In a Shallow Grave, No One to Grieve, Pt. 1

Tonight marks the return of John Quinn! Enjoy!

Elliot Whitmore?” John Quinn said, his hand on the butt of his revolver. The figure kneeling at the river before him, said nothing, didn’t react to his presence. He was perfectly still, like a man without fear.

Or a rabbit staring into the eyes of a wolf.

“Elliot Whitmore, wanted for bank robbery, assault, murder, and horse thievery?”

The figure sighed, long and low. “Ayup,” he said. “That’s me.” At this, John Quinn unholstered his revolver and trained it on the man’s back.

“I’ve come to take you back to Potterville to stand trial for your crimes.”

The figure sighed again. “Ayup. I know.”

“Put your hands in the air and turn around.” John Quinn kept his gun on the man, but his head was turning from side to side, his eyes scanning for others. There was supposed to be another man, a dangerous and cruel man of violent temperament known as Bill McDougall. “Where’s your partner?”

“I ain’t got no partner,” Elliot said. He turned around with his hands up, and although John Quinn did not show it on his face, he was shocked to see how young Elliot Whitmore was. Little more than a boy. Younger, perhaps, than John Quinn had been when his father died. Certainly younger than John Quinn had been when he’d slew Dead-Eye Dan. He was dressed in a simple white shirt and jeans caked with dust and dirt, in a brown hat faded to tan by the sun.

The kid looked at the gun in John Quinn’s hands disinterestedly, as if there were something as inevitable about it as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. If the kid was scared, he didn’t show it on his face.

“You didn’t rob that bank alone, son. Where’s Bill McDougall?”

“I killed that son of a bitch a week past. If he’s anywhere other than the ditch I left him in, I hope it’s Hell.”

John Quinn didn’t hide his surprise at that. He stood up straight, some of the nervous tension in his shoulders disappearing and skepticism playing across his face. “Now why’d you go and do that?”

“Because it were the right thing to do. Some folks just need killing, and Billy needed a bullet between the eyes.”

More surprise. John Quinn shook his head without taking his eyes off Elliot. “You are a cold-blooded son of a bitch,” he said. Anger flashed in the kid’s eyes, but only for a second.

“What I am, Mister, is a man with a wife and kid who wanted to feed his family. I didn’t murder no one except for Billy. Wasn’t no one supposed to die at that bank, Mister. Wasn’t no one supposed to die, but that son of a bitch Billy blew away the manager and shouted out, ‘You remember me! You remember the day you met Bill the Bloody!’”

John Quinn stared emotionlessly at the kid. Dozens of times he’d tracked down bandits, and dozens of times had they sworn that it wasn’t their fault. “Save it for the jury, son. On your stomach, hands behind your back.”

Elliot Whitmore didn’t move. “I knew then, Mister. I knew then that wasn’t nothing ever going to be good again. I got a wife and a little boy. I just wanted them to have all the things I couldn’t give them. And then Billy started shooting, and I knew they were going to kill us.”

“Maybe, maybe not. There’s a trial waiting for you back in Potterville, not an execution.”

“It don’t matter. They won’t listen. They’ll just say, ‘That’s the man that shot the banker,’ and sure as that, they’ll hang me.”

“And so what if they do? You took your life in your hands the day you and your dead friend decided to rob that bank. You don’t have no one to blame for it but yourself.”

Another flash of anger. The kid’s hands dropped to the level of his chest. “I was doing right by my family, Mister! Me and Billy were going to split the money and part ways, and I was going to find a big city somewhere and send for my family and we was going to start over!”

John Quinn raised his revolver to the level of Elliot Whitmore’s face, but the kid didn’t react at all. “Boy, you get down on the ground and you put your hands behind your back. I ain’t the one for you to plead your case to.”

“There ain’t no one else I can plead my case to! If you take me back, they’re just going to hang me, and I’ll die knowing that my son and my wife are watching me twitch and piss myself at the end of a rope.” Tears started to well up in the kid’s eyes, but his face was still set in anger. “I ain’t going to die like that. I ain’t going to die and have that be my son’s last memory of me. He’s just four, Mister. He ain’t got many of them.”

“Then you’d better make a damn persuasive case for yourself. Maybe they’ll throw you in jail, but it’s better that your boy visit you there than that he visit your grave.” John Quinn pointed at the earth, his gun still firmly trained on the kid. “I ain’t going to tell you again, son. Ground. Now.”

The kid looked John Quinn in the eyes, his gaze cold, and John Quinn met it. The kid got down slowly, first on one knee, and then with a hand on the ground, and he did not break his gaze. “I’m dead, Mister. You know that right? I might as well already be dead.”

“Don’t–” John Quinn said, but the kid’s hands were already going for his boot, for the small holdout gun he had hidden there. Time seemed to slow down as the kid leaned backwards, drew the revolver, began to level it. But he wasn’t fast enough. John Quinn had him in his sights, and he put a single bullet into the kid’s chest.

Elliot Whitmore’s breath caught in his chest. His pistol, a tiny, poorly made small caliber affair, slipped from his hands. He looked up at John Quinn, anger and pain writ plain upon his face.

“Already… dead…” he said, and then Elliot Whitmore slumped over and was still.

John Quinn cocked the hammer on his revolver, kept it trained on the kid’s body, and slowly approached. The kid was motionless, his chest moving barely if at all. Not faking it, John Quinn thought. There’d be no way he could still his breathing if he were faking it. Kid like that ain’t never been shot before.

John Quinn knelt to pick up the kid’s revolver, his eyes still focused for any sign of movement. He bent over and picked up the firearm. It was light in his hands, too light even for its diminutive size. He opened the cylinder, held it up to the sky, and watched the light shine through its chambers.

John Quinn spat a curse under his breath and looked at the body. He shook his head and knelt to check the kid’s pulse.

Elliot Whitmore didn’t move under his touch, and John Quinn felt his pulse, faint but steady. He stood up straight and watched. The wound on the boy’s chest was high and to the left, just below his collarbone and about three inches. John Quinn stared at it in silence, and when he was certain that the wound was not bubbling, was not sucking in, was not a punctured lung, he sighed and set about bandaging it.

“You fool kid. You are damn lucky the bounty wants you alive. Damn lucky.”

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