Old Man Dawson lay face-down in the middle of the street with three bullets deep in his chest, blood oozing from his wounds as the life-force ebbed out of the once-proud owner of Deliverance’s only family-run freight business. His sons, Frank and Joe, stood a few yards away, facing the man who had just turned them into orphans.
“Make your play boys,” the gunfighter snarled.
“Just let it be!” yelled Frank. “Enough’s enough!”
Wilder, the man who’d been observing his hired gun at work, sat quietly in porch-shade outside the Imperial Saloon. He was six feet tall and lean with it. He wore an exquisite brown suit which had been tailor-made for him back East, and a matching brown derby. He was in his middle thirties, well-groomed, clean-shaven.
He was flanked on either side by two men carrying rifles. He was seldom seen without his bodyguards.
“Well,” he replied evenly, “if your Pa’d paid his insurance money on time, it wouldn’t have had to come to this.”
Joe Dawson spat off to one side. “Insurance money?” he repeated. “Don’t you mean protection money?”
A muscle in Wilder’s face twitched faintly. “That’s a serious charge, boy,” he growled.
“Don’t try to deny it,” Joe continued, his voice tight, a mixture of fear and anger. “You skim off just about every business in this town, Wilder, businesses that were built on blood and sweat by decent, God-fearin’ folk, and if they know what’s good for them they pay you because they don’t have any choice. You’ve got ‘em buffaloed, an’ they know it! But your time’ll come, and if I have anything to do with it, it’ll be sooner rather than later!”
“That’s as maybe, kid,” called the gunman, showing stained crooked teeth in a grin. He went by the name of Dead-eye Jack, not because of his shooting skills; but because his left eye was colorless due to fact he had been blinded in the war back in 63 which made him look more menacing than he already was.
“But you won’t have anythin’ to do with it. Your part in this ends right now.”
Even before he finished speaking his hand was moving again, blurring down and folding around the pearl-handled grips of his Colt Peacemaker. A split second later the street rocked to the sound of a second shot, and Joe made a odd kind of choking sound as the .45 slug tore through his left eye and ripped off the back of his skull and a goodly portion of brain on the way back out.
Frank could hardly believe his eyes. This just wasn’t happening, not to Joe, the brother he’d always looked up to …
Dimly he heard Wilder start laughing. At first he couldn’t understand why. Then some semblance of who he was and where he was came back to him, and he realized with a sudden hot flush of shame that he’d wet himself.
Jack turned to Wilder looking for guidance. “You want I should finish the other one, too?”
Wilder considers for a long, tense moment. Joe waits anxiously, painfully aware that he doesn’t have a gun to defend himself with.
“Let’s have some fun, I think the kid should make the first move,” Wilder smirked.
Jack’s hand was poised ready to skin his pistol. “You heard the man, boy, it’s up to you.”
“I’m not armed,” Frank shrieked.
Wilder stood up from his chair. “Someone give the kid a gun so we can get this show finished with. If I laugh much more I’ll wet my pants too.”
A small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk outside the barber shop next to the saloon. Martha McKinney, a widow woman in her late fifties; who ran the hardware store with her two daughters, rushed out in the middle of the street.
“For God’s sake, he’s just a boy! Haven’t you done enough killing for one day?”
Wilder slowly walked up to her and poked her in the chest with his forefinger. “Stay out of this, you! This is man’s business!”
“I’m not afraid of you Wilder,” she yelled back at him, clutching at her pain. She bit her bottom lip as she clenched her fists in anger. Her whole body trembled with fear, but her conscience wouldn’t allow any harm to come to the boy. She looked to her friends for support, but all she could sense from them was dread.
“Well you ought to be.” He barked at her whilst making his way back to his chair.
“Everyone’s tired of being pushed around by you and your bullies; we’ll only take so much.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Well, I don’t see anyone else complaining, can you?”The crowd began to disperse and Martha found herself in a very vulnerable position. She felt the heat rush to her cheeks, the back of her neck, and knew that she’d misjudged the mood of the crowd.”
Wilder sat back down. “See, no one is interested in what you have to say, so get on back to your pans and pastries so we can finish this thing once and for all.”
Instead Martha placed herself in front of the young man. “I won’t stand by and let you harm this boy,” she said softly. “Have you no pity?”
The lean businessman stood up and took the rifle from the man to his left. “I’ll show you pity,” he blurted out as he levered the rifle and shot the woman in her left thigh. She screamed in agony as she fell to the ground, blood spilling from the wound. Wilder levered the rifle once again.
