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Obsidian Devil and the Dead Man’s Hand

by H.P. Lovecock (力。下。愛ちんちん)
illustrated by beili

New Mexico Territory, 1859

I’d rolled into Last Ditch three days back, horseless and little more than a rucksack and the rags on my back. A sole free man wasn’t unheard of in these parts, but the more downtrodden I appeared the better. I assumed Slick Sam and his outlaws were just as like to drink with me as clap me in irons and sell me off to an eastern plantation.

Slick Sam’s was a dusty prostíbulo, little more than a few rooms attached to a bodega and some stables where a traveler from Albuquerque or Fort Thorn or some such place could indulge his baser instincts before pushing on to Las Cruces. There was a neglected trading post, an ancient blacksmith’s and Slick Sam’s.

I took up slopping the stables under a mulatto curmudgeon by the name of Keller, and traded my wages for the smallest room in the establishment. When he rolled around late in the afternoon I negotiated with Slick Sam himself that I’d sling some whiskey that night for the use of one of his girls, to which the old crook was amenable. Sam might once have been a prize bull but he’d gone to seed as a petticoat pensioner in Last Ditch. He was mostly bald and paunchy, shifty, squinty blue eyes, his white skin stained an orange-ruddy-red from years in the sun, exacerbated by a habit of sucking at a canteen full of rotgut; ugly as a mud fence, as the Old Man used to say. He struck me as a paranoid type, always keeping a couple of his cracker Texan companions or hired Mexican outlaws looking over his shoulder.

Keller lorded over me all afternoon, and that evening I joined an overworked but pretty, long-haired Mexican boy named Narciso behind the bodega‘s bar. I had a talent for spotting a sturdy gal-boy or a prancing nancy from a mile away, however rustic or dressed up, but I managed to keep my eyes to myself that evening, despite the odd sideways glance from little Narciso. I wondered if he was on the menu for patrons who desired a little bronco ride.

The place filled up with cowboys up from Las Cruces, lean-looking rustlers from Texas and scurrilous soldiers down from Fort Thorn. I’d never heard such blusteration than in Slick Sam’s that night; you’d’a thought every high roller outlaw and war hero had pulled in for a lick of the meanest tonsil paint I ever did taste. Narciso and I kept the Jack of Diamonds flowing and I bided my time ’til the degenerate mercenaries and thieving scalawags had paired off with the desperate looking ladies of the line. I watched Narciso talking low to the proprietor’s right hand man, a bandito by name of Félix Madriz who had a nasty look about him. Way they talked you’d’a thought they were an old couple, ’cause Madriz gave right back what he got from the little molly.

Slick Sam had saved one for me: Old Carol, the most strapping, dowdy, scowly-looking Irishwoman you ever did see. He said he was glad I had a taste for potatoes, for she usually ended up being chucked to whatever man had drunk enough to have her by the end of the night. I took her up to my room and we made a little noise before I kicked her out, satisfied with our liaison.

The next day went much the same, save I forewent Old Carol that night, for we’d had all we needed from each other. Little Narciso brushed against my front slipping by me as I was grabbing a keg from the storehouse, and I can’t say a little back room tussle didn’t mighty appeal to me, but we’d be missed, so I ignored him. “Buenas noches,” he purred to me as he slipped back to his closet of a room behind the bar while I finished mopping the various fluids the crooks had left behind. I ignored the invitation, but didn’t fail to notice he had a fresh shiner blooming around his right eye.

The third night would serve my devices. A Sunday evening meant the religious or superstitious whoremongers were off counting their sins. The place was only patronized by a half dozen Texans and their hombres, all Slick Sam’s men. With a nod from Old Carol I withdrew a small bag of Eagles and plonked it down on the table near Slick Sam’s elbow. “Poker,” I grumbled.

His eyes went wide for a moment, but he slowly sat back, flicked the bag open, then smirked. “You uppity free men, I hope you didn’t roll over one of my amigos for this.”

I growled that he could call me a thief and be knocked out the window, or he could fetch a deck of cards and I could show him how I earned my gold. There was a moment’s silence throughout the establishment, all eyes on Slick Sam. After a long moment he howled with laughter and growled at Narciso to toss him the house deck.

Two of his bodyguards joined us, proffering up their meager wages. Slick Sam started dealing and I could already see his handiwork. The man was as cunning as he was ugly, for after flipping through it once his fingers danced over the deck as he shuffled, and I could see he was a subtle but practiced rook.

His companions folded out fast enough, miserly of their gold, but I ended up besting Slick Sam with the three of a kind he had generously provided me. The way the man went on you would of thought I was robbing him blind with my expert card playing, but I could see from the looks on his companion’s faces that they were well used to being swindled by their employer, drawn in by early winnings before being taken for all they had. I bled a little gold in the next couple of hands, but took a handsome pot with a full house when the man to my left dealt. Sam’s face twisted in anger, perhaps he had miscounted the cards. I could tell he meant to make me pay for them when they were in his hand next. He called for Narciso to fill up our glasses before the next hand, the usual ploy of a conman looking to loosen the senses of his mark.

The man on my right had gone bust quickly enough, but one of Sam’s girls came over and whispered in his ear that she was feeling a surge of Christian charity, and that she’d repay him for his loss upstairs. On a normal night Slick Sam’s men took a girl if they felt like it, assuming she wasn’t already occupied, so he seemed ready enough to head upstairs with her. In fact, Sam’s strumpets had led off a number of the men. Only Old Carol and Narciso remained by the bar behind me, looking on the game intently.

