The Mysterious Man pulled down the brim of his Stetson and squinted back along the mesa, into the late afternoon sun. It had been a long day—too long, like a tie that goes down way past your belt buckle, and your wife wonders aloud just how stupid the other parents at the concert will think you are, and then you yell at each other until your daughter starts crying.
Mad Dog and his gang sauntered down the mesa behind him. They all wore holsters under their dusters, and they all carried six-shooters. One of them spat over the edge of the mesa.
Mad Dog. If ever a man was born already deserving to die, it was him.
The Mysterious Man scratched at his neck, at the sweat trickling down and pooling under his shirt. There was no way down the mesa from here. There were no convenient boulders, no trees, not so much as a cactus to duck behind. There was only one way out from Dead Man’s Precipice—so named because it was a useful foreshadowing device—and that was through Mad Dog and his gang.
“Mad Dog,” the Mysterious Man called out, his voice a low growl. “I don’t have your money. I never set foot on that train.”
The sun was just beginning to set, reds and yellows smeared across the sky.
Mad Dog frowned. “I don’t believe you, friend. You stole it, and we aim to get it back.” He brandished his gun menacingly, waving it around like the baton of the conductor of a middle-school band you just know will be ear-shatteringly awful, but your daughter is going to try to play the flute for you and you had damn well better pretend that it’s the most brilliant performance you’ve ever seen or you’re going to hear about it later.
A breath of wind kissed the cliff-top, and a weed tumbled along it, passing between the Mysterious Man and Mad Dog’s gang—not a tumbleweed, just a regular weed that happened to be tumbling along.
Everything was still.
The Mysterious Man gave Mad Dog a look, that steel-eyed, stone-faced, tough-but-charismatic look that can really only be given by mysterious men played by Clint Eastwood.
Mad Dog glared right back. Each man held his hand above his holster, fingers twitching to pull and fire. Each man stood unblinking, blank-faced. Mad Dog turned his head and spat tobacco juice, but didn’t take his eyes off the Mysterious Man.
In the distance, a red-tailed hawk cried.
Mad Dog twitched, and both men drew and fired simultaneously at the same time.
The bullet took the Mysterious Man mid-thigh, and time seemed to slow down. It was too slow, like when your daughter finally plays her damn flute solo, and you know it’s only two bars long, but it seems to take forever, and then everyone realizes she’s playing at the wrong tempo.
The Mysterious Man stumbled slowly backwards, lost his footing, and slid over the edge.
For a moment, he hung there in the sky.
Only for a moment.
Then the ground leapt up to meet him like a kid holding a saxophone who’s in a hurry to play his solo, and jumps up and knocks over your daughter with her flute, and your wife tries to hold you back from going after his asshole dad who laughed, and you end up getting thrown out of there and you just know your daughter is going to be mad at you for embarrassing her and probably won’t ever speak to you again.
Back up on the mesa, Mad Dog spat blood, and drew a rattling breath.
He sank to his knees, then slowly, oh so slowly, toppled forward and was still.
So in the end, it was all worth it—the gold, the train, the chase, the fall. Certainly more worth it than the surprising amount of trouble you can get in for landing just one punch on someone who deserved it.
The Mysterious Man didn’t even have to go to court-ordered anger management class.