“Kid, when you get those guns pointed at him, it’s gonna seem like the whole damn bar is crashing in on you. Don’t worry, it’s not. Most the men sitting at those tables are drunk, or cowards, or scared cus they see you holding metal.”
Tom listened to the instructions. He’d been riding with the man for five days. He watched him sleep each night by the fire, wondering what made a man like that and what it would take for him to be half as tough. By that time, he’d have followed him anywhere.
“Now get some sleep,” the old cowboy said. “Your nerves be all shot tomorrow, less you rest tonight.”
“Frank, how many men you killed?” Tom said as he pulled the rough blanket to his neck.
“Go to sleep,” Frank said as he poured his coffee into the brush.
“All right, here’s where we split off. You go on and tie your horse up and I’ll be waiting for you when you come out that back door,” Frank said as the two rode side by side.
“He’s in there. Should be at a table with three others as usual. But don’t forget, he’ll be the one with the missing left thumb and the scar above his right eye. Can’t miss him.”
The two riders went separate ways as wind blew through the streets and across their red chapped faces.
The kid walked into the saloon and the bartender glanced his way, not paying him much attention. As he walked past the end of the bar, “Can I get you something?”
He looked at the bartender, a bit startled.
“Huh… whisky,” he said hesitantly.
“You sure, kid?”
Tom nodded and looked around the room for the man he came to kill.
As he downed the shot of whiskey a loud laugh came from a table at the back of the saloon.
“Full house!” a man said. “I guess I win again. What’s that, four in a row, boys?”
As the man placed his cards on the table, the kid noticed his missing left thumb.
Tom motioned to the bartender for another shot and quickly drank it. He knew this was as close as he was going to get without losing his nerve and running out of the bar into the cold.
He walked to the table in the back and stopped in front of the four men playing cards.
The man with one thumb said, “I know you, son?”
Tom looked him in the eyes and pulled two pistols from under his shirt. “No you don’t.”
The man didn’t look scared, but raised his hands above his shoulders. “You know I’m not carrying, son. Sheriffs got all our guns. The law.”
The kid squeezed the triggers and heard two shots, but he didn’t feel the normal recoil or see any smoke from his gun barrels. The man with his arms raised closed his eyes and squinted his forehead.
Seconds went by and Tom became confused. His target was still sitting upright and wasn’t shot. He opened his eyes and smiled through yellow teeth.
“I’m gonna kill you, boy!” he said as he started to rise from his wooden chair. As he did, two shots went off and the man instantly fell on the poker table and then to the floor.
Tom swung around and looked up to the dark hallway above the saloon where a dark figure vanished into the shadows through a doorway, gun smoke in the air around him.
Tom sat in a chair, blood running down his bruised face. “I told you, I didn’t kill that man. I was set up, I swear. My damn guns wouldn’t even fire.
“Boy, I don’t wanna hear another word about those guns,” the Sheriff said as he leaned on his desk holding a leather strap. “And if you mention this Frank character again I’ll beat you for two more days.”
“But there were people in the room that will tell you,” the kid said as he began to cry again.
Frank sat smoking a rolled cigarette, watching the sun set over the town below. He pulled his collar to his chin to keep the mountain chill out. He knew the drunks and cowards in the saloon were either too stupid or too scared to put it all together. He knew to be Sheriff of that old dusty town you must have done something wrong to get there, or you just weren’t that good to begin with. He also knew he had picked the right kid for the job.
Sure that kid was going to hang. But what was he going to amount to anyway. It was worth being able to kill that nine fingered bastard himself. Worth not having to ride back to Texas with a posse close behind like he’d done so many times before.
Frank put his cigarette out and picked up a log for the fire, ready to ride at dawn.
Joshua Tate works and plays near Memphis, TN.