Slick Sam Butler was a slippery bastard. The old slaver had cashed in on his holdings in Texas while the going was good, and had holed up in this little settlement east of the Rio Grande folks ’round these parts called Last Ditch. He’d traded up dealing in black flesh for that of the fairer sex.

Some of the girls back at the settlement had told me how Slick Sam and his ilk snatched the girls en route to California or Oregon. He’d sweet talk ’em all sorts of nonsense about the temperate pleasures of the southlands, the good Christian values of the Mexicans of Los Cruces and El Paso, the romance of hooking a chivalrous cowboy and settling down on a homestead. What he’d failed to mention was that it was his own homestead, and he’d be setting up the hooking.

Slick Sam snuck a couple of aces into his hand and won a modest amount of his tin back. I pretended to be stumped at the defeat, but won it back when his drunken companion busted a few hands later. Old Carol herself led the man off, promising him that a night cap would wash the bitter taste of loss out of his mouth.

Slick Sam didn’t seem accustomed to a man who could outplay him, especially a taciturn young colored man, and the Eagles washed back and forth across the table, steadily piling up on my side. The more he lost the more he drank, and the more he drank the angrier and more obvious his cheating became. When I noticed the girls begin to filter back into the room I leaned back, studying my hand, and said, “I have a business proposition for you, Butler.” I raised him a few coins, and he checked before doling out another card.

“That’s ‘sir’ to you, b’hoy,” Sam growled. He threw down his cards, two pair, black aces and black eights. “What could an itinerant negro possibly propose that I’d be interested in?”

“I’ll let you keep all the gold on this table if you get out of that chair, walk off into the desert and never bother these women again.” I laid out my hand; a flush of hearts.

His eyes went wide at my hand and snorted, oblivious that the women outnumbered the men in the room by that point. “Why the hell would I do that? I should put a bullet in your gut you uppity little ni–”

He’d failed to notice that I’d come to the table with my prized six-gun, Iron Queen, nestled underneath my vest. I slammed her down on the table in the small pile of coins before me, and pointed her at his midsection. “I should let you know that I put a bullet in any white man who uses that word, and you ain’t no exception to that rule.”

by beili

Slick Sam’s face contorted in wild fury and he glanced about the room for his thugs, but only found the women of his establishment looking on dispassionately at the plight of their jailer. “The fuck you think you are?” he spat, fumbling for his old pistol before finding the holster empty, care of Old Carol.

“Obsidian Devil is about the most polite thing folks ’round these parts call me,” I muttered, and heard an excited flurry of whispers from behind. Narciso swore an oath. “But I’m known by many names.”

He scoffed, “Well boy howdy, the Obsidian Devil in my little watering hole.” He spat a slick of tobacco on the table in front of me, spattering my linen shirt. “The Obsidian Devil is a fucking legend. I call you a liar and a thief.”

“That might be so,” I said, raising the gun off the table to level with his head. “I seem to recall I said any man who calls me a thief would get knocked out the window, and you’ve got a perfectly good one behind you, but I wouldn’t deprive these women the opportunity to pass judgment over you, as they rightly deserve. Ladies, raise your hand if you think Slick Sam Butler deserves to die for the crimes of sexual slavery, rape, murder and the litany of his other sins against man- and woman-kind.”

I watched as Slick Sam’s eyes went wide, keeping my eyes on him. “Narciso, how many of these women are raising their hands?”

“All of them, señor,” the boy murmured from the bar.

Slick Sam stood to run but my trigger finger twitched and a kiss from the Iron Queen sent him stumbling backwards. A second bullet whizzed past his shoulder, shattering the window behind him, and I stood and walked over, kicking the man out to fall into the pile of glass just outside. He gulped in pain, twitched and then laid still. I holstered my iron and turned to face the women who looked on, silently.

“The rest of the men?” I asked Old Carol.

“Dead, or they wish they were.” She tossed me my herbalist pack, much lightened of its atropa belladonna.

I nodded. “And Slick Sam seems to have come down with a fatal case of lead poisoning.”

I cupped the Eagles on the table and shifted them into my bag, now much heavier for the bullets I’d traded Slick Sam. “Ladies, Señor Narciso, you’re free of this man’s tyranny and can now name your own fates,” I said. “I reckon you could move on to Las Cruces, or El Paso. Or else you could clean the filth out of this place and make use of it. If you did I promise to check in whenever I’m riding down this way, or if I hear of anyone giving you trouble, but I’m returning to my own tribe. Any of you who are inclined can come with me. It won’t be a comfortable journey there, and it sure as the devil won’t be an easy life in Little Hope, but it’s a different place than this.”

A few of the women glanced at one another, smiling. They’d clearly heard of the place, for better or worse, and Narciso, as well, spoke up: “I thought Little Hope was a legend.”

I walked over to the bar, picked up the one good bottle of whiskey Sam had kept in the place and took a swig. I hated to admit it, but taking a man’s life, even one as lowly as Butler’s, always jangled the nerves. “That’s what Slick Sam said about the Obsidian Devil, and it didn’t serve him any.”

*

I set out that hour with four of the women and Narciso, who each had little enough to pack but seemed intent on finding out if Little Hope was a legend or not. In private, I’d expressed to Old Carol I thought she’d be joining us. She admitted it was tempting, if I told the truth, but said she’d stay behind and help the remaining girls try and find a civilized life, or else a way on to California or back to their families for those who had ’em. “I’m good with a rifle and the blacksmith is sweet on me, pity for him, so I reckon I can keep this place running,” she said.

