Ben Taylor was the sort of man who thought nothing of killing another with an unannounced shot from behind. Further, he knew his reputation as just such a man preceded him. He knew he’d probably meet his fate the same way he’d introduced so many other men to theirs — suddenly, unexplained. That’s why the “Kid,” Cyrus Heathcote, had to die today. It wasn’t just a matter of vengeance, sweet as that prospect was. By now it was a matter of self-preservation.
Ben nodded to the bartender who brought another bottle to his table.
“Leave it,” he grunted, anticipating his next sip almost as much as his long-delayed revenge. The Kid had taken something much greater than Ben’s life. He’d robbed him of his dreams for the future; a loving woman. A home. Ben sat at a small table beside a mottled glass window at the short end of the bar, with a view of the whole joint. He would certainly see the Kid before the Kid would see him. He patted the breast of his vest where the wanted poster, softened over time beyond crinkling, was folded. After, when he needed proof he was on the right side of the law this time, he’d produce it and collect his compensation.
He tilted his head to sample the weak breeze fighting its way through the window. It smelled of dirt that hadn’t seen rain in months, and horse shit and desiccated sage. He wondered if anyone in the place was fondling a poster depicting his face, though it had been over a year since the botched job in Tucumcari that sent Ben on his crusade for revenge. That was the night the Kid got away, costing Ben his payout, and his woman. Ben would forever be tortured knowing his own bullet from that riotous shootout took his new wife’s life. Tucumcari left his love dead, the Kid alive, and Ben a wanted man. This time Ben wouldn’t give the Kid a chance to take hostages. He hoped to conduct today’s business quickly so he could be on his way to the western coast and a new start. For though he was a cold-blooded killer, he considered himself a good man, capable of kindness, deserving of a home — even a family. For the first time since Tucumcari he allowed himself to dream about a future spent in one place, with a bed and a roof; a fireplace. He chucked back a shot of amber rot-gut, squinting as its harsh warmth cascaded down his innards. Hell, he mused, maybe a fella can dream after all.
“I hope you enjoyed that drink, ’cause it probably was your last.” The Kid came into focus as Ben’s eyes reopened. Where the hell did he come from? Sonofabitch just happened to show up the minute my eyes were closed. He noticed the Kid’s guns were holstered. Ben had a chance yet.
“Oh, I’ll drink again, Cyrus. If only to celebrate your demise. Sit,” Ben nodded to the chair opposite him. “Have yourself a taste before we get down to business.”
“Okay, Ben,” The Kid sidled toward the table. “Just keep your hands in sight.”
Ben poured as the Kid lowered himself into the creaking seat. The Kid picked up the heavy glass without taking an eye off Ben, who noted with disappointment that he managed to down the drink without so much as tilting his head. Ben watched the Kid’s eyes turn watery, nearly ejecting a tear, but never so much as blinking as he swallowed.
“So,” the Kid’s voice was raspy from the fiery drink. “You finally got your second chance. How do you want to do this? In here or outside?”
Ben growled, “This time you won’t get the chance to hide behind a skirt, you coward.” He struggled to regain control. “Makes no never-mind to me. Inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs. It’s all the same.” He raised an eyebrow as the two kept up their staring contest. “I guess what you need to decide is whether you wanna die indoors or out. Or, we can just not do this. Leave it all where we found it. You go your way, I go mine.”
The Kid scoffed. “Nice try there, Ben. Everyone knows you’d rather shoot a man in his sleep than face-to-face. I’m not gonna wait for you to slink into my camp in the middle of the night.” He leaned across the table and whispered, “’Course, you’re the one who’ll end up underground. Say hello to Nora for me.”
Ben gritted his teeth at the sound of his lost love’s name.
The Kid stood up. “I’ll meet you in the street in one minute.”
The Kid rose and walked slowly backwards, eyes locked with Ben’s until he exited the door. Ben heard his boots clomp down the front steps of the saloon toward the dusty thoroughfare. His weapon glided silently from its leather sheath and rose almost as if it had a life of its own. In one fluid motion Ben pointed it through the window and shot the Kid from his seat, straight through the spine. He was, after all, the sort who thought nothing of killing a man from behind. He poured another drink into the glass from which the Kid had just drunk. Those who’d ducked for cover at the sound of gunfire returned to the footpath and clotted in a circle around the dying man. Ben drank and dreamed of the western sea. The walk to the marshal’s office could wait.
Chris Ingram was born in St. Louis and grew up on Long Island. He spent about 30-years writing, producing, reporting and anchoring the news at markets of every size and at the network level. He self-published his first book, “Hey Kemosabe! The Days (and Nights) of a Radio Idyll,” in 2014. His science fiction novella, “Specious Skies,” was released in November. His work has been included in such publications as Flash Fiction Magazine, Loch Raven Review, and Hypnopomp Magazine. He has also been a cook, truck driver, radio deejay, and a high school wrestling coach.
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