The noise from the town’s only saloon could be heard deep into the blackness of the night. Small mammals twitched and scuttled away to their holes when a gun shot rang out or a cheer went up from its drunken occupants. Sound travels a long way in the desert at night. He sat on his horse soaking up the sounds of revelry and debauchery. He allowed them to drink into the small hours of the morning, and despite the ache in his lower back, he allowed them one last taste of life, for he was in control of their future.
The cold air made him shiver. Winter was months away and yet the desert grew colder with each night. For the third time he checked both pistols; he pulled back the hammers in turn and spun the chambers. They whirled and made a soft humming noise, clean and oiled. The barrels had been internally brushed of all residue deposits. He could not afford for his guns to foul up half way through his quest. He was dressed in black with hand made boots embossed with images of birds. A blanket about his shoulders kept only a little of the cold and dust away. His stomach growled a warning that he hadn’t eaten since the previous night.
That’s how he felt, sitting in his car, he could imagine being the cowboy, astride his horse, checking his guns. He was in charge, he was dangerous and he was focused. She was waiting in a bar full of people he didn’t know, and there was an expectation he would rise to the occasion. Be a man amongst men. He couldn’t see or hear the actual activity of the bar, it was underground, “Down a long flight of stairs,” she had said. “Just show your ticket,” she had told him. Stepping from the car onto the wet road, his pulse rate increased, and his mouth went dry. Once again he drew courage from being the ‘cowboy.’
His thirst was nagging. Reaching down into his saddle bag, he took out an old battered canteen and swilled the warm water around his mouth. Closing his eyes, he imagined a cold beer. Condensation on the outside of the glass and a white foaming head. He savoured the thought and smiled. Turning his away, he spat the unwelcome fluid into the night.
Looking down at the plastic bottle of water in his hand, he wondered how old it was. It was without doubt disgusting; That cold beer would be good. Throwing the bottle into the passenger foot-well and closing the driver’s door in one swift action gave him some satisfaction. It was like throwing a ball of paper in to a bin at distance and scoring: Pointless, yet all the same satisfying. The club was across the street, its only advertising sign blinking due to worn out neon tubes. ‘The Spanked Donkey’ declared the sign. Outside a few people had gathered in tight huddles to smoke cigarettes. The girls in short skirts and high heels, clung desperately to themselves like Arabic women in mourning, swaying back and forth trying demolish their little sticks of pleasure before hypothermia set in. In front of the entrance stood a large black doorman. Next to him, a skinny Pakistani guy. Both dressed the same, all in black with the words SECURITY emblazoned on their chest. They were laughing at the human icicles with cigarettes. Getting past them would not be an issue, he had a ticket that would open doors. He was a cowboy and he meant business he told himself.
In his imagination he saw them blocking the entrance, both dressed in black with their hats on the back of their heads. They looked different, but both wore their mean streak on their chest for all to see. The cowboy walked into the light and drew the attention of the gunslingers. He made eye contact with one of them and stopped at the bottom of the steps. No one spoke or moved. The largest guy nodded, and the cowboy slowly nodded back. His cue to approach had been received and understood. As he climbed the step he notice a large sign leaning against the wall. Its fixings, long broken had allowed it to fall and splinter. Despite the dirt that had accumulated on it, the words, ‘The Spanked Donkey’ could still be seen. One of the men in black pointed to the cowboy’s gun and said;
“I’ll need to take that from you first, before you can come in Sir.” Holding on to his ticket as though his life depended on it, he reluctantly gave it over. Stepping through the doors, he was immediately confronted by stairs leading down into the basement of the building. The walls were painted red with electric fake gas lamps illuminating the subterranean passage. The walls were marked and worn by the passage of many customers too intoxicated to maintain balance. Once there had been pictures lining the route, only now ghostly outlines remained. He made his way down the steps slowly, using the handrail to steady himself. He felt like Alice, getting smaller and smaller into wonderland. As he reached the bottom he could feel the vibration, and hear the music from within. He paused with his hand pressed against the polished door plate. Taking a deep breath he pushed the door open.
