Billy Duff inspected the city, his city, with one squint eye and a mouth that slacked to the right of his face. He held a cigar in the operable portion of his mouth, blowing heady smoke into the dry air and watching it perforate as fine grit sliced into the cloud of tobacco. The sand blew westerly, repulsed by the rising distant rock, and the last patriots of the closing saloons tippled and swayed towards their shacks. One of those drunkards was three footsteps from being one life lived. Billy Duff would make sure of it.
Billy skulked to a nearby bloodstained wall to obscure his body from passer-byers, cocked the six-chamber gun that was lodged in his holster, traced his finger along its sharp cylinder barrel, felt the rigid steel of its trigger, and welded his hand around the leather grip. One shot. Bang. That’s all it takes. So long as aim is true, and with Billy Duff, it always had been.
Few men, and honest to speak women, for Billy Duff held no discrimination towards slaying either, had crossed his gunsight and lived to suffer further. The ones that had wished they hadn’t. For whilst the blow may not have been deadly, Billy had never missed. He could not afford to allow them time to respond with their own volley of bullets. His father had pitched to him from an early age the creed of the world: never misjudge your enemy, Tuck or Tilly, we thrive in a dog-eat-dog society, thus strike before stricken.
Shuffling out from one of the saloons came a young woman laughing heartily alongside a broad-shouldered man whom her arm was laced around. Her laugh was nothing short of cattish, a high-pitched mew in the dead of night. It was a wonder the man could stand it, what with his gait already cradling with effects from the virulence served at local establishments. She tittered so loudly into the still air that Billy had half a mind to send one of his limited bullets through her skull just to succour her fella’s hearing. But in a large city as is New Haven, with many corners to turn and streets to follow, it didn’t take long for the couple to deviate, no doubt trudging back along the fine sand to consummate their fortunate acquaintance.
Billy awaited deeper into the night. Nothing could quell his desire for revenge. You don’t sully Billy in this city. Not in his territory. Lord be, no. Not without a bloody skull to show for it. Even if the clouds decided to shun him and rain down acidic drizzle, he would remain steadfast, ready to draw his six-shooter soon as that bastard tripped out the bar.
Two metres down the street a three-tailed browe broke into flustered flight as the batwing doors of Tiger Saloon crashed open and was followed by a horde of steaming merrymen. Amid said horde stood Billy Dean’s man. Tall and ugly, just the way he liked ‘em. Meant there was no saving grace if his bullet wasn’t fatal. His gun drove up to his eye in a flash. Bang.
Around the corner from Billy, silent as dusk, impinged the Rangers. Not a shadow was witnessed as they passed under lamplight, nor as they stepped on littered glass or withered weeds was a peep heard, laying testimony to their renowned bravura. They moved uniformly and parallel. If one fell out of formation, the division would halt, regroup, and carry forth. As was the rule of Rangers. Halt, Regroup, and Carry Forth. Seldom did this happen, however; Rangers are infallible when it came to the art of the hunt.
The scarves protecting their heads flailed behind as they scurried through the busy streets, skipping past windows unnoticed, fading through corrals of people as if they were clouds surfacing the city. Nobody was aware that they had even breached the borders.
The batwing doors thrust open and outstepped the final few customers. A broad, swag-bellied man wearing wired, oily hair stumbled forward. His jowls sagged like drenched paper, straining the wrinkles on his face. His shirt was festooned with yellow stains, the sleeves torn and dirty and ending with shredded cuffs. He looked to the World like a replaced toy in some young’un’s attic, and Rodger Rigby (known throughout the city as Dirty Rigby) didn’t much care for the Worlds thoughts. This was his life. He’ll do what he damn well pleases with it. And if that involves staying up till the rise of the distant rock, talking smack about anyone who’s anybody, then so be it. Nobody in the city favoured Rigby, and Rigby would sucker up to no person.
Dirty Rigby was Billy’s man; the grunt who had reigned down his pants and defecated over his virtuous name. Billy waited for the group to disperse before lifting his firearm. His sight rose faster than water along a flume and lined up with his target instantaneously. Bang.
From down the street came the thundering echo of a fatal shot. Dirty Rigby pivoted, wide-eyed and terrified. The unceremonious gunshot electrified the crowd into a harum-scarum of screams and bawls, the women picking up their heels in desperate attempt to scurry from the scene and the men scuffing their boots against the sand as they did the same.
Billy Duff was a shadow, scarcely viewable under the ashy nightlight. If not for the blood mired across his stomach and painting his gun, Dirty Rigby would have by all likelihood failed to see Billy. Worst of all, he wouldn’t have seen the gun clasped in his hands and pointed his way. Before he could register what was happening, he joined the crowd in escaping the street, and disappeared into the city.
Billy idled there for a moment dumbfounded. The pain was hot and unreal but did not last long; an unwonted coldness suffused throughout his body under the humid wind soon after that blistering rush of heat. Though, the pain was not a prelude to the cold, no, that decided to stick around till the very end. A second gunshot ripped through the city. A red rose bloomed from the front of Billy’s skull and splattered against the wall, accompanying the remnants of coagulated blood. Billy’s body lolloped around, headless, undirected, and finally sloped to the ground.
The city evolved to silence. The wind rivered through the empty streets, and from the silence, as they always seem to do, came the Rangers
“You missed his vitals. That’s a wasted bullet, Brie,” admonished Bernard as he bent down to look at the headless body.
Brie joined him, appearing from some unseeable mist. “By barely an inch Bernie. He was a dead man, bullet through the head or not. I’d wager you’re the one who wasted the ammo.”
“Our client didn’t pay for ‘probably a dead man’,” replied Bernard as he searched Billy’s pockets, “besides, we don’t have time to be waiting around for the man to bleed out. Don’t want anyone to see us.”
Brie prospected her surroundings. She swivelled around theatrically and nodded her head once, “good point,” she said wryly, “place is brimming with life.”
“Amusing,” scowled Bernard.
“Let’s hurry this up before the Ringers arrive,” came a voice from behind a stack of wicker baskets.
Brie chortled sardonically, “we don’t have to worry about no Ringers turning up Cly. They’ll be tucked away next to their play wives by this time.”
“Boss said that they’ve being getting stricter lately. No naps or nothin’,” responded Cly.
“When was the last time you heard of a Ringer confronting a Ranger?” continued Brie, “they’ll just wait for the sun to shine and announce the ‘unfortunate and unpredictable happening of a recent Ranger attack.’ Bloody wimps.”
“This’ll do,” said Bernard abruptly. He flipped Billy’s six shooter at Brie, who caught it mid-air.
“Wanna watch where you chuck these things, Bernie. Liable to take someone’s head off,” she jeered.
From behind a ranch shack piling stepped the fourth and final Ranger, his left cheek pierced with an opaque gold cow ring. “Ringers. Two of ‘em,” he said with a raspy choke.
Brie curdled and spat on the ground, “well I’ll be.”
Without caution, the four Rangers disappeared.
For nine days after Billy’s demise, his decapitated body lay wilting, untouched. It provided an obtrusive reminder for all the folks of New Haven of the one principal in this blemished world; before hunting someone else’s back, take heed of one’s own.