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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Six O’Clock Draw

Daisy Bateman, her face half covered with a scarf, entered Parker’s General Store. She purposefully came into town on this morning because she knew it was Peter Hutchins’s day off. The last thing she wanted was to see Peter. The thought of it brought shivers. Daisy’s plan was to pick up a new coffee pot and get back home as quickly as possible. She grabbed the first pot she saw and walked toward the cash register. The back door of Parker’s slammed shut. Daisy heard footsteps.

“Be right there. Sorry ‘bout that. Quick stop to the outhouse, but I’m back now and whoa…”

Daisy froze. It was Peter Hutchins!

“Sis? Is that you? Why the scarf? It must be nearin’ a hundred degrees out there for gosh sakes.”

“P-P-Peter, you’re w-w-working today? I didn’t. I mean, I wouldn’t have…”

“Sis, what’s wrong? Is it Mary? What happened? Did something happen to my little niece? Oh, I had a feeling something happened to her.”

Daisy placed the coffee pot down and did her feeble best to compose herself. “Peter, dear, you’re working today. How nice. That’s a surprise.”

Peter Hutchins walked out from around the counter and gave his big sister a hug. “Old man Parker wasn’t feeling too well, so he asked me to come in and work. I could always use the extra dollar.” Hutchins took a step back. “What’s wrong, Daisy? Something ain’t right. Is it Mary? Why is your face covered?”

“Don’t, Peter. Please, just don’t. Mary is fine. I’m okay. Honest.”

Peter Hutchins was having none of it. After their father died when Peter was only 13- years old and Daisy sixteen, Peter began looking after his big sister. That was a decade ago. Their Ma had done her best to raise the two children, but over the years Peter continued to play the role of “big brother” and substitute father. Peter grabbed at the scarf and pulled it away from Daisy’s face. Daisy tried to hide the bruise with her hand, but she was too late. “Oh, my lord!” screamed Peter as he took hold of Daisy’s hand, gently removing it from her face. “What in the world happened to you?”

Daisy tried to take a step back. “Nuthin’, Peter, nuthin’ at all.”

“That don’t look like no nuthin’ to me.”

“It was an accident. Honest. It was Sparky, the big colt Jack just traded for. Silly me, no matter how many times Jack warned me, I bent down too close behind the horse and I musta scared him. He kicked me with his…”

“Daisy, you just stop right there. You want me to believe that bruise by your mouth is from a horse kick?”

Daisy swallowed hard. “It’s the truth, Peter. Please, let me buy the coffee pot and get. Ma is watching Mary and I’ve got to…”

While Peter’s hand held onto Daisy, he noticed blistering and redness on her wrist. He pulled back her sleeve, revealing burns and open wounds. “Daisy, you tell me what’s going on right now! I mean it. Is it Jack? I know its Jack! I’m going to kill that no good husband of yours!”

“Peter, please,” she pleaded between tears. “It ain’t Jack. Let this go. I’m fine.”

“What happened to you, Daisy?”

Daisy looked faint. Peter brought over a wooden stool just in time. His sister collapsed into it. “I’m so scared. It was last night. Jack was, well, into the liquor again. He came home full of whiskey. He accused me of all kinds of things. Oh, Peter, I’m so ashamed.”

Peter stood next to his sister, his arm around her shoulder. “Keep going, Daisy.”

“He said I was a terrible mother to Mary and a terrible cook. Said I couldn’t even make a cup of coffee. He p-poured hot coffee over my arm,” she struggled to get the words out, “and then h-h-hit me in the m-mouth with the coffee pot.” Daisy was full-blown crying. “He s-s-smashed the pot, and told me if-f-f I know what’s good for m-me, I’d buy a new coffee pot and n-n-not say a word ‘bout this to anyone. It’s all my fault, Peter.”

Peter Hutchins was hotter than a campfire. “Let’s git over to Doc Mathews right now so he can take a look at you. I’m fixin’ to do a little talkin’ to Jack. This ain’t the first time he’s done this to you, but I’ll promise you it’ll be the last.”

“No, Peter. He’ll hurt you. Please, for my sake, s-s-stay away from him.”

“For your sake, Sis, no.”

* * *

     The regulars were gathered at the Double Eagle Saloon drinking, smoking, laughing, playing cards, and just whoopin’ it up. Peter Hutchins pushed through the swinging double wooden doors and headed for a table in the rear, next to the bar. No one paid him heed. “Get up, Jack!”

Black Jack Bateman ignored the command. He was holding two-pair, Kings over tens. He flipped another silver dollar onto the middle of the table. “Raise ya another dolla.” Then, he removed the cigar from the corner of his mouth, kissed the dancehall gal sitting on his lap and asked her, but loud enough for everyone to hear, “Stella honey, did someone say somethin’ to me?

The other players dropped their cards and turned toward Hutchins. Stella stood, pushing down and smoothing out her dress.

“I said, get up, Jack!”

Bateman stood and faced Hutchins.  Black Jack stood six feet, three inches and towered over Peter Hutchins. “Now, what do we have here? My little brother-in-law, what do you know? Fellas, you all know little Peter, right?” He stuck the cigar in his mouth. “This better be good, Peter, you just cost me a nice pot. I have two…”

With that, Peter threw a looping right toward Jack’s chin, but Jack easily blocked it with a left and socked Peter across his cheek. Peter Hutchins went down hard. He looked up at Black Jack. Peter spit sawdust. He rubbed his cheek and worked his mouth around, opening it wide and closing it shut. It felt as though buzzards were hovering over the saloon. “You’re going to pay for this, Jack, with your life! Tonight, six o’clock, you and me, one bullet each, one man left standing.” Peter got up and dusted himself off. “Six o’clock, sharp!”

