Summary: A man after Slim has to deal with Jess instead.
Word Count: 1730
Jess whipped his head around when he heard the snap of a gunshot. His heart lurched when he saw his pard somersault out of the saddle and his body bounce down the rock-strewn slope to come up against a rock face, which halted his downward plunge.
He threw himself off Traveler, who immediately took off as if the very devil was after him, and rolled and scrambled down the slope to where his partner lay.
“You hurt bad?” Jess breathlessly managed to get out.
“Don’t think so. I can’t tell as I must have hit every rock coming down that slope,” answered Slim.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jess replied and then ducked down as the dirt beside his boot was sprayed upwards as the gunman took another shot at them. “You saying you fell of your horse?” Jess said with a small grin. “If we weren’t pinned down by that guy who wants to kill you, it would be funny.”
“So you’ve never fallen off a horse? And what makes you think he was aiming at me? You’re the one who’s had his face on the wanted posters. Could be one of your old pards out to make himself rich, or get himself a rep for hanging your hide on his gate post.”
Another gunshot went off, this time ricocheting small shards of rock into the back of Jess’ vest.
“You’ll never let it lie, will you, Slim? I have to live like a saint. I paid heavily for what I did. Why can you not forget it? I’m trying to.” Jess said bitterly.
“Not when you laugh at me nearly breaking my neck,” Slim replied.
“You never could take a joke; you would have died laughing if you had seen me fall over the back of Traveler.”
“I still might watch you squirm.” Slim grinned and then gasped as he caught his elbow on an outcrop of rock. He moved trying to find somewhere more comfortable, as another shot went off raising more sand again, almost by Jess’ thigh this time.
“We need to get out of here; I ain’t lying here all day letting some no good bastard take pot shots at me,” Jess growled, his face taking on a darkness and his eyes becoming like narrowed slits from which could be seen the dangerous glint of rising temper.
“Well, before you start you’re cussing and threatening, don’t you think we should first try and find out who it is you’re now wanting to put a bullet ‘tween the horns.”
Without further ado, Jess yelled out, “Hey mister, you got a handle and you sure you got the right guys?”
Slim suddenly was thrown against the rock as a bullet tore into the top of his shoulder, burying itself in the fleshy part just above his shoulder bone. “Argh!” With that, Slim slid sideways and curled up around his hurt.
Jess was at his side, now ignoring the fusillade of shots, which were spitting down and gouging into the rock face. “Come on, pard, let me see,” Jess anxiously murmured.
“I’m O.K.,” Slim gasped. “Help me move. You’re a sitting duck; he’s gonna get you.”
“He ain’t; he’s a lousy shot.” Just then a bullet went through the sleeve of Jess’ shirt tearing a piece of it away.
“May be not,” Jess growled and tried to help his pard further round the edge of the rock face into a slight indentation, which afforded the two pards a bit more cover from the seemingly constant hail of bullets from above.
“Names Chris Roberts. Know me now, Sherman?” a voice rang out from above.
“Hold still, pard; let me get this stuffed into that gash. Bleeding’s almost stopped,” Jess said, consoling his partner, who was now shivering with shock and was feeling as if ice was being poured all over him.
“You know him?” Jess asked.
Slim nodded, and then said weakly, “Helped Mort bring him in a few years back. I killed his brother, an unlucky shot, was trying to wing him. The kid would not back down. Problem was he was only 17; had no business trying to rob a stage. Ouch, Jess, take it easy.”
Jess pushed Slim as far into the overhang as possible, and then stood up hard against the rock face and called up to Roberts. “Sherman’s been hurt. You satisfied?”
“No, I want him dead. He gunned my baby brother down like he was a mangy coyote. I have waited all these years to take that holier than thou lump of dirt down. Clear out, Mister, or I will get to you next.”
“Sorry, you got to get to me first,” Jess called up. He drew his colt and squinted into the chamber as he spun it he checked its load.
“Jess,” a breathless Slim managed to all out. ”You leave it; it’s not your fight. He’s mean; he’s killed anyone who’s ever got in his way.”
