High noon. The sun blazed in the sky above. Men, women and children lined the streets as the two unlikely combatants faced off against one another. On one side, Blake Taggert: the meanest, roughest, orneriest gunslinger in the territory. Even with one eye shot completely away, he had better aim than anyone these people had ever seen. He didn't even wear an eye patch to cover it up. He just kept his right eye shut all the time, putting people off with the hideous scar over half his face. Sometimes, if he really wanted to scare people, he'd open it and let them stare into the empty socket.
His fingers were twitching, which could mean only one thing: someone was about to die. When Blake's fingers started twitching that way, it was a sure sign that they hadn't pulled a trigger in a while. And the longer he went without pulling that trigger, the more likely it was to happen real soon. Blake didn't like to let a month go by without killing anyone. He preferred just to shoot people and get the whole thing over with, but he was willing to submit to the formalities of a showdown if it meant keeping the law off his back.
Not that the law was much of a problem for Blake Taggert as any lawman brave or tenacious enough to actually take him out found himself dead shortly thereafter. Blake never called marshals, sheriffs or deputies by their right names. He just called them "Coward." Because any lawman who was still alive when Blake Taggert was in town was either a coward or dead and anyone who took exception to Blake calling him the former would typically become the latter within about twenty-four hours.
Today's gunfight was virtually no different than the many others Blake Taggert had fought since he set up in the town of Tumbleweed Ridge two years ago. A day no one in the small, Arizona township would ever forget. His reputation had preceded him, of course, and most of the townsfolk already knew of his rather dubious record. He gunned down Bert Smith in front of his three small children, beat Gabby Wolversteen to death with a broken bottle, strangled Mayor Preston, and beat Sheriff Davis, Doctor Sweets and Pastor Stewart in gunfights by drawing so fast that none of them could even go for their guns.
Not surprisingly, most of the people of Tumbleweed Ridge were smart and/or cowardly enough to keep their distance, though even this wasn't enough to save them from his wrath if they inadvertently bumped into him at the saloon and caused a fraction of a drop of whisky to spill on his sleeve or talked too loud in his presence or stepped on his shadow without permission or any of the other flimsy excuses he gave for hurting people.
No, as I say, today's fight was almost entirely the same as the others. There was really only one major difference between today's bout and the one from two days ago and that was Blake's opponent.
The unfortunate person who Blake had in his sights on this day had come to town only a year and a half ago, but in that time had become somewhat beloved by the populace for being kind, gentle, clever, pretty, sweet, innocent and, incredibly for a girl her age, unmarried.
Her name was Becky Mills and no one could believe that this was really happening to her.
Shortly after coming to town, this poor, eighteen-year-old girl had won the hearts of the townspeople with a story of bandits taking her family farm and killing her father and brothers, leaving her completely alone. The owner of the local saloon, Abel Johnson, took pity on her and gave her a job as a waitress . . . and just a waitress! There were, of course, women working in the saloon in a different capacity, but if one man lay a hand on Becky, Abel himself would cut it off. He looked on her sort of as a daughter.
Indeed Becky had endeared herself to everyone. The fact that she was young and pretty didn't hurt any but, there again, there was a feeling of her being part of the family like a niece or a baby sister, so she didn't have many suitors and the ones she did have never lasted long. The blacksmith's son, Alvin, had taken a shine to her and they'd gone to a few barn dances together, but nothing ever came of it. Then it looked like the rancher, Edward, might have a chance, but Becky still wasn't interested. Many assumed that her failure to get a husband was because the men of Tumbleweed Ridge were too rough for such a frail desert flower. Maybe someday a school teacher or something like that would come to town and she'd finally find a man meek enough for her delicate sensibilities.
Blake Taggert, of course, was immune to her charms. Not being interested much in women, or, indeed, anything other than beans, whiskey and gun fighting, he had never paid her much heed. He grunted at her when she brought him drinks at the saloon, but that was about it. It seemed incredible to anyone that someone so sweet and innocent could even be capable of doing something to anger even someone as easy to annoy as Taggert.
And yet, here they were. Standing along the main thoroughfare of Tumbleweed Ridge as Blake Taggert stood, fingers twitching all-too-eagerly around the pearl handles of his favorite revolvers, glaring with his one good eye at the pretty little girl who had, just the night before, tripped over a rug in the saloon and upended an entire tray of beers over Taggert's head.
For a few seconds, there had been complete silence and stillness in the saloon, apart from the beer dripping off Taggert. No one had any idea what was going to happen next. And none of them were prepared for Taggert's next words:
"Tomorrow . . . high noon . . . don't be late." And he stomped off to change into some dryer clothes.
