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McCullum spat on the dusty earth and raised his monocular to the golden horizon. A faint speck slowly blossomed as a galloping horse drew closer to the lawless valley town. A sorrel mare appeared, carrying a lifeless rider that flopped about with each gallop.

McCullum pocketed the scope. He shook his head and cursed before retreating to the swinging doors of the saloon.

The man who controlled the outpost sat at the bartop, encircled with cigar smoke. A stubby cigar hung from his lips as he shot bourbon. He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his soiled jacket.

McCullum passed a heated card game and sidled next to Swanson. “Boss, I think you need to step outside. McGregor is back.”

Swanson gave him a sideways look and slid his portly body from the stool, barely arriving at McCullum’s chest.

McCullum nervously ushered the grizzly man outside.

The sunlight caused Swanson to squint at the oncoming visitors. His sight adjusted, and he halted the mare, loosening McGregor to the ground.

A lifeless McGregor lay on his back. Pinned to his chest was a note. It read, “Bring Sylvia to the Valley Saloon tomorrow at sunset. This is your last chance. Next time, I will come get her. Sincerely, Gentry.”

Swanson’s face became as red as the lowering sun. He tore the note from McGregor’s chest and crumpled it in his meaty paw. He glared at McCullum, then threw the paper at him, roaring, “Explain to me how a supposed dead man writes me a note!”

McCullum recoiled. “I swear, Boss, I saw McGregor tackle The Gent into that canyon. There is no way either of them could have survived.”

Well McGregor damn well didn’t write that note and pin it to his lifeless body.” He stomped the ground and pondered a moment, rubbing the patchy stubble of his chin. Finally, he said, “So The Gent wants a visitor. I’ll have someone meet him tomorrow night alright.” An evil grin broke across his face.

Who, Boss?” McCullum asked, a bit wary.

We’ll sic The Specter on him.”

The Specter? He hasn’t been spotted in over a year. And it would cost us nearly our last score, our biggest yet.”

I don’t give a damn how much it costs us. That girl is worth more, and I need rid of The Gent now. Don’t worry about finding him. I’ll get him. Even ghosts can’t hide behind that kind of money.”


The Specter was true to his moniker. He was a master of disguise, and an encounter with him usually meant the man didn’t live to tell about it.

But Swanson wasn’t most men. He indeed found his man and paid half of the hefty fee upfront, with a promise of the other half when he was able to hold The Gent’s famous golden silk kerchief (a gift that some say came from an emperor in The Far East).

The Specter entered the Valley Saloon. A piano resounded in the bustling room. He immediately took in the scene. He spied The Gent at the far corner of the bartop, drinking alone.

The Gent didn’t enjoy violence. In fact, he would have been just as happy living on a peaceful ranch way out in the untraveled. But he knew that wasn’t his life. Two things kept him in the action: he hated injustice, and he was afraid of nothing.

Injustice was exactly what he found with Sylvia Rush. Sylvia’s looks and voice were unmatched. Her father became deeply indebted to the Swanson gang and was unable to pay-up. Rather than have his life taken, she agreed to perform at Swanson’s place. The debt, however, was now paid, but Swanson refused to let her leave. For fear of her and her father’s life, she stayed put.

The Gent sat in a nonchalant manner and slowly sipped rye.

The Specter made his way to the bar, leaving about ten feet of surface between him and The Gent. Today, he had black eyes to match a full beard and long hair. He made eye contact and tipped his hat.

The Gent’s contrasting features of sparkling eyes and fair hair returned the gesture.

The Specter ordered two drinks: a shooter of bourbon and a glass of rye. He shot the bourbon, then held the glass of rye in salute to The Gent.

The Gent had a way of knowing things most men didn’t know. In particular, he knew that The Specter’s real name was Abner. He also knew that as a young man Abner secretly fell in love with an Indian woman, a love that nearly cost him his life. Before their final farewell, the woman gave him a small tattoo between his forefinger and thumb, a symbol of their love in her native language. From that point on, he was a changed man. The Gent now stared at that symbol as the glass was raised.

All in one motion, the Specter set the glass, slid it to The Gent, and pulled his six-shooter from his holster. Only The Gent got the drop on him, and The Specter lay dead.

The glass of rye hit the floor and the music stopped, only briefly. Within moments the saloon revived, and The Gent tossed the barkeep something generous for his troubles. He then went to his room. He’d need his rest. Dealing with Swanson the next day would be a whole different story.


The Gent affectionately patted his golden steed and thanked the kind stranger for use of his stable. In a furtive manner, he walked the short distance to the center of town. Once there, he called Swanson’s name for all to hear. His words traveled into Swanson’s saloon like thundering mustangs.

At the bartop, Swanson winced at the voice. He mumbled under his breath and shot his bourbon. He looked at his posse. “All right then. If this is how he wants it. Take your position boys. I want that damn kerchief in my hands, bloody and full of holes.”

