I. Gunsight [El Paso]
Being in someone’s sight normally sets the hair on Mortimer’s neck rising moments before it happens.
But this time—it caught him completely by surprise. A searing sensation through his brass spy-glass to a pair of binoculars exactly across from his room. Intentional, perfectly placed. He can still feel the residual gaze prickle on his fingertips later that day, even as he turns the pages of the newspaper. The smell of ink sharpens his senses, training his eyes towards the stranger who knows him. Or knows of him.
Yeah, he’s good, that one. It’s been a long time since Mortimer has gotten a smile, an assured nod like that.
And from another bounty hunter. He smiles around the pipe when he finds the page, his eyes seeking out the familiar vest and particular jaw. A good one, too.
The man has guts, Mortimer will give him that. A plan is already starting to form, something to even out the odds, and another gun at his side rather than at his back. But that’s getting ahead of yourself. You don’t quite know what kind of man he is.
He certainly was…intriguing, though. And this is exactly the kind of job that begs for a partner.
Mortimer shuts the book of newspapers with the smallest quirk of his lips.
The day turns to evening before he knows it, bringing an itch to his hands even as he lays out the pistols and rifles, one by one on the scratched desk top. There’s not much to be done with Indio, for now, though he knows the man’s weak spots as sure as he knows the trigger of every single one of his guns. And I know exactly where a partner could be useful.
He lights a spot of tobacco, casting a quick glance to the fluttering lace at the window. What is he doing, right now, this bounty hunter? Does he know more than I do?
He’s already gained the upper hand, which is what keeps Mortimer scrubbing at the inside of the barrel, keeping everything in tight order. Never know when it might end in blood, as much as that would be bad business for both of us.
Best keep my head. Panicking and doing something rash is exactly what he’s after.
No, if I wait. He’ll be sure to come to me.
It’s turning quite late, the shop lights leaving no glow in the streets. Only a fool would pick a fight at a time like this. A visit doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the night. It hasn’t quite cooled yet either, something hanging warm and sticky in the air. A storm wind, starting to tease at the curtains. So another point for the visit coming tomorrow.
Best get some sleep then. With one eye open.
He sets his pistol down on his nightstand, and starts to unbutton his waistcoat, shrug off his tie. Without the jacket, tie, waistcoat, he almost feels like there might be something left outside of Douglas Mortimer, bounty hunter, former colonel who couldn’t stomach another day giving orders.
He sets the pocket watch on his bedside last, listening to the tick of the clock in the room. So this is it. The job that will be the last one. And I’ll see it done, whatever it takes.
He’s been at the mirror turning over logistics while shaving for almost a quarter of an hour when the breeze tickles at the back of his neck. He brushes the hair off his bare chest, realizing that the pickup of the storm has blown the curtains ajar.
And if I were him, I wouldn’t miss this opportunity. Mortimer gets to his feet slowly, setting the towel down on the vanity and feeling particularly grateful his pants are still on. Sure enough, the light across the roadway betrays the watcher. So he wants me to know he sees me.
Squinting into the darkness, Mortimer makes out a stare as brazen as the one he might have given one of the boys in his division, before cracking a smile, making a joke, all good fun between soldiers. A little appraisal that went straight to the groin. It feels warmer in the room, even now.
It’s in his eyes, too. Even from a distance, Mortimer can read it. And that little tilt of his head before he looks down. Well . Mortimer remembers when he was that shameless, too. Back when he would have told his friends to call him Douglas, told the ones who matched rank with him to meet him in his tent later for cards. Or something like it.
Back when he had friends to tell that to.
He pulls the curtains shut again, and latches the window as well. Without the breeze in the room, the heat of the night becomes stifling.
Just another thing to bear out, really.
II. A Story Told [El Paso, Evening]
It only takes the bounty hunter a day longer to end up on Mortimer’s doorstep, his style of greeting a lot less finessed than Mortimer expects from a man who’d bested him.
Man-- Mortimer corrects again, a slight guilt churning in his stomach, he’s practically a boy. Or at least I ought to keep him thinking that way.
