Tuesday was a red glowing promise on the eastern horizon as I blinked the tobacco smoke and whiskey from my eyes as I stepped outside the gambling house. That’s when young Jesse Fountain ran up behind me.
“Do you want to see?” he said. He was pretty lucky I was so tired and my hand was a second slow behind my eyes and head.
“See what? Can’t we talk after I get a few hours sleep?” I said.
“This can’t wait. Do you want to see the piece I bought?” he said, leading me down the alley between The Grand and Mrs Pynchon’s house of horizontal delights.
“Piece of what?” I said.
“A gun, Daniel. I bought me a gun.” Jesse said. He reached down and pulled back the long canvas coat he received from the effects of his brother Matthew, an old acquaintance of mine who was a sometime deputy, other times cheating gambler. When Jesse’s hand came out of its folds, it held a nickel-plated pistol. He pointed its business end directly at my chest, where a triphammer suddenly started banging.
“Jesus Christ, Jesse. Be careful with that thing” I said, as I pushed the .38 caliber muzzle down and away from my chest. If you don’t know, let me tell you, any gun pointed at your vitals has a way of waking you up no matter how sleepy you might be.
“Sorry, Daniel. Isn’t she a beauty?”
“I have two questions. First: Why do you want a gun like that? Second: Who in the world would sell you a gun like that?”
“I want it for protection. And Dutch Van Dorn sold it to me. Actually, I traded my horse for it, now that I have Matt’s.”
“If Van Dorn’s involved, I’d be careful squeezing off any rounds lest the damn thing blow your hand off. But again, why? And put that away.”
“You know. I want it for…protection.”
“Jesse, having a gun don’t mean you can use it. For protection or anything else. That thing was made for one purpose.”
“Yeah, to show everyone I’m not a man to be trifled with.”
“No, a double-action Colt Lightning is made to kill other men.”
“Ain’t nobody, not from around here or some yahoo up from Texas, gonna mess with a man like me who can pull his iron and get off six shots without once slowin’ down to cock the hammer,” Jesse said, once more pulling out his eight-year-old roan’s worth of backbone.
“I’m not gonna tell you again, Jesse. Put that thing away. If a lawman sees you waving that around at me in an alleyway, he’s likely to get the wrong idea and drop you like a sack of corn.”
“I’d like to see him try.”
What is it they used to say? “God created all men, but Samuel Colt made them equal.”? In my times lawing in some cowtowns in Kansas and Colorado, I met too many young fellas bought into that bullshit. Some, either touched in the head by going too long without liquor or women or getting too much of either too quickly. Or maybe just plain touched. They believed a gun made them more than equal. Jesse was one of those sad cases that qualified on all counts.
“Shot it yet?” I asked.
“Yep, yesterday afternoon behind the stable. Pretty good shot if I do say so.”
“That’s nice. Loud, wasn’t it? What you shoot at, cans or bottles?”
“Cans…and a chicken”
“I’ve yet to meet any cans — or chickens — that can draw a pistol and return fire with mortal intent. But congratulations, I’m sure you showed those horses who’s boss.”
“Stop it, Daniel. Told you, I won’t be disrespected no more.”
“Jesse, I want you to listen close. I’m telling you this for your own good. A gun — even a wonder weapon like your Lightning — won’t earn you any extra respect. In fact, I can attest to the fact it can get you less. Or killed.”
“I told you, I’m a dead-eyed shot, Daniel.” Jesse’s tone changed. I’d heard it maybe a hundred or two times before and I was ready.
“And I’m telling you that will not be enough to change how people regard you. I don’t want to see you turn out like Matthew, s’all. Listen, you’ve always been a good boy…”
“Don’t you call me that. I’m not a boy.”
“No, not really anymore. But you’ll always be a kid to me, Jesse.”
“What do you mean?” I knew I was taking a chance, but I needed to prove something to him.
“I mean I’ll always think of you as Matt’s little brother, tagging along and watching him swagger into a room, gun slung low, eye’s cold, looking for some mark he could hook while he bottom-dealt…”
“Take that back, Daniel, or I’ll…”
“You’ll what?” I had him.
Jesse reached for his Colt, but he had to pull his coat out of the way. As he looked down, I pulled my pistol and cold cocked him a good one with the barrel. I flagged down Deputy Charlie Bassett, who was making his rounds, and we hauled away young Jesse and, minus his Colt of course, stuffed him into the calaboose.
“Charlie, see if you can hold onto that Lightning, will ya? The kid is in no way one to own a piece like that. Same damn gun the likes of Hardin carries, for Christ’s sake. Maybe you can talk some sense into Jesse before…”
“I know. Maybe you taught him a lesson, though, Dan.”
I left Dodge that day and headed over to Trinidad, Colorado for a couple of weeks. When I got back, Charlie met me and told me the story over a couple of beers.
Seems after his two of nights in jail, Jesse and his gun left the safety of Charlie’s hospitality and right off he walked into the Long Branch and tried big-footing some Texas cowboy. They told Charlie Jesse reached first, but he fumbled his draw. The cowboy didn’t.
“Caught his hand in his coat pocket,” Charlie Bassett told me. “Lying there, four fingers of his right hand tucked inside his pocket and thumb hooked outside. With the exception of a .44 caliber hole in his head, I thought he looked rather respectable that way.”
“Good, good. It was only a matter of time, I guess. But that’s all the boy was ever looking for. Respect.”
Built this Western from a 250-word something I wrote for a mini-competition this past week. It’s still in Draft 1.5 form, but you know I love to share my frontier stories. So bear with me as I try remembering how.