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Fish Cowboy

Fish Cowboy climbs down off his horse and dunks his head greedily in the trough. “Brbgbrbgbl,” he gasps in relief.

“Slow Angus Wallach takes a leak in that trough every Monday,” drawls a watching man.

“No he doesn’t,” Fish Cowboy says gravely, emerging. “I happen to know he takes his leaks exclusively in your mouth, Chili John Gonzalez.”

They grin and clasp hands hard. “Freak!” calls someone from the other side of the street, before kicking his horse to a trot.

“Wish people wouldn’t say things like that,” frowns Chili John.

“Forget it,” says Fish Cowboy, “you can’t help that birthmark.”

Chili John

“But curling your fingers is actually the slowest part,” Chili John is explaining. “So you slap hard and get some friction, flick it out of the holster, then worry about getting to the trigger on the way up–”

The Teacher is shaking his head. “You still think it matters, how fast your draw?”

Chili John lets himself grin a little at that. “I’ve stood at twenty paces at high noon on the street before, and I reckon I might again, so yeah, I do.”

“Wrong,” says the Teacher harshly. “Only one speed matters, boy. You’re still as slow as your bullet.”

New Mexico

“The thing about Greg Fu,” rasps the Teacher. “It’s like being the fastest draw in town, right? There’s boys lining up trying to be faster, and you’ll take them all down, until you meet the fastest–and then he’s going to take your place. Greg Fu’s like that only they ain’t trying to replace you. They’re trying to learn, and most of them are still going to die. Now, first lesson. It’s hot out. Feel the sweat band in your hat. It’s wet, right?”

Chili John feels, and nods.

The Teacher nods back. “That’s ’cause I peed on it,” he says.

Chili John

The man Chili John calls Piper doesn’t have a pipe, but a what are they called? Panflute. The chimpfall is fresh. The whole town has come out to watch.

“This better be worth our time,” grumbles the chief.

“What?” says Chili John.

Piper’s dancing a slow, shuffling dance now. He’s moving the panflute; it doesn’t seem to make any sound. There is something shining just over his left shoulder, though.

Huh.

The crowd leans forward, trying to see. Piper moves. The glimmer moves. The crowd moves.

Chili John, his ears stuffed with rubber plugs, grins to himself. The chimps grin too.

Chili John

The chimpfall in Puebla is like dew, not rain: around four a.m. they start to accrete on awnings and car roofs, anything flat that stays cool. But they don’t evaporate in the sun.

“They just sit in the street,” grumbles the chief, “not like we need streets in the morning, and eventually they move off some random way. To make room for the next ones! I’d blow their monkey brains out–”
“But they’re endangered,” Chili John nods.

“I’m ’bout to endanger ’em. I don’t know what you’re planning, stranger, but…”

“Can’t fight spontaneous generation, Chief,” grins Chili John, “without a degenerate.”

Chili John

Chili John gets the half-nod from the bartender and follows his thumb: there, obscured by palmetto. Yes. He drops a Sacajawea in a puddle of beer and tries on his most casual mosey.

He stops at the corner table, hooks his thumbs in his belt. “They say you’re the one.”

The man pulls at his Miller Lite.

“Are they right?” Chili John brushes one holster. “About that?”

Silence.

“They say,” he clears his throat, “they say you’re the man knows Greg Fu.”

The man looks up at last, and in his eyes is the look of a raw and ancient doom.

Comet

After the midday lunch break (hard cheese and dry bread), Comet pauses to reorient. It’s getting more difficult as the day goes on.

“That way,” he says at last, trying to sound decisive. “I can tell.”

The rest of the posse squints where he’s pointing. “I don’t know,” says Chili John hesitantly. “It looks kinda… familiar, don’t it, boss?”

“You can’t trust your eyes out here.” snaps Comet. “It all looks alike, and that’s why you got to orient! Now let’s ride!”

With a bit of muttering, they trot out over the scrubland, keeping the sun always on their left.

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