This is an updated version of this story; if it appears in your reader or notifier, please take the time to read and let me know if it’s better now. Thanks! -jdt-
I pushed the ancient, creaking wood-slat doors aside and stared into the saloon from the threshold. Every eye in the place fell on me while mine adjusted to the dimness of the interior. The heavy unfinished floor planks were gray and worn from years of boots dragging over ‘em, but the bar shined like glassy still water. The great mirror on the wall behind it reflected my backlit silhouette in the doorframe.
An overcast, chilly mid-November day, a howling wind whipped tumbleweed and rattled shutters all over town. It shook the dust from my clothes and hair. My dry lips and parched throat wanted whiskey, and plenty of it. My purse said one or maybe two shots would have to do.
It took me a week to get here from Oklahoma, but I heard he was the best. Perched himself in Kansas, just south of Witchita. I’d bested every gun I’d ever crossed, and wanted to prove I was the best. But he stood in my way.
He was known throughout the territory. Steel nerves and steady hand, quick-slapping and lightning aim. Hadn’t had to pull the trigger in over a decade, they said. He’d just get the drop on you, no matter how fast you thought you were. He’d level the barrel at you, just in case you wanted to push the issue, take it all the way. Some said he isn’t human; too fast to be, they said. Must be some wraith, or specter haunting the prairies. Demon, maybe. All I know is, without trying, my name’d never be higher than second on the list of the best. I wanted to see for myself, and let the chips fall where they may.
Ol’ Stan Lichtner, on one of his trips through town back home, told a few of us at my local watering hole that he saw him in action, in person, while Stan was in Kansas. Some young gun come looking to gun him down, and wouldn’t take no one’s word about his speed. So that boy found him, right here in this very saloon where I stood now, sitting on a corner stool, watching. The madam offered the young man the treats of her girls, freebies. Bartender offered him booze. Nothing swayed the young ‘un from his mission though. He kept at the old man, then threatened everyone else. Said he’d shoot someone everytime the old man told him “no”, and when everyone in the saloon was dead, he’d start going through the streets.
Well, I guess that done it for him. Stan said he got up, fixed his hat tighter on his head and strode out the doors behind the kid. They faced off in the street, and the kid got all jacked and edgy. When the madam said “draw”, the kid heard worn leather slap and the gun cock. He stared into the barrel of the old man’s cannon before he could get his own rig free of the holster. Old man just eyed him, raised his eyebrows to ask the question, make sure the kid had the belly for it. He didn’t. He put up his hands weeping like a girl, then left town with his tail between his legs like a whipped dog.
Nobody ever believed a damned word Stan Lichtner said. We all knew he was a lyin’ piece o’ shit, but we hung on every word of that story. Right then, I knew I had to come to Kansas, find this man, and see for myself.
I eyed the crowd careful, looking over each face. I didn’t have a picture of him, but figured he’d stand out. I held them doors open for while before someone patted me on the shoulder. I about jumped outta my skin but didn’t yelp. That’d ruin my mystique.
“‘Scuse me, stranger,” a gravel-crunch voiced murmured behind me, “but you’re blocking the door.”
I turned, deliberate and slow, and stared into the coldest, blackest eyes I’ve ever seen. They sparkled with life, but went deep as the night sky in the high prairie. Lines webbed those eyes, nestled them under his bushy white brows and light, wispy hair that rode across his forehead like frail, thin clouds high in an autumn sky. The heavy lines around his mouth told me he knew how to laugh. The creases in his lips told me he knew how to smoke. The strong, gnarled hand on my shoulder conveyed strength and control. His smile told me he didn’t worry, and the badge that winked spilled light from the clouds piling overhead told me he didn’t have to.
It was him. I didn’t need a picture to know. Every move, every breath, every heartbeat told me this is the man.
He eyed me a moment, and I stared back with as little expression on my face as I could manage. The smile drained slow but sure beneath his mustache and beard. He drew a long sigh and stepped back just a hair, his hand slid off my shoulder, and he settled his weight when he knew he wasn’t going into that saloon.