Outside Muleshoe, Texas


..... Judd feeds a new shell into the shotgun, knees up to his chest, sitting with his back against the wall in what used to be the Baylors' dining room. Scattered holes, busted windows, and chipped-out pieces of door frame on the floor, but he’s about as lazy in his body as always. It’s still daylight, and they’ve got enough ammo to go all night long, if these bastards want to carry on.
..... His cousin Cash is standing in the corner with her own shotgun in both hands, straight as a rail spike. Every other minute, he glances at her, as if to make sure she’s still there, alive and unharmed. This is their first shootout, and Judd’s thinking the one and only thought that visits him every time he and his cousin end up in situations like this: he will be damned if anyone takes her away from him.
..... Two bullets fly past them. Judd aims through the doorway toward the front of the house and pulls the trigger three times. Ripped wood, another pale shoot of sunlight, what might be a gargling groan. He pivots back into hiding.
..... She slinks along the side wall separating the dining room from the living room that stretches front to back of the house, peeks out of the doorway nearest her, steps into the living room and pumps her gun.
..... Judd pauses to listen, looking away from her. Silence—the kind he only hears right after a shooting. That could be good news or bad: bodies in the front yard or live ones looking to jump in through windows.
..... Cash squats down on her haunches, butt of her gun set on the floor between her legs and the hot barrel leaned against her shoulder. She picks a cigarette and lighter out of her jacket pockets and lights up. Holds another cigarette out to her cousin even though he’s too far away to reach it.
..... “Toss it to me,” he says.
..... She throws and he catches. He’s got his own disposable lighter in the breast pocket of his jacket, a metal one in his jeans for business more important than smoking. He takes a long drag on the Marlboro.
..... “See, if I had one of those police vests, I’d go up front now and play sniper,” says Cash.
..... “And if your stupid ass made it back with your head still on, I’d kill you anyway,” Judd says. “Just for causing me heart trouble.”
..... “He sounds upset,” Cash says to Judd. 
..... “I hope to Christ we killed the rest of em,” Judd says.
..... “DO YOU HEAR ME?”
..... Judd and Cash look at each other, cigarettes hanging from their lips.
..... “Cover me,” he says.
..... Cash nods.
..... Judd lies down on his belly, shotgun half underneath him and cradled in his hands. He starts crawling on the floor toward the front of the house, like a guerilla soldier. He doesn’t pay any mind to the debris as it scrapes and snags on his clothes: wood, glass, spent shells.
..... “GET OUT HERE, GOD DAMN YOU,” the man wails outside.
..... Judd reaches the front wall of the house and curls up under one of the windows, feeling the cool air coming in. He slowly peeps his head up to look outside and sees just one man standing in the yard, dirty overalls and boots, face oily and darkened by the sun, a worn out herder’s hat and long beard streaked with pepper gray. Double-barreled shotgun in his hands. Dead bodies on the ground around him.
..... Judd moves to crouch against the wall next to the window, looking at his cousin half-hidden in the next room. “You walk away now, and I promise not to shoot you in the back,” he tells the man in a raised voice.
..... “Fuck you!”
..... Cash is standing in the doorway to the dining room now, looking at her cousin. They both know they’re going home, whether they kill the last man standing or watch him leave.
.....  “Get out here and duel me, you son of a bitch,” the stranger yells. 
..... Judd crooks his neck, tipping his face up toward the window. “You got a sidearm?”
..... “What in the hell you think?”
..... Judd makes eye contact with Cash, asking with his expression what she makes of the idea. Cash considers it, then whispers, “If you’re going to kill him, wouldn’t it be safer just to do it now?”
..... “That’s dirty,” Judd whispers back. 
..... “I don’t care about staying clean. I care about surviving.”
..... Judd pulls his revolver out from the back of his waistband, cradles his shotgun in between his thighs, and checks the revolver chamber. Ten round capacity, six bullets in. He sets the shotgun down on the floor and finally stands up six foot three with an extra inch on his boots. Cash gives him a chastising glare, but Judd turns his back on her to stand at the front door, revolver ready in his right hand.
