Mauser,a double-crossed cowboy, seeks revenge on his gang.
| The all-seeing desert sun in its infinite cruelness burnt and bit at his exposed neck and feet with an eagerness that might have even rivaled the wanton growling of the buzzards’ bellies, who waited nearby. The sun’s purpose in this part of the world was simple. It killed, it seared, it burnt, and it bleached bones. And it was trying its damnedest to do just that to a semiconscious, gruff looking cowboy, face down in the sand. The old adage is, if you can’t handle the heat get out of the kitchen. Well, this is one pretty, damn big kitchen. And the real kicker is he hadn’t stumbled into the kitchen of his own free will. Nope, not at all. Dirty, yellow-bellied, two-timing, double-crossing, sons-of-bitches took his boots and tossed him out in the middle of the desert. They left him there with the knowledge they would never see him again. Knowing the sun would do what the sun does best in this part of the world, and then they split up his share of the loot, making the rest of the gangs’ coin purses that much heavier.
What the sun and his gang didn’t know was this was no ordinary man. The bastard son of a second-rate whore who was ravaged at gunpoint, he grew up not knowing love or tenderness, but he was well acquainted with the smart snap of a leather strap against his young skin. At the well-worn age of seven, his mother told him the story of his conception. She said that if she had the chance to choose between the bullet in her belly or him. She would have gladly welcomed that cold ball of lead. Maybe that was why she gave him the nickname, a reminder of the choice she should have made. Thus, the world was graced with Mauser “Bullet” Whetherby, who would grow up to be the dirtiest, hard-nosed, gun-slinging, cigar smoking, Son of a Whore, to ever put on a bandolier and a pair of spurs.
Hour after hour, the sun beat down on Mauser turning his tough hide red. A bad sunborn was all the damage that the sun was able to inflict. Frustrated, the sun decided to get some help from the stone chewing, sand blowing south wind. Together they bombarded Bullet with all the fury they could muster. Heat that could fry a chicken’s egg and blowing sand that could strip the paint off a barn laid siege to Bullet. But that wasn’t enough to do in old Mauser. Knowing that at least for one day a man had bested a celestial being and endured the harsh elements, the wind died down, and the sun sank below the horizon.
Bullet’s boat ride to the underworld was interrupted by a firm tug on his ear. It pulled him away from the ferry man and brought him back to the desert. At the same moment he opened his eyes, he felt something running down his raw, wind blown cheek. What he saw bothered him just a little bit. A buzzard was eating a piece of his ear. Like a marionette, the buzzard’s head bobbled up and down trying to swallow the ear meat. And Bullet thought to himself, Hell no I’m not going to let some shit eating, overgrown turkey eat me. Quick as a rattlesnake, he reached out and seized the bird by its neck with his leathery hands and twisted.
He tossed the dead vulture to the side, gathered his last remaining vestige of strength, and sat up. The reproachful eye of the bird stared back at Bullet, and for a moment, he almost felt a pang of guilt. A drop of dark blood traveled the rough ridge of his jaw line, let go, and fell onto his hand which was slung over his knee in a cavalier pose. His guilt quickly evaporated. At least he wouldn’t go hungry tonight. The buzzard was good sized probably twenty to twenty five pounds. Field dressed, it should make a hearty seven to ten pounds of meat. Not the best meal he would eat, but certainly not the worst. He pulled a razor sharp bowie knife from his belt and reached for the dead scavenger. Before he grabbed the bird, he noticed something was still clinging to its beak. A chunk of his ear, half-gnawed but unmistakable man flesh, was hanging from the bird’s mouth. He lifted the knife above his head and in one fell swoop the buzzard’s head rolled down the gentle slope of the dune.
* * *
The desert sun was high up in the clear blue sky, stubborn as ever. Perspiration was thick on Bullet’s brow and a dark V-shaped pattern had long since appeared on his chest, but Bullet continued to plod along. The sleeves of his cavalry shirt were removed and fashioned around his feet to protect them from the white hot sand. He was beginning to believe that this desert with all it’s worthless sagebrush and insufferable heat just might get the best of him. Bullet scanned the horizon out of habit, not expecting to see anything, but to his surprise, Bullet’s dry eyes happened upon a silhouette in the distance with a semblance of a man on horseback. A small smile appeared on his lips. Lady luck might just have changed her mind about ol’ Mauser.
