He came out of Malpais, the terrible volcanic badlands where nothing can live, riding a giant red stallion no other man could put a hand to. His boots were polished, his speech was gentle, but his guns were quick and smooth as silk. He shot first and talked later.
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January 24, 2005
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Excerpt from Flint by Louis L'Amour
It is given to few people in this world to disappear twice but, as he had succeeded once, the man known as James T. Kettleman was about to make his second attempt.
If he did not succeed this time he would never know it, for he would be dead.
When a man has but a few months to live, he can, if he so wills, choose the manner of his going, and Kettleman had made such a choice. He was now on his way to a place of which he alone knew, and there he would die. He would die as he had lived--alone.
It was ironic that he who hated the West should return there to die, but like a wild animal which knows when death is upon it, he was seeking a dark and lonely place where he could die in peace, and in his own way.
At this moment no man in the railroad car looked stronger, more alive, more resolute, yet the seed of death was in him and the plant had but a little while to grow.
There were five people in the car. The lights were dim, the passengers lay sprawled in uncomfortable sleep. The train rushed westward through the cold, clear night, carrying the man steadily toward his final destination.
A very pretty young woman, who had got on at Santa Fe, sat a few seats ahead of him and across the aisle. Farther front, three men were seated, each traveling alone. Occasionally the conductor entered, accompanied by a blast of cold air. Several times he added fuel to the cast-iron stove.
People interested Kettleman only as prospective antagonists, and of the men in the car only one seemed likely to fit that category. He was a straw-haired man with a lean and dangerous look, like a wolf among sheep.
The girl was tall, gracefully slender, and her brown eyes had a way of looking directly at a man that was frank without boldness. Kettleman decided she was a girl who had been much around men, that she was used to them and liked them. Her name was Nancy Kerrigan. He overheard it when she was giving directions for packages to be placed in the baggage car.
The country outside was invisible. The windows had steamed over, and the train moved as if through an endless tunnel. To Kettleman it did not matter, for he knew every foot of this roadbed and the surrounding country from descriptions which had come to his desk in New York.
The high plain was broken at intervals with long ridges and outcroppings of lava, and in the mountains there was marketable timber. When he began planning his second disappearance, Kettleman had gone over all available reports and maps.
They were climbing steadily. Ahead were high mesas, more lava, and occasional ruins. Soon the train would slow for a long, steep grade. When that time came he would step off the train into the darkness.