..... “I’m ready when you are,” Judd calls. “Toss your shotgun, and I’ll come out.”
..... “Where’s yours?” the other man says.
..... “On the floor, empty.”
..... A silent pause heavy with blood.  
..... Judd cracks the door open.
..... Cash starts but doesn’t make a sound.
..... Judd watches the man outside throw his shotgun down into the brittle, yellow grass. He sticks his revolver back into his waistband and swings the door open all the way. He steps out with his hands raised in front of him, the sound of his boots on the porch slow and deliberate. He makes eye contact with the other man, whose face bulges with rage, lips cracked dry as the naked desert. Judd comes down to the middle porch step and stops, hands still raised. The sun is nowhere to be found, and the sky’s weak blue with dusk, bright pink streaking near the horizon line. The air’s cool and doesn’t smell like blood, despite the five dead bodies. 
..... The other man raises his arms and Judd sees the butt of a gun on his left hip, belt strapped on inside his overalls.
..... “Now, you come over here,” says Judd. “We’ll do this right.”
..... The man hesitates. He and Judd watch each other as he moves, stepping over two corpses.
..... Judd’s a good shot and a pretty quick draw. He would bet on himself to win this duel. But there’s always a chance of losing, always a chance of getting hurt even if he wins. Shallow breaths, sharpened senses, the world around him more real. Like every other time he’s towed the line between life and death.
..... The stranger stands across from him, several paces away but well within range. Judd’s looking at a dead man, one way or the other. If Judd doesn’t kill him, Cash will.
..... “On three,” the man says.
..... Judd nods once.
..... “One.”
..... He keeps his arms at his sides, hands loose.
..... “Two.”
..... He’ll need a second or two more than the man to draw his gun from the back of his pants.
..... “Three!” 
..... Smoke in the air, burning smell of gunpowder. The stranger drops, hole in his head.
..... Cash comes up behind Judd and yanks him around to look at him, shotgun in her other hand. He looks down at himself. “Am I all right?” he says.
..... “Looks like,” she says, relief in her voice.
..... They get back in the truck where they left it several yards off in the field, mid-chase, and head south on the road.
..... The dead stay put. 

..... Judd and Cash have been living in a trailer outside Muleshoe for the last six months going on seven. They share the pick-up truck they boosted out of somebody’s driveway in Austin, dead bodies in the backyard and keys on the kitchen counter. They watch DVDs and read comic books in their queen-sized bed, then go to sleep side by side, with Shiner the border collie warming their feet. Loaded guns and empty bottles on the window sills.
..... Judd comes out with a cold beer in his hand, door squeaking when it swings wide and trailer steps creaking under his cowboy boots. The sky is clear and crowded with stars, the moon bright and almost full. Cash is slouching low in one of the rubber poolside lounge chairs a few yards from the trailer, listening to one of her old classic rock cassettes and drinking. She took the battery-powered stereo and a box full of cassettes from a secondhand store in Sweetwater when they blew through there ten months ago.
..... Judd drags the other chair alongside hers. He sits leaning forward with elbows on his knees, peering at the dark wilderness around them. There’s a fire burning in their pit and a light bulb on above the trailer door, but otherwise, all they have are the stars and moon.
..... Cash pulls on her beer and doesn’t look at him. “You figure the animals got to those bodies by now?”
..... “I’m sure something has.” He tips his beer up against his mouth and sips.
..... “Who the hell were they?” Cash says, after half a minute. “Where’d they come from?”
..... “I don’t know.”
..... “Whole drive out there, I could’ve sworn we were the only ones for miles around.”
..... Judd nods but doesn’t look at her.
..... A few minutes of silence pass between them, the only sounds the crackling fire and twigs snapping somewhere in the brush under animals they can’t see.
