Que Lastima, Amigos

Ridley didn't see himself having much need for his canteen any longer. He tossed it five feet from where he was sprawled out, his back against a stone outcropping, and watched the dirt around the water jug dance. It was as he'd expected: his pursuers weren't taking any chances and compensated for their lack of skill with volume. A cloud of dust rose from the site of his experiment with lead replacing soil in a violent display of physics. Then a stray bullet crashed through the tip of his right boot, taking two toes in the process. He wouldn't need those again either.

From beyond the confines of his rock he heard the frantic directives of the low-ranking officer trying to earn a few stripes with his scalp. His orders, if executed and successful, could amount to a promotion. Little Generalisimo would switch to private school. Ridley had no problem with the way the world trades energy, though he wouldn't make it easy to sacrifice his own. He opened the loading gate of his Colt revolver, swapped out spent shells for fresh ones pushed from his belt, and spun the cylinder with a swipe of his left hand. The last move served no purpose other than compliance with habit. The Mexicans would receive him in his entirety, superstitions and idiosyncrasies included.

A spurt of blood sprayed from his hemorrhaging foot, drawing his attention back to the tactical specifics. He saw a brown mess of leather and flesh in the sand and wondered if they'd take the time to bury him completely, or at all.

"Come out, Comandante," the sergeant taunted in his best pidgin English, the sarcasm implied not lost on its target . "It doesn't have to end this way," he lied without a tremble.

The blood finally clotted in Ridley's mangled foot. The throbbing stopped and the adrenaline in his veins evened out to be of use. As the sergeant made silent hand motions that were meaningless to his poorly trained subordinates, Ridley leveled the blind barrels of his shotgun against the baking desert floor and squeezed both triggers in tandem with the hopes of one last Ace. Another barrage of gunfire chipped bits from the boulder, but this time there weren't statements from the sergeant's thirsty throat. A man so bent on glory would have stood in front, invincible. Ridley knew the type well; he'd beaten him before. Little Generalisimo would now be half an orphan.

The familiar echo of government issued rifles raced away toward the horizon. Things like sunsets did more than inspire a pensive smoke after supper--they could save a man's life, since darkness eases escape. Unfortunately it wasn't yet noon where this standoff was transpiring. Tokens had been thrown across the table and landed on one side. That lucky shot which folded the sergeant was the last favor granted by a god who thrives on numbers.

A corporal rose to fill the boots and split the squads for flanking. Ridley couldn't clone himself. It would come down to which side would first succumb. When seconds are precious and breaths on earth are numbered choices like this one would have to suffice. No more hollow offers came from his relentless assassins; only cocking hammers and footsteps crunching pebbles.

His shotgun was now useless since he'd emptied both its chambers. His clenched Colt felt like a crucifix forged in carbon steel. It had been there for some blessings and would now bestow last rites. He growled a quaint obscenity in his version of their tongue, though it wasn't necessarily meant to curse these strangers.

He'd made them chase him this long. He'd rationed out his ammo. There were no delusions of cavalry thundering over the ridge.

Ridley trained his pistol on a buzzard that was circling. Mexican conscripts cared not for shovels. Death was one thing; being spread across the desert by a scavenger of carrion was another. The .45 rang out twice, felling the vulture and stopping the advancing Federales in their vengeful tracks. By the time the last feather floated to the ground to join its humbled source the soldiers had circumnavigated each half of the stone. Had they not been distracted by dispensing hot brass from their borrowed hardware maybe one would have noticed the freshly carved inscription: "Here lies..."

They left him with his Peacemaker, but divvied up his rounds.

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