****** *** *

Dawn.  A dozen dark brown empty beer bottles stand on the kitchen table and a half-empty bottle of bourbon stands on the floor.  My small, blockhouse rental smells like a cheap bar.  I get up and get dressed.  Put on a light black work-jacket and a black ball cap.  Strap the holstered stainless steel Colt Anaconda to my right hip.

Outside, the blue fall sky of Moscow,  Idaho is crisp and bright.   I follow the concrete sidewalk, walking across the University of Idaho campus, filled with students carrying books and backpacks.  Talking to each other.  Laughing.   I killed a man in a gunfight a week earlier.  No one seems to notice.  I look up at some the etchings and stonework on the library, showing cowboys and Indians killing each other and I feel like I belong.  I walk past the nameless WWI doughboy statue and give him the nod.  On a September morning in France long ago, fifty-eight thousand men died for less than an acre of land.  I’m not worried about killing one meth-head who would have killed me, if I let him get to his gun.  It happened so fast, I can only remember it in slow motion.  I pulled the trigger and it was as if a giant invisible hand swatted him so he spun backward and fell, curled up, blood leaking everywhere.  He made noises I’d never heard a human make before.  The air he took into his mouth bubbled out the wet hole in his back.  The first cop on the scene joked that I hadn’t shot him, he’d been hit by a freight train.  One of the cops puked.  A forty-four magnum shooting at ten yards doesn’t leave a survivable wound.  Shut the lights and sirens off, because there’s no rush when you’re headed to the morgue.

Greg was already in the office when I got there. I sat behind my desk.  He was talking into his cell phone.  He finished his conversation and turned to me.

“How do you feel?” he said.

“Good,” I said.  “I feel good.”

“Okay,” he said.  He sipped a cup of coffee.

“How do you feel?” I said.

“Fine,” he said.  “That’s not the point.”

“I know,” I said.  I sat down at my desk.  “It doesn’t bother me.”

“It bothered me terrible when I shot that guy a couple years ago,” he said.  “I kept thinking my pistol would jump off my belt and start shooting people on its own.”

“Nothing close to that,” I said.

“How about sleep?” he said.

“Like a rock,” I said.

“Would you do it again?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

He sipped his coffee.  “What about two guys?  Would you shoot two?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“What if there were a hundred guys in front of you?  And you had enough bullets,” he said.

“This is getting stupid,” I said.

“Alright,” he said.  “Serious.  Five guys with three visible guns.”

“All dead,” I said.  “Pine boxes all around.”

“Good,” he said.  “Because I got a call this morning on a job.”

“Whereabouts?” I said.

“Outside of Rexburg,” he said.  “On a ranch.”

“What am I doing?” I said.

“A little bit of patrol duty,” he said.  “Some hunting.”

“Working for who?” I said.

“An old friend of your uncle,” he said.

“Who’s that?” I said.

“Bill Warner.  His son just called me and asked if I could send somebody to help his dad.  I said you were available and he said that would be fine.”

“Bill Warner’s still alive?” I said.

“Apparently,” Greg said.  “And having problems with wolves.  And trespassers.”

“What’s he got on the ranch now?  Cattle?” I said.

“That’s right,” he said.  “Why don’t you head over that way, get you out of town for a few days while this shooting blows over.”  He took a sip of his coffee.

“What’s to blow over?” I said.  “The cops looked at everything.  Nobody said a word to me.”

“Sure,” Greg said.  “Except that’s who I just got off the phone with,” he pointed at his cell phone.  “Larry Samms, chief sheriff’s investigator.  Asked me two questions.  Did we know the deceased and why did you carry such a high-caliber pistol.”

“We knew the deceased and so did the sheriff’s department, if they were paying attention.  Even during the time we were watching him, he must have made ten trips to Canada and Montana and been driving three different trucks.  It was just a matter of time before he got caught,” I said.

“Apparently, the deceased was also involved in a snitch program for the Mounties, so I don’t know if anything is going to appear in the paper or on the news, but he just suggested to me that it would be good if you kept a low profile.  Unofficially,” he said.

“There’s ten guys between Moscow and Potlatch who carry bigger pistols than this,” I said.  I patted the Colt.

“Yeah,” Greg said.  “But they’re killing animals, not people turned into animals.”

“It was him or me,” I said.

“I’m glad it turned out to be you,” Greg said.  “And so is Larry Samms.  He’s just a little concerned.”

“Fair enough,” I said.  I stood.

