The Man Called Death.


Preface.

 

                For some he was a myth, a story to tell those that would steal, that would lie, and to those that would kill.  Some called him the Hand of God while others said he rode on a black horse and was Death incarnate.  There was also talk that when the moon was high and full in a night’s sky, you could tell him by his glowing red eyes.

                The stories of the man grew as any tale of old would.  No one actually knew who he was.  No eyes had ever seen him that now lived.  Still the stories were told; the tattered hat, the dark and worn black duster, his pistol, which people had taken to calling the Hand of God, and of course the tattoo on his right wrist.  But again, no story could agree on just what was there.  Some would warn it was in a tongue not to be read by man, that to do so would set your eyes and tongue ablaze leaving you blind and unable to speak what you had seen.  Others had opined that it was perhaps a burn mark from gun powder, a scar that the man tried to hide.  But others would relate such a black spot as one would stories of the seas long ago, that to see it would always mean certain death.  No matter the telling, it was an ill omen and the only defining feature for the man himself.  A man that was told to be young and old, scarred or handsome, frightfully tall or average as any other man, a man that could be sitting right next to you or the man whom you’d know the moment you saw him.

                There were papers that told the stories of whole taverns, whorehouses, families’ homes, all having been shot full of holes with everyone inside dead, and not a soul in town with eyes upon who’d done such a deed.  Sure, there were copycats, folk that dressed up to claim his name, though it was not always the wisest choice to have the law at your heels until you were strung up.  A copycat’s life was likely to be shorter than a regular thief or murderer’s.  While the copycat stories fell out of the papers, stories with sightings continued on.  There was no getting away from it, there was always the silent rider at night within the headlines, leaving town on a dark horse as the shadow of a demon trailed just behind.  

                The stories said that no one was safe from his judgment, for it was the judgment of Death, or of God, or maybe the Devil, himself.  But any man can make up a story.  All it takes are the right words in the right ears, and a story could spread like a wild brush fire in a dry summer wind.  But some stories don’t fall from the head once they’ve been poured into the ear. 

                This is the story of the man they called Death.  The man named Dusty.

 

Chapter 1.

 

             

It had been on the edge of everyone’s tongues, a dry whisper of the townsfolk.  The man Dusty had come to Mineral Park, Arizona.

 

                It had been late morning when a man riding a fine black horse had ridden into town wearing a dark duster and wide-rimmed hat that set the sun just below his chin.  Those that witnessed his coming had run indoors to peer out their windows at the rider.  Mother’s had yelled to their children to come inside, and not to look at the rider.  But of course the children looked, how could they not?  But in their eyes was not the visage of Death, but of just a man, a stranger to the town.  It was only when their mothers would scold them why they couldn’t look at the man, that the man was Dusty, that the children felt the cold chill of Death that had so closely just passed by them.  They wouldn’t leave their houses again until late the next day.

 

                With the streets clear, the man kept the horse at a simple walk as he turned and headed down the main street.  If he felt any eyes on him, he didn’t make any motions to noticing them.  He just kept his head low and the reigns of his horse lax.   More eyes began to peer out from windows as curtains were pulled back slightly.  At corners, at the sides, just enough to view the man on the street.  Some behind walls grabbed guns: rifles, pistols, whatever was near at hand.  Even an axe or two used to chop firewood for those that believed that a more peaceful life could be lived without such things as firearms. 

 

                Silence had crept its way along the footsteps of the black horse and its rider.  All but one person had escaped the open streets to somewhere behind closed doors, and once the horse reached where the lone man was sitting on a bench outside of the local drug house, it stopped, both rider and horse eerily still.

 

                “What town is this?”  Came a low voice from just below the brim of the rider’s hat.

 

                “Hmm, what’s that?” the man asked as he stirred and opened his eyes to the man sitting tall on the horse before him with the sun just over his shoulder.  “Who you be, stranger?”

 

                A moment of silence fell between the two men before the rider answered. “Just a traveler.   Now, what town is this?”

 

                “No need to get mean, stranger.  Ya started me is all.  Was off in my dreams I was.  You started me out of it, see?  Now, you wanna know what town this is?  This here is Mineral Park, Arizona.”

 

                “What do you do here?” the stranger asked dryly as if focused on something else other than his question.

