Then things happened all at once. It was Sunday afternoon when everybody should be taking things easy. The boy wasn’t. I saw him take off with a look on his face that sure gave me a bad feeling. He was headed for Hank’s place and he didn’t look like he was going acourtin’. The buggy would be too slow so I borrowed a horse at the livery stable and took off after him.
By the time I got there he had a gun on Hank. They stood on the porch. No dogs around so they must be with Mary in the barn or someplace.
“Wait,” I yelled, and jumped off the horse as fast as I could. I kept my hands up away from my gun, but I had on a long coat so there wasn’t any way I could get to it fast anyhow. “What’s going on here?”
“I’ve found the killer of my father.”
“You must have just heard something. What was it.”
“Heard that Hank here used to be a gunfighter.”
“That so.” I was on the porch now. “So what are you going to do?”
“Shoot him. Like he did my pa.”
“You mean, you’re going to outdraw him?”
“He didn’t give my pa that chance, so I’m not going to give him the chance either.”
I realized that was his reasoning all along, not that it mattered now. He was scared, the gun shaking.
“Let’s back up a minute. Hank here didn’t kill your father.”
His eyes glanced over at me. If Hank had wanted to, he could have shot him in that moment. But he didn’t.
“Yeah. Then who did?” He glanced back at Hank.
I stepped between them.
“No. You’re just trying to save his life. He’s no good….” But he couldn’t go on, couldn’t see too well with the tears in his eyes..
“I’m going to tell you the truth, but you’re not going to believe me. Your daddy drew first. He was fast. I dropped to the ground so he missed and I got a shot off. Hit him square in the chest.”
I could hear Hank behind me making noises like he wanted to say something.
“My pappy drew first?”
“Like I said, he was fast. Wasn’t expecting me to drop out of the line of fire like I did.”
The boy looked dazed. “You?” he said. He looked over my shoulder at Hank but his gaze was sightless.
I didn’t say anything. Wasn’t sure how this was going to play out. But I knew I was plumb worn out waiting for this thing the kid had for revenge to come to a head. When a wound is festering, you’ve got to squeeze all the poison out.
“If you’re going to shoot somebody it’s got to be me.” I stood there waiting for him to decide, something he’d been in a tizzy about all along.
“You didn’t do anything before because you didn’t have the proof. Now you have it. You’re either going to shoot me and give up doctoring–because you can’t go on with learning about that if you’re ready to kill somebody. And you’re not going to be wedding Mary because you’re going to be on the run from the Sheriff. He’ll be after you before your gun gets cold. Probably sic some bounty hunters on you.”
The boy’s eyes looked into mine as though he wanted to see right into my brain and know what I was thinking. I stared him right back and hoped he couldn’t read my thoughts.
“See that’s what we were doing that day, looking for a man who’d shot somebody. Gotta tell you the Sheriff from your town was there and he saw what happened. He didn’t lock either of us up, just told us to keep on moving. Which we did. Never did get the guy we were after.”
I was talking slow and soft keeping my hands in sight, standing as still as I could. The boy’s eyes wavered. He wasn’t looking at Hank over my shoulder anymore. He was just sort of looking past him. Like he didn’t know what to do.
I was so close I could have grabbed his gun, but that wouldn’t make any decisions for him. This had to be resolved. He had to decide he was going to avenge his father’s death, or think about his own life and what he was going to do with it.
Dr. Gay Toltl Kinman has eight award nominations for her writing, including three Agatha Award nominations; several short stories in American and English magazines and anthologies; eight children’s books; a Y.A. gothic novel; two adult mysteries; several short plays produced; over one hundred and fifty articles in professional journals and newspapers; co-edited two non-fiction books; and writes three book review columns, and articles for two newspapers. Kinman has library and law degrees. http://gaykinman.com
There was a call from the barn. Mary. Johnny turned, distracted. I could’ve grabbed his gun or could’ve pulled mine out. Maybe that’s what he wanted. But I didn’t.
Mary didn’t seem to notice the gun in his hand or the way we were standing with me in front of Hank.
He stood there, watching Mary walk toward us, the dogs dancing around her, running forward to us then back to her, like she was some sort of fairy princess, who had power over all the animals.
If she guessed something was wrong, she didn’t let on, but she did have a puzzled look on her face. “Are you staying to dinner, Doc? Johnny?”
The boy tried to say something to her, but it was only a strangled sound. Then he jumped off the porch, ran to his horse, hopped on and galloped off. Think he still had his gun in his hand.
Mary looked at us for an explanation. I just greeted her like it was any other day. She looked at us both and went into the house.
I stepped away from Hank.
I heard Hank uncock his gun. So he had drawn.
“Why’d you do that?” he said.
“You saved my life, seemed only fair I return the favor.”
“He might have shot you.”
“Wasn’t really sure what he was going to do.”
“Not too many friends like you around,” Hank said.
“I thought the same thing that day,” I nodded in the direction Johnny had taken. “Guess you’ll be coming to town a little more often now that there’s nothing to hide from.”
“Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t.” He opened the door for me. “Come on in for dinner, unless your cooking suddenly got as good as your bravery.”