CROSSROADS #10 Enough to Fill a Town

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Fantasy Realm

"Bloody" John Tull has carved a brutal path thru his life with lead & death. Once again he is on the run from the law but this time he stumbles into a town which seems to admire even revere the outlaw. Could this be what he's been looking for all his life? Could he stop running & settle down? If you know anything about this series you know nothing is ever that simple... at Crossroads.

Welcome to Texas, the mid-1880s, and a tiny incidental desert hamlet named Crossroads. It's a little known, seldom spoken of frontier town, snugly nestled beneath majestic mountains along the southwestern border between Texas and Mexico, and morally poised between virtue and corruption. It's a mundane community barely on the maps of this vast region, a unique shade of gray in this harsh black and white world. It's a tiny society unto itself where the sublime sometimes means the surreal. It is a place where wandering souls come for a variety of reasons. For some it's to seek a better life away from the increasingly modernized mayhem of progress. For some it's a place to hang their hat before moving on to their destiny. Still for others it's a sanctuary from the past, a last chance of sorts to start anew.

So welcome, my friend.  Welcome to a town where last chances meet new beginnings.  Welcome to a town on the edge of the American spirit, where the unimaginable is cultivated from the seeds of the human condition. Welcome to a town where the past and the present roll the dice with the future hanging in the balance.

Welcome... to Crossroads.

II=====II=====II=====II====== II=====II=====II

CROSSROADS

 Enough to Fill A Town

by LW Thunder

II=====II=====II * PROLOGUE * II=====II=====II

Ever wonder what your legacy will be? How will others view you and your life, the things you accomplished? Did you help enough people? Did you hurt too many? Did you make a life-changing impression on someone? Did you inspire someone to live their life like you? Did you leave a dark stain on your life’s footprint? To many, their legacy is what drives them to do the things they do whether noble in cause of foolhardy in purpose. The annals of history have been written by those whose legacy has become larger than life, it’s become legendary.

Leonardo Di Vinci.

Joan of Arc.

George Washington.

Davey Crockett.

Even Billy the Kid.

They were all driven to do things which would come to define them and their deeds. Their legacy. But what if your legacy could sit across a table from you and confront you with the choices you’ve made? Would you be able to look your legacy in the eye and justify your life’s works? Or would you squirm in your seat knowing that the deeds you’ve done were done solely for personal profit in both material and stature?

These are all questions which our main protagonist, Jack Tull, notorious gunfighter and killer still in the prime of his carnage, will be called upon to answer. You see Mr. Tull is a man who is always looking for an exit knowing full well his impending actions will necessitate that egress lest he feel the tightening of a noose around his neck. He has blazed a path of fear and bloodshed across the West and it has led him to his penultimate destination, a course of action which will come with consequences most significant, here... at Crossroads.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER ONE * II=====II=====II

He walked into Mooney’s Last Chance Saloon and the entire joint came to a halt. All eyes stared at this individual covered in trail dust standing just inside the swinging doors. His gaunt face was tanned like leather and his thin squinty eyes poured over the room and its occupants from wall to wall. Everyone watched with eyes wide as he made his way to the bar where Bartender Mooney and frequent patron, Ellis Nutter, talked in hushed conversation.

“You know who that is, doncha, Mooney?” says Nutter fumbling for his beer.

“It can’t be,” says Mooney in disbelief.

“Oh, it’s him alright. I seen ’im once up in Abilene. He killed three men in the blink of an eye for calling him a cardsharp. Yeah, that’s him alright. As sure as I’m standin’ here...that’s Bloody Jack Tull.”

“I heard the stories, El, hell everyone’s heard the stories.” says Mooney indignantly.

“They say he’s killed enough folks to fill an entire town” says Nutter as he downs his last swallow of whiskey as Tull slowly approaches them. “Yup, enough for a town, that’s what they say”

“Hush now, El he’s coming”

The man moves to the bar and places both hands on the brass railing which runs along the edge of the bartop.

“Barkeep?” he says in a slow drawl.

“Ah, yes-yes sir?” stammers Mooney.

“Do you happen to know who I am?” the man says looking past Mooney and into the large mirror on the wall behind the bar.

“Wh-why sure, I mean, everyone knows you, Mr. Tull” says Mooney with a nervous grin.

The man gives a short smile then looks Mooney directly in the eye.

“Then keep the whiskey comin’ and there’ll be no need for me to...complain, comprende?”

“Yessir” says Mooney placing a fresh bottle of whiskey on the counter.

Tull nods his approval and winks. He grabs the bottle by the neck and spins around on his heels. There’s almost a collective gasp from the crowd as he slowly eyes the room. He makes his way to a corner table where a little bearded man nervously sits drinking a glass of beer. He avoids looking at Tull as the gunman now stands at the table.

“I’m not much on company when I’m drinking” says Tull in a low tone.

The little man looks up at him nervously and grabs his beer.

“I was just leaving, mister. It’s all yours” he says as he hurriedly scrambles from the table.

Tull stifles a chuckle and sits down at the table, his back to the corner of the room. He peels off his flat-brimmed hat and wipes his mouth with the bandana around his neck. John Tull is used to having his way and when he doesn’t get it, it usually ends with someone dying. John Tull is a known and feared killer. It is said the number of dead he’s left behind him is so high that the count is no longer kept. The law of the West has not been helpful in stopping him either as there are usually two scenarios which play out. One is that the local law doesn’t want to confront him for fear of scenario number two.

Scenario number two is death.

It’s said that he’s killed more people, including lawmen, than any known man alive or dead. History will have a special section in its book for John Tull. He pours himself another glass of whiskey. Raising the glass as if to make a toast, John Tull looks around the slowly emptying room. No one wants to be in his path should he become discontented. He guzzles down the whiskey and slams the glass on the table.

A smile appears on his face.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER TWO * II=====II=====II

It was late in the day when a man shuffled into the saloon. He was covered in dirt and grime and what appeared to be blood. Over his shoulder was slung a rifle. On his hip was a twelve-inch knife, it’s blade was two inches wide. It was kind of knife used by a buffalo skinner in the fur trade. The man slaps off some of the dirt and dust and then nods to Mooney who is nervously cleaning glasses behind the bar.

“Afternoon Dooley!” says Mooney as he gives the man a tentative smile and continues his work.

The man, Jim Dooley, stood six foot four and was of a husky build. He had a thick red moustache and beard. His eyes were hard and his hands calloused from half-dozen years of buffalo hunting. Before that he worn the badge up in Wichita, Kansas but gave it up at the request of his wife Maddy after a particularly bad incident with the outlaw “Trigger Jack” Crowe occurred resulting in Dooley taking a bullet which nearly took his life. He’s spent the last six years hunting buffalo from Texas to the Dakotas and has made a name for himself amongst the townsfolk. Dooley scans the empty room with hard and knowing eyes.

