Fast Draw and Dead

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic

Tate Huntington survived the horrors of the war between the states, but the battle to face up to the killing, well, that battle is still being fought when Tate rescues a young woman forced into prostitution and does it the only way he knows: with a gun--which starts a battle that Tate may not walk away from.

Fast Draw and Dead


by James Brian King


Tate Huntington nursed his whiskey, Jack Daniels of Tennessee—the good stuff that cost him two-bits and not the rot-gut of dubious distillation that cost half as much, though the rot-gut was what he could usually afford. But, hell, he was only drinking one drink and it may very well be the last drink he would ever savor, seeing as he was likely to die today.

Alva laid the slender fingers of one hand on top of Tate’s and gently squeezed his much meatier hand for several long seconds; the tremble in her hand betrayed her distress. “Please, Tate, ven he comes, don’t go out there.” She tried to smile, but it was more of an angst-filled grimace. “You don’t have to, not for me—you have nothing to prove to me.”

Tate slid his gaze from the rim of his whiskey glass to focus on the girl’s tear-streaked face. Alva Johanson was sure a pretty thing—tiny, yet with all the right curves that made her even prettier; her Scandinavian accent only made her more captivating.

His expression turned harsh, and then just as quickly softened. “He raped you, Alva, and he did it to git t’me.”

“Oh, Tate.” Renewed tears streamed down Alva’s face. “A month ago I vas a prostitute. Until you saved me from that.” She wiped at the tears with her free hand, not letting go of Tate’s other hand. “You can call it rape, but most folks von’t. Most folks around here vould say that once a girl has been a prostitute she has no claim to respect.” She slowly shook her head. “No court vill uphold a charge of rape, Tate. Please just let it go.”

Tate looked into Alva’s troubled, tear-filled eyes for what seemed a long time before replying, very quietly, “he’ll do it agin’, Alva, and agin’, and I cain’t pertect you. I have ta work, Alva. I cain’t be here all the time to pertect you.” Tate didn’t say more as to why Alva needed protection, but he figure it didn’t need to be said: Art Spane had been a regular with Alva right up until Tate rescued her from the indignity of prostitution. And Spane, bastard that he was, had not only been a regular, but had been cruel, had taken great pleasure in making it humiliating and painful.

Alva was only now eighteen years old. She was the oldest daughter of an immigrant family with ten children, too many children for the poor parents to feed on the unskilled jobs her father could acquire. Tate had difficulty in not seeing the girl’s father as just one more bastard, though he could imagine the pain and frustration of seeing a passel of children going hungry, but he could not excuse what that father had done to remedy his hardship: he sold Alva to Gus Hancock, a rich saloon owner—sold her, at age sixteen, into sexual slavery. Oh, sure it was illegal, but that didn’t seem to be an issue for the town marshal who had a quarter-stake in the saloon. Just four weeks ago Tate had forced his way into Gus Hancock’s office when Marshal Naulty had also been present; seems they were counting the previous night’s gambling take together as if they didn’t trust each other. Anyway, Tate had looked them both in the eye and announced that one of two things was gonna happen: either Gus Hancock would take $100 to free Alva—half of what Hancock had paid Alva’s father, or Tate would gun both of them down right then and there. Tate could still see the image of Naulty’s calculating mind behind his bright blue eyes; there was no doubt that the marshal could use a gun, but it was well known that Tate could as well, being a veteran cavalry soldier from that damnable war between the states. Hancock and Naulty chose the safer side of valor and accepted Tate’s hundred dollars. Tate had taken Alva to a town in the next county and arranged for her to be a saloon girl in a classy saloon—one that did not allow prostitution on the premises.

But now Naulty had hired hisself a new deputy, Art Spane. On the street they called him “Trigger” Spane—Spane had been wanted on suspicion of cattle rustling when Tate had rescued Alva a month ago; now he was an officer of the law—a lawman with a reputation as a gunman, yet one more soldier from the war who had become inured to killing. And he was fast at the quick draw—damned fast, so the talk on the street said. Tate, on the other hand, though accurate with the Remington 1858 that hung from his belt—three years of fighting had given him that—had never developed a skill that could be called a fast draw; he knew he could never beat Trigger Spane in the draw.

