Courtesy of Pixabay
“James Wesley? Why would you want to know about James Wesley, boy?” The old man looked away for a second, expecting an answer, then quickly back at Tom. “Don’t answer that. Listen. For a bottle of bourbon I’ll tell you everything I know about James Wesley. What do you say?”
Tom nodded and signaled the bartender, pointing his finger at a bottle of Jack.
“Not much is known of the man you seek, but he did cross our town once. It was 14 years ago today and boy it still feels like yesterday. It was a Sunday afternoon, the mass just finished, and he rode his black horse straight into the saloon. Damn straight inside. Didn’t hesitate one bit and shot the owner right between his eyeballs. Bang! No words, no nothing. Just looked around the place, tipped his stetson at the fine townsfolk and rode back out of the saloon and out of town, same way he came in,” pointing Southeast, “Those people still haven’t recovered, I’ll tell you that much. Hell, I haven't recovered either,” the man drank the few drops of bourbon still in his glass. “He had a certain aura about him. Like the smell of death in the hospital, you know? There, that’s all I know of James Wesley. Now hand over that bottle!”
Tom slammed a $100 bill on the bar, tipped his Stetson at the old man and left the saloon with a smirk on his face. He had found out everything he needed to know. The direction in which he could find James. One final clue of his pursuit.
He climbed into the saddle and rode his black horse southeast, same way James came in and out of town. He rode for about 100 miles through the deserted countryside when what little of the road there was, suddenly vanished in front of his eyes. Wild grass and bushes as far as the eye could see, with no signs of civilization.
Even to a very suspicious individual the place would have looked like nothing more than an abandoned country road that never got to serve its purpose. But Tom knew something no one else did. Tom knew his father.
They never personally met, but from what Tom had gathered about James, the two were a lot like identical twins. They shared all their characteristics, and above all, both had the same job they were the very best at. Had the old man in that god forsaken town not been drunk as a kite, he’d probably note that Tom, too, had the presence of death around him.
Tom had a good look at his surroundings and decided to dismount his horse to stretch his back and have a bite.
“Just a little further, Magnum, just a little further,” he told his horse, playfully pulling on its nose ring that resembled that of a bull. He then motioned to Magnum to go and seek a water source to replenish itself while he sat down to eat his jerky and bread.
During his meal he remained completely silent, checking the area for any unusual sounds. He was a very quiet man by nature who spoke only when absolutely necessary. It wasn’t that he was shy. It was just part of his mysterious character. He was very good at listening, though. And observing. He could stay put without moving for hours on end, just observing his surroundings without ever getting bored. He mastered his observational skills to such a degree he could easily read the characteristics of any man or woman just by having a look at how they walked, or by the way their lips moved when they talked, or by looking at the way they were dressed. It amused him how he was right every single time.
Having finished his meal, he straightened himself up to stretch his back, beat the sand off his jeans and whistled to Magnum. Upon his arrival, Tom climbed back in the saddle and set off East. He had heard something.
It appeared as if he was riding into nothingness at first, but roughly 5 miles later, there it was. A patch of cultivated land. A field of corn, dancing softly in the light summer breeze.
Tom kicked Magnum between the ribs and galloped his way to the property.
Hidden amidst the corn and crop fields was a small cottage, made entirely of wood, with the roof forming a distinct upside down V-shape. Outside, a man, dressed in all black, with his hand ready to draw the gun from its holster. He had known someone was coming.
Tom pulled on the reins and Magnum came to a stop, no further than 30 feet from the cowboy, then lifted himself on his hind legs and let out a mighty neigh.
“Get off my property!” Shouted James, his fingers hovering over his revolver.
“Father,” said Tom as calm as a millpond, nodding downward at James in a greeting manner.
James squinted his eyes to try and make sense of the silhouette against the sun.
“I know why you left us.”
“You don’t know shit, Tom. I had to leave.” James paused for a second. “I didn’t want you to live a life like mine. It was the only way, Tom. I had to leave you and Rosanne.”
“I understand, and I would have done the same.”
“Why are you here then? Scram! I don’t want you here!” James yelled at his son again.
“I’ve come to tell you I’m following in your footsteps. I tried to fight against it, I really did, but no matter how hard I tried I was always the odd one out. I was quieter than the other kids, but also stronger, and more agile, too. No matter how much bigger the other guy was, I always knew how to find his weakness and strike him down. I know you wanted to protect me, father. I know you did. But I inherited it. It is your legacy. As it will be mine.”