The smell of tobacco, whisky and unwashed bodies assaulted his senses. He squinted against the bright lights coming from the small stage at the back of the room. Through the smoke he made out the silhouetted frames of two women illuminated by theatrical lights. Both women held large fans made of feathers which were waved in circles in time with the music being played. Every so often a glimpse of white skin was offered to the eager eyes of the audience creating a ripple of applause and cheering.
He imagined himself sauntering towards the bar, thumbs tucked into his belt, spurs chinking and solid heels echoing off the floor. He needed his make believe cowboy to get him through this. “What can I get you?” Said a tall suntanned barman. In his head he said, “I’ll have a whiskey, and none of the gut-rot these animals are drinking,” as he nodded towards the audiance. In reality, the words that left his mouth resembled a faint mutter. “A WHAT?” The barman shouted. “I’ll have a coke, I’m driving,” he said. As if the barman cared if he drove a car or rode a horse here tonight.
He stood at the bar and sipped his coke. She would be on stage soon, the star attraction! She was more than a star to him, she was his sister.
The club filled slowly over the next half an hour and as the lights dimmed he noticed his glass contained a sorry looking slice of lemon. He stared at it contemplating fishing it out and eating it; He had paid for it after all.
Aside from the footlights on stage, the room was dark and the sudden shove from behind surprised him. He turned, and without looking, said, “Watch where you’re going cowboy.” Behind him the lights went up and his assailant’s face was illuminated. He resembled a cross between a rat and a weasel. Small eyes, pointed nose and a wisp of hair above his top lip. He sneared and examined the person standing before him. “You wanna be careful who you call cowboy sonny,” he said, emphasising the ‘sonny’ for effect. The rodent’s gaze moved to the stage and our hero knew what had caught the attention of those small bright eyes.
In the glare of carefully positioned spotlight stood a wondrous sight. She stood over six feet in heels, wearing nothing but a small black skirt, her breasts were full and had reflected the glare of the lights. Her nipples were covered with black taped crosses which only emphasised them more. Her lips were ruby red and her hair was scraped back in a pony tail. He thought, despite being his sister, that she was very sexy. The room thought the same as it had erupted upon her entrance. Chairs fell back as men stood and drinks toppled from tables. All she had to do was stand there, hands on hips and feet apart to command the room. Slowly, the men came to order and silence fell. The occasional cough rang out causing the silence to be even more pronounced. She observed her audience carefully, especially those on the front rows. Her brother, unbeknown to her, was hidden in the darkness at the back of the room.
The disagreeable rodent standing behind him made a brief comment to the barman. It was derogatory. He said it again, louder this time so that the vision on stage would hear. She stared into the darkness but showed no emotion. Feet shuffled nervously and chairs creaked as men adjusted their posture; They had heard the remark also.
He ran through his mind how he could address this issue. The cowboy would turn slowly, taking a step back, drawing his pistol and levelling at the rodents chest. No apology would be sought, only accountablity.
Instead he stood there, allowing his sister to be publicly humiliated buy this disgusting example of a human being, and not for the first time. From the wings of the theatre, music filtered through the audience and in no time filled the awkward silence. The stage lighting changed and four more women dressed in similar clothing appeared, all carrying shiny, silver revolvers. A lady carrying two guns passed one to our hero’s sister, and the dance began. Pointing pistols and interlinking arms, the girls cavorted around the stage to the cheers of the audience. They were nothing special to look at. A cheap act in a cheap club. It was just very sad he thought.
The rodent was talking to two other men. They were big. He knew they were very big and fat because he could feel the heat from their bodies. It was uncomfortable being so close human radiators. It was a heavy, wet heat with an odour of cigarettes and beer. He went to pick up his glass for comfort, but it was gone. Just a ring of moisture marked its short life. “I’ll take another coke,” he called to the barman. One of the fat men, who he could see in the reflection of the mirror backed bar, mocked him by repeating his request in high pitched voice. Ignoring it was futile, he knew that. Bullies didn’t give up easy and this fat bastard was a bully without doubt. He turned his back away from the bar, and the human parrot. He waited for a a follow up remark, and waited..