“It’s the Steel Dust Ranch,” Greg said.

“I know where it is,” I said as I shut the office door.  I walked back across the beautiful campus.  Stopped at the gas station along the way and picked up as much beer as I could carry and made my way up the steps of my rental.  Closed the door, took off my gun and started to try to clear my head with booze.  The next morning I went out to get more beer and the paper and the shooting was front page.  FATAL DRUG SHOOTING IN MOSCOW.  There were no pictures of me.  Just the front of the meth-head’s house and a few cop cars.  Larry Samms had a couple comments.  I bought enough beer so I wouldn’t have to come out again and walked back home.


Greg showed up on my steps two days later with fresh coffee.  He handed me a cup when I answered the door and we sat on the top step together.

“You look like shit,” he said.

“I’m not worried about it,” I said.

“Would you please go see Bill Warner for me and help him out?” he said.

I took a drink of my coffee.  It tasted good.  “Yes,” I said.  “I’ll be there by tonight.”

“I’m counting on you,” Greg said.

“Okay,” I said.

I watched him pull away.  I packed a small gym bag with clothes and a toothbrush.  I opened my gun safe and brought out the short-barreled Remington .30-06 pump and two boxes of shells.  I thought about bringing along a more powerful rifle, but I wasn’t sure what was around the ranch and didn’t want my bullets ending up on someone else’s farm or ranch by accident.  I put the packed bag in my truck and hung the rifle on the cab rack.  Then I started south along the highway toward Boise and east toward Rexburg and the edge of the state.


On the way to the ranch, I stopped to see my uncle in the hospital.  He was in Mercy Hospital, in Nampa.  I parked and walked through the lobby.  A large recessed statue of the Virgin Mary was on the wall.  The hospital smelled stale.  I don’t know how long my uncle had been in.  My father’s brother.  He’d been a ranch hand, working with cattle his whole life.  Tough old guy with a kind heart.  Probably eighty years old, twenty years older than my father.  I hadn’t seen him in two or three years.  He was in a shared room, but the bed next to him was empty.  He didn’t recognize me when I came in the room.  A tube was stuck up his nose and IV drips were in his arm.

“Uncle George, it’s John,” I said.  His body barely wrinkled the sheets and that was hard to believe.  George used to be as big as the rest of us.

“Oh, John,” he said.  “Sure it’s you, how are you?”  His head was shaved and covered with a white bandage and wound dressing.

“I’m doing fine,” I said.  “How are you doing?”

“Not so good,” he said.  “I’m so glad you came to visit.  What are you doing around here?”  He nodded at some of the plastic chairs against the wall.  “Pull up a chair.”

I moved the chair over so I could sit by him and then I sat down.  “Working,” I said.  “I got a job outside of your old stomping grounds over there near Rexburg.”

“Oh,” he said.  “What are you doing over there?”

“You remember Bill Warner?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “I remember him.”  He nodded.  “I worked with him for a while.”

“He’s having some trouble with wolves bothering his herd.  So I’m going over to see if I can take care of it for him,” I said.

“He’s crazy, you know, or used to be,” he said.  “Drank like a fish.”  He looked up at the ceiling.

“When are you getting out, when are they going to let you go home?” I said.

He shrugged under his thin green gown.  “They’re not,” he said.  “Since they tried to take that tumor off my brain, I’ve been having seizures at night.”

“Really,” I said.

“It’s awful.  I’m asleep and then my whole body starts shaking and my heart pounds and bang! I sit upright and start grinding my teeth and I can’t swallow,” he said.  “Never get old and sick, John, it’s horrible.”  One of the monitors he was hooked up to beeped.  “The morphine gives me bad dreams,” he said.  “I almost can’t take it.”

“Did they get all of the tumor?” I said.

“That’s the other thing,” he said.  “They can’t tell.  I might still have cancer and be going through this.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Uncle George,” I said.

“What can you do,” he said.  “That’s life.”  He paused.  “Next time you talk to your father, tell him to get over here and see me.”  He reached a thin hand out from underneath the sheets and squeezed my fingers.  “I’m not long for this world, John,” he said.

“I’ll tell him,” I said.

“We had some fun when you were a kid, didn’t we John?” he said.  “Hunting and fishing.”

“That’s true, Uncle George,” I said.  “Lots of fun.”

He seemed to go to sleep after that and I put the chair back where it had been and quietly left the room.