“Where is everybody, Mooney?” he asks in a booming loud gravelly voice.

“Oh, must be just one of those days”, says Mooney giving a nervous sideways glance at Tull.

Dooley looked over at Tull quizzically and then back at Mooney.

“Dang, it’s been a while since this place was this empty this late in the day” says Dooley shaking his head in disbelief. “I’ll take a bottle of whiskey, sir”

Mooney fetches a fresh bottle from under the bar and places it on the bar top. The grabs the bottle and flicks a silver dollar to Mooney with his thumb.

“Where’s Stick?” he asks. “No people, no piano player, what’s going on here? It’s like a funeral parlor not a barroom.”

Dooley is referring to Tim “Stick” Groton, the Last Chance Saloon’s resident piano man. He’s been with Mooney since he opened the joint. He tall and thin as a whip hence the nickname ‘Stick’. Today he’s decided to vacate the premises along with the usual patrons due to the presence of Big John Tull.

“At least there’s one man left in here who ain’t afraid ta drink” says Dooley as he winks at Tull.

Tull looks over at Dooley stoically then at the glass of whiskey in his hand. He studies the liquor briefly then downs it.

Dooley made his way to a table and sat down. He leans his rifle on the wall behind him.

“What’s yer name, gent?” asks Dooley from across the room.

Tull just sits there examining his next glass of whiskey as if he never heard Dooley. Dooley furrows his brow at the snub and shouts over to Tull once again.

“Maybe you didn’t hear me over all the noise in here, friend,” says Dooley as he pours himself a shot of whiskey. “M’name’s Jim Dooley. Just in from a buffalo hunt up north of Wichita way. And you are?”

John Tull sighs in abject resignation.

“I heard ya, skinner”, says Tull never taking his gaze from his glass. “An’ I ain’t in the mood for conversation so just sit over there quiet-like and shut yer hole”

Tull’s reply catches Dooley off guard. He cocks his head like a confused dog and stares at Tull.

“An’ don’t give me a hard look, or you won’t like what you find”, says Tull as he downs another glass of whiskey.

“Ain’t no call fer that attitude, mister” says Dooley as downs his glass and slams it down. “An’ I don’t appreciate yer comments”

“Dooley…” Mooney tries to interject.

“Stay out, Mooney” shouts Dooley as he continues to stare at Tull, “Mister, I won’t let that stand. I’m just making conversation. I don’t feel you need to be ornery by it”

“I don’t much care what you think, ‘skinner. Just as long as you shut yer yap and leave me to drink in peace. Comprehende?”

“That how you see it?” says Dooley. “Maybe you’d care to try and make me quiet?”

“Dooley…!” says Mooney trying to stop Dooley’s antagonism before it’s too late.

“Alright”, says Tull with a smile. His eyes now lock with Dooley’s.

“Alright? Whaddaya mean ‘alright’?” asks Dooley.

“I mean” says Tull as he downs another glass, never taking his eyes from Dooley’s stare, “maybe I will make you quiet.”

Dooley exhales a chuckle then a laugh.

“Dooley! C’mere!” yells Mooney.

Dooley seems to actively ignore the barkeep.

“Exactly how you plan on doing that?” quizzes Dooley.

“It’s simple”, says Tull. “You and yer rifle there ‘gainst me… and my colt .45”

Dooley bristles at the request.

“You want to shoot it out because you want me to shut up? You’re as loco as a rabid hound” says Dooley with a boisterous laugh.

A nervous Mooney joins in the laughter hoping to alleviate the pressure building up.

“I don’t think it’s nice o’you laughing at my offer, friend” says Tull, sliding his right hand down to the handle of his pistol.

Dooley sees this and now realizes the true gravity of the man’s convictions. “Aw, hang ya”, he says waving Tull off with his hand. He pours himself another glass and downs it.

Tull grins but the grin quickly disappears.

“C’mon now ‘skinner” says Tull tapping the butt of his Colt with his index finger, “I’ve taken you up on yer offer to shut you up. Let’s get to it.”

Dooley eyes Tull hard as he guzzles down another slug of whiskey.

“It ain’t worth a shootin’, mister” says Dooley. “now you’ve got yer answer. Now it’s yer turn ta keep yer trap shut.”

Tull looks at his glass then past it to Dooley, He grins then chuckles.

“I like you, ‘skinner” he says bringing the glass to his lips.

Dooley shakes his head in frustration. Mooney breathes a sigh of relief behind the bar. Suddenly Elmer Nutter runs back into the bar and over to Mooney. He whispers something to the bartender who reacts with widening eyes.

“You sure, Elmer?” asks Mooney.

“He won’t be back until tomorrow they figger” says Elmer.

“What are we going to do till then?” Mooney ponders aloud.

“I know what I’m gonna do” says Elmer.

“What’s that?” asks Mooney curiously.

“I’m gonna do my drinkin’ at Dobber’s” he says and quickly exits the bar.

John Tull has been watching the conversation between the two men intently. This is not his first rodeo, as they say. He knows sooner or later folks are going to let the local law know of his presence. That is usually followed by a showdown with some tinhorn badge-toter who wants to make his reputation by being the one to put a stop to Bloody John Tull.

The outlaw downs another glass of whiskey and smiles.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER THREE * II=====II=====II

“Dammit!”

Jim Dooley throws his cards onto the table in anger. Having lost his eighth game of poker in three hours to the man seated across the table from him…John Tull.

“Well friend, looks like I can’t lose tonight I guess” says Tull with a hearty chuckle. “Care for another hand?”

Dooley downs his glass of whiskey, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. all the while staring a hole thru the victorious outlaw.

“I don’t know why I agreed ta play cards with you ta begin with,” says a very drunken Dooley. “You’ve won all my money. I’m done.”

“Aw c’mon ‘skinner”, says Tull raking in his winnings. “You can’t quit now, the night’s still early.”

Dooley scowls.

“I ain’t got no money left ta lose!” he says.

Dooley grabs his bottle of whiskey and pours himself another glass.

“Well now”, says Tull shuffling the cards. “what do you have?”

Dooley downs his liquor and looks over it incredulously at the smiling Tull.

“I-I ain’t got nothin’ else” he says with a puzzled look on his grizzled face.

“How ‘bout that fancy pigsticker you got?” asks Tull still shuffling the deck.

Dooley’s eyes widen with the look of indignance.

“My…knife?” says Dooley disbelievingly.

“Sure,” says Tull with confidence, “It looks like it’d fetch a pretty penny. Why not?”

Dooley looks down  fondly at his knife sheathed and tethered to his belt.

“I can’t do that”, he stammers. “It was given to me by my wife. She’d do me in if I ever lost it.”

“So?”, says Tull. “Don’t lose. It’s a very simple game. Your luck might change.”

Dooley stands up and stares at Tull. His left hand gently rubbing the bone handle of the knife as he ponders the request.

