This story originally appeared on our now defunct 

Western fiction webzine The Big Adios.

“Mary! Get in the house and bar the door.”

God knows I loved that woman, but she had a passel of stubborn in her.

Mary ignored me as she was want to do in most things. She stood firm and holding my old Navy with both hands she fired at the man riding her down. Mary knew her business better than most and took him high in the chest. He went spinning from the saddle like he’d been hit with a fence rail and was dead before the hooves of his mount stomped him into my door yard.

“Will you heed me and get in the damn house.”

Mary spat an insult at the twitching corpse and hurried on to the porch. Deep down where most men were afraid to look, I knew it wouldn’t make no difference, not once her gun ran dry and I lay dead.

The Carson Boys were just murderous range scum; they didn’t spare anyone to bear witness. Everybody knew the story of what they’d done to the preacher over in Folsom. Come Sunday, his congregation had found him crucified on his own cross. The church going folk in our little town prayed that Jeb Carson would take his crew north. Those of us who homesteaded further out didn’t put all that much store in prayer and took to keeping a loaded scatter gun to hand.

My shouting at Mary had drawn most of their fire. I ducked beneath the buzzing swarm of lead and fumbled the last few shells into her daddy’s Henry repeater. Poor old Evan was as good a man as you’re likely to find anywhere in this territory; now he lay slumped over beside me, shot through and through more times than I cared to count.

I’d never killed outside of war, but passing Jeb Carson’s no-good soul to the devil’s keeping would be a good way to start. I sighted on him crawling around the barn, wiggling along on his belly. The picture on his hand bill was a passable likeness. It had said either dead or alive beneath it and I reckoned dead would do just fine. I steadied the rifle, aiming to make the world a better place.


“Drop it Mister.”

Jeb’s little brother, Brodie sprung out of the scrub behind the old place like a Jack rabbit. He had a bead on me with his shotgun and rightly guessing I wasn’t about to oblige him, he let go both barrels.

When I came around everything was cast in shadow. I gulped for breath that came too short and ragged to bring near enough air. Somewhere way off, beyond the blood and the pain I could hear my Mary screaming. I tried to raise my head and the weight of a boot ground my face back into the dirt.

“You just lay there and enjoy the show,” Brodie said.

They took turns. When they all had their fill, Jeb was the one who did for her.

Something like that burns in real deep and it don’t ever fade. It steals a man’s very soul, but it also gives him a purpose; maybe it even keeps him alive long after he’s been left for dead.

* * *

The sun was prowling in the steel blue of a cloudless forenoon, searching for something living to beat on. I stood under a dry season Ironwood, but it cast no shade. Its crooked branches were bare, save for the murdering carcass of Brodie Carson, which hung there like a piece of over ripe fruit. I screwed up my eyes against the day’s glare and wiped the grit of this hard land from my face with a blood stained kerchief.

I watched for a time, the searing heat of retribution making my sweat run. People said that coyotes wouldn’t eat cooked meat or Mexicans, but I don’t set no store by that. In my experience most critters will do what they have to regardless of how bad it tastes.

Brodie made seven, eight if you counted the Mex and it ain’t done yet. I don’t put notches on my gun handle any more than I do my bed post. But what kind of man would I have to be to forget them that I killed. They didn’t all have it coming, at least not from me. The way I look at it those other boys should have chosen their friends more carefully.

Blood still leaked out of Brodie, but that was mostly down to gravity. The rope around his ankles creaked as he slowly twisted in the warm desert breeze, his busted fingers scratching lazy pictures in the dust. You see, there’s more to being a man than having a fast hand and a good pair of boots, you also have to know your limitations. Brodie was sorely lacking in that respect. Sure enough, I found his limitations early in the piece, but I didn’t let them get in the way of what I came to do.

chrisleekChris Leek is a greenhorn from back east. He shoots straight and tells tall tales. You can read some of them at: All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Near to the Knuckle, Thrillers, Killers ‘N’ Chillers, Grift and Spinetingler.

Artwork © 2013 CD Regan.

Before he died he gave up Jeb; he told me his brother was staying in the back room of a cat house in Mesquite Flat. The telling didn’t save him. The bible has it that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Brodie came to understand that once I had gotten him acquainted with the reaping part.

The day was too hot for digging and regardless of the season I’d not extend the courtesy of a grave to a Carson. I picked up the bottle of liquor that Brodie had been sucking when I bushwhacked him. The Paiute called this brand coso paa, fire water. Well we’d see. I emptied the bottle over Brodie then reached into my pocket for a parlor match. I struck it on my heel and cupping my hands against the breeze I carried the flame to his flapping shirt tails.

I watched for a time, the searing heat of retribution making my sweat run. People said that coyotes wouldn’t eat cooked meat or Mexicans, but I don’t set no store by that. In my experience most critters will do what they have to regardless of how bad it tastes.

“Reckon we best get on girl. Mesquite is a fair ride,” I said and hosted myself in to the saddle.

The mare snorted and shook her head. Perhaps she was agreeing or maybe it’s was just the stench of burning flesh in her nostrils. I tugged on the reins and turned away, leaving Brodie Carson to the tender mercies of god, assuming god would have him.

~ fin ~