Summary: A man from Driscoll’s past threatens Reverend Clayton’s future.
Category: The Clayton Chronicles
Word Count: 2586
He was being followed. He was sure of it. Though he couldn’t see or hear anything, it was a feeling he had and he’d learned over the years to trust his feelings – they’d kept him alive more than once.
Slowing his steps, he glanced back, but there were only shadows. The night was dark and the fingernail moon riding high in the sky lent little light. There was a glow from the Silverado Saloon across the street but it didn’t reach this far. Dave walked in darkness, something he normally didn’t mind, but that nagging feeling of being followed had him on edge. And it wasn’t just tonight either; he’d had it for some time now. The feeling that he was being watched – trailed – seemed to go with him wherever he went these days.
Picking up his pace again, he continued on his way home. But he kept his ears trained behind him, listening for footsteps on the boardwalks. He heard only his own. The night was quiet except for the laughter and the tinny sound of the piano across the street.
He crossed Porter Street and the feeling that someone was behind him grew stronger. It was only a little farther to the small house he was renting and he resisted the urge to run that overwhelmed him. A few steps more and he was at the front gate. He placed his hand on it to open it when a voice spoke beside him.
He turned sharply, his hand automatically reaching for his side, a reflex so ingrained he had given up trying to overcome it, and then let out sigh of relief when he saw it was Clarabelle Best, a saloon girl from the Silverado. “Clarabelle,” he said, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly in an attempt to calm his wildly beating heart and screaming nerves. “You, uh, startled me.” He smiled apologetically at her. “What can I do for you?”
“I’m sorry, Reverend,” she replied. “I saw you pass by a minute ago and I…” She stopped and looked up at him shyly. “I was wondering if I could talk to you for a minute?”
“Of course.” He swung open the gate and gestured for her to proceed him.
Her eyes widened. “Oh, no. I couldn’t come in. I… I wouldn’t want… Well, you know, Reverend.”
He chuckled lightly. “Good point.” He shut the gate again, then folded his hands quietly in front of him and waited for her to proceed.
“Well, you see…” She didn’t get a chance to say anything further as a man stepped out of the shadows behind her.
Dave’s eyes widened at the sight of the man and he instinctively drew Clarabelle towards him and stepped in front of her.
The man smiled at the movement and then looked Dave up and down with a smirk.
“Still as gallant as ever I see, Driscoll, or shall I say Clayton? Reverend Clayton,” he drawled out with an insolent laugh. “I could hardly believe it when I heard. Who woulda ever thought ol’ Sam becoming a preacher.”
“What do you want, Parker?” Dave asked coldly. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Clarabelle looking confusedly between him and Parker.
“You know what I want. I been looking for you for a long time, Driscoll. You about had me fooled with all that talk you’d died. Had me depressed for quite awhile, thinking somebody else had gotten to you first. ‘Til I heard that you’d just changed your name and gotten religion.” Parker gave a scornful chuckle. “Pretty good disguise. But not good enough.” His eyes hardened and narrowed. “Because I found you anyway,” he said and his hand drifted to his side to hover inches above his gun. “And that collar ain’t gonna protect you anymore.”
His eyes never leaving those of the man in front of him, Dave reached over and opened the gate and then pushed Clarabelle towards the house. “Go in the house, Clarabelle. It isn’t locked.” He was relieved that the girl didn’t argue with him, merely gave him a frightened glance and scurried toward the house. She only went as far as the front step, but it was far enough and he could turn his attention to Parker.
Slowly, he opened his jacket. “I’m not wearing a gun, Parker,” he said quietly. “And I’m sorry about Jake. If I could do it over I would,” he added regretfully. “I don’t blame you for being angry, but it was a fair fight; he pulled first.”
“Fair,” Parker spat out. “You call gunning down a green kid fair?!”
