The first bullet missed. He heard the blast of the revolver simultaneously with the sound of the thud from the impact as the bullet slammed into the wall next to his head. He was sitting with his back toward the wall, as was his custom since the eight years he had spent as a Texas Ranger. He liked to have a clear view of the door and an awareness of who was in the room. However, Big Kate, as she was called, had just come over to refill his coffee cup. Standing in front of him, she blocked his view of the front door, just for a moment. But, in that moment, knowing that Rick Hill was inside, Curly entered the saloon with his pistol in his hand, spotted Rick, and fired. Big Kate had finished filling the coffee cup and, as she stepped away, Rick reached his right hand out toward the left side of the table, where Kate had left his cup. In doing so, his head moved slightly to the left. Slightly. But enough that Curly's shot missed Rick to his right.
As Big Kate ran for cover behind the bar, Rick immediately dove to his left, instinctively reaching for his sidearm, which, in fact, wasn't there. Hoss Barker, Big Kate's husband and owner of Hoss's Watering Hole, had a rule that everyone left their guns at the bar. Everyone, with the exception of Sheriff Kaufman. Rick had left his Colt 45, still in its holster attached to its gun belt, at the bar per Hoss's rules. Hoss had placed Rick's weapon on a shelf under the bar, where all weapons were kept until their owner was ready to leave.
When Rick dove to his left, Curly shot again, and missed again. "That's two," Rick said to himself, knowing Curly had four shots left in his gun's cylinder. Hoss immediately reached under the bar and grabbed his double barrel, sawed off shotgun. He brought the scattergun to his shoulder and yelled at Curly to drop his weapon. But Curly had no intention of complying. He came here to kill Rick Hill and no old worn out bartender/grub shack owner was going to stop him. Curly dove behind a table, pulling it down in front of him as he did so. Hoss pulled the trigger and buckshot blasted out of the first barrel. The shot pelted the solid oak table top, but did not penetrate it. Curly fired a shot at Hoss who had already ducked behind the bar. "That's three," Rick whispered. He then took two quick steps and dove behind the upright piano as Curly sent another bullet in his direction. The bullet entered the piano and made a weird twanging sound as it hit the piano strings. "That's four," Rick mumbled.
Hoss peeked over the edge of the bar and fired the second barrel. In his haste, his shot was high, destroying the picture that was hanging on the wall behind where Curly was hiding. Curly sent another round toward the bar, causing Hoss to hit the ground. "That's five," Rick counted.
Next to the piano was an old spittoon, which Rick reached out and grabbed. He did not want to give Curly any time to reload, so he threw the spittoon at the table. Curly's reflexes got the best of him as he instinctively fired a wild shot toward the piano, this one hitting high on the wall behind Rick.
"That's six," Rick stated as he jumped up from behind the piano and charged Curly. Curly stood quickly, pointed at Rick and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked as the hammer hit the back of the shell casing that had already fired. Curly dropped his gun and quickly pulled his hunting knife from its sheath.
As Rick dove over the table, with his left hand he grabbed Curly's right wrist, right below the knife in Curly's right hand. Rick swung with his right hand, but didn't hit Curly with his right fist, instead bringing his right elbow crashing into the left side of Curly's head. Curly was stunned a bit by the blow, but wasn't about to give up that easily. As far as he was concerned, either he or Rick would not survive this fight.
Hoss was still behind the bar, frantically reloading his scatter gun. Once the old shells had been removed and the new shells inserted, he snapped the barrel closed and stood. He pointed the shotgun at the two men fighting, but couldn't shoot at Curly because he was entangled with Rick.
The two men rolled across the floor, throwing punches with one hand while fighting for control of the knife with the other. Curly bit Rick's left arm just above the wrist, causing Rick to let go of Curly's right hand, which still held the knife. Rick quickly reached with his right hand to grab the knife, but not before Curly had slashed Rick's left shoulder. As Rick grabbed Curly's right wrist, Curly tried to pull the arm back to get it loose from Rick's grasp. Rick locked Curly's right arm under his own right arm and rolled to his right, trying to wrest the knife from Curly, which was now in the grip of both men, right in the middle of the two. In the midst of the roll, Curly pulled the knife even closer and as they continued to roll, Rick turned Curly's wrist so that the knife now faced Curly. As they rolled over, Rick was on top of Curly, causing the knife to pierce Curly, right below the sternum. Rick, realizing what had happened, brought his other hand onto the knife and brought the full weight of his body onto his hands. The knife plunged deeper into Curly's chest, causing Curly to let out a slow, agonizing groan.