The Steel Dust Ranch was fifteen hundred acres of dream property, several miles east of Rexburg.  The sign on the main road read Steel Dust Ranch and it was getting dark when I arrived.  Bill Warner had run it since the day his father died.  He was at the main house when I pulled up.  There was the big main house overlooking the woods and fields, with a full front porch and four barns spread around it.  A couple of out-buildings.  Some rocking chairs on the front porch near the door.   Bill Warner was a short, older man, and it was hard to believe he was even close in age to my Uncle George.  His silver gray hair was slicked back. 

“You must be John,” he said.  I smelled the booze on him the minute he opened his mouth.

“That’s right,” I said.  We shook hands there on the porch and stepped down onto the gravel in front of the house.  “Greg said you were having some problems out here.”

He shrugged.  “Look,” he said.  “I could go on a rant about wolves, like any rancher, I suppose.  Why they brought them back and on and on.  All I want to do is kill them.  Can you do that?”

I nodded.  “I think I can,” I said.

“Thinkin’ really isn’t good enough,” he said.  “I had a guy here two weeks ago, thought he could hunt wolves.  Told me he could hunt wolves.  Didn’t get anything.  He isn’t here anymore and I didn’t pay him.  Unless I see carcasses, I don’t pay.”

“Fair enough,” I said.

“What are you shootin’ ‘em with?” he said.

“Remington,” I said.  “Thirty oh-six pump.”

“Yeah, that’ll do the trick,” he said.  “I got one of those Winchester short magnums, it’s like an angry supersonic bee when it comes out.”

“Flat shooting,” I said.

“Straight-edge,” he said.  “Point-to-point.”

“Nice,” I said.

“You use a scope?” he said.

“Not with wolves,” I said.  “You might have to lead ‘em a little.”

“That’s what I tried to tell this other guy, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”

I nodded.

He pulled a flask out of his jacket pocket.  “You want a drink?” he said.

“Not when I’m on the job,” I said.

He unscrewed the bright silver top and took a pull, then screwed the top back on.  “So you separate that out?  Living and your job, that’s two different things to you?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, you must be wealthy,” he said.  “That’s how rich folks do it.”

“I’m not wealthy,” I said.

“Preparin’ to be wealthy,” he said.  “You’re not wealthy now, but you want to be.”

“Sure,” I said.  “That wouldn’t bother me.”

He pointed back at the porch.  There were several rocking chairs, the one he had been sitting in still rocking a little.  “That’s all I ever wanted right there.  That porch, those rocking chairs and that view,” he said.  “And to enjoy it in peace after a hard day’s work.”

“It looks like you have that,” I said.

“I had a vision of myself, my last days.  And it used to be of sitting on the porch.  Then, about twenty years ago, it changed.  I was sitting on the porch drinking.  Can you believe that?  Why would I do that?  Then the picture changed again.   Now it’s me sitting on the porch, drinking, with my rifle across my lap.  That’s some change, isn’t it?” he said.  He sipped from his flask.  He tipped his head back.

“I guess it is,” I said.

He wiped his lips.  “You can stay over there in the bunkhouse,” he pointed across the property at an out-building.  “I’ve only got a couple day-hands on right now, so take any room you like.”  He cleared his throat.  “I got your license information from Greg, so there’s wolf tags here on premises so you can hunt.  I’ll call in to the state ranger’s office every morning, to make sure this area hasn’t gone over the hunt limit.”

“Is that how they do it?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “You don’t need to worry about it – just shoot ‘em.”

“Greg told me you had some trespassers too,” I said.

“They moved on,” he said.  “Gone, as far as I can tell.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Put your stuff in the bunkhouse and come back for dinner,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.


That night in the bunkhouse I had a terrible dream.  In my dream, I was just about to shoot the meth-head.  He was reaching into his truck for something and as he brought his hands out, I realized in my dream that I didn’t have to shoot him.  That he didn’t have anything in his hands.  But I fired anyway.


It was cold that morning.  I was out in the woods, sitting on the ground on a steep hill, probably a mile from the main house and barns.  My position allowed me to be elevated and I held a clear view of the trees and the edge of the field.  I figured the wolves would wait at the edge of the woods and rush into the field, to attack any cattle they thought they could kill.  There was some movement.  Maybe a wolf.  Bright color.  I looked again through the binoculars.  It was the three Mexican boys.  They must have camped overnight, without a fire.

I slung the rifle over my shoulder and started to walk down towards them.  They saw me and stood up as I approached.

“Hello,” I said.  “Do you speak English?”