“I figured you were a sturdy gal,” I answered, but was caught off guard when the big woman swept me into a tight embrace between her two, meaty arms.

“Thank you, whoever you are,” she whispered.

I led the girls and Narciso on foot out of Last Ditch, heading on the road north towards the closest bend of the Rio Grande. For their part the women were each settlers who figured they could make an independent or adventurous life for themselves somewhere on the frontier, and Narciso was a young man up from a little farm in the south, abandoning his family in search of a more fulfilling life. The boy offered to carry my rucksack, but I growled at him, “You ain’t my slave,” although I admitted he could thank me in some other way later, and he seemed just fine with that.

“Some people say you were a hero of the Louverture slave uprising out east?” asked one of the young women, a rancher’s daughter from Mississippi named Hilda.

I shrugged as we followed the lantern light through the dusty darkness. “That’s what they say.”

One of the other women, a clever financier’s daughter named Francis Desrosier of Boston who’d come out west looking for adventure, scrutinized me. “If that’s true, you must be seventy years old. You don’t look a day over twenty.”

I didn’t even give her a glance, “Looks can be deceiving.”

“They call you a hero back east,” Hilda said, her eyes wide in wonder. “Black folk and white alike.”

“Believe me,” I muttered, “I ain’t no hero.”

Narciso, walking by my side, spoke up, “I’ve heard some people say that for every soul you send him, the devil grants you another year of life.”

“Some people do say that,” I admitted, “I don’t say much, and I much prefer the same of those I travel with.” I raised my hand to the handle of the Iron Queen and didn’t hear another word as we pressed on into the darkness.

After a couple hours we came to the river and began to follow the twisting skein of the Rio Grande northwards. A few hours before dawn I spotted a fire burning near the river, an encampment with a few horses hitched nearby. We approached slowly, making sure to keep the lantern in plain sight, and as we drew close enough I heard a deep, surly voice call out. “Hold up there, hombres. Identify yourselves if you mean to approach.” I could see the glint of a rifle raised at us in the moonlight.

“Come closer to me,” I returned. “Push close my lovers and take the best I possess.”

“Yield closer and closer and give me the best you possess,” the voice called back in her thick Spanish accent. We approached the campsite where Dalia and a couple of her gunslingers awaited, roused from their sleep. Dalia eyed the new women up, and then turned to me, “Took yer time.”

I grinned, “Keen on some fresh meat, Dolly? Be gentle with these girls, they’ve been through the mill.”

She glanced over my shoulder where Narciso looked on at the women, armed to the teeth and dressed in ponchos and dusters, each every inch a bandito. “Kept a prize for yourself, I see.”

“He followed.” I shrugged, then brushed right by Dalia to where Haughty Shade stood pawing the earth. I’d been placed in the care of the beautiful Appaloosa after I’d aided a group of Nez Perce horse breeders down from Oregon, when they’d gotten tangled up with rustlers north of Albuquerque, and we’d been together almost five years now. I’d never put my stock in men grown so fond of their horses you’d’a thought there was something perverse going on, but Haughty Shade was smarter than most men, and had saved my life so many times I couldn’t help but think of her as some fierce, sassy protector spirit from beyond the veil of this world. The patterns on her rump made me think of storm clouds blowing out of the north.

I fed Haughty Shade an apple as Dalia rolled her eyes at my administrations and turned to the folks from Slick Sam’s. “Well, come along you lot, you must be feeling wolfish. We set out at dawn so you’ll want to eat, drink and catch a few winks.”

“I was actually hoping to wash off the filth of Last Ditch,” I said, and one of Dalia’s women pointed me down a little slope. “Come along you,” I growled at Narciso, goosing his prat, and he followed readily enough.

The half-moon shone enough to light our way down to the embankment where a shallow eddy in the Rio Grande sloshed quietly against the rocks. I sat down on a flat rock, sighing. “M’dogs are barking,” I admitted to Narciso, who stood nearby, suddenly playing the shy maid. “Help me shuck my boots… ah, now that’s a mercy.”

The boy squatted between my legs, having relieved me of my malodorous footwear, and ran his hands up my legs, then my thighs. I smirked down at him. So much for any shyness. “What did you and that woman say to each other back there?” he asked, reaching for my pistol—although the Iron Queen stayed holstered on my side, if I make my meaning clear.

I leaned back on the rock, enjoying his attentions. “Christian folk have the Gospel, back at Little Hope we have the word of Whitman. ’bout the only holy book we’ll allow to be read openly.” He was working at the buttons on my trousers. “We all learn a little of it by heart, helps us identify one another from outsiders.”

He had me at attention now and almost out of my rough spun clothing, but I moved his hand away. “Why don’t you head on in and test the water for me? I prefer some cleanliness afore a rutting, and I probably smell like the devil. Head on in, and I’ll quote you a little of what I know.”

He smiled and untucked his linen shirt, pulling it over his head to reveal a lithe, lean body, peppered a little by hair on his chest. My length strained at my trousers. “The butcher-boy puts off his killing-clothes,” I began, reciting what I remembered from memory, “or sharpens his knife at the stall in the market, I loiter enjoying his repartee and his shuffle and break-down.”

He wriggled out of his breeches and let his underclothes fall off and stood in all his glory, bathed by the moonlight, a tasty piece dangling tantalizingly between his legs, before turning and slipping into the water. “Blacksmiths with grimed and hairy chests environ the anvil,” I continued, standing and unhooking the holster from my side. I placed the Iron Queen on the ground where I could reach from the water. “Each has his main-sledge, they are all out, there is a great heat in the fire.”