Nothing happened during the next two rounds of music. The girls were naked apart from his sister. They still had their guns and imitated sexual acts with them. His sister orchestrated the performance in a way that pleased the rodent and his pair of bullies. They called out encouragement and made innuendos paper thin. Finally, the three moved away from the bar, each one banging into him as they passed. Each person hit harder, until on the third passing strike he bounced off the edge of the bar and on to the floor. His hands went out to break his fall and with a loud clunk, a large, black, automatic pistol hit the floor. It had left his jacket pocket as he fell and now it was out there. He looked up and, to his surprise, saw that no one had taken any notice of his fall and the noise of the gun. He stood and put his foot on the offending item.
The music had changed and the rodent was calling the girls from the stage. All looked unhappy and closed ranks as if to offer support. Gradually the four dismounted the raised platform and disappeared into the thick crowd of men. Losing sight of his sister would have worried him, however, she remained on stage, stationary. He tried to move his head to see her through the crowd but only succeeded in drawing attention to himself. “She a friend of yours?” The barman asked close to his ear. It made him startle and his response was fast and illegible. The barman looked at him closely. “You want to be careful taking an interest in His girls my friend,” nodding towards the stage.
As time passed, people started to leave the club. The music changed to a faint country and western drawl, which he felt was appropriate. The girls and the rodent gang were still sitting at a table drinking. Without warning one of the thugs back handed the youngest looking girl in the group. Her nose erupted into a continuous flow of blood, and mixed with tears created an unsightly mess. She curled into a ball, still standing, with elbows tucked in tight and one knee raised to her chest to protect herself; The bully moved in on her like a shark with the sent of blood in his nostrils.
From that moment on, everything slowed and merged fantasy with the here and now.
The shark-like bully’s head changed shaped, it ballooned for a brief moment just before a large caliber round exited the side of his big bald head. There was a spray of gore mixed with bright white shards of skull. His eyes closed and his mouth fell open before the room exploded in the noise of the gun. Everyone in the well below the stage froze, just for a brief moment, they froze before realisation dawned. Bully number two reached inside his jacket and dropped to one knee, swivelling towards the stage. From the bar he could see his sister standing, feet astride with two stage guns pointing towards the seats, except one was still smoking.
Our hero at the bar raised his gun and with both eyes open pointed the gun towards the bully and squeezed the trigger. The gun lurched in his hand violently, which surprised him. He had never fired a gun before. Simultaneously the stage front exploded in splinted wood and surprisingly the intended target was driven onto his back. He had missed by a clear foot, but his sister had not.
The rodent was curled in a ball on the floor, screaming incoherently. No one was coming to his aid. His protection was dead and gone and all that stood between him and his maker was a half dressed woman with a big gun. People backed away, some managing the stairs in an attempt to escape. The barman had departed without a sarcastic word being said. Our cowboy assumed that the sudden appearance of a blazing gun being brandished by a calm looking woman was sufficient to make any man run.
As his sister dismounted the stage, he walked towards her. By the time his reached her the rodent was sitting with back against an upturned table with his knees to his chest. His eyes were red and snot ran from nose. He was, and looked, pathetic.
Despite the serious nature of the situation his sister did not look out of place with her breasts on show. She lent forward to kiss him in the cheek and they brushed against his arm. “Hello little brother,” she said. “Bbbrothrr?” whimpered the rodent in a surprised tone. “Oh yes little man, the brother of the woman who you have repeatedly beat and raped, say hello why don’t you?”
The rodent grew smaller, and continued to cry.
Some people had bolted through an emergency exit that took them into an alleyway one street below the main entrance. The distant sound of sirens could be heard, a whole posse of them. He looked at his sister. “I had better finish this,” he said, slowly turning his attention to the rodent. She nodded. He bent over and grabbed the rodent’s jacket roughly, “Let’s have you on your feet partner,” he said in his best John Wayne accent. The rodent struck as fast a scared rat, the yellow teeth replaced by a flash of white steel. The thin blade previously unnoticed, carved across our hero’s wrist. He tried to pull his hand away in natural reaction, but his grip would not relax due to the tendons being severed, and then there was the blood, lots of bright red blood.
His sister’s brain tried to catch up, but the blood pumping from her brother’s arm slowed her senses. The rodent had turned into a scarlet mess on the floor. When her brain finally turned itself back on she went to the aid of her brother. If she had waited a millisecond more her brain would have seen that defence would have been the sensible choice and the rodent would have a hole in his head.