The young man in front nodded.  “I do, but my brothers do not,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.  “What are you doing here?  Do you know you’re trespassing?”

The young man spread his arms out.  Without a jacket on, he must have been cold, but I saw the tattoos on his arms.  And the small figure on the ground.  It was of a skeletal woman in a robe.  Same as his tattoos. 

“We are like eagles,” he said.  “We fly where we want.  Santa Muerte protects us, from all forms of violence.  We listen to her.  We worship her.  She is our saint.”  He pointed at my rifle.  “Even if you were to shoot us, it would not harm us.  She would protect us.”

The two guys behind murmured “Santa Muerte” right after he said it.

“This is private property,” I said.  “La propriedad provada.  You can’t be here.”

The huge high voltage lines ran far up over our heads, spaced evenly on groups of three utility poles, that stretched on forever.  The hum of the lines was constant.  The young man talked in fast, low Spanish to the other young men.  He pointed at one man.

“This is my brother the owl,” he said.

The young man he called the owl kept talking in low Spanish that I couldn’t make out.  The one who spoke English turned back to me.  “He says that yesterday, you visited the brother of your father.”

I took a step back and swung the rifle up, so it was pointed at them.  I pumped a shell into the chamber.  “How did you know that?” I said.

The young man pointed all around, at the horizon and at the skeletal woman figure on the ground.  “Santa Muerte is everywhere,” he said. 

The owl was talking in fast low Spanish again and the one that spoke English translated.  “You have killed a man.  You were protected by Santa Muerte.  You know her and she knows you.”  He reached down and picked up the small skeletal woman, putting the figure in his backpack.

“Don’t let me see you around here again,” I said.  “Now get out of here.”

I watched as the three young men walked across the field, to the edge of the far woods and disappeared.  I held the rifle on them until they were gone.  My skins had goose bumps and the high voltage seemed to have leaked out of the overhead lines and gone into the ground, only to come up through my feet and hair.


As soon as I pulled up in front of the main house, Bill came out and stood on the porch.  “Did you get anything?” he said.

“No,” I said.  “I thought I  saw a wolf, but it got spooked.”

“By what?” he said.

I shook my head.  “There were three Mexican’s camped at the edge of the field and it must have got wind of them.”

“Did you tell ‘em to get out of here?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.  “I did.”

“You know, they’re actually talking about putting a Mexican consulate in Boise?  I read it in the paper the other day,” he said.  He took a swig from his flask.  “Tomorrow, I’ll go out with you and if we see them again, we’ll escort them to the sheriff.”

“If that’s what you want to do,” I said.

“It is,” he said.  “I can’t have Mexican’s on my place.  End up with my throat slit and more than just cattle missing.”

“They really were just kids,” I said.

“Would you want them trespassing on your land?  Suppose they started a fire and burned the whole ranch to the ground?  Every blade of grass I own, turned into cinders,” he said.

“No,” I agreed.  “You can’t have that.”

“Right,” he said.  “So tomorrow, if they’re still around, we round ‘em up and let the sheriff deal with ‘em.”

“Have you ever had to do that before?” I said.

“Oh sure.  You get all kinds of people that think they can just walk across your land.  They don’t care,” he said.


The next morning, early, Bill and I rode the trails of his property in a Jeep.  He stopped at the top of a rise as we headed for the field where I’d seen the Mexicans.  From here, most of the ranch property was below us.  The view was amazing, under that cold blue sky.  The stars were just fading.

“You should have been here when the Teton Dam let loose,” he said.  “Killed over thirteen hundred head of cattle.  It was like somebody took a bottle of cheap whiskey – all that brown water – and poured it right here.”

“What did you do?” I said.

“Nothing to do,” he said.  “My father put in a claim with the government, just like everyone else.  I think he eventually got paid.”  He took out his flask and drank.  Then he offered it to me.  I took a sip and handed it back to him.  He kept on.  “Re-built the buildings that got damaged, fix up the house.  Went to the auction and bought some new cattle.”  He shrugged.  “What the hell else were we going to do,” he said.  We rode in silence to the edge of the woods over the field.  Then we got out of the Jeep and positioned ourselves in the same spot I had been the day before.  Bill snapped the safety off his Winchester.  And we waited.  The cattle in the field moved around, away from the woods and the tall grass waved under the high voltage lines.  Bill sipped from his flask and I did too.

