Published on Sunday, December 15, 2013
By Steve Coate
At the Well, Dusty Creek's only saloon, Sandy McGill sat at the oak bar, wishing his whiskey was a woman, when the man next to him leaned over conspiratorially and spoke to him in a low voice. "Did you hear about the killin' last night?"
Sandy drained his glass of whiskey. "Nope."
"Yep. Up in Catalina's at the end of the street. Harlan Davis got his self killed." The man leaned a little closer. "They found him shot through the heart and pinned to the wall with a pig sticker through his chest."
Waiting on the other side of the doors, stood sheriff MacDougal, hand resting upon his holstered pistol. "Howdy sheriff!" called the man in the tan derby.
"Howdy, Buck. Come on, now. You gotta come with me."
"Don't give me no trouble, Buck. The judge has to rule it to be a fair shooting. You won't be in jail more'n a day. Now hand them over."
Pouting, Buck Farnsworth surrendered his guns and gunbelt and walked with the sheriff to the jail, where he was amiably locked inside a cell. Assigning a deputy to watch Buck, sheriff MacDougal left to tend to other matters.
Not long after the sheriff's departure, deputy Duncan, accustomed to babysitting Buck, decided it was time for him to sneak over to Catalina's Cat House. He knew Buck was harmless, so he wouldn't worry himself over leaving. Besides, he had done it before. "I'm goin' out for a bit, Buck. Don't you go trying to escape, now."
Buck returned the deputy's grin, and turned to count his money as the deputy left the jail house.
After counting his winnings once more, Buck placed the tan derby atop his head. An audible click prompted him to turn around. Buck recognized the gun immediately. "That's Harlan's gun! The one he took from that . . . you're . . . you're that kid we cut up, aintcha?"
The man wearing the gray Stetson said nothing, but Buck knew it to be true. Harlan had cut the kid's tongue from his mouth, so the boy couldn't tell what they had done. Buck and the others had gotten their licks in too.
The kid, now a man, motioned with the gun for Buck to back away from the cell door. Then he inserted the key into the lock, turned it, opened the door and stepped inside, keeping the gun trained on Buck at all times.
The man approached Buck, gun ahead of him. He then reached down, unfastened Buck's rawhide belt and pulled it loose. He cast his eyes upward, searching. His eyes seized on something and he smiled.
The next day, word about Buck's hanging was buzzing around town. The man responsible for the recent deaths in Dusty Creek, walked into The Well and sauntered over to the house poker table. As soon as they saw Harlan's gun at the stranger's side, townfolk fell over themselves to make room for the man.
When the stranger arrived at the table, two of the men seated there stood hurriedly and left, leaving only Quint, the house dealer. The dealer stayed seated, remaining cool as the newcomer added Buck's tan derby, still full of the previous day's winnings, to the pot on the table and sat down to play cards.
Quint squinted at the derby, recognizing it from the previous day. He gave the stranger in the Stetson a cold hard stare. The man returned the dealer's stare, unflinching. Finally, Quint stopped eyeballing the man and dealt himself and the man five cards each.
A crowd began to gather. They kept a respectable distance from the table as the dealer took one card and the mystery man took two. Quint laid his cards on the table. Three aces and a pair of eights.
The dealer reached for the hat and his hand was slapped away by the kid. The kid laid his cards on the table and smiled. Four aces and a queen.
Quint stared, incredulous, as the crowd gasped audibly, backing away from the table. "You low-down, scurvy-ridden cheat!"
Quint grabbed for the shotgun nestled under the table.
The man with Harlan's gun leapt atop the table as the buckshot vaporized the back of the chair in which he had been sitting, embedding itself in the bar behind. The man swung one brown-booted foot into Quint's face, tumbling him to the floor along with scattered cards and money.
Next, he pulled the Peacemaker from his gunbelt, shot the man in the chest three times, hopped down from the table and walked to the bar. He pointed at a bottle of whiskey and tapped the bar before him. The bartender didn't argue. Wide eyed, he poured the man a drank.
The next day, the sheriff was discussing the problem of the kid with Reksoe, when Brent Snodgrass, the town barber, burst into the office. "Sheriff, come quick! That fella who shot ol' Quint yesterday, is at The Well again!"
Reksoe and Sheriff MacDougal exchanged a quick look and charged off in the direction of the saloon, guns drawn. Reksoe entered through the swinging doors first.