 

                “Why, we live.  Got a Mine, goodun too.  Prosperous and such.  But don’t go getting any ideas now.  This town’s mighty full already.  Don’t need no other diggers now.  So if that’s what ya come fer, you might as well get, if you know what’s good for ye.”

 

                “I am not here for mining.”  He said whipping his head down to the man on the bench.  “My purpose is far less manual than such a thing.  I suppose you got a tavern here?”

 

                “Of course we got a tavern.  This ain’t no nomad town.  We got needs, much of which is met at such a place.  Why we’d all be dried up an dead without it.”

 

                “Fine.  Where is it?”

 

                “It just be around the corner in front of ye.  Got a sign too, with letters. T.A.V.R.N. I think.  Don’t think you’ll miss it.  If’n you do, just circle back round to here, and I’ll lead you there m’self.  For a fee of course.”

 

                “I doubt that’ll be necessary.  Just wanted to make sure I knew what kind of town I was in first.  Much obliged.”

 

                The man glanced his heel lightly into the horse’s side and it started to trot off.

 

                “Wait a second, stranger.”  The man stood calling after the other, “I never did catch your name.”

 

                He pulled the reigns on his horse to a halt.  The beast obeyed perfectly and turned slightly to let it’s rider face the man again.  When he spoke, he spoke from beneath his hat, a mouth wrapped in days old stubble barely peeking from the bottom of the tattered thing.  “Stranger’s fine, partner.  I ain’t staying long.”

 

                Without another word between the two, the man rode off on his horse slowly in the direction of the Tavern.  Only now did the man on the bench catch the look of the stranger, without gleam of sun wrapping the figure’s silhouette.  A man in a dirty and worn black jacket, an equally worn wide rimmed hat, riding atop a great black horse.  As he went to sit back on the bench, his knees buckled suddenly and he fell just in front of it.  Staring at his legs and then his hands, he couldn’t remember when they had started shaking, and why he couldn’t make them stop.

 

                The lonely winds pushed at the rider’s back as he rounded the corner to see the Tavern.  This street too was devoid of people.  Those that had been here had quickly run indoors once they heard of the stranger to their streets.  Eyes continued to peer out of small gaps in curtains and in the corners of windows.  More than one body watching the man took in a breath and held it without knowing as the man rode to a stop in front of the tavern, threw his reigns on a post and tied the horse up by the trough. 

 

                As the horse delved into the trough, parched and in need, the rider, without eyes to his back and the many gazes that fell on it, walked up the steps and through the swinging doors, disappearing into the shadows of the tavern.

 

                It was much cooler inside the tavern than it was in the high heat of midday.  With the approaching lunch hour, the Tavern was likely to get busier soon, but as it was at the moment the Tavern was nearly empty.

 

To the left of the newcomer sat an old man with his back to the corner of the wall, his head pressed against the table’s top, a small puddle of his own drool having collected just under his cheek.  He had been there all night and had yet to leave.

 

Up in front of the bar were Jeremiah Tobbs, Clancy Callahan, and Jackson Purdue seated in a triangulated pattern across from one another, cards in hand.  The poker game they had started last night had ebbed into the next day and was still not seeing an end in sight with each still holding most of their beginning balances. 

 

The stranger sized up each man as he walked in, a quick view towards every man individually before he took any steps in further.  First the old man in the corner; a drunkard in appearance.  Next was Tobbs, a mean slim face, squinted from hours in the sun pining for gold of which he had found a moderate share last year and was now living off those early findings.   Callahan was the town doctor; a thick mustache flowed from his nostrils and into fine upturned points.  He wore a bowler hat and down by his feet sat a small black satchel, a common physician bag, and the tell-tale stethoscope just falling out the top.  And then there was Purdue; a fat man, unkempt facial hair and balding from the center of his head.  His fellow players hated him.  The man had simply been living off the money of his ailing father for his whole life.  He had found gambling at the age of sixteen.  The first night he’d won, he took his winnings and spent the night becoming a man.  It was the desire of many a man in town to beat the man at cards, but unfortunately he had proven nearly impossible to match in the game.

