboding. Always, Lockley had preferred the warm flicker of candlelight. But here, in this small hotel room, here was only kerosene.
He looked at The Brother, sprawled on the room’s only bed and cupping a shattered jaw in one hand. Ice melting through the fingers and allowing a thin steam of water down a hairy arm. The Brother gripped an unlit cigar in his other hand and there it would stay. He could not hold it in his mouth.
Below their room men shouted and laughed. Shot dice and drank. A lush was perched at a piano and steadily the music grew sloppier and more disjointed until it ceased to be music and was only noise.
Lockley turned from The Brother. On a table, next to the lamp, was an old revolver. It had belonged to their father. He thought about putting a bullet through The Brother’s temple. After all, there was no money for a doctor and The Brother could not make the ride home. He thought of smashing the lamp and burning down the damn hotel. The damn town. He thought of starting over as a new person, someone better than he was. But what he thought would never win out over what he knew. What he knew, he could never pull the trigger. What he knew, he could never be anything but what he was.
* * *
Last night they had slept on cold, coarse sand three miles outside the town. Just West, torches lit the street and lamps burned in windows. At this distance, looked as though stars had sunk from the sky and settled just above the earth. A jar of blackberry jam was shared between the two, Lockley and The Brother. But their bread was too stale and the remainder they fed to the horses.
Though the night was cold neither man proposed a fire. It was understood that stealth could not be sacrificed for any degree of comfort. So they curled around each other in the dark and tried to sleep but could not. In the town, so close now after all those days on horseback, in the town was Carver. And where Carver did reside, so too did wealth.
Neither fully understood what Carver had done. But they understood anything vile enough to warrant a $5,000 bounty was likely something to hang for. Neither knew how to go about catching the fugitive. But they knew money of that sort could not be made through rational means. And what was more, they knew where Carver had run.
* * *
What sounded like guttural hissing was really The Brother asking for more ice. His broken face allowing little clarity in communication. So Lockley went downstairs to the bar, being in the odd position of wanting terribly to be out of that room and at the same time wanting terribly to hole up. Wanting terribly to be nowhere.
All that evening the bartender had refused Lockley a glass of ice alone and so charged him for a whiskey each time. A whiskey, hold the whiskey. Little could be done. Lockley was in a strange place, far from home. And the only thing worse than being blatantly fleeced was listening to that awful noise The Brother made when he needed something. That God-awful noise.
* * *
Earlier, as dawn had broken, The Brother kicked the door in. Both men entered Carver’s hotel room, Lockley bringing up the rear and holding the revolver level. Carver, awake long before, rose from his chair. His confusion gave to fury. Gave to understanding.
When all three had been in grade school some twenty years previous, Carver regaled the siblings with stories of a town five days west. The elder Carver had relocated there and sent the rare postcard recounting his hazards and victories. No doubt exaggerated. So when Carver ran, a price put upon him, Lockley and The Brother took an educated guess.
In the hotel room Carver and The Brother stood close enough to kiss. Lockley, a few paces back, still with the gun. We’re going to take you in, The Brother said as if it were agreed upon. But just as he spoke, a quick uppercut on the part of Carver snapped The Brother’s head back all fierce. Teeth and blood, mucus and spit flew. The Brother fell. And Lockley found the only thing worse than having no gun to pull, was pulling a gun and having no intention of pulling the trigger.
Carver walked past, walked down the stairs, walked out of the hotel. Lockley gathered up The Brother, laid him on the bed and closed the door. $5,000 so far gone. But when a man with something to gain faces a man with everything to lose, the same man will win every time.
* * *
Sunrise brought with it a few hours of silence. The Brother had passed out or gone completely into shock, Lockley could not tell which. The lamp extinguished and in its stead hung sober, grey morning.
The revolver on the table still. Generally untouched and completely unused. Lockley picked it up and gave good thought to its weight. The weight of everything he was not. Everything he would never be. He gave good thought to Carver, how he pushed right past the day before. Lockley had figured himself a real vigilante but Carver did not believe for one second. And where do we really exist? In our own mind or in the minds of others?
He gave good thought to pistol’s weight and decided he would do anything to lessen the burden. Anything, if only to lighten the load by a single bullet.