“I don’t want to do anything bad,” Nick had said.
“I don’t want you to,” Mr. John had said. “But you’re alive and you’re going to do things. Don’t you lie and don’t you steal. Everybody has to lie. But you pick out somebody you never lie to.”
“I’ll pick out you.”
“That’s right. Don’t you ever lie to me no matter what and I won’t lie to you.”
“I’ll try,” Nick had said.
“That isn’t it,” Mr. John said. “It has to be absolute.”
“All right,” Nick said. “I’ll never lie to you.”
“What became of your girl?”
“Somebody said she was working up at the Soo.”
“She was a beautiful girl and I always liked her,” Mr. John had said.
“So did I,” Nick said.
“Try and not feel too bad about it.”
“I can’t help it,” Nick said. “None of it was her fault. She’s just built that way. If I ran into her again I guess I’d get mixed up with her again.”
“Maybe too. I’d try not to.”
Mr. John was thinking about Nick when he went out to the back counter where the two men were waiting for him. He looked them over as he stood there and he didn’t like either of them. He had always disliked the local man Evans and had no respect for him but he sensed that the down-state man was dangerous. He had not analyzed it yet but he saw the man had very flat eyes and a mouth that was tighter than a simple tobacco chewer’s mouth needed to be. He had a real elk’s tooth too on his watch chain, it was a really fine tusk from about a five-year-old bull. It was a beautiful tusk and Mr. John looked at it again and at the over-large bulge the man’s shoulder holster made under his coat.
“Did you kill that bull with that cannon you’re carrying around under your arm?” Mr. John asked the down-state man.
The down-state man looked at Mr. John unappreciatively.
“No,” he said. “I killed that bull out in the thoroughfare country in Wyoming with a Winchester 45-70.”
“You’re a big-gun man. eh?” Mr. John said. He looked under the counter. “Have big feet, too. Do you need that big a cannon when you go out hunting kids?”
“What do you mean, kids,” the down-state man said. He was one ahead.
“I mean the kid you’re looking for.”
“You said, kids,” the down-state man said.
Mr. John moved in. It was necessary. “What’s Evans carry when he goes after a boy who’s licked his own boy twice? You must be heavily armed, Evans. That boy could lick you, too.”
“Why don’t you produce him and we could try it,” Evans said.
“You said, kids, Mr. Jackson,” the down-state man said. “What made you say that?”
“Looking at you, you cock-sucker,” Mr. John said. “You splayfooted bastard.”
“Why don’t you come out from behind that counter if you want to talk like that?” the down-state man said.
“You’re talking to the United States Postmaster,” Mr. John said. “You’re talking without witnesses except for Turd-Face Evans. I suppose you know why they call him Turd-Face. You can figure it out. You’re a detective.”
He was happy now. He had drawn the attack and he felt now as he used to feel in the old days before he made a living from feeding and bedding resorters who rocked in rustic chairs on the front porch of his hotel while they looked out over the lake.
“Listen, Splayfoot, I remember you very well now. Don’t you remember me, Splayzey?”
The down-state man looked at him. But he did not remember him.
“I remember you in Cheyenne the day Tom Horn was hanged,” Mr. John told him. “You were one of the ones that framed him with promises from the association. Do you remember now? Who owned the saloon in Medicine Bow when you worked for the people that gave it to Tom? Is that why you ended up doing what you’re doing? Haven’t you got any memory?”
“When did you come back here?”
“Two years after they dropped Tom.”
“I’ll be goddamned.”
“Do you remember when I gave you that bull tusk when we were packing out from Greybull?”