I pulled my shirt up over my head, and parted with my trousers just as quickly. Narciso quickly learned that I didn’t much bother with fineries like underclothes. He stood in the water, half submerged, gaping at my length. You’d think the boy had never seen a cock before, the way he stared.

I slid into the water, shuddering from the cold of the Rio Grande. “From the cinder-strew’d threshold I follow their movements, The lithe sheer of their waists plays even with their massive arms.” I bade him over to me and then turned him around, wrapping my arms around him and bringing my lips and teeth to his neck, nibbling the way I loved to. Narciso gasped as I reached down and found his stiff cock. I continued in barely a whisper. “Overhand the hammers swing, overhand so slow, overhand so sure, They do not hasten, each man hits in his place.”

“That’s… pretty…” He gasped as I returned my mouth to his neck. He could feel my enthusiastic little partner pressing between his legs. “Wh-what do I call you? The Devil?”

“Ezekiel will do, but only when we don’t have any clothes on, mind,” I murmured, stroking him. “Just don’t call it to loudly or you’ll bother the girls.”

We ended up on the rock back with the Iron Queen, Narciso working me over with his pretty little mouth, the dark skin on my hands disappearing into the tangle of hair on his head.

*

I dragged a spent Narciso up the embankment and deposited the half-naked boy in my tent before sidling over to Dalia. She was chatting up the Desrosier dame something fierce. Dalia kept a harem of girlfriends back in Little Hope; she had a habit for picking out the ladies who would end up running the settlement.

When she saw me Dalia bid her new companion into her tent, then stood and led me up an outcrop where one of her riflewomen, Kitten, was keeping lookout. They consulted before Dalia turned to me. “We’ve seen some lantern flashes south of here. Don’t mean nothing, unless one of your girls failed.”

I shrugged, “Poison’s less of a sure bet than a bullet to the head. Could be one of the men got a bum dose and raised the alarm.”

She clicked her tongue in irritation. “So much for getting any sleep tonight. Kitten, rouse everyone and break camp. We’re pushing for Little Hope by noon.”

Haughty Shade didn’t brook a stranger astride her, but I managed to calm her enough that little Narciso could ride with me. We doubled up on our mounts to make better time, especially with the threat of pursuit, and so by the time the sun reached its zenith we rolled into the valley of Little Hope. “I met a seer, Passing the hues and objects of the world,” I called to the hidden lookout above the mouth of the valley, where one of Dalia’s girls surely had her rifle trained on me at the head of the queer bunch.

“The fields of art and learning, pleasure, sense, To glean eidolons,” a high, singsong voice called back. Irish was watching over us this afternoon. I pitied the fool who tried to get by the scope of her rifle and live to tell.

“Anything to report, Irish?” I called.

“Better fifty enemies outside the house than one within,” she called back, a well-rehearsed exchange but comforting. If I had a home Little Hope was it, I reckoned.

The settlement was called “Little Hope,” because when we’d found it a decade back I’d said there was little hope we’d make it a year. The dozen or so settlers who’d followed me to find the abandoned Spanish pueblo alongside me had proved me wrong, for here we were, ten years on and nearing a few hundred people.

And we’d begun to be known beyond the few trustworthy traders who passed through, for every few months some troubled young man or woman would stumble into town hearing tales of a “Greek colony” or a “landlocked island of Sappho.” Romantic euphemism for a village of Sapphists, bum chums, molly boys, lesbians, uranists and the assortment of other folk we’d collected. For only those who enjoyed the company of the same-sex were allowed to live and love in Little Hope. A queer philosophy, admittedly, but we were a queer bunch.

The settlement inhabited a small, verdant valley just out of Mesilla Valley, about a day’s ride along the Rio Grande north of Las Cruces. The region enjoyed a sizable tributary to the Rio Grande we called “Sweet Lickings,” that provided the life waters for farmers and townsfolk alike. Outside of Little Hope were a dozen small homesteads where men or women had paired up and created queer little ranching families. The town proper was a couple dozen ramshackle wooden buildings we’d repaired and built upon over the years, which we neared now.

“Over there’s the law enforcement office.” Dalia pointed to the first building we passed, where a couple of women waved. “I’m ’bout the closest thing to a sheriff you’ll find in these parts, but my women and I will look after you well enough.”

She nodded to a small house with a rough painted sign depicting the Rod of Asclepius. “That there’s Doc Poppy’s place. He’s a queer fish and he’s better with animals than people, but enough whisky and stitches and you’ll be near as new.”

We crossed a bridge over the stream, fat with the spring runoff, and passed Little Hope’s trading outpost, the burly blacksmith’s, the inn and tavern we called “Little Temperance.” Then we came to Whore’s Corner at the centre of town. Dalia explained that there was a gentleman’s club on one corner and a bordello on the other that served men and women, respectively. “Whorehouses work differently in Little Hope, mind. They’re owned and run by the whores, and they’ll run you off if you’re too unhygienic or unfriendly or un-sober.”

I could see Narciso eying up the gentleman’s club, and couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Like most of the nancy boys that rolled into town I’m sure he pictured a New Sodom, a land of a thousand pleasures where handsome young men were worshipped and enjoyed nightly wine-filled bacchanalia or some such nonsense. Sure, he had looks, and he’d enjoy no shortage of bed-warming, but like life outside the confines of the valley, Little Hope was more hard work, backache, heartbreak and banality than handsome gentleman and orgies. He’d learn.

