“I reckon you come lookin’ for me?” he drawled, and despite the gravelly nature, his voice was softer than I thought it’d be. Almost gentle, almost kind. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t gentle kindness. He seemed … I dunno. Nice, maybe. A man I could’ve befriended. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I nodded slow, never took my eyes off him, and cracked a half-smile. “You’d reckon right,” I said. “Come up from Oklahoma to find you. Heard you’re the best.”
He barked a laugh, but it had no humor in it. “Lemme guess,” he sneered into the distance between us, not focused on me, “you wanna be the best, right?”
I snorted and shook my head. “No,” I said, “I am the best.”
He busted a belly-laugh then, and I heard feet shuffle over the dry, dusty wood floor in the bar as curiousity overcame distrust. They crowded the door from the inside so they could see us on the boardwalk under the eaves, the wind smothering us in cold kisses.
“Kid,” he said, “I ain’t the best. Best what? What’s there to be the best at?” He shook his head again, leveled his eyes on me. “The best at what you’re talkin’ about is the Reaper, son. None of us get away from him. He finds us all. I got mine comin’ same as you, an’ everyone else.”
I looked down, adjusted my worn, weathered old hat on my head to keep my damned long hair out of my eyes. “Well,” I said, easy and soft, to sound calm and dangerous, “until I best you, I can’t be counted like I wanna be. I figure we had us a date with destiny long comin’, and today’s the day.”
He just shook his head again, slower, but I couldn’t tell whether in disbelief or disappoinment. He gave me a snide grin.
“Well,” he sighed at length, “I guess we can stand here and philosophize, but your mind’s set far as I can tell. You want a whiskey first? You look like the road’s still on you.”
My parched throat cracked when I swallowed. “If you ain’t gonna try to wiggle outta this, then yeah, I’d like a whiskey. Otherwise we can do this right now.” I made sure he knew he wasn’t getting away from me.
“I ain’t run from a man in all my years. I don’t reckon I’ll run from you either. Let’s have us a whiskey.”
I nodded and he gestured inside like a genteel southern man. The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight on end, thought for a minute he’d draw on me with my back turned and tensed.
He didn’t. I figured out later, he’d never dream of it. Not ever.
We stepped up to the bar, every eye in the joint on us. The man behind the bar, with a long waxed mustache, tight vest, and thinning hair slicked against his scalp, came up when we leaned against the polished surface and thumped our soles on the brass foot rail.