It was dark when Brad and I pulled into Brownstone Thicket. The moonlight made the place look even more ancient than it appeared, like a still from an old black and white Western movie. It was a quaint little town, just like the movies, seemed to have a bar, a church, a few shops and some scattered houses with a road down the middle. The population couldn't have been much more than a hundred.
"Why the hell do people live in places like this in the arse-end of nowhere?" Brad said, shaking his head.
"It's home I guess, ain't much else to it."
Brad nodded thoughtfully and looked up at the moon, a thin sliver of silver in the sky, it's sideways smile shining down on us. We looked at each other and nodded. It's didn't really need to be said any more, we just knew. Had to keep an eye on it. I had the cage in the back of the pickup for when things got hairy, literally, but that slice of moon up there told us we had a while yet before that happened. Hopefully, we'd be sorted before then.
"Better get ourselves some rest, start doing the rounds in the morning." Brad said, indicating the bar, or saloon if we were going to stick with the Western theme that seemed to be going on around here.
I grunted my approval and we parked the pickup alongside the bar and walked in. I was disappointed that piano music didn't suddenly stop, like in the movies. An old gal appeared from behind the bar and looked at us with surprise, then grinned.
"Well howdy fellers, ain't this a nice surprise. You two looking for a place to stay? We don't get many visitors round here. You just passing through?"
"Sure are ma'am." I replied. "For a place to stay I mean. We'll be sticking around for a bit before we head off, we got some business here."
The old gal looked nonplussed for a second then guffawed.
"Business you say, well, you'll be wanting to talk to Sam, the mayor don't see much business come down our way and so I'm sure he'd like to meet y'all. I'll get him over in the mornin'."
"That'd be appreciated ma'am."
"Oh deary me, those rooms! It's $40 a room a night, that includes breakfast too." She eyed us both and her lip curled slightly. "Doubles cost extra."
Brad almost choked but I quickly rescued the situation. "That won't be necessary ma'am. $80 for two singles will do us nicely."
I handed over the money while Brad, coughing, went back to the pickup to grab our bags. After that the old gal was quiet. She showed us to our rooms and then left us to our own devices.
I was just bedding down when I heard a knock on the door. I opened it and Brad was on the other side, staring excitedly.
"Jake, you need to come see this." He said, beckoning me into his room.
I followed not sure what I was meant to be seeing when he pointed over to the bedside cabinet. On it stood a simple picture frame with a black and white photo of a man inside.
"It's him Jake, it's damn well him! Look." Brad said, his voice dropping down to an excited whisper.
He pulled our log book out of his bag and flicked through the bookmarks until he found the research we'd taken from Brad's maker. There, paper-clipped to one of the pages was the exact same photo. Carlton Ramsey. The name was underlined several times and ringed with biro, a note below it. He is the one.
We'd found him, we'd found the mangy S.O.B. I couldn't believe it. We looked at each other and did the only thing we could.
One fist pump later Brad wanted to go ask the old gal about the photo but I held him back.
"It's too late to move now, wait till we got some sleep in us first, we don't want to go off half-cocked on this. Sleep on it now, tomorrow's the start of the rest of your life buddy!"
"Hell yeah! Okay Jake, see you in the morning, but first thing, first thing, we're taking down this mother. Got it?"
"Sure thing buddy, you don't need to tell me twice."
I went back to my room and laid awake, barely able to sleep. This was it, my best friend free of his curse, what we'd been working for for so long. As sleep began to claim me, I couldn't help but marvel at how easy it had been. Almost too easy.