Twelve hours before Rob fucked up, he was actually in a pretty good mood. It was a starlit night and the hills rolled forever onward. To his left he could hear the beating waves of the Pacific Ocean. There was something pleasant about the way they tumbled over the sand. Plus there was the smell. He’d never breathed ocean air like this, even when he’d been living next to one.
Between them was Si Liao. The man’s head was bowed, rocking with the motion of his mule, his eyes were all but closed. It didn’t fool Rob. The Chinaman had a funny way of tuning out the world around him. It was only one of his many curiosities. He was tall, even by American standards, and lanky too. His hair was neck length and curly, very much unlike the braids Rob had gotten used to seeing. Si's clothes were plain and simple, a frog-buttoned jacket running down the length of his legs. It made him look a little like the priests, Rob thought.
Still, Si Liao kept to himself, speaking only when spoken to. All things considered, he wasn’t a bad riding companion.
Also he was the only one who knew where they were going. There was that too.
Rob rounded the top of the hillcrest and spotted a light in the distance. He stopped his mule, patted his hip to get a feel for his gun. He reached out to tap Si. The Chinaman looked up before he’d even touched him.
Rob cleared his throat and pointed to the distant glow.
“That it? Lightwell?”
Si looked in its direction. He nodded.
Rob smiled. “About damn time. Come on!”
He kicked the mule.
It snorted and looked back.
“She’s an old creature.” Si said. “Don’t expect too much of her.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Respect.” Rob grumbled. “Come on, Becky.”
He turned the reigns. It made into a slow trot down the hill. By the time they reached the edge of the small town, the saloon’s gas lights were the only ones still on. Rob dismounted quick and threw his reins over the closest post. He patted his side once more for good measure.
“Alright, this should be real quick.” he said. “Uh, I guess this is it. Thanks for showing me the way and all that.”
Rob glanced over.
Si was slowly dismounting his mule. His feet barely made a sound as they landed against the dirt. He took his reins, slowly started tying them around a second post.
“Uh, what are you doing?” Rob asked.
“Securing Glenda.” Si said. “That is the proper word, yes? ‘Secure?’”
“Yeah, it is. What I mean is, why are you doing it?”
“So she doesn’t run off. You should see to your own.”
Rob sighed, rubbed the bridge between his eyes. “No, I mean, what are you expecting to do? You can’t go in there. They’ll shoot you.”
“But I must.” Si left his knot loose and turned to Rob. “There are men I must find.”
“Yeah, yeah. You said it before. Your brother and something about a family and gold and stuff and things.”
“You weren’t listening.”
“I ... occasioned.” Rob cleared his throat. “Bottom line. You can’t go in there. Wait till morning. Whoever you’re looking for is probably too drunk to make sense anyway.”
“And what of your man?” Si asked.
Rob grabbed the hilt of his gun. “Oh, I’m betting on it.”
Si glanced down at his holster. “That’s not a real gun.”
“He doesn’t have to know that.” Rob winked.
“You are going to hurt yourself.”
“Nah, don’t think I will.” Rob tipped his hat, or, he would’ve if he were wearing one. He turned and walked for the saloon. “This’ll be real quick. Stay outside.”
He pushed open the saloon doors with gusto.
There were five men in the bar, plus the saloon-keeper. None of them noticed him enter.
Rob placed his hands in his torn pockets and scanned the room. It was easy to spot his man among the crowd. Four miners and a conman.
Carl Miller was sitting in the shadiest corner of the saloon, his thin grey hair failing to cover up his stupid, fat face. He was drinking with some other man. A miner, by the looks of it. Probably his next victim.
Rob marched right up to their table, pulled out a chair, threw it aside for dramatic effect.
The low hum of conversation died quick, especially from Miller. The fat man looked up.
“Can I help you?” he said.
“Shut up.” Rob slammed his hands against the table. “You owe me thirty bucks, asshole.”
Miller raised a brow. “Do I know you?”
“Rob.” he said. “Rob Flynn. You sold me a horse and saddlebags. Only without the horse. Or saddlebags.” He looked at the miner. “Excuse me, I need that chair.”