* * *

     Word of the gun duel spread quickly. By late afternoon, the small town of River Foot Run was becoming the center of the universe, an unwanted tourist attraction, a perverse coliseum for the morbidly curious from nearby towns and territories. Loners and drifters from parts unknown had suddenly taken up spots along the hardened dirt road that comprised River Foot Run. Women packed picnic baskets. Some brought along their children. By five o’clock, hundreds of people had gathered and the entire street was overflowing. Those who came later found spots up in trees and on rooftops.

In the sheriff’s office, Daisy Bateman pleaded with Sheriff Hank Hilton. “Sheriff, I beg you, stop this before it’s too late. Jack will kill Peter. Peter is no match for him. This entire thing is my fault.”

Sheriff Hilton reached out, gently touching Daisy’s chin. Inwardly, he cringed at the nasty bruise on her face. “Daisy, this is a kin matter. It’s not for the law. I can’t rightly lock a man up for accusations or for sayin’ things. There ain’t nothin’ I can do.”

“How can you say that? Sheriff, Peter is going to get hisself killed. Jack Bateman is a brute. If you don’t stop this, I will.”

“Now, hold on just a minute, Daisy. You know I was a very close friend with your Pa before he died, right? And, I remain the closest of friends to your Ma. In fact, we just spoke about an hour ago. There is one thing I know, and that is your Pa was very proud of Peter. He taught him well how to be a man and to stand up for himself and to defend what he knows to be right no matter what the consequences.” Daisy gave him a confused look. The sheriff continued, “What I’m trying to say, Daisy is that your Pa would not want me to interfere with Peter and what he intends to do. If I did, Peter would never forgive me and he’d never forgive himself. We have to let him go through with this. He knows what he’s doing.”

The burn on Daisy’s wrist throbbed and was causing her great discomfort. She patted the bandages the doctor had applied earlier. “I can’t let Peter be shot down in cold blood. I won’t let it happen.”

Daisy began to turn away, but the Sheriff took hold of her. “I’m sorry, I can’t let you interfere. I’m going to lock you up in the jail until it’s over. Believe me, Daisy this is the best for everyone.” With Daisy behind bars, the Sheriff walked out of his office and took his place just outside his office. Daisy was screaming, but no one among the throngs of onlookers heard or paid any attention.

* * *

     At five minutes to six o’clock, the two men took their positions in the middle of River Foot Run. Black Jack Bateman adjusted his gun belt, bent his knees slightly, and smiled. He was impressed with the number of spectators. “One bullet. That’s all I got.”

Peter Hutchins stared straight ahead. “One bullet.”

At four minutes to six o’clock, Bateman dug his heels into the dirt. “It ain’t too late to call this off, Peter. There ain’t no shame backing out now. Folks would understand. Hell, no one will call you yeller or nuthin’ like that. Folks know I’m one of the best shots in this territory. Ha, supposedly even killed a few men in my time. How ‘bout you, Peter? Have you ever killed even a rabbit with a gun?” There was laughter amongst the crowd. Peter Hutchins said nothing. He stared straight ahead. Fact was, Bateman was correct. He’d killed a number of men during his violent lifetime. Peter was a novice when it came to shooting a pistol.

At three minutes before six o’clock, a man standing next to Sheriff Hilton gave him a nudge and whispered, “Sheriff, maybe this thing has gone far enough. Maybe you should put a halt to this here. No one wants to see the kid get shot.”

The sheriff didn’t take his eyes off the two men in the street. “They’re kin, Barney.”

At two minutes before the six o’clock hour, Jack Bateman squinted. “Last chance, kid. Don’t be a fool. You don’t stand a chance against me. Call it quits before it’s too late. I’m giving you one last opportunity. This is it.”

Peter Hutchins stared straight ahead. He didn’t move.

One minute to go. The entire town was at a standstill. It appeared as if everyone was posing for a photographer’s camera, but the anticipated blast would not be coming from a flashbulb.

bruceharrisBruce Harris is the author of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type (www.batteredbox.com). His fiction has appeared (or will appear) in A Twist of Noir, Flash Fiction Offensive, Out of the Gutter Online, Pine Tree Mysteries, Yellow Mama, and Over My Dead Body!

Now seconds away. Both men facing each other in the street began slowly moving their arms toward their pistols. With the slightest movement of his head and a shift of his eyes, Sheriff Hilton looked up toward the old abandoned barn behind the bank. The slightest trace of a smile crept across the lawman’s mouth.

Six o’clock. Jack Bateman and Peter Hutchins both drew their pistols. Bateman showed tobacco-stained teeth. Experience told him he was a fraction of a second quicker.

A shotgun blast shattered the silence and Bateman’s skull. He crumpled to the street. Bone pieces mixed with tumbleweed. Blood dotted the dirt. Everyone, including young Peter Hutchins, turned their heads toward the direction from which the blast had come. They all stared at the upper window of the red barn, the same site Sheriff Hilton had looked at seconds prior. There, holding a smoldering shotgun was Ma Hutchins. She tossed the weapon down into a pile of hay. “Jack Bateman, you’re a vile beast. You got my baby girl pregnant,” she said to no one but herself. “You had you a shotgun wedding. Now, you got you a shotgun death!”