The last poll over at Friday Flash Fiction had some really nice choices. I was able to spin a Twilight Zone-ish tale off the winner, but there was another one on the list that I thought I could use as a starter for a western. My first attempt didn't go so well. Here's the second. Still not completely thrilled with it, but it's something. And away we go!
Fortune and Glory
"When you came right down it, I guess it was better this way."
Jonah Blane looked across the sand strewn floor to the rival bounty hunter. Roscoe Chance was crouched next to the window of the adobe hut with his revolver in hand. Chance's trademark sawed-off shotgun lay on the floor next to him.
"How's that?" he said.
"After Page kills you, the bounty's all mine," said Chance.
"In case you haven't noticed," said Blane, "we're out-numbered and out-gunned. They've got us surrounded and we got no more horses."
Blane looked out of his window. Page's men were situated about 100 yards away from the hut, crouched behind large boulders. Their horses were staked down in the distance. Chance and Blane's own horses were lying dead in the expanse of dry, cracked land between them and the outlaws. Page's men had killed both horses during the chase, but Chance and Blane made it inside the hut before they could befall the same fate.
"So?" said Chance. "I figure you can take out two or three of his men before they get you. I'll get the other five and Page."
"You think you're that much better than me?"
"I know I'm that much better than you. Who was it that brought in Milo Huggins last month? Me."
"Yeah," said Blane. "After I tracked him to Los Cruxes and figured out he was posing as the sheriff. I still owe you for that bump on the head you gave me."
"We make it out of this alive, I'll kiss it and make it better," said Chance. "Would that make you happy?"
The two-room hut was abandoned long ago. The windows were just openings in the wall and there was nothing covering the door. Time and windstorms helped the desert start to reclaim its territory.
Blane looked out and noticed a shadow moving around the side of the house. The setting sun made it hard to tell, but it looked like a man-shaped shadow.
"Watch the back," he whispered.
Chance put down his revolver and picked up the shotgun. Blane cocked the hammer of his Colt.
The air in the house was still. The only sound they heard was a coyote barking in the distance. Chance's eyes darted back and forth and he licked his lips. There was a faint sound of fabric brushing over stone and a slight jungle of an ammo belt brushing against the wall. A man stepped out of the back room and Chance immediately unloaded both barrels into his chest.
At the same time the body flew backwards, another man jumped through the front door and aimed a gun at Chance. Blane fired two shots into his back and the man fell to the floor.
"You saved my life," said Chance.
"I have a feeling I'm going to regret that."
Chance laughed. "I owe you a mezcal when we get out of this."
Chance turned his head out the window and yelled, "That's two."
After a moment, Page's voice replied, "Impressive, Mr. Chance. But there's more on the way. I sent Pete out an hour ago to round up a posse. They should be here any minute. How long do you think you can hold out all by yourself?"
"I got some help."
"Is Mr. Blane still with you? My, my. You certainly are resilient, Mr. Blane. I thought I'd taken care of you a long time ago."
Chance looked at Blane. "What's he talking about?"
Blane shook his head.
"Though I wouldn't count on him in a fight, if I were you," said Page. "He's got a yellow streak as wide as the Rio Grande. Why don't you ask him about the last time we met? Or maybe how we used to ride together? Did you know that, Mr. Chance? Your friend was once part of my gang."
"He's no friend of mine," said Chance. He turned the shotgun on Blane and said, "Is what he saying true?"
"It was a years go. Around the time Page's gang stopped robbing banks and stagecoaches and started stealing from the ranchers. Now, stealing from businesses and money men is one thing, but messing with somebody's livelihood is another thing." Blane turned his head and showed his scars to Chance; three vertical white strips on his cheek where his beard didn't grow. "I got this when I tried to leave. Sliced my face up pretty good and gutshot me. I was able to get to a doctor in time to patch me up. Since then, I've been hunting down every member of Page's gang and bringing them to justice."
"So this is a vendetta thing for you?"
"Good," said Chance. "You've got strong motivation to see this through. Now I know I can trust you in a fight."
Blane said, "Why're you doing this? The whole bounty hunter thing."
Chance smiled broadly. "Fortune and glory."
Blane slid the Colt into his holster and picked up the rifle. "You got some kind of a plan?"
Chance nodded. "Well, we got two and he just said he sent Pete away. So that leaves Page and four others. I figure we can sneak along the ridge and catch them by surprise. Shouldn't be too much of a fight."
