Here we get Charlie’s true introduction. I think he’s a nice contrast to West. More than any other story I’ve written I feel like the characters in Red Valley all serve a purpose and truly have an arc for themselves. I hope it translates well.
West approached Charlie’s house like a man on his way to a death sentence. The air was dry and the sky was gray and West felt it all very appropriate. He opened the fence and walked up to the porch but he didn’t knock. Instead he hesitated. He tried again but still couldn’t do it. He thought of Mary and Ellie and he cursed out loud. He shook his head and knocked on the door.
Elizabeth opened the door. It had been years since he’d seen her but she still looked the same, small and mousy with her hair pulled back, and that look of constant regret in her eye. She was shrouded in black and a cross hung around her neck and West now remembered how off-putting she was to him. But the same was true for the reverse and Elizabeth did not greet West. Instead she put her head down and wandered inside. She left the door open but the screen door closed. For a moment West wondered if he should follow but he decided it best to wait.
A moment or so later Charlie appeared in the doorway. He looked at West through the screen door and said nothing. West took a breath and waited for him to speak. He was trying his best to be polite and Charlie could sense that something was amiss.
“The hell do you want?”
“Can I come in?”
Charlie looked West over a long moment. He could see that West had been riding a while and eventually nodded his head, albeit begrudgingly. He gave the screen door a little kick and kept it open with the heel of his boot.
“Come on then.”
Numerous crucifixes of various sizes and styles lined the walls of the house and West remembered that Charlie always did have a religious streak and that he never cared much for that. West followed Charlie into the kitchen and Charlie took a seat at the table. West stood there for a moment and wondered. Finally he asked for a drink. Charlie told West that he didn’t drink anymore.
“You don’t keep nothin’ for a weary traveler?” Annoyed, Charlie asked him what he wanted and he told him a double. Charlie walked over to a little end table, knelt down and pulled a small decanter from inside. He poured one glass and handed it to West. “You’re gonna need one, too, Charlie.”
“I don’t drink anymore, Hank.” West nodded defeatedly and took a sip from the glass. Charlie placed the decanter on top of the end table and took a seat. He looked up at West and nodded to a chair but West still stood there. He tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come. He made one last attempt to persuade Charlie to have a drink. “Cut the shit, Hank, and tell me why you’re here.” West took a deep, sharp breath.
“It’s about Mary.”
Charlie shot up knocking his chair to the floor. He didn’t take his eyes off West for a second and prepared himself for what he was sure to follow.
“Jesus, Chuck… She’s gone. I’m so sorry, she’s gone.”
Charlie’s mouth stammered as his eyes filled with tears. His expression quickly changed from overwhelming grief to overwhelming rage. In a matter of moments Charlie was on top of West, hitting him across the face. West took every hit like a penance. Charlie’s arm got tired and he walked over to the end table and poured himself a shot and slammed it back. He took a breath, poured another, and shot that one back as well. Then he coughed. West stood up.
“You were supposed to protect her.”
Charlie pulled a pistol from under the table and put the barrel to West’s head.
“I oughta kill you right now.”
“They’ve got Ellie.” Charlie lowered the gun.
“Whoever it was… they’ve got Ellie. They left a message…Sanchero, whatever the hell that means. Danny-Boy says it’s some gang out in Red Valley. I’m goin’ out there, I just… I thought it’d be right of me… to let you know about Mary.”
Charlie stared at West for a long moment and then proceeded out of the room. West stood there, puzzled, his head bowed in grief. He took a sip of his drink and by the time he finished it Charlie returned wearing a coat and hat and carrying a rifle.
“What do you think you’re doin’?”
“I’m going with you.”
“Like hell you are.”
“She was my sister, Hank. I’m going.”
“Charlie, this isn’t the reason I came here.”
“I know it.”
“I’m goin’ after these guys. All out. A farewell ride. I don’t think you got the stomach for this. Not then, definitely not now.”
“With all due respect, “West Steel”, Mary was my sister, and Ellie is my goddaughter. There’s no talkin’ me out of this.”
“…Fine,” West said, begrudgingly.
“And I also want you to know that when this is done, and we get Ellie back, I’m going to kill you.”
“You’re a terrible shot.”
Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed and watched Charlie stuff clothes into a sack. She’d eavesdropped on his and West’s conversation and hadn’t spoken a word since. She’d always hated West. She found him to be the devil’s sort and deep down she always knew he’d be the one to rob her of her family. Charlie pulled their Bible from the nightstand and finally she spoke.
“I don’t want you going,” but Charlie did not respond. “Did you hear me?”
“Yes.” As Charlie pushed the Bible into his sack Elizabeth snatched it away and threw it across the room.
“Then look at me.” Charlie obeyed. She’d never seen his face so stern and she knew it was useless but still she pressed him. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I don’t have a choice.”
“Of course you do. You’re not that man anymore. If you ever was. This is Hank’s life, not yours.” Charlie took a deep breath and looked at his wife with that same stern face.
“Mary’s gone. She’s dead. Not only did they kill her, they took Ellie. The only piece of her that’s left.” Elizabeth had tears in her eyes.
“And where does that leave me then? What about the choice to stay and be a husband? What then of your responsibilities?”
“I have a responsibility as that girl’s uncle and godfather.”
“If you go… You’re not coming back.” Charlie paused a moment and then continued to pack.
“You don’t know that.”
“You’re going out there with him.”
“Hank is a lot of things. He’s a survivor.”
“That’s Hank.” Charlie looked at her, indignant. “I’m too young to be a widow.” Charlie sighed and crossed the room. He took her in his arms and kissed her forehead and held her tight enough to break her.
“You ain’t gonna be no widow. Not for many, many years.” She looked at him now, scared to believe him, as if trusting in his return would prevent it. He broke her gaze and stood up and tied his sack closed and left the room. Elizabeth sank onto the bed and buried her face in her hands.
Charlie passed West in the hallway and West stopped him. “Chuck. You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to leave your wife.”
“You know where I stand.” Charlie pulled away and continued down the hall.
Charlie and West finished packing the horses as the sunset painted everything orange and yellow. Elizabeth watched through the screen door as West mounted his horse and Charlie looked back at her. She was scared that this would be the last time she’d see him alive, but his eyes – so strong and striking and sad – promised her otherwise. And she started to believe and it scared her all the more. Charlie mounted his horse and he and West started off.
West turned and gave Elizabeth a nod he hoped she’d understand. She understood, and she glared back at him.