By JEFF KAZMIERSKI, COPY EDITOR
A week ago I was dead.
My pal Zeke MacIntyre had shot me, took my horse, my gold and my hat, and left me bleeding in the sand. No food, no water, just me and my gun, miles from anywhere.
I don’t know how, but somehow I survived. Crawled through the desert for days, eating bugs and lizards and God knows what else. Found a stream after a day or so, a chalky, shallow thing that tasted like warm bathwater. By then I was so thirsty I didn’t care.
I’d finally made it to town, got myself a drink and who walked in behind me but the bastard who shot me. So naturally I paid him back in lead and took back what he stole. And that’s when things got strange.
Three days, he said. Three days and he’s coming back.
So there I was, sitting at a corner table in the Last Chance saloon with a bottle of whiskey and my hat on the table in front of me, the bag of gold in my pocket. My gun was under my hat.
I poured some whiskey and contemplated the shot while considering my next move.
Three days, he’d said. Maybe I could buy a horse and ride out of town. Zeke had spent most of the gold, on what I didn’t know, and the room and a bath had used up some of the rest. The bath might have been cheaper if I hadn’t shared it with a blonde named Sally.
“That’s a nice hat,” said a wheezy voice. A shadow darkened the table. The shadow belonged to a man. The man was short, leathery and had scraggly dirt-brown hair and whiskers to match. Zeke MacIntyre’s man.
“Hello, Renfroe.” I put the hat on and showed my gun.
His lips moved and his left eye twitched; I think it might have been a smile. It’s hard to tell with rats.
“You can put that away, Clay,” he said. “Don’t want no trouble.”
I turned the gun so it pointed at his belly. “Only my friends call me that.”
Most men would have taken the hint. Not Renfroe. Crazy bastard just laughed, a high-pitched, hoarse wheeze.
“You don’t want to do that, Joe,” he said when he settled down. “I got a message for you. From Zeke.” His eye twitched again and he grinned.
I kept the gun on him. Shooting Hank would be a waste of a bullet, but I didn’t want to let him relax.
“Maybe he is, maybe he ain’t.” His voice cracked like a dry board. His eye twitched faster. He looked like he’d finally lost what was left of his mind.
Right about then Sally came over to my table, wearing a red dress that strained to hold in her bosom and an expression that would have dried up a cactus.
“Henry Renfroe. You’re not welcome here.”
Renfroe leered at her. “Go ‘way, whore. Man talk.”
Sally reached for the bottle, but I stopped her. “That’s no way to talk to a lady, Hank,” I said. “Apologize.”
He reached for his gun and I cocked the hammer on mine. “Easy, Hank. Speak your piece and get out while you still can.”
He glared at Sally, then me. His eye was steady and that made it scarier than when it twitched.
“Why are you still alive, Clayborne?” His voice was steady and low. I glared back at him, expecting to see a wild look in his eyes. Instead he just stared at me all serious. My hand started to shake a little and I moved my finger away from my trigger.
“You tell me,” I said.
“You remember what Mac said yesterday?” he asked as though I hadn’t said anything. “He said he’ll be back.”
“Yeah, in three days,” I said. “He’s a regular Jesus Christ.”
He snorted. “Nope. But you can’t kill him, Joe. He can’t kill you either. You wanna know why, ask her.” He jabbed a finger at Sally. “She knows. Don’t you, witch?” His eye started twitching again and he giggled like a lunatic. “Well, I’ll be leaving now. See you soon, Clay.”
I waited until the saloon doors swung shut behind him before carefully uncocking my pistol. Beside me Sally was breathing hard, her chest moving in a way that would have been pleasurable if not for the fear and anger on her face.
“Clay, I -“
I shushed her with a wave. “Tell me later, darlin’.” I tossed her two bits. “Buy yourself something nice.” I stood, holstered my gun and headed for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Shopping. Gonna need more bullets.”