This here be the last will and testament of Robert Flois Evans so I reckon if you all be reading this it means that I’ve kicked the bucket. Didn’t plan on going so soon but seems God has different plans for me. I’m OK with that. I ain’t gonna get all mushy, that ain’t my way but I do have me a few things to say and I’m gonna say ‘em so you best listen.
I’m gonna start with a word about the Kid. Now you lay off of her. Not one of you has walked in her shoes so until you do you ain’t got no call to beat her down over the choices she made. She was scart and alone and just wanted to belong some place where she could feel safe. Says a lot that she picked us for that when she had just as much if not more reason not to.
Kid, you just keep on doing the best you can. I’m sorry we never got that R&R or got to go fishing together but it seems to me maybe you’ll be doing some fishing with Thor here right quick. I’m a little jealous of that but not much. Thor’s a good man if a might hard headed on occasion and fond of having his own way. No shame in that though ‘cause most men are and that’s something you’ll just have to learn to live with. And another thing, don’t let them green idiots get you down. If it weren’t you they were yammering on about it’d be someone or something else; never seen such a noisy and complaining bunch in my life. But don’t turn your back on ‘em neither; some ain’t nothing but harmless slugs – a little slimy when you brush up against ‘em – but some are vipers with powerful venom. Use that head of yore’s for something besides a ramming tool and you should be just fine.
As for the rest of you, reckon I don’t have to say it but I will since it’s the last chance I’ll get. It was an honor to work and serve with each of you. Wish more of us were still around but life happens and you ain’t got no choice but to accept that. You bunch have put up with me in the good times and bad and I hope that I’ve done the same for you. Don’t take anything that I’m about to tell you hard, I’m just feeling like it needs saying.
Thor, you’re a good leader but you’re not invincible. And now that you got Rocky in your life maybe you ought to be thinking of some R&R yourself. Comes a time in a man’s life that things change. You got a chance at what I never did. You pass it up, it may never come round again. Think on that. To you I leave the care and tending of Rocky. She’s worth more than anything else I could leave you and I reckon you’re starting to figure that out.
Chuckri, you’re a good man to work with but you hold onto hurts too tight. They’ll turn rabid on you and eat your soul if you don’t put ‘em down for good. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Here at the end, I got no chance to change things but it don’t mean I don’t wonder if I could have. Don’t want to think on such a good friend making the same mistakes I did. To remember me by I want you to have that big ol’ pig sticker we took off that man down in San Salvador. Use it to defend yore family or save it for your boy and tell some stories of our wild times when he’s old enough to hear ‘em. Just not around your women folk or you might find yoreself in some hot water.
Montgomery, we had some real good times together and I wouldn’t change that for nothing but you’s a bit like me so you need to put down the JD more often. I worry that you were my drinking buddy too often. That stuff shore do taste good and I know it, but there’s danger in it ruling you instead of you ruling it. Learn from my mistakes. Trust me, you don’t want to walk that particular road. To you my friend I’m going to leave that little pocket Bible you was always ribbing me about. I got some pages in there marked special that helped when the urge to drink tried to overrun my good sense. It’ll help if you let it. Them are some powerful words in there.
Richards, you done what you could for me and I appreciate that. Ain’t yore fault that it was my time. For a man whot never trained for it, you make a dang fine medic. You take your job serious, but don’t take it so serious that you forget that you have a right to a life too. Don’t get so wound up in other people’s hurts that you forget to search for your own happiness. To you I leave my pocket watch you was always borrowing to count off seconds with. You keep using it to get the job done.
Barkley, I cain’t count the number a times that you come to bail me and Montgomery out of some trouble or other. I remember a little cantina down in Tijajuana in particular and you and I both know what I’m talking about. ‘Nuff said about that. Hope you find you another woman to spark with whot ain’t already got entanglements. You always were partial to that pocket knife I won off of that Dane when we was overlaid in Thule that time so I want you to have it. It’s got eleventy dozen gadgets on the flaming thing, half of which I never had the time to figure out what they were; hopefully you’ll do what I didn’t.
