Western Short Story
Eddie Lee, 10 if a day, wanted desperately to be a gunfighter, to be able to hit exactly where he aimed, to remove all traces of doubt, to move up in the world, the guns in his capable hands all the way out from the ranch and back home again, not a dastardly mark on him, though he had seen the man who killed his father, kept his image in his mind, the killer’s hat swung back, little left of his hair, a birthmark on his left chin, like the Devil had set it for past favors, paid in full that scar from Hell.
Now he was 22, roaming from ranch to ranch, getting to see all around, the ranch hands, the nearest town, who entered the saloon in that town, seeing no remembered scar, moving on to a next ranch, the next town, studying everything and everyone in sight, missing Saturday night’s sleep as the crowds seemed to double, flow in and out all the while his eye was peeled.
Those who got to know him, the very few, knew his aims, his journey, his mission, and said prayers for him, and now and then, bon voyage, amigo, when he was working near the border of Mexico.
When he was 24, in a hurry of time, he was on his third trip through Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and the little cattle town of Stynton, quite near where Eddie Lee had helped drive off a band of bandits from an aged Indian spiritual leader, the two becoming good friends, and that keen advisor, Two-Hearts, telling him. “Death will only take ten seconds of a lifetime, and be thankful for those few seconds, the stars tell me this many times when I am alone with them in both of my hearts.”
Two-Hearts told Eddie much of his beliefs, and much of his personal history, how his life had been devastating at times and full of solace the next minute, at the last second, the change between the good and the bad like a swing in motion, “and you are lucky to get a ride of your own. Don’t let those ten seconds get away from you, squeeze them until you own them, for you’ll be ever thankful for that small piece of Time itself.” At such moments, Two-Hearts appeared as if he was alone in the whole universe, in communion with other=world spirits, teaching him, sharing the secrets of long life with him.
“Don’t ever search for me because I won’t be there. Destiny itself delivers me to each crisis needing me. When you need me, I will appear.
As Eddie Lee neared Stynton this trip, his eyes continued to search for his father’s killer, his father’s last image still with him, sharing space with his killer as if the pair of them were locked together forever. The freshness of the very moment stirred Eddie to deep and solid scans of new riders, strange riders, men in every saloon being studied until he let them go their own way.
At Stynton, Eddie felt the closeness of Two-Hearts, although he cold not see him out on the stretch of grass or in the Dead Horse Saloon, crowded in every corner, every table, the bar crammed with a line of men, shoulder to shoulder for the complete length of the bar.
Eddie felt something different in the air. He didn’t know if it was Two-Hearts, the killer, or his father nudging him into total alertness. His nerves moved at high speed, racing through his body as though a sight never seen, Two-Hearts sitting in a Texas saloon, never to be.
His hands seemed too active for the rest of his body, dragging energy, quickness from other parts of his person, but he started his search as soon as he entered the door, studying each man at each table until some of them yelled at him, waved their guns at him, sure to keep an eye on him as his eyes found each one, as if their souls were being studied, an act that disturbed even the most innocent of men in the crowded room, as if each one of them was being exploited, explored, opened up for personal revelation.
His discouragement grew as he passed up each face, each person, as he stalked his way through the room, discounting those table having no interest for him, every person seated there.
But he kept feeling Two-Hearts pushing him at the backside, moving him all the time closer to the bar.
And there slouched his father’s killer, so marked as remembered by a ten-year old boy who had his features as a permanent image in his mind from the haystack where his father had tossed him at the approach of bandits so many years ago, as if back in another Time zone.
He was grimy-looking, clothes tossed with dirt and sweat and trail dust from a thousand routes of escape throughout the western plains, the remembered marks as bright and memorable as seen that one time fourteen years ago.
He didn’t know what to do. The killer could not, for sure, recognize him, in fact had never seen him, though he probably heard of the boy on a search for his father’s killer.
Eddie Lee back-tracked his way through the crowded saloon, until he stood back at the door, where he stood with his pistol drawn from his holster and pointing it at the target at the bar.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I suppose most of you have heard about the boy who has been searching for his father’s killer for fourteen years, and there he is, in my sights at this very moment, standing at the bar, my search done and over, daring him to come onto the dusty road outside and get punished for his crime, so help me god and Two-Hearts himself.”
The crowd went stiff, thinking about a long journey coming to an end right in their midst, no doubt about it, not a single doubt of justice taking place right in front of them.
Eddie Lee stood in the middle of the dusty road waiting for fourteen years to come to a proper conclusion, as men in droves left the saloon and lined the sides of the lone road through Stynton, for a moment the very center of life.
Eventually, after a free drink from the bartender, the wanted killer whose name was whispered by hundreds of the customers and town folks, as Bart Craven, departed from the saloon, and stepped onto the single road in town, ready to duel for his life.
Standing opposite each other a goodly length, after a watch of emotions making moves, they each drew their gun and fired. Eddie Lee missed his target, cringed as a bullet dropped him to the dust where he laid, his whole journey about wrapped up in failure, hearing only Two-Hearts say, “Ten seconds it takes to die. Don’t lose them.”
Bart Craven leaned over him, saying, “Too little, too late, kid. Better luck next time,” just as Eddie Lee pulled the trigger on his gun directly into the killer as his weight fell onto his victim, Two-Hearts, at a great distance, saying, “Ten seconds it takes to die. Don’t lose them.”