Taking the upper hand isn’t just a power move, it’s almost necessary. The boy is sharp, and though sun-scars on his face age him, he still doesn’t have the forethought to make a plan that won’t get him killed.
Being a sharpshooter will only get you so far. But the boy seems to know that, at least. Before long, they’re drinking to a partnership, the breeze gently whispering through the lace of the curtains. He regards Mortimer for a moment, like he’s holding in a question with the smoke of the cigar. The clock in the room ticks.
“Tell me, Colonel. Were you ever young?” the address to his title stings a bit, but it’s the intensity of his gaze that catches him by surprise.
“Yup. And just as reckless as you,” he pauses, reaching automatically for his family pocket-watch. Someone ought to remind you of that, and often.
“But then something happened. Made life very precious to me.”
They’re old words, and he doesn’t look at the boy when he says them. The stopwatch goes out of time with the tick of the clock. He can feel the stare in the hair on his neck.
The glance he gives him might yet be accusatory, a betrayal, almost. Come on, boy. A partnership only goes so far. Manco lowers his eyes.
“Or is the question indiscreet?”
“No. The question isn’t indiscreet. But the answer could be,” Mortimer shuts the watch, running a finger over it fondly, and in spite of it, Manco doesn’t look away. Then the moment passes, Manco kicks his boots off the table, suddenly tense and unwelcome.
No—that wasn’t what I meant.
“I used to be a colonel,” is what comes out, which is almost a foolish thing to say. But there is something in the used to , a confession there to supplant the one he can’t quite manage anymore.
“I know,” Manco glances up at him, hands on his knees, “I used to wanna be a sheriff.”
“What happened? That is, if that isn't a question with an indiscreet answer.”
Mortimer isn't sure what makes him ask, only that Manco seems to have settled on not leaving just yet. The lamps are running low in the room, making his cheeks look more scarred than they are.
It doesn’t seem the wrong question, at least .
Manco sucks hard for a moment on the cigar, lips moist and cracked, “Star didn't mean a lot to people who wore it. So I didn't see why it should mean anything to me.”
Was there someone who meant something to you, who the law never protected? Mortimer nibbles at the pipe to prevent himself from asking. It’s a hopeful thought, that their stories might yet share some grief. Too hopeful . But Manco is studying him with flinty eyes, as if daring him to speak
“I think I decided that a lot later than you did,” Mortimer pours himself a third shot of whiskey, letting the sear of it answer the question.
“My father taught me that.”
“Yeah. When he was shot dead over ten cents worth of whiskey. Sheriff did hell all to find the man who did it.”
“And did you?” he presses on. The glance he gets from Manco is surprised, grateful even.
“Killed him a long time ago,” Manco nods over the cigar, measuring Mortimer’s reaction. It's then that he realizes in asking after his past, this was the story Manco really wanted to tell. Wanted someone to hear, for once.
“Then you did all you can, and you did it all right.”
Manco purses his lips strangely in what looks like it could be a smile. It tugs somewhere in Mortimer’s gut, tugs the corner of his lips as well. The clock on the chest of drawers chimes, making him reach for his pocket watch instinctively. His own story is on the tip of his tongue, but he swallows the words, knowing full well Manco never wanted to hear it in the first place.
Gave up telling that story a long time ago. Sick of the apologies. Still. It’s nice to give someone what they were after, for once. Almost as good.
“Please, call me Mortimer. That's the only name I take these days,” three shots of whiskey isn’t much, but there is something loose and comfortable hanging in the glance they share, now, “And what should I call you?”
“Have it your way, old man,” Manco finishes his cigar, his profile in the lamplight sharply reminding Mortimer of the years between them, “And I think you know my name.”
“Doesn't mean I don't want know what to call you.”
“Manco. Manco is fine.”
He lets his lips quirk a bit when he matches Manco’s gaze. So we do this as equals. Or something like it.
“Right then, boy,” he smirks, finishing up his pipe, “You’d better get started.”
III. Godspeed [Road to Agua Caliente]
The panic in Mortimer’s throat gallops quick with the hooves of the horse. Indio is long gone, and Manco after him. But as the dust and grit thunder behind him, it’s easy to decide who to bet on.
