Published on Thursday, July 22, 2010
My Colt's Last Song
By Nathan Wellman
I order another ale.
I've been glued to this bar stool for over thirty years now. There's just something special about Ol' Marley's ale that you can't get from any other spot in the West. He tells me it's a special way the alcohol is fermented or something like that, but all I care about is that certain way it seems to blur my crusty old life into a giddy haze. Because believe me, a clear picture would not be pretty.
It's a good place to just sit and wonder where all your life has gone (although I suppose if I ever had a sober moment, I'd figure out that most of it had gone into Marley's bank account). The Sheriff doesn't come by very often, and everybody usually keeps to themselves. It's a sanctuary for people like me.
I used to be somebody. When I was young I could walk in a place like this and the entire room would fall silent and stare. And it wasn't just because of the Colt revolver that hung at my waist, a casual reminder of the violence I was capable of. People feared me. And so people loved me. There is no love quite so unconditional as the kind people give you when they know you could blow them all over the wall if they didn't.
I tell people about this part of my life sometimes, but anymore all they do is smile and nod, polite-like. If only they knew.
"It was all because of Billy," I say. "Old Billy was the meanest, scariest spawn of Satan I ever seen outside of storybooks. Back then we used to rule this place, and Billy was our leader. I've seen him do things that still give me nightmares. No one would touch him. No one dared."
It might as well have been yesterday. Billy, Jimmy and me riding around town, perched what felt like three whole stories above the rest of the villagers. The scrapes we got into. The women we had. Everything belonged to us.
"So what happened?" the occasional fella would sometimes ask after I'd rambled for hours on end. I usually just grumble something along the lines that it's none of their damn business. They always get up and leave after that.
And then I order another ale.
It was that damned Jimmy. He ruined everything. For years I used to lay awake at night trying to devise ways to find out where he was. I'd imagine the things I'd do to him. I think his corpse would've made even Billy cringe after I was done. But I'd given up on that long ago. The only kind of wrath I was capable of anymore was to maybe make ladies clutch their diamond necklaces when I pass by.
As usual, the night is already letting the sun take over when Marley finally kicks me out. I stagger down the street, nearly getting hit by one of those damned new automobiles all the rich wash ups in this town are so fond of riding around in. The man curses at me from his window as he drives on. I just keep weaving my way back home.
"We used to hang people like that by their own shoestrings," I grumble. It just isn't the same anymore. Halfway home my legs give out and I collapse on the side of the street. It looks like I won't be going to work again today.
I'm just starting to doze properly when something stomps on my gut. I groan and blink through the tears that had piled up in reaction to the sudden pain. When my vision clears I scowl."
"Well I'll be," Sheriff Johnson says, slapping his nightstick against the palm of his hand. "The notorious Carl Brown."
"Go to hell," I sputter, futilely trying to stand. I just fall right back down on my ass. The Sheriff laughs.
"Looks like you're still about where you should be," he says. "I tell ya Carl, you hang out with a much nicer crowd these days. Lice and flies aren't nearly as bad of an influence on you as Billy was."
"You son of a-"
I pull out my Colt but his nightstick expertly smacks it out of my hand. I feel a few fingers bend in ways they shouldn't, and my gun flies down the road out of reach. I curse and howl, trying not to think about how I can feel bone scratching my skin. Johnson laughs.
"Keep up the good work, Carl. I'll be seein' you around."
Long after he strolls away I manage to crawl on my elbows to where my Colt lies. I groan and curse some more. It had managed to land in an enormous mound of horse shit. I pick it up and wipe it off on my shirt, thinking that maybe the automobiles aren't such a bad idea after all. I don't think about how I had gone from being one of the most feared hotshots in the community to the town drunk with shit on his shirt. How had I ever let this happen?
"It's okay baby. Daddy's here now," I mutter, patting my Colt softly. In the corner of my eye I see boys on their way to school, snickering at me. The strangest urge to start crying makes me punch a nearby stone with my good hand, and the pain jostles me back to normal. The long and strenuous process of trying to stand up in the middle of my alcohol-induced earthquake begins, and chuckle that it looks like I'm dancing.
Eventually I make it back to my little room, nothing more than a hole in the wall, really. I collapse on the floor as soon as I make it through the door, bleeding and covered in shit.
The usual stampede of pictures that usually whirls around my head when I sleep begin their charge. Billy, Jimmy, and me in the middle of some brawl down at Marley's, beating guys down until they could count their teeth on one hand. Billy- drunker than all hell- blasting the Sheriff right between the eyes. The new Sheriff Johnson swinging into town, offering over ten thousand dollars for Billy, dead or alive.
"What the hell do you think you're doing, Jimmy?" I cry.
"I'm sorry Billy," Jimmy says beside Johnson, gun on our leader. "But you've gone too far this time. Besides, it's an awful lot of money."
The shootout. Billy and I going down in a hail of bullets. Everybody cheering after we hit the floor.
