This is a work of fiction based on characters from the films "The Quick and the Dead" and "3:10 to Yuma." There is no intent to infringe on copyright or profit in any way from the original work. The story is strictly for entertainment purposes as a work of fan-fiction. Copyright Darcy and Isobel 2007.
He Lays in the Reins
by Darcy and Isobel
One more kiss tonight from some tall stable girl
She's like grace from the earth
When you're all tuckered out and tame.
-- He Lays in the Reins
Calexico & Iron and Wine
Coming down off Mosquito Pass with the snowy mountains and a view of Turquoise Lake in the distance, the beautiful dirty mining camp of Leadville, Colorado was the closest thing to heaven Ben Wade could imagine. As his fever rose in the young priest's bed at the Mission de Hermosillo, he didn't dare to hope that when he was called to his just reward, he might go to a place like that. But if God granted a miracle and forgave him his sins as he did the crucified thief, and that Leadville memory really was paradise, Velvet would be waiting for him like she always was. Until the day she wasn't.
Deep in feverish dreams, Wade relived a day far in the past, every sense and feeling as if it were real. He was riding down that pass after robbing the Alma stage, the strong box long shot open and his cut of the take in his saddlebags just burning a hole clean through them.
By the time they rode into town it was long past business hours and the haberdashery was locked tight. He sent his man to find the tailor to open up, bring him back by the ear if he had to. A man had a right to a quiet supper at home, but Ben Wade wanted to clean up before he headed down to O'Shea's, where Emma would be singing and Velvet would be tending bar. A lady always appreciated a man who dressed well and took the time to bathe before he went to her bed, and Velvet was a lady.
It was worth the effort. When he pushed through the leaded glass doors, saddlebags slung over his shoulder and his men behind him, there she was in the dress he'd bought her last month. It was green to match her eyes, and his string of pearls circled her throat. Her pretty blonde hair glowed like gold among the unwashed miners and cattle drivers, and her musical laughter floated above the din of the noisy room. She played her game and pretended to pay him no mind, until he bellied up to the bar and ordered a drink. But when she passed him the glass of whiskey her silky fingers brushed his hand, lingering just a moment too long for disinterest. He felt her touch like a jolt of lightning down his spine that went straight to his already swelling cock.
Those pretty green eyes came up to look deep into his and she said in that sweet voice of hers: "Where you been, Ben Wade?"
He ignored the question, her simple touch making him single minded in his purpose. "Emma done singing?"
Velvet nodded. "She'll do another set later."
His tongue already playing on his bottom lip, he said, "Let her watch the bar for a while."
Normally, Ben Wade was a man who liked to take his time, let the anticipation of the evening draw out and add to his pleasure. A little drinking, a little socializing, maybe sit in on a few hands of poker and have a meal. But not tonight. She could see the heat in his eyes, and that burning need set her heart alight every time.
There was a moment of uncertainty, as if she might turn him down like she did so many others. He caught the scent of her rose water in the smoky air and held his breath in anticipation while she looked him up and down, took him in as if for the first time. The smile that played on her full rosebud lips told him she liked what she saw.
"You look fine tonight, Ben Wade. That blue shirt matches your eyes." She let her smile turn teasing. "Feeling the need for some private attention already? Don't you even want your supper?"
He leaned over the bar to whisper, his voice gone deep and rough with desire, "Got something I need to show you." The callused fingers still holding the shot glass tickled over the back of her hand. "Now. Please, Velvet."
Her delicate brow creased as she looked into his eyes with concern. Always so kind, those green eyes, the quick mind working behind them, assessing the expression on his face, looking for signs of trouble. Wade allayed her fears with a slow smile and Velvet breathed a quiet sigh of relief. "Well, since you asked so nice and all..." She turned to call Emma.
He pretended to ignore the heads that turned as Velvet came out from behind the bar, but nothing thrilled Ben Wade more than everyone in the place knowing that she was his for the night. He felt those jealous eyes shooting daggers into his back all the way up the stairs, Velvet on his arm. Together, they made their way sedately to her room at the end of the hall, but his patience gave out there. As soon as they were through it he kicked the door closed and pulled her by the back of the neck into his all-consuming kiss.
She let him have a taste and then turned her face away, put off by his lack of restraint. "What happened to Ben Wade and his silver tongue?" she pouted. "Where are all my pretty words and poetry?"
