Red’s anger lasted only a moment before he regained control of himself. Fury gave way to shock and then disgust. “Is that all you got to say? I tell you you’re a villain and that I’m going to end you, and that’s all you’ve got?” Red shook his head. “Jesus, do you want me to kill you?”
“You can try.” John Quinn reached for his glass of whiskey and emptied it, his eyes locked on the younger man’s. “I’ll see you in the street in an hour’s time. We’ll do this right. No talking, no posturing, no grabbing innocent goddamn girls and threatening to kill them. No money. Just you and me and the guns.”
John Quinn smiled. A network of wrinkles formed at his eyes, a map of a lifetime of pain and violence. “Hope you’re good at the fast draw, son.”
“I ought to shoot you dead right now, you old bastard.”
“You don’t have a gun. I do.”
Red looked over his shoulder at Franklin. The man was busy looking at an empty spot on the wall. Red snorted and turned back to face John Quinn. “Do you now? Of course you do. I bet you got these folks so afraid of you, you can just walk in and take whatever you like. Break any rule. Is that it?”
John Quinn looked around the room, regarded the eyes of the men and women there. “You know what Rose told me when she realized who I’d shot?
“She said, ‘He’s going to kill us all.’
“You think I’m the villain? Maybe you’re right, but you know what?” John Quinn folded his hands on the table and leaned forward. He smiled. He tapped himself on the chest. “That’s what people say about me. ‘He’s going to kill us all.’
“You know what those people see when they see us? Forces of nature, boy. Like a wildfire, or a twister, or a thunderstorm. Unstoppable. Terrible. Maybe even a little bit awe-inspiring, from a distance.
“But you’d best pray they don’t get too close to you.
“Here we are, in the middle of a crowded bar, and ain’t nobody talking but us.
“Outside. Noon. Nobody has to get hurt but us.”
* * *
Red went somewhere else. John didn’t much care where. He figured one way or another he’d be done with this whole business in a few hours.
Slowly, the people in the bar seemed to begin breathing again. John Quinn raised his hand, gestured for another drink. Someone slapped him in the back of the head from behind.
“What in the hell is wrong with you? Do you want him to kill you?”
John Quinn sighed. “What do you think, Rose? You think I want to get shot dead in the street?”
“I think you’re an old fool.” She slapped him again. “Hell, I know you’re an old fool!”
John Quinn snarled. “Damn it, what in the hell are you hitting me for?” He turned to look over his shoulder and saw Rose standing behind him, her hands balled into fists, tears cutting through her make-up. “What’s wrong?”
“He’s going to kill you, you fool! He’s younger. He’s faster. He’s going to put a bullet in you before you can even–”
“I’m more experienced. You think I’ve never been in a duel or a shootout before? You think he has?” He snorted. “There’s a world of difference between shooting some dumb bastard in the back in the middle of nowhere and facing someone head on. Two men meet with forty feet between them, and it ain’t just the slow one who dies. It’s the worse shot. It’s the unsteady hand.” He smiled. “It’s the one that ain’t been wearing bulletproof goddamn armor for half his life.”
Rose of Sharon stared down at the older man, her face hardening into stone even as the warm tears continued to slowly fall from her eyes. “And what if he shoots you in the head?”
John Quinn looked away. Some of the other patrons and workers turned to look at him and Rose of Sharon, but only for a moment before quickly turning away. “That won’t happen.”
“Oh, no? It won’t.”
John said nothing. He simply shook his head.
“You know, I know you don’t believe that. I know you don’t believe the things people say about you. You’re too smart for it. You know you’re not invincible.”
“Of course I’m not.”
“Then what are you doing?”
He’d shot that fool kid, Billy Joe, rather than try and reason with him. Or he had tried, but not very had. He thought of Elliot Whitmore; for every person who’d ever met John Quinn that had wound up like him, there were two that had wound up like Keith Rivers. He thought of angry young men with guns. He thought of his mother, forty some years dead, of his father bleeding out before his eyes. He thought of all the children he’d left parentless one way or another.
“What I have to,” he said.
“You know, you ain’t a kid with no family anymore.”
“I still ain’t got a family.”
“You could,” Rose of Sharon said. She sniffed once. She wiped the last of the tears away from her eyes. There’d be no more shed for John Quinn that day. She turned. She walked away. She called over her should. “You could have.”