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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1758130
by yacolt
Rated: E · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #1758130
The Gunfighter
This is the first draft so it’s pretty rough, grammar and all that.
What I’m wondering is the story’s plot good enough to even mess with fixing up the grammar? If you review that’s what I would like to know, along with whatever other suggestions you might have.




Coopers Crossing



         Adams asked Carter the question the whole town was wondering.

         “Do you think the gunfight will be this evening?”

         “Don’t know for sure,” I’m thinkin’ it can’t be long,” said Carter, his wire face gritty in the early heat.

         “I guess they’ll be shooting our street.” said “because it ain’t looking like Lazarus is moving on.”

         Adams looked at the second story window above the solon where everyone in town knew the gunfighter was staying.

         “You’re probably right,” Carter said, taking his plaid dust scarf off. “Tomorrow, maybe the day after, we’ll be burying one of ‘em down by the cottonwoods.”

         The early morning sun was already hot and it warned a scorcher was coming by midday. Carter dipped his neck scarf in the wooden horse trough outside the feed store and wrung it on his face, trying for a little comfort from the waster.

          “Come on Adams, let’s get the buckboard loaded. It’s a long dry haul to the ranch. I’d like to get the trip back finished before it gets too hot for the horses.”

         “Sure. It’s gonna get hot. You coming into town this evening?” asked Andy, following Carter inside the store.

         “Guess so. I’m thinkin’ most everybody in these parts will be here.”

         They gave the shopping list to Jed Delaney and he noted the supplies and charged the account. He asked, “Ya’ll pulled around back aren’t you? I’ll help you get loaded up.”

         The three men hefted the sacks of oats for the horses and the bags of flower on to the wood floor of the buckboard.

         Jed looked up at the gunman’s room and asked, “What ya think he’s doing in there? I reckon it’s this evening from what I know. Heard the gunman that’s coming for him is fast, he killed Bart Marlow. In a fair fight too, just out drew him.”

          “Marlow’s dead?” Adams hadn’t heard. “What’s the gunmen’s name, do ya know it?”

         “Don’t know for sure, James or Johnston. My guess is everyone will know after he comes up against Lazarus. Heard Lazarus has killed twenty-seven, Bart only killed six,” said Jed. “Hey Adams, can you help me roll this barrel on your cart.”

         “Sure,” said Adams, “Jed you know Lazarus has really killed twenty-eight, twenty-nine if he kills this gunman after him.”

          “Wonder what their gunning for?” said Carter, “Don’t recall anyone knowin’.”

          “Probably Lazarus killed someone he knew or something,” Jed replied. “Maybe one’s jealous of the other, who knows what a killer thinks like.”

         Lazarus let go of the curtain he had pulled aside, so he could see out the glass, and it fell back to its natural position. He had been watching the three men talking and looking at his window, aware that the main conversation in town was his presence here.

         He sat down on the edge of the tired bed and looked down at the wood floor boards, imbedded with the scratches and nicks from years of cowboy boots and spurs. The shuffling in and out of farm hands and trail bosses. The floor worn down from the feet of old people, young lovers, and the whores that all had used this room.

         He had been in scores of small towns and in lots of rooms like this room, only differing by the details of arrangement and furniture style. He found the rooms and the people had little difference in any of the wooden towns that dotted the sage-land and scattered themselves around about a half day’s journey from each other.

         Coopers Crossing was no different the dozens of dusty places he had passed through before.

         At the familiar looking dresser, he studied his face in the mirror. He was thirty-four, old for a gun fighter, but there were times experience meant as much as quickness with a gun. He had killed twenty-eight men and this evening, once again, he would walk down the line to the gunfight.

         He had a very strong feeling the killing would be this evening and when he had that feeling, he was rarely wrong. But that was this evening, he still had the day.

         Lazarus took the shaving mug and put a little water in it from the dresser’s bowel and used the round shaving brush to make some shaving foam. He took the straight razor and with its blade he cut the foamed stubble from his face.