“He wanted Sam Driscoll,” Dave went on. “There was no talking him out of it; I tried.” In Dave’s mind, he could see again the young kid, so full of himself, so sure of making a big name for himself by gunning down Sam Driscoll, and he felt again the deep sadness the memory always brought. There had been too many just like him over the years.
“Yeah, well, I want him, too. Only I ain’t no wet-behind-the-ears kid.” Parker’s voice was menacing and the fingers of his gun hand twitched; Dave knew he was going to kill him.
“I’m not armed, Parker,” Dave reminded him again, not sure if it would really make a difference.
“That’s easy fixed,” Parker growled. “Get one.”
Dave shook his head at him. “No, I put it away for a reason. My gun fightin’ days are over. If you want to kill me, I can’t stop you. I won’t stop you. But you’ll have to do it in cold blood.”
In the dim light, he could see Parker’s face twist in anger and he reached for his gun. Dave braced himself for the jolt from the bullet as he closed his eyes and began to pray quietly to himself. It seemed an odd way for his life to end, but then it also seemed fitting – gunned down in revenge over a boy he himself had killed.
The seconds ticked by and there was only silence. Dave opened his eyes and looked into the haunted ones of the man only a few paces away from him.
“I’d heard you had changed. But I didn’t believe it,” Parker ground out. “I didn’t want to believe it, ‘cause I wanted to hate you. I still do, but I can’t kill a man who won’t fight and I can’t shoot a man wearing a collar, not as long as he ain’t just hiding behind it.” With that, he holstered his gun, and turning abruptly, walked away.
Dave let out a deep sigh, hardly able to believe that he was still alive. Clarabelle came running down the walk, and stopping beside him, clutched at his jacket. “Oh, Reverend, that man was going to kill you!” she said and burst into tears, burying her face in his coat.
He gave a shaky laugh and patted her gently on the shoulder. “Well, it would appear God isn’t quite finished with me yet,” he said as he lifted grateful eyes towards the sky.
It was later that evening that Dave touched a match to the wick of his lamp. The flare as it lit sent the shadows in the room scattering to the far corners. Dave blew out the match, placed the glass cover over the light and then settled himself wearily into the chair next to the table. It had been a long day – a long week, really, with the feeling of being watched settling over him so often and wanting to constantly look over his shoulder; it had a way of wearing a man down.
He was thankful, though, that it was finally over. He was still amazed that Bill Parker had simply turned and walked away. But it was merely another example of the ever present Mercy of God towards him. He had seen it more than once since he’d put up his gun and begun preaching the good news. It still amazed him that God would even care considering what he had been.
He stared into the flame of the lamp, but he didn’t see it. Jake Parker’s death was still vivid in his mind, even after all these years, because it had been the start of the weariness with the life he was living that would grow until that day when the fatal bullet hit the Bible tucked in his pocket and changed his life. He let his mind drift back to the day Jake Parker had come out of the saloon, seeking to make a name for himself on the body of Sam Driscoll, seeing it all again almost as if he was observing it from the outside, as if it had happened to somebody else as, in a way, it had.
The town lay drowsing in the heat of the sun, the dust devils swirling in the hot wind that blew so steadily in that part of the country, leaving a thick layer of dust over everything.
The streets were deserted save for a lone horse tied in front of the general store, his ears droopy and his hind leg cocked, the only movement an occasional swish of his tail as he tried to keep the stinging flies at bay.
The only sounds were the whir of the cicadas in the trees, the wail of the wind and the raucous shouts and laughter from a saloon across the way.
The horse gave another swish of his tail and then changed legs. His ears pricked forward suddenly and he raised his head as a man walked from the store with his arms full.
His master had the dark good looks that made women stop and take a second glance when he passed by, until they saw the hardness in the hazel eyes and the gun slung low over his hips and then they gave him a wide berth.
A black hat pulled low shielded his narrowed eyes as he paused just outside the door to examine the street. They darted quickly back and forth, noting each detail and then his gaze swept to the noisy saloon across the street before he stepped down and moved to his horse.
