Published on Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Four Bullets to Leadville
By Benedict J. Jones
"They found Joe scalped on the trail below town..."
Jacob Starr left the words floating in the smoke above the faro table. Texas Dave and Pretty Eddie looked at each other. Dave threw in his hand and Eddie scooped the pot.
"Ain't no injuns in these parts, Jacob?" Texas Dave spat onto the floor.
"Joe'll have done something and brought it down on hisself. Not our trouble."
Jacob looked at the two men that minutes before he considered his partners. He saw then and there that if something happened to him they would do nothing to revenge him if there wasn't a profit in it for them. Jacob downed a whiskey and took the cards that Eddie tossed to him.
Texas Dave stumbled out of Paris Rose's room, late. The main street was empty and he weaved across it with a whiskey bottle held in his fist. He put out to the side of Jensen's Mercantile for support as he unbuttoned himself. He sighed, his Remington heavy at his hip and the whiskey bottle awkward in the hand he aimed his flow with. Texas Dave sighed as he pissed, content with his lot. The bullet cut through the night and took Texas Dave through the spine, pitching him into the clapboard wall. He slipped into the dirt the feeling draining out of his legs.
Footfalls slapped in the dirt as someone crossed the street and Texas Dave finally managed to free the Remington from its scabbard. The sole of a boot crunched down on Dave's wrist and the Remington spilled into the dust. Dave felt the hand grab and twist his hair and then he felt the knife across the bone of his skull as his scalp was taken. Dave screamed. The knife moved over his throat and the night was quiet once more.
Pretty Eddie sat with one of his revolvers on the table as he moved the cards around on the table before him. Jacob walked into the saloon and nodded over at Eddie. Jacob ordered a beer and took a deep bite out of it before he headed over to Eddie's table.
"You heard 'bout Dave?"
Eddie gestured to the pistol on the table.
"Course I have. You reckon we're in line?"
"Dave got his hair took same as Joe. What do you think?"
"Someone with a long rifle and a sharp knife, ain't no one I know."
"What're you gonna do?"
"Reckon I'll sit here and play with these cards for a spell."
"Then I reckon I'll go upstairs with New Orleans Sally. I'll just stay in here and see what happens to you, Jacob."
Jacob threw a forced grin at Eddie.
"Always knew you was a yellow bastard, Eddie, always worried more 'bout shiny Dee daws and fancy vests than about your friends."
Eddies hand twitched towards the pistol at the table and Jacob let his coat fall back allowing him easier access to his shoulder holster.
"Why don't we stop right there, Eddie?"
Eddie's hand stopped in mid-air.
"Think you should probably leave now, Jacob. Else this might not go well for either of us."
Jacob stood, taking care to keep his coat open and pistol within easy reach.
Pretty Eddie drank champagne and then retired with New Orleans Sally and another bottle of dubious quality. Before he ascended the stairs Eddie tossed a handful of notes and coins to two young bucks with mean looks in their eyes and heavy pistols at their waists. They set to drinking whiskey at the foot of the stairs and Eddie knew no one would come through them without making a lot of noise.
Sally still wore half of her French night clothes when Eddie climbed off the bed and staggered to the dresser. He took a mouthful of champagne straight from the bottle and wandered out onto the landing. The lights were down but he saw his two sentinels face down on their table. Eddie took another swig from the bottle. He felt a punch in his chest. He looked down and saw a tomahawk stuck in his breastbone.
Feet pitter-pattered across the landing towards Eddie. He turned, dropping the champagne bottle and drawing a pistol from the small of his back. The knife caught his wrist as he swung the small revolver to bear. The lump of metal hit the ground and Eddie swung his fist only to find it snatched in a bearlike grip. He tried to look at who had grabbed him but the shadows obscured the face. Eddie felt the knife bite him deeply above the left hip and then slice though the bicep of his right arm. He was released and then felt the cut of the knife across the back of his legs. Eddie dropped to his knees and felt his hair pulled back. He reached for the derringer he kept in his pocket but by the time his hand reached it his hair had been separated from his skull and the knife had opened an artery at his neck. Eddie bled out on the landing of a two bit saloon wondering why he had had to die like that.