 

                At the bar sat another man, another drunkard by the look of him but just sitting looking down at his still shot of whiskey as if he’d been there for hours, still as a statue.  Then there was the bartender, Diego; Mexican with thick matted hair slicked back to the nape of his neck.  He had been spitting in a glass and wiping it out with a darkened rag when the stranger had first walked in, but now upon looking at the recent arrival, stopped moving altogether, his eyes growing wide as the edges of his face fell to the floor.  The stranger paid little attention to the gaze now piercing like jagged daggers in his back as he walked to the bar and asked the wide-eyed bartender for a drink. 

 

                “A drink.”  He said dryly.

 

                “Drink, sir?  Wha…t chu want then?” the man stuttered out.

 

                “What’s this one having?”  The stranger asked nodding in the direction of the man at the bar who seemed intent on the drink in front of him.

 

                “Him?!  Just Whiskey.  I get you some, yes?”

 

                “Yes.  And bartender?”  He said stopping the man before he could grab a glass from the shelf.  “Top shelf glass please.  I don’t want the taste of your hands down my throat.”

 

                “I not understand?  My hands?”  The man said turning his pudgy hands over and over to see the tops and bottoms.

 

                “Bottom shelf. Those are the glasses you recently cleaned.  Saw you shining one off when I walked in.  You put it on the bottom shelf.  I’d rather taste the dust from the top shelf.”

 

                “Oh, of course.  Right away!”  The man said stumbling somewhat as he grabbed for a small foot stool that he rarely used.

 

                He pulled down a small glass, hopped off the stool and put the glass on the counter in front of the stranger.  His hands were shaking, bad, and when he tried to pour the whiskey, most of it ended up on the counter instead of in the glass.  He looked to the man, an apology on his face with his still-wide eyes and the crumpling smile of his revealing only a few teeth left in the front of his mouth.

 

                “I s—sorry s—sir.  I’m just an old man.  Here, I get it this time.”

 

                “See that you do.” Said the stranger as one of his hands disappeared below the counter to rest on his hip. 

 

                The sweat that had been lightly forming just above his bushy brow was now fully falling from his face.  With effort, he slowly poured the small glass full of the whiskey, and pushed the cup towards the man.

 

                “Finally, much obliged.”  He said scooping up the glass and taking in the whiskey in one gulp. 

 

                The sound of the cup rang out in the barely filled tavern as it slapped back down against the counter.

 

                “Another.”  The man said to the returning fear of the bartender.

 

                “Y—yes, of c—course.” 

 

                “Come on, is a horse the only thing around here that can get a quick drink?”

 

                “S—sorry s—sir.  M-my hands—“

 

                “Yes, yes.  You’re old.  Just pour the damn drink.  And stop shaking, I ain’t gonna kill ya.”

 

                Whether it eased the bartender’s nerves or not wasn’t noticeable, although he was able to pour without spilling too much this time.

 

                “Much obliged.”  The stranger said pushing the drink down his throat just as before.  “Quite a quiet town you got here.  Does it rain often?”

 

                The bartender seemed confused by the stranger’s sudden friendly demeanor. 

 

                “Mineral Park huh?  Guess you guys have some fair mines around here.  Top me off again there partner.”  The man said smiling and seeming overly cheerful.

 

                The shake in his hands had almost completely fallen away now as he poured another shot of whiskey.  “There you go senor.”

 

                “Excellent.”  He said shooting back the drink as he had done before.  “That’s a mighty fine whiskey you got there.  Guess I know why that fellow there is so lost in it.  Much obliged Barkeep.”

 

                “That’ll be a dollar.”  The bartender said, the smile gone from his face as his eyes sunk back to slits of nearly glaring white.  “Senor.”

 

                “And what fair pricing.  Here you go good sir.  I thank you.”  He said as his hand suddenly popped up from where he’d been keeping it at his hip.

 

                The bartender as well as the poker players all suddenly made for the floor.  The sudden commotion even awoke the man in the corner, whom from the surprise and a common gut instinct, clamored to the floor as well as knocked over the chair he had been sleeping on in the process.  When the bar grew quiet again, the slight sound of the coin hitting the counter filled the stagnant air.

 

                Slowly, each man peeked up over counter and table top.  There was the man, no gun drawn, and looking completely confused at the reaction of the people in the bar, that is, except for the man still with his whiskey in front of him at the bar who had remained just as still as before. 

 

                “My, you folks is a jumpy brand here in Arizona, ain’t ya?  Y’all act like I was gonna shoot up the place or something.” The man said out of a wry smile.  “Y’all have a lot of shootings around here then?”