..... “You ever wonder if people like that had it in them before?” Cash says.
..... “What?” says Judd. “Violence?”
..... “Yeah. We weren’t all criminals. When the world was civilized—”
..... Judd snorts. “The world’s never been civilized, Cash. Some places, people were just better at pretending, that’s all.”
..... “You know what I mean.”
..... “Yeah, I know what you mean.”
..... She means before people from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Seaboard lost their inhibitions—or gave them up—enough to beat each other for pleasure in public, open fire on strangers in restaurants and church services for no reason, murder friends and family members and lovers without remorse, stage shoot outs with cops that lasted until there was barely a person left standing. She means before police forces everywhere were chased out of power by civilians with a searing hatred for cops and enough fire power to beat them. She means before prisons became obsolete and those already incarcerated were abandoned to kill each other inside or starve to death. She means before anonymous assholes started blowing up homes and cars and public buildings with bombs they built themselves, just because they like the show. She means before the insatiable thirst for blood broke out like rabies.
..... Two years ago, when they each had their own place in Austin. When she tended bar at the Rodeo Roadhouse four nights a week and took out of town bikers and military boys home to fuck, after feeding them whiskey all night long. When Judd fixed cars at the Old Steel Garage and went to night school. Before, when the cousins hung out every weekend at their favorite park, across the street from an ice cream parlor where they bought single flavor waffle cones.
..... “They always had it in em,” Judd says, drinking. “So did we.”
..... Cash dumps the last of her beer onto the ground and gets up. The bottle clinks loud against the other glass when she throws it into the target practice bin. “I’m going to bed,” she says.
..... “Night,” he says.
..... She pulls the trailer door shut behind her.
..... Shiner comes up and sticks her head between Judd’s legs. “Never knew why they called men dogs,” he murmurs as he pets her. “Your kind’s always been better’n us the world over.”
..... Shiner stays with him while he finishes his beer, then follows him back into the trailer.

..... Cash wakes alone the next morning, the window above the bed propped open. She sits up and sees the dog approaching from the other end of the trailer, then checks the clock on the wall ledge at her side. Quarter to nine.
..... She comes out into the cold air lighting a cigarette, her gray flannel over shirt flapping in the breeze. The sun’s bright in a clear blue sky, every piece of metal around the camp site gleaming and the hard ground white. The truck’s gone. A small flame burns in the fire pit, and the skillet’s set off on a flat rock next to it. Judd left her breakfast sealed tight in a Tupperware container on the chair he dragged up to the pit: two biscuits, a scoop of black beans, and two hardboiled eggs. 
..... She dumps the food into the skillet and puts the skillet back onto the metal cook top positioned over the flame. She stokes the fire a little with a handful of kindling picked up from the ground and a match she happens to have in her shirt pocket. Shiner comes up and pokes her head onto Cash’s thigh, snout into her belly, tail wagging. Cash pets the dog, grabs at the fur on her neck, and the dog sits between Cash’s feet.
..... “He fed you, didn’t he?” Cash says around the Marlboro. “Why’d he leave you here, huh? Sweet thing like you’s useless for a guard dog.”
..... Shiner whines.
..... “That’s all right. I like you pretty good anyhow.”
..... She touches the food in the skillet cautiously with two fingertips—warm—and goes back into the trailer for utensils and coffee. There’s enough left in the coffeepot to fill a cup and it’s still hot. She pours the coffee into a clean mug and taps the ash off her cigarette into the kitchen sink. She drinks her joe black with one packet of sugar and thinks there’s no greater pleasure in life than the taste of it mingling with the day’s first cigarette.
..... She comes back out the trailer wearing sunglasses, mug in one hand, fork and knife in the other. She stops on the first step out the door because she’s got a visitor standing a few yards across from her.
..... A man. Forty or fifty-something, it’s hard to tell. Dirty, frayed baseball cap with a forest green bill and a patch logo for something she can’t make out in the sunshine. Short brown beard. His blue Ram truck isn’t that far behind him. “Morning,” he says.
