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The Gunfighters
About the Author: Michael Cebula's short stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including FlameTree Press's mystery anthology, Murder Mayhem. He is at work on his first novel.

When the smoke cleared and it was plain that both gunfighters were down and not liable to get back up again soon, the townspeople came out from their hiding places and gathered around where the two men were lying in the middle of the street.

Doc Sanderson stood over the younger gunfighter, a skinny rumor of a boy barely out of his teens who called himself Deadeye Danny. Sanderson rubbed his mouth and shook his head but offered no further appraisal. The crowd was hushed, waiting. In no apparent hurry, almost as if he enjoyed making them wait, Sanderson shuffled over to where the older, stouter gunfighter lay, a man new in town and known only as Harris. In contrast to the fair-haired young gunfighter cursing and squirming and staining the dirt with his blood not far away, Harris was still, his set mouth and narrowed eyes the only sign of the considerable pain he had to be suffering. Doc Sanderson turned his head and spit in the street.

“Well?” the mayor asked.

“Well, what?” Sanderson said. “Gut shot, both of them. Nothing I can do for them now.”

“Once again your expertise has proved in-valuable,” the mayor said. “With those holes in their stomachs and their guts spilling out everywhere, I wasn’t quite sure how to diagnose it.” He picked up Harris’s revolver and shook his head. “All this over a spilt beer. Well, hell, let’s get them out of the way, at least. How do you expect to get a wagon through here with two men laying in the middle of the street like that?”

The mayor could have been talking to anyone, but everyone knew he was talking only to one person, a short, bald stump of a man with a wispy mustache and an ugly broken smile who followed at the mayor’s heels like an abused and intemperate dog. He emerged from the mayor’s shadow and said quietly, “Be easier just to plug a shot into both of them. Right in their heads. More merciful too.”

Harris raised his head a few inches off the ground. “Do I get a vote on that?”

“There’s been enough shooting already, Boyd,” the mayor said, not bothering to look at him. He scanned the crowd. “Anybody volunteer to take these men in?”

No one met the mayor’s eyes except Doc Sanderson. “I’d put them up if I could, but I already got three men laid up there now, and there’s no room left.”

 The mayor cursed softly, then turned to Boyd and pointed to the burned and abandoned whorehouse at the far end of the street. “Put them over there by Agnes’s old place.”

“Together?” Boyd asked.

The mayor scowled. “Well, unless you think some of our humble town’s proprietors would like a dying man to decorate their own premises, then yes, put them over there together. They’re no threat to each other now.”

Boyd held his tongue and watched the mayor disappear into the Wagon Wheel Saloon. Most of the crowd dispersed with him, ignoring Boyd’s requests for help. One young boy lingered, his eyes on Danny’s hat lying in the middle of the street, but Boyd sent him running with a cuff to the back of his head and kick to the seat of his pants. When the boy was gone, Boyd looked at the two gunfighters and swore.

“It’s just not your day, is it?” Harris said.

Boyd hitched up his pants, then dragged Harris down the street and laid him in the dirt near the front porch of the abandoned whorehouse. Boyd wasn’t gentle but Harris offered no word of complaint. Then Boyd repeated the process with Danny, the young man cursing him the entire trip.

“Damn you,” Danny said again when Boyd laid him next to Harris.  

Danny’s anger picked up Boyd’s spirits. He stepped back as if to admire his work and sniggered. “Time like this, you’d think a man would be making his peace with the Lord, not cussing a humble public servant.”

 Danny pushed himself up so he could sit with his back against the porch like Harris. He hated to be set next to a man as lowdown as Harris, a man capable of doing what Harris had once done, but he knew he had no choice for now. Danny looked around and said, “Where the hell’s Deadeye’s gun?”

 Boyd raised his shirt, to show off Danny’s revolver. “Took it as payment for your transport.” He spit in the street and sniggered again. “Not like it’d do you any good now.”

Danny did his best to stare Boyd down. “That belongs to Deadeye Danny. Hand it over.”

Boyd smiled and stretched his back. “Much as I enjoy hearing a man beg, it’s awful hot and I just got done dragging two sacks of crap all across town. Think I’d like to go have me a beer.”

This story appears in our APR 2018 Issue
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