The sun had finally started its long descent from its high perch in the sky. The lone man figured if they left now, they could get a third of the way to Toque Del Diablo before sundown. Only, he didn’t think to get directions from the bartender earlier—and now there were three familiar horses tied up out in front of the saloon. He couldn’t risk getting sucked into a fight with those murdering bastards, the O’Leary brothers. He wondered if the shopkeeper at the general store might know the way, but then a wild thought came to him.
“Hey boy, you wouldn’t happen to know how to get to Toque Del Diablo, would you?”
The boy—in the middle of packing out their horses—immediately perked up.”Toque Del Diablo?”
“Yes,” the lone man replied.
“S…Si.” The boy was reluctant to answer. He opened his mouth to tell the lone man what he knew, but no words would come out.
The lone man handed over his freshly filled canteen.“You know how to get there from here?”
The cool water eased the boy’s worry for a moment. “Si. Is…eh…not far…a way.” His mind became muddled with the realization of what he was about to agree to.
“Can you take me there? I’ll pay you.” The lone man grabbed back the canteen and took a swig for himself, then tucked it into the pack strapped to his horse’s side.
“No entiendo,” the boy said with confusion draped over his face.
The lone man stroked his unruly beard for a second then said, “Take me to Toque Del Diablo.” He pointed to the boy and then to himself to emphasize the statement. “I’ll give you money…dinero.”
A hot breeze dried the drops of sweat on the boy’s blank face. He contemplated the offer. It seemed to him as if this were a blessing from God. He felt safe with the lone man and would get paid for his help. But in exchange, he would have to enter the fabled ruins of Toque Del Diablo—Touch of The Devil. He knew where the ruins were because he grew up in a small village near a place called Piedras Negras, which is only a few miles away from the site. His mother and father had forbidden their children from going near the site—for it’s rumored an eternal flame of damnation burns at its center. Local legend tells of the flame’s powerful ability to draw the lost and weary to it with hopes of purification of the soul. This has led many men to wander in search of the flame, but it’s said no one has ever escaped the ruins alive.
Arturo didn’t possess the English skills to convey this message to the lone man. Even if he did, he couldn’t convince him to stray from his path all because of an ancient legend. Still, fear of the flame made the boy hesitant to agree. And for the first time, a shadow of doubt was cast over the lone man who had saved him in the cemetery. What atrocity could this man have committed for him to need his soul purified by The Eternal Flame? The boy thought over this for some time, but he knew the lone man’s patience was running out. He needed an answer.
“De acuerdo, lo hare,” he stopped and thought for a moment, “Um…I will…do it.” He looked with anticipation to see if the lone man understood.
The lone man nodded and gave the faintest smile. This did little to ease the boy’s worries, but he returned the man’s smile in a show of good faith.
The clanging of wooden doors echoed nearby, snatching their attention away from the intimate moment. “Oh, Arturo! The little Casanova himself, Arturo!”
The two turned in unison to see Otto and his drunken brutes stumbling out of the saloon. Otto’s brown teeth rattled with laughter as he wobbled his way toward the boy and the lone man.
“Oh, sweet Arturo! The Ladykiller. The slayer of hearts,” he sang with the courage only strong whiskey could bring about. “How was it with my niece? Was her heart not sweet enough for your liking, fine prince Arturo?” Finally, he was upon the boy, and all signs of jovial drunkenness had left his face. “I told you earlier I’d be seein’ you again, boy.” His unblinking eyes pierced through Arturo.
The lone man stood by with his hand on his gun, waiting for the moment to unleash its sudden fury like the strike of a viper. Otto didn’t acknowledge his presence; it took all his focus to keep his mind from teetering off that thin bridge of reality suspended over the state of total drunkenness. His bloodshot eyes were glossed over, but that familiar hate burned deep from within.
“There’s no more runnin’, boy.” Otto’s hand fumbled at his hip for a split-second. “It’s time to pay.” He aimed his pistol a mere two feet away from Arturo’s face.
Everyone but Arturo turned toward the lone man. He already had his revolver aimed at Otto’s head before the drunk bandit could make a move.
“You ain’t this boy’s daddy. Why you care about our business?” Otto said with an acid tongue.
The lone man didn’t respond; he just stood there with his revolver fixed upon the bandit. It didn’t take but a second for the other two bandits to draw their weapons against the lone man. Only, their weapons shook from the unstable arms of bodies wrecked with alcohol. The lone man was a statue of fearlessness as before.
Otto’s head bobbled with the spinning of his world, but he didn’t take his eyes off the lone man. “Maybe you shoo…noreasonto… quarrel, fella.” His words started to slur together and he could no longer form complete sentences. Despite his best efforts—as with the fight of all men who push their limits through their taste for extravagance—the booze had won its battle against his brain.
“The boy is coming with me,” the lone man said with a biting fierceness.
A low chuckle passed through Otto’s unmoving lips. “No. Don’t think so.” He focused himself as best he could. “Boygottadebt. Boy. Got. A. Debt,” he spoke slower and more deliberately to keep control.
A passing breath of hot wind blew between the two men. Sweat trickled down in streaks over Otto’s red face. Tremors sporadically passed through his outstretched arm, and with each passing second, it became more difficult for him to hold his pistol straight. The ground beneath him shifted like he was standing on the deck of a schooner during a hurricane. No matter how much he fought, the black void of inebriation would soon swallow him whole.
The lone man calculated each unsteady movement and knew no matter the outcome, this would all be over in a few seconds. “Just walk away.” He didn’t blink—didn’t breathe. He knew Otto didn’t stand a chance against him, but the two others might get a few shots off before he could take them out. He needed to play his hand carefully. “No good will come from all this mess. You and your brothers do yourselves a favor and just leave the boy alone, O’Leary.”
Otto’s eyes widened, and for the first time in a long time, real terror pushed into his mind. He hadn’t expected a man could be so brazen against him or his brothers knowing who they were. Even the toughest, most cunning lawmen cowered away at the name of the O’Leary brothers. This is how they managed to stay on the lam for so long—going town to town without anyone attempting to claim the bounty on their heads.
A daze came over Otto. His lips quivered but he couldn’t speak anymore. The heat touched his skin and he finally became aware of his senses: sweat glistened off his face and bare arms, a clump of greasy wet hair had matted to his forehead, his pulse raced and his muscles ached. The world was now in full motion and it was making him queasy. His stomach turned over and over with his eyes constantly centering themselves each time they veered off course. Without him realizing, the pistol in his hand was now aimed toward the ground. The alcohol had finally rendered his arm limp and useless.
“Come on boy, let’s go.”
Arturo remained frozen in place. He heard the lone man but he didn’t dare move.
“I said come on. These men won’t bother us anymore.” He took an unexpected step forward and abruptly pushed the barrel of his revolver against Otto’s temple. The gun’s metal foresight dug into the drunken man’s flesh and a thin film of oil gathered around its tip. “Isn’t that right, O’Leary?”
Otto shook with laughter. With extreme intoxication taking over, the concept of death no longer held a semblance of reality in his mind. And with the suddenness of a lightning strike, a thunderous clap echoed throughout the still town of Roca Roja.
The two O’Leary brothers off to the side stumbled backward in shock. Arturo dove to the ground with his hands cupped over his ears and his eyes shut tight. Then everything went quiet.