“Hush up, Slim. He goes for you, he goes for me,” Jess mumbled as he felt the adrenalin surge through his body and his senses become so acute and sharp that he heard a sidewinder slither away into the shadows.
“You want to take your chances with me, out in the open? Or do you want me to hunt you down and make you swallow your iron before I blow your head off?” Jess shouted out, his voice bristling with threat as he threw down his challenge.
“Stop Jess, please leave it. We’ll just wear him down; he’ll be out of ammo soon, the way he has been blasting off.” Slim put his head back, the sweat was glistening of his face, and he did not have the strength to wipe it away.
“Rest easy, Slim, I’ll be back soon. Need to collect those two darned stupid mounts as well,” Jess said quietly as he began to work his way around the rock face and inch himself into a position where he could get a bead on Roberts.
‘Jess, wait,” Slim called out weakly, but Jess had gone.
Finally, Jess wormed his way from around the rocky outcrop; he could see Roberts, who was still firing at the place he thought the two of them could be. He slowly stood up, confident that he was well out of range of the handgun that the outlaw carried.
“Over here, Roberts, I’ve come for you,” Jess shouted, suddenly aware that the wind had risen and was blowing sand across the slope and into his face.
“Yeah, so you have. I was looking forward to our hunt. You impatient to die, boy?” Roberts called.
“No, just need to get my pard home; he needs some fixing.”
“Get to it then.” Roberts called out.
Jess started to move slowly with the poise of a languid panther, closing the range between them. Jess knew how useless a hand gun could be, and he liked to see the whites of their eyes before he called out his final challenge. His Pa used to say being fast is fine, being accurate is better. Jess had worked hard at being both.
“You coming to meet me? Or do I have to do all the walking?’ Jess called.
“No, boy, I’ll be on me way; I’ll drill you real soon,” Roberts replied and he began to move as cautiously as if he were walking on hot coals.
Finally, Roberts stopped, and Jess watched him in horrified fascination. He was looking at a man whose whole being extruded threat and death. He was a man who looked as if he had never been in the open for years. He was deathly white — a maggot white — and the only color was from his raven black hair. He seemed to be breathing heavily all the time, as if he could not get enough air into his lungs. He did not breathe through his nose but from his mouth that was open and showed a ravaged mouthful of blackened and broken teeth. He carried not an ounce of extra flesh, and his face and neck were as if decorated with necklaces of loose, transparent putrid skin. His feet were braced apart and his long arm hung wide of his gun, his fingers held out in a claw like fashion. He slowly began to sway, and then he smiled gently at Jess.
“Your friend he’ll be dead before you make up your mind when you want to die,” Roberts crooned at Jess in a breathless voice that held the sound of disdain and mirth.
Jess watched him, almost frozen with fear by the reptilian creature before him. He watched and waited as he always did; he knew he was fast but did not like to live with the idea that he killed in cold blood. He preferred the notion that his killing was done in self-defense. However, this time he was defending his pard, who he knew, even on his very best day, would die if he was forced to try and out-gun Roberts.
Jess waited and finally forced himself to look into the other man’s eyes; he always did that, as it was there that he found that a man signaled that he was about to go for his gun. He recoiled in horror for it was as if he was looking into hell itself. The eyes were like those of a dead fish, without any real color, just cold without any humanity or feeling that could be identified with the human race. They seemed to be like pools of moving mercury, at times shining with all the brilliance and cruelty of the killer sparrow hawk at other times, dead, cold without hope. The man swaying before him like a snake maybe alive, but his soul was dead, and Jess was looking into putrid decay, a black morass of hell, which swarmed and writhed in unimaginable pain.
Suddenly the eyes flickered; Jess heard the shot and felt the slight sting of a wasp as the bullet creased his cheek. Jess had been right. The man was a lousy shot, he thought. Jess’ gun was suddenly filling his hand and he shot Chris Roberts, whose soul he had seen mirrored in his dead eyes, right between them.