Bullet waved his arms frantically in an attempt to catch the attention of the man on horseback. He tried to yell at the stranger, but the blistering heat of the desert had stripped all the moisture from his mouth and throat. For a moment, it seemed as if the rider wouldn’t notice Bullet. But by the grace of Lady Luck herself, the desert traveler pulled on his reins to slow his stead and steered his horse in the direction of Bullet. Cautiously the horse rider approached.
Right away, Bullet could tell the rider wasn’t from around these parts. He wore a gray sack coat with covered buttons and matching waistcoat, dark trousers, short turnover shirt collar, and a black floppy bow tie. His short hair was neatly parted down the right side and a pointed beard was prominently showcased on his weak chin. Although the attire that the man wore contributed to his malapropos presence, the object that struck Bullet the most was his piece. It was a Dan Wesson .45 Colt with ivory handles, gold trim, and inlaid with a walnut rose design. Nobody around these parts had a gun as fancy and shiny as that. It looked as if the gun had never even been fired, but one thing was for sure. It was the biggest damn hand gun Bullet had ever seen.
“The name is Benjamin Westinghouse, but my friends just call me Ben,” said the desert rider, effectively breaking the silence before it turned awkward.
Bullet tried to reply, but only a small rasp came from his throat. The dry desert air had literally left him speechless. Reverting to a more primitive form of communication, Bullet raised his hand to his mouth and mimed “drink”. The gesture had its desired effect. “A bit thirsty are you? Bet you are, out in the desert with no shoes. I know I have a canteen strapped to my noble steed somewhere,” Ben said with a quick sort of speech that Bullet pegged eastern United States. “Awe, yes, here we go my good man. Drink up” Ben said then tossed a green canvas covered canteen to Bullet. He quickly unscrewed the cap and took a succession of greedy gulps. After the much needed and prolonged drink from the canteen, he gasped for breath.
“My name’s Mauser. I guess if I had any friends I’d have ‘em call me Mauser,” said Bullet testing his newly regained voice.
“I hate to be intrusive, but curiosity always wins with me, that is. May I ask you a question?” said Ben.
“Ask away,” replied Bullet.
“Well, what in God’s green earth are you doing out here in the desert? I guess a more pertinent question would be what are you doing in this forsaken desert without any shoes? I have to say, they must make people tougher out in this part of the world. If I had been out here without a horse and no shoes on my feet, heck, I doubt I would last more that a couple of hours,” said Ben.
Not wanting to divulge any information about himself, Bullet decided the best course of action was to flat out lie. Just tell this Yankee a big stinking pile of bullshit. He needed a story that accounted for everything. Why he was in the desert. Why he didn’t have any boots on, and he needed to do it quickly before Ben became uneasy and untrusting. Then in a flash of brilliance it came to him.
“To tell you the truth ain’t nothin’ gone right since I left my ranch up by Moundhouse. I needed a new horse, see my old one was getting on in age so I figured I would ride down to Carson get me a new yearling. I can get ‘em cheaper down there, you see. But about a couple miles back, my ol’ horse missed a step and came down on top of me. Pinned me good. I managed to get my leg out, but lost my boot under her. Made it a little way with just one boot, but shoot, it sure did make walking tough, you know? I decided I would lose the other one. Walked a little while more, then you showed up. I just wanted to say thanks for stopping” added Bullet. “I don’t know what I would of done if you didn’t come along. Probably would of just laid down and died, I suppose,” said Bullet.
“Oh my, that is quite a string of bad luck, I’d have to say. Are you still trying to make it into Carson City?” said Ben.
“I guess I about have to. Need a horse you know, besides, Carson’s closer than Mound,” replied Bullet then continued, “Since you know my story, I was kinda wundering what you’re doing out this way. Not that I’m not glad you are, but as you said earlier, curiosity always wins.”
