Big Red Flatt, 1871
Jasper has observed that for men there are a handful of primal images repeated everywhere: the hole (as cup, cave, mouth, womb), the mound (as hill, breast, muscle, horse), the pole (as tower, penis, ships’ mast, rifle), and the angle (as house, pasture, cart, shadow). Big Red Flatt, as Jasper rides up on it alone, is a potent combination of Mound and Angle. It is a big, windblown military outpost cum town situated on a blood-red plateau. Dusty trees that are pale yellow in the distance and heat waver above red walls built from the rocks of the plateau. The place presents tactical difficulties in his ongoing feud with the Stoke family and the newly created State of Nebraska.
Jasper rides unhindered up the rutted switchback into town and passes only one family, mostly women dressed in calico, driving their wagon in the opposite direction. His mineral sense tells him there is a concentration of blood and signaling nerves on the far side of town. He situates his hat. The movement of rust and silica leads him to a saloon called the Vault. No one is on the porch nor comes out while Jasper ties up his mare, which, to his mind, is evidence enough of trouble.
As though conducted, the bar is silent when Jasper pushes through the Vault’s swinging doors. "Single malt?" the bartenders calls out. It is Old Pa Stokes, the last head of that tribe. "Hep me with yer name, friend."
"State took that offa yeh, friend."
Jasper waits. One of the boys at the side bar snorts but falls short of laughing at a look from Old Pa. He puts a glass on the bar nearest to Jasper. "The boys an’ me like to offer yeh a truce... Marshall. There’s too many a’ us for yeh to kill, and yeh’ve run outta Deputies."
Jasper picks up the whisky. The gun hand of someone’s cousin twitches toward his waist. Jasper shoots the cousin through the forehead, spattering blood and brain on his table companions. Old Pa snarls something inarticulate. Another cousin across the room stands and draws. Jasper shoots him in the throat but does not turn in time to avoid a bullet in the side. The three remaining Stokes brothers have leveled pistols at him. He shoots two in the chest, and the third brother returns the favour. Old Pa puts a slug in Jasper’s shoulder from a close distance. The noise of it stuns everyone except Jasper. He aims for Old Pa’s head but a hasty shot to his gun arm spares Old Pa. Jasper uses his last bullet on the boy whose luck spoiled symmetry.
He considers the gleam and meaningless burn of whisky. Whatever passes for weariness is upon him--a cellular fatigue, an exhaustion of chemical resources. Another cousin puts a bullet through his gut. Old Pa, bleeding from the graze, is re-loading his shotgun. Jasper leaves the full tumbler on the walnut bar. The ground and the slow voracity of vegetable matter are on his mind.