AFTER HOURS of daytime sleep, I tramp barefoot into the hall for a pack of gum.


Bending over the vending machine’s slot, I notice a large man coming my way. I stand up to meet him. He towers, a hawk talon necklace around his neck and big brown leather boots sunk into the carpeting.


He introduces himself as Drifter Jim, and claims he’s killed one thousand men and sired one thousand sons in Dodge City. I ask him if he feels he’s broken even.


He sighs and shakes his head. “Not even close, young friend.”


I wait for him to continue. “Headed out,” he continues, “bus in two, maybe one hour. Far as Denver and from there don’t ask.”


A look passes between us like we each understand that a changing of the guards is taking place, and that to mention it aloud would, rather than confirm our mutual understanding, leave us both empty-handed.


So I wish him well and return to my Room, to fall asleep with a mouthful of gum.