(written in 2015, the first story I took to my writing group)
The cowboy wiped his brow and edged away from behind the tree. Rifle raised, Hank had Joe in his sights. The perfect murder.
It had been so simple. Just buy a few drinks in the saloon, pretend to drunkenly let slip the supposed rendezvous with Ed. A time and place to split the loot and head out of town before anyone suspected who had really been behind the stagecoach robbery.
And now he looked at Joe down his rifle barrel. Joe. He’d given the guy a chance to join them, divide the money up three ways. But Joe, he always wanted to do things his way. Thought he knew better than Hank and Ed. Claimed he had killed that old man over in Lettsville and taken his horses. Strange how no-one had ever found the body. Maybe the old guy had just pegged out in one of his fields and the crows had pecked him to pieces. Joe talked a good story. But Hank had never seen him fire a gun once. Heck, he’d never seen him even throw a punch. And he couldn’t hold his liquor neither.
One thing Joe was good at though. Poker. He’d taken most of Hank’s money over the last year. That’s why Hank had agreed to help Ed with the robbery. And that’s why Hank now had Joe in his sights. It was time to take revenge on that low-life.
Hank adjusted his rifle. It was real quiet out here. Trees and shrubs gave him cover. The hillocks would stop the noise of the one shot needed – Hank was a good shot even if he said so himself – and the nearby loudly gurgling stream would add to the perfect set-up. Hank watched Joe stop, take off his ten gallon hat and scratch his head and stroke back his lank blond hair. He was hot. Hank was hot. But inside Hank was as cool as one of the icicles which hung each winter from his mother’s front porch.
Joe looked around, glanced up at the blazing sun, put his hat back on and walked further down the dusty path. No doubt he was thinking about the best place to hide and wait for Ed. Carry out his own little perfect murder. But Hank was more than one step ahead of him. The rifle he held was Ed’s. It’d
been too easy to sneak into Ed’s rundown ranch house this morning. Hank knew Ed slept till the noon sun was hanging in the sky. Once he’d finished off Joe, Hank would drop the gun just in front of the trees. Even that hopeless sheriff Lorne Bailey would be able to find it. And everyone knew Ed’s rifle. That distinctive scrolling on the metal. Done specially by that shifty blacksmith over in Ridgewell. Hank chuckled to himself as he thought of Ed being woken by Lorne and his posse tomorrow morning. He’d be in jail by nine, tried and condemned within days and jiggling from the end of a noose within the month.
Hank spat out tobacco. He’d wait until Joe came back this way. Up ahead the trees broke into open country again. No place for an ambush. Joe would stroll back, choose a tree or boulder and wait for Ed’s supposed meeting with his gang members. ‘Gang members’? Hank chuckled again. Ed’s only gang member was Hank. But he didn’t want his name linked in any way with this. Joe knew Ed couldn’t have stopped the stagecoach without help. That little mention of a gang had convinced him that Ed really was the man behind the robbery.
Joe had stopped. He was retracing his steps slowly. Hank smiled at the prospect of Joe choosing the very tree he was now standing behind. A sweet shot between the eyes would do fine. If not he’d take out Joe just behind the ear. Hank grimaced. How he hated Joe. Always eyeing up the girls in Ridgewell’s new saloon, pretending he had a big ranch and all. Swaggering around the bar, hands all over the young ladies. He never even bought drinks for the boys. Just a leecher. Like all the Piggots. Yeah, them Piggots deserved this too. Stealing land from the hardworking Clements, rustling cattle from old Miss Bertrum. Hank would be doing the whole town a favour with this little old perfect murder.
Nearly time to pull the trigger. Hank flexed his finger, took his hand off the rifle, made sure his palm was dry and flexible. Just pull the trigger nice and slow. No jerks. No jolts. A simple pull and the money was all his and his poker foe was gone for ever. Hey, maybe he’d even take over Ed’s little outfit. Not much land and only a few cattle but it would be a start. Hank didn’t want to flash his money around town too much. He didn’t need that loopy old sheriff breathing down his neck. Play it cool. Spend a bit here, spend a bit there. Buy a few drinks for those pretty ladies in the saloon.
In front of him Joe adjusted his belt, fiddled with his holster. Hank smiled again. Joe and that belt. He noticed how every time Joe went into the saloon he’d loosened that belt by a notch or two, let the holster hang real low, trying to make out he was some gunslinger. Who’d he think he was? Billy the Kid? Joe draw a gun fast? Hank doubted he could even draw with a pencil. He nearly laughed out loud at his joke and just managed to quietly snort instead. Keep calm, he told himself. Don’t spoil everything now. Hank closed one eye. Lined up the shot as Joe stood making up his final choice of hideaway. Now, just aim and pull this little trigger slowly and…
‘Tea’s ready, Hank.’
Sighing, Hank, otherwise known as Bobby Witherspoon, aged seven and three-quarters, of 77 Barry Road, South London, reluctantly scooped up his plastic toy cowboys, flung them into his tin toy box and headed off to face his destiny with a plate of beans on toast.