Of course, if it had been a man accidentally spilling beer on him, the people of Tumbleweed Ridge would have expected a challenge like this. But a girl? Surely, even a savage like Blake Taggert must have his limits. Who in their right mind would challenge a girl to a gunfight? Most women in Tumbleweed Ridge had never even touched a gun, much less knew how to fire one. And certainly not with the accuracy it would take to win a gunfight against Taggert. And even if you were low and heartless enough to challenge a girl to a gunfight, how could it possibly be someone as delicate and innocent as Becky Mills?
Some of the men got together and talked about whether they should go to Blake and ask him to call the whole thing off. Fear convinced them not to, so they focused their efforts on Becky instead. Get out of town, they had said. They offered her money, horses, anything to get her to not show up at noon the following day. They practically got down on their knees and begged the girl to ride away and never come back.
"No," she said, to the surprise of everyone. "I don't expect you all to understand, but I figure if I run away now, I'll be running for the rest of my life. No, facing Blake Taggert is just something I'm gonna have to do, whatever the consequences might be."
So, under the blazing hot noonday sun, with anxious spectators all around, Becky Mills, wearing her favorite dress and a pair of pistols she had borrowed from Abel Johnson for the occasion, stood her ground against the villain, Blake Taggert. She was trembling slightly, but only slightly. If nothing else, the people of Tumbleweed Ridge admired her guts.
"Surprised you showed up, girly," said Taggert.
"You said not to be late," said Becky, trying to sound casual. "What kind of lady would I be if I disappointed a gentleman?"
"Don't matter. You'll be dead in a few seconds either way. Ready?"
Taggert laughed. "I'm always ready to kill, little missy."
"I'm sure you are . . . I meant are you ready to die?"
Taggert didn't laugh. No one did. For a while no one said anything. Finally, Taggert called out. "Marshall Coward! You count three . . . then we draw."
"Y-y-y-yes sir, Taggert," said the Marshall who was living up to his name. "One . . . two . . . three . . . "
"DRAW!" said Becky and she drew her guns so fast no one even saw it happen.
She fired ten shots at Taggert. The first at his right hand, causing him to drop his gun. The second at his left, he dropped the other. Then to his shoulders, arms, legs, hips and every part of him except his heart or his head or any other vital organ. In less time than it takes to tell, Blake Taggert was on his knees, riddled with bullets and oozing blood from ten different wounds . . . but still breathing. And laughing.
"You're quick, girly," he said, struggling with every word. "But you ain't much of a shot. You ain't killed me!"
"No, not yet," said Becky. But she didn't sound like Becky. The woman who was speaking now, walking confidently
down the main street of Tumbleweed Ridge with both guns, each containing one bullet each, pointing at the most
dangerous gunman anyone had ever seen, was not the frail, fragile girl the people had come to know over the past
eighteen months. This was someone else entirely. "If I'd shot you in the head or heart you'd have died too quick
and you'd never know who it was that finally killed you.
"In the first place, my name ain't Mills. It's Smith. My daddy was Bert Smith, the man you gunned down right in front
of me and my big brothers. I was six years old when I watched my daddy die. He was just another notch on your gun handle,
but he was my whole world. So I learned how to shoot. I learned to be fast and accurate and I ain't missed in four years.
When I was sure I was ready, I asked around, found out you had set up here in Tumbleweed Ridge so I followed you here.
"Pretending to be weak and fragile all this time wasn't easy, but it worked. Nobody here had any idea what I was capable
of. You never even saw me, even when I brought you your food and drink over at the saloon. It ain't been easy waiting all
this time, but one of the first rules of marksmanship is patience. Waiting for exactly the right time to strike. And when
I knew that time had come, I dumped those beers over your head. Knew you'd challenge me and I knew you'd think I was an
easy target so you wouldn't be on your guard.
"So, here you are. Bleeding to death in front of all the people you terrorized all these years because someone was finally
man enough to stand up to you. Just so happens it was a nineteen-year-old girl. Now, I couldn't let you die without knowing
that, could I? But, now that you know . . . "
The first shot went through Taggert's heart, the second through his one good eye. And he was dead.
Nobody said anything or moved an inch. They simply couldn't believe what they had seen. They also couldn't believe it when
Becky Smith started digging through Taggert's pockets till she had a handful of money in her hand. Taking this, she strolled
up to a Mr. Thackery and thrust about half the cash into his hand. "Like to buy your horse," she said with a smile. "Time I
was moving on."
Thackery couldn't speak, so he just nodded. Becky returned the guns to Abel Johnson saying she'd buy her own when she hit a
new town, then mounted her new horse.
"So long, folks!" she said to the perplexed people of Tumbleweed Ridge. As she started to ride away, she passed Alvin and
Edward, standing together outside the saloon. "Sorry things didn't work out with us, boys . . . y'all
weren't quite rough enough for me."
She spurred her horse and rode away from Tumbleweed Ridge, never to return again.