He’s not as ready to bet on the partnership, though. Once he catches up, that much is clear.
“You were the one who had their strategy all worked out. Now I’m going to meet Indio—“
“I see. I better go it alone,” the words feel wooden, perfunctory. This might be what has to be done.
From the twist of Manco’s eyebrows, he’s long since decided that. Without Mortimer.
“I’m going alone, me. I have an appointment with Indio and I’m not going to let anyone else interfere.”
“You certain about that?” the weight in his stomach doubles. You’re going to get yourself killed.
“That’s right, Colonel,” Manco nods slightly, probably knowing the title will be a slap in the face. It makes the next move that much easier.
“Alright, in that case, I’m sorry,” the reach for his pistol is about as natural as it always is, the aim and trigger smoothly oiled, just the way he left it.
It’s only after he pulls it that he feels a shudder go through him. One that he hasn’t felt since he was a soldier, let alone a colonel.
“That’s not bad.”
Barely a touch, really. He says it almost to himself, to calm the beating of his heart. He’s not sure if it’s the blood on Manco’s hand or the tired betrayal in his eyes that does it. But it’s easy to talk him down, even though Mortimer can tell that he’s lying through his teeth.
When Manco pulls on his reins to ride off after Indio, the sick uncertainty only gets worse.
You're supposed to have this all figured out. Predicting what Manco will do seems daunting. He's made the moves that Mortimer expected so far, the ones Mortimer himself would have made. But catching up to them feels more important than ever, and he damn well knows going north is a lost cause. Where will he decide to lead them? The border?
He pulls on the reins of his horse, making a show of going north in case Manco glances back. He doesn’t. Not that Mortimer was expecting him to. It’s only a half-mile of trotting through the rough canyons, tempted to reach for his pipe to calm his still-thumping heart that he realizes: Indio’s not going to trust anything that Manco suggests, no matter what it is.
And Indio, Mortimer has been following long enough to have a good guess as to where he’ll go. He tugs on the reins and digs in his spurs, driving the horse harder than is strictly necessary. But there’s an urgency thumping in his chest, and the whistle of wind past his ears eases it, just a little.
Agua Caliente is just as desolate as he remembers, its inhabitants sparse and always looking over their shoulder. He keeps to the outskirts, knowing the attitude well towards strangers in town. The bandits that once knew of him there are dead by now, by gun or by rope. Some of them by his own Buntline. But there will be more to take their place. Always are.
He ties his horse and slips in past the dusty white houses with an air of belonging. By the time he makes it to the bar, he knows he won't be bothered. At least not until Indio rides into town. With Manco.
Knowing what to offer Indio is simple: he’s had that skill ever since he’d gone on the inside as an apprentice to a chemist for a similar gang. A trial run, as it were. For a job too long in the waiting.
He reaches for his pocket-watch, not wanting to take it out under prying eyes. Eight years he'd taken to get this far. Or to build up the guts for it. So maybe that’s what’s making me nervous, being so close, and the possibility of it slipping away.
Against his better judgement, Mortimer gets a whiskey for his nerves. It’s then that he hears hoofbeats on the road outside, at a familiar gait. People slipping in the bar, getting off the streets. So a stranger in town.
Three guesses who that is.
He heads up the stairs carefully, so as not to give his position away. There are already three men gathered in the bright sunlight, and on the other side-- his would-be partner. Mortimer feels something in his stomach loosen at the sight of the familiar hat, the scowl under its brim.
Facing down those three and lighting a cigar like there’s nothing that can touch him.Was I ever quite that arrogant, even as a young man?
The sun-glare in Manco’s eyes doesn't look young, not now. A coolness settles over the desert heat as Manco approaches the men. But he hasn’t yet realized there’s someone looking out for him. Mortimer smiles, waiting for the right moment. Then, a distraction-- or rather, an opportunity in the form of a child, straining for the apples on the tip of the tree.
The gunfire, then joined by his own, clears his head as it cuts through the silence. One by one the apples fall, and he is graced by a searing glance, a frown around a cigar.
“Bravo.” So cynical. The last of the anxiety fades, to be replaced by a fierce, heated protective instinct that burns all the way to his toes. It’s then that he realizes, or accepts, what kept him urging his horse forward to Agua Caliente.