The men's faces were just inches apart as Rick watched Curly's life slowly fade away. Rick then rolled off of Curly and lay on his back, panting to catch his breath. Hoss and Big Kate came out from behind the bar and rushed to Rick's aid. "Ekta!" Big Kate called out to their Pima waitress. "Run down and get Doc Sullivan. Hurry!" Ekta ran out the door and down the street to the doctor's office. Meanwhile, Hoss helped Rick stand up, then grabbed a chair that lay on its side and stood it up. "Take a seat," he said. He then directed Kate, "Grab a few rags and let's get some pressure on this cut."
"It's not that bad," Rick stated as he looked at the wound. "I've certainly had worse."
"No doubt," Hoss replied. Then nodding toward Curly he asked, "Did you know him?"
Rick let out a sigh and replied, "Yes, unfortunately, we knew each other. Curly Stone. Younger brother of Billy Stone. These two brothers and their father were notorious cattle rustlers and horse thieves in Texas. Two years ago, I tracked them down and cornered Billy and his old man in a cabin just south of San Antonio. They decided to shoot it out. I killed his father and wounded Billy before he finally gave up. I arrested him, took him over to Houston. The local magistrate, Judge Irby, put him on trial. They convicted him, then they hung him a week later. Curly vowed that he would get revenge by killing me. Six months later, I married, resigned my post as a Texas Ranger and moved here to the Arizona Territory. Jason, Pete and I bought the Soaring Eagle Ranch. I figured it was just a matter of time before ol' Curly showed up."
Hearing the noise and commotion, some of the town locals showed up at Hoss's. A few remained on the front wooded sidewalk, while others pushed the double swinging doors apart as they entered.
"Are you alright Hoss?" one man asked as he came in.
Hoss responded, "Yeah, I'm fine. Rick got a knife drug across his arm after dodging a round of shots. The dead man, lying in the pool of blood, is a horse thief from Texas. He won't be rustlin' horses or cattle anymore."
At that moment, Doc Sullivan pushed his way through the crowd, followed by Ekta. Doc looked at Curly, then approached Rick. "Did you do that?" Doc asked as he pointed toward Curly's body.
"Yeah, I did that," Rick replied.
"Has anyone sent for Sheriff Kaufman?" Doc asked as he cut away Rick's shirt sleeve.
"He had to head down to Maricopa Wells, yesterday," Hoss explained. "He's supposed to ride back up here this afternoon."
"What about Deputy Connors?" Doc asked.
"He rode out early to the Sun Bar Ranch," Hoss replied. "Seems they're missing a few head of cattle. Deputy Connors rode out to investigate."
Doc cleaned the knife wound and then said, "You'll need a few stiches in that, Rick." Can you walk on down to my office, or do you want me to hitch up my buckboard and come back and get ya?"
"I can walk just fine, Doc," Rick answered. As he picked up his white hat and put it on, he said, "Hoss, can you hand me my gun belt. And what do I owe you for the breakfast?"
"Don't worry about that, Rick," Hoss answered. "Anyone who takes out a horse thief deserves one on the house."
As Hoss handed Rick his gun, Rick replied, "That's awfully nice of you Hoss. I appreciate it. Sorry about the mess here."
"Don't you worry about it," Hoss replied. He then turned to one of the young men at the door and said, "Bobby, run on over to the barbershop and tell Tom to put on his undertaker hat and get over here and take this body."
"Yes sir, Mr. Barker," Bobby said before running up the street toward the barbershop.
Rick Hill stood an even six feet tall. He was slender, strong, and solid. His short black hair, angular face and square jaw seemed to accentuate his piercing dark eyes. His serious demeanor and intimidating glare hid his kindness, compassion and sensitivity toward others. But his kindness did not negate his strength and toughness. This was the first fight Rick was in at Hoss's Watering Hole, but it wouldn't be the last.