Persimmon Gulch, 1852
"It don’t look like it wants to infect," the doctor says. "Hell, Jasper, it ain’t even bleedin’."
Jasper brushes his handlebar mustache with the hand of his uninjured arm. "Was there ever a persimmon, Doc, in this here gulch?"
The doctor looks up at the seamed but always pale face. "I believe not, Jasper. I reckon some cocksucker--God forgive me--was sat on his horse, thought of a persimmon and so named the gulch. Why, I reckon..." The tent flap rises, reminding Jasper of the cascade of lank, dark hair from his girl, Junie. He currently will have no one else but her to shave his neck or empty nothingness from his chamber pot.
"Marshall? There looks to be a fight about to happen down at the Wild Bear Saloon. Concerning gold or the loss of it." Jasper waits. The newcomer swallows. "’Course it’ll play isself out. Some limp-dick cocksucker’ll get hisself shot and the tother’ll get a knife stuck in him by the first un’s friend."
"Get on," Jasper says. The tent flat falls back into place. "Thanks, Doc."
"Well, Jasper, yer my best payin’ customer. Wish the rest is like you. Don’t never need a bone set nor a wound stitched up. Never need no den..."
"Evenin’, Doc." Jasper situates his hat and thumbs the brim in farewell. The white-hot day is bleeding to a salmon pink and sets the edges of the ubiquitous tumbleweed to a kind of faint red glow. Jasper checks the ties on his saddlebag then swings onto his horse. The mare flicks her ears back. "Hai-up," Jasper says quietly, and she is like wind suddenly blown up in motion. Visions of the road behind them eddy in scarlet bars of polarized dusk.
A few miles on, Jasper rides up on a lone hotel with a peeling, white façade; behind it, something of a town fades with the sunset. His Deputy Marshall sits on a bench out front with a dark-haired girl on his lap. When Jasper is nearly on the porch, the Deputy Marshall starts suddenly upward, displacing the girl. "Marshall," he says. The girl gets to her feet and looks at the space between them.
"Go on in, Junie," Jasper says, "There’s money in the drawer for yer time." Junie’s mouth twitches up in an expression of humour or perhaps regret.
"Marshall," the Deputy Marshall begins again.
Jasper gets off of his horse. "Did you hear anything ‘bout a fight down at the Wild Bear?"
"No, Marshall. No fight. Though there’s a rumour they fixin’ to ambush you up in there, if you were to come lookin’."
"I reckon so. Git yer things."
"Yes sir, Marshall. Won’t be sorry to go, sir."
Later, up the Bone Creek Trail road, it is full dark, and the Deputy Marshall dozes on his horse. For Jasper, the night is coloured a mid-slate grey, except at the orange bases of plants or where the heat-red motion of rodents and night birds crosses his vision. The Blackfoot tribes feel his presence somehow so give the stretch of road wide, free passage. The newer interlopers have not yet honed that sense, if they ever will. Jasper imagines they’ll try for him this night or the next, likely brave on whiskey or at least numb on opium.
In the lighter grey hours near dawn, Jasper is not disappointed. The feel of crushed sage a quarter mile off tips his larger awareness, and he casts about to get a measure of their numbers. A flight of flies gives him three riding up behind; a displaced owl gives him four or five on the trail ahead. The sage means there are at least three gone to ground around him, bringing the count to a shy dozen. "Jakes," he says to his Deputy Marshall.
"Sir," Jakes says, coming fully awake. He unties his rifle from the saddle. "How many?"
"Near a dozen. Take those that come up behind."
"Sir," Jakes says, shaking his head to clear sleep from it.
Jasper watches the ribbon of the trail blush in anticipation of the sun. Eventually, four figures rise out of the road in front of him. When they are close enough to make out Jasper’s countenance, he nods his hat in their direction.
"Marshall," the lead man says.
Jasper waits. The men exchange glances.
"Well, Marshall, me and mine reckon yer no natural man and a blasphemy against Jesus Christ."
"And yeh kill’t my brother, Ned." The lead man points with his thumb to the man on his left, "And his pa, Stokes, so we’re here to settle that."
There is a small explosion and a rictus of smoke from Jasper’s six-shooter. The lead man slumps off of his horse with a bullet through his right eye. His companions fumble for their guns.
Behind Jasper, the Deputy Marshall shoots the horse out from under a man riding up behind them, causing two other horses to panic and one to bolt off the trail. Jasper drops the remaining men in front of him and leans down slightly to avoid a shot from behind. Jakes has shot one man through the throat but acquired a bullet-graze on his right side.
"Down, Jakes," Jasper says. He shoots the man who lost his horse; the third is crawling away down the trail. Jasper shoots him through the crown of his head, leaving an arc of biological matter in the dust. Jasper re-holsters the empty six-shooter and picks up one of Jakes’s rifles. The man who rides back onto the trail after controlling his horse catches a slug in the sternum. Dismounting from his horse, Jasper seeks out the sage again: two men are in flight back to town; one has holed up in a dry streambed.
"Sir," the Deputy Marshall says, pulling away the bloody shirt from his injured side. "You must be the gawd-damned fastest hand in the whole gawd-damned world, Marshall."
"There’s three left in the bush."
"I reckon you could just..." Jasper is gone. "Aw, hell." Jakes bandages his side and rounds up the remaining uninjured and now-riderless horses. He is sorting through meager belongings when Jasper returns a quarter of an hour later. "Cocksuckers from Big Red Flatt, I make ‘em," Jakes says.