Tate renewed his focus on Alva’s pretty face; she appeared to be almost holding her breath, waiting for him to say something. Tate wasn’t much for talking, didn’t figure he was much good at it. He pushed away from the bar and gently disengaged his hand from Alva’s grip.

Alva drew in breath, Tate assumed it was so she could plead one more time with him, but instead she said, “Please, Tate, take me avay from here. Marry me, Tate, marry me!” She flung herself at Tate and wrapped her arms around his torso. “Don’t go out there just to get yourself kilt.”

Tate loved this girl. And he would have married her if he thought himself worthy of her. But he was a killer. He had killed more men in the damned war than he could even count, too many that he shouldn’t have killed, wounded men and men who wanted to surrender. He was as much a murderer as all of the Trigger Spane’s who rambled the West. He didn’t deserve Alva. Hell, he didn’t have a dollar to his name anyway, so how could he take a bride? He just didn’t know how to tell her that. And before he could even consider trying, the saloon doors were pushed open.

Tate tensed and his gun hand instinctively dropped to his Remington. It wasn’t Spane, but was instead Marshal McCort. McCort’s eyes dropped briefly to where Tate’s hand was, then he slowly entered the saloon proper.

“Spane just rode into town, Huntington. So I came to warn you. He has a warrant for your arrest, for armed robbery.” McCort glanced at Alva and his guarded gaze opened enough to show his sympathy. “I’m sorry, Huntington, but I’m a representative of the law. Most laymen would say I should assist him. But...” McCort again glanced at Alva and he sighed before continuing, “Look, word on the street is that Spane has no intention of arresting you. He intends to gun you down in the street. I’ll arrest him of course, and he’ll let me. Marshal Naulty has a lot of influence over the circuit judge. Spane will get off. But...” Again that hesitation at “but”. McCort shook his head and spoke more forcefully. “Huntington, if you draw first and win in a shoot out I will have no choice but to arrest you, and you’ll hang. But if Spane draws first and you survive a shoot out, I’ll declare it self-defense, and Naulty can howl all he wants to no effect. But Spane has to draw first.”

Both men stared at each other. Both had to be thinking the same thing: if Spane drew first, there was just no way to beat the man to the first shot.

The silent stares were broken by the distant voice of Spane himself, somewhere out on the street. “Huntington, you in there?” Spane yelled. “Come on out, now. I have a warrant for your arrest.”

Tate turned his gaze to Alva. So much to say. No time to say it. The words probably wouldn’t come anyway.

He abruptly stepped away from Alva and toward the saloon doors. He stepped out of the saloon and stopped to allow his eyes to adjust to the bright sunlight. He was surprised to see what had to be close to a hundred people, men, women, and children, lining the board walks on both sides of the dusty street.

And there, perhaps a hundred and fifty feet up the street, stood Spane. The man was average height, average size, much like Tate himself, but Spane had a look in his eyes that made other men—of any size—wary of him. The empty, unfeeling eyes of a killer. Tate had seen them many times among the veterans of the war. He wondered if others saw that same look in his own eyes. 

Tate slowly stepped out into the center of the dusty street, then turned to face Spane. He slowly started forward, and Spane did the same. Most gun fighters closed the distance to perhaps thirty feet, forty at the most, before one of the shooters went for his iron. Instead, Tate abruptly stopped at seventy feet and tensed, his gun hand inches from the walnut grips of his Remington.

The sudden halt and gunman’s stance surprised Spane, maybe even astonished him by the expression on his ugly visage. The man tensed, but then eased his muscles, and he tilted his head just slightly.

