It certainly wasn’t love at first sight, I’ll tell you that much.
Hell, the first time I laid eyes on her, I wasn’t even sure that she was human. Always was good at disguises, she was. Bent over double, big robe hiding any sort of detail about her limbs, hauling that overloaded cart… well, I thought she might be one of them Minos, at first, not a real person.
Not that Minos can’t be good people. Met some great ones, fought alongside ’em, strong as Hell and twice as angry once they start seeing red, you know…
Still, even if she was just an old Mino, pulling a cart, I had reason to be cautious. Not that I don’t feel a soft spot for beggars, the crazy, but I’d just come off a big job, my purse was flush with plat, and I didn’t want to get taken for a ride by a Mino that got in too close. “Grab the bull by the horns,” they say, but I’d wager they ain’t been gored by a Mino before.
But she comes up, doing that shuffle, and I fish out a coin for her. Heart’s not made of stone, you know. But she creeps closer, not speaking, and I start thinking hell, maybe she’s taken a couple blows to the head, been out in the sun too long.
“Hey, you alright?” I call down from my wagon spot, flicking the reins to slow down Goldy. Should have known better, of course. Horse was already flicking his ears, looking back at me with one eyeball, warning me not to get involved.
But here I was, greater dumbass I be, ignoring the advice of my horse.
No answer from the Mino, so I slow down further. As Goldy approaches, I see her stop, stagger a couple times, drop the cart as her hands go to her stomach. And I’m thinking shit, she just had to wait for me to come along before she bit the shit. Probably ought to go comfort her. I ain’t no priest – last thing from it – but I still get the fear of dyin’ alone.
So over I go. “Hey, are you okay? Can you talk? You don’t look so-”
And then I stopped talkin’, on account of finding a damn gun barrel halfway down my throat.
The word “bitch” is in my throat, but it can’t seem to find its way out, given that there’s a gun barrel in the way. I just remember thinking that hell, that’s a long gun! Where the hell did that thing even come from?
And then I look up, focus, and I see her.
She’d pulled a skin off of something, draped it over her. No Mino, this, I saw. Full human, and even though that face was probably half mud and dirt, she was female. Violet eyes. That’s the kind of thing that you can’t help but notice, even when you’re about to chow down on a bullet.
“Purse,” she says, and dear angels up in Heaven that abandoned us, that voice. She didn’t need the long gun; that voice was enough to lock down my brain, set me stupid. I’m speechless.
She, of course, doesn’t see that she’s knocked my damn socks off with those eyes and that voice. And remember, I’ve not seen a thing of her face, her body, none of those features that the whores always flash from the town sewers! All I’ve got are violet eyes and a voice, and I’m a gobblin’ moron.
Finally, she shakes her head, pulls this spin move, and next thing I know, I’m lyin’ flat on my back and staring up at her standing over me. Goldy gives this little whicker from the side like damn, you idiot, I warned you not to trust her. She’s still got that long gun pointed down at me, but her eyes are moving over to my waist.
Where, in plain view, sits my damn purse full of plat.
“Might want to keep your eyes roaming a little further south, Sweetheart,” I suggest to her.
“Hah, as if you had a-” and then she shuts up.
She’s seen that I’ve pulled my own piece, got it pointing up at her. We’re both frozen for a minute, sizing each other up. I can see in her eyes that she’s not afraid to kill a man – wouldn’t be her first time – but she’s seein’ that same look in my face.
“Shooting from the hip,” she finally says, that voice like a melody, so strange as I’m gripping the trigger. “Not so accurate.”
“Accurate enough to take those pretty violet eyes outta your head,” I answer, just as evenly. “And now, I think we’re at what a scholar here might call an impasse.”
She just looks at me for a minute. And then, no expression on that face, she lowers the gun, slides off the big, dead animal skin she’s got draped over her.
And did I mention that my mouth dropped open?
Underneath that skin, she’s in leathers, faded like anything in the desert. But that body that they reveal is enough to kill a man – no need for a gun, not from this one! She reaches up and wipes some of the dirt off that face, and I’m head over heels in love. She’s perfect, beautiful, the kind of woman that posed for those fading billboards you see around occasionally, when the wind hasn’t yet blasted them clean.
This desert angel, smiling, leans forward. She offers me a hand, helps me up to my feet. She leans in, and I get a whiff of her scent and she’s the best thing I’ve smelled in my goddamn life. I want to just hold her, make her mine, stare forever into those purple eyes-
-and then there’s a twist at my wrist, my gun’s gone, and a lithe hand grabs at my waist.
And when I next sit up, she’s just a dot in the distance as Goldy carries her away, leaving a cloud fo dust behind her as she rides across the scrub and desert brush.
At least she left me the animal skin. Still smelled like her.