He walked toward the station building, which was much smaller than the one in Blackwater. There was a man on a bench reading a newspaper outside the building. The Cowboy walked through the station, passing by others sitting on seats inside.
When he came out the other doorway, he could see straight down the main street of the town. Armadillo was certainly very different from Blackwater.
While the buildings in Blackwater were usually built with brick or concrete, the buildings in Armadillo were mostly built with lumber. It was dirtier, more run down, and more wild. Whores, drunks and outlaws thrived there, despite the lazy law enforcement presence in the town.
There were stores and other establishments in the town, most notably the saloon, where the Cowboy was specifically instructed to go to meet with an individual contact.
As the Cowboy walked out of the train station, he could hear a piano being played in the saloon.
He walked towards the saloon, and witnessed a drunken man stumbling out. He waddled towards the edge of the porch and fell down the steps, and then passed out. The Cowboy gave a pitiful look, and then proceeded up the three steps to the porch of the saloon.
He pushed aside the sliding hinge doors that led in, and found exactly what he had expected; drunks, whores, and criminals. He looked around, observing his surroundings. He saw many drunks doing what they do best, and some folks looking for confrontation with one another. Then, he heard an obnoxious voice from one of the corners of the saloon.
“Marston? Mr. Marston, over here!” he heard the voice call out. The Cowboy approached the direction that he heard the man calling his name. He saw that it was a grimy looking man with far under-maintained facial hair and several teeth missing. He was wearing a light brown coat and a similarly colored cowboy hat. He was spending some time on a couch getting to know a prostitute with the help of a bottle of some kind of liquor.
Once the Cowboy arrived, the grimy man pushed the prostitute aside, stood up and said, “You must be John Marston.”
“Sometimes,” the Cowboy responded. John Marston was indeed his name.
The grimy man buckled his pants and buttoned his fly. He glanced at the clearly agitated prostitute, and then looked back at Marston.
The grimy man put his hands on his sides and said, “I’m Jake. Your friends from Blackwater hired me to guide ya’.”
“They ain’t my friends,” Marston started, “but pleased to meet you, Jake.”
“Well, I got the horses saddled up and ready out front,” Jake said. He started walking toward the front doorway of the saloon, and Marston followed. The piano player continued to play as they walked out, and an argument went wrong at the bar as a drunken man busted a glass bottle on another man’s face and a fight broke out. The usual deal.
Jake led Marston to the horses, hitched just outside the saloon.
“You won’t find sturdier horses in all of New Austin,” Jake said. He then climbed on one of the horses, and Marston mounted the other, and they started making their way out of town.
“Take it slow on your way out of town,” Jake said. “No need to kick up a lot of dust.”
The train was just leaving the station as Jake led Marston in that direction. Apparently, their route was over the train tracks. The horses neighed as the train loudly began moving across the tracks in front of them. Several moments later, the path was clear and they moved across the tracks.
It was about dusk, and the sun was just beginning to set. The clouds in the sky, combined with the pink-orange hue of the sky made for a gratifying view.
They made their way into the partial desert wilderness of Cholla Springs.
“So, it’s Fort Mercer that you wanna visit?” Jake asked as they rode along the dirt path.
“That’s right,” Marston said.
“I ain’t taken nobody up to the fort in a long time,” Jake said. “Strange place for a decent fella to wanna visit, if ya’ don’t mind me sayin’.”
“Who said I was a decent fella?” Marston asked.
Jake did not speak for a few moments. Their two horses were trotting side by side, in synch with each other.
“The fort’s been abandoned for years now,” Jake said. “Folks say it was built during the Mexican War. All kinds of soldiers around back then.”
“Why’d they leave?” Marston asked.
“Well, I ain’t entirely sure,” Jake said. “I heard that they had to go up North to fight Indians. Or maybe they got tired of being soldiers and went lookin’ for gold, you know how things is. So what are you hoping to do up at the fort?”
“I’m looking for an old friend,” Marston said.
“Well like I says, you ain’t gonna find many folk ’round in those parts these days,” Jake said. “And those that you do find are ‘bout as sociable as an ulcerated back tooth. I mean, I ain’t one to judge a man on the company he keeps, but--”
“Well, he ain‘t been friends in a long time,” Marston said.
The smoke bellowing from the train could be seen a little ways off in the distance now. Marston thought how it was quite peaceful out where they were, despite the unwelcoming wilderness. There was dry vegetation covering the landscape, and cactus was a common sight.
There was a ridge in the near distance with some trees on the top. He wondered if that was the hill that Fort Mercer was upon.
“Are you plannin’ on spending any time in Armadillo, Mr. Marston?” Jake asked.
“I doubt it,” Marston said. “I ain’t planning on staying very long.”
“Well, if your fixin’ for some ‘female company,’ you can do a lot worse than Armadillo. Fine as cream gravy they are!” Jake said, and then laughed briefly.
Jake continued, “Not like the ladies in Thieves’ Landing. Dang, those girls ain’t even fit for a drinkin’ man to hole up with.”
“I’m a married man, I’m afraid,” Marston said.
“Ain’t we all?” Jake said, and then laughed.
There was another few minutes of silence as neither of them spoke. Marston used this time to reflect on what he was about to have to do, once at Fort Mercer. He didn’t know how he was going to make it work, he just knew that it had to.
If it didn’t, he would lose everything.
“Yeah, so, it was the Marshal of Armadillo who hired me,” Jake said. “Leigh Johnson, do you know him?”
“I think I heard his name,” Marston said.
“Says he got a telegram from some Blackwater big bugs askin’ for a guide. I guess it’s none of my business,” Jake said.
