The smell reached him long before he saw the bodies. A familiar smell, sickly sweet and awful, like bad eggs and old meat. He rounded the rocks and saw the creeks and stretches of blood spreading out from the butchered bodies of the dead Apaches. The man jumped down from his horse and checked the bodies. Scalped.
"Who scalps the scalpers?" the man said, scratching his growing beard.
He leaned down close to the ones behind the rocks, saw their blood-licked axes and clubs and the pummeled look of their faces.
Getting up, he turned his attention to the north-east, back where the hoof-prints came from. He walked his horse up that way and saw the body of the dead Apache, shot and trampled, lying there in the sand, eyeless from vultures. A dark red bullet hole stared up at the man from the Apache's neck nape. He looked from the body to the rocks and back again.
This one had not been scalped, just left alone. The man leaned in near him and checked his pockets. A couple of coins and a necklace of ears, a small bag of shot and bullets. Looking around some, the man saw the pistol over a ways.
"Must've been the only lucky sonofabitch with a pistol," he said, picking it up. "Coz none a your countrymen shot any bullets at them there rocks."
The dead Apache didn't say anything. The man leaned down again to the body and took out his knife, ran it deep along the hairline and ripped back the scalp.
"Waste not, want not," the man pocketed the scalp. "You'll fetch maybe a dollar, I reckon."
He looked up at the sun, halfway across its daily journey from day to night. It blared down, hot and unforgiving. The man licked his chapped lips, climbed on his horse and road out. Looking from the tracks leading north east to the rocky hills, he pondered on which way the American went. He sat there for some time, considering, and then headed towards the hills. It wasn't likely he had changed course now, where had he to go but straight?
It was not far until a town, just over the hills and then some, and then he'd kill the American and he could go home.
Bennet was hungry. They had eaten their last food that night and now they had nothing, and it was still some time before the next town.
"Jesus," Lester said to no one in particular. "I wish we had some a that corn bread left."
"Yeah," Bennet replied. "But we don't."
"We could hunt something?"
"Anything!" Lester waved his arms in the air, desperation on his face. "Hell, I'd eat a coyote if I could catch one here and now."
Bennet chuckled. He turned to Kuruk, "You up for some huntin'?"
Kuruk nodded. "I'm hungry."
The three men dismounted and tied their horses to a nearby shrub. Bennet took his rifle and the other two men took their guns.
"Alright, shoot what you see, but only things with enough meat to make somethin' worthwhile," Bennet loaded his rifle. "And preferably somethin' all three of us can eat."
The two others nodded and they set about finding some rocks to hide behind. And then they waited. They waited until the sun had past the summit of the sky and the wind began to cool and shadows stretched out from odd things and leer out into the world. Coyotes began to call and the vultures circles grew sparser as they flew off to roost.
"Ah, fuck it," Bennet drew his rifle up high and cracked off an echoing shot into the sky. A large black mass fell from the sky to the earth and thudded up a great cloud of sand.
"Did you just kill a vulture?" Lester asked, looking away from his gun.
"I'm fuckin' hungry and I ain't seein' anythin' else!"
Bennet did not move.
"Well?" Lester said. "Ain't you gonna go and get it?"
The rest of the vultures had flown off and away and the coyotes were silent for some time. Finally, one came out from its hiding place in the ether of the desert and sniffed around the dead vulture. Bennet eased the sights over it and fired again, the cloud of smoke climbing high into the deepening blue of the night sky. He got up from his spot behind the rocks and sauntered to where the coyote died. It was still twitching, for the shot had not killed it.
Bennet sighed, took out his knife, and slit the thing's throat. He then picked it up and took it over to a fire that Lester and Kuruk had built and began to skin and clean it.
Soon they were full with meat and ready for a long night's sleep.
"Good hunting, Bennet," Lester said, pulling his hat down over his face. "There's hope for you yet."
"Haw, haw, haw, you sonofabitch," Bennet kicked Lester lightly in the leg and he chuckled. "When we get to town I might sell you instead of them horses."
"He won't sell," Kuruk said. "Too skinny."
And the men laughed until sleep took them from it all.