“I-I can’t” says Dooley with a slight tremble in his voice a pained look upon his face. Dooley turns to walk away.

“Well then”, says Tull, “looks like you go home a big loser…’skinner.”

The buffalo hunter stops in his tracks. His left hand grips the knife’s handle tightly. He stiffens and draws in a deep breath. He spins around and his eyes lock with those of the grinning outlaw.

“Okay, okay”, says Dooley thru teeth clenched in anger. “But there’s no way in Hell yer walkin’ outta here with this knife!”

Tull chuckles. “Sure thing, ‘skinner”

The pair play on for the next twenty minutes. Dooley’s concentration was intense even for his inebriated state. He finally feels he has the hand that’ll beat the arrogant outlaw across the table from him.

“I’m holding” says Dooley with a slight grin.

Tull studies Dooley’s face for a sign, a “tell”, that will give away the value of the man’s hand.

“Okay I’ll take two cards” says Tull tossing two cards face down onto the table. “Let’s see what you got friend. I call.”

Dooley smiles and splays his cards on the table. Tull’s confident expression disappears, replaced by a look of concern. He sits forward in his chair and looks at Dooley’s cards.”

“Three kings and two queens. Hmmm,” Tull says studying the cards. “Well, that’s the best hand you’ve had all night, friend.”

Tull spreads his cards on the table.

“But them royals ain’t enough ta beat these” says the outlaw.

There on the table lay four aces and a five of spades. The look on Dooley’s face was a mixture of shock, anger and disbelief.

“I’ll be taking that knife now” says Tull reaching across the table with his open left hand.

“No” says Dooley in a hushed tone.

“’Scuse me?” says Tull. “You lost. I won. Pay up.”

“No, you couldn’t have won” says Dooley as if just exhaling the words. “You couldn’t”

“Yet I did,” says Tull, his hand still outstretched. “It was yer choice. Ya gambled an’ lost.”

Dooley stands up, his hands clutching the knife and staring down at Tull’s cards.

“Now friend…don’t be foolish” warns Tull. “Just hand over that toothpick…now!”

“You-you cheated! There’s no way you could have four aces!”

“I don’t cotton to being called a cardsharp, ‘skinner” says Tull.

Dooley, in the blink of an eye, draws his knife and stabs it thru the two cards he’d previously discarded and into the wooden table. The move caught Tull by surprise. Dooley pulls the knife back out, the two cards still stuck on its blade.

BLAM! BLAM!

Dooley staggers backwards, the knife flies from his grasp. The buffalo hunter falls to the floor flat on his back…dead. The table is overturned on its side and sitting in his chair is Tull, a smoking Colt 45 in his right hand.

“Damn fool” spits Tull. “Why’d ya do that?”

Tull stares down at Dooley and the two smoldering bullet holes in his chest.

“Oh well, like they says, ‘skinner” says Tull loading two more bullets into his pistol and then holstering it. “Ya can’t win ‘em all.”

Tull now looks around the floor, searching for the knife. His gaze finally finds it at the feet of Mooney, the barkeep. Mooney stands there looking down at the knife and the two cards still skewered by its blade.

“He’s right Tull, you couldn’t have won” Mooney kicks over the knife revealing the two cards stuck on the blade. “A three of clubs”, says Mooney now looking at the outlaw with an eight-gauge shotgun pointed at Tull, “and the ace of spades.”

“He cheated then, not me” says Tull slowly trying to reposition himself near the entrance.

“The marshal will be back tomorrow” yells Mooney. “Make one more move and you won’t have to worry about him.”

“Now just hold - ” says Tull, his hands in the air about waist-high.

“Stop!” bellows Mooney pulling the hammers back on both barrels simultaneously on the mighty firearm.

Even a cunning outlaw knows when the odds no longer favor him. Tull, with a lightning quick draw, snaps out his pistol and fires two shots in Mooney’s direction. As he does so, he rushes out the door and onto his horse.

One shot catches Mooney creasing his right shoulder and snapping him around. Mooney then pulls the trigger on the eight-gauge blasting one of the swinging doors into splinters. Tull then fires a parting shot in Mooney’s direction thru the swinging doors, narrowly missing the angry barkeep. Mooney charges out onto the boardwalk in time to see the outlaw riding into the night. One of the towns folk rushes to Mooney’s side.

“Go get Doc Bensen” Mooney tells the man.

Mooney retreats back inside to the body of Dooley. He shakes his head in abject disappointment at the result of a bad choice by a friend.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER FOUR * II=====II=====II

The night’s air thunders in his ears making the resulting noise deafening. He’s been riding hard for an hour now riding south around the base of the Reynosa Mts. heading towards the Mexico border. He halts his steed at the crest of a hill. Below he can see a dimly lit town, one he doesn’t recognize which means they maybe won’t recognize him.

Bloody John Tull motions for his horse to slowly navigate them down the hill to the town.

Once at the edge of town, Tull tries to access the lay of the land. It’s not a fancy town by any means as the majority of the buildings are raw wooden slates done in crude fashion.

“No money to be made here from the looks o’ things” says Tull under his breath.

He now begins slowly meandering down the main thoroughfare dimly lit by coal oil lanterns on poles along the avenue. The night air is hot and still as he passes a sign which says, “Taylor’s Mercantile & Dry Goods”. He remembers a Taylor’s Mercantile up in Amarillo. He remembers only because he shot and killed a man there. He smiles at the memory remembering the store clerk’s the fear on his face when Tull demanded money. The young man said he’d rather die than hand over the money. Tull simply obliged him.

He continues down the main drag, spotting a woman leaning against one of the lampposts. As he gets closer he slows his pony so as to get a good look at the woman. She has flaming red hair and a slender build. He’s always been partial to redheads he thinks to himself and smiles. Her face is hidden by shadows as she stands there in her purple and black corset and skirt. Tull makes a mental note to drop back by later for a friendly visit.

A little further down the boulevard he can see the town jail. He bristles at the thought of how many long nights he’s spent behind the bars of some backwater town’s bars courtesy of some lawdog looking to make his name. He gently kicks his pony’s sides with his heels to speed up its canter.

The town looks like many he’s gone thru before; dusty dirt roads, raw lumber buildings housing the same old businesses. In the center of town sits the Myers Brothers’ Bank. He stares at the sign a moment.

“Damn”, he says under his breath, “I’d swear I know that money house. Yeah, yeah, it was up in West Fork, Kansas…I think. Can’t be though cuz both of them brothers are layin’ neath stones. Hell, maybe I have been thru this burg before afterall, heh, heh.”

He rides in his horse to a hitching post in front of Fernberry’s Saloon. Unlike most of the rest of the buildings, there’s light coming from inside the bar and the sound of a piano being played. That’s as good an  invitation as he needs to seek something to wash down the trail dust caked in his mouth. He dismounts and glances around the quiet scene before stepping up on the boardwalk in thru the swinging doors.

