Warm, sand-laced wind cut through the air, scoring The Man’s unshaven face. The snaking dirt road stretched on toward the sheer orange walls of a mesa. A rickety, sun bleached wooden sign slowly approached on his right, the words “Casa de Blanca, 8 miles” scratched into its face. He continued on at a slightly more brisk pace in the direction that the sign pointed.
As he traveled the road began to curve, leading the Man toward the town, which was nestled in an alcove at the mesa’s base and hidden from the road until about a mile away. The term “town” was very loose in this instance, as Casa de Blanca consisted of little more than a handful buildings, most of them ramshackle wooden structures. The only building that stood out from the whithered piles of wood that dotted the village was a whitewashed adobe mission about twice as tall as the rest, built into the wall of the mesa. The Man’s gaze gravitated toward the towering fortress for a reason unbeknownst to him. He felt drawn to this… white house.
A gnarled woman of innumerable years sat on the rotting wooden steps of the first building in town.“Howdy, ma’am,” the Man greeted her with a tip of his hat. “Is there anywhere a man can get a stiff drink in this town?”
The woman looked at him with a weary, blank stare. The Man was offended for a moment before realizing the reason for her apparent rudeness.
“¿Hablas español?” the Man inquired. The woman finally understood his words.
“¿Hay un bar en esta ciudad?”
“Usted puede obtener una bebida allí,” The woman beckoned toward an unmarked two story building in the town’s center. “Tenga cuidado, gringo. Hay hombres malos en esta ciudad.”
“Gracias, señora,” the Man said as he rode away from the woman’s stoop and toward the bar. “But I think I can handle myself.”
Not a single soul besides the old woman walked the dusty street. The Man was unsure whether there were just that few people in the town or if they were all hiding from something. After passing a half a dozen seemingly abandoned buildings, he reached the bar, which was the closest building to the church. He stepped off the horse, tied it to a vacant hitch (although every one of them was equally horse-free), and walked through the saloon’s swinging doors.
Currents of air circulated throughout the bar, picking up dust from the unwashed tables and creating swirling tempests only visible in the slivers of light that peeked through the shutters. Each step echoed throughout the cavernous room as The Man walked toward the counter that abutted the back wall, which was considerably more clean than the rest of the place. He sat in a stool and waited in vain for a barkeep to emerge from the back and take his order. He rapped his knuckles on the counter, but just as soon as he was about to hop the bar and pour his own drink a visually perturbed woman walked out from the back room and behind the counter. The Man didn’t notice her annoyed expression and saw only her flowing, jet black hair, tanned skin and deep brown eyes. The first woman less than 80 years old he had seen in months.
“Señora, usted es esta criatura más hermosa que he puesto los ojos sobre lo que se siente como en años. Su luminosidad es indescriptible pero discúlpeme mientras trato de describirlo. Su pelo fluye como las impetuosas aguas del Río Grande. Sus ojos brillan como un granate brillante, más precioso y valioso que el diamante más grande del mundo. Yo… yo soy simplemente sin palabras. Has tomado mi aliento y no sé si puedo usar el resto de mis respiraciones restantes para nada, además de cantar tu belleza a los cielos.” The Man was winded as the woman looked on in silence.
“Um…” She backed away slowly. “No… no habla español?”
The Man’s face lit up like a fire as he hid behind the brim of his hat. “Oh. Well, I’ll have a… I’ll have two tequillas.”
“I’ll just assume that was a marriage proposal,” the woman placed two shot glasses on the counter and filled them with liquor. “If it was, no big deal. I don’t get too many customers, but I’m used to them trying to move pretty fast.”
The Man took one of the glasses and downed its contents. His embarrassment was starting to wane. “It seems like we started out on the wrong foot, so how about a redo? I guess we can start out with your name.”
“My name is Emelia Estevez,” Emelia grinned at The Man. “What’s yours, tall, white, and blandsome?”
“It’s… it’s Jeb!.”
“Do they not have last names where you come from, Jeb!?”
“My name is not important right now,” Jeb! deflected.
“Well, if you want to be weird about it, cool with me.” Emelia poured herself a shot, downed it, and was pouring a second before you could say “um wow that was pretty fast”. “So what brings you through these parts, mister Jeb!?” Emelia asked.
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Well, aren’t you mysterious?” Emelia grabbed her second shot but froze in place as the saloon doors swung open violently. In walked a hulking tower of a man, six and a half feet tall with biceps as big as a normal man’s thighs and thighs as big as two of a normal man’s thighs, with two slightly less hulking, slightly shorter towers of men following in tow. One of the men was in a cowboy hat, the other in a comically large sombrero. The large man’s head was a pasty white ham topped with an unkempt tuft of matted red hair and a lazy, drooping mouth clinging onto a chewed cigar. But Jeb! didn’t know that, he just looked ahead as the trenchcoat clad man worked his way to the bar. He plopped himself down onto the stool to Jeb!’s right, his lackeys occupying the two to Jeb!’s left.
“You know what I want,” the (lowercase) man growled at Emelia. “What’s the deal with this clown?”
