Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Big John Bounty

Slowly the large stranger dressed head to toe in black rode his fiery roan into the sleepy town of Deadwater, late one cold February afternoon. His black duster looked gray a testament to his time on the road. Black Stetson pulled low, shading steel gray eyes that were forever in motion. The knife like spurs hung eerily silent from his well-worn boots.

The big man tethered his horse heading for the sheriff’s office. Men seamed to shrink as the rock solid figure approached. Their eyes not wanting to meet his suddenly seemed riveted on the dusty sidewalk.

He was aware that his reputation always arrived on a faster horse. The coal black hair wild and wind blown hung past his wide shoulders adding to his fearsome presence. Although most would say that it was his unforgiving stare that caused men's blood to run cold, as it coursed through their veins, infecting fear into their hearts.

The silent stranger takes in his surroundings every face, every motion. His caution had kept him alive. The rickety wood sidewalk thudded loudly with each step under his two hundred and eighty-pound frame. The matching silver colt forty-five’s hung silently at his hips. The giant stranger wasn’t an outlaw. Yet a trail of dead men were usually left in his wake.

Gossip about him hung heavy in the air like smoke in the saloon. His massive hand pulled open the door startling the sheriff awake, from his usual afternoon siesta. Each man taking the other man in. They had met before. The middle-aged sheriff spat his chew into the grimy spittoon. “Why are you here”? The sheriff asked flatly not taking his eyes off the large man. He watched cautiously as the man reached inside his duster. Then handed the sheriff three folded wanted posters. “They are here and they are mine” he said matter-of-fact tipping his hat to the sheriff as he slowly walked away.

The sheriff knew the man to be a hunter like many others. Only this one didn’t hunt for food nor did he hunt for sport. He didn’t hunt for treasures or answers, this man hunted men. He didn’t hunt because of moral outrage or for vendetta. He hunted them down for money pure and simple and there was lots of it.

This silent stranger would hunt down men that even best would leave alone. Some were fast, but the big man in black had been faster. He lived by his wit and the speed and accuracy of his draw. He rode alone, ate alone and killed alone. No doubt he’d die that way too. He asked for nothing and gave nothing away. That way everyone was even in his book.

Rumors ran rampant like wild dogs feasting on a fresh kill. Truth was folks knew little about him. They didn’t know that he owned a small ranch west of Billings, or that he’d been born in Texas. They didn’t know he’d been orphaned ant ten or that he was raised in the east by his kindly Aunt. They didn’t know that nor would they ever. Just like they would never know that he had loved a girl once a long time ago.
Folks just knew enough to stand clear and to be afraid because he was in their town. Once he came all hell would break loose. Men would die; he would collect his bounty and ride slowly out of town on his large gelding.

Those that caught the action in the saloon later that night would tell and re-tell the tale for their entire lives. Truth was it was just past midnight when the big man parted the swinging doors, taking in every face in the crowd. His three he saw were playing cards to his left. Slowly he walked across the crowded room making his way to the bar. Slowly he sipped his beer for almost an hour as his prey played on all the while getting drunker and louder.

He watched intently, speaking to no one. Soon it would be time. The piano player took his break. The big man roared every head turned in his direction. His eyes were locked on his prey. “I’m here for you three” was all he said forceful and direct.

The saloon became a sea of motion as grown men bolted for the door. While others dove onto the floor. His three didn’t move. “You can come along all quiet like and live” he said his words falling on deaf ears. In a swift motion his three turned the poker table onto its side scattering cards and money all over the dirty floor.

The smell of panic and bad whiskey filled the air. His silver pistols magically appeared in his strong hands. The youngest of the three fired a wild shot that shattered the mirror behind the bar. Causing it to rain down on the shaking bartender. Before the young man could squeeze off his second shot he was dead at twenty. Dying right there on sawdust covered saloon floor face down west of nowhere.

The remaining two began shooting from either side of the over turned table without looking out from behind its safety. They never saw him holster his silver pistols. Nor did they witness the twenty Gage double barrel silver and pearl inlaid sawed off appear in an instant from beneath his duster. Both barrels fired the table blew apart pieces flying in all directions. The two men were sprawled out on the floor. Blood oozed from their fatal wounds. They weren’t dead the big man thought, but they soon would be. He stood over the men, as the sheriff burst threw the swinging doors breathing heavy from his short run.

The big man holstered his now silent shotgun into the special rig on the inside of his duster. The big man surveyed the damage calculating the cost, tossing the money onto the bar. “That should cover it” was all anyone would remember hearing him say. He tipped his black hat to the barkeep. Then slowly walked out of the saloon.

As was required he filled out the forms needed to collect the bounty. He nodded to the sheriff. The sheriff watched him as he walked alone down the creaking sidewalk to where his big red Roan was waiting. Methodically he buttoned his duster, pulled his hat down low. Untethered his gelding and rode slowly out of town.

The hunter and the hunted had each had their moment. It was over the three men lay dead. He’d paid what he owed, the books were even. From my window I watched the large figure clad in black ride out of sight, knowing somehow that we would meet one day.

Six Shooter Sally