Red Valley – Chapter IX

Excited to announce that LP has made the semi-finals (top 20) of this year’s Cinequest Screenwriting Competition. Next we’ll find out if I made the top 10. Here’s to hoping!

Starting to feel burnt out on this project but I am already about half way done. This will be the shortest book ever. Shorter than a novella I’m guessing.

IX

Richmond was a tough town with tough people. It was a hive for outlaws and bounty hunters and at one time West and Charlie might have fit right in, but now they were outsiders and they knew it. It was really the last place they should be stopping, but they’d rode all through the night and they needed a rest and a drink.

They hitched their horses outside The Spirit Room. It was a nice mid-sized dive and had fewer holes in its walls than Molloy’s and West thought that was just class. As they dawdled up the porch they noticed the proprietor, a tall, lanky fella, hanging a wanted poster on the front of the building. West stopped and looked at the poster. He didn’t need to be able to read to know what it said:

“WANTED – WEST STEEL: BACK FROM THE DEAD – ALIVE – $1000 DEAD – $750”

West turned his head towards the proprietor until the lank felt his gaze and turned around. When he noticed West and recognized who he was his eyes went big and he let out a guilty little chuckle and he removed the wanted poster with haste. West strode into The Spirit Room without taking his eyes off the tall sheepish man, a scare tactic that never got old. Charlie followed him inside and the proprietor scurried in after them and assumed his position behind the bar.

The Spirit Room was crowded and noisy with gamblers and drunks and it was the last place either West or Charlie wanted to be. The proprietor introduced himself as Walter and asked how he could help them.

“Whiskey. Double.”

“Water. Thanks.”

Walter grinned apologetically.

“You don’t want the water here.”

“Sarsaparilla then.”

Walter smiled and bowed his head and went to work on their drinks. Charlie asked about an outhouse and Walter directed him outside. West slunked down into a seat at an empty table in the corner and sighed heavily. For a moment he started to think about Mary but he pushed her from his mind. Now was the time to plan. He could grieve later and, when the time came, he could use the rage when he needed it. West felt someone behind him and then he heard him speak.

“Well, well, well… Ol’ West Steel. The steel of the west.”

A delicate and dapper-looking young man took the seat across from West. He had patchy blonde scruff and he was dressed all in black with a bowler hat. “If he didn’t steal the west first.” Ansel grinned but West just stared at him.  “It’s a pleasure, it really is. And a shame.”

“And why is that?”

“Because you just became a living, breathing, wanted man again. And, while you are my hero, I wanna collect. Name’s Ansel Stone. Stone of the west.”

Ansel grinned and he was quite pleased, thinking himself clever. He removed his hat with one hand and produced a revolver in the other. He rested the gun on the table, aiming it at West, and covered it with his hat.

“You see this?”

West looked down at the gun and then up at Ansel. He was annoyed but passive.

“Well, you’re worth a thousand dollars alive. But you know what? Seven-fifty for ya dead ain’t bad either. I guess you could say I’m still makin’ up my mind as to what to do.”

A gun cocks and Ansel looks up to see Charlie standing behind him with a shotgun to his head.

“I suggest you put that gun away, son.”

Ansel gives West a defeated grin.

“Well, this is… rather unexpected. And utterly disappointing. I took you for someone who rode alone.”

“I said drop it.”

Ansel drops his gun down on the table, never taking his eyes off West.

“You’re welcome,” Charlie said, his tone sarcastic.

“Thanks,” West replied, meeting Charlie’s tone, as he reached up from under the table, holding a pistol of his own. Ansel was shocked.

“How long you had that pistol pointed at me?”

“Since you quoted that stupid shit about my name.”

“I’d kill to have people say things like that about me.”

“Yeah… Come back to me after you done the killin’. Now go on, get outta here, kid.”

Ansel walked out of the bar like a scolded dog and Charlie took his seat. They sat there a long moment, neither man touching his drink.

“Don’t bullshit me, Hank. You love all that West Steel mythology shit.”

“…I did…”

“It got Ol’ Joe killed.”

West looked at him a long moment before responding without conviction.

