One night in Bolivia, when Sundance was feeling restless and disagreeable and in the mood to pick a fight, he asked Etta if she was having an affair with Butch.
Etta, being Etta, and of no mind to have a fight picked unless she was the one to pick it, looked up from the potatoes she was slicing and tilted her head. She smiled like the dame in a painting Sundance had seen once, on a picture postcard for sale at a hotel in Denver that wanted to pretend it was a hotel in Paris. "What on Earth makes you say a thing like that?" Etta asked.
That was a good question. Every waking hour Sundance wasn't with Butch, he was with Etta. Most of the time, he was with them both. She could have snuck out while he was sleeping, but Butch's bed was just on the other side of the wall, and he'd double-bunked with Butch in enough whorehouses to know there was no way to sleep through the kind of racket that would inevitably follow.
Besides. If Sundance was honest with himself, he wasn't sure what he would do with that kind of information about Butch and Etta, had it actually been true, rather than an idea he had invented himself for the sake of picking a fight. He hadn't asked because he particularly cared if it was true, but because he wasn't in the mood for domestic harmony, and it seemed, in a general sort of way, to be the sort of thing that men were supposed to fight about with their women.
Sundance crossed his arms and glared at her. "That ain't the point," he said, because that was what you said when the person you were arguing with asked a good question you had no answer for. Sundance wasn't exactly a conversationalist, but he had learned a thing or two, all those years of listening to Butch argue. "Are you or are you not involved in a clandestine relationship with Butch?"
"Why, Sundance!" Etta squealed with deight, lunged toward him, and planted a firm kiss on his lips. He was baffled, but he returned the kiss. With a woman like Etta, a man could spend a lot of time being baffled and shouldn't let it get in the way of whatever favors she was offering. She pulled away long enough to say, "Very good use of 'clandestine,'" and kissed him again.
Oh. Right. Ever since the men had acquired enough Spanish vocabulary for use in routine holdups, Etta had set about to improve their English as well. She had instituted a system of incentives and commensurate rewards.
She must have missed schoolteaching more than she expected.
Tasting her kiss, Sundance decided he was more than willing to this form of changing the subject. A good fuck could settle his restlessness as well as a good fight (he'd assumed one would lead to the other eventually, anyway). Besides, the hands Etta curled behind his neck were still holding the kitchen knife.
Of course, he should have known better.
Things were flush in those days, the money coming fast and easy. The banks in the cities -- in what passed for cities here -- weren't prepared to deal with robberies. Why go to a city and stick up a bank when you could hide in the jungle and ambush the payroll? But unlike Bolivian bandits, Butch didn't trust jungles. He didn't like shootouts, either, if he could avoid them. People who worked in banks were generally philosophical about watching the money walk out the door. Payroll guards would shoot back.
Butch's aversion to gunplay had a lot to do Sundance's restless state. Some days, he felt like a world class tightrope artist, stuck juggling for kids, and slopping the elephants, because the circus owner thought the wire was too risky. Still, he knew it was Butch's cautious manner that had kept them above the ground this long. And staying alive was what had brought them here in the first place.
It was because they were so prosperous that Etta had meat and potatoes to cook, real butter and fatback for whatever the farmers grew down here that wasn't exactly collard greens. So Sundance should have known he wasn't getting anywhere while she had that knife her hands. Of all the liberties the right man might take with Etta Place, interrupting her in the middle of a home-cooked meal was not one he'd been allowed in all the time he had known her.
She pulled out of the kiss, stepped away from him, and flicked the knife outward in case he had any ideas about coming closer. "What makes you think there's anything going on with me and Butch?"
That would be hard to answer, because he didn't think that, really, not with any part of his brain that had a lick of common sense. Now that he'd said it, though, he had to justify the words. The idea must have been lurking, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, or it wouldn't have come out of his mouth.
"There's -- well, it's plain to see -- any fool would notice -- the way you get around him." Etta didn't answer. The only reason to think she'd heard him was that the knife started twitching back and forth. So he was pissing off an armed woman for no good reason, but it was like that Scottish king she'd told him about one time, that Macbeth who didn't have any of Butch's problems with solving things the violent way. Once you'd waded in deep enough, Macbeth had said, you might as well aim for the other side as try and go back.
"You smile too much," he went on. "Most of the time you're this -- serious person. This -- what do you call it? This somber, resolute person." He paused, but it looked like he wasn't getting any more affection in exchange for the vocabulary words, so he pushed forward. "When Butch comes around, I swear, it's like the two of you have a secret language, ain't nobody else can be part of it." Now that the words were out, he could see how much sense they made. He sat in silence, chewing on the inside of his lip, waiting to see how she could answer.
"You need more?"
