James was panting and he could hear blood rushing in his ears. He collapsed into the sun-bleached folding chair and allowed the bloody length of pipe to slip from his hand and roll away.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but I need to take a break."
Will leaned against one of the porch's wooden supports and nodded, then gingerly felt his head. They looked out across the wasteland, tumbleweeds and dust devils occasionally breaking the monotony and stillness. The sun seemed to swell and darken as it dropped down the sky, and as it angled to deprive them of the little bit of shade the awning had provided James sighed and stood up again.
"You know," he mused, "On the television when someone hits a guy in the back of the head it just knocks them unconscious the first time. One shot - pow - and they're sleeping like a baby."
Will nodded as he resumed the position, facing away from James on his knees. "That's true, yeah. I'm sorry I'm being so difficult - if it makes you feel any better I'm pretty sure I have a concussion."
James considered this as he hefted the pipe, then shook his head. "No, because the goal wasn't ever really to hurt you - I figured you'd wake up in a few hours with a headache and a bump but no worse for wear. Concussions, those can be nasty. Make you feel sick and confused for days. I'm sorry about that, I'll try for a little longer and then we'll just call it a night."
The sun crept ever lower as the hollow thudding echoed across the landscape. A Jackrabbit finally built up the courage to race towards the noise and disappeared into its burrow under the porch.
"Well, I must be doing something wrong." James offered a hand to Will and hauled him up, supporting him with one shoulder and pulling him into the house.
"Don't say that," Will mumbled, "you're doing it just fine, I must have a thick head."
"Well it's too late for me to make it back home before nightfall now, and I've always been afraid of the dark. Do you mind if I stay over?"
They dropped together onto an ancient couch that coughed up a small cloud of dust and groaned as if about to collapse entirely. Will patted James on the leg and smiled, though he found one side of his mouth wasn't quite doing it right.
"Sure thing. I've got a spare bathtub - I mean bedroom, sorry - and you can help yourself to any food in the... the thing."
"That means a lot, thank you. Let me help you to bed, and in the morning I'll try to rob your place again."
"Of course. But..." Will looked at the faded painting on the wall as if focusing on something a hundred miles away. James waited patiently, but after ten minutes it didn't seem like Will was going to finish his thought. He reached out and shook Will, who blinked a few times and continued. "...but maybe in the morning you could just tie me up?"
After throwing together a meal of baked beans and chicken and cleaning up the floor - Will seemed to have a really hard time getting the food into his mouth - they said their good-nights and headed down the hallway to bed. James found a nightlight and settled in, staring up at the ceiling while he went over a mental shopping list of the items in the house. After a moment there was a tapping on the wall, and he tapped back. Will's voice floated through the plaster, muffled but still audible.
"Never mind about tying me up - I wouldn't want to starve to death if I couldn't get loose."
"That's a good point," James replied, "I tie pretty good knots. So you want I should go back to the other plan, and knock you out?"
"I think that's probably best. Good..."