It was an itch really, more than anything else. This feeling Seth Thompson got in his fingers splayed and twitching over the well-worn walnut butt of his cartridge-converted Navy Colt, just waiting for a sudden move from the unshaven saddle tramp that regarded him warily. Seth felt one bleary eye twitching in the cold November air as he glared into the muddy street from the wooden steps of the general store.
“What’s that?” the man choked out in a nervous voice.
“Did I stutter?” Seth asked. He was hung-over and pissed off and he’d woken up wanting to shoot somebody. Pure and simple, that was what it boiled down to. That was what it always boiled down to for him when he felt this way. The need to shoot and to kill. The need to be a man and show that he was a man. That’s what it was.
Yes, he had lain the previous night with an accommodating girl, a sloe-eyed buxom floozy with hennaed hair in some flophouse down at the seedy end of town. She was a drunk too and a sometime whore, though she didn’t work in the brothel. Together they had drunk their fill and more of cheap grain liquor made even less expensive on account of the tin badge Seth wore.
He’d even won some money at cards. Money he only dimly remembered winning after he rose gloomily from bed to pull on his coarse denim trousers and grope through wadded pockets made foreign by the boggy gaps in his memory.
But right now, under the raw icy glare of the noonday sun, with the streets still soupy mud after three clear days and even with straw scattered on the ground, Seth felt the burning need to kill and it would not be denied. Much to his grim satisfaction, this sweat-stinking out-of-towner had stepped up today to fill the bill nicely. Of course, with Seth’s moods, someone always seemed to present themselves in need of shooting.
As his jaw worked, Seth’s churning mind filled his sour mouth with unspoken epithets against this leather-faced saddle tramp refusing direct orders from an officer of the law to load up his gear and clear out of town.
Seth didn’t hardly need much excuse anyway but this defiant sumbitch stood there actually smiling at him now. Smirking more like, the ignorant piece of frontier trash. Acting like he had no idea why the deputy wanted him gone, he was practically daring Seth to draw down on him.
The fellow flinched and Seth went for the gun on his hip, firing as he drew all in a single fluid motion. Hazy gunsmoke curled from the Colt’s barrel and Seth smelled it acrid in his nostrils, a welcome change from his own ripe alcoholic stench.
The drifter collapsed in a heap, his unfired pistol dangling from one twisted finger. The roan horse tied up nearby shifted on its feet and eyed the scene warily.
Holstering his weapon, Seth stepped forward and patted the spooked animal on its neck as he used the toe of his boot to kick the revolver away from the dying man’s grasp. It had already fallen into the mud and would need a good cleaning before it would fetch any money from the gunsmith.
What a god-almighty waste of breath this friendless bastard was! Well, not much longer he wouldn’t be.
Seth watched the man heave a final shuddering breath and then his eyes glazed into that fixed look as if staring with rapture into the face of angels.
Seth turned and hocked thick yellow sputum into the mud, hoping the spitting wouldn’t turn into retching. He had a sour gut this morning. And now he had to fetch the undertaker. At least the fella’s pistol and horse would pay for the pine box and a simple burial better, probably with some to spare.
Damn, Seth thought, I need a drink.
Chuck Caruso lives in a drafty old farmhouse in the Pacific Northwest with his long-suffering wife and their two hirsute daughters. His dark fiction has appeared in Cemetery Dance, Dark Discoveries, SWANK and other national magazines as well as numerous crime and horror anthologies. Visit his blog at http://jcdarkly.wordpress.com/.