December, 2015

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Issue #75

Looking for free, tantalizing Tales of the Old West?
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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

Streets of Gold
by Nancy Peacock
The bank has been robbed of twenty-dollar gold pieces. Billy can't convince the sheriff he found the one he spent. Then another fellow finds one. Will this start a gold rush? Running a saloon in this town is always exciting.

* * *

Desert Chase
by Larry Garascia
Thaddeus Deaver had shot and killed a sheriff, two deputies and a woman while trying to rob a bank. He had also shot and wounded a young boy. But now marshal Cody Justus was on his trail and vowed to bring him to justice.

* * *

The Reprieve
by Rene Vega
Silas left Missouri for a better life out West. He'd heard stories of rogue cowboys, Comanche, and such, but didn't figure they'd bother him. When his luck turned and he got lost in the desert with Apaches on his trail, he knew only the same extreme of luck might keep him alive.

* * *

Legendary Marshal Bass Reeves
by John Young
Overcoming the harsh conditions of a slave's life in the 1800's to rise to a position of particular note would be a noteworthy accomplishment for anyone born into that life. But to become the most famous U.S. Deputy Marshal West of the Mississippi and greatest frontier hero would be an impressive feat.

* * *

The Ghost of Flamingo Flats
by J.C. Hulsey
Do you believe in ghosts? Some do, some don't. I'm not sure which I believe. In this short story, you will have the opportunity to make up your own mind as to what you want to believe.

* * *

Blackwater Station
by Mark Wilkinson
A frontier tale straight from South Africa.

* * *

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All the Tales

Blackwater Station
by Mark Wilkinson

Hank checked the old clock hanging on the side of the banged up station. The train was supposed to be running right up to the platform, but it wasn't in sight.

Dust swirled at his feet as he sheltered himself against the support beam of the wholesale store. He was under the shade of the rickety wooden roof, but that didn't stop him from getting hot. He shifted his hat a little to block out the glare of the high sun.

To his right on the opposite side of the street sat one of his men in the rocking chair on the porch of the Dusty Bowl saloon. With his head leaned all the way back and his eyes propped closed, Rico looked to be in the middle of one of his siestas. Hank smiled, showing his crooked and yellow teeth. Rico wasn't sleeping, he knew that. But he should still look like he was faintly interested.

Not far from Hank to his left, stood the other man, Gary.

Gary was actually sitting on the side of a water trough, his leg raised on a wooden beam, and he was playing with his six-shooter, swinging it around his finger, cocking it and aiming across the street to the train station, before pulling back into his lap and disarming it, and then starting up the whole parade again.

The son of a bitch was making a noise.

"Would you cut that out? Almighty! As if the heat weren't enough!"

Gary looked up from his gun. "The matter, Hank? Scared?"

"You just irritatin' me, s'all." Hank looked at the clock. Where was that damn train?

"Well I'm sorry for that, just I can't sit like this all the day waitin' for some ghost to show up," Gary finally shoved the revolver into it's sheath. "Hank, come on! We both saw him get one from Linus back at Bridge, and that was nearly a month ago! Ain't no man gonna survive that kind of wound! What we doin' here anyways!"

"Hey!" Hank stepped closer to Gary, his fist clenched and pointed straight at the man. "It's not a good thing spreadin' Deacon's business all over the air so that anyone can get an earful, you hear me? Deacon says we gotta be here, so we be here!" He returned to the post, and checked to see if anyone had looked in their direction. Satisfied, his eyes returned to the clock, while he cast his ears into the distance, waiting for the faint howl of steam.

"This is a load o' shit an you know it."

"I know, man. But if Deacon says he's on the train and we gotta take care of it, then what we gonna do? You ever seen the man that high-tailed on Deacon, huh? You ever hear 'bout someone double crossin' him? I don't know about you, but if Deacon says I gotta be here, then I'm here."

Hank crossed his arms, his back starting to ache. He hadn't slept for two days, seeing that he and these two sissies had to ride up from all the way south, just to come give a last howdy-do to an old friend that always liked to show up when he was least welcome.

Shit, why me? Hank thought, as he watched a tumbleweed make a lazy path through town. I seen this ghost draw in a fight, damn! Not even Deacon's that fast. How we gonna stop him, even if he is half-dead?