 

                “N—no, Senor.  Well…” the bartender paused for a moment as he rose to his feet again.  “Not any more than other towns.”

 

                “Exactly!”  exclaimed the strange man striking his fist on the counter to the slight movement of the men in the bar towards the ground again. 

 

                The man’s words rang in the air for a moment as the wind from outside settled lightly into complete silence. 

 

                “What’s iss all bout?”  Came a groggy voice from the corner of the bar.  “Why’s we been divin at floor for?”

 

                “Ah!”  Said the stranger spinning around.  “An excellent moment to show you all my purpose for being here!  Though I am a bit late, got lost along the way some.  But no matter.”

 

                The stranger reached into his duster as he began walking over to the man in the corner.  The three poker players were hunched behind their table, hands by their guns, ready to kick over the table to protect them from gunfire if need be.  The bartender, his extremities shaking again, reached his hand under the counter for his old hunting rifle.  He knew that if Dusty wanted to, they would all already be dead.  And though he didn’t believe he could fire off a shot before he himself would be killed, it brought him comfort to believe that he wouldn’t go without a fight.

 

                “Now, good sir,” the stranger began nearing the table of the drunkard.  “You have been at the drink all night, have you not?”

 

                “What’sit to ya, st’anger?”  The man responded in a fit of excess saliva.

 

                “Only that you are likely with clouded vision, and impaired words.  That likely you have a camp of Indians beating their war drums in that skull of yours.  Am I correct in that assumption?”

 

                “Ass’um all you want, st’anger.  But there ain’t no Ingun in me!  That’s a damn lie if’n someone tol’ you otherwise!”

 

                “No, no, sir.”  The stranger said pulling up a chair opposite the drunk.  “I mean only that a night of drink can give a man a pain in his head.”

 

                “Well why didn’tchu just say as such.  Ass’um a man’s an Ingun’s a way to get shot!”

 

                The word from the drunkard caused the other men to again duck for cover, but this went unnoticed by the stranger and the drunkard.

 

                “Apologies then.”

 

                “Accepted…over a drink.  Your dime o’course stanger.”  The drunk cackled.

 

                “Ah, but I offer far better.”  He said pulling a small dark jar from his duster. 

 

                “That some kinda Mexycan Whiskey or sumpin?”

 

                “No, far from it.  It’s an E-lixer.  Rutherford Davis and Sons True Life E-lixer, to cure any sort of afflictions that be troubling you.  Now just one shot of this, and in minutes, your affliction is cured!”

 

                “What’s that?  That’s a dirty lie.  Only thing that can cure a drunk is a drink, everyone knows that.”

 

                “You are wrong sir.  I hold in my hands such a truth that you have never known.  I would of course offer you a sample first.  To prove my tale as the furthest thing from falsehood.  Just hand me your glass sir.”  The stranger said pointing towards the man’s empty glass on the table.

 

                The drunk slowly pushed it over to the stranger, a look of distrust taken hold of his face.  The bartender removed his hand from the rifle, leaving it under the bar as he slowly walked from behind the counter to try and get a better view of the two men at the table.  The three poker players, seeing the bartender’s curiosity, followed suit, stood up from their crouched positions and peaked over towards this strange occurrence.

 

                “What’s that then?”  The bartender said in a meek voice.  “You some sort of sales man?”

 

                “Why yes.  Here you go good sir, just take it as you would a regular drink.”  He said pushing the dark juice he’d poured into the cup over to the drunkard.  “I would have preferred to wait until the men showed up for lunch from their mining day, but now’s as good a time as any I guess.  I reckon they’ll be along any moment now and ya’ll can vouch for this fella here.”

 

                “What is this?”  The drunk said leaning in to sniff the strange liquid in the cup.  “Smells like manure.  You trying to make me drink manure?”

 

                “No, no.  Of course not.  I wouldn’t dare.  What you’re smelling, and I can only give you the basics here so as to save my recipe and such, is some specially grounded and boiled beans from across the seas, some various fruit berries, some vegetation, and a few other ingredients.  None of which is manure or anything of the sort.  It’s all legit, and I guarantee you’ll feel refreshed in just minutes after you drink that down.  But I must warn you now, sir, that it don’t necessarily taste of sweet water or nothing, it’s a little thick, and a might bit tart on the tongue.”

