Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
There were two of them.
Big, ugly men.
They rode into Deadwood at dusk, and they had a third horse with them.
The first man was the biggest, and he wore two guns tied down. The second man had only one gun, and he had two fingers missing from his gun hand.
When they came swaggering into the saloon, the thongs were already loosed from the hammers of their shooting irons. They made their way over to the bar, and the bartender looked up at them.
“What can I get you fellas?” the bartender asked.
The first man leaned close and motioned for the bartender to come closer. The bartender stood on the tips of his toes and leaned across the bar.
“We’re lookin’ for a man named Orn Bisby,” the first man said in a quiet voice. “He’s wanted for murder. You show ‘em to us, and do it without advertisin’ it.”
The bartender looked up into the man’s cold, hard face, at his crooked nose and his mean eyes, taking in his rugged features. “He’s at the corner table,” he said after a moment. “Red vest. The one dealin’ cards.”
The man stepped away from the bar, glanced at his partner, and then looked around at the table indicated by the bartender.
Orn Bisby was sitting on the far side, his back to the wall, facing in the direction of the saloon’s batwing doors. The two men started over to the table.
The first man hovered behind the man to whom Bisby was dealing cards, while the second took hold the man’s collar.
“Take a walk,” the second man barked, lifting the other fellow up out of the chair and shoving him out of the way.
Bisby watched them without blinking.
“You Orn Bisby?” the first man said as his partner turned back around to face them.
“Names are for tombstones,” Bisby replied quietly.
“That ain’t what I said.”
“Just the same. Who’s asking?”
The man exchanged a glance with his partner, then looked back at Bisby. “They’s a bounty on your head, Bisby. Dead or alive. Only alive pays more.”
Bisby straightened a little in his chair. For a moment, he looked unsure, but he quickly regained his posture and his expression went suddenly blank. “You sure about that, friend?”
“Yeah we’re sure,” the second man said suddenly. “Now get up and let’s get goin’.”
Bisby remained seated.
“You hear’d me?” the second man said loudly. “I said get up!”
“I heard you the first time,” was Bisby’s hushed reply.
“Then get up!” the first man shouted.
By now the entire saloon had fallen silent. Several of the patrons were nonchalantly making their way to the door, and the rest of them had backed closer to the walls.
“You give us just one reason to put a bullet in you, Bisby, and we’ll do it,” the first man said, lowering his voice. “Go on. Draw ‘at smoke wagon of yours and you’ll be dead before you know it.”
The people remaining in the saloon held their breath.
The tension in the air was heavy, almost visible in the saloon’s smoky interior.
The first man’s hands moved closer to his guns.
The second man’s gun hand hovered over his holster.
Bisby looked as calm as ever.
Then, he dropped his cards and placed the palms of his hands down on the surface of the table. He stood slowly, and looked up at the two men. “All right,” he said. “I don’t want any bloodshed here.”
The two men standing across from him exchanged puzzled looks, and then looked back at Bisby. The first man crossed slowly over to where Bisby stood and took the Russian .44 from the holster worn crossways on Bisby’s hip. The man slid the Russian into his waistband, and took Bisby by the arm.
“You got anythin’ else on you?” he asked.
“No,” Bisby replied.
“Two-fingers,” the first man said, looking over at his partner, “you get the third horse ready.”
The second man nodded, turned, and then walked out of the saloon.
“This ain’t what I was expectin’,” the first man said, looking over at Bisby as they waited. “I hear’d you shot three men back in Dodge. I hear’d they ever’ one had the last name Tucker. That so?”
“It is,” Bisby said. “But it was a fair fight. If you don’t mind my asking, since I complied with your demand, for whose murder am I wanted?”
The first man stared hard at Bisby for a long moment, as if deep in thought. “Well, I can’t say for sure, but I’m thinkin’ his name was Mercer or somethin’. The bounty was put up by a marshal back in Dodge City. Marshal’s name’s Dillon. Loyd Dillon.”
At that instant, Bisby brought his elbow up and smashing into the man’s face. The man teetered backward as his nose exploded in spray of blood. Bisby’s hand dropped and took hold of the Russian tucked into the man’s waistband. He drew the gun and brought back the hammer in a blur of motion. He shot into the man once, then wheeled to face the batwing doors in time to see Two-fingers coming back through them.
Two-finger’s gun hand fell, but Bisby shot him before his gun could clear leather. Bisby fired another round into him, and turned and fired two more shots into the first man, who fell back against the wall and slumped to the floor, his shirtfront stained with blood.
Bisby turned back to Two-fingers, who lay on the floor in a pool of his own blood. He was still trying to get his gun clear of its holster. Bisby collected his cards from the surface of the table, pocketed a wad of cash, and started for the batwing doors.
Just as he stepped passed Two-fingers, the man’s gun cleared leather. Bisby wheeled and shot the man between the eyes.
He glanced at the bodies of the two men he just killed, then holstered his Russian and slid his deck of cards into the inside of his vest. He tipped the brim of his hat, then turned and walked through the batwing doors.
In minutes, he was riding out of Deadwood and heading back east.
He was riding for Dodge City.
Town marshal Loyd Dillon was sitting at a table with three bullet holes in its surface.
The bullet holes were a constant reminder of just how rough a town Dodge City actually was.
He reached for his glass as the batwing doors swung open.
He glanced up.
His hand missed the shot glass and he bumped it with his wrist, spilling the amber liquid all over the surface of the table. His other hand fell for his gun, but Orn Bisby drew and trained his sights square on the marshal’s chest before Dillon could touch mahogany.
