"As time passed, Frank and I grew closer in more of an unspoken relationship and were able to understand each other without a word said between us."
As time passed, Frank and I grew closer in more of an unspoken relationship and were able to understand each other without a word said between us. Obviously, we grew to learn these things when we were in peril, for example, when Frank got hit in the shoulder. At the time, Frank and I had a misunderstanding, and we were being threatened by a gun. It was a complicated situation and it was ultimately my fault for reacting the wrong way, but in the end, though Frank got a bullet in his shoulder, we learned from the situation and worked out what we would do in a similar situation. We walked through deserts together when, to my dismay, Fritz and Tony were shot and killed during an attempted robbery. The thieves didn’t get anything from us after some skilled shooting, but it was devastating to me. I’d had a few horses until that point and Fritz was the dearest to me. He was older but reliable and never failed me. Judging from the single bullet to his head I gladly assumed it was quick. Frank stood by me when I was weak from food poisoning, not leaving my side until I was stable again. We supported each other through the most successful of events and the most shattering, and I was grateful. I hadn’t had a good friend for years, since I was a child, I think, and I appreciated Frank more as a companion than I did a hunting partner.
I thought I might tell him that today.
For the thousandth time, I stepped inside the sheriff’s office. Toro looked up from his newspaper, sunglasses still perched on his nose, and let me pick out a new target. Once I took a paper off of the wall, he told me the known information about the culprit. I thanked him and started towards the door, until he said,
“Gerard, I actually have something for you.” I turned around and walked back to his desk. He rummaged around in a drawer of his desk and took out several pieces of paper. He took off his sunglasses and placed them on the desk and started to read the words on the papers, his eyes darting back and forth. He nodded to himself and looked up at me. He said,
“There’s this man, he’s been on the run for years now and has a pretty big number on him,” he glanced at the paper, “ten thousand dollars.” I whistled at the high price. This must have been a pretty ruthless criminal. He continued, “I’ll leave you to the person you just chose, but I’m just asking if you’ll keep this in your pocket just in case. There’s no information of where he is, and the last reporting of him was a few years ago, but he seems to be constantly moving. You up for it?”
“Of course. It’s just like a side job. I’ll keep an eye out for him.” Sheriff Toro handed the papers to me. The judge’s papers were on top and the handbill on the bottom, but I didn’t look at them. Moving criminals were hard to catch and I doubted I’d be able to find someone who successfully covered his tracks for years.
I dragged the bodies of our last kill to the office’s porch. Toro didn’t see the need to confirm our kill each time since we never failed to get the right person. I rounded the cabin and motioned for Frank to come out from the side of the cabin, the place where he always stayed when I went inside. He got up and followed me back to the very same carriage that we had taken from our first coincidental kill of the Smitty Bacall Gang. Once I got up on the carriage, I took out the handbill that I had picked from the board of wanted criminals’ faces. Toro said that this man was in a town several miles north. I told Frank this, and we started to ride in that direction, our unspeaking bond still holding place. I wasn’t lonely anymore, like I had thought upon meeting Frank, who barely said a word. He was quiet, but he wasn’t ignoring me by any means. He was still there and a certain silent conversation was constantly retuned back and forth through glances or just silence itself. It’s sort of unexplainable, but evident to those lucky enough to experience such a subtle relationship.
We hadn’t been riding for long, and the sun wasn’t even close to setting yet, but like I had planned before, I wanted to tell him what he meant to me, so I motioned to him that I wanted to stop. It was funny, really, because just to the east of us was the spot on the mountain range where I had taken Frank upon finding him almost dead. I pointed this out to him and he laughed, reminiscing about the bittersweet memory. We set up camp lazily, and finally, laid out our bedrolls. Frank had grown out of wanting to sleep in the carriage and started to appreciate the same liking I had for the stars. The fire usually separated us, but this time, I out mine perpendicular to his so our heads would be close to each other. Hopefully, he’d understand the gesture as a thank you. He didn’t seem to notice and climbed inside the carriage and started rummaging around for something. I sat on the bedroll, bored and oddly wishing to have a book. I hadn’t read one in a long while and decided I’d ask to borrow one from the sheriff as soon as we returned. Frank clambered out of the carriage gleefully holding a bottle of whiskey. I smiled at his excitement and stood up, as he went running past me, but not fast enough to avoid my hand, which took the bottle from his. I cracked the new bottle open and took a swig, the fiery liquid slipping down my already raw throat. I shivered, coughed loudly, and extended my arm out to give the bottle back to Frank, who playfully grabbed it from me. It was rare to see him as happy as he was, and it left me in a pleased disposition. We passed the bottle back and forth and jokingly laughed at each other. I stood up and paced back in forth, my head swimming in a sea of euphoria, and shoved my hands in my pocket. I felt a few pieces of paper and pulled them out, remember what Sheriff Toro had given me.