******


         The waitress had already given the cook his order, but she made a needless trip back and said, “I told Frank not to let your biscuits and gravy get soggy and to let me know as soon as their done, so they’ll be hot.”

         She leaned on the table and put her hand invitingly close to his, hoping he would touch her.

         She wasn’t the most beautiful of the girls that had approached him in the countless small towns he had went through, but she was young and with her hazel green eyes and light colored skin he did find her attractive.

         There was nothing that made him feel more alive then a woman, but life had made him a hard man and it didn’t matter to him whether it was a woman like this waitress, who would hug him all night and willingly give herself to him in the morning. Hoping she could be with him always, or at least one more night; or if it was the whore who left and took her coins from the nightstand after he fell asleep.

         It was the feeling of the warm body desiring him that made him feel more alive, not the reason the girl would come to his room. The whore that faked desire for her coins or the girl breathily loving him, it was the same to him. He hadn’t always been a hard man, but he hadn’t always been a gunman either.

         He saw the effect his charming smile had on the waitress and he said, “Thank you mam’ that’s right kind of you.”

          “Can I do anything else for you?” she ask, and leaned suggestively.

         From his experience with the girls that lived in the wooden clap-board towns like Coopers Crossing, she was probably courted by many of the ranch foramens and cattle herd drivers. She likely turned them down and was waiting for something more exciting in her life, hoping that she wouldn’t eventually have to settle for one of the men in her town.

         When he came from the outside into their tinny wooden towns, and the local girls saw the hope of something more exciting, they often fell for him.

         But this evening would be the killing and he tried not to mix his desire of a woman on the day of a gunfight. The emotional toil going from the height of living to walking down the line to kill a man was more then he could deal with in one day. He was jaded, but not yet that jaded.

         With the smile she found so exciting he asked her, “Could you please bring me some water?” He let his hand slip over to hers and his fingers lingered on her soft skin, to at least give her some of what she wanted.

         She stood there feeling his fingers on her hand and looking into his handsome face until the moment went on so long she got embarrassed. She took her hand up and giggled, “Oh. I’m sorry. I’ll get you the water.”

         She bounced happily to the water pitcher; she would remember his touch even if it went no farther

******


         The stable barn was built with open knot holes in the boards and the beams of light from the sun crisscrossed the room, lighting the dust from the hay and the dirt floor in their beams. Lazarus let his horse have a couple of the sugar cubes he had taken from the dining room table and talked to his animal.

         “How ya doing boy. You want to go for a ride?”

         “It’s almost as hot in here as outside. Let’s go down by the creek, got to be cooler there.”

         He slung his saddle up on his horse and tightened the belly straps, then he put his foot in the stirrup and lifted up on his mount.

         They rode along the dirt road that passed through the middle of Coopers Crossing’s few buildings. They rode past the general store, the feed supply, the small wood church whose wooden cross was hardly taller then the false fronts of the few commercial buildings.

         At the edge of town they came to a small grove of cottonwoods. Lazarus stopped and looked out over the landscape. The town was built on a rise and had a view out over the valley. He could see the thin lines of the canyons in front of the gentle hills that covered the base of the more distant mountains, blue in the distance.

         The view was peaceful and had an eternal feeling to it. He looked at the headstones in the graveyard happy they were all standing straight, the grass that grew under the shade of the cottonwoods was recently cut and the picket fence was well repaired and the paint wasn’t faded.

         “Not bad. Not bad at all,” he said aloud. Knowing that this was the place that tomorrow the townspeople might be burying him in the ground.

         He looked out at the view again and said, “Not too bad a place to spend eternity. It even looks like the town keeps up the graveyard. I like that.”

         Then with his heels he urged his horse forward down to the creek and to the Crossing the town was named after. He stopped in the middle of the water and let his house drink. It was definitely cooler here.

         He guided his horse upstream along the bank of the creek past the scrub-maples and the cat-tails that grew in the mud next to the creek. He rode past the alders that grew away from the flood-bank until he came to a grove of birch trees in a meadow.

