“What is the meaning of this?!” the Reverend asked.
Jack walked right up to the couple. Slade burned with rage. Sarah held a hand over her nose and mouth to hold back the stench.
“I object on account of this no-good chicken shit yella’ belly has the NERVE to show his face around town and not think I’d have something to say about it.”
The vein in Slade’s forehead looked like it was going to pop any second and spew blood all over.
“Boys,” Gunther said. “You’re in a house of God on a wedding day. This is bad form if you ask me.”
“NOBODY ASKED YOU YA OLD BASTARD!!!” Jack said. “This here is between me and this pussy.”
Sarah trembled. “Rain, what’s going on?”
“Oh, I’ll tell you what’s going on, girly,” Jack said. “You’re about to marry a lily livered son of a bitch that lets Injuns do his fighting for him!”
Slade’s gut instinct told him to gun down Jack and his boys right there. But as Gunther said, he was in a church…on his wedding day.
“Leave,” Slade said with the highest amount of rasp he’d ever produced.
“I’m callin’ you out, Slade!” Jack said.
“Not interested,” Slade replied.
“Oh,” Jack said. “I see how it is. When there isn’t an Injun to hide behind you aren’t so tough. When there’s a fancy lawyer to hide behind you feel free to sucker punch a man and knock his teeth out. Did it make you feel like a real big man when you put my brother-uncle Dave on the end of a rope?”
Slade lost it. “I did and I enjoyed every bit of it,” Slade said. “The way his eyes bugged out of his head while he gasped for air and choked to death, calling out for your slut of a mother while he shit his pants. Funniest thing I ever saw.”
With those words, Sarah saw a new side to Slade, one that startled her.
“MY MA WAS A SAINT!”
Jack hauled his arm back, ready to punch Slade but his boys caught him and held him back.
“Come on,” Rufus said. “Not in here.”
“OUTSIDE!” Jack yelled as he struggled free of his brother-cousins’ grasp. “YOU AND ME! WE’RE GONNA SETTLE THIS SHIT ONCE AND FOR ALL!”
“Can’t wait,” Slade said.
The Buchanan Boys made their exit, slamming the doors behind them. Slade walked down the aisle. Sarah, now openly weeping, grabbed him.
“Rain!” she said. “No!”
Slade hugged his bride close to his chest. He kissed the top of her head then looked in her eyes.
“Listen to me,” Slade said.
“No!” Sarah repeated. “You’re not going out there!”
“Listen,” Slade said. “I’m going to be right back.”
Slade turned and walked out the door. Seeing that the bride was shaking all over, Gunther offered her his arm and helped her to a seat.
“Sorry, Miss Sarah,” Gunther said. “Dueling is unfortunately one of our worst traditions out this way and why, once a situation like this gets uncorked its impossible to put it back in the bottle.”
“But he’s going to die!!!” Sarah said.
“Oh no,” Gunther said. “No, not at all. Your man is the best shot in the West and Smelly Jack couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn even if he launched his bullet with a catapult.
“Really?” Sarah asked.
“Absolutely!” Gunther said. “Now don’t you fret none. I swear to you, your groom is not going to die.”
Ophelia took a seat next to Sarah and offered the bride a shoulder to cry on.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, ladies,” Gunther said. “I’d best go offer my moral support.”
Gunther walked out of the church. Outside, Jack was delivering an insulting speech about Slade to a gathering crowd.
The old man grabbed Slade just before he stepped off the porch.
“Son, you are going to die!”
“Get off me,” Slade said, pushing Gunther’s hand away.
“You are playing right into Jack’s hands,” Gunther said. “Even an inbred piece of shit like Jack Buchanan knows he’ll go down in history as the worst scum of the earth if he guns down a man in a church at his own wedding. So he’s goading you to come outside and throw down and you’re taking the bait like a fat fish.”
“What do you know?” Slade asked. “You always want to run away from everything, you damn coward.”
Ouch. Gunther felt that one. But he didn’t let it stop him. “It’s not cowardly to refuse to die for no good reason! It’s using the brains that the good Lord saw fit to give you!”
Slade walked off. Gunther grabbed him again. “Why do you think Jack brought three of his kinfolk with him? You know those boys don’t play fair. The second you lay Jack out they’ll come at you. Maybe you can get one. Maybe two. But three? Use your head.”
The groom checked out the extraneous Buchanans as they worked the crowd, drumming up cheers for Jack. All three of them were armed.
“Do you even see this is your chance, boy?” Gunther asked.
“What?” Slade asked.
“Run,” Gunther said. “Get on your horse and get the hell out of here. Shit, grab Miss Bonnie on the way out of town. Go somewhere, anywhere and start a new life with the woman you’re obviously pining for and then after a month, write a letter to Miss Sarah and tell her you’re sorry but you were scared and you couldn’t bare to saddle her with the burden of being the wife of a man who runs away from a fight.”
“I’m not scared,” Slade said.
“You should be,” Gunther said.
“I’d never tell anyone if I was,” Slade said.
“It’s just words,” Gunther said. “They don’t mean anything.”
Slade gritted his teeth. “They…mean…everything.”
“God damn it, boy,” Gunther said. “The only person a man ever needs to seek approval from is the one staring back at him in the mirror. Who gives a shit what anyone else has to say?”
“I DO!” Slade shouted. It was the first time Gunther had ever heard his ex-boss raise his voice.
“I do,” Slade repeated.