“You have two choices you stupid old bitch, you can either crawl along to Doc Brown’s office, or I can put you out of your misery right here and now, so what’s it gonna be?”
“Go to hell,” she shouted.
She had no sooner spoken the words when the lean man fired the rifle, this time hitting her in the neck. She slammed over onto her back, twitched once, then lay still. No words came from her lips as her lifeless body fell to the ground spraying blood all over young Frank’s face.
This was too much even for Frank. As his anger finally spilled over, swamping the fear, he fell to his knees and snatched for the Colt in his brother’s holster.
“That’s more like it,” growled the gunman.
As Frank tried desperately to pull the pistol from under the weight of his brother’s body, Jack fired the last two rounds from his gun, sending the young man sprawling into the dust with two small holes in his chest.
Wilder stood up and went into the saloon. “Come on boys, I’ll buy you all a drink!”
The Imperial Saloon was Wilder’s usual haunt. It was owned by Jed Baldwin, another of Wilder’s minions. It was an average size place with four sets of tables and chairs to the right of the batwing doors, with the bar to the left. At the far end of the bar stood a piano, but since Wilder had no ear for music it was rarely ever used.
Wilder headed for the table at the far end of the room. “Hey, Jed, set em up, I’m payin’,” He sat down and lit a cheroot that he took from the inside pocket of his jacket. Jack the gunman sat next to him and began to reload his pistol.
Dead-eye Jack, had only been in town a few days. Wilder had hired him to put the fear of God into the townsfolk. Jack had no problems with killing. He’d kill anything that moved, so long as there was money in it for him. And Wilder was pretty free with his money, too, when he wanted to be. With his protection racket and prostitutes, he could indulge in all the fine things that Deliverance had to offer. Anyone that was opposed to his unorthodox ways was soon beaten down one way or the other, he didn’t mind which, and so most of the business folk just paid up.
After several drinks Wilder and his hired thugs started becoming rowdy. The lean man got to his feet. “You know what I think we should do? I think we should all—”
Wilder was cut short as Sally, Martha McKinney’s youngest daughter, ran through the doorway. “I know what you should do!” she said as she aimed a single barrel shotgun towards Wilder. “You should all just die!” With that, she squeezed the trigger, sending buckshot into the wall just to the left of where Wilder was standing.
Wilder blanches hisses, “Jesus Christ!” he yelled across the room at her as she tried to reload the gun. One of the riflemen grabbed hold of the barrel of the shotgun and gave her a back-hander across her cheek, sending her reeling over one of the empty tables.
Wilder was furious. “Get that bitch to her feet!” he commanded. “She needs to be taught some manners.”
Two of Wilder’s men propped Sally up against the bar. The lean man walked up to her and put his face right into hers. She could smell his foul whiskey breath. Turning her head to one side to avoid eye contact with him, she noticed Jack running appreciative eyes across her body.
“I’m going to make you wish that you’d never been born,” he snarled.
Sally spat in Wilder’s face. He walked over to one of the tables, took off his jacket and placed it carefully on one of the chairs. Then he then rolled up the sleeves of his European silk shirt. “You’re just like your mother, I see. Bull-headed, stubborn to the point of foolishness.” He shook his head regretfully. “Too bad. I could’ve made a fortune off a girl like you, but something tells me you’d be too hard to break,” he said as he punched her just below the rib cage, Sally bent forward in agony. Then as quick as lightning he brought his knee up with full force to her face, her nose crunched as the knee made contact with it. Her face was covered in blood, tears rolled down her cheeks but she made no plea for mercy. The two men either side of her held her firmly as she began to drift in to unconsciousness.
Wilder came back to her, making eye-contact all the while, and now she found it hard – impossible – to look away from him. She knew what was coming. At least, she thought she did. And she knew also that there wasn’t a single thing she could do to stop it. To expect mercy from any one of these men was simply expecting too much –
Wilder lashed out then, with an open-handed slap that snapped her head sideways. She cried out, more in surprise than pain, but was damned if she’d plead for mercy.
Wilder grabbed her by the throat, squeezed hard. Looking up at him, she saw the same look in his eyes that she’d already seen in Jack’s. Wilder wanted her. They all wanted her. But Wilder wanted her for more than just to assuage his lust. He wanted to make an example out of her.
“Strip her naked,” he ordered the men that had been restraining young Sally. “When I’ve finished with her, you can have her. And when you’re through, drag her over to Lil’s and tell her that I said to put a price of one cent to screw this whore. That’s all she’s worth.”
Cody Wells © 2009