Anger boiled up within the Commissioner at the seemingly cocky demeanor of the hardened woman in front of him. His face flushed and his breathing kicked up, but he closed his eyes and adopted a diplomatic stance before speaking. “The only thing we will be having is an agreement or an arrest. Which will it be?”
Jesse laughed again before turning towards him. “I see.” She unholstered the gun and placed it on the bar between them. “There’s your agreement.” She waved a hand to dismiss him before turning back to her whiskey. The silence from outside pressed in on the souls of the riders, like cotton muffles the ears, all sound seemed to center around the dull thud the gun made against the wooden bar. The commissioner stood, dumbfounded, staring at the gun.
“What’s the catch?” His voice awed as he reached out to grasp the cold ivory handle.
“No catch. That’s what you came for, right?” She didn’t look at him, but signaled to Eustace to refill her glass.
The weight of the gun was much heavier than he expected. It would take a span to get used to, but in the end, he knew that he would. He signaled to his men that it was time to move along and headed towards the door himself. He paused and turned towards Jesse Young and sighed.
“Dirty business is the way of the West, but I’ll let it be known that you were honorable in the end.” He lifted the heavy, ivory handled gun and aimed it true. Pulling the trigger was like moving a mountain, the blast was like a thousand suns exploding and the kick was as if someone had gathered up the strength of all the elephants in the world and condensed it all down into one second. The commissioners’ men were all thrown back, but the commissioner himself along with the other patrons of the bar were unmoved. As was Jesse Young who just sat, sipping her whiskey at the bar.
“Do you suppose our young Commissioner is ready to talk yet, Eustace? Or do you reckon he wants to try that again?”
Eustace just shrugged and pulled another glass up from underneath the bar and poured the thick brown whiskey into a second glass before looking pointedly at the Commissioner who stood dumbfounded at the door, smoking ivory gun in hand, white as a ghost. After the shock of the blast had worn off, and his men recovered, the Commissioner approached Jesse and set the gun down on the bar between them before downing the glass of whiskey and taking a seat, making sure to keep a stool in between them. Jesse left the gun where it lay, and just waited.
“I’d heard the stories.” The commissioner said after a long while. Jesse didn’t speak, just waited. “I was unsure if I believed them.”
“But now you do.” Jesse sighed. “Why do you desire this gun?” She waved an absent hand towards the device between them.
Coming out of his shock, the commissioner tapped the rim of the glass before he spoke. “With all due respect, a mans’ desires should remain his, and his alone.”
“Sure.” Jesse turned and faced the individuals in the bar, whose eyes were locked on the commissioner and full of anger. “You mind giving us the room?” All the eyes flickered over to Jesse who nodded “Except you, Eustace. You can stay.” One by one, each individual who wasn’t one of the riders slowly faded. And by faded, they disappeared where they stood. Each becoming more and more transparent before disappearing all together.
The Commissioner watched as this happened, and if he were surprised by the display, he didn’t show it. Once they were gone, Jesse nodded towards his riders, who looked half spooked and half expectant, like they figured something like this would happen sooner or later. The commissioner followed her nod and turned to face his men.
“Take a step outside, gentlemen. Give us a moment.”
The riders looked from the Commissioner to each other then to Jesse who said “Don’t wander too far. Not all the souls who live here are friendly to the living.” The riders all exited slowly, Pete being the last to reach the door. He looked back at the Commissioner, who nodded, before exiting as well.
The unlikely pair sat and drank from their glasses for a while before Jesse broke the silence.
“Tell me what you know, Commissioner.”
“Clearly not enough.”
Jesse nodded, lost in her memories. “Well, then, I’ll tell you what I know.”
Thirty years prior:
Winter was harsh this year. Livestock and families alike both suffered because of it, especially those families that had no roof, no land, and no real morals. Three riders sat, bundled atop their horses, each man gazing down at the homestead nestled in the valley. A single room farm house sat below them, the only sign of life being a soft column of smoke gently rising in the freezing cold air. The storm had finally subsided, and it was the clearness of the morning that had brought these riders to the unsuspecting family before them. Hungry, cold, and ruthless, the men pushed their tired horses forward through the deep snow.
“Easy now, I don’t want any unnecessary aggression. Could be they have nothing and are as desperate as we are.” Mal said, his deep voice resonating out from below the scarf that covered his face. He looked pointedly at the rider to his left as they moved forward, their horses struggling in the deep snow. “Keep a level head this time, and maybe, just maybe, we can leave them alive.”