The saloon looked like a hundred others he’s stopped in before leaving town in a hurry due to someone starting trouble with him. The piano music seems oddly somber but Tull doesn’t seem to notice or care. He strangely feels at home here and steps to the bar where an overweight man with a receding hairline stands wiping down glasses. He wears a scar across the bridge of his nose and has narrow eyes.

“You got good whiskey?” he asks the man.

Without skipping a beat, the man replies, “Only thing we sell here” and continues wiping the glass in his hands,

“Well, I’ll take a bottle” says Tull harshly, tossing a silver coin onto the bar at the barkeep. The bartender doesn’t even acknowledge the coin which intrigues and agitates Tull. He studies the man and there’s just a twinge of remembrance but it flashes by.

The outlaw turns his back to the bar and looks around the joint. His eyes settle on the piano providing the music. His brow furrows in confusion and he turns back to the barkeep.

“Where’s the piano player?” he asks as he pours a glass of whiskey.

The bartender says simply “He’s around.”

Tull scoffs at the reply and slowly walks over the piano. He looks it over and then speaks to the barkeep.

“This one o’ those fancy-dan pianos that play themselves, right?”

The barkeep doesn’t answer but wipes down thew bartop.

“Yeah I seen me one o’ these over in San Antonio”, he continues. “Course they needed one cuz o’ the fact their piano man got himself shot up fer playin’ the wrong tune at the wrong time.”

“Damned fool” whispers to himself. Tull pokes his right index finger into a couple holes in the piano’s wooden frame. “Looks like you’ve got the same issues, heh, heh.”

The big clock on the wall chimes in the nine o’clock hour.

Tull glances over at the barkeep who continues ragging down the bar. Tull frowns and downs another glass of the hard liquor. He makes his way back to the bar and sets the bottle on it. He notices his coin still lays there unchecked.

“Not much business here tonight, huh?” he asks the man.

The barkeep pauses, looks up from the bartop and says, “I’m sure it’ll pick up soon”.

“Hmph. Not judgin’ by the number o’ folks outside,” says Tull with a chuckle. “This burg’s as quiet as Boot Hill.”

The barkeep simply smiles.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER FIVE * II=====II=====II

The clock on the wall chimes in ten o’clock.

Tull now sits at a table with his chair leaning back onto the wall towards the back of the room. His sole companions: an almost empty whiskey bottle and a full glass. The barkeep has been cleaning the bar nonstop for the past hour and a half. Tull knows this because he’s kept an eye on the clock in the corner most of the night. He can’t remember the last time he spent such a quiet night in a bar. The sheer lack of any entertainment, short of the player piano which has stopped, has made him surly to say the least. He drops his chair to the floor and grabs his bottle and walks over to the busied barkeep once again.

“How can you stay open? Ain’t nobody here!” says Tull who is feeling the effects of a near bottle of hard alcohol.

“You’re here, Mr. Tull” says the bartender as he wipes down the bar again.

Tull scowls in puzzlement at the man’s comment. He pours himself another glass but keeps his eyes on the man. The piano begins sending music throughout the bar.

“Hah” spits Tull “At least there’s some music now.”

“Yes sir, Jimmy’s back pounding the keys” says the barkeep.

“Who..?” says Tull as he turns around to see a scrawny man sitting at the piano, ”Where the hell did he come from? I didn’t see him come in.”

“Does it matter? The point is he’s here now”, says the bartender.

Tull squints at the piano man in amazement. From just behind him a soft voice speaks.

“Buy a girl a drink?”

Tull snaps back around to see the red-haired woman he saw earlier. She stands before him dressed in her purple petticoat and dress. A thick black velvet choke adorns her neck capped off with a beautiful gold cameo broach in the middle of it. Tull looks the woman over and smiles.

“You heard the lady, bar man, set ’er up with whatever she’d like” he says to the barkeep.

“Thank you kindly”, she says demurely.

The stocky bartender reaches under the bar and pulls up a small glass of what appears to be red wine.

“So, is this where you work?” Tull asks her.

“Among other things” she says with a coy smile as she takes a sip of her wine.

“Well, you sure do put the feathers on the bird” says the outlaw taking a swig of his whiskey.

“I’ve heard that before” she giggles.

Tull now seems puzzled by the comment.

“Have we met before?” he asks with a hesitant chuckle.

“A lady doesn’t kiss and tell, Mr. Tull” she says downing some more of her wine.

Tull squints at her as if trying to jog his foggy memory.

“You do see a bit…familiar” he says fumbling with his recollection.

“Oh, you couldn’t have forgotten me already, have you?” she asks placing a fingernail to her teeth.

“Wait a minute.. I -“

Tull is interrupted by a man who bursts thru the swinging doors in a hurry. The man comes to a halt at the end of the bar and is staring at Tull as he slowly approaches the barkeep’s position about halfway down the bar.

“It’s him, isn’t it?” he says to the barkeep with a big grin, “Damn straight it’s him!”

“Do I know you, fella?” says Tull.

The man looks as if he’s starstruck and can’t believe his eyes. He blinks hard two or three times before finally answering Tull’s question.

“Not nearly as well as I know you, sir” he says with a huge grin.

Tull laughs at his celebrity in this out of the way hamlet.

“I’ll let the others know” says the man, “They’ll be so thrilled!”

The man scrambles back to the front of the bar, stops momentarily to look back at Tull.

“Don’t you go anywheres!” he hollers in glee.

Tull takes another swig of whiskey and smiles.

‘Feels damned good to be appreciated’ he thinks to himself.

“Another bottle, Mr. Tull?” asks the bartender holding up a brand new one.

“Don’t mind if I do” says the outlaw snatching the bottle from the barkeep’s hand.

The woman downs the rest of her wine and holds out the glass to Tull who fills it with whiskey. She giggles and takes Tull’s hat and places it on her own head.

Suddenly a young man dressed in a confederate uniform storms in. He quickly glances around and his eyes settle on Tull and the woman at the bar. He makes his way over to the bar, standing beside the lady.

“I couldn’t believe it when I heard you was here” he says enthusiastically.

“Well, welcome to the party Johnny Reb”, says Tull laughingly. He is handed a glass by the bartender and quickly fills it and gives it to the soldier.

“This is just grand yes sir!” says the rebel.

Just then two men dressed in long tan dusters, apparently just in off the range, rush in. One is tall and lanky with a thin moustache and a tanned pock-marked complexion. The other gent is of a stockier build, thickly muscled with a bushy red and grey beard and moustache. They find their way to the bar keeping eyes on the man of the hour, Jon Tull. The bartender drops two glasses in front of the men and begins pouring whiskey into them. The pair of men smile excitedly and down the liquor.

“Now this is a party yessirree!” yells Tull as he grabs the red-headed woman around her waist and pulls her in tight to him. “Bartender, a round o’ drinks on me!”

