John Kentucky propped himself against a crooked oak, the stagecoach overturned and ablaze. The horses whaling, bleeding out, their final gasps echoing through the vast expanse.
The Texas sun beat down on the Pinkerton boys and vultures circled overhead. In a flash they were upon him, seven men with seven pieces of iron John had never seen. He’d escaped them last month, and the month before. Truth was, John knew his time was up, and he wandered the Texan planes hoping Jack Jones would show up.
Down the dirt road, beyond the massacre, a woman in robes galloped and dismounted. She knelt down, rubbing oils on the Pinkertons and making signs of the cross.
“Don’t waste yer time on that feller,” John said nodding to Jack Jones. “That no good sombitch don’t deserve yer prayers.”
The woman looked up. “John Kentucky?”
“Ain’t lookin’ fer salvation.” John said, clutching his side, blood oozing through his fingers. “Take ma corpse ta any local jail. I reckon tha bounty’s close to $3,000. Any’a sheriff’s u’ll be mighty pleased.”
“My son,” Sister Abigail said, “That’s quite a bounty.”
“Since birth, ma life has been nothin’ but robbin’, stealin’, killin’, and I didn’t much care who I done hurt.” John removed his bloodied 1847 Colt Walker revolver. “Daddy said this piece’a rare specimen. He was a ignant sombitch, more concerned with cookin’ shine, so who knows? But this piece belongs to me, John Kentucky, and that makes it gold. It’s killed some’a da finest men, too. Catfish Bobby, Dogface Willy, Red Devil Jackson, even a few no good sheriffs.” He lit a cigarette and inhaled. “That there revolver’s bout tha only good thing ma daddy ever done gimme.” He spat blood on the grassy plains. “Ya fetch a good price fer it too. Tell em who owned it, ya hear?” He set it in her palm and his eyes welled up as she stashed it in her pouch. “Sister, that there piece’a iron bout the only friend I ev’a done had.”
“The sisters talk of you. I’m not familiar with your other normative transgressions, but to us, you’re a Harriet Tubman.”
John coughed up red. “I know what I am, and what I ain’t, and I ain’t no Harriet Tubman.” John exhaled smoke from his nostrils. “Imma letch’ya in a secret. I didn’t burn down McMaster’s house for what he done to dem negroes. Though I reckon most folk rumor that’s ma reason.” He paused. “I ain’t no abolitionist, Sister. Met a few in ma day. Most dem didn’t care a lick for dem negroes. I ‘supoose I’s young, I’s reckless, and McMaster’s just didn’t talk to me correct.” Smoke curled around his head. “Round these parts, you might be talkin’ ‘bout dem three Klan fellers found swingin’ from a tree.” He gazed at vultures circling above him. “Dunno why I killed em. Maybe ma daddy was right ‘bout me and senseless violence. I admit, I done took great pleasure stringin’ dem up, watchin’ em squirm.”
“Perhaps you father was wrong.” She said. “Perhaps you don’t like folks judging others without knowing em?”
John pressed harder on his side, pain shot up his spine and blood pooled around his waist, soaking his trousers. “Ya, maybe, ya might be right.”
“Mr. Kentucky,” Sister Abigail said, “your heart may not be pure, but your actions were from the hand of Almighty God, divinely inspired, much like John Brown.”
“Met a couple’a nuns in ma day. Even caught a few beatin’s. Ya words don’t sound like no nun ta me.” He paused. “’Bout this time you folks start preachin’ and readin’ Bible verses.”
“No Bible today, I’m afraid,” she said. “We all follow Christ in our own way, much like John Brown.” She let out a chuckle. “The man couldn’t teach a hen to cluck, but his soul was imbued with the fire of God Almighty and the passion of The Holy Ghost.” Sister Abigail produced a bottle of Evan Williams from her pouch. “I wager you need this more than a Bible.”
“A nun with a bottle. No offense, but yer a strange one, sister.”
She took a sip and handed it to John. “As I said, we all follow Christ in our own way.”
John took a swig and stared off into the horizon. “Had a wife once. A boy as well. They was good people. The best. I gone done pissed that way. I wager that’s ma only regret. The only sin that haunts ma wakin’ dreams.”
“I done robbed da wrong stage coach few years back. Pinkerton’s came lookin’ fer me. Found ma wife and boy instead.” He gestured to Jack Jones. “That sombitch over yander? He done did em in, or so I heard.”
Sister Abigail bowed her head. “They have a mechanical cruelty. They’re humanity stripped away.”
“I feel bad ‘bout some da men I killed. Most didn’t deserve it. I got no remorse for Jack Jones, and if Hell awaits me, imma find em wit’ ma six shooter.”
Sister Abigail clutched her rosary. “May I pray for you?”
“I reckon God don’t much care for ma soul no more. He’s long abandoned des lands.” He took another swig, blood smearing the bottle. “I wager even da devil has too. Been further south? Ya see all kinds’a cruelty. Indian heads on spikes, scalped. Folks call em savages cause dey look different.” He look another swig. “I done seen dem groups ambush em too. The Indians. Maybe it’s best I don’t live to long.”
Sister Abigail knelt beside him. “May I pray for you?”
“It’s a free country.” He breathed fired into his lungs. “’Least fer now, anyway. I see lawmen ragin’ over these beautiful lands, up north a bit they’s been building iron wagons on tracks. I don’t much care fer da noise.” He tossed the cigarette aside. “Even the taxman wants a piece’a it now. All us no more’a ghosts, sister. Must us just don’t know it yet.”
Sister Abigail said a Hail Mary as John painted the oak with blood. The sun beat down on his bloodied face, the sun just above the horizon. Wolves howled in the distance and the vultures descended on the corpses.
“Hope dey got good tobacco and Irish whiskey where’eva I’m goin’.” He clutched her arm and gazed into her eyes. “Do good wit tha money, ya hea’?”
“We’ll dedicate an orphanage in your honor, Mr. Kentucky.”
“All due respect, I don’t need no honors, I ain’t done nothin’ to deserve none. Never been a good man. Never really tried.” He stared off into the rolling hills and lit another cigarette. “Ya think in death I can be sompin’ more?”
Sister Abigail stroked his arm. “Until we meet again, Mr. Kentucky.”
The sun set as John took his final drag.
Sebastian Vice mostly pens tales of transgression and dirty realism. When not writing, he helps manage Outcast Press, a new indie publication devoted to transgressive fiction and dirty realism (www.outcast-press.com). You can find him on twitter at: https://twitter.com/sebastian_vice