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Twenty-two

Wearing a freshly laundered shirt, bathed and clean-shaven and smelling of bay rum, Wyatt knocked on Josie Marcuss door on a pleasant March evening, just getting dark and lyrical with the sound of desert bird-song.

Wyatt, she said.

Evening, Josie.

I thought you were with the posse.

Posses still out, Wyatt said. I came back to see about Luther King.

Josie smiled.

Hes not here, she said.

Neither is Johnny, Wyatt said.

Why, so he isnt, she said, and smiled. May I come in?

Yes, Josie said. You may.

She stepped aside and held the door, and he took off his hat and walked into the small living room that looked out onto Third Street.

Would you like coffee? she said.

Yes, please, Wyatt said.

He waited while she went into the kitchen and made the coffee. The room was silent. Third Street was far enough from the center of town so that there was no street sound, except the occasional sound of a horse going slowly by. There were flowers in a pottery vase on the table by the window.

Josie returned with two cups of coffee in saucers on a small wooden tray. She handed one cup and saucer to Wyatt.

Wont you sit? she said, and nodded toward a straight-backed wooden chair with curved arms and an upholstered back, which must have been freighted in from San Francisco.

He sat, carefully so as not to spill the coffee.

Have you had any luck finding Luther King? she asked.

Wyatt smiled.

Luthers probably in Mexico by now, Wyatt said.

I see. Will you be rejoining the posse?

Again Wyatt smiled.

No, he said. I dont think I will.

Do you know when theyll be back?

Be out another week for sure, Wyatt said.

This time it was Josie who smiled.

Did you really come back to look for Luther King? Josie said.

If Id seen him, Id have collared him.

But you didnt, and now youre here, Josie said. Did you plan to collar me?

Wyatt drank coffee, and put the cup back down carefully in the saucer, and looked up at her. His face was serious.

Well, yes, he said. In a manner of speaking.

There was a little more color in Josies face, he thought, and maybe she was breathing a little quicker, but it was hard to see because it was nearly dark out and Josie had not lit a lamp. She didnt say anything for a moment. Then she stood and picked up the two cups and saucers and put them on the tray and carried them without a word into the kitchen. He heard her put the tray on the kitchen table. Then she came back into the room, walking quite briskly. He stood, afraid she was going to show him the door, but she didnt. She walked right up to him and put her body against his and raised her face and said in the softest voice imaginable, Ill go peacefully.

In the bedroom it was a blur of discarded clothing and tangled bedclothes, the smell of soap and perfume, the feel of her mouth, her body arching, hair, hands, thighs, the sound of her breathing, the sound of her voice, urgency, tension, strength, submission. Wyatt had been with women everywhere he went. He had never been with a woman like this. When it was over he lay as if stunned beside her on the bed in the now-dark room. Her head leaned against his chest.

Mother of God, he said.

She moved her head on his chest and said nothing. He lay without thinking, still in the high wash of emotion slow to recede. A team went past on Third Street. He heard the creak of harness and the sound of the horses. He felt as if he had walked through a passage into a country hed never seen, and from which he could never return.

It is all different now, he said.

She moved her head again, only a little, on his chest. Slowly thought came back. Would it always be like this? Probably not. But it could always be good. Was it like this with Behan? No. What about Mattie?

So what do we do, Josie?

I dont know.

We have to be together.

Yes.

And there it was. His life, which had been one thing this morning, was another thing tonight. She had to do something about Behan. He had to do something about Mattie. Mattie would be hurt. Behan would be angry. Maybe thered be trouble. But that was only incidental. The shape of his future was now set; he knew in ways he could never articulate, could never understand or even think about, that the possibility which had begun to assemble when hed first seen her face in Pinafore on Wheels, perhaps the only insubstantial possibility that he had ever allowed himself to entertain, had coalesced in this moment of frantic unification, and become no longer possibility, but the singular determinant of the rest of his life.

Itll stir up a lot of trouble, Wyatt said.

I dont care, Josie said.

No, Wyatt said, I dont either.

So we might as well make the most of it, Josie said and kissed him, and he rolled toward her and the future once again surged over them.


Twenty-one | Gunman`s Rhapsody | Twenty-three