“He was sitting here, talking to this lovely young lady and enjoying a couple of drinks, before a freakish gorilla interrupted those pleasantries by asking ‘What the deal was’ with him,” Jeb! turned to his right. “Does that sound about right to you?”
“Lookie here, shitheel,” the gorilla-esque man said as he snatched Jeb!’s second drink and poured it down his gullet. “My name is Bartholomew Dunham, but you’re gonna call me sheriff Barry. This here is my town and I don’t take too kindly to strangers barging in here and assaulting our hard working citizens, like Missus Estevez here.”
“I think Miss Estevez is fine with my company,” Jeb! said. “But if you think that I’m causing trouble then I best be on my way.”
Jeb! got up from his stool– but Barry grabbed his arm.“I reckon that we’re well past that point, compadre,” Barry grunted. He pulled his coat back with his free hand, revealing a shiny, well maintained revolver on his hip. “I didn’t clean up the last sheriff’s mess by letting ruffians like yourself walk around like they own the place. That don’t fly here. We’re gonna settle this outside.”
Jeb! let out a sigh. “If you say so.”
Barry beckoned to his underlings and they took position alongside Jeb!. Jeb!’s escorts led him from the counter, out the swinging doors, and into the sweltering sunlight, with Barry close in tow.
“So how’s this gonna go down?” Jeb! asked.
“You know how it goes; 10 paces, turn, and shoot. Last one to not be dead wins. I’ve gotta warn you, son, this isn’t the first time that I’ve played this game.”
“I’m shaking in my boots,” Jeb! said with a sneer, although it wasn’t a complete lie. Jeb! stomped begrudgingly to the center of the dusty street and turned to face the alabaster mission, with Barry soon standing to his rear. Barry’s henchmen leaned against the hitch where their three horses were now tied up. Emelia watched from the door of the saloon, a look of distress on her face, although she had probably seen this same scene more times than she cared to.
One. Two. Three. Jeb!’s hand hovered over his gun. Four. Five. Sweat streamed from his palms and down his fingers, making tiny, dark circles in the dirt. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. BAM! Pain ripped through the back of Jeb!’s calf, up his spine, and though each rivulet of his nervous system. He spun and fell to the ground, his back kicking up a cloud of dust. A whiff of smoke rose from the sombrero’d man’s gun. No wonder Barry had won so many duels before. Jeb! didn’t have time to think. He pulled out his gun and fired three shots at sombrero. Two at cowboy hat, who was just reaching for his own gun. The two men fell to the ground in bloody piles. Jeb! pointed his final shot at Barry, but before he could pull the trigger, hot metal tore through his right hand and forced him to drop his pistol into the dirt.
“I’ve gotta say, you’re quicker than I expected,” Barry blew smoke from the glistening barrel of his revolver. “Most people are dead in the dirt before I even turn around, but you managed to take down both of my boys, here. Ain’t that something?” Barry took a knee at Jeb!’s bloodied feet. “But it looks like you’re shit outta luck now, hombre,” Barry pointed the barrel square between Jeb!’s eyes. “Any last words?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a couple,” he said. A sharp metallic click came from inside Jeb!’s left pocket, followed by the crack of a gunshot. “Concealed carry.”
Barry dropped his gun, clenched at his chest, and fell over dead before he could realize what happened. Blood was oozing from the newly-made fleshwound that ran down the length of Jeb!’s left leg. Jeb! laid back on the dirt and closed his eyes.
* * *
Jeb! awoke on a counter, surrounded by dusty bottles of liquor. Blood soaked rags were wrapped around his legs and hand. He gripped the edge of the bar with his uninjured left hand and sat up. Emelia looked on from a stool a couple of feet away.
“About time you woke up, Jeb!,” Emelia said. She sat up and walked toward Jeb!, clenching something in her hands. “Seems like you’re doing well enough to explain to me what the hell this is all about.”
Emelia lobbed what she was carrying onto the counter next to Jeb!. It was a rather plain-looking brown leather wallet, but Jeb! recognized it as his own. It flopped open, its contents laid bare. Behind a piece of scuffed, translucent plastic was a Florida driver’s license, with the name “Jeb Bush” printed next to a rather unflattering picture of Jeb!.
“You… you could’ve just told me,” Emelia looked on, unflinchingly. “You could’ve just said that you were a… a Bush.”
“Emelia, I know what this town became when my brother was sheriff. I know all of the terrible things he has done.” Tears welled up in Jeb!’s eyes. “But I came here to right those wrongs.”
“We already had someone try and right your brother’s wrongs and you saw how that turned out.”
“I’m not that man, Emelia, and I am not my brother,” Jeb! snatched the wallet up from the counter. “I was born with this curse, but I refuse to follow in the footsteps of my brother, or those of anyone else. I chose to travel the long, arduous road to Casa de Blanca to take it back, to return to it the greatness it once had decades ago. That’s why I have chosen to shed my name, at least until I can make it a name worth wearing. Until then, I will not be Jeb Bush. I will be Jeb!, the Man with No Last Name.”