"I ain't in the mood for pretty words tonight, darlin'," he breathed heavily against her neck as he kissed his way down to her white-skinned bosom. "Told you, I got something to show you."
He swung the saddlebags off his shoulder, reached in and pulled out a banded bundle of cash. "Brought you something new to match your eyes," he grinned, and broke it open, scattering the crisp greenbacks over Velvet's bed.
Her flushed face looked both astonished and pleased. "Where did you get all that?" she gasped.
"Funniest thing, it just fell off a wagon," he grinned wickedly. "Now...I want you naked in that bed. Lay down on the damn money. I wanna see what you look like covered in five thousand dollars."
"Five thousand dollars!" Velvet exclaimed, her eyes going to the bills on her bed. "I never thought I'd see so much money at one time."
Ben came up behind her, cupped her breasts in his big hands. "You be a good girl tonight, and a nice chunk of that money is yours. But by Christ you'll earn it, darlin'." He bent and kissed her naked shoulder. "Velvet. I missed you real bad, honey..."
Velvet...her creamy white body against the greenbacks...goddamn, that had been a sight. Worth the men he killed and the man he lost to get it. The scene seemed to shimmer away on waves of desert heat, her body disappearing, the frilly room fading away. "Ah, Velvet," he sighed sleepily, pulled unwillingly from the embrace his long lost lover. A stiff breeze blew through the warped shutters of the young priest's bedroom and cooled his fever, set him to shivering, and he opened his eyes.
Ben Wade suspected for a moment that he was already in the hereafter as he listened to the songs of angels' voices on the wind. But it wasn't angels. They were hymns, the congregation singing at Sunday Mass. Might have been the sound filtering through open windows of the church that woke him, but he reckoned the throbbing in his hard cock had more to do with it. His erection under the colorful serape put him in mind of a circus tent, and he chuffed a rasping laugh.
"Well I'll be damned; she still got the power over me. Reckon I ain't dead yet."
Bending for his sketchbook on the floor by the bed, Wade took it up and leafed through his artwork until he found a loose page yellowed with age. He unfolded it carefully, the paper dry and fragile, and sighed when he gazed on Velvet's face. She'd inspired him to a pinnacle of artistry in that portrait, one he'd never reached again. As Ben's fingers traced the delicate line of her cheekbone on the crumbling page, he nearly felt the silk of her skin, smelled her rose water drifting on that cool breeze.
"Ah, Velvet," he sighed again. Folding the sketch carefully, he placed it inside his shirt near his heart. After such a pleasant dream, he felt the need to keep all he had left of her close.
* * *
November weather is chancy in Sonora Province. A storm threatened as Cort delivered his sermon to his parishioners and as he listened to the thunder in the distance, he worried for his visitor. The roof in his quarters leaked like a sieve, on rainy nights he usually took his blanket and pillow and slept on a pew in the church. He knew damp cold was the worst thing for a consumptive, and he cut his sermon short, sure that Ben Wade would be coughing and shivering in his bed by the time Mass was over.
But he couldn't rush his flock. As he did every Sunday, Cort stood just inside the doors saying goodbye to the villagers as they left the church. As always, they had brought him gifts in lieu of cash donations...most of these poor people never saw a cent of hard money from Christmas to Christmas. There was an iron pot of birria, savory and still hot, and a twig coop holding two squawking chickens. Senora Ramirez gave him a basket holding his week's supply of tortillas, some peppers and onions, and a crock of soft cheese. On Wednesday, another pot of something good and hot...chili or perhaps a jackrabbit stew, would again be delivered to him by a smiling villager. Along with the tortillas, it would feed him through the week until next Sunday, when again his people would come with their offerings for the Padre.
He loved his people but he was relieved when the wind kicked up and lightning flashed in the hills. They scattered for their homes then, the women with their rebozas clutched tight at their chins, the men clamping their hats to their heads with one hand. He asked a simple-minded mute that most of the villagers scorned to stay behind. Cort gave him work when he had some, shared his Sunday meal with him every week. Manuel could help move Cort's bed into the church.
