‘You are ready to leave Mayfield?’ asked the largest trapper.
‘We are leaving,’ said Charlie. I was not sure how he would play it, but he had a habit of cracking his index fingers with his thumbs just prior to drawing his guns and I kept my ear trained for the noise.
‘You’re not leaving without returning the money you owe Mr. Mayfield.’
‘Mr. Mayfield,’ said Charlie. ‘The beloved employer. Tell us, do you make his bed down for him also? Do you warm his feet with your hands on the long winter nights?’
‘One hundred dollars or I will kill you. I will probably kill you anyway. You think I am slow in my furs and leather, but you will find me faster than you had believed. And won’t you be surprised to find my bullets in your body?’
Charlie said, ‘I do think you are slow, trapper, but it is not your clothing that hinders your speed. Your mind is the culprit. For I believe you to be just as stupid as the animals you lurk in the mud and snow to catch.’
The trapper laughed, or pretended to laugh, an imitation of lightness and good nature. He said, ‘I heard you getting drunk last night and thought, I will not drink a drop this evening. I will be rested and quick, just in case I have to kill this man in the morning. And now it is morning, and I ask you this only once more: Will you return the money, or the pelt?’
‘All you will get from me is Death.’ Charlie’s words, spoken just as casual as a man describing the weather, brought the hair on my neck up and my hands began to pulse and throb. He is wonderful in situations like this, clear minded and without a trace of fear. He had always been this way, and though I had seen it many times, every time I did I felt an admiration for him.
‘I am going to shoot you down,’ said the trapper.
‘My brother will count it out,’ said Charlie. ‘When he reaches three, we draw.’
The trapper nodded and returned his pistol to its holster. ‘He can count to one hundred if it suits you,’ he said, opening and closing his hand to stretch it.
Charlie made a sour face. ‘What a stupid thing to say. Think of something else besides that. A man wants his last words to be respectable.’
‘I will be speaking all through this day and into the night. I will tell my grandchildren of the time I killed the famous Sisters brothers.’
‘That at least makes sense. Also it will serve as a humorous footnote.’ To me, Charlie said, ‘He’s going to kill both of us, now, Eli.’
‘I have been happy these days, riding and working with you,’ I told him.
‘But is it time for final good-byes?’ he asked. ‘If you look closely at the man you can see his heart is not in it. Notice how slick his flesh has become. Somewhere in his being there is a voice informing him of his mistake.’
‘Count it out, goddamnit,’ said the trapper.
‘We will put that on your tombstone,’ Charlie said, and he loudly cracked his fingers. ‘Count three, brother. Slow and even.’
‘You are both ready, now?’ I asked.
‘I am ready,’ said the trapper.
‘Ready,’ Charlie said.
‘One,’ I said – and Charlie and I both let loose with our pistols, four bullets fired simultaneously, with each finding its target, skull shots every one. The trappers dropped to the ground from which none of them would rise again.