Gary, staring into his lap, mumbled, "Deacon just doesn't want us near that gold o' —"

"Shhhhh, shut up!" Hank hissed. "You know we ain't supposed to say anything!"

"Man, something really is itching your behind." Gary looked at him coldly.

"Well, maybe there is." Was all Hank could say.

"Deacon comes to me an' says 'Hank ol' friend, I got me a little budgie that told me a story last night, see?'"

"I go, 'really Deacon? What did it say?'"

"Deacon says to me real quiet, 'He told me that one of our old friends is gonna come up this way, looking for trouble. Trouble that we don't exactly need just about now.'"

"I say, 'Sure? Which one?'"

"Deacon looks around to see if any the others are listening in. 'Linus' friend, the one with lightning in his fingers.'"

"I go 'Aw shit, Deacon.'"

"'I thought you'd say that.'"

"'But he's dead, we all saw him go down! No man's gonna come up from that.'"

"'That's not what my little budgie said. He said ol' Blue survived that little thing, said he's on his way here, right this minute.'"

"I manage a faint smile. 'Any chance your budgie's lyin?'"

"Deacon grabs me hard by the shoulder, and for the first time, I see something I haven't ever seen in those dead eyes. 'Listen to me, I ain't playing with you! Take Rico and Gary and ride hard all the way to Blackwater, wait for him at the station, he'll be there at noon in two day's time. I want you to camp out on that platform for God's sake! And when he shows that pus-filled head of his, I want you to blow it open for me, eh?'"

"His hands are squeezing so hard on my shoulder I'm starting to suffer a little. 'Okay Deacon, I'll do it.'"

"He looks at me, those dead eyes staring all the way into my head, right where nobody's supposed to can see. I sometimes think he can see what I'm thinking, the way those dead eyes tear up through your face."

"'Alright,' He says finally. 'You don't fail me now.'"

Hank looked towards the clock. It read 12:13.

Something was definitely bothering him. Whether if it was Deacon's cold, dead eyes that night, his final words to the gunman, or this train's unwillingness to be on time was anyone's guess. Hank guessed it was a combination of both.

You don't fail me now.

Gary stood up sharply, his head cocked to the side.

"Listen," He breathed, then, "Yeah, I think so, the train's comin'."

Hank brushed his thick wavy hair behind his ears and stepped out into the sunlight. He turned left, then right. His eyes searched out yonder past the street, down the length of street that ran parallel to the station and out into the countryside, what he could see of it anyway.


The wind rose up and blasted him with a red hot gust of air and sand. It flew into his face, his hair and clothes. Hank spat dirt when it tried to sneak into the corners of his mouth.

Out here in the desert, sand got in everywhere.

Hank wiped his face with a grimy hand, and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. All he could hear was the wind swirling about him, his boots scratching under him as he turned, and in the distance, the rhythmic squeak of a poorly-oiled windmill in the gust.

He finally turned back to Gary, who had not moved a muscle since proclaiming he could hear something. The other man stood still, his head raised, a faint smile on his lips.

"Man, what you on ab—" Hank stopped.


He cocked his head in the silence. The wind howled in his ear, so he turned to face it.

There, on the edges of the wind, riding the bucking swirling beast like a wrangler came the sound. It was faint, like a breath of air in the middle of one of those tornados they had back east. But Hank could hear it . . . just.

It was the sound of steel wheels on hard iron rails.

A dust devil kicked up right behind them, sucking all the dust that was floating around them into its belly. Both men turned to see the spawn of the desert grow in stature until it looked like a wall of red rust spinning and buffeting through the town. It passed by them, through them, and gathered momentum as it bucked into a vicious fury, thrashing with reckless violence against anything that came into its path, before losing control of its energy and spilling its sandy cargo over a wider area than the one it harvested the dust from.

Gary coughed hoarsely as the desert animal died away, his mouth and nose filled with the vile stuff. Hank had closed his eyes and shut his mouth; even then some had gotten in.

"Goddamned desert," Gary cursed as he spat volumes of sand from his mouth and tried to wipe the stuff from his nose. "Just wish we could be rid of this place and go back to the prairies, back home."

Hank chuckled. "You dumb shit, no one ever told you not to smile when a dust devil kicks up in front of your face?"

Gary glared at him through bouts of snorting and spitting. His teeth seemed to be covered in it.

