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Ghosts Around the Fire

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Irish’s definition of popular seemed not to line up with everyone else’s. The ferry ride over had been filled to the brim with bullets from the Mexican Army. They were sure Irish said the reason why, but none of them had paid attention after the first few shots had been fired. They only watched to keep an general eye on John.

In his lucky usual self, John manages to make it over the border, and rides into Chuparosa. As he walks in, the flames show three Mexican men speaking to each other in Spanish. They can only catch a few of the words thanks to their time with Javier. But anything else, they don’t understand. What they do understand is the looks they shoot John. One of them calls out asking if he understands Spanish.

“No, sir.” John says something that they assume means he doesn’t speak Spanish, and the trio laugh. He then asks if they understand English, which the man acting as leader replies back he does.

“Hablo ‘filthy fucking bean eater’…” he starts listing off all the things he’s been called in English while circling around John. The other two laugh. “Hey, what you doing here, gringo? I don’t remember inviting you to my country.”

“I don’t think you did, amigo. I mean you no harm.” They note an older white man watching in the back ground as the leader of the group laughs again.

“You mean us no harm? This is funny! What harm could you do to us, exactly?”

“Nothing, amigo.” It surprises them how calm John is being again, even though they know he has got to know the three are planning something. “Now, I appreciate the welcome committee but I’d hate to spoil a beautiful afternoon on such beautiful land with any further unpleasantries. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” The leader holds up a hand stopping John from moving.

“Ah, hold it, gringo. I think you are forgetting something. A little taxation. I have a large family.” The group burst into laughter again.

“I too have a family, friend. So that we may see our families again, I suggest we part ways amicably.” One of the other two snatch John’s hat off his head. They expect the former gang member to explode in his usual rage, but John stays still surprising the even more.

“Can I see the boots, gringo?” the leader asks.

“I think you can see them from where you’re standing just fine, señor.” With a quick look at his companions, the leader starts to move back telling John to take off the boots. “As you wish.” He kneels to take them off making the group explode in laughter, but that laughter is quickly replaced by John firing three bullets killing the men.

“Oh for the love of God,” Arthur groaned into his hands. John takes his hat back as another voice speaks. It’s from the man that was watching.

“Oh, very good. Very good indeed, sir.” He rests his arm on the pillar next to him. “What a great way to improve border relations. An illiterate farmer crossing the river, coming into this civilization and butchering the local peasants. Thank you very much, sir.”

“Don’t mention it, old man.” John moved to the side as the old man walked forward.

“You kill peasants, you become a peasant.”

“I’ve never aspired to be anything more.”

“Ah, a socialist, huh?” he asks overlooking the bodies of the men John has killed. He faces John. “No wonder you left America.”

“I am many things, most of them bad, but a man of political principles, no.”

“Well, then I fear Mexico may not be for you, sir.” The older man walks close to John now.

“Don’t you worry about me.”

“Oh, but I do worry. An angry man, a long way from from home. A man who handles a gun as sloppy as you.” There’s varied snickers from the group. He’s both right and wrong. John handles the gun well, but he’s obviously rusty in a couple of other ways.

“I can handle a gun okay, partner.”

“Yeah, as long as you’re killing quail or peasants. But if you face another man, you don’t stand a chance.”

“And you do?”

“He’s humoring this guy, ain’t he?” Sean said leaning forward on his elbows.

“Yes, he is,” Hosea replied. “Very much so. I suspect John could kill him quite easily, but I do wonder who he is. There’s something familiar about him.”

“I can show you a few tricks. Come with me.”

“Hold on, what’s your name?”

“Ah, that doesn’t matter anymore. And you?”

“I’ve never had a name, mister. I was raised in an orphanage.”

“A real American, huh?” he chuckles raising his hand to shake John’s. “Wonderful, just wonderful.” The two head off and the scene flickers to show John aiming and firing.

“Well, you won’t make it in the circus, but you can shoot. Keep on practicing.” John thanks him, and fires another shot before the old man asks him who he was.

“No one interesting. Who are you?”

“Landon Ricketts.” The name made several them twitch in their seats. Landon Ricketts was one of the most famous gunslingers in the West, and many of them grew up to his stories. To see John meeting him in the flesh was quite the shock. “Not a name that means much anymore.”

“It means a little. You were famous when I was boy.” For once, John looked happier out of actual joy, and not from growing closer to his so far unrevealed goal.

“Ya, killing men is a strange kind of fame, I was the fastest in my time. I must have been. I’m the only one left.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Living quietly, waiting.” John goes to aim, but pulls his gun away.

“For what?”

“I don’t know and you?” John turns holstering his gun.

