I found John Traver's brother Billy three days later on the road to Sedition. He was traveling with another man I didn't recognize, but I knew neither of them meant anything good. He might have been a hired gun helping in the stage robberies, or just another cutthroat that Billy adopted. Either way, Billy was traveling with a big pack, and one other man didn't make any difference to me as to what I had to do.
They had set up a camp near the Henessey River which led south, toward Sedition and what he was guessing was his brother. They were a good two days from another farm or town, though this particular spot had been a stop along the old Pony Express route. The building and stable had long since fallen down, though the horse post was still there and it made for a popular stop along the trail. Billy was cooking over the fire while the stranger lounged on his bedroll, peeling an apple with a long knife. I observed this as I walked down the hillside. It was just close enough to dark to break for camp, though not to dark as for me to see each of them react as I closed in. Billy's hand eased towards his gun as he stood over the fire, the smell of bacon wafting in. The stranger never moved, just peering up from under the wide brim of his hat while he kept peeling the apple.
"Greetin'! I was on from Sedition and I noticed your fie and the smell o' cookin'. Was wonderin' if I could share it with ya. I got some whiskey I'd gladly pass."
I might have laid the country accent a little thick, but Travers seemed to buy it. He eased his hand off the pistol and broke into the kind of smile that never touched your eyes. He'd as soon kill me and take what he wanted. I didn't plan on giving him the chance. The stranger never moved, other than the knife over the skin of the fruit.
"Hell yes. Yer more than welcome. Why don't you pass that bottle?"
I smiled wide and mentioned my thanks as I reached back under the blanket I'd laid over my horse. I felt underneath it until I gripped what I wanted. I whipped the double barrel sawed-off shotgun out faster than Travers could react and fired, the buckshot ripping through his stomach as he cried out. I had swiped the gun from Traver's brother three days before, turning its use for my own. I turned the second shot to the stranger but he was to fast.
He drove his head hard into my gut and I felt the air leave my lungs in one great whoosh. We fell backwards landing even harder on the packed clay dirt trail. The shotgun fell with a clatter as the stranger loomed on top of me. He still held the knife which he pressed down towards my throat. I threw one hand up around his fist, the other clenching at his throat. He grinned wildly, flecks of spit at the corners of his mouth, as he pulled his free hand from my own throat and pressed down on the blade, leaning in on it with his weight. The headbutt had hurt and I could already feel my strength begin to wane under the strain. The knife glinted just inches from my throat, getting closer. Desperate, I wiggled my hips lower, stretching my neck up to avoid the blade, until I could move my right knee. then I brought it as hard as I could up into his balls.
His eyes went wide with surprise, but he held on. I did it again, then again, until I heard a sickening crunch. His eyes went buggy and wild as he screamed. I pushed the knife with all my strength to the right, the tip narrowly missing my throat, but meeting the thick cartilage of my ear. I could feel my own blood, hot, flowing down my neck. His body was still on me, so I pushed the pain in my ear to the side and stiffened my fingers. Drawing back, I drove them deep into his eye, hearing a wet sucking sound as I drew them free. He threw himself off me, trashing wildly on the ground, screaming in pain. I crawled to the shotgun, placing my hand on its grip.
As I stood, one hand to my ear, the other around the gun, I looked at the two men. Billy Travers laying in a pool of his own blood, the life slowly trickling from his body. The stranger, thrashing in pain, with a broken eye and broken balls. I walked over to the stranger first and kicked him hard in the ribs. I kept kicking until I heard a crack and his breathing grow ragged and forced. He stared up at me, unable to breath, terror and pain etched on his face. I placed the shotgun to his head and fired, tasting the spray of his blood on my lips.
I dragged Billy Travers to the shore of the Henessey River, leaving a bloody trail of dirt and gore on the packed clay road. I plunged his head into the cold waters again and again, never letting him drown, never letting him breath, until the milky foam of his eyes grew dark and he was knocking on the door of hell. I pulled him free of the water and drew out my father's revolver. I pulled his ear to my mouth and told him my tale. The name of my daughter. The name of my wife. He knew the final name before I said it. The name of death. Then I placed the cold barrel of the old gun into his mouth and fired. I left him in the river, the red of his blood mixing into the deep blue of that river, washing downstream.
Only two more bullets to go.
End of Line.