We pulled up at the meetinghouse just off Town Square, a stone’s throw away from Whore’s Corner. Mother Josie, the informal leader of the town’s Friends, came out with a big, motherly grin for the newcomers, and began to help them off their horses and offer them hugs and welcome. The Quakers had shown up shortly after the founding of Little Hope and hadn’t left, despite being asked to. Josie was a Sapphic sister same as any of the women in town, but that didn’t seem to matter too much to her and her people. They were a mild, sheepish bunch, popular among those who’d come to Little Hope with vestiges of a Christian life, and so they’d been allowed to continue their meetings and tend to the spiritual and charitable needs of the community. With this flock’a sinners, I supposed someone had to.

Josie explained that they could spend the night comfortable enough in the meetinghouse before finding some place to make themselves useful. Most newcomers ended up apprenticing around town to find out the work that suited them best. I could tell Desrosier would end up working with the traders, and Narciso would probably sling booze at the gentleman’s club afore tiring of that.

When I moved to head on over to my hovel Narciso went to grab my hand, but I pulled away from him. “You ain’t my problem any more. Make yourself useful and keep out o’trouble.”

His pretty little face fell at that, and Mother Josie shot me a look, but I had already slung my leg over Haughty Shade’s back and taken her into a trot. I was tuckered out and wasn’t interested in playing house with a nancy boy.

My cabin was on a little outcrop over the Sweet Lickings, a little single-room bach with a stable better furnished than the house proper. By the time I had Haughty Shade brushed and fed, Little Miss slinked onto the scene, eying me disdainfully.

“I don’t need any attitude from you,” I growled at her as the cat dodged between Haughty Shade’s legs, making the horse whicker in upset. I figured Little Mississippi was as close to a wild bobtail as a housecat could be. She was an unholy terror, as innocent looking as she was evil, a pint sized beast, scaring off visitors and tearing my bare legs whenever she could. We got along famously when we weren’t gunning to kill each other.

Little Miss followed me inside and promptly curled up in a ball in the middle of my bed. Once I’d shucked my travel-dirtied clothes I flopped on top of her, sending her into an apoplectic fit. The possibility of pursuit and my exertions riverside with little Narciso had kept me up the previous night, so I was out an entire night’s sleep and sorely missing the shuteye.

*

So I returned to normal life in Little Hope… as normal as life could be there. I patrolled the homesteads with Dalia and her girls, or took lonely, tedious watch shifts where we had lookouts, else I made trading runs up to Albuquerque, or down to Las Cruces.

I stopped in to see Narciso at the gentleman’s club, even tussled with him a couple more times, but he seemed upset that I’d settle for the store room or a back alley, and wouldn’t take him home. He learned through gossip of the boys at the club that I had other sparks, but never shacked up with anyone like the others. He found a home with one of the club’s boys I figured he was sweet on, a handsome half-Navajo, half-Mexican boy by name of Diego, a kind, gentle young man, working as a carpenter’s apprentice during the day—I’d had a couple of encounters with him, as I’m sure Narciso learned. A better man than I.

The peace was broken a couple of weeks after we’d returned from Last Ditch. Irish brought news that a man by the name of Félix Madriz had identified himself as an associate of Slick Sam Butler’s. He was seeking reparations for the loss of Last Ditch’s commerce, and would exact those reparations from our abomination of a town. The sort of charming thing you expect of degenerate, outlaw breeders. A single bullet kicked up a bit of dirt and spooked the horse enough that the crook took off, though promised he’d be back.

Dalia called together a town meeting right quick, so there I found myself in the uncomfortable position of town elder in front of half of Little Hope alongside Mother Josie, Dalia, Doc Poppy, and an old soldier-turned-homesteader name of Cree Johnston.

Irish came up to testify as to this Félix Madriz’s dimensions and comportment. I noticed little Narciso was sitting next to the girls from Last Ditch right up front, and he looked white as a sheet, massaging his right eye to calm his nerves.

This kind of meeting was predictable in its proceedings. Dalia and Johnston were calling for an increase in patrols, Dalia even wanted to take a few of her girls and root out wherever these crooks were holed up. Mother Josie was calling for peace and love and other such Christian nonsense, though a keen eye could tell she was rattled. This was the first time a threat had come right up to Little Hope’s doorstep. Doc Poppy seemed confused as to why we didn’t just pay them off. We had a little extra gold in the town coffers.

“They ain’t after gold, Doc,” I grumbled, and the room fell silent. “Slavers are only interested in one thing.”

We went away from the meeting with a decision to double patrols and with calls for vigilance, a fat lot of good that would do. I followed the gentleman of the town over to the club where one of the virile young ranch hands would be performing some vaudeville tunes with only his boots and the sheet music as costume. I didn’t mind the sight, but truth be told I was getting the feel of the settlers, who covered their nerves with an excess of drink and debauchery. I noticed Narciso was not present, but nor was Diego, so I didn’t think too much of it. A night off, maybe?

More patrols, more long, lonely lookout shifts. Little enough action other than scaring off coyotes. Only other trouble was Sally Lou at the trading post misplacing a couple boxes of canned food, but that old drunk would lose her tits if they weren’t dangling off her front. There was talk of outsiders thieving, but not a soul could get past Dalia’s girls. After a week the town had quieted enough that I was planning another run up to Albuquerque.

