Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 5

Red Peterson came to town two days later on a chestnut horse. Like his brother, he had a shock of red hair atop his head, a sprinkling of freckles on his face. He wore blue jeans and a white shirt, and a single revolver sat low in its holster on his left hip.

His face was expressionless, his blue eyes as hard and as cold as ice. Folks watching from their homes shut their doors and their windows as Red passed by. Those who were in the street, with tasks they couldn’t abandon or else nowhere to go, turned their faces away and prayed silent prayers to be left alone. A little girl no older than ten, thin, with dark hair and wide eyes and a dirt-stained dress watched the rider. She stood motionless as he stopped aside her and Red Peterson gazed down at her with his boyishly handsome face and his cruel eyes.

“I’m looking for the coward and murderer John Quinn.” The little girl stared up at him, offered him no response. “The man who shot my brother, little sister. Do you know where he is?”

The little girl pointed further down the road and said, “Rosie’s.” Red tipped his hat to her and continued along.

* * *

The inside of Rosie’s was just like Red remembered it, although he hadn’t been inside in over a year. It was full of the sound of men and women laughing, the smell of smoke, glasses clinking against each other, animal lust hanging heavy in the air. It brought back memories, some happy, some unhappy. Days spent laughing with friends. Nights spent sobbing into the shoulder of a woman whose affection he had paid for. His love, Maria. The hunter, Gustav. Buy Billy Joe his first drink. Buying Billy Joe his first woman.

It was too much. He stood in the doorway, his eyes screwed tightly shut like dams holding back the torrent of what was inside him. He took a deep breath, let it out, opened his eyes again.

“Going to need your weapons, Red.” Red looked over his right shoulder. Franklin sat there, his enormous heads folded neatly on a table, an arsenal behind him. Little holdout pistols, big irons, knives of all kinds.

“I’m here for the man that murdered my brother, Frank.”

“I know, Red. That’s why I need you to empty your pockets. Ms. Rose ain’t going to have no violence in here.”

Red snorted. “No more violence, you mean. Did you forget that a dumb kid was shot dead in here just a few days ago.”

Franklin looked up at Red. He tapped the tabletop. “No, Red. I surely have not.”

“He’s got his guns, don’t he? Ain’t it only fair that I keep mine?”

“You know the rules.” Red sighed and took off his belt, set it on the table. He turned to go, and Franklin said, “Everything, Red. Everything.”

A fixed blade, seven inches long. A folder small enough to keep in a pocket. A snubnosed revolver tucked into a boot. Two thin bags of lead shot meant to be tightly gripped in a fistfight. Franklin’s eyes went a little wide at everything Red had managed to hide on his person. “Satisfied?” he asked, and all Franklin could do was nod in silence.

It was easy to pick John Quinn out of the crowd. He sat alone, a black hat and a glass half-drained of liquor on the table in front of him. His eyes, dark and hard as flint.

Dark and hard and locked on his own.

The two men stared at each other from across the room, forty feet between them. The force of John Quinn’s stare was enough to stop Red in his tracks. But only for a moment. The younger man continued his forward advance until he was standing directly in front of the elder one, and then he sat down.

Rosie’s was silent, half the eyes in the building locked on the two men, the other half desperately trying to find something, anything else to look at. Ages passed. The room buzzed with nervous energy, a spring stretching to its breaking point, a gun cocked and ready to fire.

“Your brother died screaming about debts and threatening to shoot some poor girl in the head,” the old man said.

Red frowned. “My brother died shot through the neck. He died suffering.”

The older man shook his head, the silver hair at his temples . “I ain’t going to apologize for shooting him. I don’t make it a habit of apologizing for the deaths of fools that can’t control their liquor, their temper, or their bad ideas.”

Red’s nostrils flared. His eyes narrowed to slits. His lips pulled back in a snarl. “No, I suspect you don’t. I suspect you ain’t never apologized for any of the people you killed in cold blood. I suspect you ain’t never done anything but go from town to town, dressed the way you do and walking the way you do and talking the way you do and killing whoever you please for whatever reason you invent.

“I know you, John Quinn. I know you for the black-hearted villain you are and for the ruin you visit on the people in your path. And I ain’t never going to apologize for shooting you, neither.”

The older man looked Red in the eyes. He blinked, once, twice. But he didn’t turn away. “No,” he said. “No, I suspect you won’t.”

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