She said her name was Victoria which was a lie, but not one Goodnight cared enough to challenge. There was a parasol hanging over her shoulder, and she twirled the handle often which made the flowers and birds painted across its creamy surface blur into a mess of color. It was making Goodnight dizzy, and he offered her a cigarette hoping she’d replace one nervous habit with another.
“You said there were three of them?”
She plucked the offered tobacco from between his fingers, and eyed him expectantly. Ever the gentleman, Goodnight struck a match across the rough surface of the saloon’s outer wall.
“Eight at the beginning, but three once the dust settled.”
She pulled away to blow a trail of smoke into hot evening air, and gave the parasol another twirl.
“They kill him?”
“He wasn’t exactly pretty by the end,” she said. “But I think he was still breathing when they drug him off.”
This happened sometimes. Less as the years went past, but every so often they’d run into a group with a stack of wanted posters and enough brains to put together that it was Billy’s face plastered all over one of them. Hell, sometimes it wasn’t even Billy’s face on that poster, which Goodnight always took personal offense too, not that anyone ever asked.
Goodnight fished a coin out of his breast pocket and held it under the girl’s nose. “Anything else?”
She snapped her parasol closed, and poked it into the guts of the setting orange sun as if she meant to pop it like a balloon.
“Yeah. They went west.”
The moon was already high when Goodnight caught up with the mess of humanity that’d taken his partner. Three of them, as promised, curled around a bright bit of crackling fire. Goodnight approached with his hands raised high, and his posture loose and affable.
They were white (which was good), southern (which was better), and without a doubt the most banged up group of men he’d seen in quite a while. Unfortunately, his greeting was met with guns which meant they weren’t entirely stupid.
“Pardon me, sirs,” Goodnight said, teeth bared in the moonlight. “But would any of you mind if a lonely traveler joined your campfire for the night?”
He waggled the bottle of too expensive whiskey his fingers were wrapped around. The firelight made the insides shine like liquid gold, and Goodnight’s eyes flash like polished silver dollars.
“I have been told that I am excellent, generous company.”
A man with a broken puffed-up nose waved him over. “If you’re willing to share that. You’re most welcome.”
Goodnight sat, and tossed the whiskey to the nearest bounty hunter, but the catch was fumbled on account of the man’s broken hand. The bottle went spinning across the dirt, stopping just outside the circle of light and came to rest right underneath Billy’s nose.
“Well, isn’t that a sight,” Goodnight said. “Friend of yours?”
Billy was splayed out of his belly; blindfolded and bound at the wrist and ankle. His weapons were gone, his face a mess of blood and dirt, and he was lying so still that for one horrible second Goodnight was sure he was dead.
“Nope,” broken hands said. He groaned as he stood, and made a bee line for the alcohol. “Just a sad sack of runaway trash. Pay him no mind.”
He gave Billy a kick before returning, and Goodnight did not lunge across the fire to strangle him because that would just have been counterproductive. Instead he nodded, and leaned back on his elbows. The smile he got from the third and final hunter was missing four teeth, most likely as a result of having the owner’s face slammed repeatedly into a post.
Goodnight was filled with a true rush of affection. Lord, he did love Billy.
They didn’t ask for his guns, not that it would have mattered. Goodnight had no intention of using either his pistol or his shotgun that night.
Dreams were a particular thing. Omens needed to be respected, but when the need was great they could also be maneuvered around. The man with the broken hands spat, and then saluted Goodnight with the bottle. As he drank, Goodnight decided his maneuvering would start with him.
The sun was rising pretty as a picture over the horizon by the time Billy woke. He’d been a heavy weight against Goodnight’s chest as they rode, and limp enough to have Goodnight worried, but not worried enough to head for a doctor instead of state lines.
Billy stirred and groaned. Goodnight pulled back gently on the reins until the horse came to a stop, and tightened his hold the other man. Goodnight was usually the one who surfaced from unconscious blackness swinging, but there was a first time for everything.
“You know, Billy,” he said. “If you’d tired of me, and wanted to join up with some brand new group of unpredictables all you had to do was say so.”
“No, note. No, farewell. Running off like you’re some half-grown idiot with circus dreams instead of a grown-man, well, that does hurt my feelings a bit.”
He nipping the top of Billy’s ear, and then kissed it quickly in apology. “Yes, what can I do for you?”
He passed the canteen. Billy sucked down half of it, and dumped the rest over his head.
Goodnight yelped, but didn’t lean away from the spray. “I am sitting right behind you.”
“You stink,” Billy muttered. “You needed the bath.”
“I am not the one who spent all day yesterday rolling around in the dirt with my new friends,” Goodnight responded.
Billy straightened, and then went still against Goodnight’s chest. He could feel the other man suck in a sharp breath of air and then release it slowly.
“Am I hurting you?” Goodnight asked softly. If he let go there was a fair chance Billy might go toppling off the horse, but he also had no interest in crushing already broken ribs into a fine powder.
Billy jerked his head to the side, a move Goodnight wasn’t entirely sure how to read.
“You need to be patched up. Climb on down, there’s a lake past those trees.”
A lake also meant Goodnight could give his stained hands and clothes a nice good scrubbing. After his late night activities they needed it.
“Where is my horse?” Billy asked.
Goodnight dismounted, his boots kicking up a cloud of dust where he landed.
“Lost her in that piss poor town they jumped you in.”
“Gone. Think they spent it on the way out.”
“Those I do have, but you’ll want to do your own inspection of them.”
“Why? Did they touch them?”
“No,” Goodnight said. “But I ended up having a need for them, and I was in a hurry. I believe I made a bit of a mess, and I know how particular you are about their care. And I am sorry, but I couldn’t find your hair pin. I’ll get you a new one. ”
Billy considered this for a moment, and then nodded.
“You require any assistance?” Goodnight asked.
Billy rolled his eyes, and dismounted. His feet hit the ground with a heavy thud, but immediately gave out underneath him. He toppled forward crashing into Goodnight and sending them both onto the hard packed earth.
“I believe this particular adventure is becoming one of my favorites,” Goodnight drawled, staring up at the early morning sky; awash in yellows, pinks and oranges. He cupped the back of Billy’s neck, in no real hurry to move, and buried his fingers into the thick hair. They hadn’t gotten to do this last night, and he’d missed it. “Whatever will we tackle next?”
“Hopefully, breakfast,” Billy said, pushing off Goodnight’s chest until he was up perched on the balls of his feet. The bruises on his face were starting to show, blossoming across his cheekbones like dark purple violets. A cut on his chin was bleeding again, and Goodnight had a feeling it would need to be stitched. “That lake better have fish in it.”
“Food second,” Goodnight said. “Patching up first. Your face is scaring me more than it normally does.”
Billy smirked, and offered Goodnight a hand up.