“The ball’s back in my court is it. Well, I’d be a liar if I told you that I didn’t like to toot my own horn. So I guess I should just get on with my spiel. My uncle George, brilliant man I might add, came up with an idea to wire banks to a siren. A type of early warning. If a branch is being robbed all a teller has to do is press a switch under the counter and, bob’s you uncle, a terrible racket will come out of a horn and the local authorities will be aware of a crime in progress. We hope to see a fifty percent drop in robberies from this little invention. So that’s why I’m headed to Carson City. Going to install one of these beauts in the Bank of the West. It ought to change the whole of banking security. My cargo should have arrived yesterday, but you can never tell with local stagecoaches. A little inept if you ask me. I would be happy to give you a lift, I dare say it looks as if you could use one,” said Ben.
“You know what, I think I‘ll take ya up on your offer, but first, I was kinda of wundering if I could check out your piece. Ya see, ain’t nobody got a piece like that around here. It was the first thing that caught my eye when ya rode up on me. Made me a little nervous to tell ya the truth,” said Bullet.
“I can’t see what it would hurt. When a man has an eye for the finer things in life, I can’t be the one to deny him the pleasure,” replied Ben while unholstering his gun and happily handing it over to Bullet.
“Dang, this is one fine gun, mister. It feels good in my hand. Not too light, not too heavy, just right, you know; but I guess you already knew that. Since you bought it and all,” said Bullet. He expertly flipped the cylinder open and looked at the contents. The gun was fully loaded. He flipped the cylinder back in its rightful place, looked at Ben the desert rider, cocked the hammer back on the Dan Wesson .45 and said, “This is one fine gun I have to tell you.”
Bullet raised the gun at arms length, took aim and fired. A crimson blossom spread across Ben’s chest. Bemused, he touched his fingers to his newly acquired red badge, looked down, and gazed upon his stained fingertips in disbelief.
“You shot me…..with my own gun, no less,” said Ben with blood already spilling out of his mouth. He looked at Bullet one last time though eyes that were barely holding off the gray malaise of death. His lips were pursed together trying to form his last word that never came---Why? Ben slumped over his saddle, wavered for a moment, and then fell off his horse onto the desert floor.
This time, the guilt stayed with him. Ben seemed to be a nice enough fellow, a bit pompous maybe, but the plan forming in his mind required that this guy was out of the picture. Serendipity of this kind couldn’t be ignored. The Bank of the West just so happened to be the gang’s next target, and this time, he intended to get the upper hand instead of the other way around like what happened at the Silver City job. Bullet walked over to where Ben lay, bent down, and took the man’s boots. While trying on the boots, Bullet noticed that there wasn’t a ring on Ben’s finger. This made him feel a bit better about what he had done. At least he didn’t leave any children without a father or a wife without a husband. Then he thought to himself that it probably didn’t matter, he would have shot him either way. The boots felt good as he walked over to Ben’s sorrel colored horse. He mounted and rode off west toward Carson City.
* * *
The sun was fast approaching the horizon, when Bullet finally made it to Carson. His horse had worked up a good lather and needed water, so Bullet led him down the dusty street until he came upon a hotel named The Hardman House. The name seemed to suit Bullet. He dismounted and tied the reins to the hitching posts beside the water trough. The horse whinnied, bent his head down and drank the cool water. Bullet hoped that he didn’t ride the horse too hard, because he was going to need him tomorrow. As an afterthought, Bullet decided he needed to name the horse. It was bad luck to ride a nameless horse. He chose ‘Benny’ in honor of its previous owner. Happy with the name he picked, Bullet walked up the wooden stairs and entered The Hardman House.
The hotel also doubled as a saloon. The saloon was on the ground floor, and Bullet assumed the rooms were upstairs on the second floor. The air was thick with cigar smoke from the gamblers scattered about the room. He supposed the gamblers couldn’t find fortune in the mountains, so they tried their luck at the tables. Bullet strolled up to the bar in hopes of getting a room and, just maybe, a good drink. God knows, he could use one. The man behind the bar started towards him, ending a conversation with an older man at the end of the bar, probably a regular. The bartender had a mop of sandy brown hair resting above his round face, and a giant moustache that completely obscured his mouth. Spilled whiskey had stained his black and white striped shirt, but seemed to have had no effect on his leather suspenders.
“What ya having, stranger?” asked the bartender as he tossed a dirty dish rag over his shoulder.
“I need a room and a shot of whiskey, if you ain’t got a room then just a whiskey and I’ll be on my way,” replied Bullet.
The bartender pulled a shot glass from under the bar, grabbed a bottle of Irish whiskey from behind him, and poured Bullet a shot.