“Oh yeah…” I said to myself. Frank looked up at me from his seat on the ground questioningly.
“Sheriff Toro gave us a ‘special assignment’,” I said, mocking the idea of having a specified target for the both of us.
“What is it?”
“Well, Toro said this guy just wanders around and hasn’t been tracked since years ago. There’s no way we can find him unless we just happen to walk by him, so—“
“What’s his name?” Frank asked anxiously. He seemed to really want to know more about this man. I shuffled through the papers and found the handbill. I took it out and started to read the words. Of course, at the top was a large ‘wanted,” and below was the picture, description and amount of the bounty. I was still a little disoriented from the alcohol and it took me a little while to focus, but eventually I read it. My happy drunkenness disappeared instantly. Wanted: Frank Iero for murder and robbery. Ten thousand dollars. Then I saw the picture.
It was Frank.
He was younger in the picture, a hostile scowl donning his face and his eyes that of a fanatic: wild and crazy. I hadn’t known his last name was Iero because he had never told me and I had never wondered, but this was without a doubt, my faithful partner. I looked up from the paper to see Frank staring intently at me. You could tell that he was guessing it was his picture and name on the paper and was waiting for how I would react. We stared at each other, and I felt a wrenching feeling in my stomach. I felt like I was going to vomit, but I held strong. Impulsively, I crumpled the papers in my hand and tossed them behind me.
“Who is it?” Frank asked again.
“Never heard of him,” I mumbled, looking away from him. I was denying it. I didn’t want to believe that this honest and loyal man was a criminal. Fed up with my vagueness, Frank stood up and went to get the crumpled papers. I was glued to my spot and couldn’t move. He appeared before me and smoothed out the papers with painfully slow movements. He flattened the paper out as best he could and raised the paper next to his face so the picture was right next to him.
“Who is this?” I stared at him, still feeling sick to the stomach and didn’t answer. He repeated the question, so I said,
“I don’t know,” through gritted teeth.
“Yes, you do,” he said.
“That’s not you, Frank,” I said. It was obviously him, but I wouldn’t allow it. I wouldn’t take him in.
“It is though,” he said. He sighed, exasperated, wanting me to understand.
“Why?” I choked out. Frank sat down on his bedroll in a huff. I stayed standing.
“When I was a kid, my dad was a part of this gang. They robbed banks, but of course, I didn’t know this until I was older. From the time I was strong enough, a gun was put into my hands. Since I was small, my father taught me everything there was to know about a gun. He was proud of me and I loved him. He was my role model, even though I had no idea what he was doing. When I was fifteen, though, my father was shot and killed. His gang came to my house and demanded that I take his place. They had heard rumors of my fast draw and desperately wanted me. I agreed. My mother died in childbirth and I was on my own. I didn’t have anyone to take care of me and I needed guidance, so who better than those who were closest to me? From then on, they utilized my accuracy and draw for their jobs. We robbed several different towns, and it wasn’t long before they accepted me as an equal member of the group. When I was around nineteen, after years of thievery, we came into a situation where we were surrounded by gun. Without thinking, I shot everyone challenging us. In just a few minutes, more than fifteen people were dead. I remember the silence after that. It was louder than anything I had ever heard.
