"Man is physically as well as metaphysically a thing of shreds and patches, borrowed unequally from good and bad ancestors, and a misfit from the start." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Shreds and Patches

It's moments like these that make him wonder why he ever got into this line of work.

Surely there were better jobs, safer jobs without the reputation this one carried. But he'd chosen this one without a backward glance.

Bounty hunter.

The two words left a bad taste in all men's mouths, from the outlaws he hunted to the marshals he handed them over to. They all looked at him with contempt and a sort of curiosity, a desire to know what made him into a bounty hunter, like a person ponders why a man decides to rob a bank.

He couldn't really tell them, not right off. Perhaps it was the families he's seen, the innocent people cut down before their lives were complete, by some gunslinging killer not fit to breathe the same air. There were times when it took the weight off his heart and scraped a little of the blood off his hands to see a man behind bars and waiting for the hangmen, some sanguinary instinct perhaps, or simply the knowing that no one else need die.

Or maybe it was the flipside of the coin. He's seen too many innocent men on the run, too many farmers dangling from a lynch mob's rope, and too many men dragged through the dust behind a horse to be ignorant of the ways of most who were of his profession. Call it a will to bring decency to it, or a weariness with the men who made themselves the law, but he's never stooped to their ways yet.

Or was it, he suspected, an inborn difference that marked him as an outcast, a misfit in a society? He'd been knifed, shot, beaten bloody because of how he made his living, but believed enough to suspect it may be more. He wasn't the same as other people. He didn't stand and talk idly; he wasn't comfortable in crowds. He's never fit all his life and he had learned to accept it.

His home is some open prairie, his belongings all he has folded up in his bedroll. He makes his living by cold metal strapped to his hip, watches his back more carefully than the men he hunts. It keeps him alive.

He's learned not to expect a hand to help him up when he falls, not to hope for a kind word or a gentle look.

But he's only human, after all.

There were times when he regretted the day he brought in his first man, picked up that first reward. Times when the sound of the wind howling through the trees burnt through his heart with an agony worse than the bullets doctors had dug out of him more times than he could count. Sometimes he'd see a man walking with a woman, with children, and his heart would ache, long for a place to go at night, and someone to hold onto when the wind howled.

He envies those men because they know where they'll be tomorrow, know they won't be facedown beside some creek with their blood draining away. He's laid in the street bleeding before while people thought twice about helping a bounty hunter. He knows how people are, and what they think of him.

Today it's a pretty girl behind the store counter, a girl who asks him his name and his business in town with a warm smile. He talks with her for a while and eventually the conversation comes around to asking him his line of work. He tells her and sees her face change, the warmth replaced by the guarded distrust and loathing he's seen so many times, in so many towns he can't remember anymore.

He's used to the look and there's no good reason why it should cut him to the bone.

But it does.