From behind them, they heard the creak of wood as the rocking chair Rico was sitting on came to its normal upright position. The Mexican had heard the train.

Hank looked at him, and saw that Rico cradled his Winchester rifle across his lap. The weapon was loaded, no doubt. Rico was sitting restfully, his eyes on the door to the station. The Mexican's dark complexity shielded him a little better to the harsh sun than Gary and Hank's Pilgrim white, yet he chose to stay in the cooler shade of the saloon's porch.

Rico looked at Hank and nodded once, before bringing up a burly hand to wipe the thick but well-trimmed beard at his chin. He looked about ready for a fight.

"Well, that bastard finally woke up. Just about time if you ask me," Gary quipped from Hank's side. He dusted off his jacket, and wiped his holster clean with an old handkerchief that had definitely seen better days. "How come he got to sit in the shade?"

"Shut up, Gary. Now's not the time."

The gunman shut his mouth and checked to see that his weapon was clear in its holster.

It would be a few minutes yet before their target stepped off the train, but it was always better to prepare early. Hank did the same, first drawing the Colt at his side, and then letting it slip back into its leather cradle before pulling it out again, this time to make sure it had a full compliment of ammunition.

Six bullets, one to kill a man.

Satisfied that the weapon was fully loaded, Hank slid it back into its holster. At a time like this he would have preferred to do a complete overhaul on the gun, stripping it and cleaning it, making sure it was well oiled, before carefully putting it back together. Then he'd take it out back and give it a few warm up shots, preferably at some empty bottles, just to get his eye in.

Then he'd be ready.

No time for that, cowboy he thought miserably. Just aim and hope yours hits before his does.

Gary was making a thorough job of it, though. The man had removed all the bullets, and was sliding them back into the weapon one at a time, checking the tip of each bullet. His eyes glanced up occasionally from what he was doing towards the station door.

From out in the countryside, a dark blotch appeared through the heat haze. Trailing it, high in the air, was a much larger white haze. All three men turned to watch the blob dissolve into form, right until they could clearly make out the shape and design of the steam engine in front, its compliment of coaches trailing behind it. The locomotive was about to arrive.

Hank turned to watch Rico. The dark man still sat quietly in the rocking chair, his Winchester across his lap, his eyes like stone, focused intently on the train rolling into the station. Presently his hand disappeared into his long coat before emerging again, this time bearing a dull silver flask. He flipped the cap off and brought the flask to his mouth, taking a quick swig from whatever was inside. With deliberate patience, the man recapped his drink and tucked it gently into the inner pocket of his duster.

The wind kicked up another gust just as the train blew its horn to signal to those already not aware of its presence that it was just about to arrive. Great plumes of white steam rose from the engine as the train began to slow, coming to the end of its long trek across the desert. The grinding of its bare steel wheels on the track became even more audible now that the machine neared, and finally disappeared from view behind the bulk of the station.

All of a sudden, life came back to the deathly silent town. Where once there had only been the occasional pedestrian in the street, now a kaleidoscope of people spilled out from the dull wooden buildings into the harsh desert sun.

Somewhere, a door opened. Voices could be heard from inside the saloon, kids from further up the street spilled out into the daylight from the buildings and sprinted up to the station, eager to see what the train had brought to the town. Shop owners, wholesalers, even common folk seemed to appear from nowhere, clutching at baskets or trolleys. Most of them were making their way to the side entrance of the station, going out fetch the produce and goods that they had ordered.

"Wait," Hank called out to his companions. There were too many people now. Children ran in front of the men, playing in the dusty street. A dog appeared from nowhere and trotted up alongside Gary, sniffing inquisitively at the man's boots, before lifting its leg to the water trough that was serving as Gary's chair.

Gary watched the dog with some disgust as the beast finished its business. It then swiveled around for another sniff at its surroundings, before ambling off to wherever it had come from.

Hank retreated back into the shade of the wholesale store, leaning against the wooden beam.

The train came to a final stop as the whistle bellowed, calling for present passengers to depart, and for future passengers to begin boarding. The station door banged open as people began to stream in and out, going about their business. From somewhere up street, a cart pulled by two mares rolled into view. Driven by an old man that looked like he belonged in the Ark, the rickety old thing made its way past the mob of people, before stopping at the service entrance. Almost immediately, Indian slaves began to fill the thing up with sacks of what Hank guessed to be maize.