McCullum and the McBride boys, two of the nastiest siblings one's ever met, slipped out the back while Swanson grabbed Sylvia and inched her out the front with his six-shooter pressed against her back.

Outside, the Gent could only make out the sides of Swanson’s wide midsection and his squat legs behind Sylvia’s tall, slender frame. The scorching sun illuminated her dark, beautiful face.

Swanson halted, and the Gent spoke, “It’s unfortunate you let it get this far. Release her now, and I may let you leave with your life.”

Damnit Gent, this is my turf. The girl is obliged to me. You have no business here,” Swanson roared.

The Gent was certainly a marksman, but he couldn’t take the chance. “The debt has been cleared. She is free to are you.”

Well now, we’ll just see about that. I believe my partners might say otherwise.” He flashed a grin of sporadic teeth.

A shadow moved from the rooftop of the general store. The Gent instinctively took aim and fired, taking out the younger of the McBride brothers. Then he quickly dove behind a wagon as Swanson’s bullet missed him by inches.

In an instant, the Gent surveyed his surroundings. He spotted McCullum’s gray hat poke from behind the bell of the steeple. A dead shot sent Swanson’s faithful sidekick plummeting back to the earth.

Amidst the action, Swanson frantically pulled Sylvia back into the saloon.

A shotgun blast took out the wheel of the wagon serving as The Gent’s cover. He flew backwards and scrambled to his feet. He darted to a nearby porch.

Another blast made its way across the clearing, coming from the direction of a barn. The Gent peeked his head over the railing for just a moment to see the barrel of the shotgun sticking out of a window. A further blast sent him to the floor again.

Weeks ago, the Gent had pulled up Sylvia’s father, a man all assumed had drunk himself to death, from the depths of ruin. He had been reviving Mr. Rush at a remote ranch about a day’s ride from town. The new man was free of drink and possessed a hunger to do his daughter right.

The older man was positioned behind a well. The Gent signaled the remaining McBride’s location. Sylvia’s father mustered all his might to dash to the side of the barn. He then crawled to the entrance. Barging in, guns blazing, he and the outlaw engaged in a shootout, one that left both of them on the floor of the barn.

The Gent couldn’t help but smile, knowing that the old man had redeemed himself. He also knew that Swanson was getting away on a sleek black horse that rode like a phantom. He quickly made his way to the stable and hopped on his golden steed. The two were off in pursuit toward the mountains.

They pressed on for fear of losing him in the labyrinth of the mountains, certain that if Swanson made it to his hideaway, it would mean doom going in after him. The golden steed rode like the wind and made ground. Not too far ahead, he saw Swanson leave his horse and drag Sylvia up a slope. They raced to the spot, and the Gent left his horse next to Swanson’s.

The terrain was treacherous. The higher he went, the narrower the paths, and rocks loosened. A bullet halted his ascent, sending shrapnel of rocks against his right shoulder. The sight of Sylvia being towed flashed then disappeared as the Swanson retreated.

In haste, Swanson had taken a wrong path and now reached a point where advancement was impossible. He fired again just to keep the Gent at a distance. He turned Sylvia around with his gun in her back and called out, “ Don’t take another step, or the girl goes over the edge.”

The Gent pressed his body to the mountainside and remained still.

Now follow my instructions, and maybe I will play nice. Stick out your hat so I can see it.”

The Gent complied. slowly come around the bend with your hands up.”

He obeyed, and Sylvia came into full view.

Now then, I’m a civilized man. You took out my whole damn crew, but I’m willing to overlook that, although I sort of liked McCullum. I’m even willing to compromise. I will give you the girl, and you two can ride-off forever. Just stay out of my town.”

I’ve already told you. You’re finished in these parts. We are claiming back this territory.” He and Sylvia locked eyes.

Swanson inhaled deeply, ready for protest.

The Gent cut him short, his voice booming off the slabs of landmass, “Release Sylvia, and I’ll let you leave peacefully. You have my word that I won’t hunt you down.”

Swanson considered the proposition and figured it was time he assembled a crew elsewhere, somewhere with the Gent out of his hair. He knew his word was good, but he insisted. “How can I trust you?”

The Gent offered-up his holster and laid it on the ground.

Swanson gave Sylvia a shove in the back, sending her stumbling forward. He flashed a gruesome grin and raised his six-shooter. He spat over the edge and laughed, “You stupid…”

The remainder of the insult never left his mouth. Instead, he gasped as his eyes went from Sylvia’s smoking gun, to the hole in his chest, and finally to an empty holster on his side. He then fell to the earth, left for the vultures soaring overhead.

At the foot of the mountain, Sylvia claimed her new horse, one she loved during her dreaded days with the scoundrel. She and the Gent trotted back to town, a town that was hers again. She looked out into the vast land and began to sing, softly and slowly...until her beautiful voice blared through the valley, filling it with a new song.

The End”

Bio: Nicholas is an elementary school teacher who also writes short fiction.


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