Dover Plains, Montana – 1877
“Tin star or not, Mackay, I’m gonna kill that son of a bitch. And I’m going to kill him right here and now.”
The gamblers and drunkards and whores in the Tin Horn Saloon quietly pushed their chairs away from their tables as John Hardy made his declaration.
But Sheriff Aaron Mackay stayed by Andy Johnson’s side, even though the young man had been passed out drunk since before Mackay had gotten there. “No one needs to die here today. Not Young Andy, here. And not you, either.”
The cattleman’s hand quivered as he pointed at the sodden lump at the table. “That little bastard threw a drink in my face – the very same goddamned drink I bought him – and then he spat on me. Did you hear what I said, Mackay? He spat, goddamn it! And for no good reason, either.”
Mackay knew arguing would just make Hardy angrier than he already was. “And he’s going to spend the night in jail for it. I’m going to give him a heavy fine, too. But the boy buried his father today, Johnny. If a man ever deserved any leeway….”
“Ain’t no leeway when it comes to spitting on me.” Hardy lowered his hand toward the holster on his right hip. “Now stand aside and let me do what needs doing.”
But Mackay didn’t move. He didn’t have to. His hand had been on his belt the whole time, next to the belly holster to the left of his belt buckle. The butt of his Colt already aimed in Hardy’s direction. Mackay had taken to wearing his gun that way back when he was in the cavalry. He liked the edge the easy draw gave him either on horseback or on foot.
“Don’t do anything stupid, Johnny. You won’t live long enough to regret it.”
Hardy’s face quivered as his eyes narrowed. “I’ve never backed down from any man.”
“I know. I’ve heard that before.”
“And I’ll be damned if I start now.”
“Yeah,” Mackay said. “I’ve heard that before, too.”
He’d always known John Hardy to be a reasonable man whenever he’d come to Dover Plains to sell his cattle. He tried one last time to appeal to that reason now. “You’re not a bad man, Johnny. You’re a trail boss used to campfire scrapes and drunken cowhands getting rowdy. But you’re not on the trail now and I’m not one of your cowhands. Don’t make me kill you.”
Mackay never took his eyes off Hardy, but he could feel the mood in the saloon change. None of the drunks or whores or gamblers made a sound, but their fear and expectation was palpable, like a strong prairie wind pushing Hardy toward the decision he’d come to. If it had just been Hardy, Mackay and the boy, Mackay figured Hardy might’ve listened to reason.
But it wasn’t just the three of them and reason didn’t apply. Hardy had an audience now and pride was involved.
Mackay had seen pride kill far too many people to doubt what would happen next.
Henry’s hand jerked toward his pistol.
Mackay drew and fired two shots through his chest before Hardy cleared leather.
Hardy’s body tumbled backward through the batwing doors onto the boardwalk on Front Street. With his Colt still in hand, Mackay pushed his way through the customers of the Tin Horn who’d managed to find their legs again as they rushed to look at the freshly dead man.
Mackay pushed through the batwing doors, gun first. But one look at Hardy’s vacant eyes and he knew the cattleman would never threaten anyone again. He slid the gun from Hardy’s holster anyway. Dead men can’t hurt you, but Aaron Mackay had never been one for taking chances.
As was his custom, he searched Hardy’s pockets for valuables. He liked to collect all property and catalogue it in front of witnesses so no one could claim anything had been stolen later. He found a wad of cash in the inside pocket of the cattleman’s jacket. A quick count came up five hundred dollars.
A crowd of Tin Horn customers and regular townspeople had gathered to gape at the body of John Hardy and at the man who had shot him. Dead bodies weren’t foreign to the town of Dover Plains. It was why they’d hired a man like Mackay to be sheriff in the first place.
But in the two years since Mackay had returned to Dover Plains and became sheriff, dead men on Front Street had become an infrequent sight in this small Montana town.
Mackay holstered his weapon and held up the cash for all to see. “I want all of you to see that I’ve taken five hundred dollars from John Hardy’s pockets. I will hold this money and his horse until someone lays rightful claim to his possessions.”
Murmurs started among the crowd like coffee percolating in a pot until Sam Warren, the owner of the Tin Horn, stepped forward. “Aaron, I…”
But Mackay was in no mood to hear the fat man’s nonsense. “I ought to lock you up, too, for letting young Andy get drunk enough to start all this. Just because his old man left him a pile of money when he died doesn’t give you the right to take it from him in one night. Christ, Sam. We just buried his father just this morning.”
Terrence P. McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction. His latest novel, SLOW BURN is currently available from Noir Nation Books. His first book, PROHIBITION, published by Airship 27, is a full-length novel set in the colorful, exciting world of 1930 New York City. Terry Quinn is an ex-boxer turned mob enforcer who must use his brains instead of his brawn to figure out who is trying to undermine his boss’s criminal empire and why.Quinn’s boxing career is also featured in a prequel – FIGHT CARD: AGAINST THE ROPES – published by Fight Card Books.
Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Action: Pulse Pounding Tales Vol. 1 and 2, Atomic Noir and Big Pulp among other places. He recently compiled GRAND CENTRAL NOIR, an anthology where 100% of the proceeds go directly to a non-profit called God’s Love We Deliver.
A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently working on his next work of fiction.
Warren, a fat little man who seemed to always be drying his hands in a bar apron, surprised Mackay by taking the rebuke well. “There’s time enough for us to talk about my failings as a proprietor, Aaron, but there’s more pressing matters facing you at the moment. Because John Hardy’s men will be coming into town with the cattle he was driving up here.”
Mackay had already figured that. But it didn’t make shooting Hardy any less necessary. “Any idea on how long Hardy’s been in town?”
Warren pointed at the money in Mackay’s hand. “Long enough to get an advance on the cattle he’s bringing. Maybe a couple of hours at most. He came in here all smiles and bought the house a couple of rounds. Him and young Andy seemed to be getting along just fine until the boy took offense to something and started all the trouble. That’s when I sent someone to get you. Hardy came back heeled just after you got here.”
Some men would’ve asked for all the particulars, but Mackay knew particulars didn’t matter anymore. Because John Hardy was dead and his men would soon be bringing his cattle to town. They’d be looking for their payday and, most likely, for the man who’d killed their boss.
Mackay spotted a burly red nose named Robinson just inside the doorway of the saloon and said, “You sober enough to go fetch Doc Ridley?”
Robinson shrugged. “Probably.”
“Then do it. Tell him to bring his wagon and haul Hardy away until his men come to collect him. And no drinking along the way, or I swear to Christ, you’ll be lying on the table next to him.”
Robinson went off and Mackay said to Warren: “I want you to write that down on a sheet of paper what happened here and sign it. I want everyone else who can sign or make their mark to do the same. Bring it over to me at the jail as soon as possible. You’ve got half an hour. Any delay, and what I just said to Robinson goes for you, too.”
The bar owner looked genuinely hurt. “Jesus, Aaron. No need to threaten me. I’m only tryin’ to help.”
Mackay looked back into the bar and saw young Andrew still passed out at the table. The drunken bastard had no notion of how close he’d come to dying. “You’ve helped enough for one day.”