Russell hated California.
He'd come here looking for gold, just
like everyone else, but someone forgot to inform him the gold had left town.
That's exactly what Russell should've been doing, but something had compelled
him to stay in California, specifically the town of Bloodstone. He wasn't sure
what that something was, but he figured he'd know it when he saw it.
Russell descended the stairs from his
room above the sheriff's office and stepped into the path of the blistering
sun. It was Thursday afternoon, around two o'clock by Russell's estimation, and
the heat was already making him sweat. It was a short walk across the street
and down a building to the saloon, so Russell decided to bear with the
abysmally hot weather. It had been nothing but sweltering since he'd arrived in
The saloon was a shithole. Russell
knew that. The people in Bloodstone knew that. They kept coming back anyway. It
was the only place in town to find a cold drink that wasn't loaded for snake.
When Russell walked in, the saloon was dead as a tombstone, say for a jolly fat
man with a curved white beard and rosy cheeks, who was sitting at the bar and
drinking his sixth mug of beer. Russell likened him to a Santa Claus figure, if
Saint Nick ever got drunk and strapped his gun on backwards.
Russell nodded to Clyde, the barkeep,
and had a seat two stools down from Mister Jolly. Russell removed his hat,
placed it on the scratched surface of the wooden bar, and turned to Clyde.
"One beer, Clyde, and I'm outta
here," Russell told him.
"That's what they all say,"
Clyde quipped with a wink. He had thinning silver hair and a bushy mustache
that was going white on him. "Besides, we ain't got no beer."
"You what?" Russell asked,
"No beer whatsoever," Clyde
affirmed. "This damn fool drank it all."
Russell cast his best scowl at Mister
Jolly. The man ignored him and didn't look his way.
"Pour me a whiskey, then,"
Russell told the barkeep.
"Got it," Clyde said,
snatching the whiskey from a shelf. He twisted the cap off the bottle and
poured it into a highball glass, throwing some ice cubes in with a flourish.
Then he shoved the glass across the bar and into Russell's hands. "Fifty
"Shit, Clyde," Russell told
the barkeep. "You raising your prices or something?"
"Got to do it, Russell. Otherwise
I'll lose this place."
"I think this place is already
lost," Russell growled as he put the fifty cents in Clyde's outstretched
hand. Russell drank his whiskey and smiled. That was exactly what he'd
"You hear about that lucky dog
Willingham?" Mister Jolly asked the air.
"You talking to me?" Russell
"Who else would I be talking
"There's a barkeep here?"
Clyde shook his head.
"Listen, man, why don't you go
home and sleep off whatever you came in here with."
"But I didn't tell you about old
Russell frowned at Mister Jolly. The
man was drunk, that much he knew, but the last thing he needed was some
intoxicated Santa Claus pestering him over a guy he'd never heard of.
"Sorry, don't know him,"
Russell said. "I don't care to, either."
"Sure you know him! 'Ol Willy,
from around Denver?"
"Well then, maybe a story would
jog your memory!"
"What do you think this is,
mister? Story time in a school?"
"No, sir, not at all," Jolly
said, trying to be as serious as he could manage. "I'm just trying to tell
"I'm not in the mood,
mister," Russell informed him, "but let's suppose you tell me your
tale in the time it takes me to finish this whiskey. If your story's good, then
I'll pay for your drinks. If your story's bad, then you'll pay...period."
Russell scowled at him again. "Got it?"
Mister Jolly gave him an exaggerated
nod of the head. He drained what was left of the beer in front of him, wiped
the foam from his mouth, and launched into his story.
"Now, ol' Willy wasn't the
brightest sort, sir, that's for damn sure," he began. "But he did know
how to take care of himself."
"Did he, now?" Russell
"Y'see, Willy was panning for
gold with some other fellows on the edge of San Francisco last year."
Mister Jolly looked down at his feet. "They were all too dumb to know the
gold rush had already rushed by them, and there were two boys who were especially
dumb." The man scratched the bridge of his nose. "One was named
Jefferson, and the other was named Colt."
"Colt, you said?" Russell
asked. "Like the gun?"
"Exactly like that," Jolly
"Now that's interesting,"
Russell told him. "Continue."
"As I was saying," the man
picked up, "they were all a little stupid when it came to gold." He
stroked the curved end of his beard. "So they toiled in that river, day
after day after day. Most folks gave up and headed to other parts of the state.
Some perished in the heat. Eventually, it came down to three of them—Jefferson,
Colt, and ol' Willy."
Russell reached for his whiskey, but
thought better of it and pulled his hand back. He wanted to be sober to hear
what happened next.
"Just as Willy was about to pack
it in for greener pastures, those two boys found the last speck of gold in that
poor, dry river." Mister Jolly placed the back of his right hand against
his sweaty brow and wiped from left to right. "Now, like I said, Willy was
about to mosey on out of there, but he reconsidered when he saw the gold in the
"'Course he did," Russell
said dryly. "Tell me, stranger—does this bedtime story have a happy
Jolly looked down into the last mug of
beer he'd drank from.
