Doc stared at the ropes binding him to a chair.
“Is this really necessary?” Doc asked. “None of you are in any imminent peril from me I assure you.”
“That’s exactly what a zombie would want us to believe,” Miss Bonnie said as she looped another coil of rope around the doctor and tied it up tight. “Lull us into thinking everything’s peachy keen then before we knew it he’s chomping on our brains before you can whistle dixie.”
“Why are you talking?” the Reverend asked. “The other zombies didn’t talk. They just grunted.
“Hmmm,” Slade said as he stepped over, Sarah still attached to his side.
“Like that,” the Reverend added.
“Those peepers of yours are sending a chill up my spine, Doc,” Gunther said. “This is for your own good until we know what’s going on with you.”
“It’s either this or we put you down like a dog,” Miss Bonnie said.
Anabelle rubbed her hand across Doc’s cheek. “How do you feel?”
“Never better, my dear,” Doc said. “Like I’m a young buck again. Even better. Better than I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I feel like I could run for miles and lift enormous weights over my head. I dare say I even feel better than I do when I am under the effects of cocaine.”
Miles was a boy again and wearing his blanket like a cloak once more.
“Can you make heads or tails of this, youngun?” Gunther asked.
“Nope,” Miles said. “He looks like a zombie. But he talks so much…”
“Well shit,” Gunther said. “He was like that before. Why did all those varmints vamoose?”
Miles walked over to the doorless frame and stepped onto the porch. Miss Bonnie and Gunther joined. The trio watched as scores of zombies all lumbered toward the opposite side of town.
“Blythe’s calling them,” Miles said. “And that’s not good. If you think they were bad on their own, wait until he gets them organized.”
Gunther poked his head through the door frame and spied the bride.
“Miss Sarah. Do you think I could borrow your beau?”
Sarah shook her head furiously. “No.”
“You’ll be fine, Miss Sarah,” Gunther said. “I guarantee it. We’re all going to be right here…”
Gunther nodded at Miles. “And we even got a dog monster on our side.”
“Werewolf,” Miles said.
“No,” Sarah said, clutching Slade even tighter, practically cutting off the circulation in his arm.
Anabelle grabbed one of Sarah’s arms and the Reverend grabbed the other. Together, they gently pried her off of Slade.
“Miss Sarah,” the Reverend said. “At times like these, do you know what I find most comforting?”
“The good book?” Sarah asked.
“Bourbon!” the Reverend said. “Let’s go find my stash.”
“Rain!” Sarah shouted. “Rain you’re not going away are you?”
“No,” Slade said.
“Promise me you won’t leave me.”
The trio of Slade, Gunther and Miss Bonnie found a bit of privacy out on the front porch.
“Well, what’s the plan, marshall?” Gunther asked.
“Marshall?” Slade asked. “I turned in my star.”
“No one gives a shit about that star, Rain,” Gunther said. “We’re the only law this town has and you’re still the marshal as far as I’m concerned.”
Miss Bonnie nodded. “He’s right. What’s our next move, marshall?”
Slade’s voice was raspy as ever as he looked at Gunther. “You want to fight now? You’re the one who always wants to run away from everything.”
The old man’s face turned bright red with rage.
“Damn it, boy,” Gunther said. “I do not run away from everything. I run away from some things. There’s a big damn difference.”
“There is?” Slade asked, curious at this side of Gunther he’d never seen before.
“Yeah there is,” Gunther said. “I wasn’t a shrinking violet by any stretch when it was my turn to do my part to keep the union together. And I did more than my fair share of fighting in Texas before you were even a twitch in your Daddy’s pecker.”
“Texas?” Miss Bonnie asked.
“You’re darn tootin’,” Gunther said.
“Bullshit,” Slade said.
Gunther unsheathed his knife and handed it to Slade. “Read that handle motherfucker.”
Slade squinted at the handle and looked shocked when he saw two engraved words.
“Colonel Jim Bowie of the Texas Volunteer Army,” Gunther said as he snatched the knife back. “Trusted me with the very first sticker he ever invented. Commanded me to get it the hell out of the Alamo before Santa Anna could get his grubby mitts on it. He trusted me with it on account of how many Mexicans I killed, thank you very much.”
