Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 10

Red Peterson turned to flee across the roof of Smythe’s, his feet kicking up flecks of loose gravel from the tar of the roof, but there was nowhere to run. There were other buildings he could flee onto, their walls butted up against the supply store, but there was nowhere to hide, no obvious way off the roof. Well, there was one way, but it was at least twenty feet down. He’d break a leg, apt as not, and even if he didn’t, John Quinn would just shoot him in the back while he stumbled to his feet.

Red glanced over his shoulder. The man in black followed him, cold and implacable as a machine. Red turned and took off across the rooftops, his path winding and swerving, partially from half-remembered advice to never run in a straight line if you were being shot at and partially because he kept losing his footing as he looked behind him and the gravel slipped underneath him.

Thunder cracked. The gravel a few feet away from Red exploded, bits flying up and stinging his face. “Guess the advice was worth a damn after all,” he thought. Behind him, John Quinn fired again, another fountain of gravel spraying up around him. “He’s toying with me. The bastard’s toying with me.”

Another shot. Anger flared in Red’s heart. His brother was dead, and the man who’d murdered him in cold blood was one good shot away from eliminating what was left of the family. “I ain’t gonna die getting shot in the back,” he told himself. “I ain’t gonna die like that.”

Red spun around and dropped to the ground in a single moment, pulling a holdout pistol from the waistband of his pants as he did. It was a small thing, with only two shots, but it would have to do.

John Quinn dove to the side, the bullets streaking past him. His revolver slipped from his hand as he fell, tumbled side over side and off the roof. Red’s eyes went ride, a triumphant grin on his face, and for a moment, he forgot himself. He took his time, trained his pistol on the older man’s steely face, and pulled the trigger. But it clicked empty, the two rounds it held fired to frighten John Quinn into making a mistake.

Which he had. Red looked at the man’s hands, at the ground around him. He was unarmed.

A smile crept across Red’s face. John Quinn watched him in silence, and the two men pushed themselves up off the rooftop. Red was on his feet in seconds, and he watched with satisfaction as John Quinn pushed himself up slowly, painfully. Of course he did. His slow, deliberate steps hadn’t been some measured intimidation tactic.

It’d been the broken gait of a tired old man. That’s all he was. He wasn’t a legend. He wasn’t a monster. He wasn’t an angel or a devil or anything folks said he was, anything he himself had said he was.

He was just a tired old man.

Red drew a knife from his boot and another from his belt. John Quinn had just gotten to his feet when a knife clattered to the ground in front of him. He looked down at it wordlessly, and then back at the younger man. Red was grinning, tossing the other blade back and forth from hand to hand. “Come on, then! Just you and me! Pick it up and let’s do this!”

John Quinn said nothing. He stared wordlessly ahead, his eyes like coal. Wrinkles framed them, his whole face a patchwork of scars and lines. “Are you scared?” Red asked. “You thinking, ‘This is it. I’m going to die?’ You thinking, ‘I can’t beat him. He’s younger, he’s faster, and he’s stronger?’ Is that what you’re thinking?”

Red Peterson’s eyes narrowed to slits. “Pick it up, old man. Pick it up, or die unarmed and helpless. You ain’t got no other choice.”

John Quinn looked down at the knife at his feet. His shoulders slumped in resignation. Red smiled. The older man was beaten. Exhausted. Broken.

The older man reached behind his back with his right arm and pulled a pistol free. Red’s eyes went wide. John Quinn fired again, and again, and again.

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