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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Haitian Slim

The Dogleg Saloon was bustling. Hardly a minute went by without a prospector or cowboy coming through the swinging doors. Folks crowed around the bar ordering shots of rye and whiskey. Whores walked bow-legged among the rowdy crowd while the piano player banged out the tunes of Stephen Foster.

Not many of the patrons paid attention to the music. Poker was the main attraction this evening. Card games had broken out all over the saloon. Most were friendly games amongst amateurs; just a few cattle hands wasting the evening by swapping antes and stories.

The poker game in the corner of the saloon was a different story. A silent tension hung over the table that was as thick as the cloud of cigar smoke. It had been three hands since any of the players had spoken a word… and that word had been a muttered ‘Sonovitch!”

The current hand came down to just two players. Haitian Slim sat grinning behind rows of staked chips. The tall stranger had arrived in Dogleg just the night before. He dressed like a dandy shadow with a black top hat, long dark coat and slacks. Haitian Slim’s smile was so white, it was unnerving. Some folks would have sworn he had an extra row of teeth.

On the other side of the table was Jed Monroe, who spent the last twenty minutes watching his money migrate over to the man from the Caribbean. If Haitian Slim was dressed to the nines, Jed was dressed to the twos. His clothes were dirty and stank of sour beer and horse sweat. The only impressive thing about the ugly man were the notches on his gun belt.

Revered Graves and the two McFee brothers had already folded. Sweat dripped down the fat preacher’s face as he watched the hand come to its conclusion. He gave his crucifix a little tug and held his breath.

Looking angrily from his pair of sevens to Haitian Slim’s pile of money, Jed decided to call. He reached down into his vest and pulled out his pocket watch.

The watch was solid gold and worth a good price. That wasn’t the only reason why it was special. It had a engraved message of absolute love from Jed Monroe’s mother to his late father. The gunman had taken the watch off his father’s corpse after he shot him over a bottle of whiskey.

Wiping the trail dust off the watch, Jed sneered at Haitian Slim. Then he causally tossed it into the kitty.

Reverend Graves swallowed hard.

The sight of the watch made Haitian Slim’s eyes light up. His big smile seemed to get even bigger.

As he laid down his cards, Haitian Slim said in a deep suave voice, “Three Sixes.”

“Put down my daddy’s watch!” snarled Jed. His hand started drifting down to his sidearm.

Jed slammed the palms of his hands onto the table. Stacks of chips toppled over and glass mugs jumped. The piano player hit a sour note and every head in the Dogleg Saloon turned to the source of the disturbance.

“You just won five hands in’er row! Nobody’s that lucky!” shouted Jed. “Haitian Slim, yer nothing but a lousy cheat!”

For a moment, the only sound was the jangle of the glass in Reverend Graves’ trembling hand. Nervous eyes watched the six-shooter on Jed’s gun belt. The townsfolk slowly slinked away from any possible lines of fire. Even the naked lady in the portrait hanging above the bar looked worried.

Leaning back in his chair, Haitian Slim grinned. He reached down and plucked up Jed’s gold watch from the center of the table. Turning it over in his long fingers, he chuckled softly to himself.

“Put down my daddy’s watch!” snarled Jed. His hand started drifting down to his sidearm.

“Careful, Slim.” Reverend Graves whispered. “That’s Murderous Jed Monroe. I’ve seen him kill thirteen men.”

Ignoring the preacher, Haitian Slim held the gold watch up for Jed to see.

The ticking of the watch was in synch with Jed’s own heartbeat. The gunman could see his own angry reflection trapped in the watch’s polished surface.

Inspecting the watch, Slim remarked, “This is a nice watch, Jed. You must have carried it very close to you for a very long time. It would be a shame if it fell into the wrong hands.”

“Ya’ dirty sidewinder!” Jed erupted like a train whistle. “On the street! I’m calling you out!”

Haitian Slim rose from his chair. His eyes sparkled as he titled his top hat forward.

Flashing Jed another pearly smile, he said, “I‘ve heard people talk of you, Jed Monroe. They speak your name with fear. Soon they will speak my name, not just with fear, but with absolute terror.”

