Garth Tanner spat a stream of tobacco in the general direction of a spittoon. He turned to face Kid Hart and rested his right hand on the ivory grips of his Colt. “Ah don’t like bein’ called a cheap gunman. Ah’m a shootist, sah. And ah charge the usual rates.”
At a table in the middle of the room sat Captain Jack, a half-breed gunman out of the Nations. He glanced up, saw that he was out of the line of fire and went back to one of his endless games of solitaire.
At the end of the bar, Kid Hart’s spurs rang merrily as he faced Garth. His beer was warm, his cash flow was in negative numbers, and the Rebel assassin just plain rubbed the Kid wrong. He felt irritable and frustrated.
Patch Pomander, day shift bartender, drew a fresh beer and placed it in front of the Kid. He’d seen the signs of impending doom. “On the house.”
Kid nodded, but remained tense, like a coiled rattlesnake. What did a rattler do when he decided not to sink his fangs into anybody?
The bartender drew a second beer and placed it on the bar beside Garth’s left hand. Neither gunfighter moved a muscle. The hot wind moaned in anticipation. A loose shutter thumped in slow cadence. Captain Jack held his breath. Patch eased back against the plank shelves. The air hung still as death.
Someone opened a door at the back. Dust puffed from cracks and trickled to the floor. Boots thudded in the back hallway.
Marshal Lomax stepped into view. He seldom entered any room by the front door. A sawed-off, double-barrel man killer dangled from his left hand. A holstered .44 hung on his right hip.
“It can’t be that all you fools has got a death wish,” he growled. “You know the rules about gunfighters congergatin’ like this.”
“It’s hot outside,” said Kid Hart. “I come in to relax.”
Captain Jack blew out a long sigh and went back to his solitaire. “I been here all day.”
Garth never took his eyes off the Kid. “Ah see the hand of God in this, Marshal. We’ve had a hot wind out of the East for three days. Ah hear the river’s drying up. Cattle dying. It’s a curse, sah. A curse sent by the Almighty. Y’all know the bible. Old Testament.”
“It’s hot and dry,” admitted the Marshal. “What’s yer point?”
“Blood, sah. We must lay our sons upon the altah of God, sah. Ah reckon if ah killed Kid Hart, his death would atone for our sins. The rains would come again.”
“Balderdash!” cried Lomax. “The Kid ain’t yer son to go offerin’ him up on an altar. Yer just itchin’ for a killin’. The hot wind ain’t to blame.”
“He called me cheap. Ah take offense, sah. Ah do take offense.”
Lomax nodded agreement. “He ought not to have did that. I don’t like to be called single minded and arbitrary in my pursuit of justice. But it happens.” He glared at the Kid. “You got no call to label Mr. Tanner cheap, son, any more’n you got the right to name him as a belly-crawlin’ Rebel snake in the grass. It ain’t done, sir. Not in polite company.”
Kid Hart sipped his beer. It was cold as beer ever gets in a Western town with no ice at hand and a hot wind blowing out of the East. His frustration level ebbed and began to recede. Spurs chimed as he moved back up to the bar. “I was just joshin’ him. Never meant nothin’.”
Garth slowly relaxed. “Ah don’t know what got into me, Marshal. Talkin’ trash an’ mayhem.” He picked up his beer. “Mah old mother would be ashamed.”
Tension drained out of the saloon. Patch hummed as he polished glasses that hadn’t been washed in a month of Sundays. Outside, the hot wind kicked sage brush around and longed for a good blood-letting.
“I won!” shouted Captain Jack. He gave the cards a toss, scattering them from hell to breakfast. “That’s my last game of solitaire. Always said if I won a game, I’d quit playing.” He beamed at all and sundry, like a man who just gave up cigarettes and hasn’t felt that first pang of nicotine craving.
“By God, you’ll clean those up,” snarled Patch, leaning across the bar. “Pick ’em up, goddamn it! I’m tired of you damn gunfighters always leaving my place in a mess. Pick ’em up!”
Marshal Lomax held up a hand. “Now take it easy, Patch. Captain Jack will pick the cards up. He was just — ”
“Just makin’ a damn mess!” screeched the bartender. He dragged a monstrous blunderbuss out from under the bar. “Pick up them damn cards!”
“Damned if I will,” retorted Captain Jack, reaching for his Colt.
Patch touched off his cannon. Captain Jack hurtled backwards and slammed into the wall. Garth cursed and drilled the bartender. Marshal Lomax fired both shotgun barrels at the Rebel snake. One load blew him ass over teakettle and the other made an opening for a new window. Kid Hart didn’t even twitch.
Dead silence descended, save for the ringing in the survivor’s ears.
Lomax broke his shotgun open. Brass shells bing-bonged across the floor. He looked at the Kid. “Help me drag the bodies out back. Undertaker can handle ’em from there.”
Kid Hart reached for his slicker. “Reckon I’ll need this. It’s raining.”
And it wasn’t just raining. Hail fell by the hat full. Rain come down in buckets. Thunder rumbled down dark cloud canyons marching over the land. The hot wind retired eastward, its thirst satisfied — for the time being.
JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.