On that temperate night I was unshucked and washing myself in the Sweet Lickings just down from my cabin when I looked up and saw Narciso peering on.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he called out, nervous. “I asked Dalia where you lived.”

“I ain’t that hard to find,” I admitted, trying to keep the edge out of my voice. Then I noticed the black eye flowering on the right side of his face, and I stepped out of the water, not bothering with my clothes. “Diego do that to you?”

“‘Course not,” Narciso grumbled, pulling some of his long hair over the swollen eye. I walked up the embankment, dripping wet.

“What is it, Narciso?” I asked, trying for a tenderness I wasn’t much practiced at. The boy looked at me as if a ponderous thought was on the tip of his tongue, but instead he pressed his mouth against mine and used that same tongue to get me going. I heard a catcall from ‘cross the stream, so I figured we’d take our tumble inside so as not to give my neighbors a free show.

Little Miss wasn’t much used to sharing the bed, even with me, and so when I had Narciso stripped and we got down to our pirooting she weren’t pleased, and made herself as inconvenient as possible before flicking her little bob in annoyance and prancing out the door. I could tell that Narciso was feeling a touch aggressive, and so after freeing his length I pushed him back on my bed and got myself ready, then mounted him, sliding down onto him and giving myself the pleasure shivers. A nancy boy he might be, but give yourself up to a nancy boy and they’ll go to with their manhood right quick.

Still, as I was riding him I couldn’t help but look down at the black eye. Little Hope wasn’t perfect, we had no shortage of folks who get in a mood and rough up their lovers, and we’d even had the occasional monster who’d go a step further, but we dealt with those types quick enough. I knew he wasn’t lying about Diego, and I’d’a heard if he’d gotten into a scrape elsewhere…

After exacerbating my bathing we collapsed in a mess, and I nodded off only to be awoken after dark with Little Miss swatting at my dangly bits for fun. Narciso was gone, which struck me as mighty odd after pestering me to get access to my humble cot. I figured he’d felt guilty and run home to Diego, but I was proved wrong when the very same man showed up at my door the next morning.

I hurried him in and pulled on some clothes, the mess of sex still smattering my body, although Diego didn’t comment on it. “Narciso didn’t come home last night,” the mixed-race boy said, his brow knitted up something fierce. “He’s been disappearing every couple of nights for the past week. First I thought he was sneaking out for another man, maybe you, Ezekiel…” He didn’t sound too bitter about it, so I didn’t apologize. Most of us young men in Little Hope weren’t too particular about who ended up warming whose bed, ‘long as it was all on the up and up.

Diego continued, “Then I heard about the missing goods at Sally Lou’s, and I asked around. Turns out–”

“They went missing the same nights as Narciso did,” I grumbled, and Diego nodded.

I already had Haughty Shade’s saddle in hand and the Iron Queen strapped to my side before Diego had stood up. “Should I get Dalia?” he asked, anxious.

“I’ll fetch that addle-headed boy myself,” I hitched up Haughty Shade and threw my leg over her saddle. “These boys want redress, I’ll pay ’em in kind.”

As I was riding down the path to the main road, I called back over my shoulder. “I don’t come back, you best take care of my cat.”

*

Ain’t no way out of Little Hope save the main road to the east and west, the latter is what we’d come through last month, and where that crook Félix Madriz done shown up. That is, if you’re traveling by road. Otherwise it’d take a skilled climber a day to get down the valley’s sheer cliffs, or else they could float down the Sweet Lickings towards the Rio Grande.

As soon as Diego mentioned Narciso’s disappearing acts and Sally Lou’s I figured out his game. I peered at the traders on my way westward, the store was a few steps up from the stream. A decent swimmer could float a couple boxes down the shallow stream and do the same himself. It’d be tough slog working against the current on the way back, but the Sweet Lickings dipped into a gully near the western lookout, so under the cover of darkness none would be the wiser.

I hailed Irish from her lookout, spun a yarn about scouting the site of a wolf attack. I came and went as I pleased so she didn’t pay it much mind.

I followed the Sweet Lickings about a half hour afore I spotted a smudge of smoke down by the water, then sure as dusk two riders came thundering toward me, six irons drawn. I sat and calmed Haughty Shade as they approached and asked me my name and intentions.

“Obsidian Devil is about the most polite thing folks ’round these parts call me,” I replied. “I believe a friend of mine paid you a visit and he’s missed, so I’ve come to escort him home.”

One of the boys, a chinless southerner with a face like a horse’s ass guffawed, “More like a bum chum as I heard it.”

The other man flinched, but I sat there and took the mild abuse. “Jealous that no one’ll stick your pock-marked ass?” I called back.

The southerner cussed me up a storm, and I repeated my usual threat about a cracker using a certain word. Luckily his companion, better mannered than the hillbilly, cut in afore things could go south: “Madriz wants a word with you, Mister Devil.” I bade him lead on else I be forced to exchange more pleasantries with his inbred cohort. The very same rode up to disarm me, but I told him I’d take his hand afore he took my gun.

“Leave it, there’s twelve’a us and one’a him,” the more polite of the bandits muttered before clicking his tongue and heading down a rough path towards the Sweet Lickings.

On my way into the camp I counted nine other men on the ground, including Madriz and Narciso. Figured the other two must be out on patrol like the two idiots I’d had the misfortune of acquainting myself with. The man I took to be Madriz was grinning up a storm, which was tempered somewhat when the hillbilly admitted he hadn’t gotten my six iron from me. He was a sun darkened Mexican bandito, likely younger than he appeared, with a patchy beard and a lined face from years of squinting in the harsh sun. I looked to Narciso who wouldn’t even meet my eye, not at all helped by a second shiner paired with the first, and a split lip to boot.