Busy for such an out of the way place.

A tall fellow came out of the saloon and tried to start up a conversation with Rico. He said that if Rico felt the urge, then he knew just the whore for him. She was upstairs in the second room to the right, just past the old potted plant that had last seen proper water in the dark ages. If Rico was willing, this man would sell her to him for half the current rate. His smile showed a jaw that had misplaced half of its teeth over the years. Rico did nothing, said nothing. He only stared straight ahead, his eyes fixed at the station. The man tried again, this time clearing his throat a little testily, just to emphasize that this really was a good deal. As he opened his mouth, Rico's hands moved faster than thought. The man gagged and nearly swallowed the barrel that was now in his mouth.

The Mexican cocked the rifle, and turned his head slowly to stare the man squarely in the eyes.

He got the message.

Without a word, he stepped back slowly, never turning his back to the man in the chair. Slowly, with well-timed steps, he retreated through the doorway, back into the dark recesses of the saloon.

The Mexican returned his gaze to the street, nodding to Hank.

"Dammit, now wouldn't that have caused a mess."

Hank turned to see Gary, arms folded, scolding the Mexican with his frown. Hank sucked up a ball of phlegm into his mouth and spat it out into the dirt at his feet.

Passengers began to step out of the station, their luggage collected. They stood around looking for a lift, or they went off immediately in a direction, eager to be to their destination. Well-dressed gentlemen in bowler hats, sporting spectacles and cigars, escorted fine ladies off the station platform into waiting carriages to be driven to the surrounding farmsteads or towns. Money seemed to be a-plenty, and the fine people seemed more than eager to flaunt it as much as they could. Fine coats and frilly dresses, silken scarves and white cotton umbrellas seemed so at odds with the down beaten townsfolk and barren land. This was an unforgiving frontier, meant for hard men with little cares in life. Not for the cream of society.

"Damned rich folk, don't know what's waiting for them." Hank spat again into the ground, this time, not to clear his mouth.

"You think after this is done, we can follow one of these carriages out of here? Stop them along the way and see how deep those pockets go?" Gary was smiling greedily from where he sat. His eyes spotted a young woman boarding a fine paneled coach, her husband helping her in, before loading the luggage on to the top. Gary's eyes betrayed his feelings. "Always wanted to see a high-class lady naked, always wanted to feel how she'd fit in under me."

He cackled a coarse laugh, filled to the brim with vulgar intention. Hank smiled back at his companion before looking at the fine specimen Gary had chosen for himself. She had a firm, lithe body with beautiful long brown hair that streamed past her shoulders. He licked his lips at the prospect, "Not before me, old boy. Not before me."

Gary spilled laughter into the windy air, his lecherous thoughts temporarily replaced by humor.

The two men watched the coach rattle past them. The woman looked out the window just as they passed by, and Gary blew her a kiss, before sticking out his yellow tongue at the beauty. The innocent face disappeared behind a flimsy curtain before Gary could show her any more, and dust enveloped the two men. Hank coughed once, and turned his gaze to the station, but Gary's eyes lingered a little longer. "Gonna find you soon, little darlin'."


"Nothing, man."

There seemed to be no passengers left on the station porch. All that was left were the last of the slaves and porters, finishing up their duties and getting ready to board. It had all happened so fast. What needed to be loaded had been done in a matter of minutes, and all the supplies that the train carried, seemed to be already on its way out of town, in a cart or on horseback.

As quickly as they had appeared, the people of Blackwater faded back into the woodwork.

Hank cast his gaze to Rico, who was now out his chair and standing, the rifle raised and ready to fire. The Mexican seemed to have found a little angst.

"You seen him?" Hank called out.

The Mexican shook his head. He moved steadily to the steps, his sight never leaving the building in front of him, his gun never lowering. Slowly, he joined his two companions on the street, though he stood a little distance off to Hank's right. Hank himself now moved from the shade of the wholesale store out into the street, his hand on the butt of his Colt. Gary had also stood up, and was moving off a little to the left, his hands also near the comforting weight of his weapon.

They were well spread now, Rico on the right, in front of the Dusty Bowl saloon, Hank in the center, in the middle of main street which ran perpendicular to the station, and Gary off to Hank's left, also in the middle of a street than ran in the direction that the train was about to move in.

