A gunshot echoed through Rosie’s like the crowing of a rooster gone mad.
John was out of bed and on his feet before he could think, his hands pulling his pants up to his waist, his mind registering the weight of his revolvers on his hips even as he cinched his belt. He was an animal operating off of pure instinct, and as his left hand opened the door that led from Rose of Sharon’s bedroom to the second-story landing, his right hand drew the ironwood-gripped .45, thumbed back the hammer, raised the gun to the level of his eye.
“Get out here, John Quinn! Stop hiding behind your whore and give me my money!”
The kid, Billy Joe Peterson, was down in the lobby, a revolver in each hand. Two men of about his own age stood at his sides, both armed with shotguns. He turned from side to side, his revolvers held at the ready. All around the three marauders, the girls and the patrons who were already awake watched uneasily. Some of the cowered in fear; the more experienced tried to appear as cool and unperturbed as possible. Even with Rose of Sharon’s prohibitions against weapons, it wasn’t uncommon for tempers to flare and give way to threats or worse.
John watched the scene below him quietly from the cracked door, waiting to see what the kid would do. At least he wasn’t dumb enough to try and take a hostage; if he were, Old Timmy Greene, the bartender, would have pulled the gun he kept under the counter and shot him dead. Hell, it was a small wonder someone hadn’t put a couple rounds into the kid and his friends already.
“You get down here now, John Quinn! You and me got a score to settle!”
John Quinn sighed and pushed the door open all the way. “The only score you got to settle is with Rose. It ain’t good manners to go around shouting and pounding your chest and putting holes in folks’ roofs.”
Every eye in the lobby turned to him. He stood there, the cold morning light from Rose of Sharon’s bedroom window illuminating him from behind. His features disappeared, blurred and became indistinct, until there was only the specter of an old man, a gun in his hand, his body covered with the marks of wounds that had scarred him but hadn’t killed him. Billy Joe’s men raised their guns, but he snapped at them, “Put them things down, you fools! You’ll kill his bitch!”
John Quinn’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to bring your guys to town, son?”
“The money, John Quinn.”
“I’m not giving you a damn thing, boy. Go home.”
The hard expression on Billy Joe’s face wavered for just a moment. His men looked to him, but they missed his uncertainty. They only saw steely determination, and they turned their heads back to John Quinn, reassured that they would get what they’d came for.
“Then I guess I’ll have to show you I ain’t fooling around.” Billy Joe kept his eyes on John Quinn and holstered one of his guns. He cast a single glance to the side, and then he enacted his plan. His free hand snapped out like a snake striking, and it grabbed the blouse of the girl who had the misfortune to be standing next to him. She screamed and she struggled, and Billy Joe pulled her in as close as he could. He was fighting to get his arm around her, his gun against her temple, and to do it all while speaking, while not taking his eyes off of John Quinn.
“You get down here and get on your knees with your hat between your hands, and I won’t shoot the whore. You hear me? I’m going to–”
He’d spread his attention too thin. The girl had nearly struggled free, and when he turned to pull her back, a shot rang out. People screamed and scrambled away. Billy Joe dropped to his knees, eyes wide with fear and surprise and pain, his revolver and the girl forgotten as his hands clawed at the hole that had suddenly appeared in his throat, his men too confused and frightened to return fire on the man who had shot their boss right through his neck. The building was in chaos, and John Quinn looked down on it all, smoke trailing from the barrel of his revolver, some ancient death-dealing ghost.
He took a deep breath and he called out, “Take him and go. I ain’t going to have no fool bleeding to death on Rose’s fine floor.” His words echoed like a lion’s roar. The screaming stopped. The movement stopped. Billy Joe’s men looked up at John Quinn uncertainly then back down at their leader. He clasped one hand to his neck, as if he could stem the flow of blood with his fingers, and with the other he clawed desperately at the air, reaching for help, for forgiveness, for one last attempt to hurt the man who had done this horrible thing to him.
The sound of the hammer locking into position filled the air, almost as loud as a gunshot in the quiet lobby. “I’m not saying it again.”
The two boys looked at each other, and without speaking a word, they leaned down and picked up Billy Joe, dragged his increasingly pale and motionless body out the door. John Quinn watched them go, and then his eyes scanned the room out of habit. What he saw unsettled him.
Every eye in the place was looked on him. Every face was filled with anger, with fear. Even the girl who’s life he had just saved was looking at him with a look he couldn’t quite place; she wasn’t afraid of him, exactly, but she was terribly afraid of something.
He turned around to find Rose of Sharon, but she found him first. She slapped him. Hard.
“John Quinn, you fool, don’t you know what you’ve done? You shot Red Peterson’s brother!” Her lower lip quivered, tears welling up in her eyes. “God damn you, John Quinn. You shot Red Peterson’s brother, and now he’s going to kill us all.”