by Jonathan Peace
Smoke, grey and blue, drifted like low cloud through the saloon. It hung in the air, clinging to the soiled doves as they wandered amongst the tables, looking for their next jump. Over in the corner, Longtall Billy pounded the piano, his stumped fingers jarring the keys while his club foot thumped the sawdust covered boards out of time.
No one was listening. All eyes were on the game. In truth, all eyes were on the stranger, hidden behind weather-worn boots that rested on the table. A ring of smoke blew out, followed by a dry, racking cough.
“Damn but that tastes like crap,” he said in a voice like crushed gravel. A god-awful sound like quicksand in reverse and a glob of spit flew through the air. It landed in the spittoon with a ringing metallic clang, nearly knocking the urn over with its power.
“Ain’t supposed to be selling that rolling-weed crap.” He spat again, this time on the floor right beside him. The sawdust sucked it up. “Fetch me my bag,” he said to the nearest soiled Dove.
“I ain’t yours to bark around until you throw some coins my way, lovie,” she said, giving her skirts a flick. A few people nearby laughed.
The Stranger parted his boots, revealing his face. A long scar ran down one pockmarked cheek. His eyes were dark pools of jade. They burned with a cold anger. He flicked a silver coin at her. It hit her on the forehead hard enough to leave a red mark.
No one had seen his hand move.
“Quit your yapping and do what I say. Bags. Now.”
She got them.
He sent her on the way with a slap to her shapely rear.
“Is that it?” she asked.
His opponent, a large prospector from Chicago Town slammed his meaty fist into the table. The whisky bottle rocked back and forth but managed to not topple over. “Are you gonna yap all day Stranger, or you gonna play your damn hand?”
The Stranger gave a wry smile. Reached into his saddlebag.
The Prospector had a gun in his hand and a grimace on his weathered face. “You ain’t wanna be reaching in there. Take your hand out. Real slow like.”
“Slow. Real slow.”
The Stranger smiled. “So you don’t want me to do this…”
One second his hand was in the bag. The next a thunderclap rattled the glasses behind the bar as the bag exploded in flame and smoke.
The Prospector’s shirt burst into flame as a giant crater of blood exploded outward. He flew back, the chair crashing into three townsfolk behind.
A moment of silence filled the saloon.
Crazed looks left. Scared looks right.
“He shot Bob.”
All hell broke loose.
A dozen hands drew a dozen guns. The Stranger leapt to his left, knocking over the table and rolling beneath it as a cannonade of gunfire erupted. Wood flew in thousands of splinters as chairs, tables and the bar erupted in hundreds of miniature craters. It was a deafening thunderclap of noise: a booming explosion that rolled over and over, each new pistol shot adding to the cacophony.
The Stranger pushed the table aside and rolled left. Each time he came up he fired. Each time he fired he hit his target. Aged pistols were blasted from older hands, their barrels twisted by his accurate shot.
“Shoot him. Shoot the bastard!”
The cry came from the left.
“He’s going for the door.”
The Stranger ducked. Hid behind an overturned table.
Why the hell are the blasting at me? What did I do?
“I didn’t do anything!” he shouted.
His voice was drowned out by a dozen gun blasts that blew splinters from the bar, the floor, the walls and the table behind which he lay.
“Jesus!” he cried as a splinter ripped his cheek open in a red slice. “Screw this!”
Taking a deep breath, the Stranger jumped to his feet and ran to the window. Glasses blew into fragments around him as he ran; chairs became nothing more than kindling as a dozen townsfolk opened fire, blasting rifle and pistol at his fleeing form. The piano player tried to get out of the way, but only succeeded in getting blow aside, his chest a red stain that spread like wildfire.
The Stranger never noticed. He ran for the window. At the last moment he ducked his head, throwing his arms bout him as he dove forward.
A woman was walking her dog as he came hurtling out, bullets flying overhead. He hit the ground hard, rolled and was on his feet in a moment.
The doors to the saloon crashed open. Seven men dashed out, one falling over his own feet to fall to the ground, rolling down the steps to land in the mud.
The Stranger stood there, coat thrown open, guns in hand.
Thunder roared; hot lead flew and a dozen heartbeats later seven men lay dead in the dirt.
He stepped over their bodies, guns snug once more beneath his coat.
“Just wanted to play cards,” he said as he walked away into the falling rain.
No one dare stop him.