The Midnight Man
Irish and Cherokees in my family tree. The whiskey part comes from just plain livin’. Beats all hell out of that there brandy they’re always bringing folks around with in movies.”
    He was supporting the back of my head in a horned palm. It was either drink or drown in the steam. I drank. It tasted like boiled rags, but as the warmth spread outward from my stomach and settled into my bruised muscles and joints, the pain and stiffness subsided. It wasn’t a permanent cure, but then neither is anything else short of time or death. I took two more sips and waved the concoction away. It was curling the hairs in my nose. He lowered my head to a pillow.
    “Who the hell are you,” I asked, “besides the world’s biggest Saint Bernard?”
    It took him a second to get it. Then his ragged moustache turned upward and the cracks deepened in his sunbeaten face, making it look like a mask carved out of old barnwood. His eyes were blue marbles pushed back almost out of sight under a heavy shelf, and his beard had begun to bleed gray. Pink scalp showed through the dozen or so hairs in his widow’s peak.
    He chortled. I’d never heard anyone chortle in my life, but I recognized it right off. “That’s good,” he said. “I guess I sort of do look like one at that. And I did scrape you out of a tough spot and give you spirits, and folks have been known to liken me to a dog’s relative. My wife in Oklahoma calls me Munnis, but mostly I’m just plain Bum.”
    I shook the coffee grounds and egg shells off the newspaper item encountered in a healthier time and stuffed away in my memory. He fit the description. I looked around. I occupied a studio couch unfolded into a bed, at one side of a long narrow room with sliding windows and a tiled kitchen area at the far end equipped with a small steel sink, a refrigerator scarcely large enough to contain a six-pack and cold cuts, and a two-burner stove. A lot of blond veneer suggested a room in a cheap motel or a small house trailer. The dimensions were wrong for a motel room. Daylight was leaking in through the windows.
    Two things made it different from most trailers. The first was a unique feature located halfway between the bed and the sink, made up of steel bars running from floor to ceiling and enclosing an area four feet square with a locked door. It looked as if it had been built to cage a gorilla. Beyond that, a child’s-size table with a Formica top supported a number of handguns and a stack of cartridge boxes. A pump shotgun and a rifle with scope leaned against the wall on the other side. I inclined my head in that direction.
    “You travel around with those loaded? There’s a law against that in this state.”
    “Not if they’re in a house trailer, which constitutes a home,” he said. “Little trick I picked up when I was a bail bondsman. We got the same law where I come from.”
    “The cell optional or does it come with the trailer?”
    “You like it?” He reached over and shook one of the bars. The trailer swayed. “Had it built special. Before, I had to take a partner along to keep an eye on the meal ticket. Now I just stick ’em in here and forget about them, and there’s no splitting the bounty. No one’s busted out of it yet.”
    “Cozy,” I said. “If you’re the Bum Bassett I read about in the paper; you’re six-five. What keeps your feet from sticking out past the end of this bed?” My own came right to the edge.
    “Nothing. Wintertime I wear hunting socks. So you know me.” It was a statement of fact, not of pride. People who have been famous a long time have nothing to prove.
    “We don’t get a lot of bounty hunters up here these days.”
    “Nor buffalo neither, I expect. There ain’t a lot of us still around.”
    I struggled into a sitting position. The effort undid the anesthetic effect of the broth and whiskey and awakened the stitch in my side. I put a hand to it and felt tape. It girdled my abdomen like a cummerbund.
    “I’ve taped

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