Before I knew it, we were shooting up every bank and store we came across. Everything became violent and aggressive and the worst part was that I didn’t feel anything. It didn’t matter to me that people were dying. I don’t think it occurred to me that they were living like me; that they had emotions and families and lives, just like me. Because of what I was doing, I became wanted in several different states, but they never caught me. The gang always protected me,” he paused to take a breath and continued,
“I don’t even know how many people were killed. Our boss kept sending me on jobs to kill those who crossed him and it was like I was brainwashed. I was taught to be merciless and cruel, but once I was mature enough to break away from their controlling ways, when I was in my early 20s, I thought for myself and realized the evil I was doing. I ran away and never looked back. I don’t know what happened to them, and frankly, I don’t care. I don’t ever want to hear from them again. From that moment on, I told myself that I would never ever harm a person again.” I still stood in front of Frank, who recalled his painful memories, and wondered why he would agree to become a bounty hunter: one who literally killed for money.
“I wandered for years, just avoiding people and surviving in any way I could. I’m surprised I lasted all those years. Then, of course, you found me. I’d never had anyone take care of me like that since I was a kid and it made me feel less like the garbage I was. I never forgave myself for killing those people, but you didn’t know and treated me like a human, like one of your own; when I thought you would treat me horribly. If I were to find myself in the desert, I would leave myself there, but you went out of your way, even in the poor condition you were in, to save me. I owed you something. Not only that, but you made me feel what worth I really had. You made me feel like I had a purpose other than evading society, so I broke the promise I made to myself. I was so torn, Gerard. I wanted to feel like I was worth something, but I didn’t want to break my promise. My loneliness won over and I decided to go with you, obviously. It was dangerous, I know, to be that close to someone who kills criminals for a living, but you were the only person probably ever that would ever care about me so I had no choice. I went with you,” I was stunned. I had no idea I meant so much to him, and the tugging feeling in my stomach grew even worse. There was no sign of euphoria from the alcohol. I felt sick. He said,
“Do you remember our first target? That time, the monster inside of me that my gang had nurtured and grown came out for the first time in years. I couldn’t control it and it scared me. While I shot that man in front of his wife and child, I wasn’t thinking. Everything was red, and after it faded, I felt guilt worse than any physical pain I had ever experienced. I broke my promise and killed a man.” Frank had his head hanging and his voice started to choke and shake.
“Gerard, you made your job seem so valiant; capturing people for the wrongs that they committed, and I respected you for that, but felt so guilty about it. I didn’t want to kill people, but you made me feel so accepted. For that I thought I deserved to die. My self-worth shouldn’t have come before my promise, but I indulged myself wrongfully.”
“You don’t deserve to die, Frank.”
“Why don’t you tell that to the dozens of families who lost a love one because of me. Tell that to the sheriffs who are looking for me all over the south of the country. Tell that to the voice inside of me telling me I don’t deserve this life!” He was close to sobbing now, as was I.
“I won’t allow it. We’ll go and buy you supplies at the nearest town and you can keep the carriage. We can part somewhere and you can live and never kill a person again.”
“They’ll find me, Gerard. Even if they don’t, I’ll turn myself in. My life is over and I accept that. They’ll hang me if you don’t do it, Gerard. They’ll hang me in front of a whole cheering town.” Frank neared me, walking on his knees, and took my right hand. His hands were shaking, and made mine, too. He put my hand on the gun in my holster. I tensed and tried to pull away, but he forcefully pulled it back and placed my fingers on the hammer and trigger. He pulled my arm, allowing the gun to come out. I tried to let go of it, but his strong hand didn’t allow me to. His left hand covered my right, his thumb on mine, pressing into the hammer, and his forefinger on mine, pressing on the trigger. He forces my arm up to point the gun to the side of his head.
“Do it,” he said.
“No,” I said, trying my hardest to get the my hand out of his grasp.
“It’s what I want. You don’t want me hanging by my neck in public, do you? I’d rather die in the presence of someone more caring than the presence of those filled with scorn and having a thirst for vengeance.”
“But you can live!”
“There’s no point. I’ll turn myself in if you don’t do it. Besides, you can earn money from it.” I was enraged now.
“You really think I want money for your death?! I took you for the same reason you accepted my invitation. I was lonely! We helped each other, don’t you understand? We’re both important to each other and you don’t have to die.”
