I’m working on a 1,000 word short story for a cool event I’ll tell you about later. This is about double what I need, 2,11o words or so, but it was too much fun to write not to share here.
They say you never forget the first time you kill a man. That may be for some folks. But all I can remember that day is the way Daddy looked at me, like a man without any fear. Like a man who knew he was going to live.
Daddy was down on the ground, up off one knee, his other leg kicked out behind him. Two big men held his arms behind his back. It pulled his shirt and the silver star sideways on his broad chest. The old rock wall was behind them. Two more men stood beside the big ones, Colts drawn. They each looked at me.
“Well, now,” the oldest, biggest, ugliest one spoke first, looking at Daddy. “Sheriff Rip Crowley. Looks like we’s the ones got the drop on you this time.”
The other men laughed. One spit black chaw towards the wall behind him.
“And Sheriff,” the big one said. “We’ll even do you one better than you did our brother. That’s right. We’re gonna let you see it comin’.” He grinned as the other boys laughed and looked at me.
I didn’t move.
# # # #
Daddy had come to Fox Osage, in the Ozark foothills, after my sister, Stella, was born and Momma died. He’d served in the war. Wrote to Momma every day. Didn’t seem fair that she’d die less than a year after he’d come home.
Daddy’s told me he didn’t plan on staying in Fox Osage, out here by the lake. But when we got there, the town Sheriff had just died, and Preacher Gillam and Hubert O’Connelly, who runs the bar in town, convinced him to stay on and try it out. Just for awhile. He’s been Sheriff here ten years now.
# # # #
“Boy,” the old, ugly one said, drawing his pistol out of its holster. “Come here.”
I didn’t move. I noticed Daddy didn’t move, either.
The older one released the cylinder and spun it once. Then he tipped it back, emptying the six chambers of the cylinder. Then he let one shimmering, gold bullet in between his black-dirty thumb and forefinger, and loaded one chamber.
It was a short-barrelled Colt, I could tell.
I still didn’t move.
“Boy!” he yelled. “Come here, I said!”
I only flinched a little. Don’t know why, but then I thought of Stella, and hoped she was still hiding in the cupboard. No matter what, I hoped she’d stay hidden.
As I took my first step towards the man, and my father, he flipped the chamber back in with a loud click. I felt my face flinch, and they laughed once more.
# # # #
Most of what Daddy does is go down to O’Connelly’s and break up the drunks. He sometimes puts one or two in a cell overnight. But except for a couple of years ago, I don’t believe he’s ever seen any real crime in Fox Osage.
There were five of them, rough, hard. Dusty bandanas around their faces, Winchester rifles at their shoulders, guns strapped at their sides, empty bags for the money. They robbed the bank, killed one of the tellers, and probably would have gotten away. But someone had called after Daddy, and he stood outside the doors of that old bank, in the dusty road, just waiting.
The first one to come out tried to raise his rifle one-handed, the other hand holding the money, and Daddy drew fast. The bullet from Daddy’s old Colt .45 went straight through his chest, came out the other side, and nicked one of the other men in the right arm.
The standoff didn’t last long. Daddy had a couple of deputies sneak through the back, and got the drop on those boys.
I remember watching them get put in the wagon after the judge found them guilty. Never forget those faces.
And here they were again, escaped, I figured. Ready to take revenge on the man who put them away.
# # # #
“Now boy,” said the old one. “Here’s what you gonna do. You gonna take this gun, and you either gonna shoot your Daddy right in the head, or you gonna shoot one of us.”
At this, the men laughed. My father still hadn’t moved. And he hadn’t taken his eyes off me.
“Thing is, boy, you shoot one of us, yeah sure, son. Maybe me. Maybe Vern, here. Maybe Reg, maybe Tom-bone, there. You get one of us, well good on you, boy. But I tell you this. You do that, the rest of the three will gun your old man, here, down fast. Then you.”
I saw him hesitate, his eyes flicker.
“And then those of us whose left go in that house there and find that little girl.”
“You goddam son of a bitch!” I grabbed the revolver out of his hand and pointed it at his head, cocked the hammer back.
Daddy yelled. “No, Jeremiah, don’t!” And the four men laughed and laughed.
“That’s good boy, that’s good!” the old one said again. “That’s real good. You go ahead and kill me. Go on. Go on! Do it!”
I waited, keeping the gun level, beaded right between his eyes.
“But you do that, boy, I think ol’ Vern, there,” he nodded to the other man with the drawn revolver at the far left end, “I think he’ll plug you first. Then your daddy.”
The one he identified as Vern smiled a sick, black smile, tobacco juice dripping through his wretched teeth. He spit again.
“You so little of a man, you’re going to make me kill my own Daddy?” I asked, as I slowly lowered the gun to my side. I kept my eyes locked on the tall, old man.
“Boy, I spent two years too many behind bars. And when I wasn’t behind bars, we were in those cotton fields… for nothin’.”
I’d heard the stories. Daddy had told me. Arkansas leased its prisoners to farmers, factories. He had told me what some of those men do to the prisoners, and sometimes I still don’t sleep thinking about it.