James stared at Tom for a few moments, trying to get a good luck at his son. It was the first time he had seen him since they parted ways 29 years ago after all.
Then, all of a sudden, James had realized the real reason behind Tom’s visit. “I am your current target, aren’t I?” He asked, and Tom nodded in response. “So they want only one gunslinger, not two, huh? Just the very best one. Fine. Let’s give them the very best one and settle this the proper way, shall we? With a good old fashioned duel.”
Without saying a word Tom nodded again and began dismounting his horse.
“Just out of curiosity; it was you who killed the manager of that steam turbine the other day, wasn’t it?”
Again, Tom only nodded in response.
“That was my target.”
“I know. It was a warning. To tell you I was coming,” Tom spoke slow and remained completely calm.
“And now here you are. Ready to kill your father. Tell me, have you ever stopped to imagine what all we could do together, or did you just blindly follow orders?”
“I work alone, and so do you. We could never work together, and you know that.”
“Ah, a true son of mine,” said James, with a sense of pride in his voice.
Already positioned roughly 30 feet apart, all they needed now was to agree on the signal to draw their weapons.
James pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket. “When it reaches the ground, we pull.” He then crouched down, picked up a stone and started wrapping it inside the handkerchief without looking at it – his eyes locked on Tom. For about 10 seconds or so – while James was wrapping the pebble in the handkerchief – they stared at each other, a killer’s look in the eyes of both.
Magnum stood completely still, as if frozen, not far from Tom and watched in complete silence. He knew that if Tom would go down, he would go down with him. No way James would have taken care of him. He had his own horse.
Tom spread his legs a little more than shoulder-width apart and bent his knees slightly to allow for the fastest pull of his pistol. When in position, he spoke the last words to his father.
“May the better gunslinger live, and the worse die.”
“And so it shall be, son.”
James threw the wrapped pebble into the air and the handkerchief unfolded itself right about halfway between the two.
They could both feel the adrenaline rush as their fingers grew more and more impatient with every inch of altitude the handkerchief lost. For when it reached the ground, one of them was to be no more.
It was as if every living and non-living thing tuned in to watch the two most notorious gunslingers measure themselves in a duel. From James' wooden figurines – mostly oddly shaped ducks that he kept making for a reason unbeknownst to anyone else but him – to corn cobs and bean stalks.
Despite the audience and the high stake, not James, nor Tom even flinched. Not one drop of sweat was on either's forehead. Both as calm as if drinking cold cool-aid on a hot summer day, with one eye locked on the handkerchief and the other on the opponent.
When there were only a few inches left, both of them swayed their fingers over their revolvers one final time.
On contact, both pulled, aimed and fired a single round simultaneously.
Yet none of them fell.
To the surprise of both – and the assumed spectators – the bullets collided mid-air and fell to the ground as one right in the middle of them.
Puzzled and shocked by what had happened, none of them fired a second round. None of them had seen anything like that happen before.
“Hmm. I guess this is what He meant when He told me I couldn’t take on the next mission alone. It would appear He needs us both alive.”
“He?” Tom wanted to know more.
“You have much to learn, Tom. Come, step inside. We both have 29 years to catch up to first.”
Tom told Magnum to stay, then followed James into the cabin without a follow up question.
Magnum – as strong a character as his owner – went his own way and quickly found another horse, practically identical to him. He had found James’ horse Jaguar, and they immediately became friends.
“So, any children?” Asked James, showing Tom to take a seat, then taking a seat himself, opposing Tom.
“One. A boy.”
Seeing as Tom did not continue, after a short pause it became clear to James that Tom did exactly the same he did. He had left his own son to try and protect him from the life of a gunslinger.
“I see you truly are following in my footsteps. Did you at least give the kid a name?”
“And the mother?” James continued.
“A fine lady who can take care of herself. Much like Rosanne. In case you’re wondering, last I’ve seen Rosanne she was doing good,” Tom wasn’t sure whether James wanted any more detail about Rosanne, so he paused and waited for James’ response. She was his mother and James’ wife which he had left 29 years ago when Tom was born.
James didn’t comment. Instead, he got up from the chair and walked over to the counter.