The three men stood poised, ready.

What little people were left in the street, caught sight of the movement around the station, and began to head for cover. Shootouts were not uncommon this far from civilization. This was the land of the outlaw, a land that lawmen were trying to tame furiously. Most of the time, those two forces found themselves on the opposite ends of bared barrels, usually in a little train station town like this. These people surely would have witnessed something like this before.

They scanned the surrounds once more, and fanned out a little more. Silence ruled like an invisible god among the streets, and even the locomotive had gone silent. There was no movement, not up street, nor down at the station. The gunmen stood, waiting.

In the distance, a crow cried.

Almost in response, a coarse, gruff voice yelled at the top of its volume, "All aboard!"

A whistle blew and like a giant creature coming to life, the train hissed and puffed as the steam fired up again, and the wheels slowly began to turn. Filled with new cargo, passengers and a new destination, the train began to move. Slowly, but surely, with great thudding pistons echoing out over the flat land, the beast hissed steam and gathered momentum until it began to roll over the tracks, gaining speed until its long body passed the small station, on its way into the horizon.

And just like that, the train was gone.

The three men stood unmoved in the street. Had they missed him? No, surely Rico, whose eyes had never left the station door, would have seen him come out. No, that couldn't be.

"We never checked the boarding platform, maybe he's still there." Gary's voice sounded louder than it actually was. The silence was unnerving.

"Good thinking, Gary. Why don't you go check for us?" Hank replied quietly.

The other man shot him a glance filled with pure venom. If they had been anywhere else, Hank would have burst out laughing.

After a moment, Gary opened his mouth. "Hank?"


"I'm not sure about this, but has Rico ever seen him? I don't think he has, man. He was up in jail when this bastard started following us round the place."

Hank stared at Gary. The other man shrugged his shoulders in the windy air and frowned a questioning face. The realization hit Hank like a sudden bout of windless ness, knocking the strength from his knees.

Gary was right, Rico had never seen Blue. He could have disguised himself and slipped right past them while Hank and Gary had been goading over that fair lady a little while back. Rico surely would never have noticed him if he didn't know what to look for. And Blue was real clever.

"Shit," Hank breathed. He looked over to Gary. "You think he coulda got past?"

"Man, look at the time on that watch. Ain't no way he's just waiting out there on the platform. And we can pretty much see inside the station before he can see out." He stepped closer to Hank, "Boy, I think he go past us."

The clock read ten to one. Sure as hell, the train had arrived forty minutes earlier, and it wouldn't have taken him long to disembark. Hell, forty minutes was more than enough time for a man like Blue to come up with a plan for evading them.

Still . . . 

"I don't know," Hank continued. It could have happened that way, but what if they had been wrong altogether. What if Deacon's little budgie had lied to him? What if Blue had not decided to stop here, but at Glory half a day to the east? Then he could have hired a horse and chosen any number of routes out here to Blackwater.

If he was still alive, of course

Rico himself seemed to have eased off on his weapon. The Mexican had been in jail when they'd picked up Blue back east, some six months ago. He'd only rejoined the gang in the last month, after their last encounter with Blue. It could have happened that he missed the man while the passengers were moving on and off the train. Hell, it probably did.

"To hell with this," Hank waved at thin air. He called Gary over, and Rico came up as well.

"We ain't got no time for this. Maybe he got by, maybe he didn't. In the end, if he's alive, he's gonna still come to us. We just gotta be prepared, s'all."

"What about Deacon? What we say to him when he asks us?"

"Well, Gary my boy, we'll just tell him Blue never showed up. We tell him we waited till sundown, and nothing happened. Figured he jumped train somewhere east and decided to beat it in on horseback." Hank looked at his companions in the eye. They returned the stare.

"Besides," he added, "We know what they're up to back there. You want to miss out on that?"

Gary replied faster than a speeding bullet. "Hell no, been waiting for something like that my whole life." His eyes did not lie.

Rico didn't have to say anything. His smirk and his gaze told the same story.

"Then it's settled. We head back now."

Hank clapped his men on the shoulders, and they turned back towards where they had stowed the horses. As they began to walk back up the street, a voice from the depths of hell, cold with certainty, and fiery with confidence shouted loudly from behind them.