..... Cash has her Colt revolver tucked into the back of her jeans, hidden underneath her over shirt. She doesn’t see anything on the man, but these days everybody’s armed. “Can I help you?” she says.
..... “That depends. You know something about a shootout happened at a house northeast of town?”
..... Thank Christ she’s wearing shades. “No, sir, I don’t. How long ago was it?”
..... “Yesterday.”
..... “You coming from there now?”
..... “I am. Found the mess about six thirty this morning, went into town to see what folks knew. I got em to tell me where the out of towners lie, and here I am.”
..... “What’s your interest in this shootout?” Cash says, unmoving from the top of the trailer steps. She sips on her coffee. “One of the dead belong to you?”
..... “You could say that,” the man replies.
..... Cash holds his gaze for a moment, then gets it: “You were after one of those bodies. Someone else did em first.”
..... “Son of a bitch Gus Paley raped my woman not three weeks ago. Been chasing him from Breckenridge.”
..... “That’s a long way,” says Cash, now unsure whether this man’s a threat or not.
..... “He had to be punished.”
..... “Looks like he has been.”
..... “But I didn’t do the punishing,” the man says.
..... She knows in an instant who she’s talking to: someone wants blood so bad, he doesn’t care anymore whose it is. Like an animal, horny or hungry, he just needs to satisfy the craving. The chase stopped being about revenge miles ago. Maybe it never really was.
..... “You staying in town a while?” she says.
..... The man nods. “At the motel.”
..... “If I hear something, I’ll find you.”
..... He turns around and gets into his truck, gravel crunching under his feet. Cash doesn’t move from the top of the trailer steps until he’s on the road in the distance. “Christ,” she says, taking a long draw on her cigarette.

..... The man with the green-billed cap is named Hank Lynch. Sawyer Oakley, who runs and polices the only motel in Muleshoe, tells Cash and Judd when they see him at Black Vicki’s. The cousins sit side by side at one corner of the bar, Judd drinking a beer and Cash nursing a glass of Jack on ice. Sawyer Oakley leans against the bar next to Judd and murmurs to them in a lowered tone, eyes roaming around the room.
.....  “Got hisself a single with a twin bed,” Sawyer says. “No visitors.”
..... “Unless a visit’s going on right now and you’re not there to see,” says Judd. 
..... “What I want to know is where in the hell’s his wife that he’s so hot to avenge?” Cash says, hunched toward the men with her forearms resting on the bar top. 
..... “Do you think this guy’s a problem, Oakley?” Judd says.
..... “I think we’ll find out in the morning,” says Sawyer. “He’s got no business here, now his prey’s been kilt. He should be on his way home, and if he ain’t, that means trouble.”
..... Judd and Cash haven’t told Sawyer that they’re the ones responsible for the bodies at the Baylor house. Haven’t told anyone. There’s no way to trace the shootout back to them, and Hank Lynch is the only one with reason to care about the details. The dead aren’t locals. Judd and Cash didn’t know where they came from or who they were. The pack of men swooped down on them out of the blue, when the cousins were hunting northeast of town, whooping and hollering over the sound of their truck’s skidding tires. They jerked to a halt and jumped out of the truck, six of them, calling to Cash. Whats your name, sweetheart? Youre the finest piece of tail I seen this decade. Why dont you come for a ride and well show you a real good time?
..... Nothing Cash hasn’t heard before. Nothing Judd liked.
..... Sawyer licks the beer foam from his upper lip and straightens off the bar. “I’ll leave you two to your evening. And I’ll be sure to keep an eye on the out of towner.”