His long black cassock flapped in the wind like the wings of a crow as Cort made his way back to his room. Just inside the door he stopped and listened, his eyes intent on his visitor. It was so quiet he feared Wade might have died alone while he celebrated Mass, but a deep-chested cough shattered the silence. Cort swallowed, astonished at his relief. He wasn't giving up, he still wanted to offer Ben Wade the opportunity to repent, but he was aware of a sense of personal gratification too. He was enjoying the old desperado's company.
Wade's head turned when he saw the shadow loom on the wall. "Good, you're back. I got to take a piss. Help me up, son."
"Sure." Reaching to take Ben's hand, Cort apologized, "Sorry. I should have left you with a pot. Reckon I'm not much of a nurse." He had to mask his surprise when he felt the weakness in the man's grip. Just last night, Wade had been walking on his own. Cort figured he'd have to carry him today. He got the man up, swung his legs over the edge of the bed and brought the chamber pot.
Wade's expression turned sour, as if he'd just sucked a lemon. "I ain't gonna piss sitting down like a damned wrinkle-horn. Help me up."
Cort shook his head doubtfully. "You're some weaker than before, Ben. Just pull out your pod and..." He lifted the chamber, "...I'll hold the pot for you."
"The hell you will." Ben slapped Cort's hands away and struggled to lever his body off the bed, his face gone cold and mean. "Goddammit, get me up and let me piss like a man."
Cort set the pot on the floor. Lifting Wade under the arms, he stood him on his feet in front of it. "You sure you're all right?" he asked as Wade weaved and fumbled at his fly buttons.
"No, I ain't all right," the sick man said wearily. "My legs are shaking so bad I'm like to piss on my feet, but I got my pride."
"Yeah, and I got a wet floor," Cort laughed. "Good thing it's going to rain, it'll wash it down. The roof leaks bad, there ain't a place in here doesn't drip. I'm taking you over to the church, we should get going before it starts. Wind's kicking up something fierce."
"Skinny's I am now, a good wind is like to blow me away," Wade joked, but his grin melted to a grimace of shame as he buttoned his fly. "Christ on a damn crutch. Ben Wade is gonna spend his final hours in the house of the Lord. Be a wonder if the place don't fall down around me. Maybe you should just shoot me now, Cort. Put an old dog out of his misery...save your little church. Two birds with one stone."
"Easy now..." Cort set him down in the chair, steadied him. "Do you mean to try my priestly patience with all that blasphemy? Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain."
Wade shot him a look that in an earlier day might have been the last thing a man saw in this world, and the muscle under his eye twitched. "Goddammit, stop trying to convert me to Godliness! My whole life's been a blasphemy. Why should I change now?" The angry outburst caused a new bout of hacking coughs that he tried to muffle with the handkerchief. Even so, when he leaned back to gasp for air, the sick man's lips were red with blood. Dabbing his mouth, Ben gentled as he rasped, "I'm no damned good, son, but if there's one thing I ain't, it's a hypocrite."
Cort moved to the open doorway to call for Manuel. The idiot was waiting outside, poking the cooped chickens with a stick, laughing as they squawked and flapped their wings to escape him. Feathers flew on the quickening wind, and Cort, seeing their panic and fear, lost patience. "Goddamn it, Manuel!" he swore. "Let those chickens be and come in here!"
From the chair came a tsk of admonishment and a wry, "You might want to learn to practice what you preach, son."
It took awhile to show Manuel what he wanted him to do. The retarded man was too interested in Wade to pay Cort much attention. Though he tried to keep his impatience at bay, he grew more and more frustrated until Wade offered, "Curse at him again. Worked last time..."
Finally Cort got him to take hold of his end and lift. Cort walked backward...he knew it would be too much to expect of Manuel...and they made it out the door and into the church alcove beneath the statue of the Virgin, where there was a small hearth that could keep Wade warm. By the time they got him to his feet with his arms over their shoulders, the first drops of rain had begun to fall, and though they carried him, just the effort of moving caused the tubercular to labor for every ragged breath.
Once he was settled back in the bed, Cort covered Wade with the blankets, and thanked his assistant with a nod. "Now go wash up, Manuel. We'll have something to eat." Turning back to his visitor, he coaxed, "You should try to eat something too, Ben. Might give you some strength. The birria's still warm."
