Old Dogs Die Hard
by Dwane Barr
“Hey, deadbeat! Get off the sidewalk,” said the young tough as the Sidler boys passed him, heading for the saloon. The old man stepped off of the rough boardwalk into the muddy street to avoid the youthful menace.
Bill’s life in Charlon was a poor one at best. He worked odds-and-ends jobs that paid little and came infrequently. Barely surviving, honest but poor, he hung on, knowing that the next cow town wouldn’t be any better than this one. He was just a misfit in a world that cast aside men like him.
He reached the alley that ran beside the run-down saloon and turned into the safety of its shadows. For now, this was home. A slight lean-to he’d built near the end of the alley had served him well for nearly two months. It was a pretty plain affair but it kept the rain off and helped to block the cold wind. Yeah, he’d been in better accommodations but he’d learned to be content with less.
Settling down for the night on a bed of straw, the gnarled old man pulled a salvaged burlap bag over him to keep off the chill and tried to drift into the sweetness of slumber. The stars twinkled between the cracks in the boards over his head. He thought about his mother and a girl he’d fancied in his youth. His mother must have passed on by now, he considered not for the first time.
He’d have liked to see her at least one last time but knew he’d never go back to his old home again. It had been over thirty years since he’d ridden the streets there. For nearly an hour he lay there thinking fond thoughts of the long gone past. His reverie was suddenly broken by the sound of loud shouts coming from the front of the saloon.
“Yeah, you wild man!!” yelled someone in a taunting voice.
A crashing noise echoed down the alley as a couple of the Sidler boys broke into a fight. They fell to the boardwalk and rolled back and forth kicking and gouging where they could. The third brother, Grant, held a whisky bottle as he whooped and cheered them on.
The ruckus continued until the saloon keeper finally appeared at the swinging doors. “Hey, hey, you boys!” he called. The fight abruptly stopped.
“Yeah, what is it, bartender?” asked Grant, the one not engaged in the fight.
“I’ll have none of that horseplay in front of my place. You boys take it in the alley if you have to, but get on out of here or I’ll bar you from coming here.
“Think you can keep us out, barman?” asked one of the pair of fighters with a mocking grin.
“I’ll speak to your father, son,” was all he needed to say.
The rowdy trio just ducked their heads and said nothing more. Mr. Honeywell, the bartender, was well-acquainted with their father. They knew that if he complained, they’d be working the far pastures for weeks before they’d get to town again.
The two that were fighting stood and glared at each other. Slowly, they turned and walked into the alley to settle their differences. Grant lifted his bottle and took another gulp of the rotgut as he staggered after them.
Bill heard the boys coming down the alley and sensed trouble. He’d seen their like in many towns over the years. The last thing he wanted or needed was trouble, but the alley was a blind one, and his lean-to would be spotted if they came any closer. He tried to be very still and hoped for the best.
“Okay, Joey-boy, let’s see what you’ve got,” called his brother Jim.
“Gonna knock you into the next county, Jim Junior,” smiled Joey as he raised his fists.
“Wahoo!” yelled Grant as he cuddled the bottle of liquor.
The ruffians went at it again. Joey was soon knocked to the ground and Jim Junior aimed a kick at his middle. It fell short and the momentum caused Jim Junior to go down too. They rolled around in the gritty dirt kicking and gouging as before but stopped when their brother called out.
“Hey, hey, you clowns! What the hell is that?” he slurred pointing at the end of the alley. Both of the brawlers still locked together, craned their necks to see what he was talking about.
“What?” replied Joey.
“Down there,” he pointed again.
The two stood and together they walked to the lean-to.
It was darker at that end of the alley and they couldn’t see Bill at first. As they drew nearer though, Jim Junior blurted, “There’s a man in there.”
They stopped and stared at the motionless figure. “Hey, hey, mister,” Joey called.
Bill continued to lie still, hoping they’d just go away.
They walked on up to Bill and stood at his feet. Bill looked up at them and pretended to just wake up. “What? Oh, didn’t know I had company.” He tried to seem harmless in hopes they’d be on their way.
“What’re you doing here, rummy?” asked the brother holding the whisky.
“Just getting a little rest,” Bill replied trying to not antagonize them.
“Who told you you could stay around here, old man?” said Joey.