In the time it took to cross the short distance towards her brother, his hand had slipped from the rodent’s jacket and he was falling backwards with a look of horror on his face. She went to take an extra step to reach him when pain seared through her inner thigh. As she turned to look down at her leg, she slipped in her brother’s blood and fell to floor as her feet failed to get purchase. Her finger squeezed the trigger of the gun in her hand and let out one last report. The bullet hit a row of fire extinguishers by the exit. A loud crack hit the ear drums followed by a large cloud of white Co2 gas that filled the area between the exit and the stage.
She looked down to see that the wound was precise in its location. Blood pulsed from under her short skirt. She pressed hard until the pain made her see white dots and her head spun.
The rodent climbed on to the stage to get away from the bath of blood now filling the floor well. He laughed wildly, crazed by the shocking sight of two people vainly trying to save themselves draining to death. “BASTAAARDS!” He screamed at them, throwing his head back. “Worthless, worthless bastards” he repeated over and over again. “I hope you drown in each other’s blood,” he cackled. He picked up a pistol from the stage and with the few remaining bullets he fired close to the dying pair as if to tease them with a quick end. Both brother and sister were locked together trying to slide towards the exit, towards the white cloud which seem to draw them to it.
It was then a real Sheriff arrived. No Stetson hat, no horse and certainly no silver six-shooter in hand. He was of average height, build and looks. The kind of guy that you would pass in street and probably not even realise you had seen him. He, however, never missed a thing and forgot very little. He recognised the sound of the Rodent’s voice as he walked through the white cloud. There was an outline of a person on stage and that’s the direction his automatic pistol fell upon. As he cleared the cloud he dropped to one knee, firstly to remain small and secondly to get a hand on the bloodied couple embraced on the floor. The male had no vital signs and the girl’s was barely a faint whisper. In his mind she was already gone. The paramedics where on route and he could not replace her fluid loss. He placed his hand on the side of her face, his gun still erect towards the stage. She seemed to smile a little, it was hard to tell if it was meant for him.
The first round tore through the seat in front of him and entered the dead body of the boy. The sheriff released a shot without looking and moved position away from the grisly couple. Two more shots rang out, landing where he was once knelt. He looked through the seats and saw the rodent moving forward. “Police, drop your weapon!” He shouted. The rodent looked shocked and for a moment the sheriff thought he wouild throw his hands up. It was a false expectation, he turned raised his gun and pulled the trigger. ‘Click’ and ‘click’ again. No rounds in the chamber and no rounds in the magazine thought the sheriff. “Poor drills,” his firearms instructor would have said.
The sheriff, having made a quick appraisal of the situation and combined with the track record of the individual standing in front of him, could see that the demise of the young couple was his hand. This scum bag loved a razor sharp knife and had left a trail of victims without any convictions to his name. “Put your hands on your head and say nothing” the sheriff said slowly. He walked over to the couple and looked down at them. Such a shame for ones so young he thought. “Can we hurry this along pleeeeese?” Said the disgusting rodent. “I have places to go and you know you’ll never secure a conviction with me as an innocent bystander who tried to defend himself in such a gruesome place. The quicker you do your job, the quicker you’ll be home in bed with your pig ugly wife.” The sheriff narrowed his eyes and smiled.
The official report showed that a Martyn Greenhow, AKA Rodent, was killed by a single bullet entering under his nose and exciting the top of his skull. The time of death was very close to that of the young girl found at the scene; The young girl who, with remarkable strength in her dying moments, managed to find the strength to take an aimed shot and kill her and her brother’s attacker.
Our wannabe cowboy would have been proud of the sheriff, who despite the oath he had taken to uphold the law, knew justice was more import than vengeance in the wild-west. Taking his sister’s hand and squeezing a discarded pistol into it, the light slowly dying in her eyes, he issued justice by the only true judge in the room. “Say you’re sorry,” said the sheriff, holding the girls finger around the trigger. “Go fu..” were the rodent’s last squeaks before his brain exploded.
The sheriff stood and walked out of the exit door. He wondered if sheriffs 100 years ago had to put up with the same shit. Mind you he thought, they got to ride a horse and had nice hats. He could just imagine being a wild-west sheriff; how cool would that be he thought?