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A young man leaves home at sixteen and soon finds himself wanted for murder. As he tries to stay ahead of the wanted posters he soon discovers that he loves the life he was thrown into and although tempted to leave it he cannot.
He was tired, the kind of tired that reaches beyond the body and causes the soul to ache. He had been traveling for thirty-five years only pausing for short periods in one town or another but none did he call home.
As he walked, the heat of the summer sun beat down on the earth creating the ghosts of watery waves in the air and phantom pools on the ground.
About sixty yards ahead of him, a large oak tree cast a deep and welcoming shade beside the dusty road. Although there was no one around except him, he was in the middle of a serious discussion.
"You old bastard, you've been running from me for more than forty years now. I think its time we ended this game, don't you?" He paused, as he listened to the reply, then he smiled and said, "Looks like as good a place as any. I'll meet you there."
He continued to walk, until he reached the tree, then he took a deep breath of the hot air and stepped into the shade. For a moment he just stood there, looked out across the land, and then up at the sky. Finally, he pushed his hat back on his head, wiped the sweat from his brow, and sat down on the ground. A gentle breeze began to blow as he leaned back against the giant oak and smiled into the face of the figure that stood before him, a figure that most people spend their lives running from and he had spent the last forty of his life running toward.
As the summer rain began to fall on the leaves above him, he looked out from eyes where fear had not lived for many years and spoke.
"Come on and get me you bastard. I've done all the damage I can here now let's see what I can do in hell." Then he closed his eyes on the world for the last time and walked gratefully into the arms of Death.
I got a job at the saloon were I did the cleanup work in exchange for a dollar a day and a small room upstairs. I had been working there for about six months when the gun started all my trouble.
It was Saturday night and the crowd was as loud and rowdy as usual. Usually when I worked I left my gun in my room, but on this particular night, I had it with me.
It was late and almost everyone had gone, so me and Harlan the bartender were doing a little early cleanup behind the bar. There were just a few customers left, five poker players at a table in the corner near the door, two other men talking to one of the girls of the line near the stairs, and a lone drinker at the end of the bar with his back to the door.
The man at the bar was quiet and seemed to be lost in a world that had nothing to do with this saloon, but he paid in gold and told Harlan to leave the bottle which wasn't worth as much as he had paid for it.
I walked around the bar and turned off the unused lamps in order to allow the globes time to cool before I took them to the back room to wash them clean of the soot. The six lamps that remained lit would cool while I washed the others after the last of the customers left.
As I walked back behind the bar, the girl left the two men at the foot of the stairs and walked over to the bar. She had opened the front of her bodice and two very large and well-handled breasts sat atop the bar as she leaned forward and took a bottle.
When a man sees a woman's breasts, it stirs something in him, and although they were no longer perky, and sagged when she freed them, that stirring came alive in me.
I watched as she walked back to the two men and the three of them walked up the stairs. She laughed as first one man and then the other took a breast in his hand. When they reached the top of the stairs and were no longer in sight, I shook it off and went back to work.
The poker players finished their game and staggered out of the saloon. I knew that no matter how bad their night of drinking would make them feel when they woke in the morning they would be back for more of the same the following night.
The man at the end of the bar paid no attention to the activities of the people around him as the evening played out. He just slowly drank from the bottle Harlan had left on the bar beside him. The only time he had spoken was to order it and the bottle was where his eyes had remained for the six hours he sat there.
When everyone had left except the three of us, Harlan moved to the far end of the bar and called me over. He whispered to me and I leaned in so I could hear him. "Jim, we'll give that man another thirty minutes and if he hasn't left, you go over and tell him we're closing and he has to leave."
I began to clean the tables and gather the globes from the lamps. I glanced at the man at the end of the bar and noticed he wore only one gun, a big bore with elk horn grips. Then I noticed that the man himself was massive with large arms and hands, and could probably kill a man without the need of a gun. Sitting on the stool, he was still at least six inches taller than I was.
I hoped that I would not have to ask him to leave because he didn't seem the sort that you would say hello to much less it's time to go.
I finished wiping down the tables and walked to the backroom with the tub of globes, which I put into the large deep basin with the glassware and filled it with boiling water and soap. Then I walked back out into the bar room and started putting the chairs on top of the tables and gathering up the spit pots so I could sweep and mop.
Harlan went out to the storeroom to get bottles to restock the bar, and as soon as the door closed behind him, the man at the end of the bar called me over. I walked behind the bar thinking that he was going to ask for another bottle and that I was going to have to let him know he would have to continue his drinking and thinking elsewhere.
The man looked up at me and a shiver ran up my spine and then swept through my body. His voice was gruff when he spoke and reminded me of the sound of rocks crumbling beneath horse hooves.
"What's your name boy?" A simple enough question but when spoken by the leather-faced man it sounded almost like a death sentence.
"J-J-Jim," I stuttered. "Jim Allen."
The man looked at me with eyes that seemed to pry inside me like tiny invisible fingers invading the dark and secret places of my mind. While those eyes prodded me, I hoped that Harlan would return and rescue me from what I knew would be death or insanity if I had to bear the weight of their searching for much longer.
After several seconds the man nodded and said, "If that's what you choose to call yourself isn't no business of mine."
He lowered his gaze and I reached slowly beneath the bar for the shotgun that Harlan kept there. Without looking up he said, "You don't need that. I mean you no harm."
I froze with my hand on the stock of the shotgun. Then a faint smile touched his lips so faint that I wasn't even sure I had seen it.
"Jim how old are you?" he asked.
"Almost twenty," I replied.
The man nodded and I turned and looked toward the storeroom door wondering why Harlan hadn't returned, and wishing harder than ever that he would.
The man drew his pistol out of the holster and sat it on the bar. He then looked at me and asked me to do the same with mine. Under the gaze of those eyes, I had no choice and complied by putting my gun next to his. I looked at the two guns lying there side by side, his a magnificent big bore with elk horn grips, and mine small caliber that would like as not get me killed if I were forced to do battle with it.
He slid his hand across the bar and picked up my pistol. He opened the cylinder and looked down the barrel, then looked at me and said, "Jim my name is Kelsey Carrington, but most folks just call me KC."
I stood there in silence as he closed the cylinder on the gun and laid it back down on the bar next to his own.
Then he said, "Jim I want to make you an offer." That faint smile touched his lips again as he reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar gold piece that he laid on the bar next to the guns.
My mind filled with a dumb blankness unable to imagine what he would say next.
"Jim I will give you both my gun and the gold piece in exchange for your gun."
He cut me off.
"Call me KC, men in the midst of negotiations should be on a first name basis."
"KC," I said. "That gun of mine aint worth it and I wouldn't feel right cheating you like that."
He threw back his head and laughed, and the laugh was more disturbing than his voice or his gaze, which he once again fixed upon me.
"Jim I know what that gun is worth and I'm telling you right now I want it and I'm willing to pay for it. I guess the only question is, are you willing to sell it."
Before I could answer, Harlan returned from the storeroom with a case of whiskey and saw me standing at the end of the bar. He sat the case on the floor behind the bar and said, "Jim I need you to help me get a keg from the storeroom."
When we walked into the storeroom to get the keg Harlan left the door open. As we rolled the keg across the floor toward the door, Harlan whispered, "Jim, what are you and him talking about?"
"I'll tell you after we lock up."
Harlan looked at his watch and said, "Tell him it's closing time and he's gotta go."
We rolled the keg across the saloon floor and behind the bar, and then Harlan nodded at me and went into the back room to start washing the glasses. I walked back to where KC sat and said, "Mister, we're closing up now."
He looked at me and said. "Well what about the trade? You wanna make it or not."
I thought about it a minute, and over the years since, I realized I should have thought longer or never thought about it at all. I reached across the bar and picked up the gold piece and his gun, then pointed at my own and said, "That thing ain't trustworthy, it misfires a lot."
Kelsey Carrington smiled, not a faint smile but a broad happy smile that stretched the corners of his mouth wide across his face. I turned away and started toward the doorway that led to the back room. I had only taken two steps when I recognized the dead click of the gun that I had just traded misfiring. I turned expecting to find my gun aimed at me and instead found Kelsey Carrington still smiling, holding the gun to his head.
I shouted and rushed back toward him grasping at the hand that held the gun. The hand and the arm were too strong, and I could not move them. The hammer came down again, but this time instead of that dead click there was the loud crack of the shot. Blood sprayed across my face and hands from the wound in his head and the gun slipped from his hand and into mine as he fell across the bar.
Harlan raced into the room, looked at me covered in the blood of the man who lay dead on the bar, and said, "My God Jim, what have you done?"
I tried to explain that I had done nothing, that the man had killed himself, but then I saw in Harlan's eyes how ridiculous my story sounded.
There was a dead man, shot with my gun, and I had his gun and a twenty-dollar gold piece that I didn't have before, I would surely hang.
I knew I had to run.