They pulled over the sand dune just after noon. At least, he thought it was noon. Had to be. Staring up at the sun, Jamison couldn't imagine that son of a bitch getting any higher or hotter.
If we keep this pace, we're dead.
It was a sobering thought. Most thoughts involving death tended to do be. Either drove you to a drink or away from one. At the moment, Jamison would've preferred the former.
"We any closer now, Captain? Or are we still waiting for the Almighty to change sand into sea?"
Harrison held his hand over his eyes. Whether it was to block the sun or offer a mocking salute, Jamison couldn't be sure. But the heat was getting to him. That much he knew. The man swaggered back in forth in his saddle like he'd just been kicked out of Sally's Saloon, and the sweat that had been beading his head had gone dry. Another hour or two, he'd be hallucinating. Another hour or two after that, he wouldn't.
"Keep heading yonder," Jamison assured him. "And we won't need the Almighty or His miracles."
"See that, Marsh?" Josephine smiled back at Harrison Marsh, her hand similarly placed above her brow as she peered back him. "All that incessant nagging of yours is finally paying dividends."
"At least I'm trying something. What the hell good you been--"
"Hey!" Jamison reared his horse around and the beast grunted its displeasure. Together the two of them struck a fearsome view. Or so Jamison liked to believe. Certainly Peyton, his horse, did. A burly stallion. Black coat. Powerful quarters. She had crushed snakes and caved in the heads of marauders with equal ease. Jamison fancied her the fastest horse in the Del-o. She wasn't. But what she lacked in speed she more than made up for in grit and strength. More than suitable supplements. She was fast though. He'd fight anyone who said otherwise.
"We don't need any of that. The desert will eat us up just fine by itself. It doesn't need no help from either of you."
Harrison finished dabbing his head with a scarf then replaced his hat, bowing delicately toward Ms. Josephine Akers in apology.
For her part, Josephine simply offered a delicate wave of her gloved hand then, acting as if nothing had happened at all and they were all simply out for a stroll on some gently sloping lawn, took up her reins and coaxed her [horse type] onward.
No matter how much of a front she put on, Jamison could tell she was hurting. When she turned away from Harrison and faced forward again, he could see it. That telltale wavering, like a dizzy spell had just overtaken her. Soon she'd be in no shape at all. And then Jamison would be out of company, and worst, out of profit.
Dead passengers pay no fares. The harsh reality for any courier, guide, or all around fool.
"We just keep heading yonder," he repeated. "You'll see. Few more dunes between us and heaven."
"How many more is that?" Harrison shouted from the back.
"More than you can count, my dear." Josephine said. "But don't you worry. I'll help you count them out on your fingers and toes if you'd like."
"You can count a few more--"
"Enough!" Jamison didn't even turn around. He hoped the bass he put in his voice sounded intimidating, instead of what it really was: sheer dried out aggravation.
Oasis are funny things. The only spot of color or concentrated life in a sea of sand, but you couldn't spot one until you were on top of it. Hell of a thing, that. He'd heard a man in town, preacher he thought, or perhaps just a mad man with delusions of piety, once say, "God doth have a sense of humor." He never really understood that. Not until he met Josephine and Harrison. They had what people called that "Black Humor." Gallows humor. Dry wit. Whatever name it went by, it was like a great big stick of dynamite went off in Jamison's head and suddenly he got it. Not just the line about God and his humor, but deserts too. Only a man with a sick sense of humor could invent a desert. And if God was as all powerful as people said He was, then he must've been one punch drunk mad son of a bitch.
Peyton was breathing heavy. She'd crossed the Del-o five different times. That's the whole thing now, not just some piddling jaunt from one edge of an edge to another. Most horses never made it through the once. Peyton, she damn near deserved to have parts of this coarse hell named after her. Matter of fact, if Josephine and Harrison were as deep pocketed as they claimed--and as rich in friends as they boasted--maybe once their dealings came to an end he'd be able to use their connections to get himself hooked up with a cartographer. Pay him to scribble Peyton's name on a part of a map. Once someone important did it, that was all it took. Everyone else followed for fear of not looking important themselves. He was sure that was how ties got started. Some jackass with a little bit of money wore one. Next thing you know, everyone can stop talking about how fancy they look and how important it is to be seen in one.
Jamison's hand went to the back of his neck. Something had stung him, must of, because he slapped the hell out of himself and he rarely did that for fun. But when he took his hand back there was nothing there. No splotch of blood or mess of black. He looked up at the sun. It looked right back on down at him. He was cooking up.