Day Twenty-two: Sidekick
Dominic Glover gave his eyes a moment to adjust as he entered the tavern. The bright South Dakota sunshine gave way to a dim stuffiness, heavy with the smoke of cheaply rolled cigarettes, spilled whiskey and unwashed bodies. There was no piano player in a place like this, and no pretty girls trying to earn a little on the side. No card game going on in the corner. Just working men, down from the only silver mine in fifty miles, eating better food than they could make themselves in their tents and lean-tos. There wasn’t much talking. What was there to talk about?
He stood up to the bar, which at least was clean, and signaled the keeper. “Gimme a whiskey,” Dominic said, and hated himself for it. It would kill him one day, that was for sure. It had been trying to kill him for a long time. Came pretty close, too. But not today. After the… incident in Harmony, after letting Cordova dance out of town the way he did, Dominic managed to keep himself to a drink a day. That was enough, or so he kept telling himself. Any more than that, and what little career he had left would be gone, and probably the only place left to go from there would be right into the barrel of one of his own guns.
The keeper put the glass in front of him, and he slid a silver coin across the bar. “Keep it,” he said, not looking at the man. He gave himself a moment to look at the drink, to tell himself what he was doing.
Just the one. Just this one, old man. You’ll have this, and you can get to what you came here for. Just this, and you can start putting your life together. Just this, and you can find Roman Cordova and finish what you should have finished in Harmony.
He gingerly picked up the glass, willing himself to feel it in his fingertips, to feel its barely perceptible weight in his hand. Just this, he thought.
The liquor went down quickly, leaving a cold burn that ate its way to his stomach. As frontier whiskey went, it was pretty bad. But it was good enough. Dominic squeezed his eyes shut, and when he opened them again, he knew what he had to do and how.
He raised his hand to signal the keeper – these men were always the best place to start for information – but stopped when he heard a voice from behind. “Well, I’ll be dipped in shit. If it isn’t Dominic Glover, the Scourge of the Badlands.”
Dominic felt his chest tighten when he recognized the voice, but didn’t turn around. The voice was deeper than he remembered, stronger. But there was no other voice like it. “And if I’m not mistaken,” he rasped, “I believe I am talking to Santos Osegueda.” He took a deep breath and smiled. “The worst horse thief in three territories.” He turned around.
The young man was admirably clean, as he had always been, and it made him stand out. He had unruly black hair and sun-dark skin, and a smile that he never hid. He went and grew up, Dominic thought. And he grew up good. “How’ve you been, Santos?” he asked, leaning back on the bar as casually as he could.
“I can’t believe you’d bring up that horse, Dom,” Santos said, slapping him on the shoulder. “I was twelve. What did I know about horse theft?”
“Not a whole lot.” He looked at the young man for a moment, and broke. A smile cracked his face and he held out a steady hand. Santos, never one to hold back, grabbed the offered hand and pulled Dominic in for a hug. A few pats on the back and a few sidelong looks from the miners, and the moment passed. Dom nodded to the bar and signaled the keeper again.
“Two whiskeys,” Santos said, before Dom could say anything. The keeper nodded and grabbed a bottle.
“Just the one,” Dominic told him. “Gimme a beer.” The keeper nodded again and went back to the cold storage closet.
Santos raised an eyebrow. “A beer?”
“A beer?” He whistled softly through his teeth. “So the stories about Harmony are true.”
Dominic looked at him. “Stories?”
“Yup. Legend has it you nearly broke the bar the last night you were there. Sheriff would’ve arrested you if you didn’t scare the hell out of him, and on top of all that… You let Cordova slip away and you’ve been off the bottle ever since.”
“I didn’t let him slip away,” Dominic muttered. “I was distracted.”
“Three girls would be distracting,” Santos said. “Or so I imagine. Often.”
Dominic chuckled, and Santos held up a finger. “That’s one,” he said.
“Your record is five, if I remember.”
“I think I can break it.”
“Not today, you can’t.”
Santos started cracking his knuckles. “A challenge then, old man?”
The keeper came out of the cold closet and put an already sweating bottle down in front of Dominic. The whiskey came a moment later. Santos flipped a coin in the air, caught it, and handed it over. “It’s on me,” he said. He tapped the glass against the beer bottle and downed the whiskey in one gulp. A quick shudder, and he said, “Christ, that’s shitty whiskey.”
“It is indeed.”
They turned around and leaned back against the bar. The miners were starting to finish up their meals and head back out to work. Dominic didn’t envy them in the least. His was a rootless life. No family, no friends to speak of, and all the risks that came with a lifetime of bounty hunting. But it was all better than going down in the dark, mining metal so someone else could get rich. Not that he couldn’t think of better lives than the one he lived, but in this part of America, better lives were few and far between.
He took a pull off the beer bottle. “So what brings you to Ridgebourne? Seems a little out of your way.”
Santos looked at him sideways. “I’m collecting,” he said.
Dominic sighed and passed the bottle to his other hand. “You’re collecting.”
“Yup.” Santos pulled a bar stool over and sat down. “I learned a lot, jobbing with you all those years. After we split, I thought I’d try my hand at it.”
“I’d hoped that you’d learned collecting is no good life for a man to live.”
Santos turned to him. “You were good at it,” he said, his expression straight. “And you are the best man I know.” He paused, perhaps hoping to let that sink in. “Anyway, I put what I learned from you to work, and it turned out I have the knack. Been doing this about three years now, and it’s keeping me out of trouble. Mostly.” He glanced over, but there was not even a smile.
Dominic nodded. “I see.” He took another pull off the beer bottle and asked the question he already knew the answer to. “So who are you after?”
There was a long silence, and Santos’ innate cheerfulness went dim. After a minute, Dominic decided to be the one to break it. “You realize that bringing in Cordova isn’t going to be like rolling over a two bit highwayman. Don’t you?”
“I know what kind of man Cordova is,” Santos said. “I’ve been following him, keeping track of him. Honestly I thought you’d pick him off in Harmony, but…” He shrugged. “Anyway, I know where he is, and I’m going to pick him up.”
Dominic didn’t look over. “By yourself?”
The smile was back in Santos’ voice, and Dominic knew what kind. “Well, that was the plan. I figured I’d go in there, guns a-blazing.” He mimed a few shots, blew the top of his fingers and holstered imaginary guns. “I mean, even a stone-hard killer like Cordova would tremble at the might of the legendary Santos Osegueda, roller of drunks and pickpockets.”
Dominic let out a small laugh. He couldn’t help himself.
“Two.” Santos waved the keeper over and ordered another whiskey. “But I figured that just in case my terrifying reputation doesn’t precede me, I could bring yours along as a backup.” He stood back up and held out a hand to Dominic. “So what do you say, old man? Partners?”
“Partners,” Dominic muttered. He emptied the beer bottle and set it on the bartop. Santos was young, so young. When he looked at him, he could see the skinny kid he had been. Utterly fearless, not nearly bright enough, but with a kind of endless self-confidence that everything would work out in the end. The young man standing before him was very much the same, and Dominic could tell that he’d yet to see what kind of pain the real world could deliver when it was determined to make a man’s life hell. The glint in his eyes, the stiffness in his spine showed that Santos Osegueda had not been broken yet.
But he would be.
Dominic took the young man’s hand. “Partners.”