Flash Fiction: Flint Smoke
For the Terribleminds Paint Color Title Scheme challenge.
“Whiskey. Best make it a double.”
He didn’t always start his time in the saloon this way. Most days here saw him talking with one of the girls, or hitting up the poker table. But today was different. A lesser man might have ridden for an extra day or two to avoid something like this. Put off the Reaper for one more day.
He wasn’t one of those men.
He looked up from the bar. Sunlight caught the kicked-up dust in the saloon in amber streams. The man who’d called his name sauntered in his direction, half-rusted spurs clicking on the oak floorboards.
“It ain’t noon yet, Pete. We ain’t settling up ’til noon.”
“You can’t ride in here like yer cock o’ th’ walk an’ expect me an’ my boys t’ just wait around fer ya t’…”
“You’re spittin’ on me, Pete. I told you, we’re settling up at noon.”
“Well, if ya give me th’ money now, I can f’rget I ever saw ya. Go back t’ Bear-Paw an’ tell ‘im…”
“Better stop right there, Pete, all that thinkin’s going t’ make you keel over.”
Pete frowned. His face was a particularly ugly patchy combination of ruddy white and repeatedly-sunburnt brownish, and his breath stank.
“I’m gonna enjoy puttin’ a bullet in ya.”
“See you at noon, then.”
Pete huffed and stormed out. The barkeep poured the whiskey. Sunlight played in the shotglass and its contents.
“You’re awfully calm for a man about to face one of the deadliest gun-hands in seven counties.”
Gideon drank down the whiskey. “If he’s as deadly as they say, I won’t have no worries come noon-time. If not, I got no reason to be worried in the first place.”
“You’ve got a strange philosophy there, friend.”
“It’s worked so far.” Gideon stood, laying a couple bills on top of the shotglass. “Thanks for the drink.” He looked up at the clock behind the bar. He had about five minutes.
He walked around the saloon a bit, running his fingers over the green felt at the poker table, tipping his hat to the pretty blonde in the little pink dress, listening to the tinny piano. If things went wrong, he didn’t want to go out without some good sensations rolling around in his brainpan.
Taking a deep breath, he stood at the door and waited. He closed his eyes, said a prayer. The church bells began to chime. On the twelfth toll, he pushed the doors open and stepped outside.
Pete was leaning on the hitching post outside, and standing in the middle of the street was the man they called Bear-Paw. He was a large man, bulky and imposing, with long wavy hair the color of soot under his wide-brimmed hat, and a fuzzy beard. Rumor had it he’d gotten his handle for being mistaken for a bear at night more than once.
“You’re a man of yer word, Gideon Thomas.” He had a deep, rumbly voice. His thick thumbs were stuck in his gunbelt as he watched Gideon move into the street. “Most men would rather settle up with me than make this sort of appointment.”
“Most, but not the half-dozen you’ve already killed.”
“Oh, it’s more than that. It ain’t just stand-up fights in alleys that put men in these paws.”
“So I’ve heard. But that’s just on the side, ain’t it? Ain’t you spending most days out lookin’ for coaches to rob?”
Gideon saw Pete go for his gun out of the corner of his eye. Bear-Paw held up a hand.
“Best be careful what you say, friend. Most of my crew has a bead on ya from here.”
Gideon didn’t look. He knew Bear-Paw was telling the truth.
“Not sure why you needed your whole crew for this. It’s just you tryin’ t’ steal from me.”
“Still waitin’ on that proof. All I know is a flush beats a pair of deuces any day of the week.”
Bear-Paw fround, bent at the waist, and spat. Chewing tobacco spattered in the dust with a dark brown stain.
“I want my hundred dollars back, you cheatin’ son of a bitch. Pay it up now or I take it outta yer hide.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Bart Jones.”
The big man blinked at Gideon. He hadn’t known Gideon was acquainted with his real handle.
“You’ll do no such thing. I know you’re wanted in other counties for theft, destruction of property, and back east you got started killing your wife. Warrant on you is still good.”
Bear-Paw stared at him. Then, he started to laugh.
“You gonna take me in all on your lonesome, little man?”
“Nope.” Gideon whistled.
From behind the Saloon’s sign, around corners of buildings, and even under sombreros and ponchos, men emerged with guns drawn. Barrels shone cobalt blue, held to the heads of Pete and the other miscreants in Bear-Paw’s crew. Gideon smiled and pointed around the scene.
“Now, that? That’s probably cheating.”
Bear-Paw scowled, going for his gun. Gideon’s hand moved of its own accord, drawing his Peacemaker and thumbing the hammer. He fired before Bear-Paw’s revolver cleared his holster. A ribbon of red flew through the air and Bear-Paw went down, his knee shattered. Gideon holstered his trusted companion as the Marshall approached, his mustache groomed as always, pin-striped vest immaculate, silver star glistening in the sunlight.
“That’s good work, Mister Thomas. Not many men would walk into one of Bear-Paw’s ambushes like that.”
“Well, thank your men for me, Marshall. Not every day you grab a Bartholomew Jones, especially not in a trap like this.”
The Marshall smiled, removing a billfold from his vest and counting out five hundred dollars. The green bills crinkled as Gideon took them and tipped his hat.
“You need me again, Marshall, you know where to find me.”
Bear-Paw was growling obscenities as the Marshall cuffed him, and Gideon walked back into the saloon.
“Barkeep! I’ll take another whiskey, if you please.”