The rider to his left, whose name was Kylar, nodded, his white hat dipping slightly. Mal looked to the rider on his right, a young boy no older than twelve. “Now, Arthur, you’re the key to this little ruse. Remember what I told you, and we might be able to spare these poor souls.”
Arthur nodded, his breath becoming steam through his checkered scarf.
Together they approached the homestead, dismounting a ways off to approach on foot. To the older men, the snow was about knee deep, but to Arthur, the snow was up to his waist. The chill quickly over took him, and his poor starving boy routine took on a life of its own. Mal called out to the house, announcing their presence while Kylar pealed off to take cover behind a bar and keep an eye out, his silver six shooter in hand.
“Excuse me!” Mal called, forcing just enough desperation into his voice that his act was almost believable to Arthur. “Excuse me!” He shouted again when no real movement was spotted within the house hold. “We are but weary travelers looking for somewhere warm to rest and something warm for our bellies!”
A further silence emitted from the house, prompting Mal to look over to Kylar. Mal pulled Arthur closer to him and motioned to Kylar that he should move around the house and find a window to peer into, something they had done before. Kylar disappeared around the edge of the house as Mal continued to attempt the rouse the inhabitants of the house.
“You won’t find anyone inside, mister.” The voice came from their right, a gentle voice with a harsh edge emphasized by the cocking of a shot gun. “No one alive at least.”
Mal and Arthur turned to see a young girl about the same age as Arthur standing between them and a barn, pointedly holding a double barrel right at them.
“Excuse us, young miss.” Mal started, but stopped when she raised the gun towards him. He put his hands up, in a mock surrender.
“Call your man back.” She nodded to the side of the house where Kylar had disappeared.
“I don’t…” Mal expertly stammered.
“You do, actually. I was watching you three walk up from the barn. Now call him back before I fill you full of holes, Mister. I’d hate to leave your son fatherless if you don’t.” She threatened. Arthur arched a brow at Mal who whistled loudly to call Kylar back.
Begrudgingly, Kylar walked out from around the house where he had been watching and holstered his gun, but didn’t raise his hands. Arthur knew Mal was calculating the odds, and from where Arthur stood, the likelihood of the three of them being able to take her down was high, but one of them was going to be shot in the process. But Mal was a gambler, and Arthur knew it. So, with bated breath, he waited.
Mal took a step forward, closing the distance between themselves and the girl and lowered himself down on one knee to look at the girl in the eyes. He took on the mantle of a concerned father and spread his arms out to her.
“How long have you been out here?” He asked, false care lining his words. The girl narrowed her eyes, not buying his act, keeping the gun trained on him.
“Can’t remember.” She snapped at him.
“Are you hungry?”
“The snow will thaw.”
“That it will, but the question is will you survive that long. All alone.” Mal looked at her through his eye lashes and smiled, his scarf now down around his neck. “Let me introduce myself, so we are no longer strangers. My name is Mal. That there is Arthur, and that” He turned and pointed at Kylar “Is Kylar. What would your name be, madam.” The inflection he placed on the last word was steeped in respect as he slightly bowed his head to the young girl.
“Jesse.” The gun lowered slightly as she took in this enigmatic man before her. “My name is Jesse. And I’m sorry to inform you, but there ain’t no food in that house. Not anymore.” The last bit was sad, and longing, as she briefly looked at the house. Mal followed her gaze and a realization hit him as he looked to the slightly smoking chimney.
“Ah. I see.” He bowed his head in mock respect before turning back to the girl. “You’ll come with us then. Safety in numbers and all that. Arthur,” He turned to look at the boy, “You’ll help her gather her things while Kylar and I get the horses ready. Take only what you can carry, Jesse.”
Back at the bar, in the town with no name, the Commissioner interrupted Jesse’s story.
“Why is this important?”
She leveled him with a powerful gaze “Because, in order to find what you’re looking for, you have to understand the whole picture. Arthur wasn’t always the monster he is now. You have to understand, that in order to find the man you seek, you must know who he was and why he did what he did. I didn’t trust Mal, never really did. But I began to trust Arthur that very day.”
“This is a waste of my time.” The commissioner began to get to his feet when Jesse stopped him.
“You’ll waste a lot more trying to use that trinket in your pocket to track him down.” She sipped her whiskey as she gazed at him.
“You don’t make a deal with the devil himself without picking up a few tricks along the way.” She tapped the side of her temple before smiling at him. “Sit, it isn’t a long story, but a necessary one. And in the end, you’ll understand far more then you expected to.” When he didn’t sit right away, Jesse added, “Trust me, Commissioner. It’s worth your time.”