"Christ almighty," Wade chuffed a laugh, shook his head on the pillow as if in disbelief. His eyes looked at the plaster face of the Virgin, grew distant in memory. "I've had lobster and oysters at the Palace in San Francisco. I've drunk champagne from a rich woman's shoe. I don't mean to sound ungrateful, Padre, but I'll be damned if I eat goat stew on my deathbed. You help yourself. My appetite's plumb gone anyway." Licking dry lips, he jerked his chin at the saddlebags on the floor. "Though I would appreciate a drink of whiskey if there's any left, son."
Cort's straight brows knit as he felt the time slipping away. "I'd rather give you wine, Ben. We could warm it some, might do you some good. It's only the sacramental wine, but I reckon it's better for you than hard liquor."
Wade squinted at him warily. "You're bound and determined to get something blessed in me, ain't you?"
"I don't intend to give up on you, Ben. Ask forgiveness. The Lord is a merciful God."
Leaning back, Wade pulled the colorful serape up over his chest again. He smiled sadly. "Rest easy, Cort. When I go to my maker for the judgment, I'll tell the Lord it wasn't for your lack of earnest endeavor that I'm still a sinner. Yessir, I'll put in a good word for you."
He chuckled at the dark humor, but the young man's disappointment made him feel surprisingly guilty. And he hadn't felt guilty in a long time, not since he watched Dan Evans die.
As he reached for the whiskey that Cort poured into a tin cup, Ben compared Dan to Cort. In the end, Dan's story hadn't been what he expected, and he reckoned Cort's wouldn't be, either. He raised his sunken eyes, put voice to the question that interested him most.
"How'd you come to land up here in Mexico, anyway? Way to the back of hell and gone, not a white face for miles. Tell me your story of salvation, and I promise I'll listen quiet."
Cort shook his head and said smartly, "You, quiet? If the consumption can't shut you up, Ben Wade, I sure as hell can't."
Wade tucked an arm behind his head and grinned. "Tell me anyhow. Can't refuse a dying man such a little thing, and you know damn well your secret is safe."
Cort shrugged, dropped lazily into a pew near the bed. "It's not so much of a story. I got away from John, stole off like a thief in the night after he drank most of a bottle by himself. Muffled my horse's hooves until I was far enough away, and then I made tracks. Whipped that poor gelding to a dead run, wouldn't let him slow up. Came straight south and stopped when he dropped dead under me out in the badlands. Eventually I found my way here to Hermosillo." He paused, his eyes distant and sorrowful. "I was starving. Most I'd had to eat was a rattler I shot and barely got cooked over a pissant fire...I was afraid to make a decent one. Thought if Herod was tracking me, he'd see the light and ambush me. I stayed awake all that night, keeping watch. Next day I came up on this little mission. A fool could see it was a poor place, but I still had the sand to beg a meal. The padre's name was Ignacio...he was old as the hills, and the place was about falling down around his ears. I offered to fix it up some to pay for my food, and he agreed. Figured if John was gonna come all this way to get me, there was nothing more I could do, so I stayed."
Cort ducked his head and looked down at his work roughed hands as he admitted, "I'm not an ordained priest. Never had my time in a seminary nor any formal teaching. Reckon you could call me an apprentice. I imagine the Church wouldn't like it if they knew, but the villagers don't have anyone else, and they don't know any different. They're just country folk, simple people. They never asked questions.
"So now I'm the priest that Padre Ignacio taught me to be, and he was the Godliest man I ever knew. He told me to take his place when he died, said it was the penance for my crime. Sometimes I feel him with me still, guiding my hand." Cort raised his eyes. "You think I'm a hypocrite?"
Wade tilted his head thoughtfully. "Bible says the Lord shall render unto each man according to his works."
Cort nodded. "That's what I'm afraid of." He looked at his patient. "I guess you are too."
Wade shrugged. "Does it matter? If you ain't a real priest, your words won't mean a thing anyhow. Besides, my people were Presbyterian. They don't hold with the Roman Church."
"So ask Him yourself. Even Presbyterians believe in asking the Lord's forgiveness."
Wade's eyes turned cool. "Son, if I change my mind, I'll let you know. Until then, drop it."
Cort waved a hand in a whatever you say gesture and sighed. He got up and stretched, then looked out the door for Manuel. "Wonder where he got to?" he murmured absently.
"The idiot?" At Cort's nod, Wade offered with a sly grin, "Bet he's at your chickens again. Better go round him up. He won't have the sense to come in out of the rain."
