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3

It was after five o'clock when Ruben Vega returned to the Congress Hotel. The men who had been pointed out to him as journalists and not a part of a business convention were still on the front porch and in the lobby. They stopped talking when he came in, but no one called to him or said anything.

He mentioned it to Sundeen who stood at the full-length mirror in his room, bare to the waist, turning his head slowly, studying himself as he trimmed his beard.

They know I come with you, but they don't ask me anything. You know why?

Why? Sundeen said to himself in the mirror.

Because they think I shine your shoes, run errands for you.

You saw him?

Yes, I talk to him, tell him you're not mad no more.

Wavy-haired son of a bitch. He look down his nose at you?

A little, holding back, not saying much. But he's all right. Maybe the same as you are.

Sundeen trimmed carefully with the scissors, using a comb to cover the deep scar in his left cheek where hair did not grow and was like an indentation made with a finger that remained when the finger was withdrawn, the skin around the hole tight and shiny.

Instead of what you think, Sundeen said, tell me what he had to say.

He say it's none of his business. He's going to watch.

You believe it?

Now you want to know what I think. Make up your mind.

Sundeen half-turned to the mirror to study his profile, smoothing his beard with the back of his hand. His partner's up there, but he's gonna keep his nose out of it, huh?

Yes, they may be somewhat alike, Ruben Vega thought. He said, The company pay him to work here, whatever he does, not to go up there and help his friend. So maybe he doesn't have the choice to make.

What does he say about Moon?

Nothing. I ask, do you see him? No. I say, why don't they leave instead of causing this trouble? He say, ask them. I say well, he likes to live on a mountain-there plenty other mountains. He don't say anything. I say, what about the other people up there, they live with him? He say, you find out.

Sundeen looked at his body, sucking in his stomach, then picked up a shirt from the chair and put it on. I think somebody's selling somebody a bill of goods. All we have to say to them is, look here, you people don't move out, this is what happens to you. Take one of 'em, stick a gun in his mouth and count three. They'll leave.

Take which one?

It don't matter to me none. 'Cept it won't be Moon. Moon, I'm gonna settle with him. Early too. But I got time to think about that.

Ruben Vega was nodding. Threaten them seriously-it look pretty easy, uh?

Not hard or easy but a fact of life, Sundeen said. Nobody picks dying when there's a way not to.

Ruben Vega would agree to that. He could say to his boss, And it works both ways, for you as well as them. But why argue about it with a man who did not know how to get outside of himself to look at something? It had happened to him at the wall. It could happen to him again. Ruben Vega said, Well, I hope you get enough men to do it.

Sundeen said, Wait and see what's coming.

It was already arranged, since his meeting with Vandozen in Las Cruces, Vandozen asking how many men he'd need. Sundeen saying he'd wait and see. Vandozen then saying it was his custom to know things in advance, not wait and see. So he had already recruited some twenty men, among them several former Yuma prison guards, a few railroad bulls and a good number of strike-breakers from the coal fields of Pennsylvania: all hired at twenty dollars a week and looking forward to a tour of duty out in the fresh air and wide open spaces.

Today was Tuesday. A message waiting for Sundeen when he reported to the company stated his bunch would all arrive in Benson by rail on Friday. Fine. Let them get drunk and laid on Saturday, rest Sunday and they ride up into the mountains on Monday.

Sundeen said to the Mexican, If that's all you got, you didn't learn much.

He thought you were dead, Ruben Vega said. I told him you should be, but you stayed alive and now you're much wiser.

Looking at him Sundeen said, The fence-sitter. You gonna sit on the fence and watch this one too? Man, that time in Sonora-I swore I was gonna kill you after, if I hadn't been shot up.

I save your life you feel you want to kill me, Ruben Vega said. I think you still have something to learn.


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