I thought I'd seen him in the hallway last month. I'd definitely caught a glimpse of him in the kitchen only a few days ago. But, both times, when I'd looked closer he'd gone, even though I'd smelt that small dark cigar.
That afternoon, I was in the living room watching Montell. The curtains were closed, and there were only the come-and-go lights of the screen.
I imagined my parents, out there among other people, amid the trolleys and the check out, the rows of frozen chickens and pizza.
Then a small red spot in the dimness. For several seconds I was trying to work out what it was, hanging there several feet above the floor, like a little red star.
"So it is you."
The aroma of acrid tobacco. He drew on the cigarillo, making the ember glow.
"Heard you'd invited me," he said in his soft voice. He looked scruffy and unshaven and cool.
"I wasn't certain you'd ever show up."
I was almost stammering with excitement, but I tried to stay calm. I didn't want to come over like some geek.
"Just passin' through, kid. Got any whiskey?"
"Uh, I'm not sure. Sherry?" I jumped up and went to the drinks cabinet. I looked at the labels. "Port?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so."
"Are you staying long?"
"It's just my parents will be back soon."
I thought of hiding him in my bedroom, but then a better idea occurred. By the time my mother and father got home, Clint and I could be above it all, literally.
"Well, how about we go up into the attic? Just you and me?"
He followed me, silent as a shadow, and I explained as I got the stepladder out.
"We'll stay up there, at least for a while. My parents never stick their heads up that way. It'll be good. We'll hang out in the attic."
I raided the larder and the fridge and then up the stepladder we went. Me, just ordinary, clump, clump, but Clint lithe as a cat, his poncho trailing around him. Even when he moved, he was stillness.
He helped me to pull the ladder up after us. I lowered the trapdoor.
I had a small flashlight with me and that threw a radiance over the rafters and the assembled packing cases, all the junk we didn't want to throw away, but couldn't use.
There was my old deflated Spacehopper, with 'Sex and drugs and rock and roll,' stencilled on in felt tip, several years before I even knew what sex was, not that I knew much now, at least not sex with anyone else.
"Quite a little place you got here," he said, looking round.
He'd sat down on a packing case, and a match blazed up briefly as he lit his cigarillo again.
I sat opposite him, cross-legged, next to a stack of Pyrex dishes, an unwanted Christmas present from Aunt Isobel which had somehow ended up here. There was a sewing machine that my mother had given up on years past.
It was all a bit strange now I considered it. It was great he was here. But was he Clint Clint, or was he just Clint? As in the movie star? After all, if he was, instead of a six-shooter, wouldn't he have turned up with a six-pack of beer?
"Are you hungry?" I asked.
We munched smoky bacon crisps, and chocolate digestives. I poured out the lemonade. As this was being done, a sudden thought occurred to me. It was a wild thought, an outlaw notion. But, it would save having to stay up here.
"Listen, when my parents get home is there any chance you'd shoot them for me?"
"Mebbe." He brushed the biscuit crumbs off his knees.
"I know it's a lot to ask, but I'd really appreciate it."
"Don't get on with your folks?"
"Not much. But, could you? Shoot them, I mean?"
The possibility of my mother and father walking through the door, carrying twisted plastic supermarket bags, shocked as Clint confronted them with that mean-eyed stare. Saying something like 'Your spurs' to let them know how he'd realised they'd been sneaking up on him. Then slamming them back through the doorway with howitzer blasts from his Colt.
He seemed to be debating it. I loved the way his hand moved, very slow and deliberate. It floated up towards his face, carrying the cheroot. He considered the glowing tip.
"I don't know, kid. Your pa got a price on his head?"
I could say he did. But, I didn't want to lie to Clint, even though he'd probably expect me to try and double-cross him. Most people tried to - Mexican bandidos, rival bounty hunters - but he was always too smart for them. I was sure he'd be too smart for me too.
"I don't think he has," I admitted.
"Your ma got any gold?"
"She's got earrings. And a bracelet. Stuff like that."
He took some time, and then, in that whispering voice of his: "That ain't hardly sufficient justification."
OK, we'd just have to stay here. That was fine.
"All right. What we can do is, we hole up here during the day, and probably sleep most of the time, and then at night we go downstairs when my mother and father are in bed - "
I broke off, and stared.
A mule was tethered to a hitching post in the far corner. It regarded me, and then looked straight ahead again. I didn't think it had been there before, so obviously it was Clint's mule. I'd no idea how he'd got it into the attic. But, then that was Clint. In all his movies, he was very quiet, but he was always resourceful.
"Sounds cosy, son. But we ain't even got a bathroom up here."
I redirected my attention. "Well, no. Not here. But it'll be OK. When we go back downstairs later, we can take care of that. Then we can eat, and watch TV, and have a wash - "
"You got this all figured out."
"Sure. It'll be great."
We both lifted our heads then. It was raining. It sounded strange up there with just the tiles and the roofing insulation, or whatever it was, between the rain and us. The sound made me shiver slightly, but in a good way.
I should have brought pullovers and a change of underwear and a hundred other things, but I didn't want to go back down in case my parents came home and found me. Things like that could keep.
"Would you like another digestive?" I asked politely. Then I screamed.
The mule, its tail straight out, was dumping a whole load of manure right in the corner of the attic.
"Aw, God, no!"
Clint was impassive. "Hell, you should be out on the prairie. You'd soon get used to that kind of deal."
In the confined space, it really stank. It was terrible.
The mule lowered its tail. The damned beast stood there, all calm and comfortable.
"We can't have this! It's ridiculous."
Clint gazed at me with that cold look. "Look, son, I don't like you carryin' on 'bout my mule. He's gotta right to go to the bathroom same as anyone else."
"But you've got to make some compromises. This isn't the prairie."
