Cylus barely woke as he rolled over with his eyes closed. The lumpy mattress beneath him was damp from sweat. A hand shot out and slapped him. He flinched, but ignored it. Caroline had been in the habit of slapping him for snoring whenever she felt he deserved it and he was used to it. Before he could fall back asleep, he felt a shove on his arm.
Cylus remained a content, undisturbed boulder. The next thing he knew two feet were planted in the small of his back and he was flipped off the bed. The wood of the floor knocked the sleepiness out of his head and he sprung up to his feet alert. He glowered at the little woman that was now kneeling on the bed with her arms crossed. Her chin was thrust out in defiance. Despite Cylus’s hulking size, she dared him to challenge her. She pointed at the door. He scowled at her before bending over to pick up his clothes. He pulled his pants on and shoved his feet in his shoes as she perched like a statue on her bed.
Cylus grumbled as he passed through the door and slammed it as hard as he could behind him. He enjoyed sleeping. It took him away from this dry hellhole. In his dreams, he could be back home. He wouldn’t be dirt poor. He didn’t have to face the disappointment that his life had turned out to be.
He stumbled down the stairs as he pulled his shirt on. The sunlight blinded him as he was deposited in an alleyway. He walked past the refuse and a sleeping drunk to the street. A boy leading a goat eyed Cylus up and down. Even after the last couple years, he still got that look of suspicion. He was a stranger here. He didn’t belong. He hurried across the street and retreated to the shade of a saloon. The dim, quiet interior suited him. He stood for a moment in the doorway and let his eyes adjust to the dark.
The bartender stood behind the counter as he wiped glasses with a dirty rag. His face was a permanent frown and his expression remained unfeeling as he watched Cylus approach him. A saloon girl fanned herself in the heat, but avoided eye contact with Cylus. She was still put out from some occasion that he had offended her, but he had no recollection of it. Another drunk was barely awake as he leaned over his drink.
Cylus dug in his pocket and released a fistful of crumpled pesos onto the bar top. The bartender flipped his rag onto his shoulder and came over. He rooted around in the pesos and took a tally before sweeping them out of sight. He procured a greasy glass and filled it to the brim with tequila.
“Solo uno. If you want more then you fight tonight,” he said sternly. Cylus nodded begrudgingly.
“You know I will.”
The bartender knocked on the bar top.
“And my people they want a fight, a real fight. People, they enjoy a fight, they drink more. You fall in three rounds, they get bored, they leave.”
“I said I’d fight!” Cylus barked.
“A real fight,” the bartender repeated before he walked away.
Cylus stared at his tequila. He would fight. He didn’t really care how many rounds he lasted, but he should care. Money was running short these days. Saloon keepers were getting wind of it and it didn’t matter if he moved on to the next town or the next. He was running out of Mexico that was still hospitable to him. He could stumble up to El Paso again and find some work. Perhaps the States were safe. Maybe nobody remembered him and he could drift back into society without notice.
Cylus lacked skills though. He was a brute, he had muscle even if it had become slack and flabby in the last year, but he lacked smarts. He couldn’t work behind a counter of a shop or sit at a desk. He was the guy around back unloading trucks or spreading hot asphalt on the newly made roads. The only work he had to look forward to was hard and Cylus was lazy. He wanted the old days where the gang could pull one job and live on the loot for months. He remembered sleeping in until whatever time suited him. The notion of getting up early and toiling for peanuts left a bad taste in his mouth. His choices were limited, so he would fight tonight, but he would have to come up with a different option soon.
Hours later, Cylus slunk out the back of the saloon into the night. His eye was swollen shut and his lip was bleeding. The crowd was still hollering inside as Cylus was trying to make his escape. Five men burst out of the backdoor and shouted when then spotted him. He ran as fast as he could after taking a beating. He was not interested in getting another one. The next thing he knew headlights were bearing down on him. He threw his hands up and stumbled back as a pick up slid to a stop.
“You American?” a voice drawled. Cylus lowered his arms and made eye contact with the driver. He nodded.
“Get in,” the Texan said. Cylus glanced behind him and saw the other men had slowed down. They were cautious with the sudden stop of the truck, but they still wanted what they were owed. Cylus had little choice. He had better odds with the American. He scrambled into the back of the truck. The driver stepped on it and gravel was tossed up as they tore out of town into the dark night.
Cylus leaned back as the light of town shrunk into the distance. He looked up at the clear sky and its bright stars. He sincerely hoped that his savior had not lost money on the fight. He was exhausted, but he tried to force himself to stay awake. He may still have to make a run for it.
The truck pulled over before reaching the border town. Cylus hopped out of the back before the driver could get out and check on him.
“Thanks for the help back there. I suppose I got in a little deep,” he hurriedly said and started to walk toward town.
“Hold on there,” the man called. Cylus paused in his tracks, but didn’t turn around.
“I’m not going to ask why you’re hiding out down here and I don’t care. I think you should realize your time has run out. If a big bruiser like yourself is looking for honest work, I can help. It’s your choice.” The Texan spit a wad of tobacco out his window. The engine fired up as Cylus stood mired with indecision. The man pulled up and stopped next to him.
“I’m staying the night in El Paso. I like to have breakfast at the corner diner, then I’m gone. I work a ranch, there’s always a bit of work to be done if you’re not picky and have good arms. Think about it, if you’re interested find me before I leave.” Cylus nodded and the man tipped his cowboy hat. The truck pulled away and Cylus started trudging into the border town as he weighed his options.