With a turn that sent his coattails flailing, Haitian Slim strolled across the sawdust floor. It seemed like he didn’t have a care in the world. He paused suddenly at the swinging doors and glanced back at Jed. With a little nod, Slim held up the gold watch once more as he stepped outside.

Reverend Graves muttered, “That poor devil.”

“Shut up, preacher.” Jed shot back. “I’m going give Haitian Slim just what he’s come fer… a belly full of lead.”

Jed trudged out of the saloon. His face and neck were red hot with fury. He flexed his hand in homicidal anticipation.

There was a buzz of excited whispers as the townsfolk began to pour out after him. A skull-like moon hung above the small desert town. Haitian Slim was calmly waiting at the far end of the street. His tall lanky frame cast a long shadow all the way to the swinging doors of the Dogleg Saloon.

“Drill a bullet through his dark hide!” cheered a buck-toothed McFee brother.

A few spectators muttered in agreement and slapped Jed on the back. Reverend Graves gulped down the rest of his drink.

Pain shot through Jed. He looked down and saw six bullet holes in his own body. Blood began to spurt onto the dusty street. His six-shooter tumbled from his hand and Jed dropped dead to the ground.

With his spurs jingling, Jed took his place on the street. A trio of buxom dancehall girls watched from the baloney. They giggled as Jed gave them a confident wink.

He cracked his neck and sneered. In the glow of the moon, he could see Haitian Slim holding his gold watch. His lips were moving silently as if Slim was praying.

“No more time for prayers!” shouted Jed.

The folks crowding the sides of the street fell silent. Then the wind died and the crickets went quiet. Tumbleweeds stopped dead in their tracks. Reverend Graves cupped a shaking hand over his mouth.

Haitian Slim looked up from the gold watch in his hand. His eyes burned with hellfire.

Jed drew his revolver. His hands moved like lightning as slapped down on the hammer. Six shots rang out in rapid succession.

The town gasped. Somewhere a woman screamed. The milk curdled inside the Dogleg General Store.

Haitian Slim stood at the other end of the street. Holding the gold watch to the night sky, he exhaled a dark cloud of gun smoke.

“What in heaven’s name?” Reverend Graves breathlessly wondered.

Pain shot through Jed. He looked down and saw six bullet holes in his own body. Blood began to spurt onto the dusty street. His six-shooter tumbled from his hand and Jed dropped dead to the ground.

Haitian Slim let go of the smoldering watch and sent it tumbling to the street. It glowed like brimstone as it sizzled in the dirt.

One of the dancehall girls up on the balcony fell to her knees and wailed over the crowd, “He’s dead! Haitian Slim killed Jed Monroe!”

“The devil himself!” cried one of the McFee brothers. “Haitian Slim is the devil himself!”

Another McFee screamed, “He’ll kill us all! Run for your lives!”

The crowd broke like a stampeding herd. Men and women went scattering in every direction. They clawed and scratched at each other as they fought to get back inside the saloon.

“Yes! Say my name,” laughed Haitian Slim. Beaming with pride, the stranger watched the town of Dogleg explode in a panic. He seemed to drink in their terror. “Your fear only gives me more power.”

As he strolled toward Jed’s body, the frenzied mob parted. Pausing for a moment, Haitian Slim sneered triumphantly at his handiwork. He took a disrespectful step over the body and made his way toward the hitching post.

danlarnerdDan Larnerd is a graduate of Marshall University and has worked in radio and for a few newspapers. He lives in the Portland, Oregon area.

The street had emptied. The residents were either hiding in the saloon or praying in the church. Revered Graves was the only one left on the street. He looked as nervous as a bull about to be castrated with a dull Bowie knife.

“Haitian Slim,” he squeaked.

The tall stranger spun around at the sound of his name. When he locked eyes with Reverend Graves, the old preacher fainted.

Haitian Slim roared in deep dark laughter. It rolled down the deserted street like an unholy thunder.

Still laughing, Haitian Slim mounted his pale horse. He put his spurs to the beast causing it burst into a trot.

All over town, frightened faces peeked out of windows as the tall stranger rode past. God-fearing men wept together and mothers held their children tight. Still chuckling, Haitian Slim tipped his top hat to them all.

Then he rode out of town and into the setting moon.