by Ben James
A lone gunman rides into town.
By Ben James
Later, there were many rumors where the man had come from, and even more on where he went. He came early in the morning, which seemed odd, since the town, which most there considered a camp really, because it was only a few buildings on the muddy thoroughfare surrounded by makeshift tents prospectors and labors had thrown up to house themselves until more permanent constructions could be made, was quite frankly, in the middle of nowhere, and a hard nights ride must have been needed in order for him to arrive in the morning, because no one would camp in the middle of the woods to ride in in the morning. Too many Indians prowling at night.
He had a black duster thrown over himself, and it swept the ground and kicked up a trail behind him as he walked, open enough so that two well-oiled gun belts were visible beneath, riding low on his hips. A black hat completed his outfit, but in stark contrast he led a large grayish horse behind him, with enough streaks of red in its coat to be marked as an unusual looking animal. He stood out on the street.
He led the horse down the dry, dusty thoroughfare and stopped outside a saloon with a French name, some proprietor's attempt to be the first person in this new town to cater to a crowd with class and taste. He moved past the French named saloon and down the street, coming to a rough shod building made from fresh cut pine timbers that looked cobbled together as fast as some drunk carpenter could do it. He hitched his horse outside and went in.
The barkeeper looked up as he entered and took note of his appearance. A tall man with guns was not unusual, but his look was different than most.
"You open?" he asked the barkeep.
The barkeeper nodded. "Always open. Don't serve breakfast. Have to go to the hotel for that."
The man walked to the bar and laid money down. "Not interested in breakfast. Just a bottle. The whole thing."
The bartender nodded again, reached and grabbed a bottle and a shot glass and placed it in front of the man before picking up his money. The man looked around, no other customers where in the saloon, just two women who were eagerly hoping he would purchase their wares. He did not nod at them, worried it would encourage them to approach him, and instead walked to a table in a corner. He sat with his back to the wall facing the door and poured himself a drink into the glass.
He sat that way for a while, watching the street become busier and busier with people starting their days, occasionally pouring himself a glass of the whiskey from the bottle. Each time he tasted it he was reminded that he had overpaid and thought about telling the bartender to give him some of his money back.
After an hour or so of sitting and watching the street, three men entered the saloon.
They briefly paused at the door, two of them looking his way, as if in conformation of what they had been told were true, before all three headed toward the bar. The three men ordered whiskeys from the bartender and drank them down. They ordered again but none of the men drank immediately. Finally, the man who was clearly the leader, and had not glanced his way when they had come in, drank and the other two men drank after him. The leader turned and headed towards him with the other two following.
The leader got to the table and stood in front of him with one man on his left and one man on his right. The leader was about his age, not a man too young, or too old, someone who was clearly a tough customer. In his eyes the man saw a killer, not just a man that had killed, but someone who enjoyed it.
On the leaders right was an older man, shorter with a gut that protruded over his belt. The man had a gray beard and gray eyes that told him he was uncomfortable in this situation, no matter how tough he was acting in front of his boss.
On the leaders left was a younger man. His energy was high and he was clearly excited. The man knew this was a young kid who craved the attention and notoriety of killing a man, a young kid that was probably a back shooter and too young to realize his life would end in a pool of blood, in a place just like this.
The leader spoke. "You're at our table. We sit here every morning and drink. You're in our way."
The leader knew this wouldn't intimidate the man, but was taking a chance anyway. It would only be better for them if the man got up. He sat motionless and stared back, then looked around the room to emphasize no one else was in the saloon.
"Maybe you boys could make an exception this morning and sit somewhere else."
The young guy spoke this time, his voice high and tight with excitement. He moved closer to the man almost touching him and on his side of the table. "Maybe you could just get the fuck up, mister."
The man looked up at him hard and the young man tried hard not to look away but could not hold the gaze. Finally, the young man looked down at the table, clearly embarrassed and took a step back, now not as close to the man but still on the same side of the table, while the other two were still across it from them.
The man moved his eyes back to the leader. "Where's your boss at today."
"He's not in camp anymore, moved on a couple of days ago. But he said you'd be coming. Said to give you a message."
The man didn't wait for the leader to speak again. Didn't ask what the message was. From somewhere he produced a knife, so fast none of the three saw it till it was sticking deep in the young man's thigh. The man was up then, kicking his chair back and grabbing the young man around the neck and holding him in front of himself while pulling the young man's pistol from his belt.
The leader had pulled his pistol by then, only momentarily surprised by what was happening. The leader fired twice, each bullet catching the young man in the chest, providing the shield the man wanted, before the leaders head exploded.
There was silence and stink in the bar now, except for the dying murmur of the young man and a small grunting noise. The man reached down and pulled his knife sideways in the young man's leg, opening his artery before letting him drop to the floor. He looked over at the older of the men, the third one, who hadn't fired a shot, or even gotten his gun out of the holster on his hip.
The old man stood there pulling furiously on his gun with his eyes squeezed tightly shut. He slowed and finally gave up his struggle to remove his gun from its holster and raised his hands and opened his eyes.
"I didn't fire mister."
"Pull out your gun."
"I... I didn't fire."
The man gave him a hard look. "The site is stuck on the holster, take your time and remove it from the holster. Now."
"I didn't shoot."
"You're going to die, with your gun in your hand or not. Better to just make the effort and get it out. I'll wait for you."
The old man looked at him with watery eyes, breathed deep and placed his hand on his revolver. He reached with his other hand and dislodged the jammed site from the bottom of the holster, removed the gun and held it down by his side.
"You ready? Raise the gun when you're ready," the man said.
"Guess all those stories they told about you were true, huh?" the old man said, not raising his gun. "Davey there," the old man kicked the man that had been the leader hard in what was left of his head, "said none of that stuff was true. Said you was a good gun hand but not the best. I knowd to believe it. I knowd you was the best. Didn't even want to come in here." The old man lowered his head and started to sob loudly.
The man wasn't unsympathetic to him. He felt bad for the old man. He probably had never been in a gunfight before, just too old to mine and so they had found other work he could do, backing up the enforcer.
The old man looked up with tears in his eyes. "I got a daughter in San Francisco. Would you give her a let...."
The man shot him right between the eyes.
He walked over to the bar and knocked on it softly. Slowly, the bartender rose from his hiding spot. Shaking slightly.
The man laid a few dollars down on the bar. "See that old man gets a proper burial. Use that."
The bartender nodded. "What about those other two?"
The man gave him a hard look. "Got any pigs around?"
The bartender cracked a smile. "Yes sir, know a man that's got a mess of 'em he raises and slaughters."
"Throw those other two in with them then. Pigs'll eat good."
The bartender had never stopped nodding in agreement. "Some won't be too happy about this. Them boy's worked for Mr...."
"I know who the hell they worked for," the man snapped. "Anybody comes asking after 'em you just tell it like you saw it."
The man left his money on the bar for the burial of the old man and walked outside into the mid-morning sun. The sun felt good on his face and the temperature was nice and not too hot. He threw one leg over his horse and mounted up, kicked him up to a canter and rode out of town.