Challenge 692 Response
The Del Rio Crossing
with Gary Clifton
“The Del Rio Crossing” appears in issue 692.
1: How does Brannigan treat his horses and his dog?
[Gary C.] I think traditionally, both dogs and horses are treated by humans anywhere from expendable work assistants to beloved family members. I think Brannigan saw the dog as both. But in that era, horses were vital to survival.
Silva’s horse fails halfway to Del Rio, and we have a man in western boots looking at walking a great distance — an often fatal consequence. Men were inclined to ride a horse beyond its capacity, but the dog, more resilient, can probably travel many times further than a horse. The dog was a family member; the horse, a tool.
[Don Webb] A Review Editor has pointed out that a Labrador’s size and pelt are adapted to a cold climate. Would the dog function well or, perhaps, even survive on a long trek in the midsummer heat of south Texas?
The countryside is arid. Square Deal’s horse is very thirsty after a hard but relatively short run in the heat. Brannigan is rightly concerned that a thirsty horse might drink too much all at once. Where do Brannigan’s horse and dog get water on the way to Del Rio?
2: What makes Brannigan able to travel at night?
[Gary C.] Experience, necessity, circumstances often compels people to undertake challenges they normally would not. He had the dog working point and some knowledge of the road. He was in a business where taking chances was part of the job description.
[Don W.] The question is not whether Brannigan is heroic; the story takes his fortitude for granted. Rather, how could anybody cross the desert at night? With a flashlight? Unavailable at the time. A torch? Impractical. Rather:
Brannigan knew the rough, sandy trail soil would reflect enough starlight to illuminate the bushy edges of the trail.
The starlight is a very nice touch.
3: Are the previous murders late news and were there other suspects?
[Gary C.] In hindsight’s perfection, I should have said something to the effect of: “We all know abut the couple that disappeared,” etc.
Solving the murders was a touch of literary license in that assuming Hardy would keep a bloodstained buggy around is a stretch, or that he wouldn’t have let the air out of Silva to ensure his silence.
And what would have happened next, had he beat Brannigan to the draw?
I didn’t add more suspects because I felt it would be clutter good only to make more pages. And it’s fiction; the hero can make deductions that are slightly out of whack in real life as sure as Superman can lift railroad engines.
If you want reality, look under big-city bridges or wangle a trip to the morgue. I believe that sometimes it’s best to make the outcome fit the space allocated and to be tailored to what most people want to hear.
[Don W.] It’s easy to get bogged down in details. Let’s take a look at the plot: what is the story supposed to do? Answer: to illustrate the moral that prejudice is stupid and self-defeating. The story does that very well.
What form does the story take? It’s a murder mystery. What are the perpetrator’s means? Isolation, which allows the murders to be committed in broad daylight. What’s his motive? Psychopathic rage. Are there any early hints of it? And, ultimately, where does it come from?
Are two mass murders necessary to the plot? Wouldn’t two similar murders within the space of a few months terrify the townspeople of Uvalde? The clique of poker players seems to take the crimes in stride.
Perhaps simpler: No previous murders are necessary. Rather, Silva may have worked for some or even all of the poker-playing men. He tells Brannigan of his suspicions. Brannigan’s task, then, is to find forensic evidence that will convict the criminal.
As for the gunfight, it’s pure Wild West. But Hardy needn’t misfire his gun. Remember the adage: “Readers assume everything is normal unless told otherwise.” What is normal? Brannigan knows that all the men are armed. When he challenges Hardy, Brannigan has his hand on his pistol and can’t fail to beat Hardy to the draw.
A related topic: readers may wonder what Silva is doing in Texas; why doesn’t he find work in Mexico when he seeks to leave his problems behind? Answer: north Mexico and south Texas form a borderland, which is a kind of “shadow country” of its own. Uvalde offers employment that is better and closer by than Silva could find elsewhere.
Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton