Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
Lightning streaked the darkened sky above the solemn group around the grave. The Preacher, standing at the head of the grave, read passages from his worn bible while four men, dressed in black suits, grasped the ends of the two ropes stretched under the ends of the wooden coffin. Slowly, they moved the coffin over the open grave and began to lower it. A woman’s white-gloved hand appeared from the coffin, slid the lid to the side and reached out to the group above.
“WIL, NO. DON’T LET ME GO.”
Wil Sunday sat upright in his bed. He looked around the moonlit room, a chill running over his sweat soaked body. The recurring nightmare became a frequent part of his nights since he buried his beloved wife, Cassie.
He swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat staring at the floor. After a moment, he stood, lifted his pants from the chair next to the bed and stepped into them. He ran his fingers through his hair and walked from the bedroom to the front door.
The cool night breeze greeted him as he walked out and sat down on the edge of the porch and looked up at the full moon amid the dark blanket of twinkling stars. His big, brown dog, Buck, who had followed him out the door, laid down next to him, resting his head in Wil’s lap. Wil looked around at the yard, and the events of that tragic day flooded back to him.
He was repairing a harness when Buck’s barking brought him to the barn door to see four men riding up to the house. They reined up when Wil approached them.
“Howdy,” said the rider closest to Wil. He figured this was the leader, being he appeared the oldest. Wil walked up beside Buck growling at the new arrivals and patted him on the neck to calm him down. He looked at each of the four riders in turn. Hard men, probably a step ahead of the law, had ridden onto his farm.
“Your dog’s a mite unfriendly,” added the gray haired rider.
“He doesn’t like strangers. What can I do for you fellas?”
Just then, Cassie walked out of the house onto the porch. Her appearance got the attention of the four outlaws.
“I think you and your missus can do quite a lot for us.”
Suddenly, Wil wished he hadn’t left his rifle in the house. With a slight nod of his head, he motioned Cassie back into the house.
“I’ve got work to do, so I’d be obliged if you’d water your horses and be on your way.”
“Yeah, so do we,” said the outlaw, drawing his Colt as his three companions dismounted.
Wil dove as the outlaw fired, feeling an intense pain in his side. Despite the burning pain, he tried to get up. The outlaw fired a second time, hitting Wil in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground again.
The outlaw stepped down from his saddle, looking at the still form of Wil Sunday. He thumbed out the spent shells from his Colt and replaced them from his gunbelt. Dropping the Colt back into its holster, the outlaw turned and followed his men into the house.
Wil opened his eyes as the gunman disappeared through the door. The last thing Wil heard before he succumbed to the darkness was Cassie’s screams.
Buck licked Wil’s face, interrupting his thoughts and bringing him back. He scratched Buck behind his ears. “ I guess it’s just you and me now, boy.”
Wil stood up, stepped off the porch and angled toward the barn. He stopped at the door, lit the lantern and took it to the ladder at the far side of the barn. He climbed to the loft, set the lantern on the floor and grabbed a pitchfork from a pile of hay in the corner. He uncovered a trunk and dragged it clear of the hay. Removing a wooden peg from the hasp, he opened the trunk lid and lifted a tarp covering the contents.
He pulled out a low crowned, flat brimmed hat and laid it on the open trunk lid. Next, he pulled out an empty gunbelt and holster and laid it next to the hat. Then, he unwrapped a well-oiled, sightless Colt from an oilskin and slid it into the holster. A Henry rifle laying across a stack of clothes came next. He leaned it against the side of the trunk.
He lifted a Bowie knife and removed it from its leather sheath. Lightly running his thumb along the edge of the blade, he tested its sharpness. Smiling, he slid the broad blade back into the leather and laid it on the trunk lid.
He lifted the stack of clothes to uncover two boxes of shells each for the Colt and the Henry rifle. He repacked the trunk, closed the lid and slipped the wood peg back through the hasp.
He strung the end of a coiled rope through a pulley above the edge of the loft and tied the other end securely to a leather handle on one end of the trunk. He dragged the trunk to the edge of the loft and gently lowered it to the floor of the barn. Buck returned to his side when he stepped off the bottom rung of the ladder.
He untied the rope and, after a short struggle, maneuvered the trunk onto his back. He carried it from the barn into the house and lowered it to the bedroom floor. He reopened the trunk and laid the contents on the bed. He picked up the gunbelt, buckled it around his waist and thonged the holster to his left thigh. He lifted the Colt and settled it gently back in the holster.
Wil caught his reflection in the full-length mirror that stood in the corner. Turning toward it, he looked at himself for a moment and then suddenly drew the Colt. He looked down at the gun in his hand and then over at Buck who was watching with a cocked head. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Wil practiced tirelessly day after day. When the shell boxes were empty, he bought more. The days turned into weeks, until one day the speed came back. The accuracy followed close behind. But he had to be sure. One morning he brought Miguel Saldano, his farmhand, to the field where he practiced. Wil handed him a tin can. “Miguel, walk out about twenty paces and hold that can out.”
An alarmed look spread across the farmhand’s face. “Senor?”
“Trust me, Miguel.” Hesitantly, Miguel counted out twenty paces and turned around.
“Hold the can out,” said Wil, holding his arm out at shoulder level. Miguel raised his arm. “Drop the can whenever you’re ready.”
After a moment, Miguel released the can. At the first sign of movement, Wil became a blur of motion. He drew his Colt and shot the can at waist level. Miguel crossed himself.
He asked Miguel to retrieve the can and this time hold it waist high. Again, Wil shot the can before it touched the ground.
Miguel crossed himself again. “I did not know you could shoot like that, Senor. You go after Senora Cassie’s killers? You wish me to go with you?”
Wil walked back toward Miguel reloading his Colt and dropped it into its holster. He put his arm around Miguel’s shoulders and they walked toward the house. “Miguel, I want you and Maria to run the farm while I’m gone.”
Miguel stopped and looked at his boss. “Me, Senor?”
Wil smiled at the Mexican. “You’ve been with me from the start, Miguel. You can run this farm as good as I can. I’ll make all the arrangements to make sure you get all the help you’ll need.”
“I will do my best, Senor Wil.”
Wil patted Miguel’s shoulder and strode into the house. In the bedroom, he removed the clothes from the trunk. He put on the Levis and the blue cotton shirt and slipped into a black leather vest. After stomping into his boots, he slid the leather scabbard and the Bowie knife on his gunbelt and rebuckled the Colt around his waist. He rethonged the holster to his left thigh and settled the black flat brimmed hat on his head. He grabbed the Henry rifle from the corner by the dresser and walked from the bedroom to where Miguel and Maria waited in the kitchen. “Move your things into the house.”
Maria threw her arms around Wil’s neck and gave him a hug. “Thank you, Senor Wil. I will pray that you find the men that did this thing. Come back safe to us.”
Wil hugged Maria for a moment and then shook Miguel’s hand. “I’m taking Cassie’s horse. Buck is going with me too.”
“Si, Senor,” said Miguel. “She is a good horse and Buck will watch out for you.”
Wil walked to the barn and saddled the golden Palomino mare that was Cassie’s pride and joy. She had not been ridden since Cassie’s death. He threw his saddlebags behind the saddle and put the Henry rifle in the boot. He walked the horse outside and stepped into the saddle. He could feel the anticipation of the powerful horse who hadn’t run in a long time. He waved at Miguel and Maria standing on the porch as he rode out of the yard.
“Vaya Con Dios, Senor,” whispered Miguel.
* * * *
Wil Sunday reined up at the white picket fence surrounding the grave of his beloved Cassie. The gravesite sat on a hill under a tree, overlooking the farm. She had always liked to come up here and sit. He dismounted, walked through the gate and picked up the wooden folding chair that lay on the ground next to the fence. He unfolded the chair, sat down next to the grave and took off his hat, setting it on the ground at his feet.
“I guess you’re wondering why I’m dressed in my old clothes again,” he said looking down at the fresh flowers Maria had put at the head of the grave that morning. “You prob’ly noticed I was wearin’ my gun too. I’m goin’ after the scum that done this thing to you. I know I promised you I wouldn’t wear a gun again, but I didn’t know this would happen, either. Don’t be mad, just try to understand. Miguel’s gonna watch the farm while I’m gone and I’m takin’ Goldie and Buck with me. Goldie’s a good horse and Buck’ll be a good companion. I don’t know how long it will take, but I’ll come back every so often to let you know how it’s goin’. I love you, Cassie. I always have and I always will.”
He put on his hat and rose from the chair. He folded it and laid it in its spot next to the fence before walking through the gate. Buck sat outside the gate and Wil scratched the big brown dog’s head as he walked by him. He mounted Goldie and sat for a moment looking at Cassie’s grave. Turning the horse, he looked down at Buck. “Ready to go, boy?”
Buck replied with a boisterous bark and followed after Wil.
* * * *
Wil rode into the town of Beecher a little past noon. His unusual dress attracted attention as he dismounted in front of the bank. He withdrew one thousand dollars from his account and asked to see bank president, Hiram Willis.
“I want to authorize Miguel Saldano to make any withdrawals or deposits as needed on my account,” he said.
After a mild objection, Hiram Willis drew up the paperwork for him to sign. He, then, made stops at the General Store and Hardware Store before dismounting in front of the sheriff’s office.
“I wondered when you were going to get around to this,” said Sheriff Logan Shepherd, eyeing the thonged down Colt when Wil walked through the office door. The Sheriff knew about Wil’s bounty hunting past and had vowed to keep his secret.
“Before I leave, I’d like to look at your dodgers,” said Wil.
Logan opened a desk drawer and removed a stack of wanted posters and laid them in front of Wil. One by one, he looked at each poster in turn, setting aside three. When he reached the bottom of the stack, he looked up at Logan Shepherd. “I found them.”
The Sheriff looked at the three posters. The faces of Wade Jessup, Briley Cole and brothers Jess and Aaron Walker looked back at him. “Cole and the Walker brothers still ride with Jessup.” He slid the handbills back to his friend. “Where you find one, you should find them all.”
Wil folded the posters, put them in his shirt pocket and held out his hand to his friend. “So long, Logan. Keep an eye on Miguel until I get back.”
The Sheriff shook Wil’s hand. “Be careful, my friend and good luck.”
Long days on the trail gave a man a lot of time to think. Wil Sunday thought about the events that put him on the vengeance trail. He was a bounty hunter when he walked into the General Store in the town of Gunsight and Cassie Landis was the prettiest store clerk he had ever seen. It took some doing, but he finally persuaded her to have dinner with him. A whirlwind romance ensued and three months later they were married. But first, he had to promise to unstrap his guns. Putting his guns and clothes in a trunk, he buried them under the hay in the barn loft of their newly bought Kansas farm. That was where the trunk was when the four outlaws rode into his yard, gunned him down and had their way with Cassie before they killed her.
Buck’s deep-throated bark interrupted Wil’s thoughts. Ahead of them, six riders circled a tree under which a seventh rider sat mounted with his hands tied behind his back. A rope over the bottom branch of the tree was noosed around his neck.
“Looks like someone’s about to get his neck stretched,” Wil said to Buck. He pulled the Henry rifle from its boot and heeled Goldie, reining up outside the circle of riders.
“Keep ridin’, mister, this don’t concern you,” said the rider nearest to Wil.
Holding the Henry rifle across his lap, Wil raised it and rested its butt on his thigh. “I don’t have much of a stomach for lynchin’s.”
“Then, ride on, or you’ll take his place,” growled a rider from the middle of the circle. He walked his horse to the circle’s edge. Wil figured this was the leader. The man’s graying temples told him he was older than the rest.
“I’ll ride on when you release the kid,” countered Wil. He noticed the intended victim couldn’t have been more than eighteen years old.
The rider turned and looked at the tree, then back at Wil. “Looks to me like you ain’t in a position to make demands. You’re a little outnumbered, I’d say.”
“Maybe so. But, you’ll be the first one I drop when the shootin’ starts.”
The rider leaned forward, hands crossed on his saddle horn. “I don’t think you’ll get a shot off.”
Wil leveled his Henry at the rider, thumbing back the hammer. “You willin’ to take that chance, mister?”
“You know who I am?”
“Don’t matter. Turn the kid loose.”
The rider stared at Wil, but Wil’s eyes never left the circle of riders. The first sign of trouble would come from them, not the one in front of him.
“Turn ‘im loose and give him his guns back,” yelled the rider, not taking his eyes off of Wil.
The rider nearest the kid removed the noose from around his neck, untied his bound hands and handed him his gunbelt and rifle. The kid wheeled his horse and rode out of the circle.
“Now, unbuckle your gunbelts,” said Wil when the kid rode out of his line of sight.
“I hope it was worth it, ‘cause you just made the biggest mistake of your life,” the leader warned, unbuckling his gunbelt and letting it fall.
Wil watched the gunbelts of the rest of the circle fall to the ground. “Maybe, maybe not. Now, the rifles.” One by one, rifles clattered to the ground. “Now, ride out.”
The rider gave Wil a look of pure hatred. If looks could kill, Wil would have dropped from his saddle. “You ain’t seen the last of me, mister,” he said. He wheeled his horse and rode away at a gallop with the rest of his riders falling in behind him.
When the dust settled and the band of riders were barely visible in the distance, Wil let the hammer down on his Henry rifle and slid it back into its saddle boot. He looked down at Buck. “Think we can make it to Gunsight without getting in anymore trouble?”
Gunsight was not the quiet town Wil Sunday remembered. It had grown with new buildings along the street. The name McKinney seemed to dominate the businesses in the new buildings. He appeared to have a good hold on Gunsight. A collection of horses marked the new saloon down the street.
Wil dismounted in front of O’Shay’s Saloon and walked across the boardwalk. The owner of the saloon, Jimmy O’Shay, a big redheaded Irishman, stood behind the bar wiping glasses. He turned when he heard Wil come through the batwings.
“Are me eyes playin’ tricks on me or has Wil Sunday risen from the dead?” asked Jimmy with a big smile. Hurrying from behind the bar, he greeted Wil with a big hug, then, waved his friend toward the bar.
“Come, let Jimmy O’Shay buy ye a drink.” The big redhead returned behind the bar and set a bottle of Irish whiskey in front of Wil.
“A special drink for a special friend.” Jimmy poured the whiskey into a shot glass in front of Wil and poured one for himself. He lifted his glass to his friend. “May ye be in heaven a long time before the devil knows yer dead.” They threw their shots back and Jimmy refilled the glasses.
“Awful quiet in here for this time of day, ain’t it, Jimmy?” asked Wil after looking around the empty saloon. Jimmy’s saloon had always been a popular place in Gunsight. He didn’t think he’s ever seen it empty.
“A lot of things have changed since ye left, Wil me boy,” replied Jimmy.
“This McKinney have anything to do with that? His name seems to be on just about every building in town.”
“Jarod McKinney showed up shortly after ye left. Came with a lot of money and bought up a lot of land. Hired a bunch of gunhands to hold it, then he started on the town. That’s ‘is saloon across the street. Even the Marshal is bought and paid for.”
“Tom Draper still the marshal?”
“That ‘e is. Never thought I’d see ‘im turn on us like ‘e did. McKinney’s bunch can pretty much do what they want in Gunsight without any fear of the law.”
Wil took the posters from his pocket and spread them out on the bar facing Jimmy. “You seen any of these men in Gunsight?”
Jimmy studied the rough pictures of the men on the posters and nodded his head in recognition. “Four of McKinney’s gunhands.”
“As sure as I am I’m standin’ here talkin’ to Wil Sunday.”
“All four of them?” asked Wil. Jimmy nodded.
Wil picked up the posters, refolded them and returned them to his pocket. “They come in town often?”
Jimmy nodded again. “The Walker brothers come in every night. They’ll drink ‘til they run ‘im out.”
Wil held out his hand to Jimmy O’Shay. “You’ve been a good friend, Jimmy.”
“We couldn’t believe it when they told us Cassie’d been murdered. We all loved ‘er, Wil. I’ll do what I can to help ye get who done this to ‘er.”
Wil touched his fingers to his hat and left O’Shay’s Saloon. He stabled Goldie and got a room at the Gunsight Hotel. Removing his gunbelt, he hung it on the bedpost. He cracked open the window, lay down on the bed without removing his boots and was asleep before Buck got settled on the floor.
It was dusk when the tinny piano music from the McKinney saloon drifted through the open window and woke Wil. Buck sat up when Wil rose from the bed. He moved the curtain with his finger and looked down the street. It looked like McKinney’s saloon had a full house. He took his gunbelt from the bedpost, buckled it on and thonged down the holster. He shifted it until it felt comfortable. “Let’s go get some supper, we have work to do,” Wil said to Buck.
* * * *
Buck sat up when Wil walked out of the hotel dining room and stood at the edge of the boardwalk rolling a cigarette. He lit it with a match he struck on the support post, stepped into the street and walked toward the Cattleman’s Saloon. Buck resumed his vigil on the boardwalk when Wil pushed through the batwings.
He weaved through the crowded saloon and up to the near end of the polished mahogany bar. The clack of the roulette wheel blended with the tinny notes of the out of tune piano. Wil concentrated his attention on the tables with poker games in progress. This is probably where he would find Jess and Aaron Walker. He ordered a beer and proceeded to make his rounds of the poker tables. The Walker brothers sat at the third table he passed. He stood at the table looking at Jess Walker until the gunhand looked up at him. After a second, Walker turned his attention back to the game. The Walkers had no idea who he was. He would wait for the crowd to thin before he made his move.
Wil sat at a nearby table when two of the men at Walker’s table left their chairs. He rose from his chair and walked over to stand in front of the bar facing Walker’s table. He stood with his feet apart, balancing his weight. “Jess and Aaron Walker, stand up and get what’s comin’ to you.”
Jess Walker looked up at Wil Sunday as men bolted from the line of fire. “You talkin’ to us, mister?”
“Time to pay up for what you done to me and mine.”
“What do you say we done?” asked Aaron Walker.
Wil was aware that all the attention in the room was turned toward him and the gunhands. “You, Wade Jessup and Briley Cole rode onto my land, gunned me down and raped and killed my wife.”
Jess Walker smiled at Wil Sunday. “We never rode with Wade Jessup.”
Wil reached into his shirt pocket, never taking his eyes from Jess Walker. He shook the poster, unfolding it, and held it up for all to see. “This says different.”
The smile left Jess Walker’s face. The brothers jumped up from their chairs, drawing their Colts as they came up. Wil anticipated the move and drew his Colt at the first sign of movement. He fired twice before either brother could clear leather, striking both brothers in the chest. Jess toppled backward over his chair and Aaron feel forward across the table.
Wil stepped to the table and looked down at the motionless outlaws. Thumbing the spent shells from his Colt, he reloaded and dropped it in its holster.
The Marshal rushed into the saloon as Wil was picking up the poster from the floor. “What happened here?”
“Fair fight, Marshal,” said the bartender. “The Walkers drew first.”
Marshal Tom Draper looked at Wil and smiled. “Still might not have been a fair fight.”
Wil handed the poster to Draper. “I’ll be at the hotel when you get the money.” He shouldered past the Marshal and strode through the batwings.
* * * *
Wil sat at the small table cleaning his Colt when he heard a knock at his door. He stepped softly to the door, careful not to stand in front of it. “Who is it?”
Wil turned the key and cracked open the door.
“Hello, Wil,” greeted Tom Draper. Wil opened the door to admit the Marshal. Draper walked past him and up to the window. He turned when Wil closed the door and walked back toward the table. “Back to your old ways, are you?” asked Draper.
“This was personal,” said Wil. He sat back down at the table and resumed cleaning his gun.
“The Walkers worked for Jarod McKinney. He’s not going to kiss you for killing them.”
“They’re also two of the men who killed Cassie,” said Wil without looking up.
“McKinney will come looking for you. People expect it.”
Wil stopped cleaning his Colt, laid it on the table and looked up at Draper. “I killed two men today that helped kill my wife. If Jarod McKinney comes looking for me, I won’t run. I took care of two problems today. If I have to, I can take care of another.”
Tom Draper left the window and started for the door. “I’ll have your money for you in the morning. I’d be obliged if you left town after you collected it.”
“You runnin’ me out of town, Tom?”
“Let’s just say I’m tryin’ to stop trouble before it starts.”
“Then, you better be talkin’ to Jarod McKinney, not me. I’ll be leavin’ Gunsight when I’ve finished my business here, not before.” Wil picked up his Colt and resumed cleaning it. “Excuse me if I don’t show you to the door.”
He didn’t look up again until he heard the door latch behind Tom Draper.
Wil, with Buck alongside, stepped off the boardwalk in front of the hotel and walked toward the livery. He paid the hostler before he saddled Goldie and led her across the street. He hitched her to the rail in front of the gunsmith, stepped up on the boardwalk and walked through the door. Hans Larson, known to his friends as Swede, sat at a workbench with his back to the door and turned on his swivel stool when the bell mounted above the door rang.
“Wil Sunday,” said Larson, with a heavy Swedish accent and a big smile. He got up from his stool, circled the glass display case and pumped Wil’s hand vigorously. He’d been Wil’s personal gunsmith and the bounty hunter made regular visits to Gunsight to see him. “Didn’t know if I was going to see you again. They said you was in a bad way.”
“Hell, Swede, It’s gonna take more than a coupla pieces of lead to stop me.”
“You may get a chance to find out. The Walker brothers were a couple of Jarod McKinney’s gunhands.”
“So I’ve heard. Everyone keeps tellin’ me how much trouble I’m in. Well, Jess and Aaron was with them that killed Cassie. I did what I had to do.”
“Won’t matter to McKinney,” said Swede. He held up a finger at Wil, picked up a ring of keys from his workbench and went to a nearby cabinet and unlocked it.
“McKinney never goes anywhere without three or four of his gunhands, so let’s even it up a little.” Larson took an oilskin bundle from the top shelf of the cabinet and laid it on the glass display case in front of Wil and pointed to it. “Go ahead, open it.”
Wil took his Bowie knife and cut the twine around the oilskin. He smiled when he unwrapped the bundle. “I thought I’d seen the last of this.”
Wil picked up the Greener shotgun. The barrels and stock had been sawed off to make for easier handling. It had been a valuable weapon to Wil in his bounty hunting days. He sold it to Swede when he married Cassie, but Swede couldn’t part with it and kept it cleaned, oiled and wrapped. Now, he was giving it back to its rightful owner. The old gunsmith went back to the cabinet and retrieved the saddle boot that went with it and slid it in front of Wil, who holstered the Greener.
“You may need it sooner than you think,” said Swede, nodding to the front window of the shop. Jarod McKinney rode with three men down the street.
“You have a back door?” asked Wil.
Swede pointed to a curtained doorway. “Through there.”
Wil started toward the curtain. “Hey,” shouted Swede and tossed Wil a box of shotgun shells. “It works better with these.”
Wil smiled, touched two fingers to his hat and slid through the curtain.
* * * *
Jarod McKinney rode into Gunsight with his foreman, Cinch Riley, and two of his gunhands, Wade Jessup and Briley Cole. They turned into the hitch rail at the Marshal’s Office and dismounted. Stepping away from the hitch rail, Riley nudged McKinney as he stepped up on the boardwalk.
“Seen that yeller horse before?” Riley asked.
“Yeah, I have,” replied McKinney and turned to Jessup and Cole. “Go check out who owns that yeller horse and bring him here to me.”
The two gunhands walked across the street and into Swede Larson’s shop. The old gunsmith was rearranging a gun display, “Where’s the fella that owns that purty horse out front?’ asked Jessup.
Swede shook his head. “He didn’t come in here.”
“Well, we’ll just take us a little look around,” said Jessup and went behind the counter to look in the room behind Swede.
Briley Cole walked to the curtained doorway, slid back the curtain and was greeted by the double-barreled blast of the Greener, hurtling him back into the gun shop. Wade Jessup bolted from the back room with his Colt drawn.
“Didn’t come in here, huh?” he said to Swede and hit the gunsmith with the barrel of his gun, knocking him to the floor. Jessup crept over to the narrow doorway and looked down at Cole lying in a twisted heap. He peeked around the corner, eased into the room and stopped at the open back door.
Cinch Riley burst through the gun shop door with his gun drawn and looked down at the blood pooled around the dead gunman. “Jessup,” he shouted, looking around the gun shop.
“Back here,” Jessup shouted back. Riley moved through the narrow doorway and met the gunman at the back door. “Ol’ man said he wasn’t here, but he was waiting when Cole come through the curtain. He went out through here,” Jessup informed Riley.
“See if you can find him, I’ll tell McKinney,” ordered the foreman. Jessup slipped through the doorway into the alley. “We’ll deal with you, old man, when we’re done with him,” said Riley as he hurried through the gun shop and out the front door.
Wade Jessup walked cautiously down the alley checking every doorway and alcove where a man could hide. Passing the stairwell behind the General Store, a stack of crates came tumbling down behind him. A double-barreled blast of the Greener caught him as he turned, killing him before he hit the ground.
“Two down, two to go,” whispered Wil, running down the alley reloading the Greener.
* * * *
Cinch Riley and Jarod McKinney looked out the window of the Marshal’s Office at the sound of the second shotgun blast. Riley looked back at his boss who nodded toward the door. “Don’t come back without him,” said McKinney.
He watched Riley jog across the street and disappear between two buildings. “Who is he, Draper?”
“His name is Wil Sunday and he’s got you outclassed, Jarod.”
“He’s caused me a lot of headaches. He’s killed, probably, four of my men and he’s gonna pay.”
“He’s a killing machine, Jarod, and believes if a man’s worth shootin’, he’s worth killin’. If you brace him, he’ll leave you lying in the street and walk away.”
* * * *
Wil Sunday went back through the open door of the gun shop. Hans Larson sat on the stool at the workbench holding a rag to his head. “You all right, Swede?”
“Jah, will take more than a bump on the head to stop Hans Larson.” He removed the bloody rag from the small gash on his forehead.
“I’m going to put a stop to this before anymore innocent people get hurt,” said Wil. He laid the Greener on the glass display case. “I’ll be back for this.”
“Be careful,” said Swede. “McKinney’s foreman is still out there. They’re not above backshootin’.” Wil went to the front door of the gun shop and out onto the boardwalk.
“Well, well, look what just showed up,” said Jarod McKinney when he saw Wil come out of the gun shop, step into the street and walk toward the Marshal’s Office.
“Let it go, Jarod, you can’t beat him,” said Draper.
Wil stopped in the middle of the street. “McKinney. Jarod McKinney.”
McKinney smiled at Tom Draper. “Let’s not keep him waiting.” The rancher walked out onto the boardwalk followed by the Marshal. He stepped into the street and faced Wil.
“Let’s end this, McKinney. Enough men have died,” shouted Wil.
“You’ve caused me a lot of embarrassment, Sunday. It ain’t ended ‘til you’re face down in the street.”
“Then, make your play, McKinney.”
Mayor Herbert Addison, in his gray suit and derby hat, walked up beside Tom Draper on the boardwalk. “You have to stop this, Marshal.”
“I tried, Herb, it’s too late for that now.”
McKinney caught movement behind Wil and saw Riley come out from beside the gun shop. With his Colt drawn, the foreman moved into the street behind Wil. Inside the shop, Hans Larson picked up the Greener shotgun from the counter, broke it open to check the load and walked from the counter to the door. Buck, left in the gun shop with Hans, began to bark when Larson thumbed back both hammers of the scattergun. Riley heard the barking, turned and saw Larson in the window with the Greener to his shoulder. The split second of surprised hesitation cost him his life. He caught both barrels of the scattergun in his chest sending him, flailing, backwards onto his back.
Surprised by the shotgun blast, Wil ducked, turned aside and took a quick glance behind him in time to see Cinch Riley fall to the ground. Seeing his chance, McKinney drew his gun and fired a hurried shot. Wil turned back to McKinney an instant before the rancher fired and he dropped to the ground, firing twice.
With a bewildered look on his face, McKinney looked down at the growing red stain on the front of his shirt. He looked up at Wil and dropped to his knees, letting the Colt slip from his fingers. He toppled over, face first, into the street.
Wil picked himself up as Buck ran up beside him. He thumbed the two empty shells from his Colt and reloaded. He looked behind him where Hans Larson was walking toward the lifeless Cinch Riley, the barrels of the Greener resting on his shoulder.
Wil walked up to Jarod McKinney and turned the dead rancher over with the toe of his boot. Sightless eyes looked up at the blue sky. Wil holstered his Colt and, along with Buck, stepped up on the boardwalk in front of Tom Draper and Mayor Addison.
“You have your town back, Mayor. Don’t let it get away this time,” said Wil. He reached over, took the badge from Draper’s shirt and handed it to the Mayor. “I think you need a new Marshal too.” He turned, stepped into the street and walked back to the gun shop.
The old gunsmith waited for Wil on the boardwalk. "Still works good, too," Swede said, handing him back the scattergun.
Wil offered his hand to Larson. "Swede,
take care of yourself."
"Come back soon, Wil," said Swede, shaking his friend’s hand.
Wil looked down at Buck. "Let's go home, boy."