The head made a wet slap and a dull thud as the man dropped it on the table. The hessian sack he had packed it in had turned a dark brown with dried blood, the rest of it caked in desert dust. Smoke curled up from the cigarette of the man sitting in front of him. It was his desk the head had been set down upon. A plaque on the wall named him as Jack Crawley, Officer of the Law, Commended for Brave Services to the People of Galveston, Texas. He reached forward and opened the sack from the top and pulled it down over the severed head. Dead eyes stared out from the preacher's face, contorted in a frozen look of everlasting horror.
"Jesus," Jack said. "He's an ugly fucker, ain't he?"
"No prettier nor uglier than your average nigger." The man spat onto the ground.
Jack coughed up a laugh. He unsheathed a knife from his waist and stuck it into the man's mouth. A small cut and a cold tooth tumbled into his grimy palm. Jack handed the tooth up to the man.
"This'll part of your payment, as well as the coin," Jack turned to unlock a safe behind him. He withdrew a small coffer of gold coins and passed them across the table. "Thanks for the good work, son."
"Thanks fer the money." The man put the coins in a pouch hanging from his belt.
"I got another job for ye, if you're interested?"
The man raised his chin at the man. "Go on."
Jack smiled. "There's a bunch of Mexicans sneaking counterfeit monies into the cities of the United States."
"Mostly pesos and the like, but folks on the border still take 'em as payment. Word is, though, that they're starting to ship in fake American bills, too. That don't sit to right with me."
The man nodded.
"I'd like ye to kindly go on down Mexico way and convince 'em to just go ahead and stop."
The man nodded, again.
"I'm supposing I can count on you?"
The man spat. "Usually do."
Jack smiled, shook the man's hand and gestured for him to leave. The man left.
"Jimmy!" Jack called. A small man with a weasel-like demeanour and a large bald patch came in.
"Yeah, Mr. Crawley, sir?"
Jack threw the preacher's head at Jimmy, who caught it despite himself.
"Put that on a stake out in the courtyard and tell the Smythes and the Collinses that they can come see the head of the man responsible for defiling their daughters."
Jimmy turned to leave.
"Tell 'em also, Jimmy, that their pay is due."
"Of course, Mr. Crawley." And Jimmy slinked out of the room.
Outside, the man unhitched his horse, took out a small compass and then close it. He squinted at the horizon towards Mexico and kicked his horse. Hoof clops and dust lay behind the man and covered the world.
Bennet awoke earlier than Jake and packed up the campsite. He ate some leftover meat and beans for breakfast, the tortillas and fillings cold but still moist enough from being covered away from the desert sun.
The sounds of a horse made him turn around and a rider was approaching them at speed. He stopped and reared his horse just at the edge of the camp.
"Gringo," the man said.
"Hello, Xavo," Bennet said. "How are ye?"
"Who the fuck is that?" Xavo gestured with a strange pistol, a blade jutting out from beneath the barrel.
"Jake. He sort of invited hisself along."
"Hey," Xavo jumped down and kicked Jake's boot. Jake woke with a start, snorting. "What you doin' out here, gringo?"
"What's it to you, amiga?"
"Hoo, got some balls on you cabron. I got some balls, too." Xavo took the pistol and thrust the blade down into Jake's forehead and fired. The pistol ball shot out the back of his skull with bits of brain and a splattering of blood. A river of patterns, like veins of old copper, shot along the sand, staining the desert. Jake walked among the ghosts.
"God damnit!" Bennet yelled. "Now why'd you go and do that for?"
"I don't like being sassed, hermano. Vamos, vamos. No quiero llegar tarde."
Bennet took a look at Jake and sighed. Xavo went for the dead man's boots.
"I wouldn't be doin' that if I was you."
"Wearin' a dead man's boots is invitin' a world a pain you ain't needin' or wantin'. Mala suerte."
Xavo eyed the boots and Bennet alternatively. He left the boots and climbed on his horse. Bennet did the same and they clicked their horses forward into the sun of the day, the white dust looking like an endless mirage created by mistake by some meddlesome god.