Ringo was sitting against an oak tree in West Turkey Creek Canyon when Wyatt found him. There was blood on his forehead. His Winchester leaned on the tree beside him. He held a Colt.45 in his lap, and he was drinking whiskey from an open bottle.
Wyatt said, “John.”
Ringo said, “Wyatt.”
He was drunk. Wyatt could tell by the care with which Ringo spoke.
“You come back,” Ringo said.
“Where’s your horse?” Wyatt said.
“I fell off him a ways back,” Ringo said. “Landed on my head. Horse run off while I was laying there.”
“He wearing your boots?” Wyatt said.
Ringo shook his head seriously.
“I think I left them in a crib north of Sixth Street,” he said.
Wyatt’s horse, tied to a squat clump of mesquite, nuzzled at the inadequate grass while he waited for Wyatt. The inflexible July heat, six miles from Tombstone, was nearly claustrophobic.
“You come back to settle up?” Ringo said.
The men were silent for a minute, feeling the hard press of the heat. Breathing the smell of it. Listening to it as if it were audible.
“You’re drunk, John.”
“My natural state,” Ringo said. “Don’t let it bother you.”
“I don’t mean to shoot you while you’re drunk.”
“I’ve shot a lot of men while I was drunk,” Ringo said. “Hell, Wyatt, you wait until I’m sober, you’ll never shoot me at all.”
“We could let it go, John.”
Ringo shook his head solemnly.
“No, Wyatt, we can’t.”
“We ain’t the kind of men let things go.”
They looked at each other. Ringo’s eyes were soft as if they didn’t focus well. Wyatt could hear the faint jingle of harness and the soft sound of the horse’s mouth as the roan browsed on the meager grass.
Had that horse a long time.
“No, John, we’re not.”
Again they looked at each other in the reeking silence of the desert heat.
“But not today,” Wyatt said. “I can’t shoot a drunk sitting on his ass under a tree.”
“Hell, John, I don’t even remember how all this started.”
“Sure you do, you stole Behan’s girl.”
Wyatt turned and started toward his horse.
“There’ll be another time, John.”
Wyatt kept walking.
“Don’t make me shoot you in the back,” Ringo said.
In the hammering stillness, Wyatt could hear the hammer being thumbed back on Ringo’s Colt. Wyatt turned to his left side and down, pulling his own Colt as he moved. Ringo fired and missed, and Wyatt, from the ground and aiming upward, put a bullet into Ringo’s brain.
The roan looked startled, jerked his head once against the reins that were tied to the mesquite, then went back to eating grass. Wyatt got to his feet and walked over to Ringo.
“So drunk he’s got his gun belt on upside down,” Wyatt said to the empty desert heat. He picked up the whiskey bottle and poured out what was left and hurled the bottle as far as he could into the scrub growth that littered the canyon floor. He heard the bottle shatter when it hit. He stood for another moment looking down at Ringo, who was still sitting against the tree. There was nothing in Ringo’s face. Not death, not peace, not pain. Nothing. Wyatt nodded his head gently as he looked down at Ringo. Then he turned and untied his horse and mounted and rode away.
And I’d steal her again.