..... Judd nods to him, and the older man wanders away back to his booth. There are twenty-odd people at Black Vicki’s tonight, including Judd and Cash. Good chance a handful more will drift in as the night wears on. It’s only past eight thirty, and the fires are still burning at the weekly town cook out just past the northern border of Muleshoe. The Wayne men, two brothers and their first cousin, brought the big game this time. A fat wild pig and two young cows they and some of the other men butchered, roasting the animals in great hunks on spits. Cash and Judd can still taste the smoky meat if they work their tongues in their mouths between swallows of beer and whiskey.
..... Creedence Clearwater Revival starts singing “Run Through the Jungle” on the jukebox. Hank Lynch walks into the saloon not two lines in. Judd doesn’t need Cash to tell him who the man is because Hank’s the only stranger in Muleshoe. The cousins look at him sideways without turning their bodies toward him, then flick their eyes away like stalled horses disinterested in visitors. Hank seats himself at the other end of Judd’s side of the bar. The bar’s a square in the center of the room, eight stools to a side. Hank doesn’t look over at Judd, and Judd ignores him too. One of the bartenders, a man named Dodd, goes over to Hank’s corner.
..... “I think I’ll finish this in the bathroom,” Cash says to Judd, coming off her stool with her lowball glass in hand.
..... “I’ll meet you out back in ten or fifteen, and we’ll have a smoke,” says Judd.
..... Some people are smoking at their tables inside. Half the windows are propped open.
..... “Which one is it?” says Cash.
..... “What do you mean?”
..... “Ten or fifteen?”
..... Judd finishes his beer and says, “Make it fifteen.”
..... She walks away, heading toward the skinny corridor housing the bathrooms and broom closet. Judd watches her go, like another man might watch his girl’s ass just because it looks good in her jeans, except Judd’s eyes take in the whole of her. Short blonde hair cut to the nape of her neck, long back and long legs, a pine green suede jacket with a big circular patch centered on the back for The Rodeo Roadhouse, the trucker’s stop where Cash used to work in Austin.
..... Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “That Smell” starts playing. Judd turns his head to look at Hank Lynch drinking a cold can of PBR. The stranger’s older and bigger than Judd. His body’s bulky. Judd could tell as soon as Hank walked in, even under a few layers of clothing. He’s gotten real good at sizing up other men since the world went to hell. Their bodies, their weapons, the way they move and how that might translate to how they fight hand to hand. Hank’s got more weight to throw around, probably more muscle mass. But Judd’s taller, younger, most certainly faster.
..... Judd’s also got a woman to protect. In his experience, that always gives a man an extra something.
..... He gets down from his stool and moves to the one on Hank’s right but doesn’t sit before he introduces himself and shakes the other man’s hand. “Name’s Judd Younger. Heard you met my cousin Cash this morning.”
..... Hank shakes but doesn’t look like Cash’s name means anything to him.
..... “Blonde at the trailer with a dog,” Judd says.
..... “That’s right,” says Hank. “I ‘member now.”
..... Judd sits and orders another beer.
..... “So you know why I’m here.”
..... “I do,” says Judd. “Sorry about your wife.”
..... “I’m sorry, too. I’d be a lot less sorry if I’d been the one to kill that bastard who hurt her.”
..... “Dead’s dead, init?”
..... Hank looks over at Judd. 
..... Judd stares ahead as he drinks, beer sliding cool down his throat. His brother was murdered in Abilene, fifteen months ago. Cash is the only reason Judd hasn’t eaten his gun or done something stupid. He has no idea who killed Abel. He doesn’t believe he ever will. “If the man you was looking to kill is dead, what more do you want?” Judd asks.
..... “I have a score to settle with whoever killed Gus Paley,” Hank says. “He was mine.”
..... “How was anybody supposed to know that?”
..... “Don’t matter. Fair’s fair.”
..... “So what’s your plan?”
..... Hank doesn’t answer for a minute. A younger woman across the room catches his gaze when she gets up from her table. Long honey blonde hair with dark streaks. Judd sees her, knows she’s good-looking, but sex doesn’t cross his mind. It hardly ever does.
