Death arrives on a hot afternoon.


I HADN’T KNOWN Joe for very long.

We had met once.

We had met for thirty minutes.

He sat with his head in his hands.

He sat on the back of a pickup truck.

There was blood on his shirt, blood on his hands, bloodstains on his cowboy boots.

He had been crying.

He had been praying.

Did anyone wipe away his tears?

Don’t think they did.

Did anyone hear his prayers?

Nobody said.

Joe kept staring at the ground beneath his feet.

The only thing that separated us was Eugene.

Eugene had two bullet holes in his head.

An old .38 caliber pistol lay on the ground beside him.

No one thought Eugene had killed himself.

I was police reporter in those days.

I was on deadline.

I didn’t have time to beat around the bush.

“Did you kill him?” I asked Joe.

“It’s my gun,” he said.

“Are you and Eugene friends?” I asked.

“Not anymore.”

“Get in a fight.”

“Had a few words, that’s all.”

“Why did you have a gun?”

Joe grinned crookedly.

“A man only needs three things to get by in this world,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“ A good meal,” he said.

Joe wiped the sweat off his face.

“ A good woman,” he said.

Joe laughed.

“And a good gun.”

“So why is Eugene dead?” I asked.

“I had a good woman.”

Joe wiped the sweat off his face.

“He had a good gun.”

Joe laughed.

“He wanted my good woman.”

Joe shrugged.

“We traded, his gun for my woman.”

Joe slowly shook his head.

“Now I got ‘em both,” he said.

“But she’ll be an old woman by the time you get out of prison,” I said.

“That’s all right.”

“You’re not worried?”

“Can’t say that I am.”

“Why not?”

Joe shrugged again.

“I’ll be an old man,” he said.

He slid off the bed of the pickup truck and ambled toward the police car, a hot afternoon sun turning the back of the neck red.

I watched Joe walk away, then looked down at Eugene.

Two men.

Held together by a woman.

Separated by a gun.

Both had been losers waiting to cash in their final chips.

The lucky one was lying in the dust.


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