 

                The drunk eyed it a bit more, frowning from behind his thick graying facial hair.  “Let me tell you somethin st’anger.  If’n I were of my right mind, I wouldn’a touch any shit you peddlin.  But I reckon my pistol’ll have a word or two with your head if’n you tryin ta pull one on me.  So…bottoms up then.”

 

                The drunk raised the glass high as he straightened himself up and let the mud-like substance flow down his throat.  Two full swallows later and all but what coated the side of the cup was in his stomach.   The bartender and the card players just stared on, wondering if maybe the stranger, Dusty, had just poisoned the man. 

 

                “I must shay there st’anger, that was foul.  Mighty foul.”

 

                “Now, now, that I warned you of.  There’s such things as roots and such in there, so it’ll taste a little dark.  But you just give it another minute or so, and I’ll bet you feel like a new man.”

 

                The men in the bar looked on in silent curiosity, waiting for either the man to fall dead, or for the story of the stranger to ring true.  It was another two minutes later before any sound or action was made.  The drunk picked up his glass, looked inside it with a squint of his right eye, and then slapped it down on the table, stood up, then struck his hand out before him towards the stranger.  The stranger rose and embraced it to the growing smile of the drunk. 

 

                “Sir, that weren’t no stretcher you sellin.  That there’s a miracle juice!”

 

                “I would never sell a lie good sir.  That is the Rutherford family motto.  Sell only truth, and be not taken by falsehoods.  So, tell these people how you feel.”

 

                “I feel a new man!”

 

                “So no more head pains?  No lingering drink?”

 

                “None at all.  It’s all gone!  Christ boy, you have the touch of the lord with you!”

 

                “Simply just medicine.   I come to your town to sell relief gentlemen!  For just two dollars, I am selling Rutherford Davis and Sons True Life E-lixer.  And I am Rutherford Davis!”  He said spreading his arms wide as if to embrace the entire empty room.

 

                “Then…you ain’t Dusty?”  Came the wavering voice of Callahan.

 

                “Dusty?!”  the drunk spouted as if finally noticing what the others had already suspected.

 

                “Dusty?  Gentlemen, please.  Even if such a myth did exist, I would still not be him.  I come here selling life, not death.  Why would you think such a thing?”

 

                “The black duster, senor.  The dark horse.  Such as the story goes, you have come the same.”

 

                “My horse’s name is Percy, hardly the name of the horse of death.  And it’s not the only dark horse in the state of Arizona, I can guarantee that.  As far as the duster goes, again, it’s just a black duster.  Why, see for yourselves,” he said pulling open his coat so that the men could see. “I don’t even carry but one shiny gun, the things barely ever been used, and then only for protection.  No wonder you folks was so jumpy.  You was thinking I was some legendary murderer.  Well rest your senses gentlemen, I’m simply here to sell medicine.  One that you have seen firsthand as reputable.  So if you gentlemen would like a cure to all that ails the body, two dollars is all that it will cost you.”

 

                As the last smiling word left the man’s mouth, a series of gunshots rang out amidst the sound of shattering glass.  The drunk dove for the ground, as did the other men leaving only Rutherford standing tall, as holes pierced his coat loosing streams of blood from each.  After countless shots, the man’s seemingly frozen body fell to the ground, the last ounce of life coughed up in blood on the floor below. 

 

                The man Rutherford Davis was dead.

 

                The swinging doors whipped open as man after man shuffled in, their pistol’s trained on the holed and fallen man bleeding on the ground.  Eight of them in all circled around the dead man, with their pistols shaking in each of their hands.

 

                “Did we get him?”  One man whispered shakily.

 

                “Look at the blood.  We got him.”  Another replied quietly.

 

                “But is he dead?”

 

                “I don’t know, check.”

 

                “You check!”

 

                “Robert, you check.  You shot him the most!”

 

                “Well, he looks dead to me.  Don’t think a live one bleeds that much.”

 

                “What have you done?!” came a voice from behind the table by the broken window. 

 

                All the men around the body shifted their shaky aim to the slumped figure behind the table, his eyes bulging as tears fell from them.

 

                “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!”  The drunkard said as he quickly shuffled over and grabbed the body of Rutherford Davis. 

 

                “We killed him, old man.  We killed the legendary Dusty.”  One of the men said with a twinge of disbelief in his voice. 

