[I'll switch to first person. ]
"Applewood. Yeah," I said. "What game is he playing?" Danny just shook his head.
We decided to have a meal at the saloon. The Bolinos de Bacalhau appetizer was too greasy and the Spicy Thai Beef Salad was lacking papaya, but I didn't worry too much about it. My mind was on other matters. So was Danny's, apparently, as he didn't say a word during the meal. Finally I made to leave. "Listen, Danny, you be careful. I don't know what you're involved in -- and I don't want to know. Just take care of yourself." He didn't say anything and I got up and left the saloon.
I stopped for an hour or so at the barber shop next door. Two bits for a shave and a hair cut. I left the shop with a single purpose in my mind. To the main street, alight with people and rapidly-moving traffic, I gave only a passing thought. I knew where I was headed. Turning down a side street, I saw the building that I could have described in my sleep. The Carriage House Hotel. As I entered, I flittingly took in the surroundings: a would-be oasis of civilization in this wasteland. An overdose of back-East fashion in the architecture contrasted with an overdose of pure Western scum in the clientele. Perhaps a half-dozen or more men occupied that common room. But that was the last thing on my mind. I went directly to the front desk. I had a name on my lips.
But I was stopped cold.
She came out of the adjoining game room.
She was there: in my presence. In my world again.
She crossed the room toward the fireplace. I once again admired the lines of her face. That jawline that I would have given my life to stroke once more. That neck with its aroma I could smell even across the room -- across the years. I could feel the smooth curve of the small of her back. Jesus. Here was my life presented before me.
I was frozen.
Then, she turned and slowly took in the room. Finally, after an eon, her eyes met mine. Shock registered in her. Shock registered between us. God! It was as if lightning flew across the space, crackling and distorting the air. I never expected it, but then she smiled. So simple. She smiled a bewildered, delirious smile. It was a smile of recognition -- of acceptance -- of fire -- of love.
She was mine. Again. She was mine. My life was not wasted. Here she was. Mine.
I was only contemplating moving toward her. It was as if my life had shifted into slow-motion. She started to move toward me. Me.
And then, he
emerged from the room. Stupid. Barbarous. He moved with an obvious, ostentatious air of ownership and approached her. He touched her. Familiar. Too familiar. That
familiar. It was a moment before I could properly take in this bastard. Then a dozen lines came together in my consciousness.
I couldn't react. His eyes followed hers and settled on me. He laughed. "Sutton!" he said. "Well, well. I see you think something of this fine girl!" I couldn't say anything. "Oh? No? Well, I don't blame you. She's not worth that much." He laughed again. Then he started to pull her back toward the game room. Back toward the stairs I knew were there. Back to the rooms upstairs. He had already forgotten about me.
"S-S-Stop," I pitifully stammered. "Don't. Don't."
He flicked an angry glance at me. Then he flew into a contemptuous rage. "WHAT?!" he bellowed. "Go away, little flea! There's man's work to be done here!"
"No," I said. "No, please." He glared at me. He paused for a moment and then pushed her aside. I suddenly became very aware of the revolver at his hip. I could read his intention. I was not a master of the quick draw. I had never seen Applewood draw before. I didn't know much about him, but I knew I would be no match for him. Still, I was not going to let him take my Lydia away. I would die trying to stop that.
Jeb Applewood squared up against me and took a slow breath. It was happening too quickly. He was going to kill me. It was too quick.
And then -- softly -- a voice came from beyond my vision.
I hesitated, and then chanced a quick glance over my shoulder.
Great God Almighty!
Danny Richmond was standing nonchalantly in the doorway, facing Jeb Applewood from across the room.