“I didn’t do it! I didn’t shoot them women, them whores! I was jist lookin’ fer a quick poke and a slug of whiskey. I ain’t killed nobody. I ain’t a killer.”
“Clayton, they’re gonna hang you fer sure. Little Will was already here lookin’ fer ya. He said that if you was to turn yourself over to him, he’d be fair and just.”
“You know me, Sara. You know I ain’t gonna kill no woman. I didn’t even bring my heels. Look, they’re still a-hangin’ on the wall over there.”
“You may not be a killer, but you are a drunkin’, gamblin’, no-good-fer-nothin’ husband and a father. You don’t do squat around here to help out. Alls you do is sneak off when the chores need doin’ and the kids need a-tendin’. You’re one useless man Clayton Jacobs!”
“Sara, now wait a minute. I luv you and the kids. I do my best. I know that the farm is falling apart and we need some money. I’ll git us some money. Honest injun I will.”
“Git us some money? Money? Clayton, the whole damn town of Hico thinks you killed Colleen and Helen. Christ, Jimmy told Maggie Potter that he seen you do it. Said he seen you pull the trigger on them girls. All because they gave a little giggle when they seen you had a small…”
“That’s enough! You keep runnin’ that mouth of yours woman and I’ll slap you again. Ain’t gonna be talked to that way. ‘Specially by no woman. While you sit there and bleed, I’m a gonna go out for a spell.”
Clayton Jacobs stormed out of the small, run down log cabin that he and Sara had shared for the past ten years. It was a warm Texas night. No breeze to speak of. The nighttime critters chirped and sang their nightly serenade. It was time to leave the town of Hico for good.
He saddled up his favorite horse, Sagebrush and headed south. He hadn’t been on the trail for more than an hour or so before he came across the old man with the keg.
“Where ya headed old timer?”
“I said, where ya headed old timer?”
“Oh, just up over yunder,” the old man said as he pointed a bony, crooked finger over toward a large thicket of trees.
“Yunder? What’s over yunder? And whatcha’ luggin there? Looks like a keg of bitter. Sure could use me a slug or two.”
“Tell ya what, you give me a hand with this keg and I’d be more n’ happy ta give you a slug. Hell, I’ll give ye as much as you can hold.”
“All-right. Sounds like a deal to me,” Clayton said as he dismounted. Sagebrush snorted his disapproval. “It’s okay boy, we just gonna help this old timer out and rest up a bit before we push on.”
“Where you headed, fella?” The old man croaked.
“Down Mexico way. Gonna make a new start for myself. Find me a cute little Mexican wife and settle down.”
“Got some trouble followin’ do ye?”
“Trouble? I ain’t got no trouble old man. The only trouble I got is I’m achin’ fer a drink and now I’m haulin’ this heavy keg over yunder. That’s the only troubles I got.”
“It ain’t much further, just a hundred more paces or so.”
The two walked the rest of the way in silence. A reluctant Sagebrush trailed behind.
Upon entering the clearing, Clayton could hear the faint sounds of laughing and conversing. He wondered who was on the other side of the tree line. Whoever it was, they were having quite the time.
“Pecker head sumbitch! That was the card I needed!” A gravelly voice said.
“You dumb bastard! Told ye not to fold!” Another voice answered. After a brief silence, raucous laughter erupted. Sagebrush again, snorted his disapproval. This time more forcefully.
“Who them voices belong to?”
The old man said nothing.
When they reached the other side of the tree line, Clayton froze. There in the middle of the clearing were five badly decaying corpses sitting around a Faro table. The smell was just as shocking as the sight.
“What the blue hell?”
“It’s okay son. Ain’t nothin’ but Norman Welch and his fellas. C’mon over and let me introduce y’all.”
Clayton, feeling the surrealness of his surroundings, drew his guns.
“No need for them smokewagons, junior. They’re already deed. That iron ain’t gonna do ye no good. Best to sit a spell and drink some of this.” The old man said as he handed Clayton a tin cup.
Clayton accepted the offering without protest or rancor.
“Sit on down son and we’ll deal ya in. Dog will hunt,” one of the corpses said through taught lips and gray, rotten teeth. The others laughed their approval.
“Where ya headed son?’ One of the corpses asked.
“Mexico. I’m headed to Mexico. Sheriff and his posse is riding down on me for a couple of murders I didn’t do,” Clayton said with a heavy tongue. “I caint go back to town. I’ll hang for sure. So, I’m up and goin south.