"Not exactly," he whispered
in a grave tone. Russell decided to cut his witty comments short and let the
man talk. "Those two brats stayed at it all night and found quite a
fortune...but that's when ol' Willy decided to turn the tables in his
favor." Mister Jolly wrapped his left hand around the handle of his beer
mug. Russell noted how weathered his fat hands were. "Y'see, Willy knew
the kids would never part with their gold willingly, so the only way to
take it was by force." The man wrapped his right hand around the side of
his mug. His eyes were pinched shut, as if he were living the story inside his
head. "Willy put Jefferson down like a sack of grain."
"And Colt?" Russell asked
"All it took was one punch,"
Jolly replied. "But trust me, Willy beat the shit out of the kid." He
opened his eyes slowly. "Y'know, just to make sure."
"I'll bet," Russell said,
downing the last of his whiskey. "So what happened to Willy and all this
"Who knows?" the man said
with a half-shrug. "Just rode off into the sunset, I guess, spending his
money on booze and women and—"
a hoarse voice interrupted from the saloon's doors. Russell, Clyde, and Jolly
turned to see a kid, no older than sixteen or seventeen, standing in the
doorway as the doors swung shut behind him. His clothing, which consisted of a
poncho, long-sleeved shirt, pants, boots, and hat, were in complete disrepair
and caked with sand, mud, and dirt. The only thing that had survived was his
gun belt, which had a pearl-handled Schofield revolver in its holster.
Russell ventured a glance at Mister
Jolly. He wasn't so jolly anymore.
"Right here, right now," the
kid said in a heavy drawl. "You 'in me. Winner gets 'ta live. Loser gets
'ta die. Whaddaya say, partner?"
"I'm sorry, young man,"
Jolly said. "You must be mistaken. There's no one here by that name."
"Oh, really?" Russell spoke
up. "And just who was 'ol Willy?" He smirked. "If I was a
betting man, I'd bet I'm looking right at him."
The kid's eyes moved with snake-like
speed from Willingham, to Russell, and back again. Despite his tattered
appearance, he was very alert and very ready to fight, almost as if the only
thing fueling his body was the need for revenge.
Willingham stood from his stool and
brushed crumbs from his shirt. "Fine then, young man! 'Ol Willy will show
you what he's made of!" He walked to the center of the empty saloon and
put his legs shoulder-length apart. "How's this?"
The kid took one step to his right and
copied the stance. "That's good, partner. Real good."
"You ready, young man?"
"I'm always ready, Willy."
"We shoot on three."
"Fine by me."
Russell felt his right hand fall to
his battle-scarred Remington, resting comfortably in its holster. He didn't
know why he was edging in on the kid's action. Let him take the fat bastard
out, Russell thought to himself. Let him learn what it's like to take someone
else's life in your hands. But then there was the immediate regret, which
Russell hadn't felt in ages, that if this kid got himself killed and Russell
could have prevented it...well, that just wasn't going to happen, Russell told
himself. Not today.
"One," Willingham said. His
fingers danced over the handle of his backwards revolver.
"Two." Colt's shaking
fingers flickered over the Schofield's pearl grip.
Russell's bullet entered Willingham's
head through the right temple and exited through the left temple, spraying dark
red blood all over the walls of the saloon. The bullet lodged itself into the
far wall and stayed there, leaving a smoking hole in the wallpaper.
Willingham's body stumbled, dropped to its knees, and then fell onto its side,
where its wound bled out all over the floor.
The kid stood there, somewhere between
stunned and petrified. Smoke twirled from the barrel of Russell's Remington as
he holstered it and smiled gently at the young gunslinger.
"Three," Russell finished.
"By the way, kid, you're welcome. You were in no shape to take him
The kid drew the Schofield. Russell
froze. So did Clyde.
Squeezing the trigger with one hand
and cocking the hammer with the other, the kid emptied his gun into
Willingham's dead body. The corpse jerked each time a bullet cut through its
dead flesh, its limbs flopping and slapping this way and that, until the
barrage was over. Russell watched the whole thing, the rage in the kid's eyes,
the relentless assault, and knew that this kid had run entirely on revenge while
on his journey to Bloodstone.
"'Ya killed my best friend,
partner," the kid said in his drawl. "Rot in hell." He opened
his gun and scattered the spent cartridges on the floor. "What'd you shoot
'im for, mister?"
"Could be a reward out for scum
like that," Russell said. "Tell you what, kid—I'll split it with you
The kid finished reloading the
Schofield and snapped it closed with a flick of his wrist.
"You keep your money,
mister," he said. "I got what I came for." The kid turned
to the door and headed out of the saloon.
"Hey, I never got your
name!" Russell called out.
The kid stopped and holstered the
"It's Colt," he replied.
"Like the gun."
Colt exited the saloon. The doors
swung shut behind him.
"Exactly like that,"
Russell said to himself, and decided Willingham wasn't such a lucky dog after