“Nah, they’re on the house, my treat, Mr. Tull!” he says happily. “This is what we’ve been waiting for!”

The gathering throng shouts a cheer and raises their glasses in celebration.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER SIX * II=====II=====II

As the night rolls on, the crowd grows in number and merriment. The clock chimes loudly letting the

partying people know it’s eleven o’clock. Time doesn’t seem to matter much to the gathered throng which number about twenty-seven at this point. All have come to see the man called John Tull, famous outlaw and killer, who has appeared in their little world. They all seem enamored with this desperado whom they’re sharing drinks with. The piano’s music keeps the crowd lively and entertained as the inebriated outlaw.

As Tull stands at the bar, he feels as though he’s surrounded by people who know and understand him, even accept him. His chest swells with the realization that while these folks all seem to know him, it’s more than that. It’s as if they’ve been waiting to welcome him into the family. Their family.

And John Tull is loving every moment of it.

Into the saloon steps another man. He’s of a tall and slender but rugged build. He’s wearing a brown leather vest and tan trousers. His wide-brimmed hat covers most of his face in shadow but as he slowly raises his head his face becomes clear. He is wearing a black eyepatch over his left eye.

“I heard tell you were here”, he says to Tull, “I’m glad you could make it.”

“Do I know you from somewhere, friend?” asks Tull half-heartedly and still admiring the woman beside him.

“I remember when you came thru Pecos awhile back” the man says. “You made quite the impression”

Tull looks at the man then back to the woman.

“That’s what I do” says Tull gripping the neck of a whiskey bottle on the bar. He pulls the cork out with his teeth and spits it the floor. He then takes a big swig of the liquor.

“Well friend, tonight is my night to howl and shoot out the moon” says the outlaw.

Tull points at the man with the whiskey bottle.

“Y’know…I knew a guy once who wore a patch just like you” he says. “He was a lawdog… in Pecos …or Lobo or some place over west Texas way.”

“Really?” says the man with a smile.

“Yeah”, says Tull, “he tried to take me”

“What happened?” asks the man.

Tull takes another hit off the whiskey bottle before answering.

“I put one right thru his patch” laughs the drunken assassin.

Everyone around Tull laughs out loud as well which pleases Tull as he looks over the room of partying townsfolk. All eyes are on him. This is how he wanted his life to be…the life of a famous gunfighter, celebrated by all and hunted by none. Ever since he was a young man of seventeen, when he first picked up a six-gun and used it to end a man’s life, this is what he truly wanted. Respect and admiration. Two qualities which have eluded being shown to him thus far in his life.

As the merriment continues Tull’s thoughts return to early in his life.

Life on the farm.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER SEVEN * II=====II=====II

“Johnny!” his mother hollered.

Johnny looks up from the gray-haired rabbit in his arms at the sound of his mother’s call. He’s befriended this bunny over the past few weeks and has gained enough of it’s trust to where he can actually pick him up in his arms. The rabbit doesn’t seem to mind and for Johnny, it was the only friend he could see and play with out at the farm besides his older brother. Johnny had taken an old wooden crate and turned it upside down, carving out a door on one side for his fuzzy friend to use for a home. He didn’t have a dog or even another friend to enjoy but that’s okay. He had the rabbit.

“Okay now, I gotta go” he says in a hushed tone, setting the hare down in the tall grass, “You stay out here where nobody will see you, okay?”

Johnny smiles at his furry friend and then walks up the riverbank. Once at the top, he sees his mother at the backdoor of the house.

“Comin’ Ma!” he yells in reply as he runs to her.

His mother was a handsome woman with calloused hands from digging, planting and washing but she had the touch of a velvet glove. She puts her hands on either side of his little face and smiles. Her eyes still twinkle now and again when the mood’s right.

“Your father needs help in the fields” she says, her smile disappearing from her lips. “You go on now, ‘fore he gets angry”

She places a loving hand upon the top of his head.

“And you know how he gets” she says.

His family life wasn’t the best and early on he knew it. His mother was spineless up against the vicious nature of the man the married. His father didn’t show him any love except a knotted plowline against his back. He always said, ‘no good would come of an indolent boy’ and no child of his was gonna be ‘that way’. His older brother died in the fields one hot dry summer day. All his father did was carry him back to the big cottonwood tree aside the house and buried him.

No tears. No remorse or regret.

That’s the way he lived.

That’s why he was put down at the age of thirty-nine by his own son of thirteen years.

John remembers how he felt liberated after pulling the trigger on his father’s short-barreled .44 pistol. His father had used the gun to kill rabbits and other small game around the farmland. When he bought as a younger man, he never dreamed it would be the means to his end. But that bone-burning hot day in July when John felt he was about to pass out and his father came to him, not with a glass of water or comforting words but that knotted rope, that’s the day John knew he had to put an end to this life.

His life.

“Them damned hares are ravaging the beans again” he says kicking at the dirt and raising a cloud of dust. “Go get the .44 from the drawer!”

“Don’t kill ’em, Pa” he begs, “They don’t know any better and they’re just hungry same as us”

His father’s eyes flash with temper. He grabs Johnny by his arm and stands him straight in front of himself. He now speaks to Johnny thru teeth clenched in anger.

“They are nothin’ but varmints and destroy everything we’ve worked for here” he spits, “They ain’t cute, they ain’t warm and fuzzy…they’re just critters put on this earth to torment us farmers. They’re no good alive”

The words hit Johnny like a slap in the face. His eyes widen with the realization that his father plans to kill the rabbits and there’s no way to stop it. He runs to the house as his father requests. His father begins searching the ground for rabbit holes and finds a fresh one. He retrieves a bucket of water from the garden’s end and dumps it down the hole. He picks up his wooden walking stick and raises it over his head.

From the hole emerges a small furry water-soaked rabbit.

THUD!

He brings the walking cane down upon the rabbit stunning the animal. He reaches down and grabs it by its long ears and hoists it into the air to eye-level.

“You’ve ruined your last bean crop vermin” he says shaking the unconscious critter. “When Johnny gets here with my – “

“Pa!” yells Johnny now standing about ten feet behind his father.

“’bout time you got back here, boy” the man says again shaking the rabbit, “Now mister varmint you’re gonna get what you deserve!”

As he stands there staring at his prey, he sticks his hand out towards Johnny, “Gimme the gun!”

There is a pause… then his father looks to Johnny.

In Johnny’s hand is the .44… and it’s aimed at his father.

“What are you doin’, boy? Give me that pistol...now!” he barks at Johnny.

“You wanna… save… it?” he asks Johnny his face a contorted amalgam of confusion and anger. “This piece of  - !”

“Buford!” screams Johnny’s mother from the doorway, a hundred feet away.

Buford looks at her briefly then back at Johnny, the gun shaking in his hands.

“This critter is why we don’t have a decent bean crop, boy”, he again speaks thru clenched teeth, “Now… give… me… that… gun!”