“Well... no one, son. I just needed a place to rest, and I thought this wouldn’t be in anyone’s way.”
“Don’t call me ‘son’, rummy,” Joey came back gruffly. “I ain’t no son of yours.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything,” Bill replied, trying hard to think of a way to get away from the boys.
“Gonna have to give him a little lesson,” said the bottle-holder with a short laugh.
“Yeah!” said Jim Junior with a smile growing across his face.
The three advanced on Bill without warning and dragged him roughly to his feet. Joey slapped him across his face, splitting his lip. A small trickle of blood ran from the corner of Bill’s mouth. With a shaking hand, he reached up to wipe it off. As if it was a dark signal of some kind, the brothers fell upon Bill, beating and kicking him.
“Old fool!” yelled one.
“Piece of trash,” called another.
Bill had become a human punching bag. He fell to his knees begging the boys to stop, but it just fueled the senseless violence. As the blows continued, he fell into the dirt and they started stomping him.
Joey stopped to kneel beside Bill and held a gun to his head. “I ought to put you out of your misery, old man,” he laughed gleefully. Blood streamed down Bill’s face and he thought they’d cracked some of his ribs.
“Go on, boy, do it,” replied Bill between his broken lips...and he smiled an evil smile of his own.
Joey was surprised by Bill’s response and the changed registered on his face. Jim Junior saw the look on Joey’s face and taunted him, “Joey, Joey, gonna be buffaloed by that old man?”
Joey’s expression turned to a frown and pure hatred emanated from him. “Do it, huh, old man? Maybe I will.”
The brothers backed away from the old man a little and spoke in whispers for a moment as they stared back at him.
“Okay, old man, I’m gonna grant your wish,” sneered Joey as Jim Junior stepped forward and laid the second six-shooter he carried, right on the ground in front of Bill. Jim Junior thought carrying two guns made him look dashing.
“What’s that for?” asked Bill as he painfully came to a sitting position.
“It’s for you, old man. You and me, Qe’re gonna do it. We’re gonna shoot it out.” The cruel brothers laughed loudly. “Pick it up, old man, and I’ll send you to Hell!”
Bill stared down at the gun a moment and kind of sighed as he thought back to his own youth. He’d been wild and reckless, even a terror they’d called him. There was never a time when he’d picked on a helpless old man, though.
Joey broke leather and time kind of slowed. Bill had less than a second to think but his thoughts raced as time seemed to actually stand still. Yep, he thought to himself, guess it’s time to let the Kid out.
His aged left hand seemed to transform in that moment. In a blur, it grasped the pistol and became the Angel of Death. The brothers were in mid-laugh and Joey was squeezing down on his trigger as the first shot rang out striking him in the dead center of his forehead. He stood for a very short time before he fell backwards at the feet of his brothers.
Jim Junior and Grant couldn’t believe their eyes. It had to be a lie! As the reality of the moment sunk into their brains, they reacted savagely, drawing their guns. They were anointed by bullets and stirred up dust with the plopping sounds they made as they fell. Their souls quickly departed to join their worthless brother in Hell. Justice was served.
The old man slowly rose to his feet, shaking his head and tossed the gun back to Jim Junior. It had been a long time since he’d been challenged. He wouldn’t have responded the way he did if he could have avoided it. Drawing attention to himself was not a good thing.
The bartender had come out with his shotgun by the time Bill reached the end of the alley. “What happened?” he exclaimed as he looked into the darkness.
“I’m not sure,” said Bill. I was sleeping in my little lean-to down there when I was awaked by some scuffling and then there was shooting.
They walked back to where the brothers lay in the alley. “I always thought they’d wind up like this,” said the bartender. “They were a mean bunch. Their father’s a good man but he sure had some sorry sons.”
“Too bad,” offered Bill as he looked down at the corpses.
“Help me carry them inside, Bill. I’ll have someone ride out to their father’s place to let him know,” decided the bartender. “I always thought they’d tangle with the wrong person someday. But can you believe it? They killed each other. The halfwits!”
When the bar closed later that night, Bill began the journey to the next town. With any luck, the next town or one of the ones after it would be a better place. As he slept in the desert that night, he dreamed about Mama, that girl, and the Lincoln County War.
Copyright © 2012 by Dwane Barr