So I’m riding through an especially dangerous part of New Austin; a place more untamed than the whole West; more violent than the inside of a pistol cartridge after the hammer’s dropped; the kind of place that makes tying a coyote to your chaps seem civil–I mean Emily Post, send a “Thank You” card, civil. 

They call it “Free Roam Public.”

Now these parts are widely populated by the most ruthless, ornery, and masterfully skillful shooters around.  They’re not a gang or collective band, or even have any sort of association with each other.  There’s just something about this area that attracts these unsavory sorts.  Locally they’re known as “Trece Anos.”  There might supposed to be a tilde in there, but by my reckoning the name works fine without it (“13 Asses” as opposed to “13 Year Olds”).

To run into one is to see your own blood, usually in some quantity.  Rumor has it that they can kill a man just by talking to him.  Though, in my experience, the cause of death was probably a self inflicted mercy bullet, rather than linguistic prowess of a Trece Anos.

I had one in my sight picture, last week.  I squeeze the trigger, and I don’t know where the bullet hit, but it wasn’t him.  I can knock the hats off Rebeldes with a six gun, while riding at a full gallop.  I’ve shot pistols out of the hands of weapon smugglers with a carbine at 100 yards.  He was standing on a balcony across the road.  I was hunkered down and braced on a rock.  I aimed at his head, with a scoped rifle, and, yet he stood, unfazed and unharmed by the bullet.  Another three rounds at his coat buttons, before he decided to acknowledge my existence.  He knocked my hat off, took out my belt buckle, decided to lame my horse just for kicks, with his belly gun.

Not all my encounters with a Trece Anos have gone as badly.  A few have let their arrogance get the better of them.  One rides up to me to say hello with his pistol, not appreciating that men sitting on horseback seem to be the target of choice for my Springfield Rifle.  He still managed to fire three shots, as his nose was pushed out the back of his head.

I see two more at the base of the little rock face I’m standing on.  They give up attacking each other and start toward a path up the side of the hill.  Drawn in by the sound of rifle fire and the smell of blood, I’m sure they figured it’d be an easy kill.  The idea of facing off with two Trece Anos makes me want to piss on a rattlesnake.  Instead, I figure I’ll discourage their charge with a dose of “all purpose farmer’s helper and stump remover.”

About the time I have it lit, a third guy sneaks up and stabs me right in the arm.  Now I’ve said a few things about the moral imperatives if you find yourself holding a lit stick of dynamite.  Most of them hold true if you drop one, too.  Especially when you’re bleeding from both arms and faced with three men each more dangerous than yourself.

It might seem like a bad idea to jump off a rock face under normal circumstances, but normal circumstances it ain’t.  No sooner do I jump than a little high explosive reminds me of that inconvenient fact.

Down I go, bouncing and bruising the whole way.  About toward the bottom a bloody cowboy-wear bag of shredded meat passes me and lands with a splat and a squish at the base of the hill.

Ain’t my fault he brought a knife to a dynamite fight.