Chapter Six: Ashe
"I said, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Dave shook the revolver at him. "You weren't supposed to come in here."
"I heard a noise." He had to stay calm, to control the situation. He took a step toward Dave, very slowly. "Look, it's not a big deal. I didn't see anything."
"Don't come any closer. I ain't stupid. I know you're gonna report me."
The xiuhcoatl made a sad whining sound behind him.
"I just want to go to see my father." Another slow step, hands held out from his body to show he was no threat.
"You're some kind of government agent, aren't you?" Dave's voice took on a snarling edge.
Ashe shook his head. "Hardly. You picked me up, remember?" Another step.
"You were waiting for me out there. I know how you people work."
Ashe stepped forward again. "Look, this is just a misunderstanding." He kept eye contact with Dave the whole time, drawing on his training with unicorns.
"I said keep the fuck back!" Dave cocked the trigger.
This time it was the cowboy who stepped forward. Dave held the gun out in front of him like a shield. "Here's what we're gonna do. Turn around."
"This is just a mistake…"
"Turn the fuck around." Dave put the revolver up against his temple.
He turned. This was going south fast.
"I'll make this quick. Daddy always said that quick was best when you had to put something down. Get on your—"
Ashe whipped around and knocked the gun out of the cowboy's hands. It fired, the bullet embedding itself with a thunk in the wooden wall of the barn, before skittering off into a corner.
Dave's eyes went wide.
Ashe took him by the throat and pushed him back against the barn door. His arms flailed, but Ashe was stronger than he was.
"Didn't your Daddy ever teach you not to mess with a phoenix?" His heart was racing with adrenaline, but he fought to keep himself calm.
Dave tried to talk, but all that came out was a rasping breath.
"And a xiuhcoatl?" Ashe glanced back at the beast in the cage. "What the hell are you doing with a dragon?"
He eased his grip just a little, so the man could respond.
"Had a… buyer…"
"Poor thing is half starved." He let his wings manifest behind him, the fire rippling along his arms, unfortunately crisping yet another shirt in the process. His hand around Dave's throat shifted into golden talons. "Listen to me carefully." He put his faces in Dave's, staring directly into the man's blue eyes with his own yellow ones. "I'm going to let that dragon out of its cage. It shouldn't be kept in those conditions. And if I ever hear that you are poaching anything again - a dragon, a jack rabbit, even a field mouse, I'll come back here to make sure you never take a breath again." With that, he tightened his grip, choking the air out of the man. When Dave he lost consciousness, Ashe made sure he was still breathing, then grabbed a length of rope from the barn wall and carried his limp body back to the house He laid him on the couch and tied the man's arms and legs, tight enough to give him a little trouble getting loose.
Then he went through the kitchen to the bedroom, looking for a new shirt.
Something hissed at him from the bed. It was an old tabby cat. Otherwise the room was empty. Ashe hissed back, and the cat ran out of the room.
He rummaged through the man's closet, finding a plaid shirt that fit him well enough, to replace his burned-off t-shirt. He also found some coin in a jar under Dave's socks, and he took that too. And he found Dave's keys on the dresser.
Then he left the house behind.
He didn't worry about leaving prints in the house. His fingers had been burned smooth by his angry outburst in the rain, and it would take a few days before the details of his fingerprints regenerated.
In the barn, he approached the dragon's cage slowly, speaking softly to the beast to keep it calm. He fumbled through the keys until he found the one that fit the lock.
"Three, two, one," he counted, and then unlocked the cage door and jumped backward, out of its way.
The beast stuck its nose out, sniffing as if it didn't entirely trust its newfound freedom. Then it crawled out of the cage, unwinding itself faster than he would have guessed possible. It turned to face him, towering above him, and hissed.
He stood his ground, breathing slowly, projecting an air of calm strength. He put out his hand slowly, and touched the xiuhcoatl's neck, rubbing it slowly like he might do to calm one of his unicorns.
The hissing slowed and stopped, and then it settled slowly back toward the ground, emitting something like a purr. Soon they were eye to eye.
It blinked at him, and then as quickly as it had come out of its cage, it spun around and disappeared out the door, into the night.
Ashe breathed a sigh of relief. He found the can of gas Dave had dropped outside of the barn and filled up his bike's gas tank. He grabbed his duffel bag and added the coin from the house to what he'd brought with him and tied it to the back of the bike. Then he hopped on, kick started it, and roared off into the late afternoon, heading for Tucson.
He took the gun and the keys with him, and halfway back to Saint David, he threw them both off into the bushes on the side of the road.
From the house, it was a straight shot back toward town. The road was empty, and the warm afternoon air felt good on his bare arms.
Ashe arrived in Saint David a few minutes later. He was fairly certain the cowboy poacher would keep quiet about the whole thing for fear of being caught, but the sooner he got out of town, the better. Just in case Dave got himself loose too easily and decided to call the cops. He passed by the small pecan orchards that dotted the road, and soon was back on the highway.
He'd let himself lose control, that morning out on the side of the road in the rain. His temper had gotten the better of him, for once. It had twisted him up inside, stirring up primal instincts he had long held at bay.
He thought he understood, for the first time, what it must feel like to be his father. And why Kino had turned to drink.
But he had bested his own anger in the barn, with Dave. He had proven to himself that he could still keep his emotions in check.
Ashe let his mind go blank. The white lines in the middle of the road blurred and the rest of the world around him disappeared. It was just him and the world that flowed around him, the January desert air fresh and clean after the monsoon. Traffic was light, but even the few cars and long haul trailers around him disappeared into the ether. He traveled alone.
In less than an hour, he reached Tucson.
He got off at Speedway and checked into the Econo Lodge, and after dumping his things in the room, he set off to the hospital to find his father.