 

                Another man kicked the old man from coddling the body of Rutherford.  “And We’ll be getting the reward old man.  So don’t try and take what’s ours, if you know what’s good for you.”

 

                “Dusty?  Dusty?!  That’s not Dusty, that’s my son!”  The man said skittering on the floor to again hold the body of Rutherford.

 

                “Dusty’s… father?”

 

                “I ain’t never heard of his father.  Guess it’ll just be more reward then.”  A man said pulling back his hammer as the chorus of the other seven pistols rang in unison.

 

                “Stop!”  Cried the voice of the bartender.  “The man wasn’t Dusty!”

 

                “What you on about seenyour?  We got told that The Dusty was here, at this Tavern.  I don’t see any other stranger with a black duster.”

 

                “He’s not Dusty.  He’s a travelling medicine man!  His name is Rutherford Davis.  He sold something called E-lixer!”

 

                “No!”  Shouted the old man coddling the body and rocking back and forth with it.  “He’s my son.  I’m Rutherford Davis!  He was my boy!  My boy!  My sweet Jonathan!”

 

                “But we was told it was Dusty.  We got into town from lunch and our families all said the same thing, Dusty was in town.  Rode a black horse and wearing that black duster.  They said he was Dusty!” One of the men shouted as if pleading for forgiveness.

 

                “Your son?”  Came the voice of Purdue.  “Well if you’re Rutherford, why was he calling himself as such, dressed as Dusty no less?”

 

                “I sent the boy.  I’m old.  No one wants to buy from an old man.  I sent him in my place!  He was supposed to come in last night, sell to a full room.  Must have got lost, and he arrived when he did only to get slaughtered!”  He wailed.

 

                “Then you were trying to set us up?”  Asked Tobbs.

 

                “It doesn’t matter anymore.  You’ve killed my son!  Kill me then!  I have come to take your money as any lowly thief!  KILL ME AS YOU DID MY SON!”

 

                “What about the other one?”  The bartender offered.

 

                “What are you talking about barkeep?”  Asked one of the men holding guns still aimed at the old man on the ground. 

 

                “He said Rutherford and Sons.  Not Son.  What about the other one?”

 

                “Is that him?” Purdue asked, pointing to the man that had remained at the bar staring at his drink.

 

                All eyes turned to the solitary man at the bar, but the man made no reaction to being noticed. 

 

  “No, senor Purdue.  He has only ordered the one drink.  Which still sits in front of him.”

 

                Rutherford continued to wail unnoticing as the guns trained on him slowly lowered as the men began to linger over to the silent man at the bar.

                “Is that true pardner?”  Began the lead gunman, Bill Callahan, known as the town’s quickest gun.  “You the other son of this Davis group?  Hope you ain’t planning any retribution or nothing.  Wouldn’t want to have to take both son’s from the father.  Got two of my own.  So believe me I know what it would be like to lose em both.”

 

                “I don’t have another son!”  Wailed Rutherford.  “My first son died when he was four of scarlet fever.  I was just honoring him in our business name.”

 

                “Well then,” Bill began as he pulled the hammer to his pistol back aiming at the back of the silent man’s head.  “who the hell are you stranger?  A man comes into the bar to drink, so what you doin here just starin at your shot?  That’s mighty peculiar stranger.”

 

                The other men not knowing what else to do pulled up their guns as well, cocking the barrel into position to fire if need be. 

 

                “Um, Bill?”  asked another gunman, Timothy Carter Jr.  “He ain’t done nothing, Bill.  Just let the stranger sit.  Maybe he touched in the head or something.”

 

                “Shut up!  I ask a question I expect an answer.  You hear that stranger?  I asked you a question.  What’s.  Your.  Name?!  My name is Bill Callahan, and I ain’t lying when I say I’m the best and quickest shot around these parts.  So out with it.  Or you’re a dead man!”

 

                “Senor Callahan!  No more shooting please.  Already too many holes in the bar!”  The bartender pleaded.

 

                “Ain’t gonna put any more holes in your bar.  Just one in a stranger’s head if he don’t start flapping that mouth of his.”

 

                Bill stared at the man before him.  He still wasn’t moving. 

 

                “Alright, pardner.  You got three seconds to either spit out your coward name, or to get your sorry behind out them swinging doors.  If you too scared to talk, then you just go.  And don’t bother coming back to our town neither.”

