~~~It had been one helluva rough week. Dio was plain wrung out, feeling like she'd been rode hard and put up wet. Sometimes when she was that tired, the dreams weren't so good: lately they were usually of that man--number six--with his trousers half to his knees, bleeding what seemed like a river from his neck, his eyes full of surprise, and fear....
but last night...last night was different...
"Howdy there Diogenes..."
"Yep. It's goddam good to see ye, Hon."
"C'mon Hon, don't cry. Ain't you glad to see me?"
"O' course I am Papaw...I mean...hellfire an' brimstone, you ol'...I mean...oh, fer christ's....goddammit Papaw, I miss you somethin' turrible."
"I miss you too, Hon. I thought I heard you playin' m' ol fiddle, and I figgered twas time t' check up on ye."
"Yes I was Papaw, they was supposed to be a dance tonite, but it din't happen, so I got some friends to come down to m' saloon, an I played yer fiddle for 'em, an folks danced an' had a good time, an' they was laughing, an talkin', an I give 'em all lager beer on the house..."
"Did they take a shine to yer playin'?"
"I reckon so Papaw, they seemed to...an' they ain't the sort to make no pretense o' enjoyin' somethin' if they ain't...you shoulda' seen 'em, even the Judge he was doin' a jig fer a spell, and Miz Sal--she's the proprietor o' this really nice cat house here in town----lordy, she was dancin' like she warn't a gonna stop. Ye know, I...I was a-thinkin' at the time you woulda liked Sal..."
"Well you had a knack--makes me happy t' know you still got the fool thang an' get it out to play now an' agin. An' I'm mighty glad ye got some good friends there, Diogenes...you got some good enemies too?"
"Satan's huge red testicles, Papaw! I got me a few--includin' the most powerful goddam rascal in town, an' his various lapdogs, and a few others have come an' gone...like one feller what I shot when he took this lil' orphan chile hostage..."
"Orphan eh? Heehee, oh Lord, Hon, you always was one fer takin' in strays."
"Well, actually they gots a fer real orphanage here in town...real nice colored gal name o' Adiniah runs it. Damn she's got more grit than a company o' rangers, an spits fire when need be..I think you'd ha' liked her as well."
"Well mebbe I kin meet her someday when the time comes..."
"Papaw....speaking o' that...what's it like? Are you doin' all right? Are you...are you happy?"
"Oh Hell yes, Hon! Couldn't be happier. I can't thank you enough fer hepin' me die proper. I ain't sayin' a man cain't get here dyin' in his bed, but it sure meant a lot to me that you helped me git m' carcass outta that bed, an' to git m' britches an boots on, and faced me north...."
"So ye could stand with yer face to yer enemies, north to the Comancheria, and sing yer death song, an' shout yer insults at 'em..."
"Yep. I swore I could even see Many Horses in them clouds, shoutin' back at me an wavin' his cou' stick an just makin' a turrible damn fool of hisself like he always did..."
"Heehee, yep, I recollect that...you tol' me ye could see Many Horses up there, an he was challengin' ye t' come an' face him..."
"Say chile, you know what?"
"He was callin' out to me...an' he is here...an ye know what else?'
"No, what else?"
"He ain't such a bad ol' sonofabitch fer a Comanche. Hell, when I got here we fought somethin' turrible, like a couple o' wild-eyed loonatiks...but after a spell we got tired o' that, so we decided to do a bit o' huntin' together...they got buff'lo here, kin ye imagine that? ...so now we meet up purty reg'lar, an' we still fight some, an sometimes it's serious, an sometimes we jus' kinda wrassle an' laugh alot...but other times we hunt buff'lo together...an' sometimes we sit an' jus' smoke our pipes, an' talk about our kids an gran'kids and sometimes we jus set an' ponder an' don' say nothin' at all."
"Papaw, I'm wonderin'...well, are folks who get there, they all cut up or shot up like when they die?"
"Hmm, well I kin figger I know why yer askin'...no, Hon the Injuns is wrong....don't matter what shape yer in when ye pass: don't matter if they's big ol holes in yer hide, or if'n they took off yer hair or a laig or somethin'...long as you lived well, an' ye die well, with yer face to yer enemies, that's what matters. Tho' let me clarify that--it's about havin' faced up t' yer enemies one way or t'other...you ain't really got to lit'rally be facin' 'em...but Hell, I din't know that, otherwise, I wouldna' trubbled ye to get m' sorry ass outta that bed...
"Oh Papaw, you know I was as happy as I could be to do that...lifted m' heart that you asked me to hep ye then, at yer last, especially after all you done fer me...an I was never so proud as t' be yer granddaughter, with you all shot up from that last Comanche raid, an hurtin' like Hell on Christmas, but you was gonna go like a man with yer boots on..."
"Aw shit, Hon, at that point, I wasn't hurtin' no more. But anyhow, yes, when you get here, if you lived well an' you die well, then ye show up here all of a piece, an' yer young an strong agin, and..."
"Is Jack there?"
"Of course he is, Hon. An' yes, he looks fine. Ye married well, Diogenes. I had kinda hoped you was gonna get hitched to Jack or Sepp. The three o' y'all was like pease in a pod. Goddam! what a terror y'all were to yer elders the three o' ye. I see him now n' agin, an' we enjoy a visitin'...he's been over with me to Many Horses' lodge an' we done shared a smoke or two...but mostly he seems to enjoy the company o' other hoss sojers....they's a reg'lar bunch o' them he's become fast pards with...some o' them Mongol fellers, an' some Roosian cossacks...oh, an' these frenchies what rode fer Bonaparte...they all camp together, an' go fer headlong rides across the rollin' hills, an set about their campfars at night, singin' an' tellin' stories...an' Jack, God bless'im, damn if he ain't got all them fellers right fond o' his cowboy coffee..."
"Heehee, yep, Jack always did make a fine pot o' sludge, even under the worst o' circumstances...Papaw, when y'all see Jack, tell him...tell him I still miss 'im, an'...well..."
"That you love 'im still? Aw hell, Hon, o' course I'll tell 'im. But he knows. An he's waitin' fer you 'n Sepp. He's got Sepp's ol' hoss Ceasar with him, an' he's lookin' after him until Sepp gets here."
"Papaw? Pa ain't there...is he?"
"ah...well..no, he ain't. Some folks, I reckon it's best to go on to nothin'ness, instead o' keepin' on with the pain."
"What about Harry, is he there Papaw?"
"No chile, matter o' fact, he ain't."
"Oh...then...I reckon..he din't die well, then, did he?"
"An' just what in the name o' Beelzebub's bunghole makes you think Heraclitus Kuhr is dead?"
"But...but..he got took by Comanches, Papaw...we figgered... well, we jus' figgered he was a goner..."
"Hon, Harry was just a sprout, an actually passed fer younger'n he was anyhow..."
"You always did say mebbe some squaw took a shine to 'im an mebbe wanted to do one o' them things where they want to adopt a pris'ner chile an' replace a chile they done lost...but I kinda figgered ye was jus' tryin' to make me feel better 'bout what took place. You sayin' he really did get adopted by some injun folks?"
"I ain't sayin nothin' more... I ain't even 'sposed t' be talkin' t' ye right now. I jus' couldn't hep m' self when I thought I heard you scrapin' at m' ol fiddle."
"You never was very good at followin' rules, was ye, Papaw?"
"Goddammit t' hell an' back, Diogenes, I'm 'bout as good at it as you are."
"Marcus Aurelius Kuhr, goddammit, yer turrible....an I love ye."
"Diogenes Aurelia Kuhr, you ain't no goddam better. An' I love you too, hon."
The rest of night passed dreamlessly.