“I know you have many questions, Tom, but it is best you find out the answers for yourself,” said James while pouring a double whiskey for both, then continued after a brief pause. “See that board behind you?”
“Is that your next target?”
“Our. Our next target, Tom.” James placed the two glasses of whiskey on the table and sat down.
“Is now the time you tell me about Him?”
“Tell you? No. You will see for yourself. He’s arriving any minute now.”
James raised his glass and Tom followed suit.
“Here’s to our first job together.”
They raised their glasses at each other, clanked them together, then both chugged their drinks, slamming the empty glasses back onto the table.
As soon as they had let go of their glasses, the ground began to shake. The glasses began to vibrate and some pans in the kitchen made their way to the floor, enveloping the house with the sound of clashing metal as they made contact with the floor.
As suddenly as the earthquake came, though, it also ceased.
“He’s here. Come, outside.” James tilted his head in the direction of the door and got up from the chair.
Tom was certain it was indeed an earthquake, so he was completely taken aback by James' words. Despite him being completely calm facing death just moments ago, he could then feel how his knees became weaker and how a drop of sweat had formed on his forehead. He wasn’t sure he was prepared to meet an entity his father spoke so greatly of. But, trying to retain his image and reputation, he downplayed it best he could and followed James outside the house.
The two lined up just outside the door, and in front of them – triple the size of a human – a huge duck, much like the wooden ones James had made – apparently to worship the deity – staring straight at them.
“James,” He spoke very slowly with a deep crackling voice, much like if an 80 year old was speaking from the bottom of a 10 foot grave. The sound of His voice alone was sure to send shivers down one’s spine.
“Ducköden,” James lowered his head in a nod to greet Him.
“I see you two have made acquaintance already. Good,” his black beak barely moved when He spoke. “Tom, I am Ducköden. I am the one in charge, and also the source of your power. I control what you do, and what is done to you. I see all. That incident with James before? That was me.”
“Ducköden,” Tom mimicked his father and nodded toward the giant black duck.
He tried to look calm and relaxed, but he couldn’t help himself but think about what Ducköden had said. ”Did Ducköden really control all that had happened to me? Does that mean he-…”
“The answer to your question is yes, Tom. That was me. I killed your best friend when you were 12. You see, I had to make sure you followed in your father’s footsteps.”
”You motherfu-“ before finishing his thought, Tom spasmed with pain and collapsed down to his knees.
“Now, now. No need for such words, Tom.” Ducköden then let go of His death grip on Tom. “You will address me appropriately next time. Now get up!” He shouted, then continued with a much more neutral tone. “I know you two are both wondering why I never complete a job on my own. After all, I could kill any man with a snap of my fingers, why need two gunslingers to do my dirty work?” Ducköden stopped for a second to see whether any of them had already figured it out. “You see, where your next target is my powers do not work.” He enjoyed the look on their surprised faces, but knew he had to elaborate further. “To be honest, I had more gunslingers before the two of you. Actually, James, you are the fourth generation, and Tom the fifth. Why I chose your bloodline is a topic to be discussed another time, but for now I can tell you that you have by far outdone your ancestors. You used the powers I have given you well, and developed plenty of skills yourselves. Unfortunately though, because of the nature of your next task, I am taking your powers away, effective immediately.” With a snap of His fingers, the light around the two gunslingers distorted and the deathly aura around them vanished. “I’ll let you two have some family time before you head out. You leave first thing in the morning.” The ground began to shake again – much like before – forming a hole into which Ducköden was swallowed into. It then quickly filled itself back with the surrounding sand to make it look like no hole was ever there.
The two stood in place for a solid minute, trying to take in everything Ducköden had said, until Tom looked over at James and spoke up.
“Your father too then, huh?”
“And his father and grandfather before him, apparently. I never knew.”
“Is now the time you tell me more about all of this?”
“Yes. Come inside. I believe you and I both need a drink.”
