Had this idea a while ago as I was thinking about America’s great tradition of dark, violent Westerns. Worked on it in pieces for about a week. It’s just a little snippet of flash fiction, really, but I like it.
The gunman had just sat down at the table he favored when he stopped at this small town’s only saloon, when a girl scuttled over to him and started pouring out her story.
“Please help me, mister,” she said quickly, quietly, taking the seat opposite him. “My boss is sore at me, I think he’s fixin to kill me. Thinks I cheated him outta what I got paid last night.” She seemed to swallow briefly and composed herself. “I can tell you’re the kind of man can get me out of here.” She looked down into her lap. “I can’t pay,” she looked up into his face and earnestly continued, “but I’ll do anything if you save me.”
He had already noticed everything. She was dressed in a little red gown that might have been pretty decades ago, before it had covered a hundred different professional girls. Her hair and makeup were done in the frontier’s best imitation of mature beauty. Her eyes were huge with fear, and she had her hands on the table in a pleading posture. She was too young.
The saloon was tiny, really—long, but narrow and cramped. The bar dominated half the floor space; several tattered tables pock-marked the rest of the poorly lit establishment. Only a dozen men populated the low-ceilinged room, each managing to turn his back on the rest. None spoke to any other. They all communed with their drinks. There was no piano.
The gunman took the girl’s two hands in just one of his. “Listen, kid,” he said evenly, “I’ve seen this kind of thing before, in almost every town out here. I know how this’ll play out.” He squeezed her hands a bit tighter. “You want me to take you somewhere safe, where you can charm my pants off in gratitude. But you don’t have an angry boss. You have a sly partner. And while my belt’s on the floor, he’ll put a bullet in my back and take my horse.”
As he spoke, her face changed like a snake shedding its skin. The innocence evident before suddenly grew dark and dangerous. The tears that had brimmed under her eyes now burned like acid, burning her whole face red and shivering. She scowled like she wanted to spit death at him. She tried pulling her hands back, but he held her fast.
Everyone in the room was listening to this exchange now. Some were even looking.
“Your partner’s probably watching us now, ready to follow as I rescue you.” At that, a short symphony of whispers erupted as chairs were knocked back and some of the men stood up. The gunman was focused. His free hand came up to the table, gun alive. Still staring right at the girl, he tipped the gun back and fired behind him. Then he brought it back and shot the girl.
She and her partner twenty feet behind the gunman fell to the floor. He paused just long enough to soak in a piece of the new quiet after the echoes of the shots finally faded, blinking and rubbing his temples lightly. Then he slowly got up and started walking out. There would be no rest here tonight.
Nobody else moved, but as he reached the door, a skinny bartender timidly asked what they all might have been thinking. “Hey, hombre, how’d you hit that guy behind you without even looking?”
And the gunman didn’t even stop leaving to answer, “Saw him reflected in the girl’s tears.”