He reaches out and takes a step towards Johnny. Johnny moves in concert with him, stepping backwards. His father stops and stares at his son as if trying to figure out what went wrong here. His eyes then flash again with fury.

“You think I need a gun to kill this cur?” he says, “I’ll do it with my bare hands and then I’m gonna teach you a lesson with the plowline!”

“Pa… no!” yells Johnny with tears welling up in his eyes.

His father places his free hand around the throat of the rabbit and twists head.

“No!” screams Johnny’s mother running from the doorway towards them.

As he twists the rabbits head, an angry grin adorns his face.

“Yeaaargh!”, he growls in a guttural holler.

BLAM!

His father looks wide-eyed at Johnny and the fuming smile slowly fades from his lips. He looks down at the tiny hole in chest of his flannel shirt. A trickle of blood begins oozing out.

“Wha-what did you do…boy?” he stammers as he takes a faltering step towards Johnny. He quickly crumbles to the ground on his knees, the dead rabbit still clutched in his hand. “What did you…”

Buford Tull then falls facefirst into the dirt…dead.

“No!” screams Johnny’s mother as she reaches her son and wraps him in her arms tightly. “Oh Johnny…Johnny…!”

Johnny Tull wasn’t upset or distraught. He looks down at his hands, the .44 still smoking from its barrel. He stares at the prone body of the man who helped bring him into this world and he didn’t feel sadness.

He felt freedom.

From that point on he lived his life free of the shadow of anger and pain. Whatever he wanted he took at the end of a gun. Twenty-nine people felt his freedom as he liberated them from their lives on this mortal plane. Twenty-nine people went into eternity knowing it didn’t pay to cross the man called “Bloody John”.

Folks didn’t respect him… they didn’t revere or admire him.

They feared him.

And until tonight… that was good enough for John Tull.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER EIGHT * II=====II=====II

This night’s gaiety continues to grow in its splendor. The piano player fills the air with melodious joy

for the gathered multitude. The room is filled with smiles and laughter. Liquor is flowing like the Rio Grande.

Then a familiar husky voice breaks thru the happy din.

“Tull?! John Tull?!You in there?!” bellows a voice from just outside the saloon.

A big hairy hand grabs the top of one of the swinging doors and pushes it open.

Tull’s eyes widen as he can’t believe what he sees. One word escapes his lips in a surprised whisper.

“Skinner…?”

Standing before him is indeed Jim Dooley, the man Tull caustically referred to as “skinner” andcoincidentally, the man Tull gunned down just hours ago. Tull, his jaw agape, rubs a hand over his eyes.

“It can’t be…I shot you…!” says the stunned brigand.

Dooley smiles a wide grin.

“I’ll remedy that right here an’ now” says Tull drawing his gun from his holster.

“C’mon killer” says the red-haired woman putting he hands on the gun gently guiding it back down to

its holster, “the night’s not over yet”

Tull looks into the woman’s eyes and tucks away his gun once more.

“Have another drink” says the buffalo hunter, slapping Tull on the shoulder and handing him another

glass of whiskey.

A slightly surprised grin slowly creeps onto the face of the stunned Tull as he takes the drink from

Dooley.

“I guess my aim ain’t as good as it used to be if you’re still above the ground” says Tull as he downs the

 alcohol.

Dooley and the rest of the room laughs at Tull’s comment like they’ve laughed at every word that has

left his lips this evening. He smiles as he looks around the saloon at the happy throng. Once again he feels a real

sense of acceptance by them, as if he’s known these people all his life and finally it’s become his family, for

lack of a better term.

Yes, this night has made him feel as if his life has been leading up to this one event. It might be the

liquor or it might be genuine but Tull’s heart is filled with an odd sense of accomplishment.

All the lying, the stealing, the cheating, the long days on the run, the long nights in the cold, the people

he’d hurt and yes, even the deaths…it was all necessary to bring him to this point in his life. He gently nods his

head to himself in silent affirmation of the realization.

As he looks around at the faces of these folks who are here celebrating his coincidental arrival, a new

thought thunders into his mind. It’s a thought that maybe this could be his home. Maybe here he could finally

live the life he’s been excluded from in the past. Maybe here he could finally stop running. Maybe here he could

settle down and find peace.

Maybe, just maybe, here he could find a woman he could love or maybe one could find him and

make him forget about… her.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER NINE * II=====II=====II

“Where have you been this time, John?” asks the blonde-aired woman. She stands in the doorway of the

log cabin home of herself and her husband of two years, John Tull. John dismounts his hose and hitches it to

the post out front of the home.

“Well?” she says insistingly.

Never even acknowledging her question, John Tull walks by her and into the house. She turns around

and follows her husband with her blue eyes as he opens a cupboard and removes a bottle of gin. He pulls the

cork and takes a hearty swig. One of those blue eyes is discolored an ugly purple courtesy of a previous argu-

ment with her husband days earlier.

“Did you do it again?” she asks with disappointment in her voice.

“Do what?” growls Tull as he takes another drink.

She walks over to him and looks into his eyes.

“You know what” she says. “Did you?”

Tull doesn’t answer but it silently confirms her belief. She walks to the worn wooden table in the center

of the room and holds her head in her hands.

“Why John why?” she says with a cry in her voice. “You know we needed that money to pay the bank!”

“I was on a roll”, he says with annoyance. “I’d have doubled our money if not fer that last hand”

“It’s always that last hand that takes away our future, John”

“Bah!” he says taking another swig of the liquor.

“It’s true! Last month it was the last game of faro in Amarillo. The month before that? The poker game

in Dodge City. You can’t stop, can you?” she says.

John bristles at the question.

“I could stop at any time but that’s damnation of it, I was on a winnin’ streak, Holly!” he pleads.

“You’re always on a winnin’ streak, John” she barks, “Until you come home with empty pockets.”

Holly Tull disappears into their bedroom leaving the crestfallen husband alone with his bottle of gin and

his thoughts. He knows their lives haven’t been what he’d promised on their wedding day. He knows he could

do better, all he needs is a lucky break with a financial windfall. Tomorrow he’ll go to the bank and ask for a

delay on payment. They’ll understand. They’ve got to understand.

His thoughts are interrupted when Holly emerges from the bedroom with a carpet bag in hand. John

stares at her in disbelief.

“What’s all this?” he asks her.

“I’m going to stay with my sister and her husband in town until I can find a job and save some money

for the bank. Then… I don’t know.”

“No, Holly” he begs, “you can’t leave me, not now, not like this!”

“I’ll be taking the buckboard and the two ponies in the pen” she says making her way to the front door. “I can’t stay here, John, not this way” she says never looking at him. “I’ll send for the rest of my things

when I get settled in.”

John lunges towards her and grabs her by one of her arms, spinning her around. He the grabs both arms

and holds her firm.