“Come, amigo,” Madriz intoned, lifting a bottle of whisky from his rucksack. “We drink to your good health.”

“Not my health I’m concerned with,” I replied as I swung my leg off Haughty Shade and hitched her next to the bandits’ poor beasts.

Madriz walked over to Narciso and ran a hand through his hair; his companions chuckled to themselves, although a couple spat in disgust. “He is a distraction, is he not? I mostly prefer the fairer sex, of course, but a talented mouth is a talented mouth.”

“I don’t mind a good mouth myself,” I admitted, sending the criminals into a fresh round of hooting and hollering like a pack’a apes. “I don’t usually thank my lovers by roughing ’em up, mind.

Madriz snorted, “This little sinner right here?” he took his hands out of Narciso’s hair and then whacked the boy good across the head with the whisky bottle, sending him sprawling in the dust, sobbing. The criminal dropped the bottle at his feet and took a few steps toward me. I almost flinched, but couldn’t give the game away. “If you knew what he got up to back in Last Ditch, and before that, you might afford him a little discipline, but this was never about him, or even those whores,” he whipped his coat open and revealed the revolver holstered on his hip. “This was always about you, amigo.”

My hand twitched and I showed him the grip of the Iron Queen. I took a step forward and he took a step back.

“When my buddy roused me that night, claiming Slick Sam had bit the dust, and most of his boys, he told me the story of the Obsidian Devil, an unholy genie what rolled out of the desert to eat the souls of every man he gunned down.” Madriz took a step to the left, and I to the right, and forward, and he followed my step. “I gathered a posse quick enough from what was left of Sam’s who weren’t dead or mortally poisoned, and we tracked you easy enough. Tongues wag, and everyone from Las Cruces to Albuquerque knows about the colony of sinners led by a black devil of a man.” I stepped to the left, and he to the right in our little dance. “When we set up camp here and started planning our little assault, never guess my surprise when this little maricón trudged out of the muck looking to buy our peace with… what? Canned beans?”

Madriz’s outlaws shared a good laugh, I noticed they’d formed a rough circle ’round us. They’d gone for their guns, but their leader waved them off. He clearly believed he’d find his mark. I planned to find mine.

“He promised us anything if we left your little village of outcasts alone; liquor, women, gold.” Madriz smirked. “He was ready to sell your people out if it meant he’d survive.” I took another step forward and the outlaw almost stepped on Narciso’s head he was so close.

“What he didn’t know is the only thing I wanted was information about you. See, way I heard it the Obsidian Devil was an old man, a mulatto out of New Orleans in Louverture. Seems in his final years, long after the uprising, he took to wandering around with a child, little negro boy by name of Ezekiel who picked up his iron when he finally fell.” Madriz spat, and the tobacco brown spit hit the earth just shy of my feet. “I admit it took a little… persuasion, but eventually Narciso parted with your name, and here we are.”

“Guess there’s a bounty on my head,” I muttered.

“You’re not very popular outside of Louverture. Turns out some folks have long memories, and ‘Obsidian Devil’ is much more memorable than ‘Ezekiel,’ or whichever old corpse you swiped that revolver from.”

“Guessing that bounty’s dead or alive,” I reckoned.

“You’re worth more alive.” Madriz’s fingers twitched. “But unlike my former employer, I’m a cautious man. Once we collect the price on your head, we’re going to go back to Last Ditch and kill that ol’ lezzie and any other of them whores what you left. No loose ends, and I figure the gold we’ll be sitting on, we can attract some new talent.”

“Gold ain’t no good to a dead man,” I said, raising my voice enough so all the men around could hear it. “You let Narciso walk away and leave our settlement be. I’ll come with you if you leave me my iron, I won’t shoot none of you, you have my word.”

I saw some of the men looking to one another fearfully out of the corner of my eye, but Madriz’s smirk just grew wider. “You’re a clever kid. You had some of my men fooled, they were spouting all sorts of nonsense about leaving well enough alone, not tempting the devil, so to speak. But I can spot a charlatan a mile away, and you, son…” He pulled his revolver and aimed it at Narciso’s head. “No deal. Like I said, no loose ends.”

In a flash I angled my body so my right side was facing him and had the Iron Queen in my hand. I lobbed off a bullet before I felt a bite through my shoulder, and I stumbled, uttering an oath at the pain. There Madriz stood in the blur of pained tears in my eyes as I felt a warmth spreading over my back, my right arm already feeling numb.

“You got a shot off at me and missed by a mile,” he chuckled, and his men got to stomping and snorting.

“I didn’t miss,” I got out through gritted teeth as Narciso brought the remains of the bottle I’d shot through, little more than the neck and some jagged points, into Madriz’s side. I shot off the remaining five bullets in the fracas, dropping five men one by one. I was hoping little Narciso would make a run for it, but I saw him bring the bottle down into Madriz’s prone form, a splatter of blood across his pretty face.

I felt two more nips at my leg and neck and I fell, my mind swimming. I could swear, before the lights went out I could hear the thundering of hooves and the high shots of rifles. My last thought was of how I’d failed the Old Man.

*

I came to with Doc Poppy fussing over me, I’d been out the rest of the afternoon and much of the night, and he was still poking around in the hole in my leg for a bullet. Lodged against the bone like as nothing. I swore at the old fruit to get me a drink else I put a bullet in his leg, and there was Dalia with a bottle of tequila.

