Forty Feet Between Them, Pt. 11

Red rocked back on his feet, stumbled a few steps, but he didn’t fall. “Something to be proud of,” he thought. “Die on your feet.”

And then he fell backwards catching himself on his hands. His guts felt like they were on fire, and the taste of metal and bile welled up in his mouth. “Goddamnit,” he muttered.

John Quinn stood as still as a marble statue, his only movement the tiny circles the barrel of his gun made as he breathed. “Yeah.”

Red pushed himself up until he was sitting, grunting in pain. Sweat dripped down his face. He breathed quick, shallow breaths. “Why,” he began. “Why is it I get shot and I wind up having to hold my guts in, but when you got shot all it does is slow you down?”

“Body armor. Worn it for years, ever since I was your age.”

Red snarled, as best as he was able. “And where’d you get that damn automatic?”

“Killed a man and took it from him.”

“Cheating. That’s cheating.”

“Says the man bleeding to death.”

“You bastard. You villain.”

“Villain? You think I’m the villain here?” John Quinn’s face twisted with anger. He moved to close the distance between the two of them. “Your brother pulled a gun in a bar and took a woman hostage! You fired into a crowd of people trying to shoot me. And you think I’m the goddamn villain?”

Red snorted. Blood dribbled from his mouth and his nose.“Killed my brother. Challenged me to a duel. Didn’t even try to talk to me. Or him. Or get the crowd out of the way.” Red looked up at John Quinn, grinned at him with blood-stained teeth. “You just started shooting without even thinking. That’s all you’ve ever done, isn’t it? How you solve everything, ain’t it? Bastard. Bastard.” Red’s voice trailed off, his will to speak and to curse ebbing out of his body alongside his blood.

John Quinn stared down at Red. He raised his foot, put it on the younger man’s torso, and pushed him flat on his back. He raised his pistol, aimed it between the younger man’s glassy, unfocused eyes, and he pulled the trigger.

* * *

“God almighty,” old man Smythe said. “What in the hell is going on?”

John Quinn walked past the old man without a word. He paused when he reached the front door, his hand on the knob, his hat casting shadow all across his face. “Get the undertaker,” he said. “Red Peterson’s dead on the roof. His guns are up there. Keep ’em and sell ’em. I’ll be leaving some money at Rosie’s. Anything selling his gear doesn’t cover, you can take out of that money.”

He pushed open the door, and without looking over his shoulder, he stepped through and called out, “I’m sorry for your trouble, Mr. Smythe.”

* * *

Rose of Sharon walked into her bedroom to find John Quinn stuffing his things into his pack, his shoulders slumped. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Leaving. Keep the money I have in the safe and use it for any restitution folks might seek. I don’t want it and I don’t need it.”

“You think you can just walk in here, grab your things, and walk out without a word?”

John Quinn sighed. “Well, I thought I could if I was quick and quiet, but I guess nothing gets by you, huh?”

Rose of Sharon stared at the back of John Quinn’s head, and she walked forward and shoved him onto the couch he was packing his things on. He grunted in pain. “Goddamnit, woman, that son of a bitch busted my ribs! What in hell’s wrong with you?”

“You are,” she said. “You’re everything that’s wrong with me. I love you, you dumb son of a bitch, and you go and almost get yourself killed, and then you try and sneak off without a word.”

John Quinn looked down at the floor, hardwood with a gloss varnish and a bright yet tasteful rug, save where his own dusty boot prints had soiled it.

“I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Didn’t want to face them. Folks who’d been friends with Red. Folks who might have gotten killed in the crossfire.”

“Nobody was friends with Red. He ain’t the kind of person a body gets close to. And ain’t nobody dead, either. Sandy Bergess took a bullet in his rear, but he ain’t dead.”

“Sandy Bergess took a bullet meant for me.”

“John, nobody’s going to hang to you. You’re not going to go to prison. Nobody’s going to try and put a knife in your back or a bullet in your head. Just calm down a minute and be reasonable.”

“No, Rose. I’m going.” He hefted the pack onto his shoulders, and moved towards the door. Rose of Sharon held her ground, her eyes locked on his. They were inches apart, neither of them giving.

Finally, Rose of Sharon closed her eyes and shook her head. “You’re a coward,” she said, stepping out of his way. “You’re just a coward.”

John Quinn walked away without saying another word or casting another glance back at Rose of Sharon. It wasn’t until he was a mile outside of town, a man in black walking the deserts by pale moonlight that he broke his silence and said, “No. I’m just a villain.”

And that’s it for this story! Be here on Friday for something new. Thanks for reading!

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