James picked up the bottle of whiskey from the counter and they sat back down at the table – same seats as before. James uncorked the bottle and filled both their glasses with whiskey. “He wasn’t always like that, you know. He used to be kind and loving. A real sweetheart, really. He never treated me as his servant or anything such. I remember when I was little and wanted to fight, he made me a good fighter. When I wanted to shoot, he made me a good shot. He was there for me when no one else was. Sure, He was the one calling all the shots and dictating me around, telling me who to kill and what to do. I did my part of the job, and he paid me for it. In cash, in women, … Whatever I wanted the payment in. But above all, Tom, He was my friend,” James’ voice cracked a little with the last sentence. “It was mostly people who deserved it anyway. Murderers, liars, scammers, and local drunks. Sometimes, just for the sake of a challenge, he’d line me up against another gunslinger,” James downed his whiskey alone and started pouring himself another. “I’ll be honest with you, Tom. I enjoyed it. And I still do. But it’s not the same anymore. He’s not the same anymore. I never questioned His motifs before. I didn’t need to. But ever since He has gotten into a full-on war with the man upstairs Himself, He’s different.”
“What do you mean, the man upstairs?”
James raised his glass toward Tom and they both emptied their glasses in full.
“God, Tom. God. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not like they were sending each other hugs and kisses before, but it’s much, much more serious now.” He gazed down at the empty glass in his hand when it suddenly hit him. “Come to think of it, I think I know who our next target is. And why Ducköden needed us.”
“Yes? Mind sharing?” He was anxious to know more.
James, reaching for the bottle to pour them both another drink, ignored Tom until both glasses were filled yet another time.
“See, there’s only ever been one God, Tom, and at some point, He got bored of being all alone, and so He made, “James paused for a second, swayed his hands in the air and looked around himself. “This. As time passed, He got bored with His new creation also. He wanted someone to share His life with, not just someone to worship Him. Now, because He was the only one of His kind and couldn’t reproduce with His own Godly self, He mated with each and every living thing He had created here on Earth.”
“So Ducköden, …”
“Is one of his offsprings, correct. See, the thing is, all of the creatures He had spawned possess a part of His power. He didn’t plan to divide it between them, it just happened, and because He had spawned so many He was left only slightly stronger than each of them. He managed to keep them in line for a while, but much like every family, they had their fights. They soon realized that if you killed another of His children, you were granted their share of the power. Fishnick, God’s offspring with a fish, lost his temper during a fight with Deerella and killed her. God banished Fishnick from Heaven first thing after the incident, but the lust for power got the best of them. A war erupted in Heaven shortly after, and now only 5 of them remain. Ducköden, as you might have already guessed, is one of them. Cheers!” They clanked their glasses together and emptied them. “They declared peace amongst one another, and each was given control of a certain part of Earth. But Fishnick who was now the weakest, because He had slain just one of His brothers, knew it was only a matter of time before they came for Him, and His territory. He needed to come up with something to protect himself, so He created a sphere above a patch of land in which no Godly power can be used, then trained His ungodly traits to their fullest potential. Inside that upside down anti-magic bowl of his, He’s now stronger than any of the other four, and none of them dare step foot there. That’s where we step into play. He is our target. I reckon there need be two of us so one distracts him, while the other strikes him down, or something similar, though I’m sure Ducköden has come up with the whole strategy. That also explains why He’s been training gunslingers. But I can’t seem to figure out why our bloodline.” He shook his head. “Not a clue.”
“You said they were in a war already. What was that about?” Tom was eager to learn more.
“See, God had always been in charge of everything. Up until the grand war I mentioned earlier, of course. He was somewhat content with his piece of land at first, but it’s downright impossible to limit someone who had never been limited in all eternity. Despite them being His children, He made it His mission to kill all of them and claim His power and absolute control back for Himself. Ducköden and the others, on the other hand, are so afraid of treachery, that instead of stepping together and fight, they are fighting wars amongst themselves also.”
“So we kill this Fishnick ... thing... And then what? Then what happens? Ducköden doesn’t need us anymore then. He might just get rid of us once we’re done.”
“I don’t know, Tom, I don’t know. Another?”
James poured them both another round of whiskey.
“What if we stay inside that anti-magic zone once we’re done? I mean, if they are all afraid to step foot there now, it’s not like they will risk their lives just to kill the two of us. Or do you think the dome will perish alongside Fishnick?”
“That’s actually a really good idea, but I don’t know if the dome will hold after His death.”
“Any idea what’s the size of it?”
“No idea, I just know it’s round in shape. But before you showed up, Ducköden explicitly mentioned that I’ll be needing my horse, so I guess it’s not small.”
“Anyone else but Fishnick living there?” Tom paused for a second. “I mean, are there any humans, or at least animals? I don’t want to live there and be bored for the rest of my life.”