"Guess so. Storm clouds building in the west." Cort cocked an eye at the darkening sky. "I better feed him and send him on home. Promised him some supper...Sundays are about the only time he eats regular. Folks here don't like him, they're superstitious." He looked over his shoulder at Wade. "They think idiocy is something catchy."
Wade grinned. "They might be right. I used to think so every once in a while when one of the boys would do something plain stupid. Seemed like his partner would fall right in with him."
A sudden certainty made Cort ask, "And did you send them off without supper then?"
Wade dropped his eyes. "Well, I sent them off."
Cort shook his head, and as he moved into the doorway a shaft of sunlight struck him full in the face, lighting the planes of his cheeks, reflecting the color of his eyes.
Wade looked up, and for the first time took note of his new friend's eyes. They were green. Green like the hills after a rain, green like cottonwoods at the creek's edge. Set deep, they glittered from under brows as straight as arrows. Expressive eyes...he'd already noticed that young Cort had a hard time hiding his thoughts. 'The windows of his soul,' Wade thought, and remembered. Velvet's eyes had been like them. She could never hide her thoughts from him either.
"I'll be back in a bit." Cort stepped through the door and stopped. "You sure you don't want any supper?"
"Goat stew? No, thanks just the same." Wade chuffed a laugh and shook his head. "Fucking goat ain't fit eating for a man. Jesus."
"Well, I could kill one of those chickens, make you some broth..."
"Keep your chickens, padre. I don't want any grub." There was a trace of his old cruelty in his tone as he said, "Go on and find your idiot."
"I guess I will then." Cort grinned, unaffected. "Don't croak while I'm away."
"I won't if I can help it."
Propping the pillow under his head, Wade rested back, and his mind drifted to that evening in Tombstone. He'd been impressed with Cortland Davis, marked him for further study even then. He would have enticed him away from Herod, promised him half the world if he'd thought Davis would fit in with the rest of the crew. A good right hand man was hard to find. But though the young outlaw had a reputation for his lightning draw and a steady compliance with John Herod's doctrine of shoot first and ask questions later, he didn't have the mean streak Wade looked for to exploit in his men. Ben was glad he hadn't taken him on. Though he was obviously a man not to be trifled with, priest or not, Cort had a gentleness to him, a kindness Wade had never dared allow himself. The only time he'd permitted it, things had turned out wrong.
He rolled to his side and pulled the blankets up over his shoulder, blinked to keep his drooping eyes on the door. He was tired, so damn tired, but he feared sleep. Death could sneak in on cat's feet and steal him away, and he wouldn't know it until he woke up in hell. Suddenly he laughed at himself when he realized he was waiting. Waiting for Cort to come back and keep old Death at bay for a little while longer.
But in the end, he slept. Fitfully, but long enough to dream again of Velvet, so sweet, so pretty. Looking at him like she used to, with a softness in her eyes that always made him feel like he was the only man in the world for her. His face took on an expression of such peace and happiness that when Cort came back after feeding Manuel and taking care of the horse, he thought sure Ben Wade was gone. But no, Wade's chest still rose and fell in the struggle for breath, and his cheeks still burned with twin spots of color from the fever.
Cort sat down in the pew closest to the bed. Lord, he was tired. Barely any sleep to speak of, and now with his belly full, his eyes drooped. He leaned back and stretched his long legs out straight. Outside the wind picked up and thunder rolled in the hills, and rain spattered on the roof of the church in a steady rhythm that soothed and lulled him. His eyes closed and Cort's body sagged in the pew.
Just a quick nap...he thought, and gave up trying to stay awake.
* * *
Ben Wade came awake with a start, the remnants of his dream still fresh. His breath was labored, stertorous. Coughing, Lord it hurt something fierce. He spat a mouthful of blood into his rag and wiped his lips before sipping what was left of the whiskey to kill the coppery taste in his mouth.
He did his best to sit up...lying flat made it too hard to breathe...and took up his sketch book. He considered the sketch he'd begun last night and hadn't finished, Cort in the chair by the fire. Not his best work, but not bad either for as much as his hand shook these days. Turning the page, he started another drawing of the young man while in his feverish mind, a new memory struggled to come to the surface. He let it simmer, knowing sooner or later, it would come to a boil.
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