"I Thought Deacon would have sent Frank or Linus. Someone who would at least have a fair chance of survivin'."

As one man, they turned to face the source of that voice.

He was dressed like no other man Hank had ever seen. From the hat on his head all the way down to the soles of his dusty boots, the man wore black, nothing else. His belt and holsters were a faded brown, just about the only deviation. He had a close cut beard that trailed his jaw line and expanded to include his chin and lower lip, and his hair could be seen rustling in the wind around his ears.

He had a long black jacket that fit closely to his body and ended around his knees. Presently he was carrying a sling bag over one shoulder and another small case in his other hand.

The three gunmen fanned out again, slowly taking up their previous positions. The man at the platform slowly laid down his possessions on the wooden boards at his feet, and stepped off onto the barren street floor.

"You're supposed to be dead." Gary called from Hank's left.

The man stood calmly and smiled slightly at Gary's remark, his hand gently sliding the coat around the gun nestled at his side. He stood absolutely still, only his eyes moving from side to side.

To Hank's right came the too-loud sound of Rico cocking his rifle. The Mexican brought the barrel down to bear on the dark-clad stranger. They were now fanned out completely, all armed and ready to do what they had come to do.

"Who's the new one?" came the stranger's voice from under the black hat. His eyes were fixed solidly on Rico.

"He ain't new; Rico's been part of the gang for a long time. Just that he's been holed up in jail for the last year or so." Hank spoke loudly, filling himself with anger and confidence as his voice boomed out over the desolate town. "What was it again? Robbing a bank on the border, and violating a lady's honor? Am I right?"

Rico smiled for the first time, and nodded as he did so, showing a hideous gap in his bottom set of front teeth. Hank smiled too, feeling their chances grow by the second. This one was fast, but not fast enough to stop three of them. "Yeah," he finished, "Rico was always one for the ladies."

Gary chuckled slyly, his hands having found their way towards the gun at his side. He too, seemed to have realized that the numbers game was beginning to play into their hands.

The stranger cast his eyes over to Gary, his face a mask of stone. He then moved to Hank, and for a crazy second Hank thought it was all over, that they were dead, that this ghost had come and gone already. The moment passed, as the stranger turned his stare to Rico.

Gary spoke in the bustling wind, his confidence bursting at its seams. "Hey boy! Why don't we play a game? How about—"

A gunshot rang out over the scene. The sound exploded in Hank's ears, and for a moment he was frozen in an uncommon panic. Gary stood stunned, his eyes wide and fearful.

Rico was dead before his head hit the ground. The outlaw's blood began to mingle with the desert sand, his Winchester tossed behind him from the sudden force of death.

Hank had been looking at the stranger all the time. He had probably seen him draw his weapon, just hadn't realized what was happening. He had been way too fast.

Gary shocked out of his momentary frozen state, and pulled his gun. Another loud bang echoed through the street, and another. Gary dropped to the floor, two holes in his chest. Hank looked straight into his old friend's eyes, just as the life left them. He saw complete and utter darkness.

Gary fell forward and hit the bare street, face first, uttering his last breath.

All alone now, Hank brought his face up to look at the stranger. He hadn't moved at all, not shifted his stance once, and only his gun had talked. Those dark eyes stared into Hank's skull, much like Deacon's.

"Didn't like your new pal very much," the stranger motioned to the now cold form of Rico. He then pointed at Gary. "Maybe he would have lived a little longer if he shut his mouth."

Hank, seething with hatred and anger, slowly began to circle around towards the other street, the one in which Gary had stood. His slow steps brought him past the body of his old friend, and Hank paused to look down. There was a spreading pool of blood underneath the fallen man. The blood didn't get that far, though. The thirsty sand soaked up the moisture faster than it could flow, and before too long all that would be left would be a brown patch.

The stranger had also begun to circle to face Hank, his steps taking him closer to where Rico lay.

Hank vaguely noticed the extreme warmth of the high sun on the back of his neck. He also felt a hot wind gusting around him, blowing up dust. He was sweating, but not from the heat.

He now stood in the middle of the street that ran parallel to the station, with Gary's dead body about six paces to his right. Roughly twenty yards in front of him stood the stranger they called Blue, his hands resting peacefully at his side. Rico's body was less than two steps from the stranger, and for a second Hank hoped the Mexican wasn't dead, hoped that as the stranger drew his gun, Rico would reach up and grab the hand, distracting the stranger, opening the chance for Hank's shot to be the first, and only one.

