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The Ballad of Wood Hite

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Robert Ford killed Wood Hite. He had to, and he felt no remorse for the act. Though Wood was Jesse James' own cousin, Robert still felt nothing but pride when he recalled the event. Dick Liddil had made Wood extremely angry by sleeping with his daddy's new wife. Wood intended to kill Dick for it, and so he went to the Harbison farm. Dick, Charley and Bob had been asleep upstairs. Bob woke up and listened to the low voices rise with heat, and he heard Wood's voice and jumped out of bed. He went over to Dick and shook him awake. They sat on their beds, guns cocked and ready. Charley slept on, obvilious. Wood came thumping up the stairs, and Dick and Robert held their breath as the footsteps suddenly stopped. Soon gun-fire broke out, the door burst open. Charley woke up with a start and jumped out the window to avoid Wood's rain of bullets, only to roll off the roof and into a snow bank.

Robert sat on his bed, shaking, hands sweating around the metal of the gun. Dick and Wood fired at each other, Dick hitting Wood in the arm, and Wood hitting Dick in the leg. Smoke drifted happily into the air as their shots missed and buried themselves into the walls and floor. Dick raised his gun a final time, aimed for Wood's head, but the gun snapped against an empty chamber. Picking up his gun, Wood drug himself purposefully over to Dick and pressed the gun into Dick's forehead, the gun clicking as he cocked it. Dick squeezed shut his eyes and steeled himself against death, and a gun went off. It was not Wood's gun that let off a charge, but Robert Ford's. The bullet caught Wood in the back of the head, coming out between his eyes. Soon Wood died, and Robert and his brother Wilbur threw him, naked, into a ditch, kicking snow over his body.

Robert Ford felt no regret. Dick was his friend; he was happy he protected him. Whenever the name Wood Hite was spoken, Robert would get an image of Wood and Charley digging through his personal belongings, mocking his childish obsession with the famous outlaw, Jesse James. He forgave his brother for that; Charley may have been a jerk at some times, but he would never hurt Bob. Wood, however, didn't give Bob such an easy feeling. Wood should have been grateful. He should have been respectful. Jesse James deserved to be admired. Wood was just a jealous old fool, and Robert was glad he was gone.

One night Jesse and Bob sat outside smoking together. The rest of the house had gone to bed. Jesse couldn't sleep because of his insomnia, and Robert couldn't sleep because of the cold feeling of being watched kept haunting him awake. Neither of them explained their reasons for being awake. They simply sat on the porch in their rocking chairs, puffing on cigars and blowing the smoke into the cool night air.

"I heard," Jesse spoke at last. "about Dick fiddling around with my Uncle's wife."

Robert gazed into his lap for a minute, pushing his feet into the ground, causing the chair to rock back and forth. He took the cigar out of his mouth. "I hadn't heard much about it," He commented lightly, watching the tip of his cigar glow with fire within.

Jesse turned his head to start at Bob. "I find that hard to believe," he said, speaking around his cigar. "seeing how he visited you here for awhile."

Robert shrugged. "All I know's that it was an unpleasant situation between Dick and himself, and Wood was deeply offended by it." He puffed at his cigar.

"Well," Jesse sighed, leaning back. "Suppose I oughta' tell you, Wood's been missing for nearly a week now, and last anybody's heard of him, he was headed this way."

"Maybe he changed his mind on the road," Bob suggested, staring down at the cracks in the porch.

"I don't think so." Jesse said, his tone rather harsh. He thumped his cigar into the darkness. The red embers floated on the wind before turning into ash and disappearing. He sat up, his boots thudding into the hollow porch, leaning over and staring at Robert.

Bob swallowed smoke. He looked at Jesse, his blue eyes shining. He didn't know what to say, and he also didn't think Jesse wanted a response. He kept silent.

Jesse James studied Bob for a moment, the fierceness of his gaze burning into Bob's consciousness, engulfing his every thought. "I think Wood was murdered." James said darkly.

"What made you come to that conclusion?" Robert asked, twisting the cigar until it fell apart in his fingers. He dropped it suddenly and stomped the ashes into the porch until the flames went out. He looked back at Jesse sheepishly.

"At dinner a few nights ago, you said Dick came here for a bit. Well, that was about the same time that Wood should've showed up." Jesse replied evenly, licking his lips. "So that means, either Wood never came, or he did and Dick killed him." He sat back, satisfied, and titled his head to watch Robert's reaction.

"I... I guess he must've had a change of heart." Robert said nervously.

Jesse James smiled slightly and looked out into the night. "I thought you were loyal to me, Bobby." He said mockingly, as if his feelings were hurt.

Bob's heart quickened. "I am, Jesse." He said, looking over at Jesse helplessly. All he ever wanted was to make Jesse James happy. "I'll do anything you tell me to."

Jesse's smiled faded. He shot daggers at Bob. "Then tell me what happened." His voice was hard, commanding. It sent shivers up Robert's spine.

Robert Ford stared down into his lap. Numbness filled his limbs. His heart thudded in his chest, but he could no longer feel it. "I killed Wood." He said at last, his voice dry and weak.

Jesse stared at him. "Now why would you do that?"

"He was gonna kill Dick." Robert squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his face with his hands.

"Wood was my cousin." Jesse said after a lonely moment of silence.

"Yeah, but he was a dirty, lying, son of a bitch." Robert said hotly.

To Bob's surprise, Jesse laughed. "He sure was, wasn't he?" Jesse grinned and gazed at the lantern sitting at the porch steps. Moths and beetles flittered quietly around the light, beating themselves into the glass. "He was still my blood." Jesse added harshly.

Robert looked at Jesse, but quickly looked away as he felt his lip begin to quiver. Shame flooded over him. He didn't even know what he felt bad for. Should he feel bad for killing Wood before he killed Dick? Should he feel bad because Wood was Jesse's cousin? Robert didn't know, but one thing he did know was that he was responsible for killing Jesse's own flesh and blood. Now he regretted it, though he still wasn't sure why. "I'm sorry, Jesse." He said softly.

"You oughta' go to sleep, now." Jesse said abruptly.

Robert Ford hesitated, wanting to say something else, but when no words reached his tongue, he obediently stood up and went inside the house.