Why had they cheered?
I head back to Marley's after I waking up, intending to wash away my hangover with more ale. My fingers hurt like hell, but the doctor sure isn't going to help me. Not after what Billy did to his mother back in the day. I drink some more, and just as I feel that welcome stupor begin to sink back in, somebody walks in that bar I had never expected to see again.
He looks different. He'd gotten fat, and most of his hair had jumped ship, but his clothes spoke of wealth and luxury, and I wondered just how much of that ten thousand dollars he still had lying around. But he looked different in bigger way than even that. He'd lost that fire in his eye the same way I had. He'd been domesticated.
I see a million memories play in his mind as he takes in our old hang out spot for the first time in decades. He waddles inside and takes a table. My hand clutches my mug so tightly I half expected it to burst. Marley spots Jimmy too and rushes to my seat.
"Don't you dare start anything in my bar, Carl," he says, his voice lowered. "We have a deal, remember?"
I don't even hear him. I down my drink in one gigantic gulp and slam it on the table. Jimmy looks towards the noise and spots me. The horror on his face does more for my soul than any sermon ever did. I hadn't been looked at like that in years.
"Carl," he whispered. I swivel around in my stool to face him.
"Hiya Jimmy," I say.
We stare each other down. He isn't even armed, the stupid bastard. I finger my Colt. It was screaming at me. Just begging me to blast him. And I was having a lot of trouble coming up with a good reason not to.
"You're looking well," I tell him. All color drains out of his fat face. His lower lip trembles.
"Carl," he says, looking ready to cry. I don't do anything. Let him blubber. It'll just make this that much sweeter.
"What do you think you're doing here?" I say. "Never thought I'd see you again."
Jimmy looks down at his feet, the very picture of misery. "I think about you two all the time," he says. "You and Billy-"
"DON'T YOU DARE SAY HIS NAME!" I screamed. Old feelings were starting to awaken inside me. Wickedness I thought had been lost forever was roasting inside of me again. Jimmy recoils, nearly falling over his own flabby legs. There's glass under my feet, and I dimly realize that I must have broken my mug.
"It's not the same," Jimmy says. "The money... It wasn't worth it. Wasn't worth losing what we had. I know that now."
"Don't you talk to me about that," I spat. "You don't get to talk about regrets with me."
"You think I've been living the good life?" Jimmy cried. "Look at me! I'm a member of my city's council for Christ's sake! I wound up with the money, but I lost my teeth in the process. I thought if I came back here I could. . . I don't know."
I frown. "What the hell are you talking about?"
The doors to the bar swing open again and Sheriff Johnson stands in the doorway.
"Don't even think about it," he says to me, gun already in his hand. He looks at Jimmy. "What do you think you're doing back here?"
Jimmy doesn't say anything. He looks straight in my eyes and I see it brewing. The fire. I instantly know without a doubt that Jimmy is armed somewhere after all. I feel my own flames flaring up again. Inexplicably, the both of us smile at each other. I barely even notice Johnson's gun on me. I'll take going out in a blaze of glory over alcohol poisoning any day.
In a draw, there is never really a conscious thought of killing somebody. That takes too long. There's just a reflex. Your body takes over and lets your brain sort things out later. Jimmy goes for the gun tucked behind his back and my Colt flashes out of it's holster.
For a second all anyone knows is gunfire.
Sheriff Johnson's bullets send me reeling and I clutch onto the bar that had been my only altar for the past thirty years and try to steady my shaking gun hand.
I squint through the pain until the world straightens itself out. Jimmy was still standing, but I'd punched two holes through his chest. He was tottering, and I'm reminded of myself after an especially hard night at Marley's. His gun is smoking, and I realize too late that it isn't aimed at me. There's gurgling to my right and a glanced to my side shows Sheriff Johnson writhing on the floor, fruitlessly trying to stop the geyser that was erupting out of his throat.
I look back at Jimmy. He's smiling, teeth stained with red. His gun drops to the floor and he stretches his arms in a gesture of pure rapture and laughs joyously. Chillingly. I bring my Colt up again and plug him five more times until I'm out of rounds.
There are no more sounds after that. I watch Sheriff Johnson lose his battle with his leaking throat until he stiffens, like a dead cockroach. I limp over to old Jimmy and just smile.
"Thanks buddy," I say, and I drape my jacket over him.
More cops come after that, and with my Colt empty I go quietly. When I walk up the steps to the gallows the crowd is silent. The shock is still too great. Nobody had heard of anything happening like that in years. They stare at me with a terrified awe as the new Sheriff crowns me with my noose. When the trapdoor to hell drops under me I'm grinning from ear to ear.
Nathan Wellman is currently a senior at Morehead State University pursuing a double major for Creative Writing and Theater. His other publications include short stories in Morpheus Tales Magazine and Inscape. Poetry credits include Breadcrumb Scabs and two pieces in Children, Churches, and Daddies Magazine.