“That’s right,” Marston responded.
Jake gave Marston a look of question. “You ain’t very talkative, are ya’?” Jake asked.
“No,” Marston said straightforwardly.
“I’m just chewin’ the dog, mister,” Jake said. “It’s how I am. I don’t mean nothin’ by it.”
“Trust me, there’s some things that you’re better off not knowin‘,” Marston said.
They started making their way along a dirt path that went up the ridge that overlooked the rest of the county. Once they got atop, they would be in the county of Rio Bravo.
Their horses trotted up the path until they were back on horizontal ground. There was a bit more tree coverage up on the ridge than down below, and the entire county of Cholla Springs was easily visible from the plateau.
The plateau of the ridge was made up of many smaller hills and slopes.
After trotting along the path some more, Jake and Marston came across a pack of Coyotes eating a dead deer.
“I tell you, Mr. Marston, those Coyotes eat better than I do,” Jake said. “It’s not far now. You’ll see the fort when we get to the top of this next hill.”
Almost there, Marston thought.
They ascended the small hill, though it felt like it took a hundred years. Once over it, the fort was right there in front of them, clear as day, a short distance away. It was a very faded light brown color, built out of stone, and very rundown. It didn’t seem like anyone could find refuge there now.
“Listen mister,” Jake started, “this here is what’s left of Fort Mercer. Some gang rode in and took the place over.”
“So I understand,” Marston said.
“This is where we part ways, friend. You go on and have yourself a good time,” Jake said, and he then laughed with no restraint. He turned his horse in the other direction, and trotted away.
Marston now had to do the job he had been sent here to do. But he knew it was more than just a job. It was tying up the loose threads of his dark past. One that he would rather have avoided. But alas, he had no real choice.
He approached the path that led towards the front gate of the fort. Once there, he dismounted the horse, and stood on the ground. He then slowly started to approach the front gate of the fort. On the sides of the path were things such as broken down wagons and old barrels and crates. There was a small group of crows in the grass nearby.
It felt like it took forever to get to the gate. His mind was racing. He couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen if he wasn’t prepared.
He finally got in front of the massive hardwood gate of the fort. The fort walls rose about eight meters into the air, and there was a torch on either side of the large entrance gate.
Marston looked up at the top of the wall and shouted, “Bill! Bill, I’ve come for ya’!”
Marston shouted again, “Bill Williamson! Come out here right now!”
After a couple of moments, a voice spoke out from the top of the fort wall.
“Go away now, John,” Bill Williamson said. “Don’t make me kill you.”
“Nobody needs to kill anyone, Bill,” Marston said.
A few seconds later, Bill came out from behind a pillar atop the fort wall, with a repeater in his grasp. He was of average height, with his brown hair grown out on his head and his lower face. His beard and mustache were dotted with spots of dried vomit. He wore a tan coat and brown cowboy hat, and had a red bandana tied around his neck.
“You must think I was born yesterday. You always did think I was an idiot,” Bill said.
“Now, that ain’t fair, Bill,” Marston said. “You were as my brother. I’ve come to try to save you.”
Bill laughed after Marston spoke. Then, two others with repeaters in their grasp appeared on either side of Bill, all aiming in Marston‘s general direction.
“Do I look like I need saving?” Bill asked.
“Bill, please. They want to kill us all. I can help you,” Marston said.
“Well, you never tried to save me before. You only seemed to save yourself,” Bill said.
“Bill, I implore you. Think about this,” Marston said.
Bill laughed at the thought of what Marston had said. “You implore me? You implore me? You always were one for fancy words. Well, things are different now, John. Now, I’M in charge! No more of Dutch, and no more of you.” Bill chuckled again.
Bill continued, “Implores. I, I implores you, to go back, and tell them to send someone just a little more impressive next time.”
Marston was greatly discouraged now.
“Well…” Marston said, and then he quickly reached for his revolver, pulled it out of it’s holster, and went to aim it at Bill.
But one of Bill’s henchmen was quicker, and fired a bullet into Marston’s right side. He fell down with a yell, and then sprawled out his arms. Blood now covered a portion of his shirt and jacket.
Bill laughed maniacally, and then said, “Poor John.” He then walked away, back into his dwellings within the fort. He left Marston to his fate.
But Marston was still conscious, at least, for now. He tried to turn over, onto his stomach. Attempting to do so caused him significant pain, but he felt like he needed to get closer to the main road.
He started to crawl, or pull himself along the ground. He left a trail of blood in his path, evidence of his survival this long.
Slowly and painfully he pulled himself along, trying to stay conscious. He finally got to the end of the path, and was at the road. But he could go no farther. His vision faded to black.
In the twilight of evening, a pair of ranchers ride their horse-drawn wagon on a dirt road in Rio Bravo county. One of them, a woman in her early thirties with beige hair, and the other, a man with black hair wearing a white shirt with brown suspenders with pants and boots.
They traveled this lonely dirt road not expecting to find anything of note. What they find, is an unconscious man with a bullet wound being preyed upon by vultures. Luckily for this unconscious man, the vultures have not yet laid a talon on him.
The pair of ranchers stop their wagon in the middle of the dirt road. They hop out of the front seat, and the vultures fly away. The woman inspects the unconscious man in the road while the male rancher keeps watch while grasping a repeater in his hands.
Then, he places the repeater on the ground and they each grab one end of the unconscious man. They load him into the back of the wagon, and then get back in the front seat.
They cue for the horses to get moving, and they do. Thus, they take off into the twilight, toting the wounded gunslinger.