His lip curled. "I've noticed."
"What in God's name do you need a mule here for anyway? Why didn't you get a house-broken mule?"
The mule was watching the argument. Maybe it could sense it was the subject of dispute, but it seemed unconcerned. It flapped its ears.
"Clint," I was getting mad now. "Your mule stinks."
Then I was quiet.
He stood up.
For a second, I thought he was about to flip his poncho back to free his gun arm. He was looking at me in a mean way, and the cheroot was really motoring around his mouth, first one corner and then the other.
"Son,' he said, 'it occurs to me I mighta seen you on a wanted poster back in Tucson. Right now, that's the feeling I'm gettin.' "
I sat and watched him while the seconds ticked away along with the rain falling on the world outside. I could hear it ticking on the roof.
"Marilyn Monroe," I finally heard a voice say. It was me saying it. I didn't even realise I was going to open my mouth.
"What about my voice?"
I leaned forward. "The way you talk. I just realised. It's like Marilyn Monroe."
"Kid, I don't know what the hell you're - "
"Is that where you got the idea from?" I was starting to get excited. "To talk like that? Did you copy it off her? That whispery - "
"Son," he snarled, "you got some loco ideas in your head. You'd better forget all this crazy stuff 'bout whoever she is."
What an incredible discovery! Who would have dreamt it?
"Aw, come on, you can tell me. I won't let anyone know."
He was silent for several seconds. Then he plucked the cigarillo out of his mouth and crushed it between his fingers.
"So what you're implying is, I can't have an original idea?"
I withdrew my energy slightly. "I didn't say that."
"Not in so many words, but that's what you're thinking, isn't it?"
"Not really - "
He started pacing about. It was like he couldn't keep still. His boot connected with a broken alarm clock and it rattled in a hollow way.
The whole thing was disturbing. All of a sudden Clint didn't seem like Clint any more.
"I didn't mean anything," I said.
"Don't start denying it now."
"Honestly, I never. Um, could you watch where you're - "
He wasn't listening.
"Yeah, you're just like that son of a bitch Leone, the big auteur. Taking all the credit. Like he was the one who came up with everything!" Clint rounded on me, finger outstretched. 'That's what you believe too, admit it!'
I was taken aback. "I've never given it much thought.'
"No, no one ever does, do they? They take it all for granted!" He was getting red in the face and waving his arms about like a windmill. His poncho was flapping. "Minimalism! Economy of effect! Less is more!"
"Take it easy," I said, which was something I never thought I'd ever have to say to Clint. "Calm down a little." I was scared if he kept stomping about he'd go right through the floor - the ceiling depending on where you were - and crash down on to my parent's bed. "I didn't mean anything bad."
He broke off to gaze at me. He was breathing hard. Then, after a moment, he unclenched his fists.
"Where's my smoke?"
I looked around. "I don't know. I think you threw it down." God, I hoped it wasn't lit. It might smoulder away somewhere and send the place up in flames. My father had insurance, but even so.
There was a long silence. Finally, Clint ran a hand through his skimpy beard.
"Kid, I guess this partnership isn't working out too good."
I swallowed. I wished I hadn't had a go at his mule after all. That was what started it all.
"You mean you're moving on?"
I suspected he wasn't going anywhere in particular. Western heroes never do. They just 'move on' or 'head out.' Maybe movie stars are the same; at least the ones that are in Westerns.
He nodded. "Looks that way."
There was no point arguing. No one could make Clint stay anywhere he didn't want to.
"Well, OK. I understand."
He walked over to his mule and untied it. Then he glanced back to me, and seemed about to say something. But he was oddly unsure. It was like something had gone out of him. His shoulders had almost slumped.
He muttered something so quietly I could hardly hear.
"Sorry?" I said.
He cleared his throat. "Some Like it Hot."
"I saw her in that."
"Ah." I nodded. I looked at him for several seconds. "Right! Yeah, I know the one."
He turned to face me. "She had this sort of breathy way of speaking. I thought it was kind of sexy. So I thought I'd try and do a male version myself."
"I get you," I said.
He looked at me directly. "It's not copying. I wouldn't regard it in that light."
"No, no. Not at all."
"It's just inspiration."
"Nothing wrong with inspiration. Actually, if you think about it, it's a tribute. She'd have been pleased."
"You think so?"
"Of course she would."
His eyes crinkled slightly. "I like the way you think, kid." He glanced down into the corner of the attic. "Sorry about the mule."
"It's OK. I'll clean it up." In fact, I was wondering if I could leave it as a surprise present for my father the next time he climbed up here, if he ever did. But the smell might drift downwards through the whole house. I'd probably have to get rid of it myself.
As I watched Clint, coolness settled around him again. His face became calm but vigilant, almost mask-like apart from the glitter of eyes.
He swung up, effortlessly, on to the back of the mule. He had to duck his head slightly because of the inclined ceiling and the rafters, but he was all right. He didn't bang his head or anything.
"Clint." I looked at him. Or whatever he was; movie star, actor, Wild West bounty hunter. "What am I going to do?" I indicated the space about me, and its forgotten boxes and possessions.
He looked like he was thinking it over.
"Well, I guess it's like this," he said finally. "In this world, there are two kind of kids. Those who live in attics, and those who don't."
I considered. I was sure there were lots more different kinds of kids than that, probably some who lived in manor houses, and shantytowns and igloos. But, in a way, I saw what he meant.
"Then what kind am I?"
He touched his finger to his hat brim. "Reckon you're gonna have to figure that out yourself. So long, son."
He rode away, past my old Spacehopper, past the newspaper-wrapped Pyrex dishes and out, away into the quiet rain of the afternoon.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Hulse lives in England in an apartment with hot and cold rising damp. His short fiction has appeared in Cadenza and Smokelong.