Eli Strakos looked in above the swing doors of the saloon and decided to risk it, not seeing any enemies in the morning gloom.
A thin and lanky figure, he swung them open and went up to the bar, placing his final dime on the counter, just enough for one shot of the cheapest and nastiest whiskey the place had.
"Good morning Mr. Fields," Strakos said to the barman, who was cleaning off a tankard. "A shot of the Kentucky Southern please."
The barman looked at the dime and then at Strakos in disgust, and carried on with his wiping.
"Mr. Fields," said Strakos, "I've cleared my debt with you. I just want some service."
"You're lucky I even let a nigger like you in here," grumbled Fields, and reluctantly scraped the dime into his hand.
"I ain't no nigger," protested Strakos feebly. "My father was Greek and my mother is Syrian . . . I already told you."
Fields, only half-listening, had got the Kentucky Southern out from a cupboard and was pouring it into a dirty shot glass.
"Sounds like a nigger to me . . . swarthier than some. Just drink and get out."
Strakos, having no energy to carry on the fight, accepted his soiled drink, and went to sit at a table near the back. The saloon was mostly empty, but Strakos wanted to be out of the light, away from anybody. He tilted his drink side to side, and considered his position.
Strakos liked to say that his friends called him "Eli the Greek", but that was a lie—he didn't even have any friends. Born in Boston just before the Civil War took his father at New Bern, the factory where he worked burning to the ground had been his inspiration to go out West to seek greater fortune. So far, it had been nothing but misfortune. He had lost what little money he had, with only a six shooter with three bullets he had procured back in Tennessee to his name, and despite only having been in Little Boulder, New Mexico Territory, for a mere two weeks he had already riled a lot of people up with his worsening drinking, gambling, and racking up of arrears.
By half past nine, Strakos had consumed only a half of the miniscule shot, and Mr Fields was giving him the stink eye. The whiskey had however not calmed his nerves, and the shakes were arriving. He put the glass down and tried to steady himself against the table. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of Big Redd Stevens walking by, which was enough to stop any shaking.
Big Redd? Strakos thought.
Strakos in his head added up what he owed him—one dollar, two dollar, five . . .
It made him sick just thinking about it. Redd had a gruesome temper—and he knew he was looking for him.
Strakos quietly cursed himself for not having skipped town already. But it was okay so far—Redd had gone past and not noticed him. He would drink up, sneak out through the back way, and go along the river, on to Arizona, if the Lord permitted it.
He felt his gun underneath his leather jacket—still there, the three bullets still loaded.
Strakos checked the time and grabbed his glass to down it and leave.
He then froze—Redd was coming in, up the steps!
Strakos panicked. He dropped the glass on the table with a loud clunk, and in sheer idiotic fright reached for his gun. He drew and fired as Redd swung the doors in—the pin hit air in an empty chamber. Before anyone had realised what was going on in the dimness, Strakos pulled back the hammer and fired again—just as another shake went through him.
The misguided bullet went over Redd's shoulder, across the sidewalk, and straight into a man getting off a horse. Redd went to the floor as screams and shouts filled the street.
Letting the gun fall, Strakos tipped his table over and ran out through the back way, into a group of sheds. He lay low for a couple of minutes before peeking his head out from behind an outhouse, only to have the sheriff meet him eye to eye, pistol drawn.
The rough and greying man, stout with muscle, grabbed Strakos by the shoulder and barked, "Come with me!"
He escorted Strakos from behind the row and through the gathered crowd to where his unintended victim had fallen.
Lying on his back, the bullet had gone through his right eye and lodged in his skull.
Standing above the corpse, dressed in the finest riding suit with a harsh and unforgiving face, Strakos felt a terrible remorse. The gallows were now waiting for him.
"You do know who you shot, right?" asked the sheriff, holstering his gun.
Strakos made no move as the name pulsed through the crowd: "Brutal Bill O'Riley."
The accidental vigilante at last grasped through his daze what had happened, and nodded meekly.
"Alive or dead," said the sheriff, taking off his hat. "And dead it is. That was one hell of a shot."
"Yes sir . . . " said Strakos, stunned that he had gotten away with it.
"I only got the poster last morning . . . how did you recognise him?"
"I just did . . . you don't forget a face like that."
"Why did you run?"
"Erm, I thought I might've missed."
Redd Stevens suddenly pushed through and grabbed Strakos' hand.
"How the hell did you know he was after me?" the big man asked, beaming. "He was surely 'bout to send me to the Almighty—I ain't got no shooter on me for any defendin'!"
"Don't mention it," Strakos uttered. "Say, sorry about that money . . . "
"Hey," said Redd, patting him on the back. "What's nine bucks to a man's life?"
The sheriff took Strakos around the shoulder and began to lead him to his office, speaking of a certain reward . . .
After that, Strakos gave himself a new nickname: the Lucky Greek (not that anyone used it).