“Don’t know, but I’m pretty sure Fishnick shares your opinion. No one wants to be stuck somewhere with nothing to do. I guess we’ll see when we get there.”
“We should bring our own women, just in case,” Tom and James both laughed. “I mean, it’s not like Ducköden wouldn’t do just about everything for us right now. We’ve got the perfect leverage, while he’s got nothing on us. He needs us. At this point He’ll do whatever we ask him to.”
“He can take your kid. But then again, we can just ask to bring him with us. You’re right, we’ve got the perfect leverage. And if the dome collapses when Fishnick dies, we’re dead anyway, so why not try and make the most of all this? Cheers!” James and Tom clanked their glasses together and emptied the insides. “You know this means we’re done with the way we lived up until now, right? After this one last job we’ll ride into the sunset like father and son. Like we were meant to from the very beginning.”
“Don’t get all sentimental on me, dad,” Tom emphasized the word dad and a smile showed up on his face. “But yeah, one final job. What will we do then, though? I don’t know much besides killing.”
“I believe you’ve had a good look at my property out here in the middle of nowhere. I grow my own crops. I make my own tools. I was like you when I was your age, but then decided I wanted to be able to take care of my own self. If there’s no other people and no other jobs there, we’re going to build a little house much like this one and I’ll teach you how to live on your own. You okay with that?”
“I’ll take that over being dead any day.”
They both laughed.
“Anyway, Tom, tell me, what was your first job like?”
Tom thought for a second before answering. “Job as in job or do you mean my first kill?”
“Why not tell me both?”
“My first kill was a rabbit, actually,” Tom laughed, “I was into pickpocketing as a kid, but at some point I got tired of stealing half-empty wallets and golden watches I couldn’t sell, so one time I stole a gun off someone random in town. It was the first time I ever held a gun, and the very first shot I ever fired landed right in the head of a goddamn rabbit. That’s when I knew I had it in me. No kid just picks up a gun and kills a moving target with his first shot.”
“How old were you then?” James got very interested.
“9. Barely knew how to read, but sure knew how to fire a gun. Three days later, on a Saturday morning, the very same guy I stole the gun from rode his horse to our house and instead of beating the living shit out of me, offered me $50 to go with him and get rid of some drunken bastard down South. I figured it was easy money, so I told Rosanne I was going out with my best friend Robby and that I’ll be home by 7. We rode to his house and caught him drunkenly beating his wife in the living room. I didn’t feel anything when I fired. I didn’t even blink. I packed $50 that day, was home at 6, and had a job waiting for me next Saturday. You? What was your first kill like?”
James wasn’t quite sure how to react, but eventually burst out laughing. “Exactly the same. No joke. Only that the week later Ducköden showed up instead of… Wyatt, was it?”
“You’re not serious, right? He even used the same names?”
They were laughing for a moment - the two hardboiled minds - when James came onto another idea.
“You know what? We don’t even have to risk killing Fishnick. The moment we step foot under that dome we’re safe from Ducköden. Holy shit. That patch of land is our salvation all by itself.”
“I’ll drink to that!” Tom began pouring a new round of whiskey for them, but stopped after having filled the first glass. “Wait… Won’t Ducköden know we’re not planning on killing Fishnick?”
Tom’s words made James realize they both got carried away. “Oh, fuck. Yeah. He’ll know. In fact, I’m sure He already does. He’s probably listening to us talk this very moment.” James’ voice had changed and now sounded defeated, instead of excited and proud. “You don’t know Ducköden, not the way I do,” James emptied the glass Tom had filled with whiskey. “He knows us better than we know ourselves. He must’ve had this meeting of ours planned all along. He knows what we’ll do already, and had known for quite some time, while even we ourselves don’t know yet. He analyses and plans everything. He knows everything. He already knows we will kill Fishnick for him. He wouldn’t have brought it up otherwise. He already knows what will happen. It’s us who still need to find out. Fuck!” He slammed his fist down on the table.
“You think? I’m much more inclined to not try and kill Fishnick. So unless Ducköden has something on us, I vote we just hide under that dome and live like nothing ever happened.”
“Right now, I do too, but as I said, there’s no way Ducköden would even mention all of this to us if He wasn’t absolutely sure we’ll kill him. There’s got to be something more to this.”