It only sharpens when Manco meets his eyes, grudgingly admitting defeat.
Mortimer well knows he’s deep in it now.
IV. Another apple to shoot to pieces [Agua Caliente, mid day]
Breaking the safe goes just as smoothly as he’d planned, despite his distraction. By the time the money is holed up in that old chest with a lock Mortimer can pick easily, the sun has already well past its noon peak over Agua Caliente. Outside the bar, Indio is sizing him up next to Manco, an expression of distaste twisting his hateful face.
“Walk with me, stranger. And you too, amigo,” his voice doesn’t offer options.
“Alright,” Mortimer nods warily. It's just as well - - against his better emotional judgment he wants to keep Manco close. They stride in silence down the streets of Agua Caliente. It may be late in the day, but the heat hasn’t broken yet. Before long they arrive at a familiar street on the edge of the city, overlooking an apple tree.
“You like apples, stranger? Like Manco does?” Indio leers at him, “Can you do me a favour. Why don’t you get us some for dinner.”
Indio jerks his head towards the tree. Mortimer raises an eyebrow. He would not take such indignity from an ordinary man. Bad for business. But Indio is no ordinary man. And from the look in his eyes, there might be bloodshed if he argues.
“Not able to shoot them down yourself?”
“Show me how you would do it, amigo,” his eyes flicker to Mortimer’s waistcoat for a moment, where the watch is safely tucked into place. It’s a moment of panic before Mortimer realizes he’s eyeing the pistol.
“Alright,” he steps off the path towards the tree, still heavy with apples.
“You too,” he jerks his head at Manco, who frowns, but obliges when Mortimer gives an imperceptible nod. They walk in silence, keeping footing along the almost sandy slope to where the tree watches the scene play out. It’s always games with Indio.
Testing loyalty. Seeing how far it will go.
Mortimer isn’t sure he’s ready to see how deep his loyalty to Manco runs.
“What’s Indio after with this?” Manco shoots three apples down in quickstep, giving his pistol a spin.
“Not sure. He probably is looking to assess how dangerous we are together. It would be best not to show him too much of what we can do. He most likely has figured we know each other, that’s why he’s isolating us. But we should play the fool, for now. See if we can find out what he wants.”
“Alright, old man,” Manco takes out an apple slightly off-center, spewing pieces of it over the both of them. He brushes them off his shoulder, taking a moment to light a cigar. Mortimer watches the flame next to his lips for longer than he ought to before catching his eye and resuming their work.
“It's uh. Good to have the partnership back,” Manco takes a shot without looking at him. He's so surprised that no witty repartee comes to mind.
“Is it now?”
“Well, yeah. It's like you were saying, old man. Fourteen is a lot. And life can be precious when twenty thousand dollars is on the line,” he drawls it carelessly, but his sidelong glance betrays his curiosity.
Been thinking a lot about what I said, have you? Mortimer wishes he could pretend that meant little to him. He doesn’t let his face betray him, focusing on amassing enough apples. As much as it is a waste of bullets.
Mortimer glances back to Agua Caliente, feeling Indio’s gaze on them, even if he can't quite place where from, “How did it feel when you found him?”
“I might consider that question indiscreet, old man,” he scowls, but doesn't seem all that upset, really.
“You're not obligated to answer,” Mortimer takes aim with his Buntline, taking down two apples, missing one by an appropriate margin.
“It felt good for an hour,” he pauses, reloading his gun, “Didn't have anywhere to go for weeks after, though.”
Mortimer catches his eye, nodding seriously. He picks up an apple from the weed - strewn, dusty ground and tosses it to Manco. They chew them in silence for a while, Mortimer trying not to take too much notice of the way his mouth wraps around the apple. Remember what you're here for.
God knows, you’re too old to get involved. That’s an indiscreet thought. He fingers the pocket-watch, reminding himself of his real goal here. Of who watches them. Manco continues to study him, just as insistent as on the first night he’d asked, but this time his curiosity is gentler. He really wants to know. And Mortimer, to his own surprise, wants to tell him. Mortimer takes another apple down, then the words come easily.