“Could’ve just used the other one.” the miner grumbled. Still, he got up.
Carl Miller folded his pudgy fingers over themselves and leaned back.
“Now son,” he said, “there are certain, well, we’ll call them expectations, one has when walking into a deal. The first of which is the common knowledge that-”
Rob grabbed his mug. He threw the contents in Miller's face. The conman sputtered, his face turning red.
“Now see here,” he stood.
Rob pulled his gun, beat its hilt against Miller’s nose. The conman stumbled back, fell over his chair. Rob holstered the piece fast as he could. Sat down at the table.
“Now, are you done bullshiting?” he asked.
Miller groaned, cradling his face. Rob sighed, leaned over the table. “Get up.”
The saloon doors opened with a barely audible swish. Rob looked back. Swore.
Si Liao made his way across the floor, hands folded politely over themselves, all eyes on him. He walked past Rob and made his way to the furthest table. He stopped a close distance from the three miners sitting there. The biggest of them was already leaning back, one hand holding a couple cards, the other falling to his side.
“Excuse me,” Si Liao said. “I am looking for my brother.”
“Better walk out, Chinaman.” the big one said.
Si turned to him. Looked at the grey overcoat he wore. Odd for a miner, Rob realized.
“You bear the clothes of the men he wrote of working with." Si said. "His name is Liao Feng Song. Do you know him?”
The big one looked at the others. Hell, they were all looking at each other. One of them went pale.
“He’s your brother?” the small one asked.
The big one nodded. “We were told you might show up. Have orders to kill you.” He unhooked the belt
Rob stood, drawing his piece faster.
“Hold it, please.” he said.
The big guy paused. He looked at Rob. Looked at his revolver.
“That’s not a real gun.” he said.
Rob glanced down. It was all oak and cedar, sanded down with a little silver tip painted on it. His initials were carved into the hilt, next to the gun's name. Rob cleared his throat.
“You, uh, you don’t have to know that.”
The big guy looked at the other two. Nodded towards Rob.
“Kill him first.”
The other two stood. One reached for his side. The other grabbed a rifle leaning against the wall.
Faster than he could follow, Rob saw Si’s hand shoot out. He palm-struck the first miner under the chin. The man stumbled back, fell against the table. The second miner turned, rifle half raised. Si Liao twisted on his feet, grabbed the rifle, plucked it from the miner’s grasp. He tossed it aside. The miner looked at him, shook his head. Growled and charged. Si turned his body sideways, kicked him in the gut. The miner wheezed and collapsed.
The fourth miner – the one whose chair Rob had stolen – ran at Si from behind. Unthinking, Rob sprinted for him. Tackled him against the bar.
The miner turned at the last second, swore and took the brunt of Rob’s assault. As his back slammed against the bar, he grabbed a mug. He slammed it against Rob’s head. It didn’t break. That kind of made the hurt worse.
Rob stumbled back, fists halfway raised. The miner ran at him. Eyes half closed, Rob swung. He felt his knuckles crack against skull. The miner stumbled back, Rob stumbled forward, airing out his hand. The miner threw a wild punch. Rob stepped back, dodged, threw his own punch. Only his hand hasn't fully closed. It came off as an awkward slap.
The miner growled. Rob threw a hook. It came close, glancing the miner’s lip. The man stumbled back. Rob took a moment to roll the pangs out of his neck.
Something heavy slammed against his back. He'd hit the ground before he realized it, eyes pointed halfway up. He saw Carl Miller standing over, holding a broken chair in his hands. Yeah, that was probably what did it. Near the back of the room, he heard a collection of gun hammers cock.
“Stop!” Rob heard the big miner cry. “Stop or we’ll shoot!”
Si must’ve surrendered, because he heard something of a satisfied nod from the big guy.
“Jon, sheriff’s gonna be here real soon.” one of the other miners said.
The big guy grunted. “Yeah, guess we can’t kill ‘im here. Tie him up. We’ll bring him back to camp.”
“What about that one?” Rob figured they must’ve been pointing at him.
“Bring him too. Knock him out first.”
A toady voice intervened. “Allow me.”
Rob looked up, just in time to see Miller’s boot crunch against his face.