         He got off his horse and let the reins hang and followed a faint path to the creek bank. The water went around a bend and was deeper and obviously used for a swimming hole. He sat down in the cool shade, his back against the broad roots of a birch tree, and let the sound of the water carry away him to his thoughts and memories.

         He never wanted to be a gunfighter. He just had a natural ability with his quick reflexes and good eye. His handiness with the gun did get him first in line for the cattle drives and ranch positions. Never could tell when an extra gun would come in handy. The trouble was those extra times became more and more often.

         When younger he had a bit of a temper and if he felt he was wronged he had no hesitation to walk the street towards another man until they drew and someone died. He just happened to be faster at it, at least so far.

         After he killed a half a dozen men in gunfights he started to get a reputation and anytime there was trouble one side would hire him and he would end up killing, which only made his reputation better known. Soon if one side hired him the men on the other side would look for a way to talk about it instead of getting out their guns.

         To bad it didn’t end there. Now the men that come after him didn’t have any reason at all, only to kill him so they could have his reputation for their own.

         The night had been hot and he hadn’t slept well and soon his eyes closed in the pleasant coolness of the shade. He thought of the days when he was young, before he became a famous gunman. His life could have been a lot different. Maybe he could have met someone and she would have shown him love and he wouldn’t have ended up such a hard man.

         His eyes closed and sleep approached as he thought about the ritual he started doing, after the gunfights were no longer about anything but killing him. If he lived tonight he would ride out into the sage and sleep in the open. Start a fire with the juniper branches and listen to the crackle as he tried to count the stars. He always did this after a killing, it took his mind off counting the men he had killed.

******


         He had slept until early evening and when he rode into town there were already quite a few town’s people and farmers that had come into Coopers Crossing. The people were dressed in their best, like it was a Sunday. They stood in groups or walked along the boardwalks that lined the dirt street. He wasn’t surprised, he had seen this before. Everyone wanted to be there for the gunfight, to see what happened in person.

         He went through the swinging doors of the solon and sat on a stool at the bar. Usually the bar tender would serve someone on the stools, but the waitress hurried over to help him.

         “What would you like?” she asked him smiling at the thought of his touch. Maybe she did have a chance to get to know this exciting stranger better. He had touched her on purpose.

          “I’d like a shot of redbird, if you don’t mind mam’,” he asked.

         She reached up for the bottle and arched her back to show as much of her backside her hoop skirt would allow.

         She got a shot glass and put it on the bar. She took her time taking the top off the whisky and said, “I saw you ride out of town, did you go down by the Crossing?”

         “I did do that, it was getting awful hot here in town.”

         “Oh, I know,” she said, “It was stifling in the solon all day.” She finally got the top off the bottle and slowly poured the liquid in the glass.

         “Did you ride up stream,” she asked him.

         “Yes mam’ I did.”

         “Did you go up as far as the birches? By the swimming hole.”

          “I did go that far, and I found it quite a bit cooler there. Beautiful little meadow.”

         She put the top on the bottle and set it down and leaned in close to him and said, “You know sometimes when it’s hot, like today, I strip down to my petticoat and swim in the creek there.” She gave him a smiling look with her suggestive image.

          “Well mam’ that sounds like as beautiful sight as the meadow itself.”

         Then he leaned in a little close to her and said, “Maybe next time ya do that you’ll let me know and I could peak through the cat-tails.”

         She put her mouth close to his ear and said, “Maybe we‘d do more then peaking through the cat-tails.” She tried to return a long look in his eyes, but got too embarrassed. She turned and smiling to herself she went to put back the bottle.

         To bad the killing was today, he thought as he took his drink the card table and asked, “Think you guys got room enough for me to set in?”


          “If you’d like,” said the dealer, not sure about playing cards with a gunfighter.

         Lazarus took a sip of his whisky, taking it slow. He would only have one drink, enough to heighten his senses, but not so much as to slow his hand.

         He lost the first five plays, but won the next two and was starting to get the feel of the men he was playing with. He picked up the cards he was dealt and saw three face cards, two jacks and an ace.

