Before Sundown


Two days on the run, their feet numb. Air feels brittle in their noses, like glacier water and broken glass. Cuts their raw throats. Keeping their eyes open and wits about them is getting hard. Only a few hours of sleep last night, no fire. Couldn’t risk it. Sleep came in fits and starts.

“Think we’ll…” Lu starts.

Hank grunts, shakes his head. Hasn’t said more than a few words since sun up. Already told him I don’t want to talk. Not till we cross the Missouri. Won’t feel safe till then. He stops, lifts a hand. Pulls his hair away from his ear and listens. Dogs or wolves? Hard to tell the direction. Hank starts to move when the howling comes again.

Lu looks back the way they came, “Dogs.” Hank nods. “What do we do?” Lu asks.

Hank’s only answer is to start walking. Get to the Missouri…Just need to cross the river. Posse’s dogs won’t be able to keep our scent. Maybe find a boat, take it to Kansas City. Hank blinks--hard--shakes the daydream aside. Chances of finding a boat is slim-to-none. Just get across the river, that’s all that matters.

“You think it was worth it? For what we got?”

Hank pats the heavy satchel under his bearskin coat. Enough gold to live off the rest of his life? Yeah, that’s worth it. Long as they can get away. Imagines himself in a bar sipping whiskey. It’s a nice summer day, he’s sweating. There’s music playing, girls dancing. The piano man starts to sing along with the tune he’s playing. Damn, can’t let my mind drift like that. Opens his eyes. Sees the piano man coming towards him, smiling. The gold watch on his chest catches light, filtered through hazy bar windows. Someone yells.

“Hank Sloud,” says the man.

How’s the piano man know my name? Hank blinks. Sees he’s sitting in the snow, back slouched. The daydream fades. Oh no, no-no. Where’s Lu? he wonders. The sheriff offers a hand, light glints off his badge.

“You either come with me or go the way of your buddy—shot dead, over there.” He points to a lump. “I’ve got five men with rifles trained on you. Your choice.”

I’m not going to hang, fuck that. Hank reaches into his coat.

The daydream ends.