He did not feel the first bullet. It went through the fleshy part of his stomach. The second bullet didn’t make much of an impact on him either. That bullet went through the meaty part of his thigh without hitting anything major. The third bullet sliced through the muscle between his neck and shoulder. None of them slowed the Shooter down, or threw off his aim.
Even with three bullet wounds, and dozens of rounds whistling by, the Shooter kept his feet braced, his guns level, and his sights clear. Each click of the chamber from his Colt 45 signaled another man would die. Click. Death. Click. Death. Click. Death. Click. Death. Click. Death. Click. Death. Six clicks, six dead men. And still the bullets came for him.
Click. Nothing. The absence of noise was the loudest sound in the room. The Shooters gun was empty. Not all the targets were down. Not by a long shot, or many shots. The Shooter knew when it started it had to end this way. There were too many of them and only six shots in his pistol. He would have to reload. He knew when he tried to reload, at that range, with that many people shooting at him…well, it just wasn’t his deal.
After that empty click, the bar froze for half a second. Long enough for the smoke to lift. What it revealed was six dead men laying in puddles of their own blood on a sawdust covered floor. One spittoon had spilled over close to a dead body, making it look like the man had just spit his last chaw. Another man was slumped over a card table, looking more like a drunk who had one drink too many, than a man who had one bullet too many. A third man leaned up against the bar, as dead as the brass railing that was holding him up, with his gun still dangling from lifeless fingers.
More than a dozen men were still standing. The rest of the Bad Bill Meyers Gang. Bill, Thadeus, and Cleo, the baddest of the Bad Bill Meyers gang were dead. They died in that first round of gunfire. As did: Red, Harp, and Jeremiah. Like the coyotes they were, the dozen or so men left standing, smelled blood. The Shooter was leaking from three wounds, he was still standing- loading his six shooter with quick sure hands. But they knew he would never pull that trigger again.
Later, everyone admitted they had never seen anyone reload in the middle of a fire fight as quickly and calmly as the Shooter did that night. He was loading his sixth round before the surprise at the empty click ended. And with it, a fusillade of bullets rained into his body like hail on the open plain.
The first bullet to do serious damage hit his right hip, just below his gun belt - twisting his body to one side. A dozen bullets rammed into his chest and shoulder and back on his exposed right side, spinning him in a complete circle. He was already dead, but trying to pull his gun up to level - to shoot at least one more of the men peppering his body with lead. He didn’t make it. Later the Doctor said the Shooter had more than forty bullets in him when he died.
But he spoke one last sentence with his last breath. A sentence that chilled everyone in the bar. A sentence that stalks the old West until this day. A sentence that was both a dying man’s last words, and a promise:
“I’ll be back.”
Josh, Regan, and Cap, gathered up the rest of the remaining Bad Bill Meyers Gang in the hills outside of Sweetwater. It had been six months since the Shooter took their three older brothers, and three of the baddest of the Bad Bill Meyers Gang down. Each with a single shot from his six shooter. If the Shooter had only carried two guns, instead of just one, well, they might not be here now. But that was the past. Tonight was the first night of the future.
The Gang was back in Business. Josh, Regan and Cap, kept the name of their band of outlaws out of respect for their older brother Bill. But Bill, Thaddeus and Cleo were soft hearted compared to the younger brothers. The original Bad Bill Meyers gang never went after women, or children, or ranchers. They just robbed stagecoaches, trains, and banks. The younger brothers had no such limitations. They were cruel mean tough hombres.
Evil can cut men deep and wide too. And these were Western Men, as raw, hard, and tough as the land around them. They had no give. No mercy. No souls. Many a woman died at their pleasure, not hers. Many a child looked up wide eyed to see the barrel of a gun or rifle pointed at them. A moment later they looked only up at the sky with a smoking hole where their thoughts used to be. The original Bad Bill Meyer Gang got a new name. One not of their choosing, but it stuck. They were called what they were: The Younger Brothers.