..... “I think I’ll stay here a couple days and see if that shooter don’t turn up,” Hank says. He finishes his beer and sets the empty bottle down on the bar.
..... Judd checks his watch. “Good luck,” he says. “I got to be going.”
..... “You let me know if you hear anything,” says Hank. “Leave a message at the motel.”
..... Judd nods, leaves a fiver on the bar top, and heads to the back door.
..... Cash is sitting on a wooden crate outside, under the lamp attached to the wall. She’s already smoking. He stands next to her with his hands in the pockets of his denim jacket, and she looks up at him, blowing smoke into the cool air. “Another five minutes, and I was going to go in there for you.”
..... Judd takes out his own cigarette and lighter. “Afraid for my safety?” he says, corner of his mouth curling like a cat tail.
..... “What’d you gather?” she says, after a beat.
..... “He’s about as reasonable as one of them TV evangelists.”
..... The sound of voices at the cook-out drifts within the cousins’ earshot.
..... “What do we do?” Cash says.
..... They both know they’re worried about the same thing: bloodthirsty son of a bitch opening fire on Muleshoe innocents. Cash and Judd can’t be the only ones thinking it either. They’re a little surprised they haven’t seen anyone act jumpy tonight.
.....  “Think we should beat him to the punch?” she says.
..... Judd looks at his cousin, cigarette more than half smoked and hanging from his lips. “What are you saying?”
..... “You know what I’m saying.”
..... Judd looks away again, into the bruise-blue night. He thinks until he drops his stub on the ground. “He hasn’t been here twenty-four hours yet. And I’ve put down enough individuals for the month. We’ll wait.”
..... Cash leans forward with elbows on her knees and cigarette stub between two fingers, searching the stars. She can’t see the moon.
..... “We goin’ home, or do you want another drink?” Judd asks.
..... What he means is, are you going home with me or a man youre screwing?
..... Cash knows the code. She says, “I ain’t going back in there.”
..... They walk side by side to their truck parked down the street. Shiner’s waiting for them where they left her leashed to an out of service parking meter. They load her into the truck bed and drive south on the road.

..... Cash is lying in bed alone the next morning, staring at the ceiling and listening to the portable radio Judd’s got turned on outside. Sunshine the shade of fake butter filters through the windows around her, a cool draft seeping into the screen above the head end of the bed. She doesn’t move until she’s made up her mind, then brushes her teeth in the kitchen sink and steps out of the trailer in yesterday’s jeans. Her shotgun’s slung onto her back, strap across her chest.
..... Judd’s sitting in one of the chairs facing the fire pit, his back to the trailer, cup of coffee in his hand resting on one of the armrests. “You going somewhere with that gun?” he says.
..... “Yeah.”
..... He looks at the coffee pot, his knees spread wide and a layer of stubble darkening his face. He hasn’t shaved. “Well, eat somethin’ first.”
..... Cash sits in the other rubber chair. Wood warblers chirp in a mesquite tree several yards away. Judd gets up and takes the coffee pot off the heat, pouring it empty into a clean mug he set aside for his cousin. He hands it to her. There’s a plate covered in aluminum foil on one of the flat rocks enclosing the fire pit. He puts it on the cook top and stokes the fire. Cash sips at her coffee and waits. Judd doesn’t sit down again until the plate of food’s warm enough to satisfy him, and he gives it to Cash. She sets her coffee cup down on the ground and peels the foil off the plate. A breakfast burrito, filled with egg and potato and cheese.
..... She eats most of it in silence, while Judd stares at the landscape and slowly nurses his coffee down to the bottom of his mug. Shiner comes around and settles in between their chairs with her back along the metal leg of Judd’s.
..... The flame in the pit shrinks low to the ground again.
..... “If you’re going to do him at the motel, you gotta be prepared to explain yourself in case anyone sees,” Judd tells her.
..... “I’ve got a plan,” she says.
