By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor
It was going on noon when I found the Lucky Seven saloon. It was a dingy place on the edge of Tucson, the kind of hole you didn’t go to so much as end up at, but I was tired and hungry, and I needed a drink.
A week of wandering through the desert with a bullet in your side will do that to you.
The saloon doors squealed as I pushed them aside, one threatening to fall off its rusty hinges but holding on. Inside, a few patrons just as dingy and worn-out as the building looked up at me. I ignored them and made my way to the bar.
The bartender came over and grunted something from behind a very impressive mustache.
“Whiskey,” I said, slapping a silver dollar down on the bar. “Leave the bottle.”
He grunted again and took the coin. I think he smiled, too, but it was hard to tell. A moment later he plunked down a bottle of rotgut and a shot glass. I poured some and tossed it back. It burned like hell and tasted like kerosene, but I didn’t care. The booze deadened the pain a little, and that’s all I needed.
I poured another shot and drank, this time a little more slowly. After a third, I was ready.
I turned on my barstool and pushed aside my duster, revealing the Colt .45 strapped at my hip. Time for action.
“Anyone here seen Zeke MacIntyre?”
The assorted dirtbags and whores looked at me, then at each other. There was a lot of shrugging and head-shaking but mostly blank stares. If they’d seen him, they weren’t talking.
I tried again. “I’m looking for MacIntyre.” I paused. “Short bastard, black beard, wearing a brown hat with silver trim. I got something of his.”
The last was technically true. The bullet in my side was his. I intended to return it to him – with interest.
More blank stares. I swore and turned back to my whiskey, poured a shot and drank.
A minute or two passed, then a blonde woman leaned on the bar beside me.
“Buy a girl a drink?”
I checked her out. She was squeezed into a dress about two sizes too small and had more cheap jewelry than a carny’s prize box, but wasn’t bad to look at. I poured a shot and passed it to her.
“Why d’ you want to find MacIntyre?” she asked after downing the drink.
I pulled my duster aside again and showed her the ragged hole and bloodstain in my shirt. “Told you. I got something of his. I want to return it.”
She stared for a while before shaking her head. “You don’t wanna mess with Mac,” she said. “Something’s not right about him.”
“Damn right, sister. He shot me in the back and left me in the desert. Took my gold and my horse. But you know what really pisses me off?”
I didn’t get to finish, because at that moment the saloon doors swung open with a crash and a shadow darkened the doorway. I spun around, ready to draw.
The shadow was short and wearing a brown hat with silver trim.
“I heard someone was looking for me,” it said. “Didn’t think it’d be you, Clayborne.”
I stood, hand near my holster. “No, Mac, I guess you wouldn’t. I’m not supposed to be here, right?” I took a step toward him. “I still owe you. I’m gonna make you collect on your debt.”
He laughed, a low, humorless chuckle. “You got any more gold, Joe, I’ll be glad to take it.”
“Bastard. What I got for you is metal, but it ain’t gold.” I moved my duster away from my side, showing my gun. “It’s lead.”
He laughed again. “You can’t kill me, Joe,” he said. “But you’re welcome to try.”
I was about to draw, but just then the bartender grunted something loudly. I saw a shotgun from the corner of my eye.
“He says to take it outside,” the blonde translated.
I glared at MacIntyre. “You first.”
“No, after you.”
“We do it together.”
We stepped through the doorway, facing each other, and as soon as my boot hit the dirt outside I drew and fired.
My .45 boomed and spat lead three times, and I hit him twice in the chest before he could draw. The son-of-a-bitch went down like a poleaxed steer, kicked once and howled. The brown hat fell off his head and rolled off to stop against a water barrel.
I stepped over him and went to retrieve the hat.
“You shot me,” I said as I picked it up. “Took my gold,” I continued, putting it on my head, “and left me to die out there.” I strode back to his side and stared down at him. His breath was coming in ragged gasps now, and a pool of blood stained the desert under him. “But you know what really pisses me off?”
I knelt next to him so only he could hear me. “You stole my hat.”
Up close, he didn’t look like a man dying. He glared back at me like he was still planning revenge.
“Gonna get you,” he whispered hoarsely. “You’ll be sorry.”
“Not in this lifetime,” I said.
“Three days,” he whispered. “Three… days.”
His horse was tethered outside; I checked his bags and found the gold stashed there. There wasn’t much left, but it was enough to pay for a room, some dinner, some new clothes, a bath, and a very pleasant evening with the blonde.
I went out later for some air.
MacIntyre’s body was gone by then. So was the blood.