“Someone close to me was murdered. Or. Something like it.”
“Yeah? Like it, how?” It's almost not a question. Mortimer suspects he knew the death by instinct. But Manco waits, patience without a challenge for once
“Her lover was murdered, she was raped, and she shot herself while the man was on top of her,” It's the shortest he's ever told the tale, an exhale rather than a drawn out affair with pitying stares. He dares not look at Manco.
“Why didn’t she shoot him?”
The question is so barefaced, so utterly shameless that Mortimer has to laugh, short and bitter. But it doesn't hurt. Not this time.
“You know, I’ve asked myself the same question.”
Manco doesn’t ask if Mortimer has killed the man responsible. Perhaps he can sense that there’s unfinished business . His chest tightens with a peculiar mixture of anticipation and residual pain. But it’s not so hard, looking Manco in the eye, now. Almost pleasant.
Manco twists his lips upward, something like a smile. They break the gaze at the sound of gunfire, and that god-awful laughter as Indio heads towards them, with Nino beside him, carrying a basket.
“Good. Good. Count them, Nino,” he grins at the two of them.
“One, two, three - -”
The counting is interrupted by a gunshot.
“That's fourteen. We already have ours,” Manco catches the apple as it falls, tossing it towards Indio, who shoots it off center and catches the remains with his free hand.
“Good,” he grins the longest at Mortimer before taking a vicious bite of the shattered apple.
V. Given Names, Taken [Agua Caliente, nightfall]
The only sensation that forces Mortimer ’s throbbing head up is the urgent rhythm of his heartbeat, pounding under the moon’s glow. He takes stock. A stable, recently used from the smell of it, and a thin rope tying him to a splintered fence. There’s blood on his lips, but he doesn’t feel any broken bones, at least. Teeth might have taken the worst of that.
He makes out the slumped form of his partner on the other side of the pillar, sitting with his head lolling against the wood. Mortimer can hear the uneveness of his breaths from across the room. It makes his chest tighten further.
“Manco,” he hisses. No response. And he dare not speak any louder, though he's relatively certain they're alone for now. He takes a few heavy breaths, remembering his military training. His fingers, bruised as they are, crawl their way up towards the rope.
He struggles in the bonds for a moment, writhing his fingers to get the shape of the knot. A variant on a bowline loop. Careless. Or intentional. He works his aching fingers hard for the next few minutes, gritting his teeth against the pain.
After his wrists are raw with the effort, he finally loosens the knot and slips the bonds, his pulse pounding with worry by now. Immediately he crosses the room to kneel at Manco’s feet. In the half-light his bruises look ghastly, his skin uncharacteristically pale.
“Manco. Manco, can you hear me,” he dares to place a hand on the side of the other man’s face, stomach dropping at his shallow pulse. His eyelids flicker.
“M’alright,” he raises his head, leaning it into Mortimer’s hand. The soft rasp of his cheek sends a jolt of pleasure into Mortimer’s chest, despite his fear,“How did you--”
“Don’t try to talk just yet. I think I can get you some water,” he reluctantly drops his hand, hoping the canteen hanging in the corner is at least partially full. It has a reassuring weight, and he gives the water a quick glance for clarity, splashing it on his hand in the dim moonlight.
“Did they get your teeth?” he hunkers down and lifts the canteen to Manco’s lips slowly, only spilling a little down his chin.
“Uh-uh,” he shakes his head, blinks several times, glancing down from Mortimer’s cheeks to his chest, “You?”
“I’m fine,” he soaks the handkerchief from his breast pocket with a splash of the water, and dabs the blood off Manco’s head, “I think your skull is intact. A lot of those were showy punches, but sloppy. You feel dizzy at all? Or sick?”
“Not any worse than I have before,” Manco holds his gaze, making Mortimer suddenly acutely aware of their proximity. His stare is searching, positively arresting. Mortimer's fingers crawl down his neck without thinking about it, gasping a little at the warm blood he finds there.
“Yeah, and whose fault is that?” Manco goes for what might be a smile, but it comes out as a grimace.
“I'm sorry,” he says, though he well knows he has no reason to be. He blots the blood on to the handkerchief.