“The room is three dollars a night and the shot is a quarter dollar. Cash only. We got enough freeloaders without addin’ another to the pot,” said the bartender.
Bullet reached into his back pocket and pulled out a black wallet embroidered with the initials B.W. He took out five dollars, laid it on the bar, and told the bartender to keep the change.
“Do you know where a guy can get a nice suit around these parts?” asked Bullet.
“Hmm, let me think, there’s Dot’s Delicates …. Umm…English Bob’s Shoppe. Oh, if yer looking for something real nice, I’d stop by Hurbury’s Haberdashery,” replied the bartender.
“Where could I find this Hurbury’s?” asked Bullet
“It’s just up the street, oh ‘bout four blocks on the left. Can’t miss it. Big green sign on top,” replied the bartender.
Bullet tipped the shot glass back, and immediately felt the bitter sting of Jameson on his tongue. He stood up, and made his way to the door. On the way out, he heard the bartender from across the room say third door on the right and something about a key. He would get his key later; right now, he needed a new suit. He decided to let Benny rest, so he walked down the street to Hurbury’s.
The bartender was right. You couldn’t miss it. A lavish green sign written in old English style font declared that this store was Hurbury’s Haberdashery. Normally Bullet would never be caught anywhere near an establishment such as this, but here he was, none the less. Bullet entered the shop and immediately knew he was out of place. The carpet in this place was probably worth a herd of cattle, and the suits hanging on the racks looked as if they might even be worth more. Bullet wondered if Ben had enough folding money in his wallet, but before Bullet could check on the extent of his finances, he heard a shuffling noise in the back. Bullet waited for the shop owner to appear.
A balding man of short stature emerged from the back. He wore a pair of gold rimmed glasses and a fine pinstriped suit. A tailor’s tape lay around the nape of his neck. Just by his appearance, Bullet thought he was about to do business with a kindly old man. Appearances can be deceiving, which if Bullet didn’t know he should have.
“Tack shop is down the road,” stated the shop owner quite bluntly in a nasally voice. “I think you should take yourself over there. I hardly doubt I have anything here that would be of much interest to you. There is a bath house on the way, I suggest you stop there first,” added the shop owner.
Taken aback, Bullet said, “Now listen here, old man. You can treat with a little respect, or I can introduce you to my friend Mister Dan Wesson.” Bullet pulled his gun and showed it to the shop owner. “And let me tell ya, he’s not as nice as I am,” added Bullet.
Bullet’s threat changed the shop owner’s attitude. “Oh, no, I didn’t mean any disrespect, I just assumed that a cowboy like you was looking for a tack shop and came in here by mistake. I was simple pointing you in what I presumed was the right direction. There’s no need for violence. Just a simple misunderstanding, that’s all,” said the shop owner in a distressed voice.
“I need a suit, a Yankee suit.” said Bullet ignoring the shop owner’s attempt to placate him.
“Well then, I guess you did come to the right place,” said the shop owner eyeing Bullet’s friend, Mister Wesson. “My name is Mr. Hurbury, and I would be glad to help you with anything you need. I have a fine selection of east coast apparel,” seethed Mr. Hurbury.
“Just get me a suit, a nice one,” said Bullet.
Mr. Hurbury grabbed the nearest suit, mumbling to himself. He walked back towards bullet holding the suit draped across his left arm and said, “This looks like your size and it’s all the rage back east, just like you requested. Would you like to try it on, my good sir?”
Damn this man was getting to him. “No. What’s the damage,” said Bullet.
“Thirty-five dollars,” replied Mr. Hurbury.
Ben’s wallet almost slipped out of Bullet’s hand, when he heard the price. He reluctantly opened the wallet and handed over the thirty-five dollars, which left him with five dollars. It didn’t matter though, by this time tomorrow, he planned on being a wealthy man. Bullet threw the suit over his shoulder and walked out of Hurbury’s Haberdashery without saying goodbye. On the wooden porch of the shop, Bullet looked up the street and thought about going back to the Hardman for the night, then decided against it. Mr. Hurbury was probably right. He needed a bath.
