The men on the beach watched him, feigning nonchalance.
Tom rode another few waves. His form was smooth. He was at one
with the surf. The men watched him move from right to left. Tom surfed
forehand so as not to be distracted, and when the tubes collapsed,
kicked out over the shoulder to stay out of gunshot range. After awhile
he paddled back to Elsa.
"Good thinkin?" she queried when he came near.
"Shore, but...I keep comin up empty."
Elsa nodded resignedly.
"Mean, I don't see no way outta here but up on that beach. I
shore ain't gonna go paddlin out to sea like some yella dog. Guess if I
did that I might's well keep paddlin, seein as I wouldn't be able to
show my face in town no more."
Elsa shrugged. They silently looked in at the beach. The men,
like statues, looked back at them.
"Well, here I go," said Tom.
"Want me to come with?" said Elsa.
"Nope, guess you better stay here."
Tom rode the next wave into the turbulent white water, onto the
shore. He picked up his board and walked up the beach. The seated man,
whose most prominent feature was his big greasy mustache, got up as Tom
approached his towel.
One of the men tossed Tom's silver star. It landed by a dry
starfish. Tom looked at it, then picked up his towel and dried off his
"Guess you boys got me at a disadvantage," he noted.
In the fading light, Tom finally recollected the man in the
middle. "Pete Johnston," he said. "Didn't recognize you there. Been a
while since I seen ya."
Pete said nothing.
"Suppose you're a mite put out," Tom commented. "Between you and
me, Pete, your brother needed a heap o' killin. Seems it fell to me to
finally pull the trigger." He shrugged. "Ain't nothin personal."
The guy on the left chewed and spat. Through gooey lips, he said,
"You shore do talk a lot, mister."
"Shore do," agreed the man on the right.
Pete still said nothing.
Tom was buttoning his shirt. "What's it gonna be, Pete?" he said.
"You gonna give me my piece back...or you just gonna drill me right
"Don't matter to me," Pete said. "We three's the only ones leavin
"That's right. Guess you'll be a good dinner for the crabs,
"Guess so. Well, least let me put on my star." He leaned down.
"Wouldn't be fittin not to have my star--"
It all happened so fast. Tobacky got the starfish, and Mustache
got the star, and Pete got a welt on his shooting hand from Tom's
towel. He grasped his fingers in pain, looking into the barrel of his
"Guess them crabs'll hafta wait," Tom commented. "Git."
They slunk off. "What about my gun?" Pete whined.
"I'll mail to to ya. Git!"
The humiliated men departed into the trees. "That was great,"
said Elsa, sidling up behind him. "But why didn't you just shoot em?
You'll have to deal with em eventually, right?"
Tom shrugged. "Mebbe."
Elsa put her arms around him. They kissed. "Let's go," Tom said.
Tom leaned down, picked up his star, and put it back on.
"My place," he said. "I'm bettin yourn's a mite damp."