In the hush of night, a lone black figure stood in the shadows, scanning both sides of the quiet street to ensure not a soul was roaming about. He unsheathed his gun, flicked open the chamber to check for ammunition and then snapped it close. He gave the street once last sweep before sidling his way stealthily to the sheriff’s office. His original plan was to knock on the door and thrust his weapon at the lawman’s head but favoured instead the thunderbolt approach, one that wouldn’t give the sheriff time to reach for his rifle.
He bashed down the door with one powerful kick and aimed his gun at the startled man sitting behind his desk. “Don’t make a move or I’ll put a slug in that fat head of yours,” he snarled his threat with clenched teeth and narrowed eyes blazing murderously. “Now how ‘bout ya just shove that rifle aside and unbuckle that gun belt of yours, slowly.” His hawk eye watched the sheriff do his bidding; studying his every move with his finger on the trigger at the ready to shoot to kill at first sign of trouble.
“You’re Jake Kiley, aren’t ya?” Sheriff Madden surmised at the face he recognized from the wanted poster.
“Ya, that’s right. I came to get my buddy outta your stinking hole.” He trained his gun higher at Madden’s head to level the barrel with his forehead and motioned for him to get the key of the cells. “Now get back there and unbolt that door.” He waved his weapon towards the back, keeping the sheriff at a safe distance in front of him to avoid any surprises.
“Jake!” Heath exclaimed upon seeing his former cohort. He rolled off his cot and leapt to his feet. “Whatcha ya doin’ here?”
“I came to get ya outta here ole buddy.” No sooner had the sheriff unlocked the door that Jake crashed the butt of his gun onto his head, rendering him unconscious instantly.
“Why d’ya do that for?” Heath squalled, appalled by Jake’s manhandling. He bent down to check the sheriff’s pulse.
“We don’t need him breathin’ down our neck when we skip this town. Come on! We’ve got to get outta of here.”
Jake paused briefly and squinted, unsure of what he’d just heard. “What?”
“I said I can’t leave. If I do they’ll track me down and I won’t be a fugitive anymore.”
“Have ya lost your mind, boy?”
“I told ya never to call me boy,” Heath snarled, grinding out the words between clenched teeth with a voice dripping with spite.
“Alright, I’m sorry,” Jake retorted offhandedly. “Look, me and ya can make another go of it. I’ve got two cousins of mine up in Denver who are itching to start a new business with us. That’s where I’m taken ya.”
“Jake don’t ya understand? I got an opportunity to turn a new leaf; to make somethin’ of myself without havin’ to rob banks and kill people.”
“Me and ya ain’t killers. It was Garrett who shot that teller at the bank and he’s dead.”
“Don’t make no difference, Jake. We was part of that gang.”
“So ya just gonna sit in that rotten jail and wait for the hangin’?”
Heath sighed heavily and returned to his cot. “It ain’t gonna happen.”
“What in tarnation has happened to ya?”
“He chose the right side of the fence,” came the booming voice from behind, startling Jake who whirled on his heels to face the powerful Nick Barkley. Barely had Jake unsheathed his gun that Nick pulled the hammer back on his. “Don’t try it, pal,” he growled with a wry grin. “Drop that gun and move towards me.”
Jake quickly pondered his options as he slowly bent down to place the gun on the floor. In a blink of an eye, he bolted upright and grabbed Heath in a neck choke. “You dropped your weapon Cowboy or this guy gets it,” he threatened with the barrel of his gun pressed against Heath’s temple.
It was now Nick’s turn to lower his weapon to the floor, all the while keeping his smouldering dark eyes on Heath’s captor. Jake’s smirk raised his ire to the point where he could feel himself stewing in his own juice. Chills crept up his spine as he homed in on the finger slowly pressing the trigger. “Don’t hurt him.”
“I ain’t gonna touch him.” Jake turned the gun on Nick. “However I’m gonna kill ya.” Before he could pull the trigger, Heath swiftly bobbed his head and elbowed Jake in the stomach, making him release his hold on his neck.
The next few seconds appeared in slow motion as Jake bounced back from his blow and thrust his gun on Nick. “No!” Heath cried, pouncing at Nick to shield him from the line of fire. Nick barely had time to reach for his gun on the floor that Jake’s discharged, hitting Heath in the lower back. Nick quickly retaliated by gunning Jake down with a single bullet to the heart. With one arm holding the wounded blond, he kept his gun trained on Jake until he crumbled to the floor, dead. Startled by the gunfire, Sheriff Madden regained consciousness.
“What the hell is happening?” he mumbled between groans of pain. He clawed at his aching skull, unaware of the horrid sight displayed inches from him. He blinked away the fog in his eyes to focus on Jake’s inert form. Turning to the right he saw Nick sitting on the floor cradling Heath in his arms. “Nick, what?”
“He shot him,” Nick quavered in shock, motioning to Jake’s lifeless body. “Fred, get the doctor, quick!”
“Right away Nick.” Madden sprung to his feet and dashed out of the office. Halfway down the street a powerful dizzy spell seized him, forcing him to halt his run and lean against a pole. He inhaled a few deep breaths to dispel the malaise and pressed on to the doctor’s office.
“Heath, God sake, why did you do that?” Nick chastised.
“What?” Heath breathed out weakly with eyelids drooping and a half-hearted smile hanging on his lips.
“Throwing yourself in front of me like that.”
“Least,” he coughed, wincing at the searing pain radiating down his spine, “ least I could….could do for what ya did for me.”
“That doesn’t justify you getting a bullet for me, dammit!”
Heath closed his eyes and flashed a weak grin. “It does. Believe me, it does.” He pried open his leaden eyes glimmering with tears and gazed into Nick’s hazel pools already filling with tears of their own. “Ya believed in me when no one else would. Ya…ya give me a chance to prove I wasn’t worthless. Ya gave me confidence in myself. Never…never had that before. Much obliged.” He blinked heavily and drew in a sustained deep breath. “ Great man, Nick,” he whispered feebly. “Never forgeeeeeeeet…” his heaved out, his voice trailing off as the curtain of darkness dropped on his life.