In the dusty, horse dropping infested main street of a two-bit town, a young man stood and waited patiently. He was a quiet fellow who cast a stoic figure. He didn’t care much for most people. They irritated him to no end and it was impossible for him to pretend as though they didn’t. From the pained expression on his stubbly face to the bulging vein in his forehead, the townsfolk knew it was best to just steer entirely clear from this man’s general vicinity whenever possible.
Beads of sweat formed on the stoic’s forehead as the sun grew higher. He checked his pocket watch. A half-hour to go.
He adjusted his Stetson. It was black but that didn’t mean he was the bad guy. After all, he didn’t live in a black or white world. He knew all about the various shades of grey.
His shirt was black too. Pinned to it was a shiny star, emblazoned with the words, “U.S. Marshall.”
Rainier Slade. The Marshall Service had sent him all over the West and he’d been on his latest assignment for a little over a year.
Highwater, Kansas. Drunkeness. Debauchery. Lewd behavior. Non-stop criminal activity. And that was just the town fathers. Slade had truly waded waist deep into a putrid swamp of depravity, but he was determined to clean it all up and instill a sense of a law and order.
Or at the very least, he’d die trying. In fact, there was a good chance that he was about to do just that when an old man with a Winchester rifle slung over his shoulder strolled up the street determined to talk the young man out of it.
Gunther Beauregard. He wore a feather in his hat. He felt it added some character. And he certainly was one. Farther past sixty than he would have preferred to have been, his hair was long and gray, and just as unkempt as the bushy beard on his face.
His left eye was a glass one, the result of losing a fight he picked in his youth over an insult levied at him. As an older, wiser man he’d of just walked away. Youth is wasted on the young, he thought. The plight of the elderly is to possess a vast well of experience to rely on in any given situation, only to be too exhausted to do a damn thing with all that knowledge.
He had a star too. His was pinned to his vest. It wasn’t as shiny, but that wasn’t because he was only a Deputy U.S. Marshall. It was because he’d had his star longer than his latest boss. Much longer, in fact.
The old man reached the young man and they exchanged pleasantries. That wasn’t an easy feat, as neither man was particularly pleasant.
“Howdy, Rain,” the old man said.
Slade spat a tobacco laden loogie on the ground and gave a bare minimum acknowledgement.
Gunther had a gap between his two front teeth big enough for a horsefly to buzz through. Inevitably, air blew through the opening in such a way that left the occasional whistling sound mixed in between his words.
“Son, I realize you’re the numero uno honcho around here and you call the shots, so don’t go takin’ what I’m about to say as some kind of insubordination…”
Slade nodded. Even that much felt like an annoyance to him.
“…but I’m not sure you’re aware that in prior situations such as this one, past holders of your esteemed office would conveniently find themselves busy whenever shit went down.”
Slade raised an eyebrow. It felt like a lot of work.
“You see,” Gunther said. “We go and mend a fence, or find an old lady with a cat stuck in a tree or do somethin’ that takes our attention away from the locus of the chicanery at hand and that-a-way if there’s ever an inquiry by the Federales regarding our alleged dereliction of duty, we just say we’re painfully sorry but we was doin’ our duty elsewhere and unfortunately we missed out on all the action but don’t worry on account of we swear we’ll try harder to get ourselves killed the next time.”
‘Slade’s jaw worked on the hunk of brown gunk in his mouth. He didn’t bother to think about Gunther’s proposal.
“No?” Gunther asked.
“No,” Slade repeated. He had a low, raspy voice, kind of like he was always in need of a lozenge.
Gunther shook his head. “Are you some kind of ijit?”
“Do you want to die?”
Slade kept his gaze fixed on the road ahead, not even bothering to look at his number two.
“I want to do my duty.”
Gunther chuckled. “Well, shit,” he said. “Why don’t we just go crawl up in our beds, blow our brains out and save the Buchanan Boys the trouble?”
Now Slade looked at Gunther. “Because when I die…I’ll die with my boots on.”
That was a sentiment the old man respected. A brash, youthful notion, seeing as how dead men have no need for footwear, but a noble thought just the same.
The boss’ eyes were back on the road. “If you want to clear out, go ahead.”
Gunther slapped Slade on the back. “Nah. I may be practical, but I ‘aint yella. Hang tight.”
The old timer walked across the street. Slade didn’t bother to ask where his compatriot was off to, but just in case he was wondering, Gunther said, “We need more deputies.”