“Doesn't mean anything,” Manco’s reply is strange, distracted. Mortimer can feel the pulse thumping on his neck while he cleans the wound, but he doesn't raise his head again.
“Okay, alright, you can untie me. I’m okay,”
“Your breathing is off,” Mortimer reaches for his ribs, noting where he flinches when the fingers graze over top of his vest.
“Mortimer, we don’t have time.”
“You’re right, we don’t,” Mortimer sighs down to his bones. Knowing how hard this is going to be to take, “I'm sorry. I can't untie you.”
“What?” the betrayal that twists Manco's face, however brief, hits harder than a lot of the punches that night.
“No, that's not what I mean, I'm staying. I'm not going anywhere, Manco,” he presses his hands to Manco’s shoulders, willing him to think, “If I untie you, you’re going to go barrelling right out of here, aren't you?”
“Of course we are, we stay here we’ll be sitting ducks!” Manco hisses, trying to struggle upright and wincing.
“If we go out there, we’ll be walking targets.”
“We can’t just do nothing-- ”
“We’ve got to think this through, right?” he falters for the voice he often uses, the voice that’s almost-but-not-quite Colonel Mortimer, “If Indio wanted us dead, he would have killed us already. And I don’t like our odds unarmed here.”
“Odds to hell, they might just be keeping us around for sport,” even in the half-light, Mortimer can see the fear glinting in the younger man’s eyes, feels it right down to his bones. And what if I'm wrong?
“I’d think that, if I didn’t know the way the man thinks. There’s a method to his madness, sure as there’s a madness to his methods. But our best bet is to keep our strength, and wait. For at least until just before dawn. If anything happens, it will be before then.”
Manco opens his mouth, then snaps it shut again, his lips going white under his teeth. He knows though. Knows well that I'm not wrong. And that’s reassuring, as much as the small chance he might be wrong terrifies him. He reties Manco’s scarf, to stem the bleeding from the graze. Manco doesn’t speak, but lets him continue to clean the both of them up.
“You’re not in good shape either. Blood on your mouth,” Manco says through gritted teeth, after a moment.
“That’ll be a tooth, I think.”
“You gonna be okay?” it's sullen, but not without bite. He really is afraid. Mortimer chooses to ignore the question, touching his hand gently to Manco's right ribcage.
“I think you might have cracked a rib.”
“I’ve had worse.”
“A cracked rib is as bad as it gets and still have you be useful, boy,” he tries to make light of it, but it's hard not to let the fear get to him too.
“Don’t act like I’m ‘young’, Mortimer. I’ve seen a lot more than you think.”
“I don’t doubt it,” his voice is soft. There's something on the tip of his tongue, “When I was young. My friends called me Douglas.”
“Douglas,” he turns the name on his lips like he’s tasting it. He jerks his head slightly, beckoning Mortimer closer.
“Daniel. That's what they used to call me.”
It’s impossible to tell who moves first, and in the aftermath Mortimer will be certain the movement of Manco towards him was but his imagination. There are chapped, bloodied lips against his, and suddenly he’s kissing Manco, tasting the raw, unflinching texture of the open road, the tang of his tobacco.
He kisses just as hard as Mortimer imagined, coaxing him with tongue and teeth and all the arrogance that makes him lethal on the trail. Mortimer slips a hand to his face, and he loosens, just an inch to lick at the bloodied corner of Mortimer’s lip like a fever dream.
There’s a sudden rustle outside that cuts into his ears, throwing their bodies apart in seconds. He has his hands on the rope, retying the knots faster than he believed possible. For a tense moment, there is silence in the room.
Then the movement reveals itself as nothing more than a jackrabbit, scruffling past the door in the last of the dusky light. Mortimer almost wants to laugh, but the tension of the moment before catches in his throat.
Oh god. The resounding silence is terrible. A name is on the tip of his tongue, but he can’t quite bring himself to say a word.
What on earth have I done? Minutes crawl by. He adjusts himself, resigning himself to the sick dread of fear, now joined by the weight of what they had just shared.
I could be dead tomorrow and he could just as well be.
