A stranger walked into my town one Thursday with six names on his lips and a six shooter at his hips. He walked with purpose, not looking at the brothel, the inn, the sheriff’s office or at any passerby who gave him strange stares. He walked with a limp in worn boots, worn jeans and wearing a worn shirt and vest. He walked against the wind.
He walked into the bar, up to the counter and bought a bottle of whiskey paying for it with a twenty dollar note and telling Samuel the barkeep to get another ready. Despite his tanned skin he looked like he had been out of the sunlight for years. He took his bottle and sat in the corner furthest from any windows. The stranger was obviously a man most comfortable in the dark.
I was just twelve years old at the time and should not have been there. My mother, a good Christian woman and the local seamstress always told me to stay away from the tavern. She was worried I might end up an alcoholic like her father or be wrongly shot in the street by a drunk like the county priest was two years ago. But she was away comforting her recently widowed sister and I was free. I loved being around the ranchers and wanderers and salesmen who always had a tale to tell or who were always challenging each other to some new insane bet. I would watch their card games and I would memorize their jokes to tell later to my younger siblings. The tavern was a second home to me and there was now a stranger in my home.
He had blond hair, blue eyes and a faint scar beginning under his right eye and cutting across his lip to the centre of his chin. There was hunger in his eyes, as if he had been searching for something for a long time and finally found it. He saw me eyeing him from across the room and motioned for me to come over. I hesitated at first. While he fascinated me, there was an air about him that told me to stay away. He was clearly an outlaw, outlaws were always dangerous, and our sleepy town had never had an outlaw walk in and not leave a bloody mess behind or leave bloodied himself.
The stranger beckoned me over again. I crossed the tavern doing my best to appear confident in the face of this dangerous man. My heart stopped when I tripped over a chair leg but he just looked at me as if nothing had happened. The short walk across the tavern was the longest of my entire life but eventually I reached the stranger’s table. When I got there he finished his glass of whiskey and motioned for me to come even closer. As I leaned in I got a good whiff of the alcohol from his breath; it was so strong that I almost fell from my chair. But this man’s hard stare held me in place.
“Boy,” he said. “I want you to go find the some people for me and bring them here. I think you know them. I want you to go find five men for me. Martin Gamble, Dick Hiskins, Charley Wex, Roy and Roger Pearle and Arthur Fullorton. I want you to bring these men here or at least tell them where I am. Tell them Buck wants to see them. Here’s a hundred dollars, you’ll get another hundred when you get back. Run along now and be quick.”
I raced off with the note in my hand and the promise of two hundred dollars in my head. I rode as fast as I could to the various ranches of the men the stranger sought. Each of them had arrived in town about three years ago and had lived peaceful lives since then. I did not stop to think what such a man could want with gentle folk.
When I reached each farm and passed along the stranger’s message each man’s face went white. They all stammered and asked me to describe just who was sitting in the tavern and I told them all the same answer: a blond haired, blue eyed man called Buck with a scar on his face and a thirst for whiskey. When I was finished I raced back to the tavern to collect my reward; Buck was still sitting in his corner. He paid me in full and gave me a drink from his bottle. It burned my throat.
Two days later Martin Gamble, Dick Hiskins, Charley Wex, Roy and Roger Pearle and Arthur Fullorton arrived in town each holding a firearm. Martin had at his side a pistol, Dick a shotgun, Roy and Roger held rifles and Arthur carried his own six shooter. They walked through town in a line, eyes wide and steps unsteady.
“What’s with the iron Arthur?” asked the blacksmith.
“Go inside Bob, keep your family safe,” replied Arthur.
The stranger called Buck stepped out of the inn wearing the same worn clothes from before. His gun hung at his hip in an unclipped holster.
“I was wondering where I would find y’all. Didn’t think it would be in a place like this,” he shouted. This time Roger spoke.
“You should be dead right now. How’d you worm your way out of that jail?”
“I convinced them that I had been framed.”
“Bullshit,” now it was Dick’s turn. “You were with us the entire time on that train. It was your goddamned idea. You were even the one who shot that engineer, not us.”
“I said I convinced them, I didn’t prove anything.”
The seven men stood in the middle of town, outside the inn, six in a line facing down one. I was peeking out through the shutters of the tavern, fearing what would happen next.
“I told y’all that I would kill you for betraying me like that, even if it was the last thing I did.”
Buck reached for his gun. The six men facing him did not even let him remove it from his holster before they each unloaded their own firearms into his chest. Amazingly Buck took each shot and remained on his feet for a moment or two before staggering over onto the inn’s steps. He twitched a little before he came to rest.
All six men dropped their guns and raised their hands for the sheriff. He jailed each and every one but released them the next morning saying that what happened was clearly self defense.
That was the last time anybody ever spoke about that day. It only existed afterwards in memories and those memories quickly became as faded as the stranger’s jeans. But I remember still, I remember a dead man handing me two hundred dollars to bring his six reapers to him.
The stranger walked into my town with six names on his lips and a six shooter at his hip. Those six names sent him out of this world with six holes in his chest.