After several long years of travelling, Jake Strong found himself in a town he had been in before. Like most small towns it seemed be quiet on the surface, but had an undercurrent of menace just waiting to be awakened.
He remembered a shootout he had some near on twenty years ago in this town. There had been many shootouts in his life, but this one stood out in his memory. He hated it when innocent people got hurt, but that's what happens when guns come out to play and it isn't easy to fix a wrong that you've done accidently.
A young girl's granddad had been killed in the crossfire. Jake was reluctant to take his days' pay and offered Sarah, the dead man's granddaughter, his fee to cover the costs of burying him. The plucky young girl had spat in his face, swore, and thrown his money back at him. She said she would kill him if they ever crossed paths again. So Jake was waiting for fate to catch up with him for all those years. Maybe a bullet in his back was better than living on the edge all the time.
Jake took a chance and roomed at the same local boarding house he had last time. It was still the same owner. She didn't recognise him. He was just another dollar bill to her. He lay on his bed for a while, smoking and planning what to do next. Later as he stood at the window in the half moonlight he saw Sarah in the street below. He stepped away from the window into the darkness in order not to invite trouble sooner than he was ready for it.
Jake Strong felt in his old bones that his sixgun-toting days were fast coming to a close. Someday his number would be up and maybe his trigger finger would be a second or to too slow. Then the other guy would leave him bleeding in the street. The thought of his own imminent death didn't really scare him much these days. He'd lived with that threat all his life, it was what happened after it that worried him. There would be too many people with scores to settle.
He fell sound asleep and dreamed of the journeys he'd made in a lifetime of travelling. Every one of those journeys had ended in sadness for somebody and regret at what he had to do to earn a dollar.
He began to badly miss whiskey and the company of women and the gambling table and the mayhem that went with it. Life was all a gamble and you had to have the winning hand. He forgot why he had come to this town, time again. Sometimes you lose your way for a reason. Fate can deal you some strange hands.
The next morning, whilst having a stripped wash, he noticed Sarah in the street. She had changed a lot. She had filled out a mite as you might expect and grey hair had begun to sprout in her natural blond hair. Jake hoped she'd forgotten him or with luck wouldn't recognise him after all these years, but women had a way of remembering the bad times as much as the good and he could be walking right into a heap of trouble. He wondered if she had found herself a husband yet. She wasn't a bad looking woman now, even though you could tell she'd had a hard life.
The short walk to the stable was a tense one. He knew he would be spotted sometime, but hoped he would be able to saddle up quietly and slip out of town, before the town really woke up again. With luck he could leave unseen and without a bullet in his back. He mounted the horse and started to ride slowly out of town, trying not to attract attention. Just as he rounded a corner, a pair of eyes were soon glued on his face. He knew it was Sarah and she was angry that he'd come back.
She rushed out in to the middle of the street and shouted at him she had still recognised him after all those years
The terrible memories of that day came flooding back. "Murderer," she shouted. So that answered the question he had wondered about all those long years ago. There wasn't a mile he had travelled without regret at what had happened. He rode the horse at top speed, looking backwards to see if he was being followed. Sarah made as if to follow him in a covered wagon with a loaded rifle by her side, but was stopped in her tracks when her son shouted to her come back in. He didn't agree with killing women, that was a step too far, even for Jake. Luckily he made it out of town safely and the danger past, but it had made Jake's mind up for him. He was giving up on being a gun for hire and wanted to retire, but would they let him?
He could disappear in a dust storm that was blowing up and never be seen again. He had made a pact with the devil and that's all there was to it. Nobody can cheat the Devil, not even Jake strong.
* * *
Long days passed and wild desert storms raged across the entire territory. Jake decided to pull in to the nearest small town.
He was getting tired of the constant travelling from town to town. It was taking its toll. He didn't know how much longer he could keep on running away from trouble.
He soon came across some young guns in town all looking a little hungry and down trodden. They were waiting to make a fast buck. They eyed him up as possible payday. Jake Strong was killing well before most of them were even born. They were a scruffy looking bunch, loud and cocky. To them, being a hired killer was something to be proud of.
Killing didn't make Jake proud. He felt ashamed at times, but it was his only way of earning quick money and his only way of staying alive. Gunslinging was something that, once you started, it was hard to stop. Not unlike being a prostitute.
After a few games of poker and a few whiskeys, Jake began to make himself at home. That was until an old, gnarled, bar man stood whispering in a dark corner to a well-worn saloon girl. The town had a rundown feel about it. A town waiting for something big to happen, but it never did. The bar man and saloon girl never took their eyes off Jake. He still wore the fresh battle scars of a hard working gunslinger.
Jake soon realised his face may have been recognised by the old bar man. So he started to have misgivings already about staying too long. The old bar man couldn't remember his name, but Jake Strong's chiselled features stood out. Even as he got older, he was one of the few gunslingers who stood out on a wanted poster. He had killed over a hundred men.
Later on it seems the old bar man had whispered in a lot of ears that night until the rumour of Jake's arrival reached the owner of half the town. A certain Mr Wooldridge. He sent the town's only doctor over for a bottle of night-time whiskey to see if he could put a name to that familiar face. Doctor Grizzly had earned a steady living out of pulling bullets out of the victims or the few survivors of the shoot outs that happened in small towns.
Jake had to find out from the old saloon girl what the bar man knew, if anything .Jake wished if he had to kill anyone it would be one of the gossips that you find in every small town. This wouldn't have seemed like murder but more like doing a public service. The only way the old saloon girl was sure to talk was after he had bedded her. Later on in the saloon girl's bedroom she grilled him about himself and she told him the old bar man had recognised him on a wanted poster. So his secret was out. It was only a matter of time that the local newspaper would find an old wanted poster of him and his days would soon be numbered. Wanted posters always had a bad habit of hanging around for years.
As the early dawn broke, Jake started to load up his saddle bag, but soon felt the cold barrel of a gun pointing in his right ear. The old saloon girl had decided Jake was her way of getting rich quick and was going to turn him in to the sheriff. After a struggle he took the gun off her. She swore and spat at him and tried to bite him.
A bit later he got on his horse. As the sun rose, Jake spotted the glint of sun off a riffle pointing out of an open saloon window saloon window. He shot the old bar man who fell out of the top window dead as lead. The saloon girl screamed and the whole town came to life quickly. It was time Jake made his escape. Jake sped off; leaving only another trail of dust to remind him of that town and of many others he had visited over the years. Trouble always seemed to follow him around, just lucky I guess.