“Fine, don’t turn my body in, but please, if you don’t, I’ll do it myself.” His hand was still over mine on the gun, the barrel pressed up against the side of his head. His hand was still shaking.
“I’m sorry, then. Thank you for everything you’ve done. I would have died much earlier if you hadn’t taken me in. Don’t regret anything you’ve ever done for me, and I’m sorry I lied to you, but now, I think, I can leave happier than I’ve ever been in my life. Thank you.” I was caught off guard, and Frank cocked the gun over my thumb, and pulled the trigger. It was over in a flash. I dropped the gun as did Frank, who slumped over onto the ground. Dead. Blood seeped out of the single hole on his head, streaming down the side of his head and neck. I caught him by the shoulders.
“No!” I shouted, though nothing would help him at this point. His eyes were closed, thankfully. I don’t think I could have dealt with seeing the dull, lifeless expression I found in every dead body’s eyes in Frank’s. I let him lie on the ground, a pool of blood growing underneath him. I refused to take him in for money. I wouldn’t exploit his death for my benefit. I took the handbill that was still in his hands, and reached into my pocket for the small pack of matches. After lighting one, I held it under the papers, which caught fire, and quickly burnt into charred flakes, floating around in the air. Never again, I said to myself, would I kill for money. I didn’t care what they did. No one deserved to die, especially if they meant something to someone. Carefully, I lifted his body and carried it to the carriage. Now, I was crying. I couldn’t imagine never speaking with him again. We hadn’t even know each other for long, but through everything we went through, it seemed like we had known each other for years. We had several things out of the carriage, but it didn’t matter. I rode off without them towards the mountain range. Frank needed a proper burial.
I arrived at the very same place I took Frank when I found him: in the mountains, under the pines, next to the stream. I stopped the horses and rounded towards the back. Frank was lying on his back, limp. This time, I would never get the satisfaction or relief of seeing him move his head around like he had the morning after I found him with a gun to his head months before. I took him out carefully, and carried him to the side of the small river. I placed him gently into the water. The flow of the river wasn’t strong enough to move him, but it was deep enough that the water covered his whole body. His image was slightly distorted by the cold water, but it streamed over him smoothly. I cradled his head in the water, tenderly washing the blood off of his hair and scalp as best I could, giving him a clean look, like he was simply sleeping, not dead. I started collecting smooth rocks of all sizes, and made a large pile next to the river. Once I was satisfied with the amount, I took my shoes off and rolled up the bottom of my pants to step into the refreshing water. I moved around Frank, placing rocks in different places around him until they covered his whole body, only his face showing. I took a handful of pebbles and started to put them on his face starting with his cheeks. Finally, the only thing left uncovered: his eyes. Two circular pebbles perfectly covered the closed, beautiful eyes. The life in his eyes, the very essence of him, would never return. He was a part of the river. I stepped back and watched the water flow over him.
A/N: Hai! So, it's finished! I don't know if it should've been longer or not, but I felt like if I dragged it on with more hunting and capturing, it would become a little repetitive, and besides, I made my point in how Frank reacted after each kill. Anyway, I hope you liked it! I really enjoying writing this story which is the reason for the fast updates. It's only been like, what, a couple weeks? I also apologize if you were expecting a happy ending. I'm not one for joy, admittedly, and you'll rarely find a happy story from me (although I do have a couple one shots that end on a relatively happy note.)
I developed this story from the ending. I had it all planned out, so I just modeled the story around it. I never actually know what exactly is going to happen in my stories. I just wing it and see what happens. So, if you look back, or read it again, you'll see that I hinted at Frank's secret (or did I not make it subtle at all?)
This is a long author's note... but one more thing! Frank's 'burial' was based on that in the movie "The Proposition." I don't know if a burial like that is something common, but it was the first time I saw anything like it, so I thought I might use it. I recommend the movie, though. It was very good. It's funny: the move is based in Australia in the same time period as this story and it's very 'cowboy-like'.
I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I loved writing it! Tell me if you liked it!! I'll be writing a new story very soon!