“You can’t leave me!” he growls. “I won’t let you!”

She struggles against his grasp and manages to free herself and slaps him hard across his stubbled face.

John’s head snaps backwards from the blow. He shakes his head and then looks up at Holly with eyes now full

of rage.

“I…said you...ain’t...leavin’ me” he hisses thru his teeth.

Holly again struggles in his grasp but this time he’s found his hands around her throat and squeezing.

“John…no…stop…!” she says between gasps of air. She tries but can’t break his viselike grip.

“I love you! You’re my wife! You’re not...leavin’ ...me today...not ever!" he says, his grip tightening.

“John… please…ple…”, she sputters.

A moment more and she stops struggling. Her fragile body goes limp in his hands. His deadly rage

quickly subsides and his eyes now widen at the realization of what he’s done. He drops her body to the floor.

“Oh god…” he whispers.

Just like the parable of the scorpion and the frog, John Tull can’t change who or what he is. He’s a killer

and he finally gave into his true nature, a calling that’s been gnawing at his soul since he was thirteen years old. He sits on the floor of their home, cradling her head.

Although he didn’t want to admit it to himself, she was his world. She was always there despite his violent

tendencies and tantrums. Thru it all she was always there and now he is left with one burning question:

How could he live… without her?

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER TEN * II=====II=====II

A roar from the crowd startles Tull back to the reality of the moment. He smiles and raises his glass in

another toast. The room roars with approval and Tull downs his glass. The red-haired lady at John’s side

snuggles in a bit closer.

“Hot damn” he says.

“Somethin’ wrong, darlin’”, says the woman playing with John’s hair.

“Wrong? Hell no” he says pouring more liquor in her half-empty glass, “this is the best damn night of

my life”

The folks in the saloon let loose another roar. John looks at the woman and moves in for a kiss. He closes his eyes with anticipation but the moment is broken.

The clock in the corner chimes in the midnight hour and the saloon suddenly becomes quiet.

The revelry has ceased and the throng now stands stoically silent looking at the clock. John opens an eye and sees the scene.

“What the hell’s wrong?” he says to the hushed crowd, “It’s only midnight!”

Then, in unison, the crowd turns to face the swinging doors. John is puzzled by their actions but the

liquor in him seems to keep him calm.

“What’s goin’ on?” he asks the red-haired woman. She never responds, she just keeps looking to the

front door of the saloon. John walks to the swinging doors and faces the crowd.

C’mon, the party ain’t over yet! What are you all waiting for?” he says almost begging them to return to

their previous merriment. Then the stillness is broken.

“It’s been a long time”, says a voice from just beyond the swinging doors “John”

At the sound of the voice all of the crowd moves toward the door slowly. The crowd then parts like Moses at the Red Sea and makes a way for the next arrival. The swinging doors slowly swing open.

A blonde woman wearing a simple calico dress. Her hair shines in the dim lights of the bar as she walks slowly into the room.

John’s mouth is agape and his eyes are wide with disbelief.

“What’s the matter, John?, she says, “Were you on a winning streak?”

John begins backing thru the lane made in the crowd, his face the very picture of terror.

“It-it can’t be you…!” he stammers.

“Why can’t it…John” she asks knowingly. “Why can’t it be me…your wife?”

John catches his bootheel on a floorboard and stumbles to the floor dropping his bottle of whiskey. He quickly gets back to his feet continuing to back up through the throng all the way back to the bar. She slowly follows him and as she passes each member of the group they turn with her to face Tull.

“You…you…you’re…!” he stutters again.

“I’m what, darling?” she says coyly.

“You’re… dead!” he exclaims.

“But I’m not alone, “ she says looking around the gathered group and smiles, “at least, not anymore”

John then looks at the crowd and notices something different. Gone is the color in their faces and eyes, replaced by decaying skin and blank eyes.

“I’ve been waiting for you, John,” she says reaching out her rotting arms to him, “We’ve all been waiting…so patiently… for you.”

“Wha-what…?” the words seem to fall out of his mouth involuntarily.

“We’ve been waiting for you to return, all of us, “she says, “don’t you recognize everyone?”

John stares at the purplish handprints around his dead wife’s neck then back to her eyes.

“You remember Jeb Toolin, don’t you? You met him in Pecos two years ago”

The man with the wide-brimmed hat and the eyepatch steps forward as she speaks.

“I’m sorry…Sheriff Jeb Toolin…of Pecos” she says with a grin.

The man’s eyepatch now looks faded and has a hole thru it. A bullet hole. Blood begins oozing from the hole, streaming down the grinning face of the corpse.

“Or how about Skinny, the piano player?” she asks pointing to the piano where the musician now sits. “You shot him three times in the back up in San Antonio…just because he played our song one night”

Three holes now adorn the player’s striped vest in the back and blood begins to pour from the wounds.

“Of course, you know Jim Dooley” she says smugly, “You left him dead on the floor after you cheated at cards not too long ago”

Dooley grins as blood begins trickling out of his mouth and the hole in his chest.

“And what about poor ol’ Lily Porter?” she says as the red-haired woman’s locks turn from red to gray. “She’s the real reason you never brought home any money, it was never a loss at cards or faro”

“I never shot her! I never shot no woman!” yells Tull.

“No, you never shot her, but..”, she says removing the black lace choker from the woman’s neck revealing a large gash across her throat which begins to bleed. “You did take her life with a blade, didn’t you, darling?”

“No! No! Please!” he begs stepping away from the bar towards the back of the room. The crowd turns and faces him, slowly advancing on him.

“But that’s why we’re all here, John”, she says leading the ghastly group. “You took us all in life and so you’ve brought us together in death. Enough of us to fill a town.”

Suddenly a gruff voice is heard from behind the crowd and unseen by Tull’s vantage point.

“What did you do…” it says slowly. “…boy?”

Once again the crowd parts and standing at the other end of the opening is…

“Pa?” he whispers in fear.

His father, hunched over and reeking of death, shuffles towards Tull. Tull lurches backwards and falls into a chair in sitting position. He jerks his six-gun and lets lead fly.

BLAM!

BLAM!

BLAM! BLAM!

BLAM! BLAM!

The bullets rip through their now putrid and rotting flesh but to no avail. John throws his gun and it thumps off his father’s shoulder as the throng continues to close in on him.

“Come with us John, join us…join me…where we can finally be together forever” says his wife.

Nooooooooooo!!” bellows Tull. His scream echoes into the night and then there is only silence. The lights in the saloon slowly flicker and disappear leaving this desolate hamlet in darkness once again.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER ELEVEN * II=====II=====II

The noonday sun baked the deserted town. A lone tumbleweed rolls across the main street and comes to rest on the boardwalk steps along the storefronts. The town itself seemed as if , like a worn-out pocketwatch, to simple stop ticking or in this case, stop breathing.