..... Judd goes into the trailer, the dog following him. He comes back out alone, with his revolver tucked into his pants and the keys to the truck in his hand. Cash doesn’t protest. He gets behind the wheel, and she rides next to him.

..... They knock on Hank Lynch’s motel room door, but he doesn’t answer. Cash tries peeking into the window, but the blinds are drawn tight. Judd walks across the parking lot to the lobby in the short end of the L-shaped complex. Sawyer Oakley’s sitting behind the clerk desk, watching a baseball game re-run on the television set. He’s got a mid-sized fan turned on, sitting on the windowsill above him. The head turns back and forth, the blades whirring. He looks away from the TV at the last possible second, once Judd’s standing squared in front of the desk. “Mornin, Judd. What are you doing here?”
..... “Where’s Lynch?” Judd says.
..... Sawyer pauses, glancing down to Judd’s waist where the butt of the revolver’s in plain sight. “I don’t honestly know.”
..... “If you had to guess.”
..... “I’ve talked to him for all of about ten minutes, Judd. I can’t guess nothin about that fella.”
..... Judd lingers for about ten seconds, before turning on his heel. “Thanks,” he mumbles as he pushes the door open.
..... “Judd,” says Sawyer.
..... Judd pauses in the doorway and looks over his shoulder at the other man. He’s still wearing his hat, and the brim casts a shadow over his face tanned to brown.
..... “Long as I known you, I thought you was a good man.”
..... “What’s being good got to do with anything?” Judd says.
..... The older man tilts his head to the side and says, “I reckon it don’t have anything to do with men. Probably never did.”
..... Judd thinks to himself, as he walks bow-legged across the blacktop and watches Cash standing outside Hank’s room, What about women?
..... Hank Lynch is sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of Annie Mae Carlisle’s general store and café, right hand curled around the handle of a coffee cup on his knee. He looks like a bull who knows someone’s about to blow a hole clean into his brain with one of those cattle guns. He watches Judd and Cash coming from across the street where they parked their truck. He sips from his mug. The store door’s propped open to let in the fresh air, and female voices drift out from inside.
..... Judd and Cash climb the porch steps and go inside as if it’s coincidence they’re here while Hank is. Judd nods at the stranger, and Cash says, “Mornin.”
..... “Mornin,” Hank says.
..... Annie Mae’s behind the counter, working the register. She gives Judd a big, white smile. Forty-something years old and the only woman in Muleshoe who wears a dress on a daily basis. Today, it’s a floral print with buttons down the front. She’s wearing her hair up as usual.
..... Judd nods at her.
..... Cash says, “Hi, there, Annie.”
..... “Morning, Cash,” Annie says. “You and Judd here for breakfast or supplies?”
..... “We’ve eaten. But if my nose is right, I’ll have one of your biscuits.”
..... “Sure. Condiments?”
..... “Butter and honey, please.”
..... Judd’s boots knock-knock, heel-toe, on the wood floor as he aimlessly moves down one of the aisles. Eyes passing over well-stocked shelves of soup cans, flour, oats, corn bread mix. He looks up at the shelves behind the counter where Annie keeps bottles of liquor, boxes of cigarette packs, and ammo in a small glass case.
..... Cash waits by the register for Annie to bring her biscuit on a plate. She still has her shotgun on her back, the strap across her chest, but that’s nothing to gawk at around here. She could’ve left it in the truck, but she didn’t want to have to go back for it and risk everything go wrong inside the half minute it’d take her to bolt across the street.
..... “Annie,” Judd says, stepping into a different aisle.
..... “Yes, sir?”
..... “That man outside say anything to you about some bodies out by the old Baylor place?”
..... Annie looks at him like a spooked rabbit. “No,” she says. “Why?”
..... Judd shakes his head and silently praises her for not asking what bodies. “Just curious, is all.” He plucks a bottle of gun oil off the shelf in front of him and takes it to the counter.
..... Cash is licking her fingers clean of honey, crumbs on her plate all that’s left of her biscuit.