         Lazarus said, “Two cards, I’ll draw two…” As he was speaking the swinging doors of the solon flew open and in came a young man, hardly older then a kid. He wore his guns tied down low and carried the look of a gunfighter with him.

         He spotted Lazarus immediately and rushed to the table and said, “Lazarus you’re a murder and card thief. You killed my brother, down in Applewood Canyon, when he caught you cheating. You shot him setting in his chair, using your gun under the table. I aim to take revenge for my brother’s murder.”

         The dealer stood up and said, “That’s some mighty powerful words to come in here and claim…” but he got no farther. The kid had his gun out of his holster before an eye could blink. It was pointed at the dealer’s chest.

         “Set down old man! This is between me and that dirty lying thief Lazarus.”

         The young kid had no brother, he was an only child, but he did have a mother that loved him dearly. She may have spoiled him some, even though she did try to raise him the best she could.

         But he had always done what he wanted and had killed four men. The first with a rifle during a fight with some sheep herders over grasslands, the other three were up close in gunfights. He had fought in the seventh gunfight that Bart Marlow had, seven didn’t turn out lucky for Bart.

         The dealer sat down, but he asked, “What’s your name son?

         “I’m Johnny,” the kid said and he took the gun off the old man and pointed it at Lazarus. “I aim to kill this man for what he did.”

         He shook his gun at Lazarus and said, “You man enough to meet me in the street? Or shall I kill you setting down like you did my brother?”

         Lazarus knew the last thing the kid gunfighter wanted to do was kill him setting down. That would do nothing for the kid’s reputation. In fact he would be considered a coward and probability be hunted down and end up stretching a rope from a willow tree.

         Lazarus held his hand out from his body, far from his gun and backed his chair up slowly. He was fast, but nobody could get a shot off faster then a man pointing his gun with his finger already on the trigger.

         He said, “Ok, I’ll meet ya.”

         He stood up carefully and still keeping his hand away from his gun and said, “I’m doing what ya ask and I’m walking to the door. Let’s keep the shootin’ in the street, don’t want to hurt someone standing by.”

         Lazarus figured Johnny was probably excited, getting his chance at the great gunfighter. Thinking he would be famous. He would be the one the ranch foreman’s paid to be on their side. He would have the respect Lazarus had. He would have Lazarus’s kind of life.

         He figured Johnny wanted that. But Johnny didn’t know the reality of constantly having to prove your gun with every aspiring fighter that hoped to move up a notch. If Johnny killed him, then Johnny would really know Lazarus’s life. And if he killed Johnny, well, then Johnny would be dead and wouldn’t know anything.

         Lazarus walked out the bar doors unafraid that he would be shot in the back. The killing would take place in the street.

         He walked to the edge of the boardwalk and turned to the kid and said, loud enough for the town’s people to hear, “Ya sure you got the right man? I’ve never be to Applewood and I’ve never shot a man setting down.”

          “Ya I got the right man. You’re a lair and you’re lying now about the cowardly act of killing my brother.”

         Lazarus walked very slowly off the board walk into the early evening light. A slight cooling breeze had come up and blew at the dust his boots made as he walked in the dirt.

         Everyone in the solon, including the bar tender and the waitress, had come out and joined the crowd in their Sunday clothes on the wooden boardwalk. The sun dimmed as it took its path to the evening’s end. The church cross looked down at the town people of Coopers Crossing, the audience that had come to see for themselves the killing that would forever be part the town’s history.

         The whole town was here for this moment, the anticipation of the gunfight. Lazarus looked at the town’s faces and he saw the same faces of the other clap-board towns. The same look in the other town’s crowd when he had walked down their main street, walking the line to face a gunman.

         Lazarus looked at Jed the store keeper, where in his store, the farmers and cattlemen would talk for years about this evening. Adams and the wire faced man he had seen through the window, looking at him, storing this moment in their memories for the stories they would tell their grandchildren.