You're alone now, no one to help you.

The wind whistled at his feet, and somewhere the rusty windmill continued to squeak in the harsh heat of the day. Hank stood ready, his gun free in its holster, and his hand as nimble as could be.

The stranger stood solemnly, his hands straddling the holster of his gun, his eyes staring deep into Hank's. Hank tried hard not to focus on the stranger's eyes; rather to focus on the center of his chest, just under the top button of his shirt, right in the spot where he'd put a bullet if he got half a chance.

"Hank," the stranger's voice was calm, almost reassuring. "Tell me where Deacon's at."

Despite his fear, Hank managed a harsh laugh. "You really think I'll do that? Help you while you shoot me in the chest?" he barked another laugh, this one filled with bitterness.

"There's no reason not to tell me. Even if I get out of here, there's still seven of his men."

"You're damn right, you son of a bitch!" Hank spat all the fury he could muster as he shouted the words, and drew his gun to fire even as he spoke, hoping to catch the stranger off guard.

He pressed the trigger, and felt an invisible fist slam into his shoulder with enough power to take him off his feet. Hank twisted around, feeling his shot go astray and his shoulder disintegrate at the same time. The ground came up fast, and Hank slammed into it real hard. Feeling the wind knocked out of him, Hank choked on dust, and coughed.

He'd been hit. The bullet had got him in his right shoulder, and he felt wetness there. He also tasted iron in his mouth, and knew that the bullet had probably nicked his lung. As he lay there, contemplating the fatality of the wound, the pain which had been strangely absent, came back with full force. He rocked onto his back and gasped as the pain seared through the right side of his chest. He tried to cough, and this time he felt blood fill his mouth instead of spit. The pain made him grimace, and he brought his left hand up to inspect the shoulder.

The stranger stood above him.

Now he knew why they called him Blue. Those eyes were filled with pale blue. There was no smile on his lips, and his eyes showed no remorse at Hank's agony. His gun was pointed straight at Hank's forehead.

"Tell me where Deacon is, and I'll end the pain."

Hank spat blood at him, and tried to kick him. Blue blocked his kick easily with his foot, and returned Hank's effort with one of his own, driving his foot home into Hank's groin.

The wounded man tried to gasp air, but his chest was failing. He tried to sit up, and Blue kicked him hard in his stomach. He fell back hard on his back, and this time a wail of agony escaped his mouth. He tried to massage his privates with his unharmed hand, but nothing seemed to dull the pain. He distinctly became aware of eyes on him. The townsfolk were peeping out of their windows and from behind their doors, their curiosity unchecked.

Blue put a heel sharply down on his stomach. "Tell me, I'm not going to ask again."

Hank tried to muster himself. "What for, huh? I won't go back on Deacon. You're wasting your time, cowboy."

Those eyes showed no emotion, no feeling. His face betrayed no thoughts. He calmly stared at the broken man in front of him, patient, waiting.

What did Deacon do to this man?

Hank felt his breath beginning to wheeze, and his energy beginning to sap. His blood was spilling into the dust, much like his two companions. He'd be joining them soon.

"You know," Hank spoke softly, the energy in his voice gone. "I don't think I ever met someone quite as cold as you, you know that? Apart from Deacon, of course." He turned his head, and spat a huge wad of blood that had collected in his mouth. His lips were stained red. "I really hope that man puts a hole in your damn heart."

Blue smiled slightly. "Tell me where he is, so that I can give him the chance."

Hank tried to raise himself up to one elbow, failed, and didn't try again. The pain was threatening to overwhelm him. "Two days to the northwest, little town called Canyon Falls. Nice place. Trees and grass, you know?"

Blue nodded once, his eyes searching deep into Hank's. Hank smiled faintly, despite the pain.

"Hope that man puts a bullet in you."

As Hank watched the barrel flare, his last thoughts were of what he'd seen in Deacon's dead eyes two nights ago, the sight which had haunted him all the way here. Fear, it was fear.

Before the blackness descended, Deacon's final words echoed through Hank's soon-to-be shattered skull.

Don't fail me now.

The End

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