And suddenly Tate feared it wasn’t going to work—he wasn’t going to get Spane to draw at long range; Spane’s Sheriff’s model Colt Navy had a five-inch barrel, where the barrel on Tate’s Remington was seven-and-a-half inches; at long range it could make all the difference; and Spane would know that. But Spane, by reputation, was an arrogant and thin-skinned man easily offended and quick to anger; so Tate would play on that. He slowly let a broad smile widen his lips, and then he began to chuckle, then he forced as much scorn and mockery into his expression as he could manage.

Spane’s visage became twisted by fury and rage—and, almost faster then the eye could see, his Colt was out of its holster and belching flame and lead before Tate’s Remington even cleared its holster.

Tate all but ignored the firing Colt, though he was aware that Spane fired three times before Tate drew the longer Remington from the holster and brought it on target; he waited just a fraction of a second before firing—a gun fighter doesn’t really aim in a gun fight, yet that fraction of a second is where accuracy comes from at long range—and that was Tate’s plan all along. He fired three shots before he realized that Spane was sinking to his knees.

The look of uncontrolled fury remained on Spane’s face as he fired the last of his Colt’s six lead balls, but he could no longer aim—the sound of a woman’s panicked screaming off to the right signified just how far off the mark Spane’s last shot had been.

Tate slowly sauntered forward through the haze of black powder smoke from his own shots, the Remington still in his gun hand. As he got close he saw the results of his three shots—or rather, two shots; one had missed: one round had penetrated left-center chest, but the other was the sure kill—it had taken him in the left side of the neck and opened the artery. Spane was quickly bleeding out as he struggled for his last few breaths.

Spane’s look of rage was gone, replaced by bewilderment. Vain arrogance, Tate considered, killed as much as did the gun.

Tate silently watched Spane die and did nothing. As he stood there, Marshal McCort stepped alongside him, as did Alva.

“Uh, listen, Huntington, there is one more thing I didn’t want to share with you until after this was over. Turns out that Spane is a wanted man in Kansas. Shot three men dead over a disagreement over a woman. There’s a reward on him for five-hundred dollars, dead or alive.”

Tate slowly turned to stare at Marshal McCort as the man’s words made their way to his killing addled mind. Reward?

McCort smiled and nodded his head. “I’ll get a photographer out here and swear out an affidavit myself and see it sent by wire to Abilene. You should be able to collect the reward right here at our local bank within just a couple weeks.”

Alva, who almost seemed to know that Tate had needed a moment to get past the killing, slowly approached and carefully, gently, encircled her arms around Tate’s torso and tucked her blonde haired head under his chin.

“That money is more than enough to set us up in a household, Tate. I know you don’t vant to farm or herd cattle, but you could inwest in a part-interest in a general store or saloon. Ve could both vork there.”

Alva pushed away just far enough to look into Tate’s face; he dropped his gaze to look into hers.

Alva continued, “Tate, I vas a prostitute—I didn’t choose it, but still, I vas a prostitute. And you saw me as something more than that.” Alva’s tears began to flow again, but she ignored them. “You vere a soldier. You didn’t choose it, but still, you vere a soldier, and, like prostitutes, soldiers do things they can’t be proud of later. And I see you as something more... beyond the killing.” She abruptly thrust her head back under Tate’s chin and clung to him with all her strength. “Please, Tate, let’s both move past our history and make a better life—for each other, for both of us.” If Alva intended to say more, her sobbing became too much too speak through.

Tate’s soul was touched by something he hadn’t felt in a long time: release, forgiveness, something—and he pressed his arms around Alva’s slender form and clung to her in a way he hadn’t since the day he rode away from his childhood girl friend in Illinois and on his way to war and it’s violence and killing.

Fighting back tears that hadn't flowed in years, Tate turned his muddled gaze to Marshal McCort. "Marshal, if you don't mind, let's git this reward taken care of right away. We're gettin' married!"


Submitted: November 16, 2019

© Copyright 2020 James Brian King. All rights reserved.

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Robert Helliger

A well written Western short story.

Tue, November 19th, 2019 6:37am

Other Content by James Brian King

Short Story / Westerns