“You old fool,” she said, smiling as she handed me the bottle.

“I knew you’d follow,” I lied.

Dalia went on about how, even though I appeared to have a death wish, Little Hope would miss me something fierce if I got myself gunned down. I reckoned they’d miss the Iron Queen and my gun arm more. Doc said I might not be gunslinging for awhile in the state I was in, but I swore him up and down until he finally gave up on me and left me to my bottle. Dalia got into me but I told her I was just airing the lungs. Helped with the pain, anyways.

I was drunk out of my gourd by the time Narciso had shown up, his head bandaged to all hell, Diego along with him, and they relayed their story. By the time Diego had found Dalia, Irish’d had words with her first. Apparently she’d missed my habit of asking her if there was anything to report, and she figured there was trouble. By the time her women had found us, I was in the thick of it, but it meant they could position themselves for a charge.

“Couldn’a asked for a better distraction,” she admitted.

Since two of the outlaws were off hunting but would return anon, she said Narciso had the idea to leave behind a note with two bullets sitting on it that read: “Work of the Obsidian Devil. Run.”

Dalia cussed me out a little more for acting a damn fool and then said she had a couple ladies waiting at home she wanted to warm up with. This left Narciso, Diego and I.

Narciso was cleaned up of blood and dirt and seemed repentant as a whore in church. He started blustering all sorts of nonsense about an old life, but I held up my hand to him. “I don’t care. We do what we have to, to survive.”

He started in again, about how he just wanted to help Little Hope, and he only meant to scare Madriz and his boys off with tales he’d heard of me, but I held my hand up again. “Don’t much matter now. I think we’ve both suffered enough for the mistake, let’s leave it at that.”

There was an awkward silence before Narciso asked, “Is there anything we can do for you?”

I considered his offer a moment, then I moved my drink deadened feet to make room for them. “You two could put a show on for me.”

Narciso’s mouth dropped open, but Diego only giggled and sat on the corner of the bed, pulling Narciso into his lap. Their mouths found each other as mine found the tequila bottle, and soon Diego was working his lover’s shirt off. He pushed Narciso down onto the bed so his head was resting in my lap, then climbed on top of him so their bodies were pressed onto mine.

“Mind the stitches,” I said laying back and cradling the tequila bottle. I was feeling mighty warm, so I threw aside my blankets and let them get a little more personal, which they obliged me right quick. “Well, might as well show your thanks,” I muttered. Each took a leg and slowly traveled up the inside of their respective extremity. I suppose that’s the benefit of having two of your lovers in bed, they certainly know what get’s your engine blowing steam. Soon I had both boys between my legs, working me over with their thankful tongues.

“Take your damn shirt off,” I growled at Diego, “this ain’t church.”

With Narciso’s beautiful mouth polishing my pole, I put my hands behind my back to watch Diego give me a little tease. Unlike wiry little Narciso, the mixed boy was more muscle than sinew, and I’ve always said I don’t much understand the point of muscles unless a man’s going to show them off.

“I took a bullet for you, amigo, you best show a little more enthusiasm,” I glared at Narciso and passed Diego the bottle of tequila as he stood over the bed, straddling his lover to work his pants off. As the drink made my head swim I started to wonder why I hadn’t visited Diego more recent. I also started to wonder why I shouldn’t insert myself in between a couple of handsome young gentleman more often.

Diego climbed back down behind his lover and teased Narciso’s backside with his length, which got my cock a’vibrating from the delectable noise Narciso ended up making while utilizing his expert mouth. “Doc keeps some vegetable oil in the kitchen,” I muttered to Diego.

“Ain’t your first time at the rodeo, cowboy?” Diego said, grinning as he went to the infirmary door. I got the feeling from the sound of scurrying on the other side Doc might’ve been enjoying the show, the old pervert.

After Diego had gone I put my hand under Narciso’s chin and pulled him up gently; I’d’ve liked to be a little rougher, but the stitches and drink meant I had to move slow. He followed and took the lead in a kiss that made my head swim, and not from the booze.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “I don’t care what you say, Ezekiel, you’re a hero.”

I scoffed, “Would a hero do this?” I pushed him hard as I could, given one bad arm, and pushed his legs up high as I could get ’em. I plunged my tongue inside his tantalizing, tight backside and worked him over, getting him to kick up quite a racket.

So drunk and preoccupied was I that I failed to notice Diego had returned until he wrapped one arm around me, slicking my dick up with oil and making a damn mess. “Make a little more noise and we’ll wake the Quakers,” he purred into my ear. I took the hint and scooched to make room for him on bed, scooching my cock right into Narciso.

“You know,” I panted as I pushed into the prone young man in front of me, “I’ve given and I’ve received, but I ain’t never done both at the same time. I reckon I might want to try.”

“I might be willing to oblige you,” Diego chuckled. “Out of thanks, of course.”

“Hold your horses,” Narciso groaned. “I’m sore too. You read me some Whitman and work it in nice and slow.”

I certainly did feel a touch poetic—drink and love making always does that to me. “O hand in hand—O wholesome pleasure—O one more desirer and lover!” I moaned as Diego pressed into me, pushing me slowly into Narciso until I was buried to the hilt. “O to haste firm holding—to haste, haste on with me.”

I don’t put much stock in happy endings, but there’s something to be said about the great deck of cards that is life: Three of a kind beat a pair, and it turns out I have the devil’s own luck.

Read this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.

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