The man came into the border town at dawn. He sat tall in his saddle, and he was a tall man. A handful of inches over six feet, but slim and wiry. He was some dirty, and a week’s worth of stubble smudged his rawboned face. Behind him, the desert heat was building and the red sun was rising like a phoenix. It had been a hard ride, but Thane Johnson was a man used to hardship.
He sprang from the saddle and threw his reins over the strangest looking hitching post he had ever seen. Looking up and down the quiet street, he realized that it wasn’t just the hitching post. This was the strangest town he had ever seen. And he had seen many.
He rode because that was what men like him did. Rough, strong men who could herd cattle and gamble. Who knew what bend of the stream would hold enough gold dust for a few weeks of easy living. Men who were salty and ready for a fight, but never looking for one. He wore two Colts cross-holstered and tied down. There were men faster with a gun, but they were rare. They said that Thane had killed nine men, and they were right. But he had never drawn first.
He stepped toward the tan stallion and whispered something in his ear. With one hand, he rolled a cigarette and lit it. With the other, he began to rub the horse down. He worked on the horse methodically for ten minutes. Only then did he think of his own thirst. Of his hunger. Of the emptiness that those weeks in the desert had wrought. Now there were two thoughts in his mind. The saloon, and the one image that would never leave. The face of the man he was going to kill.
The stores in the town were dark, but for one, and Thane stepped through the swinging doors slowly, his bootheels ringing out in the empty bar. Behind the counter was a dark man with long black hair. He was wearing some kind of woven fabric and his skin was the color of strong coffee. He looked gamey, on edge, and Thane didn’t like it.
“I’d like to speak to Mr. Starbuck…you him?”
Thanes voice boomed in the small room.
The stranger looked him up and down and smirked.
Thane pushed his hat back on his head. It was a flat brimmed black hat. Felt. The only thing he was wearing that wasn’t covered in dust and dried blood.
“Well, pardner. The way I look at it there ain’t nothing funny about it. I just rode across a hell even man couldn’t create and I aim to speak to the owner of this establishment. Out front it says his name is Starbuck. I may not be an educated man, but I can read.”
“Whatever. He isn’t here. Can I get you something.”
Thane relaxed a little and sidled up to the bar.
“We have coffee and smoothies.”
“What kind of bar doesn’t have Rye? And just what tribe are you from, son? I’ve traveled with the Sioux and had run-ins with some of the wildest Indians in the territory. But I reckon I ain’t never seen an Indian looked like you.”
A nasty glint came into the savage’s eye.
“Look. I’ll serve you coffee because I have to. Hell, I’ll make you a goddamn latte on the house. And then you can just get the hell out, OK? Now do you want one or two shots…no charge.”
Thane felt that strange excitement growing in him. He was back in the place between life and death. A wry humor twinkled in his eyes.
“You just go for it, mister. This isn’t the way I wanted it, but I guess old habits die hard.”
The Indian smoothed out his green apron and there was hatred burning in his coal black eyes. Thane knew that someone was going to die. And he wasn’t ready yet. In slow motion, he watched the man’s hand go under the counter. He heard the shot before he felt it. The Indian folded and fell to his knees. Then he was aware of the guns…the smooth wood in his hands…the acrid smell of gunpowder. He knew the Indian was dead. It had been a clean shot, straight through the heart.
Thane rolled a cigarette and sat down in a big, overstuffed chair. There was something to this Starbuck, and he aimed to find out what.
* * * * * *
JD Mader is the author of ‘Joe Café’ and a contributing author to Indies Unlimited. You can find more of JD’s writing at his blog www.jdmader.com.