The saloon flowed with drink and chatter. Wenches and booze, all that is good in the world, was sat next to all that was bad. About every other man here had a price on his head. Most were wanted dead or alive, but it was always a quieter trip back if I didn’t give them the latter option.
“Gimme ‘nother drink!” I heard a rambunctious older gentleman call out to the bartender. He sat alone at the bar, his hat tipped over his eyes with an empty shot glass in front of him. The man was armed, I could tell, whiskey dripping from his brown whiskers. Usually, that wasn’t a good combination.
“I don’t know if that’d be wise, sir. You’re getting to be a bit unbalanced as it were. I don’t want to have to get the Sheriff in here to drag you out,” the bartender said. It was an empty threat. At 3 in the afternoon, the Sheriff was probably lost in a bottle of his own.
“Listen barkeep, even when it’s full, the glass is half empty. And it’s only gonna keep gettin’-hic- emptier. So serve up ‘nother shot, and least this one’ll run dry on my own terms,” the man slapped a hand down on the counter.
I smiled. This man had it right. I rolled open the wanted poster I’d tucked away in my coat. A sketch of a rugged face with a twisted smile looked up at me from the paper. Bullet-face Benjy. I heard he’d got the name from taking a shot through his face from a prostitute he thought better of paying. The bullet went clean through his cheeks leaving a permanent hole you could stick a finger through. The reward on his head was $500 dead; he’d become known around these parts as a rapist and a looter. I always thought it funny in this business, how the value of a man’s life seemed to go up the worse his deeds were.
These thoughts took a backseat to the present though, as I heard yelling coming from outside. I knew he’d show himself in this town sooner rather than later. Men like him don’t stay quiet long.
A body flew through the saloon doors and the lively chatter fell into a funerary hush. The doors creaked, as they swung in and out, and another man entered. I tickled the side of my holster, waiting to see what would happen. Waiting was a big part of the game.
“You’re gonna be sorry, mister. Think you can just gawk at a feller like that? What you think, I’m som’in’ at one of ‘em museums,” said the man who looked like the Bullet-face Benjy on my contract. It was him, unless a bullet hole in the sides of both cheeks was some new city fashion.
“You… pig! You’ve ruined my only daughter,” cried the bespectacled man who’d been thrown to the floor.
“Oh, so you’re the bitch’s father. Ways I see it, I did her a favour. Showed her a good time. Let her lie front ways so’s she could look ‘pon my pretty face.” Benjy’s posse entered from behind and hooted at his statement. Benjy spat on the floor by his victim’s feet, “What say you boys, should I poke him full o’ holes too?” He drew his pistol out. I placed a hand on mine.
“Y’shaddup! Yer ruinin’ the liquor!” the old drunk, now drunker, yelled without turning away from the bar.
“What you say, old man? You ain’t got long for a coffin. Why you eager to speed your way there?” Benjy turned his gun on the old man’s back. The gun’s hammer was peeled back and ready.
BANG! Benjy was blown away as a still-smoking fresh hole appeared in the old man’s coat. The saloon erupted in panic. All the women fled into the rooms, and the men drew their pistols. Half aimed at Benjy and half at the old man. I still sat there, waiting. A room full of drunks and drawn guns, it was the kind of scene you watch before you paint yourself into it.
“The summabitch shot me! Why y’all standing ‘round? Gittem!” Benjy said from the ground, now with a bullet-hole in his chest to match the one in his face. Nobody quite knew how to react with so many barrels facing them; but the old man, I couldn’t tell. It’s hard to read a man from his back, though the irony is that’s the most vulnerable part of him.
It must’ve been a good ten seconds. I was about to get up to kill the uneasy tension when I heard a shot ring out and hit the liquor case behind the bar, spraying shards of glass and alcohol onto the floor.
“You -hic- wasteful…” the old man got up, unaffected by the shot that was an inch away from taking his life.
Everyone started firing and men started dropping. The old man kicked tables over as he let bullets fly from the barrel of his gun. Shots exploded in the air. Debris and smoke made it hard to see, but I could. I knew each of the old feller’s shots found their way into someone’s chest by the number of bodies that rolled onto the floor. He dove behind the fallen tables for cover, and I slid behind the side of the bar. I shot a man who had his gun pointed at me. I didn’t plan on getting involved. The logic of a firefight was the fewer guns were pointed anywhere, the better your chances of walking away alive.
The old man looked to me; we were the only ones holed up near the bar, and we exchanged a glance and a nod of truce. He took a swig before rolling me a bottle of absinthe. I had to say I admired his creativity; he was a gunslinger who knew more than how to pull a trigger. I tossed the bottle over the counter and fired a shot that sent a spray of fire at our enemies, who shut their eyes and flailed about to put out the flames. It was a good enough distraction. The two of us rolled out from cover, barrels loaded with lead, and sprayed bullets at anyone with a gun pointed our way.
Once the smoke settled, the old man and I were the only ones left standing. I looked around to survey the destruction, and had to pity the owner of the saloon. The once-decent establishment was painted a fresh new coat of red. The old man was something though, to be able to shoot like that as drunk as he was. There was no way. He must’ve put on a show to throw everyone’s guard. Nobody ever took a drunk seriously in a gunfight. I turned around to ask him his name, and found him on the ground throwing up into his hat.
It was then I recognized him from wanted posters once plastered all over my hometown when I was a kid, though he was a little grayer around the ears. The man wiping throw-up off his chin before me was once called The Loaded Gun— an outlaw that held a bounty of $5000, last I remember, infamous for drinking more shots than he fired— the boozehound who never missed.