"So it is you," he observed. The kid stood atop the bar, a Peacemaker in one hand and a Bowie knife in the other. "Come on down here, boy. Let's see how fast you are."
The young man's eyes never left those of Reksoe, as the kid dropped to the floor. MacDougal sidled up to the bar behind Reksoe, rested one callused hand on the bar and ordered a shot of whiskey. He was certain Reksoe could outgun the kid. After all, that was what Reksoe did these days, firing his six-shooters for the highest bidder.
The two opponents holstered their guns and stared each other down. Not a word was spoken as each gunslinger searched the face of his foe for an advantage. The palpable silence in the room built to a crescendo. Then Reksoe drew.
Two shots rang out that spelled the end of Reksoe's career as a bounty hunter. The sheriff could not believe his eyes. The kid had placed both shots before Reksoe had time to clear leather and he'd swear on a stack of bibles that the kid hadn't moved until after Reksoe.
With the Peacemaker raised, the raven-haired young man approached the sheriff, who sat in a shocked daze. The kid made certain MacDougal stayed put, pinning the sheriff's right hand to the bar with the Bowie knife. MacDougal screamed in agony and knew he was about to die.
The kid reached into his right front shirt pocket, produced a slip of paper, unfolded it and placed it in front of MacDougal. The paper read: TELL THEM
MacDougal stared at the kid, still in shock. Then, regaining some composure, MacDougal licked his dusty lips. "This here is the dude responsible for all the killin's lately."
Infuriated, the kid grabbed the shot glass of whiskey and dumped it over MacDougal's bleeding hand. MacDougal screamed again.
The kid pulled a Bible from his pants pocket, added to the message and shoved it in front of MacDougal. It now read: TELL THEM WHY!
The kid dropped the open Bible in front of MacDougal and pointed to a passage. MacDougal, a religious man, broke down after reading the verse. He couldn't stand against the Good Book. "About nine years ago, me, Reksoe, Harlan, Quint and Buck, were trying to make new lives for ourselves after some unsuccessful prospecting out west. We had put every last cent we had into the prospect and were living rough on the trail because of it."
Glad for the chance to finally confess his sins, MacDougal continued. "We'd stopped just outside of Wide Creek and heard that the town gunsmith, a Mr. Grindle, had some gold hidden away at his ranch, just outside town. We had been talking about getting our hands on the gold for about a week. It was only talk though, until one night we got roaring drunk and decided it was time for us to become rich men.
"We went to old man Grindle's place, broke down the door and demanded to know where the gold was. In the confusion, Mrs. Grindle got herself shot. The Grindle's had a little boy. We tied him up and threatened to shoot the kid if we didn't get the gold. This didn't work, because as it turned out, Grindle didn't have any. He did have a nice set of custom made Peacemakers, though."
"Harlan took the Peacemakers and we gathered everything of value we could find. None of us had the gumption to kill a kid, so we cut out his tongue and roughed him up a little so he wouldn't talk. Then we left him and went our separate ways. This here's the kid."
The kid holstered his Peacemaker and stood, awaiting judgment.
"You'll swing for this MacDougal," said Martin Malloy, the town's clerk of court.
Malloy moved alongside the young Grindle and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "What's your name, son?"
Grindle wrote out the reply, RANDY GRINDLE
"Listen, don't you worry none. MacDougal is going to get his. He's hung himself with that confession." The clerk tilted his head as though struck with some new idea. "Say, you seem to be pretty good with that gun, and have a decent sense of right and wrong. With MacDougal headed for the noose, this town is going to need a new sheriff. Maybe you'd like the job?"
Randy said nothing and began to leave. As he pushed his way through the swinging doors, a satisfied smile on his face, Malloy called after him. "I hope you'll consider it, Mr. Grindle."
Randy paused outside the saloon doors and considered the future. There was plenty of time for a decision later. Now he just wanted to enjoy this day, a day that had been a long time coming.
Steve Coate is a speculative fiction writer who lives in sunny South Florida with his tabby, Bigby. His short fiction has also appeared in Ray Gun Revival, the Nightfall Publications anthology From Shadows & Nightmares, the Alban Lake Publications magazine, Bloodbond, and is forthcoming from Stupefying Stories: SHOWCASE, and the Diabolical Publications LLC anthology Ether World. For updates on his fiction, follow Steve on Twitter @stevecoate. Readers can also drop him a line at [email protected]