Alfonso, just because I name you last don’t mean yore last on my list. Not everything has some secret or hidden meaning to it. You need to loosen the tinfoil a bit boy or you’re gonna miss what is right in front of you. Like the fact you is the best fixer we’ve ever had in the crew. Ain’t seen too much broke that you cain’t do something with. If I was you I’d do something with that talent. In the world we be living in these days it seems to me that you could take it and go far. To you I’m leaving my compass. The thing has never failed me and hopefully it’ll keep you heading in the right direction.
As for the rest of my gear, including my horse and rifle, I want Rocky to have it. It’s my right to leave it to who I want and I want it to be her so don’t go saying otherwise. She ain’t bamboozled me or any such foolishness like that.
Now I’m done with this letter and apparently with this life. You go out and keep going on my friends. And try to live life with the fewest regrets you can.
There wasn’t a dry eye when Richards finished. I looked down to see that Evans’ stuff was piled against the trunk of a tree and since it looked like it was somehow my responsibility I dug through it and handed the men what Evans had wanted each of them to have. They took the items and then began to file away but Alfonso turned back. “Hey Kid … Rocky … you know … sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain. If Evans thought you were OK, that’s good enough for me from here on out.”
Not sure exactly why my smile of gratitude made him blush but he lit up so high I could see it in the light of the bonfire that was our only illumination. Richards said a few things to Thor and then left as well. Then there was only Chuckri and Thor to deal with. I looked between the two of them and couldn’t tell if things were fixed or not but I had thought of something while I was in Evans’ pack … now my pack.
“Chuckri, I’m not sure how to say this but … Evans has a couple of sets of clean clothes in here. You’ve got so many men and boys running around, and there was the fire … do you think anyone could use them?”
Chuckri stared at me and I saw him swallow. Then he nodded and held out his hand. “I’ll give it to mother, she’ll know who it will fit and needs it most.”
“Oh, I should have thought of that.”
“What … what will you do for boots?” he asked.
I looked down at my feet and said matter-of-factly, “I guess for now I just continue to where these slippers, at least until I can make me some sandals or moccasins. I might as well get used to doing without boots now as later; I’m not an easy fit even in the best of times.”
He nodded hesitantly, like he didn’t know whether to agree with me or not. Then he left and I was alone with Thor … a Thor that was as closed off as the man I’d first met. He picked up what was left of Evans’ gear and I followed him away from the yard and over to a patch of darkness. I couldn’t see much, what moonlight there had been earlier was now gone. I heard him drop the pack on the ground and it made a pretty heavy chunk when it hit reminding me of Evans’ … er … hobby of collecting things. Before I could go much further with wondering what I was supposed to do with it all I was taken rather roughly in Thor’s arms and kissed the same way.
It startled me so much it took me a moment to think to push until he stopped but he didn’t turn me loose. “Thor?” When he didn’t answer me I ran my hands up to find his face. I felt the damp patches in his whiskers where they’d caught his tears but I couldn’t tell anything else. “Thor? What’s … I … I don’t understand. Is this something I’m supposed to know about?”
Another moment of silence followed then in a guttural voice he said, “How the @#$% am I supposed to compete with a dead man?”
“Compete for what?” I asked, confused. I mean I knew he was talking about Evans obviously but the rest of it was over my head.
I was gobsmacked. The idea of being competed for by anyone pretty much threw me for a loop, but to have a man like Thor feel like that … well, it gave me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. I guess this was a romantic situation that a lot of silly women would have given their eye teeth for. I’m not inclined to want to be that kind of woman and I told him so.
“Thor … this may be one of those times when I’d be inclined to call you by your full name if I thought it would get your attention better. I’m not some silly little thing that doesn’t know her own mind. It may have taken me a bit to believe that you really felt something for me and wasn’t just fooling but now that I do, and now that I’ve gone so far as to promise not to run off and even ask you to my home, why would you think that there would be anyone to compete with? Not unless you’re competing with yourself.”
“I just said I was didn’t I?”
