The old man—a hired gun past his prime—entered Samson’s Saloon just before the sun hit its peak high above the desolate town of Silver Creek. The doors swung open with a rusted squeal as the old man entered. The six or so people in the saloon didn’t so much as glance his way; there wasn’t anything about his appearance to stir the curious. Just an old man stopping in for a lunchtime drink.
The old man walked up to the bar with a slow step and ordered a double shot of bourbon. Something about the low huskiness of his voice unsettled the barkeep; causing him to drop a glass and look around with a nervous twitch. The old man didn’t seem to notice at all. He just sat on the nearest stool and proceeded to take slow, precise sips of the whiskey.
Not long after the old man sat down five scruffy men barreled through the door.
“Round of beer!” One of the men shouted as they all took their seats at a corner table.
An hour went by and the men were now creating a real ruckus. They got to playing poker after their third round of beer, and the stakes must have been getting pretty stiff as the playful back-and-forth was starting to take on a more insidious tone. The saloon had been filling up with patrons seeking sanctuary from the unforgiving sun, but the antics of the men had filled the place with a foul air—pushing the people out one by one with the presence of violence lingering just below the surface.
After the second hour had passed only the nervous barkeep and six patrons remained: five of which were the ill-mannered gamblers. The sixth patron was the old man silently nursing the same warm glass of whiskey at the bar. He’d been sitting there so long and so motionless that the few people who noticed his presence forgot he was even there—including the barkeep who was wholly focused on the building anger of the poker players in the corner. The barkeep’s nervous thumb had graced the smooth wood stock of a hidden shotgun multiple times in the last hour while the poker games grew more and more heated. Knowing the shotgun was in reach kept the aging barkeep’s nerves at bay, but it didn’t settle them completely.
“You no good rotten cheat!”
With that expected proclamation the barkeep’s bent fingers wrapped around the trigger in anticipation of an eruption of violence.
“I ain’t no cheat. You’s just a sore loser is all.”
“Hell you ain’t! I oughta shoot you where you stand!”
The two gamblers sprung up—knocking the table over in the process and spilling drinks on the other three—then each member of the game instinctively reached for their gun. It was a stalemate. Tempers flared and it was only a matter of seconds to see if the fires of rage would get put out or if the guns would get pulled from their holsters and fired.
“Now fellas, we don’t need no trouble in here,” the barkeep announced in a pleading tone. His hand gripped the shotgun hidden beneath the bar and he prayed he wouldn’t have to use it.
“Oh, fuck off. This ain’t your business,” the accused cheater said.
“You ain’t got no right to tell him that in his own establishment,” the accuser said with an antagonizing grin splashed across his face. “Besides, no self-respectin’ business owner is gonna listen to a cheat like you!”
With that the accused cheater hit his boiling point and pulled out his pistol with a flash of his hand. The accuser—drunk and unsteady—immediately sobered up and followed suit by brandishing a pistol of his own. The other three men kept their pistols holstered and backed away slowly as if this wasn’t their first time in this situation.
“I’m warning you, now!” the barkeep hollered. Through the commotion he’d pulled the shotgun off its hook and was now aiming it straight at the two men.
“Alright, alright. No need to do somethin’ you’ll regret,” the accused cheater said.
The shotgun shook in the barkeep’s hands. It wasn’t the possibility of having to shoot the two that scared him, it was their look. Both men—the accused and the accuser—were smiling ear-to-ear. Sure, he had the advantage with the shotgun aimed at them, but he only now noticed he’d fallen into their trap.
The other three had spread throughout the bar and each had their pistol aimed at the barkeep. This wasn’t a heated game of poker gone wrong; it was a robbery! The realization sent chills down the barkeep’s spine. He knew this was the end. Even if he could take out one or two of them, the others would shoot him dead before his body even hit the floor.
“Alright, I get it. Just take what you want and leave,” the barkeep pleaded. He lowered the shotgun inch by inch and sat it on the bar, then backed away with his hands raised in the air.
“You must not know who we are,” the accused cheater said with a knowing smile. “We’re the Devil’s Edge Gang.”
The barkeep’s knees buckled and it took everything in him to keep from collapsing to the floor. He cursed himself for being so blind. The wanted posters for each of the men was plastered on the wall outside his saloon. He was the one who hung them up! Everyone knew about the Devil’s Edge Gang. They’ve been terrorizing the Midwest all summer and have killed at least 20 people in their rampage. They never left survivors in their wake.
“Please. I just want…”
The barkeep’s words drifted from his lips with dry breath. He knew there wasn’t anything he could say to avoid this fate. So, he simply closed his eyes. The pistol barrels practically burned his skin with the anticipation. A sick churning of his stomach made him shudder uncontrollably. It felt like hours had gone by. Then five clicks echoed off the wooden walls. It was time.
The barkeep froze like a statue with the thunderous blasting of five rapid booms ringing in his ears. His whole body tensed up, heart stopped, and breath held tight in his chest. He waited for the pain to grip him, but it never did. Horrified at the thought of what he might see, the barkeep opened his eyes with a grimace. To his shock and unreal relief, all five men were slumped to the floor in various positions of death. Each man had caught a bullet to the head.
“What the hell!”
The barkeep couldn’t contain his emotions. He started sobbing uncontrollably. Certainly this was the work of God almighty protecting him.
“Oh thank you Lord my savior,” he said out loud to himself.
“Not quite.” A quiet, faraway voice swirled through the haze of gun smoke. “Had a good bounty on em.”
The barkeep turned his head toward the voice and saw the old man sitting at the end of the bar. In one great swig he downed the last of his whiskey and gathered his six-shooter sitting on the bar next to his glass. A tiny wisp of smoke escaped its barrel as he tucked it into a holster underneath his long coat. His hands did not shake.
“Bounty?” the barkeep asked even though he knew what the old man was talking about.
The old man didn’t say a word. He just placed the money for his drink, plus tip, on the bar, then walked slowly toward the exit.
As he reached the swinging doors, without looking back, he said in that low, husky voice, “Some men will be here soon to collect the bodies. Sorry for the trouble.” And with that, the old man was gone. An old hired gun past his prime. Nobody would notice him. Nobody would ever expect him. And that’s just the way he wanted it.
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