         The waitress who held her hand to her mouth, unsure if she would be more afraid of his death if she had slept with him; or was more afraid of his death because she would never have a chance to be with him.

         He looked at Johnny the kid. A kid that was barely a man. He was fast; Lazarus had seen him draw in the solon. He knew he was faster when he was the kid’s age. That was a long time ago, a lot of killings ago. He might not have it this time.

         Whether or not he died, he would not disappoint. Lazarus set the scene for the future memories.

         He said to Johnny, “I’m going to walk forty paces down the street and turn around. When I turn around you come into the street and we’ll walk to each other. Draw when you like. It’ll be a fair fight.”

         Lazarus slowly and deliberately walked down the dirt between the town’s buildings, counting his steps. When he got to forty he stopped and paused, letting the scene unfold. He turned and faced the kid.

         The gunmen stood silently and motionless for a long moment then Johnny took a step forward and Lazarus did the same. Lazarus watched the man’s face, not his hands, looking for any intent in it.

         In the gunfight you had to hit true. If you put a bullet into the man and it didn’t kill him, he could still kill you. The fight had to take place close enough for perfect aim. But far enough a way that you draw first, before the other guy, giving you that split second advantage. Or just be faster. Wait for the other fighter to draw and then outdraw him.

         When Lazarus was young, like the kid, it was easy. He would wait until he saw the man’s hand move and then pull his gun. He was older now and didn’t have the reflexes he used to have. Lazarus had learned to look in the man’s face not his hands. The intent to draw showed there before the hand moved.

         The men approached walking down the line, the old gunfighter and the young. The steps went by as the gunfighters came closer and closer, the crowd watching ever step. Lazarus saw the look in the kid’s face, pulled his gun and put his bullet into Johnny’s heart. The kid staggered, with his gun in his hand, trying with the last movement of his young life to send his bullet into Lazarus.

         It was too late. Johnny’s gun went off and the bullet bounced off the ground and over the heads of the knotted group on the walk. Johnny’s body lay still on the ground in the early evening, the wooden cross and the town’s people witness to the killing.

         Adams and another cowboy rushed out to the body and nodded to the crowd that the man was dead. They each grabbed a limp arm and dragged the body to the boards on the walk next to the jail house. The dead man’s boots and spears left a double trail as they gouged the dirt of the street.

Lazarus didn’t move, it had been close. Number twenty-nine. Would he live next time and there would be a thirty? He knew there would be a next time - that was unavoidable. There would always be another young gunfighter wanting to make a mark.

         His eyes went passed the people of Coopers Crossing, the crowd looked just like the one at killing number twenty-eight and the crowd at killing number thirty would probably look like this one.

         Lazarus did look at the waitress and into her eyes. He saw her look, like she wanted to run to him, put her arms around him, and hold him alive. And part of him wished that could happen. But a man with his reputation could never have a normal life, and besides he was a hard man.

         He left her no emotion with his eyes. He put his gun in his holster and walked to his room. He would get his things and ride into the sage and start his juniper fire and look at the stars.

*****


         Lazarus stopped his horse at the cottonwoods. The thin lines of the canyons had disappeared in the twilight. And the color of the gentle hills that covered the base of the more distant mountains had darkened into black.

         He looked out at outline of the distant mountains, they had turned blue-black. In the darkening twilight the view had an even more peaceful and eternal feeling.

         He said, “Johnny, it’s not a bad place to spend eternity. It’s not bad at all. The town will keep up your grave site and you’ll be famous here. You’d like that.”

         He spent a few minutes holding in the eternal feelings of the graveyard, and then he urged his horse down the rise and across the Crossing to the other side. He could feel his horse’s desire to run and he let the animal do as it wanted. There was still some light left. The sage-land was big and there were lots of stands of juniper where he could find branches for his fire.

         Lazarus saw a few of the brightest stars show up early. He could count three stars, no there were four. He rode along the road that went through the sage-land trying to forget the number of men he had killed. As he rode Lazarus looked at the sky and counted as many stars as he could.


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