He held a gun to him. I sat there and watched; fists clinched, sweat pouring down my forehead. They say the hot days in Missouri will do that to a man; make him crazy. Well, it seemed that way.
We were ranch-hands on a property outside of Joplin on the Oklahoma border. We were promised a cot and three squares each day. No money. When you’re desperate they set the price.
There was this shack up close to the main house. That’s where we slept with hot winds blowing in from the west. No air-conditioning, no fans. Just a water tap to gather cool water and seep into our faces.
I never trusted either one of them. Johnny had some heartbreak story of how his wife and three kids left him. And Mad Dog was just wandering around the country. He never said his Christian name. Just said folks called him Mad Dog. He acted tough.
One night Johnny showed us all a pistol he’d been hiding in his boot. It was shiny and black. Looked like death. Mad Dog told him, I’ll bet you don’t know how to use it. There was a pause; silence.
The room was dark. All that shined was a lantern. Johnny pointed the gun at him. Said, wanna find out? Mad Dog grinned. The light glowed on him. Johnny walked towards him. I sat quietly. Sure I was going to witness murder.
I got nothing to lose, Johnny said.
Neither do I, Mad Dog laughed.
Both men stared at each other for the longest time. Thirty minutes seemed like two hours. Then Johnny began to cry. Said he didn’t have it in him. That’s when Mad Dog swooped in and took the gun from him. Johnny didn’t even put up a fight. Just took it.
That night Mad Dog left. He took the pistol with him. Said, I’m hopping a freight to New Mexico. Wanna come?, I shook my head no; thankful it was over. You take care now, he said. And, like that he was gone.
And Johnny? He just kept on crying. Saying, There are men who take charge and those that don’t. I’m one that don’t. It was the heat, he said. It’ll make you crazy.