When Josh first heard a man scream: “It is the Younger Brothers! Run!” In that little town of Dry Gultch Arizona, it made him smile. He shot that man in the leg, just so he could ask him why he screamed: “It is the Younger Brothers.” The man lay whimpering looking up at the big man on the horse standing over him. He knew he wasn’t going to live much longer. So he told the truth.
“Everyone calls your gang the Younger Brothers. Some folks don’t even think you are Human. They think Satan sent his minions out West to do his dirty work. People think you are demons.”
Well, that made Josh and his two brothers laugh out loud. Just before they shot the wounded man Josh leaned over his horse, looked down at the man, pointed his pistol at his head and said out loud (over the sounds of his brother’s laughter):
“You tell the Devil, when you see him momentarily (and all the gang laughed at that), that if’n he wants to ride with the Younger Brothers, he is welcome. As long as he brings whiskey and women folks.”
A shot rang out, and the message was delivered first hand.
She knew it was a risk. Everyone had told her. The Frontier wasn’t the place yet for pretty girls with schooling and upbringing. But she was stubborn, and her husband was young and Foolish. She thought teaming up with the three other wagons would make them all safe. But the other men knew how tough it could get out on the trail. They tried to tell her, her husband, and her two little sisters that the trail was no place for tenderfeet like them. And besides, said the Trail Boss:
“The Younger Brothers just shot up a town not forty miles from where we get water and supplies. If they catch us, with all you pretty girls bunched up…Well, there ain’t no telling what they will do to all of you until they tire of it.”
“You won’t let that happen though, will you?”
Said the pretty woman with the schooling but no education.
“Ma’am, we won’t be able to stop it.”
She was aghast.
“Because by then, Ma’am, we will all be dead.”
He tipped his hat and walked off to the lead wagon.
The Trail Boss had been right. They were all dead. Brave men. They fought hard. It didn’t help. There were only seven men with the wagons, including her husband. Her husband had never fired a gun in his life. And he never got a chance to. He got shot trying to get into the wagon to get his rifle. The Trail Boss told him he should always carry his rifle, that it needed to be handy if trouble started. He didn’t listen to the Old Trail Boss - but he did learn a powerful lesson - you should always keep your rifle with you out on the Frontier. He paid for that lesson with his life.
She was trying to be brave so her two little sisters would be brave too. Becky May (who was only seventeen), and sweet little Mary (fourteen), huddled with her, hugging her tight. All the men were dead. Some of the Younger Brother’s gang had taken Mrs. Parsons, and Old Mother Thatcher out beyond the firelight. The screams were terrible at first, especially when accompanied by raucous laughter from the men causing those screams. It seemed to go on for hours.
Finally, the screaming stopped. Six of the men came back to the fire, laughing and hitching up their gun belts. She pulled her little sisters closer. None of them looked at the men, but they couldn’t close their ears to stop hearing what the men said. What they bragged about doing to those poor women, how the women had pleaded for mercy - and then begged later that they would do anything the men wanted if they just wouldn’t hurt them anymore.
And finally, the women just begged to die. And they did.
She and her little sister had heard every word. And they heard what those same men said to them when they came back:
“You three are the cream of the crop. Why when Josh, Reagan and Cap get here, they are going to give us all a bonus for saving you for them.”
Another voice chirped in, in a chilling glimpse of the future:
“And if you are still breathing, or able to move a bit, they might let us have you for the rest of the night!”
That set the men to laughing out loud, as another voice said:
“As pretty as those three are, I ain’t particular that they still be alive.”
Fear and bile rose in equal amounts in the throats of the three young women. They didn’t cry out. They were being brave for each other. But their fears were real, and their worst fears were riding into camp. They heard the horses before they saw the men. When the men dismounted and walked to the fire the three girls stood up and faced them.
“Well, well, well. Looky here boys. The Candy store has come to us!”
Josh turned to his gang.
“You boys did good. (His face darkened for a bit) None of you took some of this candy before we got here now, did you?”
Twenty two men nodded as one:
“No Josh, Cap, Reagan. No sir. We took our pleasure from the Old Lady and the Teacher’s wife. They didn’t put up much of a fight afore they died.“
Josh nodded. Then he looked over at the three young women, one of them just barely a woman now. Cap and Reagan looked over too.
