GHOST GUN • by Bradley Mason Hamlin

Gus picked up his brother’s pistol, immediately struck by the weight of the thing in his hand. He popped open the barrel, filling it full of lead ammunition and slapping the gun shut. He considered the whiskey on the bar counter. Maybe later, he thought, then walked out into the street.

Jork, Moore, and Whistletop sat mounted, casually ready to ride. They shouldn’t have hesitated, Gus thought. They should have gotten the hell out and sooner than later. I would have lost my nerve.

Gus raised the heavy weapon in his right hand.

The riders barely noticed him, beneath their contempt. He noticed Moore smiling, actually smiling, as a strange sensation came over Gus’s body. He could especially feel the weirdness in his gun hand as he pulled the trigger three times.

He didn’t expect to hit anything. Actually the thought that he could actually kill somebody never entered into Gus’s mind, pretty sure a coward, not completely yellow, but a coward all the same. He wasn’t schooled in letters or numbers or killing, wasn’t old enough to fight civilly in the big war. He was a goddamned farmer, knew that, knew nothing was wrong with that, too. He also knew people rarely, if ever, fought in the streets like those dime novels his mother read. If you needed to kill he guessed you just got the hell on with it.

But somehow he thought more of dying than killing when he picked up Wally’s gun in the cantina, guess you might say that’s why he looked as shocked at the lookers-on when Jork fell backward with a big bloody hole in the middle of his face, fell right off the saddle and into the street.

Gus’s eyes focused on Moore. Moore had stopped laughing, looking down, dumbfounded. Blood poured out and around Moore’s hands, holding onto the hole in his gut. He too, then, slid off his mount and landed hard in the street.

Whistletop sat right there in the middle, ‘tween Jork dropping on his right and Moore dropping on his left. Whistletop, unharmed, just sitting there, guess he looked sort of shocked, too.

He went for his gun.

Gus held Wally’s pistol out in front of himself when Whistletop shot him.

Gus felt the big bullet tear the right side of his cheek open as it flew on by.

Missed, thought Gus. The sonofabitch missed.

That feeling came over Gus again, hadn’t thought about pulling the trigger again, but he did.

Whistletop fell back, clutching at his throat and joining his two dead friends in the street, tried to crawl toward his gun, but Gus kicked it out of reach. Maybe Whistletop would have lived with that big hole in his throat, maybe not. We’ll never know. Gus pulled the trigger again and put the poor bastard down.

You would think maybe Gus felt good about what he had done, killing three men dead in the street. Dangerous men. Wanted men. Murderers.

Wally avenged.

Gus felt hollow inside, like a turkey on the table with no stuffing in its innards.

Beatrice grabbed onto Gus’s right arm and started dabbing at the cut on his cheek with a damp rag. “You done real good, Gus. Amazing is what it was.”

“My fault,” said Gus. “My fault is what it was.”

“You’re a hero. You’re a hero, Gus.”

“Couldn’t even fight them when they came at me, couldn’t fight them when it meant somethin’.”

“You’re tired is all. Need a drink? You wanna drink?”

“They called me a yellow chicken and I just kept on drinking. That’s what I did.”

“Don’t,” said Beatrice.

Gus looked into her face, pretty for a whore, a pretty good whore. He could like her, maybe special. “I didn’t do anything,” he said, “don’t deserve you touchin’ my cheek.”

“You killed three of the nastiest cocksuckers this town has ever put up for the night, what you did.”

“Called me chicken and I kept on drinkin’ until Wally…”

“Don’t,” she said. “Took care of it,” she said, “set things right.”

“Wally took care of it,” he told her. “Wally stood up for me then and Wally stood up for me now, supposed to die, goddamnit. I stood right there…” He looked down at the men, dead men, in the street. “Stood right there and Wally raised my gun, took me by hand, squeezed the fuckin’ trigger. Even in death he’s a better man than I.”

“That’s just,” Beatrice cried, “just crazy talk. Men are evil, Augustus. Evil. Don’t you let what they done get inside your head.”

Gus stared at the dead men in the street.

“You’re right,” he said. “Evil must be punished.”

He looked down at the gun that still felt warm, hanging from his right hand. “Evil must be punished and that’s just what I’m gonna do.”

Whistletop had the best horse. Gus grabbed the saddle horn, put his right boot in the stirrup and pulled himself up onto the back of the nervous animal.

“You, you going on bounty, Gus? That’s…”

“What,” he said, “not like me?”

“No it isn’t,” she said.

“Well…” Gus sat there, searching for words. “When it is like me… reckon I’ll be back.”

She shook her head, smiled. “Kiss the whore?”

He wasn’t going to do that, but for the third time that day Gus felt his right hand move without his knowledge, reaching for the back of her neck.

He didn’t know how many men would need killing to set things right, but figured his brother would let him know, and he rode off, pretty much okay with that.

Bradley Mason Hamlin  was born and raised in Los Angeles, educated at the University of California at Davis, and currently lives in Sacramento with his beautiful wife and crazy children. His short stories, articles, and poems have appeared in several small press books, magazines, and literary journals in print and on line. Hamlin created Mystery Island Publications and writes the Secret Society series: Intoxicated Detective.

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Joseph Kaufman