Two hours into the morning, I saw a gray shape at the edge of the woods, moving slowly.  I tapped Bill on the knee and he saw it right away through the binoculars.  He nodded to me, that I should take the shot.  But the shape was gone now.  I shrugged at him – nothing to shoot at.  He nodded.  And that was when he saw the Mexicans.

Coming across the field through the tall grass, the three Mexican boys that I had seen the day before were walking toward us, directly under the electrical lines.  Bill fired a shot into the air.  His face turned into an ugly mask.  He shouted.  The boys were running and hid behind a wooden utility pole, on the right side of a group of three, a couple hundred yards out in the field. 

“Oh for shit’s sake,” Bill said.  He worked the lever on the Winchester. 

“Let’s take ‘em to the sheriff,” I said.  “It will get them out of here and off your place for good.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.  He took a hit from the flask and put it in his back pocket.  “You sabe that Espanol?  Tell ‘em to come out, nobody gets hurt.  Yell over to ‘em,” he said.  “I hope me firing didn’t scare ‘em too much.”  He nodded toward me and the utility pole.  “Give ‘em a holler,” he said.

“Salgan!” I shouted.  My voice echoed softly across the field.  “Es seguro.  El Viejo no te hara dano!”

The three young men stepped out from behind the utility post.

Bill worked the lever-action, that precisely serious click of metal interlocking with metal, and the sound of the shots threw me off.  He fired, four times in quick succession, smoke curling out of the barrel and the sharp echo stinging my ears. The smell of hot metal.  I saw the first Mexican go down and as the gunshots cleared, I heard one screaming from the field.

I started to go out into the field.  Bill held me back.

“Where are you going?” he said. 

“Out there,” I pointed.

“To do what?” he said.

“To help them,” I said.  I could still hear the shots echoing.

“They’re dead,” he said.  “There’s no help for them.”

“We can’t just leave them there,” I said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.  “You’ve got the whole thing backwards.”

“I’ve got to report this,” I said.

“Report what?” he said.  “They’ll be gone, tomorrow or the next day.  Animals will get at them and take care of it.”

“No,” I said.  “I’m not getting involved in this.”

“If you think they’re the first Mexicans that have ever been shot on this ranch, you’re sorely mistaken,” he said.

We walked back to the Jeep and rode to the main house in silence.  I immediately gathered my things from my room in the bunkhouse and put them in my truck.  Bill was standing on the porch of the main house when I came out.

“Come here,” he said.  He motioned into the house.  “I’ve got something to show you.”  I followed him, through the sitting room and living room, straight back to the kitchen.  He flipped on one of the burners of massive gas stove.  “See that blue flame,” he said.  “Same color as the sky, right?”

“I suppose,” I said.

“What if that sky is fire and this is us, burning in hell?  Did you ever think of that?  That might not be heaven up there.  That blue sky might be eternal fire, just like this gas jet,” he said.  He had picked up a bottle of bourbon and swigged right off the top.

I drove back to Moscow as fast as I could.


I walked into the office and it was silent.  Greg was sitting at his desk.  He didn’t look up as I came in.  It was if a loud noise or incident had just happened and I had missed it.

“You need to tell me what happened out there,” Greg said.

“He shot three Mexican kids,” I said.  “I’m calling them kids, but they might have been in their early twenties.  Shot them in one of those back fields.”

“He says you shot ‘em.  I’ve been on the phone with him for an hour and he says you shot ‘em and that he doesn’t intend to involve the authorities, but that he doesn’t want you down there anymore,” he said.

“That isn’t true,” I said.

“We don’t go out like hired guns,” Greg said.

“I didn’t,” I said.

“I don’t even know you,” he said.  “He told me you were drinking on the job.  Is that true?”

“Where is this coming from?” I said.

“IS IT TRUE YOU WERE DRINKING ON THE JOB!” he shouted.  He slammed his fist on his desk.

“Yes,” I said.  “I had some drinks.  He was drinking too.”

“You need to go home,” he said.  “I have some thinking to do.”

“Okay,” I said.  I stood.  “I’ll come back tomorrow.”

“I don’t know why you’d do that,” he said.  “I certainly won’t be done thinking by tomorrow.”


I went back the next day, but Greg wasn’t there.  I walked downtown, ate a couple tacos and walked back.  Greg still wasn’t there.  I don’t generally have intuition.  But I thought I had some.  Greg might have gone to the Steel Dust.  Maybe I should go down there too, and talk to him and Bill Warner together. 

I sat at my desk in the office and decided to call my Uncle George.  I dialed Mercy Hospital and the switchboard connected me to his room.  It took him quite a while to answer the phone.  He sounded like he was a million miles away.

