Back - with Vengeance
That's not how I heard it...
As the drinks flowed, the talk became louder, more arrogant in its rendition. It was his favorite tale, the big gun fight - a draw down with the new marshal. A tale told often before, tonight they would have to hear yet one more rendition.
A hard gust sends a lone tumbleweed careening down an otherwise deserted street, deserted but for a couple of random stragglers scurrying toward the door. It's that time again when it's neither dark nor day. The sun has begun to slip below the horizon, teetering somewhere in that nether region we call twilight. Amid the long shadows of the dusk, the figure of a horse and rider seems to appear like an apparition out of the stinging dust.
Strange things seem to happen at twilight, more often than not.
Off in the distance a dog barks. A door slams. A flickering kerosene lamp backlights a face peering out a window staring into the street. The rider dismounts to tether his horse. The door swings wide open into the dimly lit saloon. A cold gust fills the room. Patrons shiver, glance sullenly at the uninvited guest, careful to not make eye contact.
You can hear the scuff of his boots across the wooden floor. Boards creak with each step. Cold eyes scan the room from an expressionless face. The stranger orders a drink. Taking a sip or two at the bar, he fixes his gaze on one man in particular, then ambles to the back of the room. Sliding a chair back with the toe of his boot he sits, back against the wall. Staring, he waits.
Several men stood off to the side of the bar. One talked loudly with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, the others simply nod and laugh on cue as they pretended to be regaled by his tale. The man at the bar holding court is tall & lean with greasy hair. In this town, he's a bit of a celebrity. A man with a past …and a story. A cigarette dangles from his lips, barely hanging in as he drones on with drink in hand. He's holding court to his entourage of sycophant's and cohorts, most of whom were only hoping for a free drink. He boasts of his prowess with his gun. His hand flirted at the firearm by his side. Fingers loitered menacingly by the holstered weapon, a large caliber revolver strapped low to his thigh.
Meanwhile the stranger sat in the back quietly sipping his drink, scanning the seedy occupants with cold eyes. Leaning back in his chair, the brim of the hat pulled down to his eyes, he sat there in silence. And he watched.
Our storyteller gets to his favorite part. "We stood in the street, face to face. Neither of us flinched." He gestured with his hand for the effect. "I could see the faces of the town folk peering through the windows like cowards …watching. And then he went for his gun. He was fast alright but no match for me. I fired twice before he could get off a shot, and down he went." He mimicked going for his gun, unsheathing his sidearm and play-firing before dropping it back into the holster. He went on. "I left him laying there dead in the street as I rode off." He folded his arms smugly across his chest as if on cue, waiting for the anticipated acclaim from his audience.
Thunder and smoke belched out from his barrel followed each time by the flash of the muzzle.
For a moment no one said a word. A hush fell across them. One man swallowed nervously. This time the adulation was preempted by the man in the chair. From the back of the room, a gravelly voice contested. "That's not the way I heard it!"
The storyteller's face flushed with rage as he turned to stare down the insolent man in the chair. Nervous men carefully step out of the line of fire. But the man in the back still leans back in his chair, hat pulled low over his brow. He continued. "Funny thing is, they dug the bullet out of the Marshall's back. Seems the whole thing was staged. The man that pulled the trigger was just a coward hiding in the back," he paused," …a coward like you!"
You shoulda' stayed dead, mister
The story-teller glared back at him in livid fury, his fingers fidgeted against the butt of his pistol. "Smart talk," his voice lowering"...for a dead man!" He spat without looking down. "Just who are you?"
In answer he dug a piece of lead out of his top pocket and pitched it onto the floor toward the story-teller. It bounced once and clattered at the toe of his boot. "Here," he said. "Last time we met, you left this behind ...in my back."
"You can't be..." he stammered, "you're …."
Dead," the stranger finished his sentence? "You might could say that."
The accuser made no effort to get up, merely shoved the brim up on his forehead revealing his face. Cold eyes set in hard features stared back.
"You...'" he spat? His eyes seethed, his voice quivered. "Mister, you should have stayed dead!" He stealthily positioned himself to draw down on the man in the chair, meanwhile his opponent made no attempt to get up, let alone defend himself.
"Ain't you gonna' draw?"
"Maybe. I'm not so sure you can do it," he taunted. "You know, shoot a man, at least not while he's looking dead on at you."
The gunman drew down in a rage on the unflinching figure, still seated in the chair. Drawing, firing. One round, two, and another in rapid succession into the torso of his antagonist. Thunder and smoke belched out his barrel, followed each time by the flash of the muzzle. His body shook violently with each bullets' impact. Once, twice …and again. And then he slumped down in a lifeless heap.
Thunder and smoke rang out
The shooter paused to regain his composure, making sure the body on the floor was still motionless. "Looks like that makes twice I had to kill you." He turned his back to the carcass in the chair and chatted on nervously like a school yard kid in a false display of bravado. "See, just like I've been telling you all, all along. He wasn't no match for me then either! I gunned him down just like I did the first time."
He turned to snatch a glass from another patron, a shot of hard whiskey to calm his shaken nerves. Before he could finish, the tell-tale click of a cocked hammer stopped him cold. Behind him, where a dead man once lay, a dead man stood.
Thunder and smoke rang out once more. One shot, point blank to the back knocked him into the bar like a rag doll. He sank to his knees, bracing himself for a moment before collapsing onto the floor. Dead.
All eyes turned to the dead man standing behind the corpse on the floor. He slowly holstered his weapon and then walked uncontested toward the door. He paused, then turned. "Just thought I'd return the favor," he stated. And then he stepped out into the night.
Sometimes at dusk, in that nether region between day and night, when the wind gusts and the tumbleweeds roll, they say you can hear the sound of boots on the wooden sidewalk.
What goes around...
They say, What goes around...comes around. Maybe so.
Stories in the dust...
Many tales are told in the west, Tales of brave men ...and desperate. Men who lived and those who died. Their lives are gone but their stories live on.
© 2011 Jim Henderson