“You think He’ll try and threaten us?”
“No use in threatening us, Tom, once we’re there we’re safe from Him.”
“You’re right. Still, though, did Ducköden ever threaten you? I just want to know what to expect.”
“Only once, and for my own good. I was going through a crisis and was drinking way too much. It was during the time I asked Him not to use anything supernatural on me, so He told me He’d paint all the walls in my house red with my blood if I didn’t sober up. So I did. Aside of that, no, He never threatened me. So I’m very curious to know what He’ll have to say to us tomorrow.”
“Yeah, me too,” Tom’s stomach growled.
“Sorry I didn’t offer anything before,” James got up and walked over to the kitchen. “I’m not used to having guests, plus there was so much going on it just slipped out of my mind. I don’t have any meat though, I just finished the last of the deer today,” he opened the overhead cabinet and moved the items around. “What I do have though is bread, cereal, rice, pasta, beans, crackers, … I got some potatoes and veggies too, if you’d like. Oh, and eggs.”
“Crackers and eggs sound good. And you, you want anything?”
“Eggs sound good indeed,” James fired up the stove, put on a frying pan into which he added some oil and cracked 8 eggs.
The two minded their own business in an awkward silence for a couple minutes – James making the eggs while Tom filled up both their glasses with whiskey, then pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one for himself.
“You want one too?”
“Did you ever turn down one?” Tom shook his head no. “You got that from me, punk,” he raised his hand to signal Tom to throw the pack of cigarettes to him, then lit one for himself also. “I thought it would break me if my son was the same as me. You know, killing people,” James blew the cigarette smoke to the side – away from the frying pan. “But I’m actually happy to finally have someone to talk to. Someone who knows who I really am. And doesn’t mind – hell, is the same way I am!” He took another puff from his cigarette. “I’m curious how you’d turn out if it wasn’t for Ducköden. If you’d be anything like me still. I guess we’ll see with little James. Unless we decide to bring him with us,” James made the last sentence sound more like a question on purpose.
“Yeah. We should. We should bring him along,” like James, Tom puffed the cigarette smoke.
“How old is he anyway?”
“He’s 6 now. I left shortly after he was born – a week after maybe. I carved him a little elephant out of wood before I left,” Tom smiled when he remembered the little wooden figurine and his voice began to shake with every word, “I wanted him to grow big and strong – like an elephant. Stupid, I know,” he forced a smile.
“Not at all, son. You want all the best for him, like I wanted all the best for you,” they caught each other’s eyes and the atmosphere quickly turned very emotional. None of them were used to discussing such topics, so James made sure to quickly change the subject, “eggs are done.”
James blew out the fire in the stove and brought the frying pan to the table – placing it on a cork tile not to burn the wood – along with a set of plates and forks.
Tom looked at the eggs which looked burnt and smelled of cigarette smoke, contemplated for a second whether he was hungry enough to eat the foul meal or not, then shrugged and proceeded to load a portion onto his plate and the rest onto James’ plate while he was grabbing the crackers.
They clanked their glasses together; “Cheers!” Then proceeded to eat.
“Is this really how bad I cook?” James laughed at himself when he tried a bite of eggs. When he saw Tom’s face turn with disgust he laughed even harder. “That son of a bitch must’ve rigged my cooking too. Everything used to taste amazing, but this tastes like burnt ass,” he forced himself to swallow and they both laughed.
They tried to override the foul taste of eggs with whiskey, but to no avail. Not Tom, nor James finished the meal. Instead, they managed to finish the bottle of whiskey in full.
“This one time I had to kill 3 men, all at once,” James started talking. “They looked real tough and were known to harass the ladies,” The booze got the best of him and he just kept on going, “They paid for their services, sure, but some girls got disfigured beyond recognition after they were done. I tried to talk to them at first, just to see how things go, you know…” he smiled to himself, “alright fine, I wanted a good fight. Just shooting them would be boring. As expected, they didn’t take my critique of their actions very well and came charging at me. You should have seen the look on the guy’s face when I knocked two of his buddies out. He screamed like a baby and went running out the saloon,” he lit himself another cigarette. “And the treatment I got from the ladies after I killed all three of them. Spectacular. Probably my favorite job of all time,” vividly remembering the events, he puffed a cloud of smoke into the air. “And yours? What was your favorite job like?”