“Uncle George,” I said.  “Uncle George its John.”  I spoke loudly.

“John,” he said.  I heard the phone receiver touching his plastic tubes.  “How are you?”

“Fine,” I said.  “How are you?”

“I’m alive today,” he said. “That’s all I can tell you.”

“Uncle George,” I said.  “I have to ask you about Bill Warner.”

“Who?” he said.

“Bill Warner, the guy I went over to see in Rexburg,” I said.

“Stay away from Bill Warner,” he said.  “He’s crazy.”

“Yes,” I said.  “How is he crazy?”

“Terrible,” he said.  “Drinks all the time.”

“I know that,” I said.  “Why?  Why does he drink all the time?”

There was a pause.  “It was his wife,” he said.  “He came home one day – this was years and years ago – and she was gone.  Very pretty girl.  So he started blaming people and her mother and said if she ran off, what a piece of crap she was.”

“Where did she go?” I said.

“I was working for him at the time and about two weeks later, we found her way in the back of the property, high up in a tree.  She’d hung herself,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

“But that’s not what I’m talking about,” he said.  “The sheriff said it was suicide but none of us working for him believed it.  We all thought he killed her.  He claimed Mexicans did it.  But I never believed that.”

“What did you do?” I said.

He took a deep breath.  “I worked for him another four or five years and he was crazy and drunk the whole time.  I had a family to support and couldn’t afford to make a move.”  He coughed.  “I hope you don’t think less of me, John.  There was nothing I could do.”

“Did you say anything to the sheriff?” I said.

“No,” he said.  “This is the first I’ve spoken of it to anybody since it happened.”

“I’m sorry, Uncle George,” I said.

“I’m sorry, too, John.  When you come visit me again, we’ll talk about it,” he finished.

“Okay,” I said.  “Take care of yourself.” 

The receiver clicked on his end.  He was already gone.


I walked back across the campus as it grew dark.  I locked the door and sat at my kitchen table, drinking beer until I passed out.  I don’t know how I made it to my bed.


The next day, I opened the front door to sit on my stoop and drink coffee.  On the top step, still burning, were two Mexican luck candles.  One was colorful, with a painting of an Indian on the outside and lucky symbols and an owl.  The other candle was black and white, with a painting of the thin skeletal lady in her veil, holding a scythe.  Santa Muerte.  Saint Death.  I moved the glass candleholders to one side and sat there drinking my coffee.

Half an hour later, Greg pulled up in his truck.  He had a coffee in his hand when he got out.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hi,” I said.  “How’s it going?”

“Not so great,” he said.  “Bill Warner’s dead.”

“How’s that,” I said.

“Something or someone attacked him behind his house and just about cut him in half,” he said.

“Did you go down there?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.  “I wanted to get some answers.”

“Did you get ‘em?” I said.

“Not really,” he said.  “Bill and I went out into the field where you described the Mexicans being shot, but there was nothing there.”  He paused.  “I found a single Winchester piece of brass, that’s what I found.  Off in the grass.”

“Oh,” I said.  “What do you think happened?”

“I have no idea,” he said.  He sipped his coffee.  He reached into his pocket and came out with three hundred dollar bills.  He put them on the top step.  “That’s for going down there.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Anything else you want to say?” he said.

“No,” I said. 

He walked toward his truck.

“Yes, there is,” I said.

He turned around.  “What is it?” he said.

“I’m sorry I shot that guy, but I didn’t know what to do fast enough except pull the trigger,” I said.

“I know,” he said.  “Give yourself a little time away from the booze and then come back to work.  I think all the news interest has gone away.”

“Thanks Greg,” I said.

It was almost a month.  During that time, every morning, there would be one or two Mexican candles on my stoop.  Always lit, burning in the morning when I came out.  On the day I stopped drinking, I came out with my coffee under the late fall blue sky and there were three candles, all lit.  Two Indians and a Santa Muerte. 

That was the first day I walked across the campus again, to see Greg and talk about what was next.

Scott Wolven is the author of False Hopes (forthcoming) and Controlled Burn, with the title story recently selected for Best American Noir Stories Of The Century. Seven years in a row, his stories have appeared in the Best American Mystery Stories Series. Wolven teaches in the Stonecoast MFA Program/University of Southern Maine. Big thanks out to my bro and CFC. Wolven is writing the full-length screenplay for Cruisers, the novel by Craig Nova.