“Good idea, hoss. Good idea,” said Norman. “But before ya head off into the unknown not knowin’ maybe you should rest a spell. You look mighty tired amigo. Kick ya boots off and hunker down under that tree. By morning you’ll be right as the milk.”
Clayton awoke the next morning stiff as a board. He felt funny. Maybe the damp night air had done something to his joints. That and whatever the hell it was he had been drinking. Dreams. Strange dreams. He raised his right hand to his face. How could it be? A beard? Not just a beard, but a long beard. It hung down to the middle of his chest.
He ran his hands nervously through his hair. His hair. Long. Way past his shoulders. He stood on wobbly and unsure legs and looked at the sky. Blue. Bright Blue. There was something in the drink. They drugged him. That was it. They had drugged him. Maybe with laudanum. Or peyote. That was the only logical explanation.
“Sagebrush, Sagebrush, C’mere fella.” His voice. Different. Raspy and old. Old? He sank to his knees and stared at the ground for a long while. Sagebrush never came.
He walked for miles. He was thirsty, so damn thirsty. After what seemed like an eternity he saw a sign. WELCOME TO HICO. A GREAT PLACE TO LIVE.
He wondered if Little Will was still looking for him. He was so thirsty, he was willing to risk certain capture for a drink.
A saloon. DYLAN’S BILLIARDS the sign read. He went inside.
“What can I get you old-timer?” The barkeep said as he wiped the bar down with a grungy towel.
“Whiskey. I need a whiskey.”
The barkeep obliged and poured Clayton another shot. Clayton downed it and pointed at his empty glass. The barkeep obliged again.
“What year is this?” Clayton asked.
“Year? Why it’s eighteen hunert an eighty-seven of course. You okay old-timer? You looka bit frazzled.”
“Have you ever heard of a fella named Little Will? He’s a law dawg ’round these parts?”
“Little Will? Little Will was gunned down about…about twenty some odd years ago. Gunned down by Sara Jacobs he was. Broad daylight mind ya. On the count of her thinking he killed her husband, Clayton Jacobs.”
“Clayton Jacobs? Clayton Jacobs, that’s me. That’s my name. I’m Clayton Jacobs.”
“You? You ain’t Clayton Jacobs. Clayton Jacobs is deader than a doornail. His body was found just a ways from this here town. Just outside the Mexico border. He was found alongside the body of Norman Welch and his crew. It’s kinda a Hico legend. But good try old timer. Good try.”
The barkeep filled up Clayton’s shot glass one more time and then made his way to another gentleman that sat down two seats away from Clayton.
A million thoughts buzzed through his foggy head all at once. Sara. Little Will. Sara. Little Will. Hico. Murder. Norman Welch. Clayton Jacobs. Twenty years ago? Twenty years…
“Barkeep. Mind if I bend your ear a second. Got sumthing I need ta ask ye.”
“Sure, old-timer, I got a few to spare. Wha’ can I do for ya?”
“Tell me whatcha know about Sara and Little Will and Clayton Jacobs. I need to hear it.”
“Why you’re so inerested in that old legend, beats me. But if your still a drinkin and a payin’ I guess it ain’t no skin off my sac. Clayton Jacobs was a no good gambler and a drunk. He kilt two whores ’bout twenty years ago, give or take.
Anyway, he fled Hico and on the way to Mexico he met up with Norman Welch and his crew. Norman Welch was a known horse thief and a killer of women and children. They rode rough-shot across Texas killin’ and pillagin’ until they met their demise in a shoot out with another band of rough-riders.
Sara Jacobs was left with no man, no money, and nothin’ but anger. She thought Little Will was the one that kilt ole Clayton. And in return, she paid back the sheriff by gunnin him down on Christmas Eve in front of his wife and two kids. Sad story really. Anyway, Clayton’s body was brought back here, to Hico. He was buried alongside his wife.
I guess that’s about alls I know. Don’t know if it helped ya or not. But that’s alls I know about it. Hope it helped ye.”
Clayton Jacobs paid for his drinks and headed out into the unknown not knowing. He was still not quite sure what was going on or what had happened that night he met Norman Welch. But if that barkeep was right, he was in the clear.
No more murder rap, no more wife and kids, no more worries. He had somehow managed to live his whole life doing what he loved to do. Drinking and gambling. And that’s just what he did until the day that he died.
Three years later, Clayton Jacobs was shot and killed in the street after a long night of drinking and gambling. The shooter was never identified. Most legends or tales have a moral. But not this one.