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Authors: Ed Gorman

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I reached down and jerked his Colt from its holster. I didn't do it with any grace. I couldn't. For one thing, the road was still bouncing the buggy around. For another, graceful hand movement is impossible when you're wearing a pair of steel handcuffs.

He knew instantly what I was doing. But it was al
ready too late. He grabbed and slapped for my hand. But my hand was already gone.

He lurched for me. I leaned as far away as the confines of the buggy would allow. It wasn't hard to hold on to the Colt. It wasn't hard to put my finger on the trigger, either. “I'm going to kill you, Wickham. If you want it now, just tell me.”

His body made a lot of small, old-man noises, the stomach and the throat and the nose, gurgle, wheeze, sniff. He was packing a whole lot of years on him and they were starting to fail him now. He didn't have all that long even if I let him go, a few years here or there. What he had to decide—because he knew damned well I wasn't bluffing—was whether or not he wanted to die right here and right now.

The shoulders slumped in silent resignation. “Shit,” he said. Maybe it wasn't eloquent but there wasn't much else to say.

He leaned back and separated the reins he'd bunched in one hand. He looked straight ahead. “They killed her, Ford. I loved her.”

“That's kind of funny.”

“What is?”

“I didn't figure you for the type that would ask for mercy.”

“You could let me go.”

“You're wrong. I couldn't. That isn't in me.”

He turned his face to mine. “Your brother?”

“Not just him. The others, too. A little girl nearly got killed.”

“That wasn't me. That was Frank.”

“You were working together. He wouldn't have been in that situation if you hadn't brought him in on the gun. He killed Gwen for no reason.” Then: “Stop here.”

We went a ways. There was a coyote in the dark, cold foothills and he was one sorrowful-sounding sonofabitch.

He finally pulled over. One of the horses took one of those craps that probably lightened him by ten pounds.

“I'm getting down first,” I said. “You try and pull away I'll kill you right here and now.”

“You didn't even like your brother.”

“We've already talked about that and it won't do you any good to talk about it again.”

“I loved her, can't you understand that? Can't you understand what that did to me when they killed her?”

“Maybe I could've understood it if you hadn't grabbed the gun. The gun didn't have anything to do with her.”

“I wanted a few good years. I've been a reasonably honest lawman, Ford. Don't I deserve a few years at the end of the line?”

“I'm getting down now. You remember what I said about trying anything.”

It was easy to see that he wanted to lash the horses and pull away. There was a chance he might even make it. There was no guarantee that if he pulled away at just the right moment I'd be able to hit him. Or hit him clean anyway. Maybe he'd get wounded slightly. A man in handcuffs. A man with one arm in a sling. He had a chance, anyway, and maybe a good one.

Another reason he might take the chance and pull away was that he was probably considering what I was considering. Justice would be him dying the same way David had. I had a Bowie knife and I'd cut
a few throats before, myself, when necessary. And he sure wouldn't want to take a chance on that.

Getting down wasn't easy. Between the sling and the cuffs, I damned near slipped twice. I came so close once that he raised the reins for a second, but I caught myself, getting a better purchase on the buggy step. I raised the gun. He put the reins back down.

When I was steady on the ground, I said, “Now come around here with that key of yours and get these cuffs off me.”

“Yeah?” he said, all his features lost in the deep shadow of the buggy. “Then what?”

“We'll see.”

“What if I won't do it?”

“Then I'll kill you right now and drag your ass out of the buggy and go through your pockets till I find the key.”

“I could take the key and throw it out in the brush somewhere.”

“You want to see if you can move faster than my bullet?”

“You fucking sonofabitch.”

“C'mon, Wickham. Get your ass over here.”

I didn't give him the break he'd maybe expected. As he started to get down, I moved through the moonlight on the deserted sandy road. By the time he reached the ground, I was standing right there. I hadn't given him any chance to run away.

In the dime novels it's always dramatic, but in reality it's almost never dramatic. You just get it over with. He knew that, too.

“The key,” I said.

“I'm sorry I killed your brother.”

“The key.”

It could have been a sob. I couldn't tell for sure. Maybe it was indigestion of some kind. It was just some kind of noise in him, some old-man noise maybe, coming out of him just ahead of the key coming out of his pocket.

He took the key out and said, “When?”

“I figure along about now.”

“That's what I figure, too.”

I shot him three times in the chest.

he first train out arrived just before dawn. Jane waited on the platform with me. We'd had several cups of coffee and were edgy with it by the time the train pulled in.

“What will you do now?” she asked.

“Whatever they tell me to.”

She smiled. “Still the good soldier.”

“I suppose. I've been in harness so long I don't know what else to do.”

She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “Thanks for listening to me go on so long about David this morning.”

“What's six hours between friends?”

She laughed. “It probably seemed like six hours.”

“The gun's safe. That's what matters.” I said it sort of gruff. I wanted to say something to her—she was awfully damn pretty and almost frail there in her nurse's cape and cowl—but whatever came out would just embarrass me later when I thought about it. So I talked about work. Work talk is always something you can hide inside of. “I had it put in a special part of the storage car. I'll check it every stop or so.”

Then the conductor was calling “'board.” He was silhouetted in the frosty dawn against a gold-streaked sky. The backyard roosters in town had started getting noisy.

“Take care of yourself,” she said.

“You do the same, Jane.”

You'd think that two grown-up people could think of something more original to say at times like these, but somehow we seldom do.

I squeezed her hand and then picked up my suitcase and walked to the train. When I got seated inside, we waved to each other and then the train lurched and started moving away from the platform. About thirty morning miles down the track I thought of a couple of things I should have said. But after sixty miles I was just as glad I hadn't said them.

My great thanks to Linda Siebels,
for her help with the manuscript.

About the Author

western fiction has won the Spur Award and his crime fiction has won the Shamus and Anthony Awards and has been shortlisted for the Edgar
Award. In addition, his writing has appeared in
the New York Times
Ellery Queen Magazine
Poetry Today
, and other publications.

Visit for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The Killing Machine
. Copyright © 2005 by Ed Gorman. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

ePub edition January 2007 ISBN 9780061740350

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BOOK: The Killing Machine
11.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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