ARIZONA TERRITORY, 1881
Satan himself couldn't handle the heat, and so he lounged lazily beneath the shade of a soaring saguaro cactus, watching the gun battle play out, ever eager to claim the souls of the shooters.
Any second now, he was sure.
A crow cawed and the Devil yawned.
Rivaling Satan in the abominable art of sheer evil, the Carson City Kid took momentary cover behind a Palo Verde tree, which he swiftly set ablaze with flint and whiskey, adding his own rabid brand of chaos to the conflict: an ever-growing and uncontrollable inferno, one that swiftly spread like a biblical plague, threatening to turn to cinders everything and everyone in the draw, himself included. Strangely, however, the Kid found this hilarious rather than worrisome, a telling testament to the depths of his murderous insanity, and he laughed as he dashed to the sanctuary of a nearby boulder, his Colt. 45 blazing beneath his furious fanning hands.
Sheriff Jericho Hill was a claustrophobic, and the cramped confines of the midget canyon had already been taking their toll on his normally imperturbable disposition. The fire didn't help matters much, and nervous sweat streamed down Hill's face and back, aggravated by the steadily rising heat of the Kid's suicidal stratagem.
"What're we gonna do, Sheriff?!" Hill's deputy, Shameless Slim McCoy, demanded. "That wacky bastard done plugged the rest o' the posse, and now he's set the whole durned draw afire! Gots us penned down ta boot!"
"I'm thinking!" the sheriff answered irritably, gauging the scene with the grimness of a man about to combust. "If we could just reach the horses—!"
"You wanna light out?!" Shameless cut him off incredulously, willing to risk turning to ashes for a chance to claim the hefty bounty on the Kid's head.
"The Kid'll keep!" Sheriff Hill countered with a scolding tone, suspecting—perhaps correctly—that his courage was being questioned. "I don't have no mind to become that little bastard's barbeque! Do you?"
"Well, I, uh . . . " Shameless Slim stumbled, studying the firestorm, his own questionable courage catching up to him.
"Waz the matter, Sheriff?!" the Carson City Kid called out, offering Hill an aimless blast to punctuate his rhetorical question. "Ya'll ain't turnin' yeller, is ya?!? Bwak, bwak! Ha ha ha!"
"Gawddamnit," Hill hissed, realizing that the draw carried an amphitheater effect in terms of its echo; the Kid had heard his every word. Hill's pride had now ensnared him, insisting that he stay. "See that there mesquite tree?" he whispered to his deputy, his eyes darting about for ideas. "Make fer it—I'll cover ya—and we'll catch the Kid in a crossfire!"
Hesitant at first, Shameless Slim did as he was instructed—in part anyway, for the Carson City Kid's marksmanship was legendary both above and below the border, the stuff of mariachi ballad and saloon girl song. Hill's deputy, his last decoy, died within three feet in the midst of the attempt, his brain turning to brisket beneath the encroaching blaze.
"Looks like it's jest you and me now, Sheriff!" the Kid chortled, gulping in gun smoke in lieu of a cigarette, which he crazily craved. "What say we leg wrestle to settle our differences? You win, I'll ride outta Arizona and never look back! I win, you gives me yo' hoss! I'm about ta need one!"
Too shaken with terror to even realize that the Kid's offer was just a cruel joke, Sheriff Hill glanced worriedly at his horse, actually considering such a contest for a second.
And then, like some nightmarish phantasm with a six-gun, the Carson City Kid charged his horse, which was engulfed in flames and screaming to deafen Heaven, straight towards Sheriff Hill, who was too stunned by what he was seeing to shoot what was actually a tailor-made target. This act of short-lived indecision cost Hill—everything—and the Kid's bullet blasted to bits the back of the sheriff's skull, sending the meaty remains of his brain splattering onto a hot rock, where they immediately began to sizzle like bacon.
The Carson City Kid leapt from his crumbling stallion in an almost acrobatic dismount, indifferent to the desert holocaust around him. Laughing uncontrollably, he quickly rifled through the sheriff's pockets and commandeered his tobacco, as well as the dead man's pocket knife. And with this same knife, which had been passed down in Hill's family for three generations, the Kid cut off Hill's trigger finger, to add to all the others, which comprised the necklace the outlaw had made for himself from the trigger fingers of the untold men he'd killed (although the term had yet to be coined at this time, you could say that the Carson City Kid was the Wild West's very own "serial killer," and he cherished "souvenirs").
As if he believed himself to be fireproof, the Kid then dared the raging blaze to claim Hill's horse, and he slapped the spooked animal hard across its muzzle to calm it down, gripping it furiously by the mane as he mounted it in a blur (and thereby almost breaking the beast's neck as he did). And with the crazed laughter of a killer, which was the Kid's calling come Kingdom Come, and with a hell for leather gallop to tremble the gods, the Carson City Kid was gone.
Another crow cawed, and Satan, who had dozed off during the duel, now languidly arose, wondering what he'd missed.