That red-headed kid there, coming into my wing of the museum, he looks like an obliging young man, eager like Rezin was. How malleable is he, though?
He loiters before the rifle case. A good sign, but, Kid, rifles are for cowards. Men use weapons more intimate. Until he shows me he’s a man, he’s a kid. Kid, come to my display.
He’s dawdling. Dawdlers read about the Indians and their bows and arrows. This kid won’t ever be an Indian.
Kid, I have what you need.
He’s coming this way.
No. A young woman walks in; she’s around the kid’s age. The kid reads the plaque in the porcupine-quill breastplate’s display case, doing it so he can keep glancing at the budding interest of his that strolled in. Kid, the proper weapon could pierce clean through that paltry protection; I know first-hand. Kid, are you telling me you’re more interested in that girl?
He has one hand in his pocket. He’s fingering a pocketknife, probably a gift from an older male figure, some token of manhood. As if a foldable tool could do the job. Kid, you need something stiffbacked. He steals another glimpse of the girl.
She catches him mid-glance and smiles. The kid blushes. The girl moves to the room’s tipi and slides inside its open flaps. So, she’s adventurous. But you’re not going in, are you, Kid? It’s happened four times since I’ve lingered in the Chamber of the Wildest West. This kid is not Number Five. Things about this place, I know.
How hard is he to entice? I have something that flirtatious girl doesn’t. There’s lust and there’s lust. Rezin knew.
The kid walks by the tipi and looks inside as he passes its opening. Maybe he is a rifleman, only comfortable shooting from a distance. He goes to the maize-grinding display. If this kid lifts the metate and does women’s work, I’ll abandon him. He reads about agriculture and keeps surreptitious sentinel on the tipi.
The girl emerges, blinking in the light. She looks over her shoulder at the kid and saunters past the horseshoes to the cavalry uniforms. Each visitor is one case away from me, the girl on my left, the kid on my right. They’re pretending to read subjects that don’t interest them.
The kid drifts to my case. Good. He’s reading my plaque. He’s not a fast reader, but I’ll get my message into him. I can assay him better now he’s close. Maybe it’s never been blood, but I know he’s spilled fluid. Another good sign. Keep reading, Kid. He’s keen to learn about Rezin’s successors and me spilling prodigious life fluids.
The kid doesn’t notice the girl come to my case. She has hair as black as Rezin’s soul. The kid about jumps out of his skin when she reads aloud.
“Arkansas Toothpick. A favored frontier tool. Possibly the first of the famous Bowie knives, the blade is wide and thick and measures over nine inches long. This fighting implement was used in close combat and hand-to-hand conflicts. A man who had spent his cartridges could still rely on such an instrument.”
The girl skips the Bowie Brothers’ slave-trading partnership with the pirate, Jean Lafitte. She misses the melee at the Sandbar, the slaughter over the lost San Saba mine, the bloodletting at the Alamo. She’s skimming the bold-faced headings, overlooking the “legends” of voodoo rites Rezin Bowie commissioned to be performed upon my forging in Jessie Clifft’s Louisiana smithy in 1826 — truth, not legends. I need the kid to know the particulars, to carve them into his psyche: the New Orleans hoodoo, the hungry spirits shackled, the sacrifices sanguine — Jim Bowie’s being ultimate.
Girl — Rezin’s sorcerous obsession with men’s primal wildness is etched between the lines of my plaque and in my steel. Girl — tell the kid about the killers who served me into the 1880s and the life-liquid of their bountiful prey, how wielders’ lust and victims’ vitality have permeated my hickory haft to soak my ever-thirsty blade — both parts blood-blackened — even if the plaque’s graven words omit my journey ever westward, wielded in hands ever bloodier. Girl — tell him the message behind the message. Help me gain him.
She smoothes her shining black hair. “Hi, I’m Sylvia,” she says.
“My name is Leo,” the kid says. “Leonardo. Call me Leo.” He holds out the hand that fingered the pocketknife. The girl laughs and shakes his hand, stiffly.
“I’m a Leo, too.” She smiles broadly.
Her white cotton half-shirt leaves her flat, tan belly exposed. I imagine myself thrust hilt-deep into it, envision the bright bloom of blood. Slaking my desire, I dream-drink the warm flow, sample the salinity.
“What? Your name is Leo?” There’s an instrument unfolding in the kid’s pocket. “Oh, you’re a Leo. I’m a Virgo.”
She laughs again. She lets go of his hand.
The kid says, “You’re a good reader.”
“Leo, have you seen the tipi? Would you like to? It’s comfy inside. Come on, I’ll show you.”
No, Girl, that doesn’t help me. Girl. No.
Kid, listen to me. Kid, don’t ride down that canyon. I have what you need. Jim and Rezin had it, had it again and again. Slayers who succeeded the Bowie brothers, blood drinkers who wielded me in later years, they sliced men by the score and stabbed dozens of women; they had it, Kid. It’s satisfaction. There’s no substitute for the gush of blood. Proxies, maybe, but nothing that can sate. Kid, if you can’t free me, you can buy a high-carbon Bowie knife sharp as Archimedes in the gift shop for forty dollars. Kid. Forty dollars.
She takes his hand and leads him in. He closes the tipi’s flaps behind them.
Kid, this is my museum. I can read the place’s fate. You won’t be penetrating to the hilt with her. You’re not Number Five, Kid. You’re no knife man, yet. You’ll just be doing edge work in there. Kid. Kid.
Sean Jones has been a dad, a soldier, a teacher, a computer technician, a translator, a foreign exchange student, an Eagle Scout, a city councilman and a game designer but never a lawyer, an astronaut or a cowboy. His favorite hobby is any kind of metal fabrication: customizing cars, welding, sculpting steel and aluminum; he’s a Jones who wants to be a smith.