My name is Charlie Cole and I have no idea how I got into this miss.
I’d been forced to make planet fall a few days earlier, a bad power transfer coil caused by a hastily made FTL jump due to an unusual interest in my cargo by a pair of Confederate Corvettes. I was able to drop jump but only barely and I think I lost a filling on the ride in-system. The only system available was sector 62549 by Confederate terms, the ass end of nowhere by my terms. Luckily, or maybe not, there were two settlements on the smallest planet of the system. They were the prototypical Rim worlds; backwards and decidedly low tech. It was one of the charms of the Rim, at least to folks like me. It was, however, in my current state of disrepair, a significant inconvenience.
That had been two days ago. My cargo, hot as it was, still sat in the hold waiting for delivery to, a by now, very upset man by the name of Clarice Star. Mr. Star was not a man you wanted upset with you. It just wasn’t good for business, or your continued existence. Of course neither were the three guns I had pointed at my back.
“Now gentlemen, I believe what we have here is a little disagreement. Are guns really necessary?”
“They are when you cheat us of our money and our women”
So there it was, a pickle of a situation contrived of boredom, my skill at cards and the desire of the local women to try something different. It wasn’t my fault. Honestly. I finished my shot of what the locals liked to call Scotch and raised my hands in the air. I turned slowly, very slowly.
The three men facing me were the local country bumpkins. One’s shotgun still had its safety on and the other two were so nervous the barrels of their guns were bobbing in time with their rapid pulse. They wore what every man seemed to wear in this backwater town; brown and lots of it. Brown homespun pants, or coveralls in the instance of two of these fine upstanding young men, and brown button down shirts. Two wore hats, I knew to cover their bald spots, and the other wore his hair long and stringy. They were not the finest representatives of the male species or of proper hygiene.
I leaned back a little on the bar and propped my elbows there. “Now boys how have I cheated you out of your money?”
“You’s gots to have cards up your sleeves. No ones that lucky” their leader said.
“Now Porkins,” he bristled at that and tightened his grip on the shotgun but I continued, “It seems to me that I might not be as lucky as you are just plain bad at cards.”
Probably not the right thing to say, the safety on the shotgun clicked off.
“Boy, I have a mind to put a hole in you right here and now” he said.
I nodded. “I reckon you might but I’m curious, which girls have I taken from you?”
The boy, well I suppose out here he was a man but he’d seen all of probably fifteen winters, known as Tommy grimaced. I waited and noticed the bar patrons had moved back and created a semi-circle around us, I caught the eye of a particularly stunning young woman. She smiled demurely and I winked. Tommy noticed and nearly growled.
“Ella and she’s mine” Tommy said as he looked at the woman I had just winked at. He stepped forward and brought the barrel of his gun to my forehead. A little spittle appeared at the corner of his thin lips when he said, “You stay away from her.”
“Doesn’t Ella get any say in this?”
In response he pushed the barrel of the gun harder into my skull. We were so close I could count the stands of peach fuzz beginning to stand out on his chin. How cute, this boy was turning into a man in front of my very eyes.
The revolver had only two shots in it and he’d have to pull the trigger three times before the first one fired. I smiled. He growled. I’ll give the boy credit, what he lacked in brain speed he more than made up for in physical speed. He whipped the barrel of the pistol around to cold cock me and he nearly got me with all that young energy of his. I stepped forward and closed the little distance between us and rammed an open hand up into his jaw just above his throat. It actually lifted him up on his toes a moment before he came crashing down to his knees with a squeal of pain. On his way down I grabbed his wrist and twisted it wickedly to the side. He screamed as a tendon popped and dropped the gun. I released him and caught the pistol by the barrel before it hit the ground.
I looked up as Porkins raised the shotgun to his shoulder. I unlocked the revolvers cylinder and let the bullets fall to the wooden floor. I raised my hands in mock surrender, the pistol now hanging on a finger by the trigger guard.
“Whoa now gentleman, I’m not trying to start trouble. Just came in here to enjoy a drink before I check to see if my shipment arrived on that last transport. No need for trouble.”
Tommy cradled his injured wrist and scrambled back towards Porkins and the other boy.
At that moment the doors to the saloon swung open. Stark sunlight lit up the dark wooden interior for a moment, illuminating the stains on the floor and the overall ragged condition of all the furniture. A tall rangy man wearing a black wide brimmed hat strolled in. He was not what you called a dangerous looking fellow but more than made up for it with narrow eyes that would’ve looked far more suitable on some bird-of-prey than on a man built like him. The crowd parted for him.
He glanced at me and frowned like I was the boy always getting into trouble. He looked at Porkins.
“Son, put down that scatter-gun. If you shoot him with that it’ll take Winslow a week to clean up the mess.”
“We wouldn’t wanna be causing Winslow trouble” I agreed.
The Sheriff fixed me with that stare and I closed my mouth. He held out a hand and I tossed him the gun.
“What’s this all about Sam?”
The third man, who had been almost hiding behind the bulk of Porkins, stepped forward. He puffed himself up and hooked thumbs into the suspenders of his coveralls. I stifled a laugh but couldn’t keep the smile off my face. I noticed Ella in her slim form fitting dress smiling as well and winked at her. Probably shouldn’t have done that.
Porkins stepped forward, ignoring the Sheriff, and cocked back the hammers on the double barrel gut buster. “You stop that cowboy, you aint beddin any of these here girls ‘specially Ella-May. You just leave them alone.”
I glanced at the Sheriff who grimaced and then stepped between me and the barrel of the gun. With one finger he reached up and pointed the gun away from us. I sighed a bit. There was a hushed silence in the room, everyone waiting for the Sheriff to declare his judgment.
“Porkins put the gun away” he said.
“But he tried to rape poor Ella” Porkins said.
The Sheriff glanced at me and I shook my head. He looked over at Ella who looked away, a red cast to her cheeks, blonde bangs slipping down to cover her eyes. The Sheriff sighed, grabbed the barrel of the shotgun and twisted. Porkins released it and let the Sheriff have it.
“Porkins,” the Sheriff said with a sigh, “go home son.”
Porkins looked at Tommy and then at Winslow and then at the floor. He shuffled his bulk towards the door and then stopped, looked at me and said, “Don’t let me catch you with any of these here girls Cole or the Sheriff won’t be able to help you next time.”
I decided it was best to keep my mouth shut. The Sheriff seemed relieved at my newly found discretion. He turned back to Tommy and Sam. “I’ll need your guns for the night boys. You can pick them up from my office in the morning.”
Sullenly they handed over their weapons and then they too shuffled towards the door. Luckily for us all they had no parting words. Keeping my mouth shut once had been pure will power, a second time would’ve been impossible. The Sheriff turned towards the crowd and with a glance broke them up, he turned back to me.
“Too much to hope you might be leaving tonight?”
“What’s on that transport?
“Not what you need,” he glanced at my pistol hung low on my left hip, “Any chance you’d be giving that up.”
I shook my head. “Buy you a drink?”
He nodded wearily and stepped up to the bar. The bartender served us a mug of beer.
“You always this much of a pain in the ass Cole?”
“Sheriff, I’m actually trying to behave myself.”
The Sheriff chuckled and downed his beer.