For three days Jacob didn't sleep or leave his room in the boarding house. He sent a boy out for his food and sat up with a bottle of bad brandy and three pistols – one for each of his dead partners.
The fire started in the room below and smoke quickly filled the boarding house. Jacob pulled his boots on and grabbed up his pistols. He threw on his coat and climbed out the window. Jacob made it halfway down the street before he heard the report of a gunshot in the same moment that he felt a lance of fire tear along his right flank. With a squeal of pain Jacob turned and fired his Colt twice into the night. Then he continued zigzagging his way across the street. The night became silent once again and Jacob could see the lights of main street ahead. He ran towards it and the second shot took him in the left knee. He tumbled into the dirt and Jacob felt the Colt leap away from him. He drew the second Colt and fired off a shot. The pain caused him to twist and turn in the dust like rattler with its head cut off. Finally he managed to draw himself up and lay still. Jacob levelled his pistol at the night and waited. A sound cut through the dark and Jacob felt a flood of pain through his gun hand. He looked down and saw a tomahawk lying in the dust surrounded by three of his severed fingers. Jacob's left went for the pocket pistol he kept tucked at his left hip. He drew it but his hand was shaking like a man with palsy and the pistol skittered away from him.
Jacob watched the shadows swell and flex until they revealed a tall man, bearded and in buckskins. The man held a long rifle against his hip and a knife in his other. Jacob forced himself to sit up despite the pain in his knee.
"Why are you doing this?"
The tall man stopped.
"You 'member an old pilgrim name of Talbot?"
Jacob shook his head.
"Should always remember the dead, son. Four men kill't him for the silver he dug from the ground not far from here. Would've been six or seven months back."
Jacob remembered; the four of them drunk, guns in hand. An easy job. Till the old man pulled a knife, cut Joe and made at Eddie. They'd cut him down in a Colt crossfire and left him in the dirt taking with them enough for a night of new shirts, champagne and whores.
"He kin to you?" Asked Jacob.
The tall man shook his head.
"No but we travelled some and this child don't rest easy thinking that it took four young bucks to bury an old man who just wanted to die under a western sky."
The tall man leant in and cut Jacob across his face. Jacob's eyes flitted to the pocket pistol in the dust and the man smiled. He reversed the knife in his hand.
"Go for it, child."
"I don't want to."
"Go for it or I'll cut you a dozen times before you die."
Jacob weighed his options. His left hand went for the gun as his right hand threw a handful of dirt at the tall man's face. Jacob got the gun to bear and watched it tear a chunk from the man's left flank. The knife hit Jacob hard in the left of his chest. The tall man leant in close.
"Gonna let you bleed, boy. Then I'm gonna take your hair. Take it back to the mountains with me; give old Talbot a proper burial."
The man sat on his haunches and watched Jacob as he bled. Jacob thought on his life and what he should've done instead of what he had done. He thought of a miner's daughter back where he was born, a man he shouldn't have killed and a life wasted.
"Do it." Jacob muttered as the last of his life leaked out of him.
The tall man rose threw a cut across Jacob's neck and then took his hair.
As dawns red light first creased the sky near Leadville, the rider and his mule crossed the high land. He looked back, four scalps on his belt. Talbot had taught him many things about the mountains but he had also taught him about death and how it should be allowed to come to everyman because that was his wage of life. The tall man looked again at the brave new world of the silver mines and he rode away back to his Blackfeet wife, his beaver traps, his mountains and his world away from the men he had put down.
Benedict. J. Jones is a writer from London who mainly works in the genres of crime and horror with occasional forays into historical writing. He has had more than fifteen stories published in the small presses since 2008.