Published on Wednesday, July 2, 2014
By Ben Solomon
Cash Kittle knew one thing for sure in this world: he had a date with destiny and Two-Gun Tory. Hell, he knew more about Two-Gun Tory than his own kin. Kittle got his hands on every scrap of every last thing ever wrote about the gunslinger. Read most of them, too. Mr. Prosper at the post office helped with the big words.
Kittle's learning taught him that Two-Gun Tory hailed from the hill country, maybe Virginia or Pennsylvania. The accounts never explained why they branded him "Two-Gun," but that hardly seemed worth fretting over. If a man draws one pistol or two, what did it matter? Speed and hitting the bull's-eye—that's all that counted.
By time of Cash Kittle's nineteenth birthday, those killings caught up with Two-Gun Tory. Sending thirteen deputies, nine sheriffs and three councilmen to kingdom come made Tory something of an unwelcome guest in his old haunts. Kittle traced the outlaw's western migration in news accounts and wanted posters. Mr. Prosper at the post office passed word along whenever Tory made a new headline or wall hanging.
Cash Kittle bided his time, tracing the route on his wall map. He practiced every day for months. Dragged his Colt Peacemaker to the outskirts of Bigg Bluff and shot the sand out of the shoreline. Every time he drew, the fire sizzled inside him. Every time the hammer cocked, the trigger squeezed, the hairs on his arm tingled as if pricked by a thousand pins.
The sky filled white with clouds on the day Two-Gun Tory arrived. He rode tall and slow down the center of Bigg Street. Cash Kittle stood at the opposite end of the main road, fertilizing a row of stinkweeds, when Tommy Fletcher came running. Kittle finished up while Fletcher caught his breath.
Through the strain of pants and swallows, the little boy explained about the stranger: none other than Two-Gun Tory. Kittle stiffened, spun about, and stared through the haze of dust coming off Bigg Street. He spoke to the lad without giving him a look.
"Keep a watch out, Fletcher, you hear? I've got to run on home. But I'll come looking for Mr. Two-Gun Tory, you bet."
Little Fletcher let out a whistle and skedaddled down the road.
Cash Kittle fairly flew home, his heart racing, his legs shaking, a wide grin spanning his face. He stopped to shave before strapping on the Colt, lingering over one last view of himself in his mother's looking glass.
Little Fletcher posted himself in the street outside Kelly's Saloon. When he spotted Kittle's lean figure coming on, he began poking the air towards the inn.
"Easy, Fletch, easy now. You look like to have a fit."
"But he's in there," Fletcher whispered.
"That for certain?"
"You wait out here, Fletch. But don't go nowhere, or you'll miss the show."
Kittle summoned the confidence of youth and shouldered through the swinging doors. He couldn't mistake Tory, the stranger at the middle of the bar. Kittle would know him anywhere after all those one-sheets. But Tory struck him funny. The tire man at the bar appeared no less than forty. Maybe fifty. Kittle always pictured his hero as ageless. And this two-gun legend sported only a single six-shooter. Maybe he hid a derringer, or tucked a pistol in his belt behind him. Maybe.
"You're staring at me, son."
The room fell as quiet as the dunes outside of town.
Cash Kittle coughed. "Are you the man they call Two-Gun Tory?"
"I've been waiting to meet you."
"You some kind of admirer?"
"I've been waiting to challenge you, Two-Gun Tory."
"I advise against that."
"If I wanted advice, I reckon I'd drum up the preacher."
"I reckon you would."
"I'll be in the street, gunslinger."
"So many folks, so eager to die."
Tory's cane slipped off the edge of the bar.
"You speechify pretty tough for an old man. Maybe your days are numbered, Two-Gun Tory."
"My days have been numbered for so long I've lost count."
Cash Kittle swaggered to the outlaw, bent for the cane, and handed it over.
"Two guns, ten guns, a hundred guns. You've seen better days, old man."
"Don't let it throw you, son. C'mon. Let's get this thing over with."
It felt to Cash Kittle like the confrontation must of taken place a lifetime ago. Ages ago. Straight overhead he spied a large, white cloud shaped like some scruffy dog. He felt a warm stream bubble over his lips, run along his chin, and trickle down his neck. He tried, but couldn't lift his head. He longed to see the wound. He sensed it, a large gap in the center of his chest oozing and spitting innards. His limbs shivered.
Two shaded individuals stepped over him and into view. Cash Kittle squinted up at the darkened silhouettes.
"Still breathing, kid?" Two-Gun Tory asked. "It'll be over soon."
Cash Kittle made to speak, but hacked out a spray of scarlet.
"What happened, see," Tory said, "What happened is, you just got yourself shot in the back. Meet brother Ike, here. Ike's a crack shot with a Winchester. Whenever somebody's got my draw beat, brother Ike steps in. He's the real Two-Gun Tory."
Author Ben Solomon stretches into western and other genres as deadlines allow. Most of his writing centers on his old-school detective series, "The Hard-Boiled Detective." His PI work has appeared in several online publications, and two are included in anthologies published in 2014. Samples and subscription information for his series can be found here: http://thehardboileddetective.com/. Solomon writes and lives in Chicago.