Life has never seemed more precious or more unbearable than this moment. By his stomach it feels like something is missing, replaced. A familiar tick out of time. He can't bring himself to dwell on it.
No, Mortimer. You have to finish the job. For Clara.
There's nothing else.
After a time, Manco, (his name still sticks to Mortimer’s throat, as stolen as the kiss still burning on his lips), struggles upright, leaning heavily against the pillar. But he doesn’t turn around.
VI. Paved with good intentions [Agua Caliente, late morning]
The standoff is a hell of a thing to watch. Manco could tell that Mortimer had been itching for it from the moment he caught sight of him in the bar.
And now, old man? Here's your moment.
It has its own taste of redemption, watching the old man give Indio what was coming to him. The fear in Indio's eyes is something to be savored. After all, he knows damn well that both of them are a much quicker draw.
Just the same, he's glad Mortimer is carrying his gun.
The chimes begin to die next to the young girl’s photograph. Manco wishes he had asked how many years it's been, how long it took to sign the blood oath. That part isn't easy neither.
He takes the last moment to relish the hatred in Mortimer’s eyes, the fluid motion when he takes the shot. Say what you will about his age, the man moves like poetry.
Or poetic justice. He waits for Indio to gasp his last breath, certain of his victory. The man goes down in the dust like the mad dog he was.
It's over too fast. It always will be, Manco knows.
“Bravo,” there it is. Giving back what he'd offered Manco. But of course, Mortimer is too deep in it, eyes trained on the corpse.
He watches Mortimer pick up the watch, moving carefully to join him, standing as close as he dares. Breathing the scent of bloodshed, the soft musk of sweat.
“There seems to be a family resemblance,” he keeps his voice easy, like speaking to a nervous horse, “Here.”
The watch had cut loose the night before, when Manco had given in, taken what he wanted. Kissed that infuriating Colonel and to hell with broken ribs and vengeance promises. Just once. Just in case.
Not that he doesn't want at least a little more from Mortimer. Maybe.
“Naturally. Between brother and sister,” Mortimer is eager to walk away, eager not to dwell on how he got a hold of it. That's just fine by him.
He holds out his hand, and for a moment Mortimer falters with the watch. Then he realizes what he's asking for, slips off the gun with ease.
Manco wonders if he would have taken the pocket watch, if Mortimer would have offered it. A wild panic crawls over his skin as he takes the gun.
The man has his name, knows him better than anyone short of his own Ma, probably. Manco chews on the quirley, a reminder that he doesn't take that name anymore.
Names traded in the dark don't mean shit.
Names belong on tombstones, and he knows as well as me.
Manco knows Mortimer will take it to the grave, if it comes to that. It's a small comfort.
“My boy, you've become rich,” his smile is butter - easy, back to the way he talked down to Manco from the start. Yeah, back to pretending. Professionally.
I can do that.
“You mean we’ve become rich, old man.”
“No, it's all for you. I think you deserve it.”
He’s going. Manco’s chest feels heavy as lead. Of course he's going.
“What about our partnership?” it sounds stupid even in his head, twice as much when he can't stop it slipping out.
“Maybe next time.” his lips turn up with a message . I know you would have done the same.
And Manco knows he would have, hell, he was planning to. Just maybe after a night or two. Maybe. He chews on his burning lips.
Guess there ain't much to be done about that.
There's a long road ahead of Mortimer, the one road Manco has walked that he hasn't. Manco wouldn't want a partner on that road, neither. It's a path you carve alone. When you come out you don't look or call yourself the same as you did before.
He shoulders Indio’s corpse, dragging it to the wagon that's already starting to stink in the noonday sun.
Right. Count the bodies, same as ever. That's the kind of man Manco is. One who misses nothing.
“Twenty-two. Twenty-seven,” Manco feels the skin on his neck crawl, and his instincts slide the pistol out, pull the trigger before he can even think.
“Any trouble, boy?”
“No, old man. Thought I was having trouble with my adding,” he gives Mortimer a half-shrug, half nod.
You can go. Since you have to.
“It's alright now.”
Maybe the next time he says that, it will be. For Douglas Mortimer, and maybe for him too.