“Well, I think we can trust these little ones to fight a bit longer. And maybe we will keep them alive for a few days, so everyone can have some candy.”
And all the men laughed, hooted, and hollered. Until…
They heard his voice first. Twenty or more guns snapped from holsters as the men holding them looked out into the night. The voice sounded familiar to some of the men, but not all. And the voice was calm, sure, and getting closer.
“Well Boys, I don’t think anyone is getting any candy tonight. But you will get what you deserve.”
“What the hell are you talking about? You can have some too, or you can die. Those are your choices.”
The voice grew closer, got stronger, and more confident.
It even laughed a soft light laugh.
“Oh, I don’t think so. I make my choices. You made yours.“
And with that he stepped out into the firelight.
“Oh sweet mother of God. It’s the Shooter! “
Tex didn’t mean to say that out loud, but he did.
Josh wasn’t scared, just curious.
“Tex, what do you mean? He is the Shooter?”
“Josh, I swear on my Mother’s Grave and the Good God’s Bible, that is the man we killed in Sweetwater. The Shooter. He killed Bill, Thaddeus and Cleo that night, and the other three, while you Younger brothers were over in Tombstone. “
Josh, Reagan and Cap turned as one:
“That true? You the one what killed our brothers?”
The Shooter smiled.
“Yes. And now I am going to kill you. All of you.”
He didn’t say it as a boast. He wasn’t bragging. He was stating a fact.
A moment went by, and the Shooter spoke again:
“Those of you who didn’t take any Candy can leave. The rest of you will stay here forever.“
Two of the men closest to the Horses jumped up on the backs of the nearest horses and high tailed it out of there. A minute later and three more men did the same. Josh didn’t even turn to watch them ride away.
“Josh, you gonna let them light out like that?”
“No. Cap. Don’t worry. We can catch them later, after we take care of this man. When we do, well, they won’t ever ride away again. It is still twenty of us, and one of him. And we have our guns out.”
“So do I.”
Everyone blinked. Even the three girls still huddled together as close as fear and their bodies would let them, blinked.
When did he draw? Nobody saw it. One second he was talking to the Younger Brother’s, the next he was holding his colt 45, level, unshaken, and aimed right a the heart of Josh.
Josh was evil, cruel, mean to the skinny, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew the man had to be fast, he never saw a draw like that. But he also knew that his two brothers and him were dead shots. None of them ever missed. That was true of at least six other members of the Younger Brothers. There was no way, at this range, and with this many guns aimed at him, that the Shooter would get off more than a single shot.
Josh’s finger tightened on his trigger, the smile on his face was all the signal his brother’s needed. The night erupted with the flame of gunfire. Twenty two men died that night. Each and every one, shot once. Through the heart. One man road away. Three women knelt in prayer.
It was six years later. The house and barn had stood for almost five of those years. She was married now. So was her middle sister. The youngest sister was being courted by a nice young man who had the ranch just a few miles outside of town. It was hot that day. Much hotter than usual.
Her man was out by the well. Cutting up a chord of wood with powerful blows from his Ax. He would split each log with one swift cut, bend over and throw the two pieces into the growing pile on the wagon. Then pick up another log, and do the same. She loved watching his body as it gleaned with sweat while the muscles under his skin rippled like oil on water. She loved that man.
He was the quietist, most gentle, most loving man, she had ever known, met, or heard of. Nobody but her ever saw him without his shirt on. He made sure of that. He wasn’t shy. She knew that. She also knew why he didn’t want anyone to see his bare skin.
There were three bullet holes in his neck, side, and thigh. And fifty puckered entrance and exit wounds on his back and chest. He should be dead. He wasn't. She smiled at the memory of him riding up to them all that first sunrise - three girls, scared, lonely, still in shock, sitting next to a dead fire; surrounded by twenty two dead bodies. He had walked right up to her, took her hand, kissed it lightly and said:
“It is time to take you home. There won’t be anymore trouble.”