It was sundown outside The Golden Horseshoe. Everything was eerily silent. There was no sign of anyone. The town was empty, shut like a ghost town. Tumbleweed blew down Main Street. The wind rattled the shutters. I told Bonnie to stay back. I stepped into the street armed and ready. Where was everyone? There was no sign of a body, living or dead, anywhere.
“Hello?” I called, “I know you’re there.”
A man stepped out from the shadows. The brim of his Stetson was pulled down low. He was covered in dust and had a thick stubbled jaw. He sneered, pulled a pistol out from his holster and aimed it at me.
“James?” I asked. “Is that you? I thought you were dead. Are you James Lennox?”
The man walked slowly towards me. All of my instincts told me to back away but I stayed fixed to the spot.
“James. I’m Cal Samuels, your folks hired me to find you. They’re real worried about you. I can take you back to Philly. Why don’t you put the gun down and come with me? You can trust me, I’m your friend,” I said, trying to placate him.
His sneer turned into a huge growl, almost a roar, and he sprinted towards me, his eyes flashing with fire. I aimed my gun but the chamber was empty, “Click, click,” it went and I threw it down in frustration. He kept coming, I breathed in, closed my eyes and awaited my fate. Then there was a gunshot and he crumpled. I opened my eyes. Someone had shot him in the back. He was dead.
“James!” Bonnie screamed and ran towards him. His features had softened and you could now see the man in the photo, the man that he once was. “Who killed him? Why?” Bonnie cried. Concerned that there was a sniper in our midst I picked Bonnie up. Mrs Taylor came out from the back of The Golden Horseshoe.
“What’s happened? she asked, “I was in the cellar and heard gunfire. What in blazes name is goin’ on out here?!”
I took Bonnie to her. “Please stay inside with Bonnie, it’s dangerous out here, I think there’s a sniper hiding somewhere.” I looked up across at Jensen’s Hotel. There were so many windows, so many shutters, the sniper could be anywhere. I knew he could see us in plain sight, waiting like fish in a barrel to be shot. “Please, just take her inside,” I insisted. Mrs Taylor nodded and took a distraught Bonnie indoors.
It was deathly quiet again. Then I sensed movement from further on down the street. Out of the shadows stepped a figure wearing cattle rancher clothes and Stetson, striding along with a rifle aimed at me. Great, Billy Clements has now decided to kill me, I thought.
“Ok Billy, James is dead. We can both see that. I’ll head back home and this ends now, you hear?”
“I’m not Billy,” the figure said, smiling and raising their face up under the brim of their hat.
“Hannah?! Oh Lord! You killed James!”
“He was getting to be a real liability,” she said, nonchalantly. “How about I saved your life
Cal, ever thought about lookin’ at it that way?”
I was silent. Her calm manner had chilled my heart.
“Where’s Aunt Margaret?” I asked.
“Dead,” she said, calmly.
“I shot her. She was getting on my nerves. Plus, what she did to Bonnie, well I couldn’t forgive that, not really.”
“You do realise what you’ve done? You’ve killed two people, Hannah!”
“Oh, I’ve killed plenty more than that.” She looked over at me and smiled. “Where do you think Hank is? That wolf was mighty hungry and needed feeding.”
“You disgust me.” I said
She tipped her head back and laughed. “You know nothing about how hard it is to survive out here, Cal. You should have gone back to the city when you had the chance. Besides, James was hardly a person in the end, was he?”
“He may have been un-human in the end, but you’re the real monster Hannah.”
“I’m no monster, Mister,” she said aggressively, pointing the rifle barrel up under my chin. “You hear!” she scowled and I nodded in fear. She checked her rifle to find it jammed so threw it on to the floor and took out her pistol from her holster.
Billy walked up the street. “Hannah!,” he said, “James is dead!” Hannah rolled her eyes.
“I know, I killed him.”
