A/N I finally got enough together to publish it; It's still a work in progress though so if I don't keep one step ahead of the updates, my apologies in advance. Particular thanks to Artemis Acorn who let me have a lot of information about the region and some of its denizens, scenery and stories; and for encouraging me to go for it. It's down to her that I actually got around to writing past the first 4 chapters. Yes I know this is in Good Bad and Ugly and is actually a follow on from 'For a few dollars more' but this fandom seems to be used for the Dollar Trilogy films so I haven't bothered to either try to espatblish a new category or ask for it to be changed to Dollar Trilogy.
The black clad man sat alone at the table in the saloon, with a well deserved drink. He was the sort of man that most law abiding people might take at first glance to be a lawyer or a business man; until they looked into his eyes. Those narrow, almost almond shaped eyes were devoid of any emotion but watchfulness; they were eyes that had gazed on death so often that they almost held an echo of the grave in them. The face was bland and gave little away; but the discerning might note that not all the lines about the eyes were from squinting at the bright desert landscape; some were emissaries of humour in a man who had known laughter, as the faint lines by his mouth told a similar story. Some might say that his humour was as dark as the death that looked out of his eyes; others that he had buried it six feet under. But those who had most cause to complain about his humour were themselves beyond complaining in the land of the living.
He was a man who, once they had looked into his eyes, the law-abiding avoided as dangerous.
He was a bounty hunter.
He was aware of the light step behind him and used the mirror behind the bar to ascertain that it was not the barmaid as he had initially guessed but a youth who could be no more than a boy.
There was no apparent change to his demeanour; but he was ready. Even for a boy.
The man in black had never seen this boy before. But that did not mean that the boy was not trouble. And the boy made his way purposefully, threading through the rickety tables to approach the only currently occupied one, lithely making his way across the room.
"Colonel Mortimer?" the boy spoke softly.
"Mm'Mm?" said the man in black.
"May I join you?" asked the boy.
"It's a free world" said the Colonel. His tone was not encouraging. He gave his attention to his pipe, filling it carefully; seeming not to even look at the newcomer.
The piercing eyes missed nothing though they seemed to concentrate only on the pipe as though that was the only thing in the world he cared about.
It did not seem to deter the youth – he did not even shave yet thought Mortimer – who sat down opposite.
"I was looking for you" said the boy "You ARE Colonel Mortimer aren't you? You didn't exactly confirm it."
Mortimer looked up from his pipe and regarded the boy.
"I am" he said. "I believe you have the advantage of me."
The youth flushed.
"Robert" he said. "Robert …Lee"
"Well if you claim a middle initial of 'E' I can't say I'd be sure I'd believe that" said the man in black.
"I was named for General Lee; plenty of people were" said the boy "Most people call me Bobby."
"It's a little boy's name. You ARE a little boy. What's a little boy doing in a bar talking to a bounty hunter?" he laid down the pipe and took a pull on the liquor in his glass.
Bobby grinned shyly.
"I wanted to ask if you'd take me as your apprentice" he said.
Mortimer almost choked on his drink.
"Boy, you are insane" he said "It's not the sort of thing a young kid like you does by choice. Go back home to your mammy and pappy."
"I've nowhere to go" said Bobby "And I figured that in this world, one is either predator; or prey. I don't want to be prey. A predator has to be either against the law; or working for it. And a criminal is a slave to his need to stay out of gaol; and a lawman is a slave to Uncle Sam. The bounty hunter has the precarious freedom to starve or eat well in his own sweet way."
Mortimer regarded the youth through his narrow almond shaped eyes.
"Well you've not got too many illusions" he said "You're a sickly looking brat."
"I come from out east. Easiest way to travel without too many questions asked was to claim to be taking something akin to the Prairie Cure. A consumptive gets left alone. So I have been careful not to let my skin darken yet. I dare say it will and if I have someone to work for I shall be eating more regularly and lose the skinny look."
Mortimer regarded the boy malevolently. He disliked being made to feel driven into a corner. He would maybe give the kid a square meal and tell him to get lost…. He regarded the thin, nervous hands playing with the empty glass the youth had picked up. Their fingers were long and delicate.
"Well maybe we'll give it a trial; you fetch and carry for me and saddle up the horses – do you have a horse? Do you now how to care for them?"
The boy flushed. It showed more on so pale a skin.
"Of course Colonel, sir. We've always had horses…. Before I had to leave you understand" he added. "I came with my mare."
The colonel nodded.
"Very well; I'll check her over in the morning. I'm in no hurry to leave so we can take our time. I was about to order supper; I take it you'd like to eat? I'll pay you with board and you sleep wherever I sleep and when I take a man in I'll pay you a proportion according to how well you earned it. Suit you?"
"Yes sir; suits me just fine" said the boy.
Mortimer watched Bobby eating. The lad ate with the concentration of hungry youth but with a delicacy that spoke of a gentle upbringing. Well, the boy bore watching. And that was why he had taken this strange youngster under his wing; because there was a story there. This place was no place for a child who knew nothing of the world; the evenings brought rough customers and a kid like this might easily accidentally cause offence and find himself shipped back east in a wooden box. Mortimer sighed. Sometimes having a conscience was a serious problem. Well, first of all there was much to find out; and then he might make decisions.