Tom reached down his shirt and pulled out a trinket he was carrying around his neck. It was a roughly one inch tall iron capsule that resembled the shape of a scroll. He uncorked its top piece and pulled out a rugged piece of paper; a palimpsest with writing marks of its former message clearly visible even when still rolled together. He unwrapped it carefully and held it in front of him, gazing at the one word written in black ink.
“Evil?” James saw through the thin paper and read the message backwards.
Tom smiled ever so slightly and admired the object between his thumb and index finger; “Live,” he raised his eyebrows slightly. “Live,” he couldn’t stop staring at it.
“What’s the story behind it? And why are you dead serious all of a sudden?” James was growing restless.
Tom didn’t take his eyes off the piece of paper – bedazzled by its simple word – and either failed to hear James or ignored him.
“Tom?” James tried to call his son out of his delirium.
Tom shook his head and gathered his thoughts again; “Ugh… Yeah, what?”
“The story? What’s the deal with the piece of paper?”
“I was out to kill a town mayor who had gone rogue down in Kornwell,” James leaned forward onto the table and paid very close attention to Tom’s words. “The bastard wanted to buy the town’s only water supply so he could sell it on for large profits, and I-…” Tom burst laughing uncontrollably and needed some time to get ahold of himself. “You should’ve seen your face,” he kept on laughing. “I’m so sorry, I just couldn’t resist! It’s for the ladies, but apparently it works on you too!” He cracked into uncontrollable laughter again. “I got this trinket at a yard sale for cheap a long time ago, then figured I’d try and use it for something silly. I tucked in a piece of paper with a random word written on it, and… oh boy… You should have seen how much the ladies love a little mystery. Every time I went out at least one girl asked me about it, and each time I came up with a different bullshit story. How I was fighting a war in Europe, how it’s a message of my deceased best friend, whatever story I came up with. And best of all? They fell for it every time. Every single time,” Tom made sure to emphasize every word of his last sentence. “Just like you!” Tom laughed out loud again, and James – instead of being angry – laughed along; “Oh, you… Good one! But seriously, what was your favorite job?” James put on a serious face and persisted with the question.
“The first time I faced another gunslinger, which was also the first job I did alone. Some Clint guy all the way down in California,” Tom lit himself another cigarette and handed the pack over to James, who lit one for himself also. “He killed the sheriff in a gunfight, bribed the deputy and claimed the town for himself,” he took another puff of the toxic smoke. “Anyway, I got to town and people at the saloon were literally begging me to leave and save myself before I couldn’t leave anymore. I tried to keep my cool, but I’ll admit, I was still green and they managed to make me pretty damn nervous. It was the first time I faced a target that knew how to shoot back. It’s those feelings – what I felt prior to the shooting – that made it so unique. The rush of adrenaline, mixed with the shaky knees and then about 500 people waiting anxiously for the clock to hit twelve and see whether they were saved or doomed. Sure the rewards after were nice too, but I’ve never felt that fear and adrenaline since. It’s like I got immune to it. I wasn’t even afraid when I faced you earlier today.”
“Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of reasons to be afraid where we’re going. No more mystical powers to keep us safe, so I’d be careful what I wish for.”
Both of them smiled and their thoughts drifted away to what tomorrow might bring. They just sat in silence – smoking and thinking – for a minute at least.
“What do you say we head to sleep and talk more tomorrow?” James put out his cigarette.
“Yeah, I’m down for that. The road can get real boring with nothing to talk about. So we tell Ducköden we are bringing little James along, then discuss the rest of the plan on the road?”
“Yeah, something like that. Though I’m sure Ducköden has already come up with a plan for everything. He’s not the kind to leave anything to coincidence. He might even show up with little James and our wives tomorrow morning, so I guess we’ll see what he has to say, then decide further. Anyway, you take the bed,” James pointed at the door to the bedroom.
“Thanks,” Tom took one last puff of his cigarette, put it out and walked toward the door. “Today we’re still allowed to dream, but tomorrow… Who knows?” Tom smiled over his shoulder back at James. “Sleep tight, old man.”
“You too, sonny boy,” James watched Tom close the door behind him, then made himself comfortable on the couch. “Yeah… Who knows?” he repeated to himself quietly before falling asleep.
*Note: The link will become active once Chapter 2 is written in full.
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