The reverend made his habitual over the shoulder peek before handing over the flask and a handful of bills. He overpaid for his tin of whiskey to ensure discretion. Judging by the looks he had been getting, he was not getting what his money’s worth.
It was still better to stay off the company credit ledger. Rumors were one thing, but hard copy evidence he was still on the sauce would be another. He had already been assigned him a church reserved for the lowest of the low. If he screwed up serving a flock of miners and their unfortunate families at this outpost carved out of one of Jupiter’s moons there was no were else to go. Veterans like him were supposed to turn this down, and opt for either an assignment deep in the church bureaucracy, or early retirement. He, however, had taken the job, embraced it even. The Reverend Glenn Halford still believed he could make a difference. If they were ever a group a people who needed the word of god, it was the poor souls stuck inside this rock.
He knew he should stop, but also knew even a sober Reverend Halford would make no difference here. Given what he saw today, maybe his superiors would allow he deserved a few stiff drinks.
“Reckon they will keep the lights on a few extra minutes while they clean up the bodies?” Remy, the bartender, said as pulled down the bottle.
“I suppose,” Halford said.
“I’m guessing you didn’t know those boys.”
“Everybody knew them.”
“Well, yeah, I reckon so. I meant they spent a hell of a lot more time here at the saloon than they did in church.”
“You would be right on that count.”
“I know it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, but I’m betting my tip jar and your collection plate knew them boys equally as well.”
“I’m not a betting man,” Halford said as Remy capped the full flask.
“No, I reckon not, if you were I’d know.”
Halford responded by reaching for his whiskey.
Remy kept the booze just out of Halfords reach, “You figure those company men will be asking you about what happened?”
Remy smiled and shrugged as if he had no answer. Halford knew this was bullshit, there was not much going on inside this rock Remy did not know about, and his feelings about this trio of company law men was common knowledge. He was hardly alone, out here on this remote outpost these young and unfortunately easily corruptible young men had run a campaign of terror and extortion reaching every wet and dirty corner of this orbiting mine.
Only Halford had gone to the higher ups and registered a complaint. Since the men running this operation were only concerned with quotas and expenses they could hardly be bothered. If the transports were filled with ore, a young man nearly beaten to death trying to prevent his girlfriend’s rape was not their problem.
“Who do you think gunned them down?” Remy asked, “Some of them drifters from the outer colonies?”
“I have no idea.” Halford said has he grabbed the flask and quickly pocketed it. The mine also served as fueling station for all sorts of travelers. Given the way supplies made it to the mine, long layovers were common. Without a company contract to hold them, drifters never stayed longer than they had too.
The door swung open and in walked one of the drifters, a big man wrapped in a thick black poncho with his wide brimmed hat pulled low so in the dim light of the bar he had no face.
“Don’t leave yet padre,” the drifter said as he bellied up to the bar, “I was hoping to buy you a drink.”
“What makes you think I want one?”
“Don’t worry padre, I reckon the barkeep can put your hooch in one of those coffee mugs and since I don’t have any company credit, this is going to be a cash transaction.”
Halford paused, but soon he was planting his butt in the bar stool next to the stranger.
“You know what the padre likes,” he told the bartender, “go ahead and pour two.”
The stranger waited for Remy to pour the drinks and then asked “You see what happened outside?”
“Yeah.” Halford replied.
“How’d it make you feel.”
Halford pictured the youngest of the three half his face removed with a bullet and the other half planted in the mud, “Why do you ask?”
“That ain’t an answer.”
“I won’t say they were my favorite people, but to die like that. . .”
“I figured you would be happy. It is what you asked for.”
“After the kids in your congregation, got assaulted you prayed them company boys would get some comeuppance.”
“How would you know what I prayed?”
“The same way you know the air inside this rock is cold, damp, and smells like old socks.”
“You sense it?”
“Are you claiming to be God?”
“Certainly not, I’m no fucking angel either.”
“Yet, you hear my prayers?”
“You put them out there, as means of communication prayer is pretty scattershot. You never know who is going hear, or if anyone is going to hear at all.”
“If you say so,” Halford said taking in half his glass.
“You saying you didn’t pray for them boys demise?”
“No, I’m not.”
“So seeing those three dead in the street make you feel good?”
“Can’t say it did.”
“No, I can’t say I feel that either.”
“I reckon you wouldn’t, those kind of things are only satisfying when you do it yourself.”
Halford, having no response, stayed silent, and finished his drink.
“Speaking of doing things yourself,” the stranger said, “the company boys weren’t the only ones you prayed about.”
The stranger looked at Remy who was edging his way further down the bar, “No need to go for the sawed off under the bar, you ain’t the one the padre had in mind.”
From under the poncho the stranger pulled a pistol, a big heavy chunk of steel, smelling like it had been recently fired, and set it on the bar, spinning the weapon so the handle faced Halford.
Halford said nothing.
“Don’t worry padre, it will do the job.”
“I pray for a lot of things,” Halford said.
“You going to make me do this one too?”
Remy started to move closer to the other end of the bar.
“I know you are a company man, bar keep, but they don’t pay you enough,” the stranger said.
“What do you mean?” Remy said taking another step.
Another pistol filled the strangers hand as he spun in his chair. Remy lunged for the gun under the bar. The stranger waited until Remy had the scattergun in hand before putting a bullet in his face. He turned back to Halford, who picked up the pistol and leveled it at the stranger.
The stranger put the other gun under his poncho and finished his drink. He stood and turned to Halford, telling him, “I suppose a person has the right to change his mind.”
The stranger walked to the door, Halford kept the gun on him, but did not fire. Before leaving he stopped and turned to face the reverend, “You can keep the gun.”
Halford kept the gun trained on the door until it stopped swinging, the weight of it began to wear on his arm, and he lowered the weapon. The miners would be working for another hour, so unless another drifter wandered in, he had the bar to himself. He went around to the other side and grabbed a bottle.
He began to drink, hoping he could muster enough courage to put the gun under his chin and grant himself the other wish.