Inside the Marshal’s office, Slade picked up the only two possessions he had in the world that he cared about. A box of cigars and a wrinkled, grainy old photograph of his parents, who stared solemnly at the camera as was the custom at time.
Gunther reached into the desk drawer, pulled out a bottle of whiskey and poured two shots.
“Might I propose a plan since yours failed so unceremoniously?”
Slade nodded. Gunther tossed his shot back and poured another one.
“F%&k it,” Gunther said, pushing Slade’s shot closer to him. “Keep up, boy.”
Slade drank his then stared at Gunther, waiting. Finally, he asked. “What’s the plan?”
“That is the plan. F&*k….it.”
Gunther tossed another back then set himself and Slade up again. “Son, in all the years I’ve been at this, one thing has never changed. All the money in the West flows East and absolutely nothing but shit flows back this way. You got your fancy pants politicians preaching about manifest destiny, how the country is going to shine from sea to shining sea but if you walk into any town all they’re willing to pay for is one or two assholes to protect it all.”
Slade and Gunther threw back another round.
“And you know what their response to everything is?” Gunther asked.
“What?” Slade asked.
“‘Figure it out, assholes!’” Gunther said. “Don’t matter what. Tornadoes. Floods. Famine. Injuns. Criminals. Don’t matter at all. ‘Just figure it out, you two assholes we pay a pittance to!’”
“Sounds about right,” Slade said.
“It’s exactly right,” Gunther said. “They aren’t willing to pay the cost of what it will take to enforce the law proper in this Godforsaken land and men like Jack Buchanan know it. And everyone who lives here is too preoccupied with their own lives to bother to stand up and ask the political types to do right by us so honestly…f%$k it. F%$k them. F$%k Highwater. F%$k everything.”
“That’s not my way,” Slade said.
“Yeah,” Gunther said. “I know that. I knew you were different the first day I met you. I said to myself, ‘Son of a bitch, they sent a man that’s going to expect me to work for a living.’ But son you know the reason why I always try to talk you out of this shit isn’t because I don’t believe in you but because I don’t believe in the powers that be. The last two people who should have to die are the two assholes paid a pittance to protect the place just because Washington won’t ante up to provide enough manpower to send the Jack Buchanans of the world to the grave.”
Slade had always looked at Gunther as lazy and cowardly but in that moment he started to make a lot of sense. Gunther poured another round. The glasses clinked.
“Here’s to f%&king it,” Gunther said.
“F$%k it,” Slade said.
“Now you’re talking,” Gunther said.
The two men drank then sat in silence for a moment.
“I don’t know what to do now,” Slade said.
“You don’t know what to do?” Gunther asked. “Jesus Christ, you got two women after you and God knows why on account of I seen rattle snakes with better personalities. Pick one of ‘em already.”
Slade locked his hands behind his head and sat back. “I did.”
“You did?” Gunther asked. “Shit. Yet another piece of vital information withheld from your Deputy. Which one?”
“Ahh,” Gunther said. “The Widow Farquhar. A lovely woman. You’ll…you’ll make a fine couple.”
Slade noticed the hesitation. The whiskey loosened up his tongue. “What?”
“Nothing,” Gunther said.
“You said she was pretty and rich and desperate and I shouldn’t f$%k it up,” Slade said.
“I did,” Gunther said. “That was before…”
Gunther didn’t want to say it.
“What?” Slade asked.
“Before I became aware that Miss Bonnie wanted to be all over you like stink on a skunk.”
“She doesn’t,” Slade said.
“Oh you didn’t see the look in her eyes that I did, boy,” Gunther said. “The only thing stopping her from scratching out the Widow Farquhar’s eyes was fear of the gallows. She wants you and she wants you bad.”
“Yeah,” Slade said. He poured out two shots this time. “She had her chance.”
Gunther cleared his throat. “Did she really though?”
The boys drank again. “Yes.”
“But you didn’t really ask her,” Gunther said.
“No,” Slade said. “No I reckon I didn’t.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Slade said as he stood up. “I made a promise.”
Gunther got out of his chair. “You actually proposed to the Widow Farquhar?”
“Shit,” Gunther said. “Well, that’s not something easily wiggled out of.”
“I don’t want to wiggle out of it,” Slade said.
“Whatever you say,” Gunther said.
The men shook hands.
“Where are you off to?” Gunther asked.
“To see if Sarah will let me sleep on her floor,” Slade said.
“Gosh,” Gunther said. “Such a whirlwind romance.”
“You got somewhere to go?” Slade asked.
“Oh sure,” Gunther said. “Don’t you worry about me none.”
“See you around, Gunth.”
Truth be told, Gunther’s only real plan was to keep living in the Marshal’s office until some bureaucrat got around to filling the position.
Unbeknownst to him, a body had laid perfectly still underneath a blanket inside the cage throughout the entire conversation. A hand clawed its way out between the bars and grabbed the old man’s shoulder.
It was Leo Fitzpatrick, local harmless drunk, sleeping another one off.
“Shit Leo,” Gunther said. “Scared me half to death.”
“Sorry,” Leo said. “I let myself in. Maureen threw me out again.”
“Well that’s a good way to get yourself shot,” Gunther replied.
“Can I get some of that?” Leo asked, pointing to the bottle.
Gunther handed it to him. “I thought you were trying to dry out.”
“A little hair of the dog never hurt anyone.”