The two men got up into a crouch position. Staying low, they moved to the back of the house and slipped out the bedroom window. The brittle soil crumbled under their feet, muffling their footsteps. They climbed up to the ridge and kept low in the wild feverfew bushes. The sun was now completely down and clouds obscured most of the stars. It was getting harder and harder to see.
"You boys haven't gone to sleep on me, now," said Page.
Blane held up a hand and they stopped. They were almost on top of Page's men and they hadn't noticed. Blane squinted and was able to make out the outline of the outlaws. He turned to Chance and held up two fingers, pointed to the near side of the boulders, then pointed to himself. He held up two more fingers, pointed to Chance, then pointed to the far side of the boulders.
Blane watched as Chance moved around behind the outlaws, using a tall mesquite tree as cover. Chance's shadow stopped moving and Blane raised his rifle to fire.
He fired two shots into the man closest to him, wheeled and fired two shots into the other man. Responding to his shots, Chance fired his own gun into his intended targets. Page, realizing what had happened, vaulted over the boulder and started off in a run.
Blane slung the rifle over his shoulder and slid down the slope, drawing his Colt as he did so. He and Chance checked that their targets were dead and turned to chase after Page. The outlaw fired blindly behind him; his bullets whining as they ricocheted off the rocks.
Chance said, "He's mine now. I run faster than you."
Blane said, "Yeah?"
He raised his Colt and fired, hitting Page in the leg. The outlaw dropped to the ground and a big dust cloud rose.
Chance said, "That's cheating."
Blane shrugged. The two men rushed to Page and got there in time to stop him from retrieving his gun. Blane picked up Page's gun and stuck it into his belt. Chance held the shotgun on Page and said, "Get up."
Page stood up and dusted himself off. Chance jerked he shotgun in the direction of the horses and said, "Move."
"Looks like you finally got me," said Page. "How long you been chasing me? Four years? Five?"
"Five," said Blane.
Page whistled. "That's a long time. Chase a man for that long and he becomes a part of you. The quest consumes you. Sending me to prison isn't going to give you much satisfaction. No, to quench this fire you need blood. You've got to kill me. That's how the game is played."
Chance looked at Blane. Blane said, "He's just trying to get into your head."
They got to the horses and Blane grabbed a piece of rope. He tightly tied the rope around Page's wrists and ankles. "I wouldn't trust him if I were you. See that bloodlust in his eyes. The Jonah Blane I knew was a stone cold killer. The minute you turn your back, he'll kill you and then me."
Chance eyed Blane. "Maybe you better ride up front."
"You're not listening to him, are you?" said Blane. "He's playing mind games. That's how he works."
"You can't trust the big bad man, now can you?" said Page. "He'll say anything to get his way. How well do you know Jonah, Mr. Chance? How much are you willing to trust him? You owe him nothing. Now, Jonah and I, we have a history. Did he tell you about how he got those scars? About what happened to his wife? She was a peach, your dear sweat Olivia."
Blane shot forward and punched Page in the mouth. Page spat blood on the dry ground and looked back at him with a big smile on his face. A sick light shone behind his eyes. Blane said, "Don't you dare say her name."
Chance turned the shotgun on Blane and said, "I really don't care if you kill him. He's starting to get on my nerves, too. Just do it now and let me go collect the bounty. He's worth half as much dead, but it's still something. He's probably gonna die anyway. Look how much his leg is bleeding."
Blane looked down at Page's leg and saw his pants were soaked through with blood. He tore the sleeve off of Page's shirt and tied it around the wound. "That's an expensive shirt you just ruined."
Blane said, "Shut up."
He turned to Chance and said, "He's just gotta make it alive as far as the marshal's office in Pasodobles. After we collect, he's the marshal's problem."
Chance thought about it for a second and said, "OK."
He picked up Page and laid him across one of the horses. He mounted another horse, rode it over to Page's left and grabbed hold of the reigns. Blane mounted a third horse and positioned himself to Page's right. The three of them started off in the direction of Pasadobles.
Chance said, "What do you mean 'we collect'? You just wanted the man, I want the money."
Blane said, "You couldn't have done it without me. We have to spit the reward."
"Next thing you're going to tell me is you want to split it 50-50."
"You still owe me for Huggins."
"Oh, you're gonna bring that up again?"
Page said, "If you two are going to bicker the whole way, would someone please just shoot me now?"
Blane and Chance both said, "Shut up."