by David Pidgeon
Sarah watched as the stranger entered the saloon. He came to the bar, bought his usual bottle of whiskey and took it and a glass over to his usual seat in the corner. He was a tall man, and lean but he tried to hide that under the thick coat that he wore despite the sweltering heat. He sat in the corner and, as the day wasted itself away, slowly but steadily depleted his supply of liquor. He watched everything, she saw from behind the bar, with a fierce intensity. He studied the face of each person that entered. He was looking for someone. It wasn't for the ambience or the watered down whiskey that he'd been coming here for over two weeks. He was hunting someone and he wouldn't leave until he had found them.
She busied herself with cleaning up, hoping to avoid the ire of Emmett again. Her face was still sore from the last time he'd been unhappy with her work. She tried to make herself busy enough to forget the man in the corner.
She almost had, when he spoke.
“Are you Harmon Merriweather?” he asked, in a low and quiet voice.
She looked up and saw that there was a man standing at the bar, looking at her. He wore an extremely faded grey coat, the kind Sarah knew from the war, and a military style cap. His eyes glittered as he heard the man speak and a grimace came across his face. He turned, slowly and spent a good long moment studying the man in the corner.
“I reckon I am” he said, a drawl to his voice.
“I'm Jonah Walsh and you killed my father”
Sarah sensed, not saw, the man's surprise and saw the movement as his hand reached for the gun at his belt. He had barely touched it when a gunshot rang out, deafening Sarah and leaving a loud ringing in her ears for quite some time after. Harmon Merriweather staggered backwards one step and fell heavily against the bar before falling to the ground with a thud. Her eyes flitted to the man in the corner who remained seated but now his right hand held a smoking pistol. He kept it trained on the downed figure until he was certain there was no remaining threat and then neatly holstered it again in one simple but elegant movement.
He reached across, picked up his bottle of whiskey and stood with a slight stagger to his step. He tipped his hat to Sarah, spared a glare at the body on the floor and walked out.
The decision was instantaneous and unplanned, even to her. She threw her cleaning rag down and rushed around the bar to the body of Harmon Merriweather. She pried the pistol from his rapidly cooling hand and rushed outside, hot on the heels of Jonah Walsh.
She spotted him sauntering down the side-walk as if nothing had happened. She called his name and he turned, as she closed the distance between the two.
"My name is Sarah and I want you to take me with you, please"
His eyes gazed deeply into hers and there was only a moment's hesitation. He nodded and gestured for her to follow him. She followed closely.
They rode out of town, the two of them on his roan stallion and they made camp in the ruins of an old house as the sun began to sink beyond the horizon and night crept in.
They sat in silence for a long time before he spoke.
"The man you work for, he hit you?"
"Yes. Often and hard. He wasn't happy with me working there, but he couldn't find anyone else and I had nowhere else to go so I dealt with it"
"How long since... your father?" she asked
He stared into the fire.
"Before I was born. He was trying to flee with my mother and they came for him and killed him. He gave up his life in order that she and I, although he did not know of me at the time, would live."
"What of your mother, where is she?"
"You needn't be, it was some time ago. A few years now. Now it's just me and the horse"
She nodded and they both sat in silence again for a while.
"Who are they, the men who killed your father?"
"They were soldiers. Well, they called themselves soldiers but they were just murderers. Border ruffians outta Kansas, trouble-makers who didn't really care for following orders. My father was an officer in the Union who made trouble for them and they didn't take too kindly to it. They hunted him across a few states and eventually pinned him down when he was with ma"
"What are you going to do now?"
"There's still a slew of 'em out there for me to kill. Jameson and his whole bunch of bastards. Still at least five, by my count. Merriweather wasn't the worst of them by any account, but he was the easiest to find. I've got a trail on Kent, one of them, and I intend to follow it west come sun-up tomorrow"
"You don't have to stay with me, if'n you don't want to. I can drop you somewhere safe, I can give you some money"
She nodded again, but he knew then that she wouldn't allow herself to be dropped off anywhere at all.
They settled down to sleep and the stars wheeled overhead, mute and ever-present witnesses to their dreams, their rotation through the heavens heralding the coming of the sun for one more day and a day that would see the continuation of Jonah Walsh's campaign of revenge.