 

                “The mar”  Came the gruff voice from the motionless stranger.

 

                It took the men by surprise causing them to unknowingly take a small step backwards.  The three men by the card table even put their hands down by their pistols.

 

                “What’s that?  Come again?”  Bill Callahan asked.

 

                “The mark.”  Came the voice again.  “You all forgot to make sure he had the mark.”  The stranger said.

 

                “What, the boy?  He’s dead now and we know it ain’t Dusty so what’s it matter now?”  Bill asked.

 

                “That boy is dead now because you didn’t check first.  You killed an innocent man.”

 

                “They was comin here to trick us out of our hard earned money anyway.  So I think this was God blessing us with beatin them to it.”

 

                “Hardly.”

 

                “What are you then?  Some travelin preacher?  What gives you the right to judge us?”

 

                “I ain’t no preacher, but that boy didn’t deserve to die.”

                “Well he’s dead now, ain’t nothing can be done for it but bury his body.  But now we’ve got your tongue wagging, I think it’s time you answered my question.  Who are you?  And what you come here for?”

 

                The man sat up straight, his long matted hair shifting back behind his eyes.  It had been a few days since his last shave on his long face.  His eyes were a pale blue, like a sky that had lost it’s spirit.  The skin around them was creased and lined with deep grooves.  Finally, he lifted his arm from the bar it had been resting on since the night before, revealing a handkerchief tied simply around his wrist.  He picked up the shot finally and drank it down.

 

                The cup slammed loudly in the tense room, eight men with guns trained on a stranger, three more ready to pull their pieces, and an old man crying over his lost son.  “I just came here for a drink.  I didn’t mean to get anyone killed.  Fact is I was trying to avoid it.”

 

                “What do you mean you got him killed?”

 

                “I mean you shot the wrong man.”

 

                Without another word the motionless man had spun around with gun suddenly drawn in his right hand, his left upon the trigger slapping it down after each pull of the trigger.  All eight men quickly fell to the ground dead before a one of them had loosed a single bullet from their own pistols.  The three poker players watched as the men fell, unable to react.  When it finally dawned on them what had happened, they tried to pull their pieces from their holsters, but the man was too quick and spun in the stool where his gun finally found its way to them, three more shots ringing out before all three fell to the ground dead. 

 

                Eleven of the gun’s twelve bullets had been fired, and eleven men were dead on the ground.  The bartender shook with fear as his eyes fell on the stranger’s wrist where the handkerchief was.  Sweat began to pour from his forehead and his jaw quivered like a man stuck in the arctic without a coat.  The stranger stood slowly, his gun looking loose in his hand.   Where the handkerchief was tied had loosened, and as the man came to his full slim height, the rag loosened completely and fell to the ground.  There was a mark, not so much a tattoo, but rather a mere black spot of sorts.  The stranger was Dusty.

 

                Before the bartender even realized what he was doing, he was grabbing at the rifle under the bar, pulling it up to aim at the man, his finger shakily on the trigger, but suddenly quelled as another shot rang out in the bar, the bartender falling dead as the final bullet had been fired from Dusty’s gun.

 

                Dusty popped open his gun’s barrel and emptied out the casings.  He slowly loaded each bullet back in and then pushed the barrel back into position before holstering it by his hip once more.  Walking over to the coat rack he pulled down his hat of a worn old black.  He fit it over his long face and then began making his way toward the door, the spurs at his heels clanking with each step but then silent as they stood by Rutherford.

 

                “I’m real sorry bout your boy.”  Dusty said.

 

                Rutherford looked up to the man whose hard features looked loose and somewhat consoling.  “Who are you?”

 

                “I guess I’m Dusty.”  He said as he continued out the swinging doors and headed behind the bar where a small barn sat, and inside a placid dark horse stood. 

 

                Taking the reigns of the beast, the man lead it outside and quickly pulled himself up to sit atop it.  Circling once before gaining control of the horse, he eyed the town.  One son had been taken from a father.  In return he had taken a father from his son’s.  Who knows what else I’ve taken from this town, he thought as he dug his spurs into the side of the horse and dashed out of town disappearing over a hill leaving only a small cloud of dust slowly falling to the Earth below as a single gunshot rang out from the tavern.  Dusty was never seen in the town again.

 

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