The next part would be tricky.
“You… gonna make me kill my own Daddy?” I asked, and this time it wasn’t hard to bring the emotion up in my throat. I felt my heart race.
“Boy, I’m gonna give you about thirty seconds. You don’t do it by then, we’ll get the job done for you.”
The old man sneered at me, but the laughter from the other men had faded.
The sun was getting low in the sky, and a cool breeze came off the lake. Night was always quiet in Fox Osage, but Daddy always took an evening shift a few nights a week. Tonight, he was leaving me with Stella, like he often did, and was headed out to walk the quiet streets of Fox Osage.
Daddy was dressed for work, his old Stetson cocked over the side of his face just a bit, his blue shirt, the badge over his left breast pocket, those wrinkled chinos, the black boots scuffing in the dust and dirt behind him.
The cherry-handled Colt Peacemaker nearly gleamed on his hip. He’d had it as long as I could remember, longer than I’d been alive.
“You gonna make me kill my own Daddy,” I said. Now I was crying, but I knew I’d need to keep it together. I started to turn, turned almost all the way with my back to them.
“Stop it now, boy! You got about fifteen seconds, or we just do this thing ourselves!”
I heard Vern pull the hammer back with a click-click on his own gun. The two big boys holding Daddy’s arms behind him were getting antsy, could see them shuffling and dancing a bit in anticipation.
I knew what was next. I took a deep breath in, clicked the cylinder around one click, holding it close to my belly. They couldn’t hear it, or see me do it.
I turned fast to the old man.
“If I gotta kill my own Daddy,” I said. “Then I want to use his gun.”
None of them moved.
This would be it. It would have to work.
The old man was thinking, the other three looking at him, then me, slowly.
“He’s had that gun since before I was born. It’s only right he die by it.”
I tried not to look at Daddy, who hadn’t moved a muscle since the big boys had knocked him to his knees on the dirt by the old wall. I didn’t think I’d be able to do any of it if I did.
I didn’t move.
Finally, in the quiet, after we could hear the water in the lake down the hill from us, the crows cawing in the distance, the wind through the pine, the old, ugly man spoke.
“Come here, boy.”
I waited just a breath, then took my steps, confident as I could make them, to the old man.
Without another word, he reached over and pulled Daddy’s gun from the holster, flipped it, and held it just over my head.
I held his revolver in my hand, pointed down, for him to take.
With his left, he took his gun back. With his right, he handed me Daddy’s Peacemaker. Nothing ever felt so heavy in all my life.
“Six paces, boy. And when you get done, you best turn around and shoot. Or we’ll do it for you. Go on, now.”
“One,” the old man counted my first step.
…and cocked the hammer of the Colt…
…feeling the cool wood handle in my hand.
I knew it was too big for me, but I also knew how to shoot it.
Me and Daddy, we had practiced.
Daddy said the first rule of a shoot-out is, make sure to get the fastest one first. Mark him, aim, breathe out, hold steady, then shoot.
I turned and had the Colt in both hands, steady, let my breath out, and shot Vern right in the head. That was the first man I ever killed. His head ripped back, and he flew off his feet, landed sprawled on his back by the old stone wall.
I shot the man next to him, the one holding Daddy’s right arm, in the face, and he spun, blood flying all around. He stumbled and then fell against the stone wall.
The third man still had Daddy’s left arm up behind him, but he was reaching for the pistol strapped to his wait. I shot him and it hit him in the neck. His eyes bulged and he made a sound I still hear some times in the night, when I’m alone and frightened.
I’d forgotten to breathe. That was important, Daddy had told me. Don’t go too fast, don’t get shaky, don’t forget to breathe.
Then another shot, this time in his chest because he was moving, and I didn’t want to miss. His left hand abandoned his gun, and went to his heart as he stumbled back and fell behind the wall, his boots still sticking up over it as he crashed back.
Finally, there was the old man, looking surprised. Looking mad.
His gun was up, pointed at me.
He was going to be the fastest, that I knew from the very beginning. But he’d unloaded the damn thing himself.
What I had not done was count how many dry fires he’d gotten off. I had been too focused on killing Vern and the two other men.
I blinked, and moved the gun to him. He was so mad, a vein popped out at his temple, and his cheeks were red. I pulled the Colt up and then remembered I needed to breathe…
“Five!” Daddy yelled, louder than I’d ever heard him yell. He was getting up off his knees, but still a step or two away from the old man.
Five, his next fire would hit the one bullet in the chamber.
I pulled the trigger, twice, and fired the last two bullets into the old man, and his arms flung to the air, firing that one last shot into Heaven. He danced a dead man’s dance back, falling behind the wall like his brother.
Daddy stood, and after we looked at each other for what seemed like eternity, we loaded those bodies in a wagon and brought them down to Fox Osage for burying.
Though sometimes I still think about the way he looked at me when those men had him down, Daddy and I never spoke of it again.
© 2017 by Benjamin J. Kirby
All rights reserved.