Some makeup from the show remained on their faces, and in the incomplete light of the bar, they appeared as clowns. The clowns among the other men and the stories they brought with them and their masculine agendas and the cigarette smoke, meanwhile a wind damp in the lonesome streets they walked in from.
The whore at her table just out of the light. Richard had sat at her table a while and came back to the bar. Joe remembered that when she first showed up, she sat at the end of the bar with no drink in front of her. Her eyes were strong and dark and she was skinny and her face was round and open. She sat in silence and looked at the ceiling or nodded to herself as if in agreement with what her newfound circumstances have revealed to her. Fat John, who Joe knew to be a father of four, was the first to approach her and follow her up the stairs. Fat John broke her in and after that she sat at the table just out of the light with a drink and took to smoking one cigarette after another.
Richard asked Joe what he thought the clowns wanted.
They're lookin at me.
No they're not.
They're lookin at me all right. And they're sayin somethin.
They're just lookin.
Joe watched the clowns' painted faces. They spoke a melodic tongue and passed a bottle of bootleg wine they stole or stomped with their own dirty feet. They looked at Richard, they stared without staring. They secreted something away in their smiles.
Richard couldn't hide the whiskey in his voice, can I help you sirs?
The clowns only sat there.
I said can I help you.
He was old and skinny and his sunken cheeks shown skeletal in the weak light. Behind him sat a fat one who smiled a gaping toothless smile. He turned to his friend and turned back and said, I know you.
The old clown pointed to himself and his friend, we know you.
No you don't.
No. We know you.
No sir, you don't understand.
Joe watched them. Their stark faces floating like ghosts over the bar. Conspiracy in their eyes and in their smiles. The drunkard Jefferson sat at the other end of the bar and smiled with the clowns. Joe stood, but you don't know me.
The old fieldhand Jefferson has decided he will never go back to the ranch. He hides his mangled foot beneath the bar. The pain of pulling the boot on. There is no taking it off.
He has spent every dollar he has, and when the coins in his pocket are gone, he will kill one of the boys or both. It will have to be the bold one first. Then the other will be his to kill or to impose his will on however he wishes. He will wake up to choosing when the boy is in his arms. His new life will begin with tomorrow's bloody sunrise.
He steps on the foot to see if it can carry any weight. He watches the boys.
Richard sat hunched at the bar. He'd had too much whiskey. His mind floated. His hand went from the glass to the hunting knife on his belt.
Joe pushed the knife back into its leather sheath.
I just wanna see em scared.
They won't scare.
The fat clown's serene face and his happy bulges spilling out on the bar. He sips the wine and smiles. His old friend looking across the bar, his whiskey untouched. His eyes alive and intelligent. His mind corrupt and deceitful and long given into what vices he met along his path. His regard for Richard and what he causes in the boy's mind.
Time to go.
What the hell.
Joe took richard by the shirt and pulled him out the door. He untied their horses and took them to the middle of the street.
Richard's horse acted up. It was frightened of Richard's hand and wouldn't take a rider.
Joe put Richard on his own horse. He held the head of Richard's horse tightly and tugged on its ear until it lowered its head. He held her head there for a while. He took measure of his own heart rate, then the horse's.
The clowns amid the smoke and the other men sitting in thought or in drink or in short conversation. Joe imagined the actress at the bar. She laughs, she is comfortable around her friends. She drinks like one of the men. But when she looks at Joe, she changes. He told Richard to get down and switch horses, she's ready.