“All right everyone!” Bisby shouted, glancing at the other people in the saloon. “Get out!”
The patrons of the bar all stood and scrambled for the batwing doors of the saloon. The bartender stepped around from behind the bar after the rest had left, and he started for the exit. He stopped just next to Bisby on his way past.
“Yur a fool,” the bartender hissed. “I told you not to come back here! Ever!”
Then the bartender kept walking, and a moment later the batwing doors slapped shut, leaving only Bisby and Dillon in the saloon.
After a moment, Bisby started for the table at which Dillon was sitting. “Put the gun and the belt on the table,” he said. Then he added, “Left hand. And do it slowly.”
Dillon watched him for a moment, then slowly placed his gun hand on the surface of the table and unbuckled his gun belt with his left hand. He dropped the gun belt on the surface of the table, and then sat back in his chair.
Bisby crossed to the other side of the table and sat down, careful to keep his .44 trained on the marshal’s chest. “Word is you put a bounty on my head.”
“That’s right,” Dillon said quietly.
“You murdered Hal Mercer.”
“He came in here with the men who were going to kill me.”
“He wasn’t armed.”
“If he wasn’t aiming to kill me, he wouldn’t have been with them.”
“He wasn’t armed,” Dillon repeated. “And you shot ‘em jus’ ‘cause you could.”
Bisby sat back in his chair. “I’m going to make this real easy for you. I want that bounty taken off my head, marshal.”
“Or what? You gonna shoot me too?” Dillon sat a little straighter in his seat. “You do that, and you’ll be runnin’ from the law the rest of your miserable life.” Suddenly he lowered his voice. “And let me be the first to let you know, Bisby, that the long arm of the law reaches further than you think.”
“There isn’t any law out here, marshal. The only law is made by the men who take this country by the horns and fight it until they break it.”
“And those men are the loneliest of all. Only the lonely men make it out here. But the government’ll be movin’ in here soon enough, Bisby. And then there’ll be law and order.”
“Not soon enough for you, marshal. Now, I’ve given you a fair chance, and I suggest you take it.”
“I ain’t takin’ that bounty off your head. You shot Hal Mercer and he wouldn’t armed. I ain’t armed either, Bisby. That mean you’re gonna shoot me too?”
“Give me one reason to pull the trigger, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll do it.”
“I know you will. I know the kind of man you are.”
“And what kind of man is that?”
The corner of Dillon’s mouth twitched with amusement. “The dumb kind.”
Orn Bisby knew what the marshal was going to do. “One reason.”
And a moment later, Loyd Dillon did it. His hand came up and took hold of the grip of his gun, but Bisby didn’t fire. Dillon yanked the gun clear of the leather holster and just as he was bringing the hammer back, Orn Bisby shot him.
The bullet caught him in the shoulder, and knocked him out of his chair. Bisby stood, but the marshal came up, shouting a curse and shooting. Dillon’s first shot splintered the wood off the edge of the table, and his second burned Bisby’s side. Bisby fired a second shot that shattered the bone in Dillon’s left forearm. The marshal’s third put a hole in the brim of Bisby’s hat. Bisby fired off a third round, and this one hit the marshal square in the chest and knocked him a full three steps back.
Dillon staggered forward, fired off a wild fourth shot that hit the ceiling of the saloon, and then stumbled through the batwing doors and out into the street.
Bisby, his heart pounding in his ears, stepped after him.
Outside, people were scrambling to get out of the streets as Dillon went to his knees, bloodied and weakened.
Bisby stepped through the batwing doors, and stood on the boardwalk, staring at the marshal’s back.
But he didn’t fire.
Dust clung to the air, and the earth was still.
Even the air refused to breathe.
Dillon heaved a painful breath. “Bisby!” he cried, and then he forced himself to his feet.
He wheeled and brought his gun up, and Bisby shot into him again. Bisby’s fourth round plugged him in the chest, and this time he went down hard.
He lay in the street for a moment, still clutching his gun, heaving painful breath after painful, stinging breath.
Bisby looked up and around at the townsfolk, who all stood peering out of nearby windows or taking refuge behind a building.
Then, from somewhere nearby, he heard someone say, “He’s killed the marshal!”
Before he could react, there came, “Orn Bisby shot marshal Dillon!”
Then, “Loyd Dillon’s dead! Orn Bisby killed ‘em!”
“Get the sheriff!” came another voice.
“Orn Bisby’s killed the marshal!”
Bisby fought for words, but they were clinched in his throat.
Only then did it dawn on him, the magnitude of what he had just done.
He’d shot and killed a deputy U.S. Marshal.
He had to get away.
Where would he go?
He had to run.
Turning, he holstered his Russian and sprinted down the boardwalk. He scrambled onto the back of his horse picketed at the nearby hitch rail. Turning his horse, he spurred the animal down the street.
Somewhere behind him, several gunshots rang out, but he felt none of the bullets strike him.
He spurred his horse onward, and didn’t stop to look back until he was a good ways outside of town.
He’d killed a marshal.
He would be hunted.
His only chance at escape lay in the rugged mountains of the northwest.
He turned his horse and took one look back at Dodge City, and for a moment, at his own life.
His face seemed to grow sullen, his sharp eyes to grow just a little deeper set, and his jaw line a fraction stronger.
Then, with a look of grim determination on his face, he turned his horse back, and rode off into the setting sun.