“But why? Oh, damnation Hannah, the plan’s all gone South. We lost the guns and now this! Ok, there’s nothing for it,” Billy said and turned and started to walk off.
“Where do you think you’re goin?” Hannah asked serenely.
“I’m handing us into the Sheriff. A man’s dead, Hannah, the plan’s over, it’s finished.” With that he turned and walked towards the Sheriff’s Office. Hannah aimed the pistol with one clean sweep and pulled the trigger felling Billy down. I looked across at Hannah as she blew on the top of her gun and re-holstered it. She was as calm as ever and just shrugged at me. The second gunshot brought Bonnie and Mrs Taylor outside.
“Hannah! You killed Billy!” Bonnie said.
“And Aunt Margaret and James. Also, your brother Hank,” I said.
“That’s right,” she replied. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.” “And now, Mr Samuels, for my final execution of the day,” she said turning the gun back onto me.
Everything went black.
Three Weeks Later, Philadelphia.
It was a cool Autumn day. The maples were afire and a light rain misted the breeze. I breathed in deeply. It was so good to be home.
I thought back to the final events in Collier’s Creek. I had fainted, the heat and shock of Hannah’s brutality getting the better of me. Bonnie, it turns out had saved my life by shooting dead her own sister. She was traumatised but faced no charges. The Sheriff turned up later on, he wasn’t even in his office that day but was with Carter Jensen over at his Mansion. The Sheriff said that were it not for Bonnie’s brave actions that day, no doubt there would have been many more dead.
All I knew was that I needed to leave that place as soon as I could and did so, heading back here as quickly as possible. I was dreading seeing the Lennoxes, what could I tell them about their beloved son? I kept it brief and they think he’d become an alcoholic. That was better than telling them the truth, which they would no doubt not accept, incredulous as it sounds.
I looked at my pocket watch and hurried along, entering the gates of the cemetery just in time for the burial. I could hear the Preacher’s eulogy from afar, strident as he was, more used to projecting his voice in church. “James Lennox, aged twenty-three, taken from us by God in the unholy town of Collier’s Creek where his fate befell him.” Didn’t all our fates befall us there, I thought? I looked across and saw Mrs Taylor and with her, Bonnie, the girl who had saved my life.
I thought back again to Collier’s Creek and James’s cruel fate. It seemed he was doomed the minute he stepped off that coach. Bonnie and many of us believed him to have died in the explosion but he must have escaped through a back tunnel just before it was obliterated. I tried to shake the thought from my mind, it was over now and I needed to look forward to the future.
After the burial I walked with Bonnie and Mrs Taylor. Mrs Taylor had wanted to go shopping so asked me if I could escort Bonnie back to their hotel. I decided to take us on a scenic route through Fairmount Park. The rain had subsided and it was a clear, beautiful day.
“You know I actually missed the rain when I was in Collier’s Creek?” I said.
“It’s so beautiful here!” Bonnie said looking in awe at all the rich autumn colours.
“I know,” I smiled.
“We don’t get real seasons out West, not like this anyway,” she said. “I’ll be sorry to go back tomorrow," she smiled, sadly.
“So, you like it here, then, in Philadelphia?”
“I do,” she said.
“Do you think you could live here, one day?”
“Yes,” she smiled. “But, I’m not ever likely to, am I?”
“I took your Mother out to lunch yesterday,” I said.
“Yes, I know, all very mysterious! She wouldn’t tell me why!” she laughed.
“I asked her what you would say,” I said, a little nervously.
We stopped walking and sat down underneath a bench sheltered by an arbour covered with Virginia creeper. I reached out for Bonnie’s hand and placed it in mine.
“To, marrying me?” I asked.
She frowned as if thinking. “Maybe,” she said, “On one condition.”
“Yes?” I asked.
“That we live here.”
“That’s fine by me,” I said, and we kissed.
A leaf fell and landed on Bonnie’s head.
“I’ll keep it forever,” she said.
It was a burnished fiery amber, like the sun going down on the rocks in the desert.