With every week that passes, more desert scrub grows beneath Ben's boots. More trail dirt settles there, building a dubious foundation Ben doesn't trust.
He's not used to feeling itchy.
He doesn't like it. Not one bit.
As his dissatisfaction festers, an idea takes hold, and spreads like moss on a damp, shady log.
He won't need a gang for this.
And goddamn if it won't be fun.
- - - - -
A few minutes after dawn on what promises to be another hellfire-hot Wednesday, he packs his saddlebags, pays off the last of the tab he's run in Mrs. Medina's boardinghouse.
He rides north, toward the border.
- - - - -
He reaches El Paso in six easy days, taking care not to raise any eyebrows along the way.
He buys himself a new hat — brown, and not nearly as handsome as his usual black one — before he finds suitable room and board.
As he walks in, he's pleased to see that the Acme is clean without being highfalutin. Perfectly serviceable, in Ben's opinion.
"Afternoon," he says, offering a dusty half-smile and a slight nod to the pudgy, baby-faced clerk. "I was hopin' to rent a room, if you've got one."
"We do, sir."
"No 'sir' necessary," he says, playing the part of the trail-worn Everyman to its rough-and-tumble hilt. He's yet to notice even a hint of recognition in the clerk's eyes or face. "Thomas'll do just fine, or Mr. Cowan, if you have yourself a need to keep propriety intact."
With a mild smile, the clerk tips his head in Ben's direction in return.
"We do have a room available, Mr. Cowan. Are you looking to stay for just the night, or to spend more time with us?"
"A week'll be fine for now, I believe." Ben pulls his billfold from his pocket. "I'm just here lookin' for steady work, and prayin' I find it."
The clerk makes a notation in his ledger.
"Best of luck to you here in El Paso, sir. Uh, Mr. Cowan."
Ben wants to chuckle, but only nods in acknowledgment.