Gone were the peppy sounds of the saloon piano and the roar of the merry throng. These sounds were replaced by the whistling of the desert wind down the barren avenue. A lone buzzard circles in the air above the town as if looking for its next prey.

The serene scene is broken by the hoofbeats as four men rode down the dusty lane.

“Looks like a ghost town” says the leader of the quartet. It was Marshal Rory Benson and a three-man posse consisting of  Dep. Earl Hammond, Vigilante Council president Ezekiel Wertz and Federal Marshal Bob Doulton, who have all tracked John Tull’s trail from Crossroads.

“You know this berg?” asks Doulton.

“Nope”, replies Benson, “never even knew it was here”

“Doesn’t look like it’s exactly thrivin’” says Wertz.

“I’ve been thru these mountains and I don’t recall ever stumblin’ into this place either”, chimes in Doulton.

“Well, it sure wasn’t just built and abandoned overnight” says Wertz

“Bob’s right. I’ve been thru here plenty of times myself and never saw it” affirms Benson.

The quartet stride in on their horses side-by side, four abreast down the avenue.

“Well, lookie there” says Dep. Hammond pointing down the main street.

A paint horse was tied up to the hitching post in front of a dilapidated old barroom. The sign above the entrance says “Dante’s Saloon”. The sign itself was barely still attached to the building and was drooping down to the left. The men all dismount in front of the adjacent building so as to not be seen in front of the barroom by their quarry.

“We sure that’s his?” asks Wertz.

Doulton slowly moves to the side of the tied horse and looks at its haunches. He looks back at the men, nods and walks back to the group.

“Yeah, it’s his alright” says Doulton, “got his brand on its hindquarters.”

“Why the hell would he ride out here?” asks Wertz.

“A deserted town? What better place to hole up while the smoke blows over?” says Benson, “Alright, better get ready fer whatever’s comin’ next”

“It’s your call, Benson,” says Doulton, “How you wanna play it?”

“I’m goin’ in the front door. You and Hammond take the rear” says Benson who then looks at Wertz and says “You stay here. If he gets by me, you know what to do”

Wertz cocks the lever on his rifle and nods.

“You think he’s still there?” asks Hammond.

“His horse is still tied out front” he says pointing to the pony with the barrel of his gun. “What do you think?”

“I’ll go in and…” Doulton starts to say when he’s cut off by Benson.

“No, Bob, I said I’ll be goin’ in” says Benson. “I’ll give him a chance to come peaceful-like but if it goes south, you fellas put ‘im down.”

All three men nod with understanding.

Benson slowly makes his way to the swinging doors of the saloon. He leans with his back against the building to see if he can see anything or anyone. He draws his pistol and checks the rounds in the cylinder. Content with his firearm’s load, he raises the gun slowly to about head high.

“Tull? John Tull?! You in there, John?” barks Benson.

He pauses, listening for any sounds or signs of life from inside.

“John… I got a warrant for your arrest for the murder of Jim Dooley in Crossroads!” he hollers. “C’mon out peaceful-like and we’ll all get along just fine, Whaddaya say?”

Again, Benson pauses and listens.

“Alright, I’m comin’ in John”. He says drawing the hammer back with his thumb. “Don’t do anything we’ll both regret, y’hear?”

Benson takes a couple of deep breaths and the lunges thru the swinging doors, gun at the ready.

Wertz stands aside of Tull’s horse, his rifle cocked and ready just waiting for the next move.

“Wertz!” hollers Benson from inside.

Wertz quickly leaps onto the boardwalk and rushes thru the doors. Inside he instinctively raises his rifle to a firing position when he sees Benson… and Tull.

“What... the… hell…?” he says studying the scene before him.

John Tull sits at a table, his gun in his hand and a distorted look of terror on his alabaster complexioned face. His eyes, wide open and staring straight ahead of him. There’s a bottle of whisky on the table aside an empty glass. Benson tries to remove the gun from Tull’s hand.

“Is he…” asks Wertz.

Benson shakes his head in the negative.

Just then Hammond and Doulton come rushing in from the back, guns at the ready, of the saloon. They come to a stop and are as dumbfounded as Wertz at the sight.

“He dead?” asks Doulton.

Benson nods as he still tries to extract the pistol from the dead man’s grasp.

“He’s got a death grip on his gun” says Benson.

Benson finally is able to wrest the gun free from Tull’s solid clutch. He checks the cylinder.

“He spent them all” says Benson dumping all six empty bullet casings to the floor.

“What the hell happened to him?” asks Hammond examining Tull’s horrific expression.

“If I didn’t know better…”, says Wertz, “..I’d say he was scared to death”

“Don’t that beat all” says Doulton, “A vicious killer of men an’ women scared to death o’ something?”

“What do you think, Rory?” asks Hammond.

Benson places a hand over Tull’s eyes and closes them.

“Damned if I know” he says with a somber resignation in his voice. “Throw him on his horse and we’ll head back to town, let Doc look him over.”

Hammond and Wertz lift up the dead outlaw’s body and take it outside.

“Scared to death, eh?” says Doulton to his fellow lawman. “Helluva way ta cross Jordan”

Benson looks down at Tull’s gun in his hand.

“Who knows…”, replies Benson “maybe all them ghosts in his past caught up with him”

Doulton gently slaps Benson on the back and the pair walk out the swinging doors and into the bright hot sunlight. They all mount up and begin the long ride back to Crossroads.

As the foursome reach the entrance to the town Benson pulls up his horse and stops as do his companions.

“What’s wrong?” asks Doulton.

Benson cocks his head as if listening for something in the air.

I thought…”, he says hesitantly, “I thought I just heard…piano music”

The rest of the group laughs heartily at his remark.

“Probably just the wind” says Wertz.

Wertz, Doulton and Hammond continue onward with Benson pausing for a moment. He looks over the deserted town and shakes his head.

“Or maybe it’s just the ghosts of the past” he says under his breath.

Benson starts his pony and catches up with his friends but on the wind is a faint but peppy tune from a piano and it quickly fades away…

II=====II=====II * EPILOGUE * II=====II=====II

In life John Tull’s victims were part of his violent journey thru life. In death each had their role in securing his destiny. What turns a man’s heart black with anger and violence despite a fervent lifelong wish for the opposite. Many would say his final fate was just the choices he made in his life that prompted his demise.

Some just chalk it up to John Tull simply being an evil man borne of hate with a pension for nothing more than his personal satisfaction.

He faced a choice in each life he took while living for the liquor, money and the gun. His choice was to eliminate those who impeded his desires. Even love couldn’t comfort or change his ways.

And it’s those choices that brought him face to face with the legacy of his violent ways one fatal night in a desolate place where a final remittance was the order of the day.

A moral payment in full is demanded for all those who spoil life’s banquet here… at Crossroads.

II=====II=====II * THE END * II=====II=====II


Submitted: May 19, 2021

© Copyright 2021 LW Thunder. All rights reserved.

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