..... “That and a pack of Reds, please,” Judd says to Annie.
..... Annie turns around to take the smokes down from a shelf, and Judd fishes his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans, pulls out a ten dollar bill and two ones, and leaves the money on the counter. He puts the cigarettes into his shirt pocket and hooks his fingers into the handle of the oil bottle. Cash thanks Annie for the biscuit and follows her cousin back outside, taking her shotgun off her back and into her hand.
..... Judd goes all the way down the porch steps until he’s standing on dirt, but Cash stops on the porch and looks at Hank Lynch who hasn’t moved from his rocking chair.
..... “Just want to let you know I’m the one who killed your man at that house,” she says.
..... Hank looks up at her. A grin curls on his face after a beat. “You?”
..... “Yeah, me.”
..... He looks away further down the main road cutting through town, one foot up on the lowest beam enclosing the porch. “Shit,” he says. “You’re about as deadly as a housecat with no claws.”
..... Judd’s watching them, arms down at his sides, his right hand free for his gun.
..... When Cash doesn’t move or reply, Hank looks at her again and says, “You mean to tell me you killed six men all on your own, when each and every one of em was armed to the teeth? And made it out without a scratch on you?”
..... “Looks that way,” Cash says. “I’m just tellin you in case you were going to kill someone in Muleshoe, on account of you got blood fever ain’t been relieved.”
..... “You accusing me of being an unreasonable man?”
..... Cash holds eye contact with Hank. She can’t see a weapon on him, but he’s wearing a vest over his shirt that could hide one on an interior holster or on his waist. “I’m not accusing you of nothing,” she says. “I’m just being cautious.”
..... She lingers a beat, then descends the porch steps hoping that Judd’s the quicker shot if Hank pulls on her. She makes it past her cousin, not waiting for Judd.
..... “Woman,” Hank says.
..... Cash stops and faces him again, standing a few steps away from Judd.
..... “Were you out for those men? Or were they out for you?”
..... She’s staring at Hank, the sun bright and warm on her shoulders and her hair, and it occurs to her that he couldn’t have left his wife in Breckenridge, Texas by herself after she’d been raped. She would’ve wanted to go with him, or he would’ve wanted her to follow, afraid to let her out of his sight. His wife’s not waiting for him. She killed herself, or he killed her. Judging by the lack of grief in his demeanor, Cash puts her money on Hank.           
..... Not the first man she’s crossed paths with who murdered his lover after another man raped her. Some men can’t abide their women getting fucked by someone else. Whether the women wanted to or not.
..... That’s what this smells like to Cash. This man’s lost his mind, if he had any to begin with. He’s about as safe as a sleeping copperhead, sitting calm in that chair.
..... “What was your wife’s name?” she asks him.
..... He just stares at her.  
..... Judd and Hank whip out their guns seconds apart. They fire. Judd catches Hank dead center in the chest. Hank’s round disappears into the air, after Cash drops into a squat. Hank, who stood up to shoot, looks down at himself bug-eyed. Blood spreads fast into his shirt. Cash watches him, unmoving from her grounded pose. Judd stands straight with his revolver still aimed at the man. Hank shuffles backward until he’s leaned against the wall and the doorpost. He keels over across the porch boards with a loud and heavy thump.
..... Judd lowers his firing arm and looks back at Cash. Annie Mae leans out the window to the left of the door, looking at Hank’s body and then at the cousins.
..... “Sorry for the trouble,” Judd says. “We’ll take him off your hands directly.”
..... Cash doesn’t stand up until he walks past her going east down the road, still carrying the bottle of gun oil in his left hand. “Where you going?” she says.
..... “Find an extra pair of hands or two can help me move him.”
..... She stands in the road for a minute, staring at Hank’s corpse. She goes around to the back of the store and in through the door there, asking Annie Mae for a bucket she can fill with water, soap, and bleach. She’s going to scrub the porch soon as Judd gets Hank off it.