“You never said anything,” Slade said.
“I never needed to say anything,” Gunther said. “I don’t need to sashay around with a sour puss on my face and a cigar in my yap the way you do just to prove to the world that I got a big swingin’ dick. This knife and my memories are the only proof I need.”
“He’s got you there, Rain,” Miss Bonnie said.
“What?” Slade asked.
“You put on airs,” the redhead said.
“I do not.”
“You do,” Miss Bonnie said. “You got this tough guy act you put on around everyone but me.”
“But you?” Gunther asked Miss Bonnie.
“He’s a real sweet teddy bear,” Miss Bonnie said. “Aint you?” she asked Slade.
Slade’s forehead vein was throbbing. With full rasp he declared, “I am not a teddy bear.”
“Look,” Gunther said. “I don’t run from every fight. Just the fights that aren’t worth dying for. Only a dumb ass would let himself get shot trying to save a town full of ungrateful yahoos from getting their shit stolen from a scumbag like Smelly Jack.”
The old man pulled bullet after bullet off of his belt and one by one, inserted them into the chamber of his pistol.
“But when I was just a bit older than Miles in there I saw a chance to make a life for myself in a free Texas so I took it,” Gunther said. “It didn’t work out the way I’d hoped but at least I came back here knowing I’d earned a great man’s respect. And years later when there was chance to keep the North and South from going their separate ways? You better believe that was a cause worth fighting for.”
Slade chewed on the end of his cigar. The old timer pointed at the zombies trudging away down the road.
“And even though the odds are a million to one against a victory here,” Gunther said. “If there’s even a slim chance that I can keep the United States of America from becoming stepped on by a bloodsucking son of a bitch’s boot heel, then you best believe I’m going to take it.”
Miss Bonnie cocked her shotgun. “That was beautiful Gunther. Rain, let him hear your real voice.”
Slade flashed Miss Bonnie a look of total betrayal. “What?” he grunted.
“Go on,” Miss Bonnie said. “Gunther shared. Now you share. This is how you make friends.”
“I don’t want to,” Slade said, gruffly.
Miss Bonnie stomped her foot. “Rainier Slade, this man is the best friend you will ever have and you will let him hear your real voice right this instant!”
Slade rolled his eyes then cleared his throat. He started talking normally, with his real voice, the one he only shared with Miss Bonnie.
It wasn’t womanly. Or all that intolerable. But as it turned out, Slade’s regular tone was just the slightest bit…nasal.
“This is how I talk.”
Gunther leaned back and looked Slade in the eye. “Really?”
“Fuck,” Gunther said.
The old man slapped the marshal’s back. “Like I said, boy. As long as you’re convinced your dick swings, no one else’s opinion matters.”
Gunther moved near the door frame. “If you want to fight, we’ll fight. If you want to run, we’ll run. No shame in it under the circumstances. It’s easy for me to say let’s fight because I’ve done all my living already but you two are just getting started. Whatever you decide, I’m with you, marshall.”
Slade tipped the end of his Stetson. “Thank you…deputy.”
The old man walked into the church but then poked his head back outside.
“But seriously, get that frog back in your throat. You’re going to kill the morale in here.”
“Got it,” Slade said.
Slade and Miss Bonnie sat on the edge of the porch.
“I wish you hadn’t done that,” Slade said.
“Please,” Miss Bonnie said. “I’ve known that old buzzard longer than you and I’ve never seen him go on about another man the way he does about you. He doesn’t care what you sound like.”
“You don’t know what I’ve been through,” Slade said.
“Are you ever going to tell me?” Miss Bonnie asked.
“Maybe,” Slade said. “When you tell me why a cancan girl can drop a slew of zombies and offer to blow off Doc’s head without breaking a sweat.”
Miss Bonnie stood up. “Touche,” she said as she walked into the church. “I’ll let you think.”
All alone, Slade laid back and stared up at the stars. “Yeah. Let me think.”