Michael Delving
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High Noon

Death in the Desert

"That kid wasn't nothin' but a greenhorn. Why, I did him and the world a favor by putting a bullet in 'im,” the lanky cowboy said, laughing along with the rest of his gang at their table in the Rusty Spur, a rough saloon on Whisper Street in Heaven's Gate.

Tom Barrett slapped Bart Walters on the back and said, “Tell us again how you tricked him.”

Walters shrugged Barrett's palm off his back. “I just tol' 'im that he would look mighty stupid if he dropped his piece walkin' down to where he said he wanted to draw on me. Suggested he put the thong on to be safe. Dumb ol' tenderfoot plum forgot to take it off when he tried to draw. I let him tug at it a bit before I pulled my forty-five and plugged 'im.”

The table erupted with laughter. Bart Walters leaned back easily in his chair and smiled. No one in the Gate would do anything more about this than bury the poor kid. Not that Bart and his gang were the most feared outlaws in the town. Actually, that couldn't be any farther from the truth. They were so unnoticed that they didn't even warrant a mention. It was just the way things were done in Heaven's Gate. Young gunslingers met their fate every day, and another one wouldn't even make the papers.

“I wonder just how many other young men you killed in much the same way, you yellow bellied coward.”

Walters froze, a mean hard look coming across his face. 

“Which one of you curs said that?” he asked. 

The laughter at the table abruptly stopped, confused looks coming over each of their faces. Barrett took a tentative sip of his whiskey. 

“Said what, Bart?” he asked.

Walters rested his hand on his pistol. “Which one of you no good bastards called me a yeller bellied coward? If you got somethin' to say to me, well, maybe we should just handle this outside!”

Barrett raised his hands. “Whoa, now, Bart. Ain't nobody here said nothin' of the sort. Shit, ain't none of us ready to be pushin' up no daisies,” he said, trying to make peace. 

Barrett didn't really fear Walters, but Walters had been drinking heavy since he had shot the greenhorn early this morning, and when he was drunk, he was just as apt to start shooting as not if he believed he were insulted. It was usually only Barrett that kept things from getting out of hand. He wasn't willing to get his neck stretched for any man, and Walters was the kind of man who would bring the lot of them to the gallows. Walters not only told tall tales about how bad he was, he believed them too.

The entire saloon visibly relaxed as Walters took his hand from his revolver. The look stayed on his face as he glared around the table, still not believing Barrett. As he stared each man down individually, he noticed a man sitting at a table against the far wall of the saloon. He was dressed in black from head to toe, and even though his features were hidden in a light shadow, Walters knew the man was staring at him.

“Hey, Tom,” Walters whispered in that low, barely audible tone that men who work outside the law seem to have the knack for. “You see that feller against the wall? When did he come in?” 

Barrett looked over where Walters was staring. “You mean Old Man Mitchell? Shit, Bart, you know he never leaves. That old sot has a cot in the back. Malloy lets him clean up the place for his booze. Feller could do a better job, if you ask me,” Barrett said, looking down at his whiskey glass.

“God damn it, Tom! You know I don't mean that fool! I mean that feller in black!”

Barrett looked over again and scratched his head. “I don't see no feller in black, Bart. I think maybe that whiskey is fuckin' with your brain. You need to switch to beer, maybe.”

Walters looked again at the table. No one was sitting there now. Shit, Walters thought to himself. Maybe Tom is right. Time to lay off it a bit. Smiling, he pulled a deck of cards from his pocket and said, “Yeah, beer sounds just fine. Now, how about I take all you boys' money?”

After a several hands of cards, Walters was laughing and drinking whiskey again. He had not lost a single hand, but Walters wasn't smart enough to realize that his gang was merely letting him win, having decided that it was safest to keep him happy. He simply got more and more boisterous with each win, the name calling incident obviously forgotten. Until he saw the man in black sitting at the table again.

Walters' face flushed red with anger. The man was lazily twirling his six-gun on his left hand trigger finger, and this time, Walters knew he was staring at him. 

Standing up, the outlaw shouted, "What are you lookin' at, cowpoke? You lookin' to get dead?” 

The man in black lazily twirled his pistol back into his holster and looked away.

Walters sat back down. “Just as I thought. He don't want none of this.”

Barrett nodded. “Of course not, Bart. It's your deal. I wanna win some of my money back.”

Walters dealt the cards and went back to his bragging. Several hands later, the man in black rose from his table and walked to the doors. Just before he left, he turned to Walters, pointed his finger at him and fired an imaginary gun at Walters. Then he vanished out the bat wing doors.

Walters stared at the door, furious. “That piece of...” he stammered, rising to his feet. “I'll show him not to mess with Bloody Bart Walters!” He stormed out the door after the man.

When he got outside, he saw the man standing calmly at the end of Whisper Street, arms crossed over his chest. His pistol slung low on his right side, dark oak grips facing outwards for a left-handed shooter. 

Shoving his way into the street, Walters shouted, “I know you was the one that called me a yeller bellied coward! Can't say it to my face, can ya? You are the coward, you horseshit bastard! Draw on me! I'll show you!”

The man in black stared at him impassively. After a few seconds, he gave a barely perceptible nod towards the street.

Walters strode out on the street and faced the man. Assuming a gunslinger's stance, he snarled, “Whenever you are ready, you pile of horseshit!”

The man in black made no move. Then, with a quick jerk, he reached for his revolver.

Walters was the quicker. His hand shot up, holding his big Colt and he fanned six quick shots at his opponent. When the smoke cleared, he stared down the street in disbelief. He had missed! Walters knew he wasn't the greatest shot, but six misses was beyond even the greenest shooter. Looking at the man in black, he saw that he hadn't even pulled his pistol. Suddenly, Walters had a moment of clarity that was not usual for him. Wondering how a man's face could be hidden in shadows in the middle of the day, he glanced up at the man's face, and his blood froze.

“No! That's not possible. I killed you! Your body ain't even cold yet!” 

Suddenly, the man in black pulled his pistol. Damn, thought Walters. That thing looks a hell of a lot bigger than before. The man in black opened fire, and six slugs tore into the outlaw, ending the career of Bloody Bart Walters before anyone really knew it had begun.

Tom Barrett was the only member of Walters gang who followed him outside, and saw the whole thing. Later, around a campfire, after giving himself enough time to think about what he just saw, he would describe it to the boys. Walters had walked into the street screaming at nothing. Then, he pulled his forty-five and fired six shots at an empty street. After shouting some more, he jerked as if he had been shot six times. He was stone dead by time Barrett had gotten to him.

There hadn't been a mark on Walters.

“Shit, Tom! Is that really what happened?” asked Weasel Thimms.

“As sure as I'm sitting in front of you,” replied Barrett.

“Well, hell,” said Pete Monroe. “What do we do now?”

Leroy Moss looked up from the fire. “We could go join up with Johnny Ringo,” he said. “He's always looking for new blood.”

Barrett shook his head. “From what I hear, there ain't a drop of blood in that gang, fresh or otherwise. You guys do what you want. Me, I'm done. I'm figurin' on getting me a farm, raisin' cattle.” He got up and dusted off his pants. “See you fellers some other time.” Then he got on his horse and rode off into the night.

Tom Barrett left one thing out of his story: just after Walters died, Barrett saw a man in black from head to toe tip his hat at him and vanish into the shimmering heat of high noon.