“Joe did what he did for the group. He was a ‘one for all’ kinda guy.”

“Bullshit. You coulda easily been the one to go out there and them lawmen woulda stopped chasin’ us. Just like that. They was really only after you and you know it. You knew it then, too.”

West stared down into his drink.

“Y’know… I think about Joe every day, whether you believe it or not,” West said. “But right now… I’ve gotta be focused, because my guilt needs to be concentrated on Mary. And avenging her. And saving my little girl.”

“Don’t act like no good guy, Hank. You’re not.”

“Good guys and bad guys is bullshit. We all got good, and we all got bad, Chuck.”

“Well I have yet to see your good side. ‘West.’”

“…West Steel,” a shaky voice said. West and Charlie looked up, guns drawn, to see young Billy Douglas. Billy’s head was bowed and he looked worried, ready to accept punishment.

West stood so that he was eye-level with Billy. He looked at him with rage-filled intensity. West grabbed Billy by the throat and put his pistol to Billy’s head.

“Hank, what is this about?”

West tightened his grip around Billy’s throat.

“This boy told those animals where they could find me.”

“They made me do it. I had no choice.”

“Made you? They put a gun to your head?”

“Not exactly.”

Billy raised his right hand in the air and West and Charlie could see that he was missing his index finger.

So you lost a finger. Doesn’t change the fact that you went in there shoutin’ my name.”

You’re my hero. I was drunk and you’re my hero and I wasn’t thinking.”

“Hank. Don’t kill him,” Charlie pleaded.

“He’s responsible, Chuck. Stay out of it?”

“He’s as responsible as you are.”

West turned and tried to stare Charlie down but it was the first time Charlie matched his glare. West looked Billy over and, even though he’d never admit it, he knew Charlie was right. He gave Billy’s throat one last strong squeeze and then released him. Billy gasped for life as West lowered his pistol and sat back down. West refused to look at him.

“Now go on, boy, get out of here. I don’t want to see you ever again.”

“With all due respect, sir, I want to help you find the Sancheros.”

“You’re just a nigger with no trigger finger. You ain’t no help to me.”

“I’ve got a stake in this, too.”

West turned to Billy and Billy knew the discussion was over.

“I told you to get. I suggest you do unless you want me to rethink puttin’ a bullet in your head.”

Billy nodded his head that he understood and slowly backed away from the table and out of the bar, never taking his eyes off West. West and Charlie sat for a moment without speaking. Charlie had never gotten through to West before and he was feeling rather pleased. As if in a fit, West knocked his shot glass over onto its side and stood up.

“Let’s go.”

As West and Charlie exited The Spirit Room a rifle round rung out. They took cover against the walls of opposing buildings. Down the street Ansel Stone marched forward with a grin and a rifle.

Woo-ee, boys! Didn’t know you was gonna make it so easy for me!”

Charlie peeked out from his cover and took a shot but it didn’t even come close. All it did was make Ansel laugh and Charlie red. Another shot and another miss and another laugh from Ansel caused Charlie to curse his weapon.

“Great shot, Steel,” Ansel yelled, thinking West had been the one shooting, “guess you was just better at bein’ a name!”

West had an opening and he was about to take his shot but someone else fired first, putting a bullet into Ansel’s right shoulder. He screamed and West stood up and put a bullet in his heart. Ansel dropped to his knees as West came into view.

“I hate that name.”

Ansel face-planted into the dirt street and Charlie emerged from cover.

“Where did that other shot come from?”

“I don’t know.”

Billy stepped into view from behind Ansel and approached West and Charlie.

“I thought they took your trigger finger,” inquired West.

“On my right hand,” answered Billy.

West looked Billy over once more. The kid had sand.

“Let me help you.” But West just shook his head no. “I’m sorry for what they did to your family and I’m sorry I played a hand in it. Let me ride with you. Let me make it right.”

West turned away from Billy and started off back towards his horse.

“We got a lotta ground to cover before nightfall… let’s not waste anymore time.”

Charlie gave the kid a nod and a smile and Billy followed them to the horses.

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