“I’m looking for a couple of men, Bill Williamson, Javier Escuella.” Ricketts hands him a cigarette. “Escuella is from here.”

“It could be, this whole place is teaming with a, with Americans on the run, mercenaries, locals hell-bent on revolution.” John sits next to Landon.

“Revolution? Another one?”

“Yeah. Never really ends. This whole place has been a hot bed for revolution since before the Spanish left. Now, there’s another local guy running around promising the peasants their freedom. Hah, just like the last two or three. Local goverment, foul bunch. Colonel Allende, he runs this place like a feudal king. He’s an awful individual.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah… until someone puts a bullet in his head.” Getting up, Landon told John to get back to it. “You got to keep that back straight, otherwise it makes the gun jump.” He hands John a Schofield. “See if this Schofield makes a difference. Now that’s a real gun.” With three quick bullets, the bottles shatter into pieces. “Well done. Now that wasn’t so hard was it? Follow me. We’re gonna try something a little more challenging.”

Landon instructs John to kill the scavenger birds that terrorize the local population. A few more bullets and a few dead birds, the two are walking back into Chuparosa with Landons surprise John’s heard of him.

“I would have thought an old goat like me would have been long forgotten by now.”

“I heard many a story when I was a boy. Still do, sometimes.”

“What, these days? I find that hard to believe. What do people say?”

“Oh, you know how them conversations go. Fellas arguin’ over who’s the toughest, who’s the fastest, and who shot people in the back.”

“I wonder if I get mentioned as Sean “Deadeye” MacGuire, fastest hand in the van der Linde gang,” Sean cackled with glee.

“Doubtful,” Lenny said. “You weren’t that good.”

“Hey!”

“He’s right, Sean. I do remember you getting knocked about a lot.” Sean groaned and threw his hands in the air.

“I’d place good money on me still being the fastest.” As they passed the bank, a man came out shouting at Landon asking for a favor.

“Our bank wagon’s under attack just outside of town! We need your help again.” Landon raised a hand.

“Whoa, slow down, Ramon. We’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you, señor. Again, you are the savior of this town.”

“Well, my friend, are you ready to take a less theoretical exam?”

“Sure, I don’t think I ever rode with no savior before.” Landon smiled before heading to the horses. John followed hot on his heels. They rode out of the city, and towards where wagon was.

“So why are you looking for these two men?” They leaned forward again hoping to glean more details about why John was doing this. He had kept the details very close to his chest, and perhaps he’d be more honest with Landon than with everyone else.

“It’s a long story. We used to ride together. We was all friends once.”

“Only a buzzard feeds on his friends. There must be a high bounty on their heads.”

“What would you do if somebody took the people you loved, and told you they’d die if you didn’t do as they asked?” John’s words send chills down everyone’s throat. It seemed one of their theories had been correct. Abigail and Jack, maybe even Uncle, were being held hostage by Ross. He was hanging thier lives over John’s head. Otherwise John probably wouldn’t have left Beecher’s Hope.

“He’s a real right bastard that Agent Ross,” Sean spit.

“That he is,” Lenny agreed. “Using Abigail and Jack to get what he wants. God knows what he’ll do when John finishes this. If he finishes it before getting killed. John’s lucky, but that luck has to run out sooner or later.”

“Hopefully later,” Hosea chipped in before going quiet as they pair come across the wagon.

“Look, over there! They’re in trouble alright. Come on!” The world turns red, and threo x’s appear over three men. Gunfire echoes, and bodies drop. The hostage is able to break free, and climbs up onto the wagon. One snap of the reins, and the group is heading back to Chuparosa. Landon tells John to keep his eyes peeled.

“I can see you haven’t lost your touch, Landon.”

“Nobody said I had. You talk real big for a boy who couldn’t shoot straight a half hour ago.”

“And you talk big for an old man who can’t stand straight no more.”

“You’re a long way from being a Landon Ricketts, partner; young old or otherwise.” The wagon driver shouts out something, and they see another wagon with three bandits next to it. Two guns silence the men before the bandits can silence John and Landon. “Good work, boys! Now let’s get this wagon back where it belongs.”

“So much for this quiet life of yours, Mister Ricketts.”

“I didn’t say I’d become a coward. I’m not going to stand by and watch good people suffer. They’ve been beaten down for too long. I give them some hope.”

“They don’t know how lucky they are.”

“Damn right they don’t, my sarcastic little apprentice.” Arriving safely, the driver thanks Landon, and he tells the man to buy him a whiskey later, and he’d call it even. John watches the two go in before heading to stay at the inn. It’s been a long day, and he needs to rest. The dead sit quietly waiting for the flame to flare up again. They’re not sure what else they can say now that they know Ross is lording Abigail and Jack over John.