“You’re not … not holding some flame for Evans? Settling for me because you can’t have him?”
I thought to myself why any female would get her jollies out of making a guy jealous and brainless was beyond me. I didn’t like this, not one bit.
“Thor, Evans was my friend. You aren’t really the kind of guy that would get bent out of shape over that are you?”
His hands ran up under my shirt tail causing me to jump since he didn’t even seem to realize what he was doing. I decided then and there that since he wouldn’t keep an eye on his wandering hands I’d have to or I’d likely wind up in all sorts of trouble. I wriggled and then got my shirt retucked while his hands went someplace else less dangerous for both of us. “I asked you a question Thor.”
He sighed, “I didn’t think I was.”
“Well go back to thinking that way. I miss Evans. That’s not going to change. He was there for me when I needed him and we got to be close. But not that kind of close.” And as his hands made another trip they shouldn’t have I told him, “Not this kind of close. Now stop doing that. It’s hard enough to think with you holding me much less all the rest of it. This is serious.”
“I like all the rest of it,” he murmured in my ear.
“Yeah, and I’m sure I will too … when I’m ready for it. Right now I might want to so I can prove it’s you I’m picking to be with but I don’t think this is the best time for … for proving that sort of stuff. Down the road we might both wonder whether it was for the right reasons or if we just sort of fell into doing … things … that might have been better to hold off on.”
Thor groaned then sighed, “You sure you don’t have a granny lady buried in you some place?”
I smiled because I knew that meant that he’d heard what I’d said and would quit pushing. He felt my smile and groaned again. “You better just keep reminding me that I’m a patient man. I have a feeling I’m going to need that reminding pretty often.”
“If I asked you to hold me … just hold me … would you? ‘Cause … ‘cause I need to feel … feel like the world isn’t coming to an end, only a bit of it.”
And he did … just hold me that is. For a while anyway then it was back to reality. “We are going to pull out as soon after dawn as we can. It’s going to be a short day of travel, mostly to get things broken in. I don’t expect we’ll get very far the first few days but we’ll need to start making up for it at some point.”
“The animals will really slow things down.”
He sighed, “I know, but they’re too valuable to leave behind and it gives the kids something to do besides ask if we’re there yet. I’m going to need you all over the place. You’re used to breaking trail and reading the road ahead nearly as well the rest of the men are. We all need to keep our eyes open for trouble. We’re going to be a pretty big target, and the animals are only going to make it worse. I’ll show you the route tomorrow but for now, I know you’re exhausted but you need to get your stuff packed and decide what to do with the rest of Evans’ gear.”
“What do you think I should do with it?”
I nudged the pack enough for him to hear the noise of what I was talking about. “Whatever you want. Evans gave it to you remember?”
“Have you seen what all is in there?”
“No, and I don’t need to. But knowing Evans he got rid of the cheap stuff along the way and what’s left is the real deal. Just don’t let it put you in unnecessary danger so there’s no need to say anything about it out loud.”
“OK, but … I don’t know … if we have to buy supplies along the way … this stuff isn’t meant to just sit around and sparkle.”
Now it was my turn to feel him smile. “Fair enough and something that Evans would have done anyway. He acted like a hermit with a horde but he was also the first to open his wallet when it was really needed.”
We walked back to where the tarp was still tied and looking around I saw the wagons, wheelbarrows, the pony cart and a couple of other things being carefully loaded. Finding food for this many people was going to be the biggest challenge next to having enough fresh water.
“The enemy was stripped of everything useful and we were lucky most of the remaining food was in the root cellar near the guest cabin. The animals will have to forage almost exclusively but if we can find things along the way we should arrive at Ludvig’s farm with enough to get them started . Winter is going to be bad but not impossible. Now do as I asked you. I’ll get your horse saddled for you; your still favoring that arm.” And with a brief, hard kiss he was gone.
I sat for a few moments and let the tears fall again but I was crying more for my own grief than I was for Evans. I knew he was in a better place. It was the rest of us that was about to be tested beyond anything that we’d experienced up to this point.