"Well, then." Etta gave a brief, sharp nod, lifted the knife, then plunged it into the roast on the counter behind her. She stepped toward him and put her hands around the back of his neck. "Sundance." And then, softly, "Harry." Her lips brushed his chin. "If that's the sign I'm in love with Butch Cassidy, well then I reckon. . ." The smile spread across her face. "I reckon everybody in the world's in love with Butch. Nobody more than you."
"Woman! This ain't no joke!"
Etta skittered away from him, pulled the knife out of the roast, and went back to work, slicing potatoes.
"Who says I'm joking?" she sang out gaily -- just as Butch walked into the kitchen.
"What's all this racket about?" He'd been down in the village, buying or trading or whatever he did, and he slapped a shiny can of coffee down on the table. "What have you been doing, my Etta?" Butch half-spoke, half-sang, dancing his fingers up her arm like a spider.
"Just talkin'." Etta laughed and ducked away. She didn't wave the knife at Butch, Sundance noticed.
"I like talkin'," Butch said -- one of the truest sentences that had ever been uttered. He picked up a slice of potato and popped it, raw, into his mouth. "What are we talkin' about?"
"Your lifelong love affair," Etta answered, "with Mr. Harry Longabaugh."
Butch frowned, still chewing the potato, and mumbled, "Who the hell is Harry Longabaugh?"
"Me!" Sundance snapped. Looking at the two of them, his completely made-up theory seemed to make more sense than ever. "I am Harry Longabaugh, and Harry Longabaugh is me!"
"Huh. What a thing. You never told me that." Butch leaned his elbows back against the counter, and regarded Sundance as though this piece of information might somehow alter his appearance.
"I did. I very definitely told you -- that night after the first time we hit the Special. You were talking about signing up to go fight the Spanish. You told me your name was Robert Leroy Parker, and I told you my name was Harry Longabaugh. I swear I don't know what the point is in sharing a piece of information like that with a man who won't even take the trouble to remember it."
"George," Butch said. "My given name's George, not Robert."
"You told me -- " Sundance sputtered.
Etta leaned back from her chopping to look at the newly-christened George. "So how come you're called Butch?"
"I used to be a butcher," he said, with a glint of inexplicable pride. "Cut meat in Cheyenne for a few months while I was helping Logan get a gang together."
"Well, Mr. George Leroy Butch Cassidy Parker. You are just full of hidden talents." Etta pointed to the roast on the counter beside her. "Why don't pick up a cleaver and help a lady out?"
This old farmhouse was made out of stone, and the wall hurt Sundance's hand when he punched it. "Gahhh!!!" he cried out, partly from the pain and partly because you just had to, some days, trying to share a house with two people like that.
"You hurt, Kid?" Butch asked with a frown.
"I hope that wasn't your trigger hand," Etta added.
"The wall started it," Sundance mumbled, then, "Don't hold up supper on my account. I'm going for a walk."
The two of them shrugged, and went back to their cutting.
It was colder outside than he realized, but he didn't go back for a coat. He walked down the mountain, to the edge of the village, and the whole time he didn't see a living soul. Just a three-quarter moon and a lot of stars, spread across the sky like stars could only be on a cold night in the mountains, so far from any city that the only light out was the moon, and the moon was enough.
Butch had told him all about the stars, sitting on the back porch at Hole-in-the-Wall. How you could find pictures in them, and use the pictures to find your way. Sundance thought it was a pretty great system, and he assumed (he really was a kid, then) that Butch had made it all up. That he was really that clever. But later on Etta had shown Sundance in a school book, people had known about the pictures for thousands of years. Men and animals, gods nobody believed in anymore. They had names, strange foreign names, which was something Butch hadn't known to tell him. So Etta had ended up educating both of them one night at her farm in Colorado. One arm draped around each man's shoulder, she stood out in the night, and pointed with her chin, telling them the names of the stars.
The stars were all wrong in South America. He had noticed it on the first night. Etta said, of course they were, because they were in the Southern Hemisphere. They were looking into a completely different part of Outer Space, from a completely different angle. It didn't seem fair, Sundance grumbled, all the time they'd spent learning the patterns in their home stars, just to come here and find out everything was different.
Sundance walked back to the house, colder and calmer, and it would have served him right if he'd found Butch and Etta in a clutch, right there on the kitchen table. But he was eating steak, and she was testing him on Spanish vocabulary, and when Sundance sat at the table, there was already a plate made for him.
Etta pushed it toward him, and she smiled, and Butch smiled, and Sundance knew they were never going to talk about it again.
"Nice night. Lots of stars." Sundance shrugged, like that was the reason he'd been gone so long.
"You still mad the stars down here don't line up the way you want them to?" Etta asked.
"It just seems like a waste," Sundance answered. "Learning all that those patterns in the stars, and we come down here and none of it applies. "
"Well, then," Butch said, with a nod and a wink, putting one hand on each of their shoulders. "We'll just have to make our own."