His movements were quick and sure as he placed his purchases in his saddle bag and tied the strings tight, checking twice to make sure they were secure.
He walked to the hitching post and had just reached out to untie the reins when the sound of the saloon door opening and closing came to him.
He stiffened at the sound of his name.
“Driscoll! I’m calling you out!” The voice was young, cocky, and just a little bit nervous and Sam couldn’t help feeling he’d heard it too many times before.
He sighed and turned his head slightly. “I don’t have any quarrel with you, son. Whoever you are,” he said over his shoulder, his voice calm and just loud enough to be heard.
“That don’t bother me none. I’m just aiming to rid the world of a piece of trash.”
Sam waited a minute. “Is that so?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah, that’s so.”
“You got a ma, son?”
“Yeah, what’s that got to do with anything?”
Sam turned just enough to get a look over his shoulder. He had been right; it was only a boy, barely eighteen, if that. Another wet-behind-the-ears kid wanting to make a name for himself by taking out Sam Driscoll. How many had it been now? He didn’t know. Too many to remember and Sam had lost count. It was always the same though – always. Sam sighed, turned forward again and looked up into the sky, so clear and blue above them.
“You really want her crying over your dead body on such a pretty day?” he asked smoothly, knowing it wouldn’t do any good.
He heard the jingle of the boy’s spurs and the sound of his footsteps as he stepped off the boardwalk and into the quiet dust of the street. Instinctively, Sam knew when the boy had reached the center and stopped.
“I ain’t aimin’ to make her cry; I’m aimin’ to make her proud by killing me a snake.”
Sam sighed again and tried to decide if it was worth the effort to try one more time. He knew it wasn’t. He could hear the rustle of spectators lining the streets behind him. There was no way the boy could back down now and there was no way he was going to let Sam ride away peaceably. He’d no doubt been bragging that he was going to kill Sam Driscoll and nothing Sam could do would change his mind about it. He shook his head sadly, well he’d tried.
“All right, son, if that’s the way you want it.” He turned slowly and faced the kid. The boy stood in the center of the street feet apart, his right hand curved several inches from his gun.
Sam kept his eyes on the boy as he slowly made his way to the center of the street and stopped several yards away from where he stood. He slowly looked him up and down.
“You got a name, son?”
The boy’s eyes narrowed. “Why you want to know?”
Sam lifted one corner of his mouth in a rueful smile. “I like to know the name of a man before I kill him.”
“I’m not the one dying today, mister! But the name is Jake Parker, just so’s you know who it is who finally put an end to you!”
“I see. Well, thank you anyway, Jake. Shall we get on with this?” Sam knew his calm manner was making the kid nervous and it only added to his advantage, but he hadn’t chosen this fight and he saw no reason to give the kid any breaks.
“Any time you say, mister.” The boy’s voice had gone cold and determined and Sam was a little surprised at the hatred in it. As far as he knew, he’d never even seen the boy. Not that it really mattered. To some people, all it took was his name and his reputation.
The street grew quiet as the man and the boy faced each other. Sam stood calmly, ready, waiting for the other to make his move. The boy’s face was tense, twitching, but Sam watched his eyes, the eyes always told you when they were going to draw…
There hadn’t been much more after that. Jake Parker had started to draw and Sam had killed him – the boy’s gun hadn’t even cleared leather. Dave heaved a deep sigh and ran a hand over his face, trying to wipe out the memory of the gangly-legged kid sprawled backwards in the dust. Something had broken in him that day; it had been just one too many. He’d felt sick afterwards. The boy had had a mother and she’d sobbed over his body along with his two sisters, both younger than him. They’d seen the whole thing from the general store. The sheriff had come and asked him to move on and he had – again. That day, the weariness and the sadness had set in and it kept up, growing stronger until that day he’d met the faster gun. But even now, Dave sometimes wondered if the other man had been faster or if, perhaps, he’d simply wanted to end it all. He’d never know for sure.