Clean-shaved and feeling refreshed, Bullet entered the Hardman House. The same bartender was at the till, so Bullet walked up to him, asked for his key, and then said his goodnights, before turning in for the night. Bullet wasn’t too impressed by his accommodations, but it had a bed and a hook to hang his suit. That was all Bullet really needed. As he sat on the bed and took off his boots, he thought about what was to come tomorrow, and he wondered if he could actually pull it off. Bullet slipped beneath the covers and dreamt about glory, gunfights, and riches.
* * *
The sun was almost directly above Bullet, as he strolled up to the impressive structure that was the Bank of the West. He dusted off his sleeves as he walked through the oak double doors of the bank. Fridays were the busiest days for banks. The plaza was a tiled prairie of meandering business men and prospectors fresh from the gold exchange. He knew the gang was going to show. Bullet had to find the manager; he needed to be on the inside. His plan depended on the element of surprise.
Bullet headed towards the teller’s counter. Casually glancing at the faces of the customers, he wondered if there were any heroes in the room. He hoped not. Heroes only complicated matters. Across the room, he noticed a familiar face. It was the old coot, Mr. Hurbury. Bullet modified his path and walked around some pillars on the east side of the bank. He felt better with a little more distance between himself and the old man. He didn’t want Mr. Hurbury to blow his cover.
Bullet arrived at the counter without incidence. A pretty, blonde haired teller waited patiently with a smile to big for her face.
“Hello, how can I help you today?” said the teller.
Bullet cleared his throat, “Hello, my name is Benjamin Westinghouse. I need to see the manager about the new security measures.”
“Oh yes, Mr. Goldberg has been expecting you. Hold on a minute while I go get him,” said the pretty teller and walked away from her post.
Bullet needed he could convince Mr. Goldberg that he was a security expert and he hoped he could do it quickly. Mr. Goldberg appeared from his office followed by the pretty blond. He approached the counter where Bullet waited. It was time to sink or swim.
“Hello Mr. Westinghouse, I have to admit, I was a little worried. I expected you earlier when we weren’t so busy. You didn’t run into any trouble, did you,” said Mr. Goldberg.
“Oh, nothing major, I just got a little lost on the outskirts of the desert, but I met a fellow traveler who pointed me in the right direction,” replied Bullet with the friendliest smile he could muster.
“Where’s your gear? Your tools and your electric gadgets?” inquired Mr. Goldberg.
Bullet’s smile faded. “Err….they’re at the hotel,” he said, again regaining confidence. “I like to get a feel for the job before I just jump in. May I?” asked Bullet while motioning to the little half door that separated the patrons from the tellers.
“By all means. Allow me,” said Mr. Goldberg while opening the half door to let Bullet behind the counter. “Have a look around, get a ‘feel’ for the place. I have to tell you, I’m quite excited about the new security upgrade. If you will excuse me for a moment, I have some business to attend to,” added Mr. Goldberg before he walked over to an important client, leaving Bullet to his own devices.
Bullet made a good show of looking under the counters, knocking on the walls, and examining the ceiling. Bullet assumed that is what the real Ben Westinghouse would have done. All the while, he was slowly making his way to the opened vault in the back of the bank, right beside the manager’s office, which happened to have the only back door out of the bank. When Bulleted entered the vault, his face lit up. This vault contained more money than any other bank the gang robbed. He walked over to the corner eyeing all those greenbacks, knelt, and waited for the gang to arrive.
Bullet waited in the vault for what seemed an eternity. He checked his gun half a dozen times. It was fully loaded every time, and he was just itching to use it. Finally, he heard a noise that he knew was bound to come. A shotgun blast erupted in the plaza silencing the crowd of bank customers. His flee or fight response, pumped buckets of adrenaline into his veins.
From the plaza, a deep gravelly voice echoed through the bank. It came from the man that took Bullet’s place as leader of the gang, Dan “Dead Eye” Duryea. “Listen up. This is a robbery. Everyone down on the floor. Now! or I’ll plug ya,” yelled Dan.
Bullet knew the other two members, Klaus Kinski and Barton “Fink” MacLane, were with Dan, and he wanted them all dead.
After Dan decided the crowd was under control, he said, “Klaus check the vault. Get as much as you can. Fink stay here. Shoot anybody that moves.”
