Special Excerpt From Outlaw West Of The Pecos
BY PRESTON LEWIS
Hardin softened a bit. “I’ve made some mistakes, Henry, I admit. I’m running out of friends. Can’t even get someone to go drinking or gambling with me. How about us burying our hard feelings and having a drink tonight at the Acme? I want to show everybody I’m out of jail and fear no one.”
“Afraid not, Wes.”
He cocked his head at me and stared with fiery eyes. “Yes, you will, Henry,” he growled.
By the tone of his voice, I knew he would kill me if I didn’t accept the invitation. “Okay, Wes, for a while, but I’m not drinking. A few nights ago, I had a hangover that wouldn’t stop.”
Hardin smiled. “That’s okay, as long as you’re there. We’ll play some Klondike at the bar. It’s easy enough to follow, even for a pea brain like you.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” I lied. He was up to some-thing, but I didn’t know what.
“Bring your money when we go.”
He returned to his room, and I shut my door, fretting the afternoon away, though Hardin was in and out of his place three or four times for a half hour or more. Mid-afternoon, I detected his return accompanied by someone with an odd footfall. It came as a step-thump, step-thump, step-thump, the same noise, though less hurried, I had heard when I was ambushed outside the Acme. After an hour, I caught the noise again, retreating down the hall. I slipped to the door, cracked it, and saw Old Selman easing down the hall, his boots making the step sound and his cane the thumping noise. He disappeared and left me wondering what the two had been discussing.
Later Annie brought me supper and prayed for my deliverance for whatever was about to happen. She stayed with me; the door open until Hardin emerged from his room.
“Ready to head to the Acme, friend?” he asked, the emphasis on the last word so evil it could only come from a man with murder on his mind. I arose from my chair slowly so Hardin could see I was wearing my holster and Colt.45. I carried my five-shooter in my pants pocket and when I put on my coat, I slipped the derringer in my left hand and planned on keeping it there all night. As I grabbed my hat with my free hand, Annie came over and hugged me. She whispered into my ear, “The Lord shall cause thine enemies that rise up against thee to be smitten before thy face; they shall come out against thee one way and flee before thee seven ways.”
I hugged her and whispered, “There’s a couple hundred dollars hidden beneath the syrup tin. Keep what’s left over after my funeral expenses.”
Hardin smiled as best an evil man can. “Got your money, Henry?”
“All fifty bucks,” I said, though I only carried twenty. We left the room, went down the stairs, out on the street, and down to the Acme. We exchanged nary a word, for what do you say to a man you loathe, and you suspect plans to kill you?
At the Acme, Wes planted himself at end of the bar closest to the door and told Frank Patterson he wanted to play counter Klondike. I walked around Hardin, where I could watch him and the door, in case I needed to dash to safety. Hardin demanded drinks for himself and me. I waved away the offer. Patterson obliged, but Wes shook his head. “You’ll both do what I say if you know what’s best for you.”
Patterson poured us both drinks, then brought out the dice and tin can for counter Klondike. As he rolled the gambling cubes or Hardin looked away, I dumped each shot glass of liquor on the floor or in the closest spittoon and squeezed my fingers around the derringer in my left hand, just waiting for him to make his play. We played for a twenty-five cents a roll from arrival to nine-thirty, then ten-thirty, few patrons approaching the bar because they feared interrupting Hardin’s game. The grocer from across the street where I bought my Wes-Tex Syrup accepted Hardin’s invitation to join us a few minutes before eleven o’clock, standing between me and my adversary and introducing himself as Henry Brown. With every roll, Hardin cried “two pair to beat” or a “full house to top.” I held my own and maybe was slightly ahead when the key-wind clock on the backbar showed it was closing in on eleven o’clock. On the next roll, Hardin cried, “Four sixes to beat.”
The moment he said that the doors flung open and Old Selman burst inside, gun drawn and pointed at me. “Now you die, Lomax!” he screamed, as Hardin spun around to get out of the way. I lifted my derringer hand toward Selman, just as Brown dove to the floor, knocking the weapon from my grip.
The sons of bitches had set me up to die!
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