Klaus’s boots reverberated off the cold tiles as he made his way towards the vault. Bullet cocked the hammer on his Dan Wesson .45. Klaus opened the door between the plaza and the teller’s area, and then he entered the back of the bank. He unsnapped the clasps of his saddle bags as he walked to the vault preparing to fill them with cold, hard cash. He froze at the sight of the gun. Klaus was too worried about the sight of that shiny Dan Wesson .45 to look at the man holding it.
“Hello, Klaus,” said Bullet
Klaus recognized the voice; he took his eyes off the gun and looked at Bullet’s face. He knew who it was. He just didn’t know how. Klaus stared right into Bullet’s eyes and under his breath he said, “Shit.”
Bullet fired his gun. The slug hit Klaus above his right eye. Blood, brain, and bits of skull stained the metal casing of the vault. He was dead before he hit the ground. Bullet relieved his former partner of his iron and quickly stuffed the bags with cash. He left the bags of money beside Klaus’s corpse. Hunched down, he went and hide behind the teller’s counter. He now held his Dan Wesson .45 in his right hand and the new Army Colt in his left hand. It wasn’t as impressive as the .45, but two guns were better than one.
“Klaus….Hey, Klaus what cha shooting at?” asked Fink with concern in his voice. He was making his way to the back of the bank to check on Klaus, but Dan knew something was going down. His instinct told him to hide. He slipped behind a pillar, while Fink edged closer and closer the teller’s window.
Bullet misjudged Fink’s distance from the counter and jumped up too quick. He fired both guns with reckless abandon. Fink was grazed in the shoulder, but the hit only dazed him for a moment. Bullet kept pulling the trigger, but only disappointing clicks came from both guns. Dan spun around the pillar and opened fire. The sound of Dan’s gunfire roused Fink from his stupor, and he also returned fire. Bullets hit all around Mauser, sending shards of fine oak flying in every direction. Bullet ran out from behind the counter and dove behind a pillar.
“Bullet!?” said Dan.
“Yeah,” replied Bullet from his hiding spot
“Hot Damn, I thought it was you. I have to tell ya, though. Sure do look different all gussied up like that. Almost feel bad about shooting a man in a fine suit like that, but for you, I’ll make an exception. Oh yeah, one more thing, before I kill you. How’d ya ever make it out the desert?”
Dan never got his answer. The local sheriff, Frank Surge, snuffed the life out of Dan “Dead Eye” Duryea where he stood with his standard issue revolver. Klaus knew that he could never get the drop on the lawman. He threw down his gun and surrendered. A deputy walked over to Klaus, put on the cuffs, and took him away. This was the only time in Bullet’s life that he was happy to see a lawman.
With the robbery over, the bank patrons picked themselves off the floor. Some of the children were crying, their mothers trying to console them, telling them everything was going to be all right. The men were telling each other that they were just about to make their move, but their white faces and shaking hands told a different story. Bullet dropped his guns behind the pillar, besides he didn’t have anymore bullets for them. He stood up and began to walk towards the vault. A voice came from across the room.
“Mr. Westinghouse you’re a hero, come over here my good man, so I can thank you properly,” said Mr. Goldberg. He then turned to the sheriff and said, “That man got one of the robbers by the vault, and he fought the rest of them off long enough for you to arrive.”
His accolades were about to come to a stop. Mr. Hurbury stood up and with a purposeful gait started to walk towards the sheriff. Bullet made a bee line to cut him off. Mr. Hurbury said, “This man is no h ̶ ̶.” Before Mr. Hurbury could finish his sentence Bullet hit him with a right cross, knocking the old man out cold.
Bullet saw the perplexed looks on Mr. Goldberg and the lawmen’s faces and decided he better explain himself. “That man almost got me killed during the robbery,” Bullet lied. The lawmen looked at each other and smiled. They wished that they could have done that to some of the annoying people they’ve dealt with over the years.
“I’m just going to check on the extent of the damage back there,” said Bullet pointing to the vault. Mr. Goldberg nodded his head, and then begun to tell his account of what happened to the sheriff.
Bullet walked to the vault with a controlled pace, looking over his shoulder occasionally, to see if he was being watched. He wasn’t. He made it to the vault, grabbed the saddlebags full of cash, and exited the bank though the manager’s office. Benny was still there in the alley waiting for him. Bullet mounted his horse and got the hell out of Carson.