"I'm going to kill you."
Todd Griffin was a drunk. A no good drunk. He had a history of making a fool of himself. It didn't matter whether it was a wedding, a christening or a funeral the man had a habit of getting into trouble. Predominantly it was his loud mouth that caused him grief but without the liquor the man was at least wise enough to mind his own business, most of the time. Once a glass of alcohol passed his lips the man grew ten feet tall. He became loud and antagonistic. Obnoxious and raw. He threw his weight around. He was the kind of man who sought his joy in the misfortune of others. Men, women and children. It didn't matter. He found happiness in someone else's misery.
The man stood an even six feet tall. His shoulders were narrower than his hips and sloped downward at a sharp angle. He carried more weight around the middle than one would find comfortable. His nose was wide, broken one too many times. His eyes were round and poked a little too far out of their sockets. A scar, an inch long, perched over his right eye. It was wide and rigid, tinged a sickening purple. A smaller scar sat beneath his lips. It was clean and thin. Unlike the man himself.
Griffin went to speak again and thought better of it. He wiped the back of his left hand across his mouth and rubbed the remnants of his spit on his shirt. Stepping closer to the table he settled into a fighting stance. His legs, shoulder width apart. He balled his hands into fists and released them. He repeated this a number of times as he moved his neck from side to side. It cracked like a whip. His chest rising and falling. Griffin smiled and picked his teeth with a dirty fingernail before spitting what was left of his lunch on the table.
The stranger sat with his back to the wall. He was new to Driftwood. Driftwood was a middling sized town thirty miles south-west of Austin. He had been there all of thirty minutes, seeking respite from the rain. He had settled into the corner of what passed for a saloon, the Wanderers Inn, seeking shelter from the rain that had since turned the streets into mud. His hair was long, shoulder length, and a beard as wild and as free as the man himself covered his face. He was in need of some grooming, but it wasn't high on his priority list.
His head was low and he cupped his glass in his right hand. He tried to ignore the antagonist, but in his forty years he had never let himself be harangued willingly. He knew he wouldn't let it happen here. He was too much of a man to back down to a yokel with an ax to grind and a mouth as loose as his ego. Still, of late he was slow to temper. He wasn't a young man anymore, when his temper had led him down a path of death, destruction and mayhem. It was the type of life that had worn thin over time.
Griffin's voice, loud and tinged with drunkenness, cut through his thoughts. "How long since you've had a scrub fella? You're stinking up the place and I for one, want you out."
The stranger didn't move. The anger welled within him, but he didn't look up. As soon as they saw his face they'd know who he was and then there would be a certain expectation that would fall upon him. People had a habit of expecting others to behave a particular way and when they didn't they got offended, like they had a right to.
The antagonist laughed. It was throaty and condescending. His voice took a keener edge as he narrowed his eyes on the stranger. "You're yellow. Yellower than the driven sun. I've never met a man as yellow."
Still, the man said nothing. He took another sip of his whiskey and ignored the man before him. The anger caused him to roll his shoulders a little. In his youth he would have been standing over a bloody corpse already, toasting the man's death. He would have been basking in the glory heaped upon him as often as a free drink was pushed into his hand. Time changes a man. Perhaps his stint in one of Texas's toughest prisons, Pentridge, had something to do with it. But when a man has a lot of time to think, he may as well do so. It's the ones that don't, that go crazy.
The men at the bar, who found the incident humorous and entertaining at first, had begun to lose interest. Griffin wasn't liked, but the man was mean, and out of fear for their own safety they had laughed along. A tall skinny man, dressed in brown. The top button of his shirt undone, smiled and his long lean face indicated that he had had enough with Griffin's exploits. He took half a dozen lazy liquor filled steps and laid his left hand on his partner's right shoulder. "Come on Griff. There ain't no point fighting a coward."
The word coward sank itself into the stranger's thoughts and filtered their way down his body and into his feet. He drained the rest of his whiskey and stood slowly to his full height which was two inches taller than Griffin. He held the glass in his hand and without making eye contact moved slowly to the right. A dozen solid, yet quiet steps further, he leaned against the bar and signaled to the old woman behind the bar for a refill.
His movements gave the tall man and Griffin an opportunity to eye the coward. He was tall and wide across the shoulders which tapered down to firm and square hips. His walk was methodical. Every step was taken with an awareness of his surroundings. The tall man moved away from his partner and made his way back to the bar. He saw something in the man that Griffin did not. He couldn't point anything out specifically, but when a feeling bites into your flesh you better take notice. The tall man was wise enough to know that.
The old woman responded to the stranger's order and decided it was best to give the man a friendly word of advice. But before she uttered her words she filled his glass. As she did she leaned in closer. She couldn't see the man's face because he was staring at the bar top and his long hair swept the bar and obscured any look she may have had. Her words were a muffled whisper and though the other patrons, itching for some entertainment, could hear her they couldn't make out what she said. "Griffin is not to be trifled with. These men are his partners and they will join the fight."
He didn't look at her when he spoke, his voice carried that harshness whenever he spoke. "Leave the bottle."
She responded and stepped back. She had an uneasy feeling that some of her rotten furniture was about to be broken.
Griffin turned and faced the unkempt man in his slicker. His long hair hanging over his shoulders. Everything about the man irritated him. Then again, it didn't take much for Todd Griffin, the local tough of Driftwood to ire. "Turn around so I can see the face of the man I'm going to beat to a bloody pulp."
The stranger looked to his left at the man standing next to him. The man looked stunned at what he saw and leaving his drink on the bar backed away past Griffin to the other side of the room. The next man along the bar, stunned by his friend's movement, looked up and once recognizing who stood before him followed his drinking buddy to the opposite wall. The tall man who first called the man a coward looked over his shoulder at the men who vacated their position willingly and then stepped closer to the stranger. The light from the bat wings silhouetting him against the fading light. The rain was loud but not as loud as the fear that consumed him, once recognition dawned. He froze and swallowed hard as he stared at the man he had called a coward a minute ago. It was the first time he had ever seen him, but he looked just as the stories he heard said he looked.
Griffin looked to his compadre and back to the man he was trying so hard to fight and stepped closer. "What's going on, Slim?"
The stranger turned and leaned against the bar. He flung his head backwards and he ran his fingers through his hair so Griffin could see him clearly. The antagonist paused and he looked over his left shoulder to the men who had vacated the bar "Get over here."
They moved themselves into position, one either side of Griffin. The tall man took a few steps to his right so that four men in a semi-circle had the stranger boxed in against the bar ten yards away. It was the leader of the group who spoke. His voice held its nerve even though he knew the man. "Lincoln Brady. What are you doing in Driftwood?"
The man's face was covered in a thick red beard, but a dull red. It was streaked with gray, the onset of age had made its presence known in the man's appearance, but his movements were as lithe and as youthful as they've ever been. But it wasn't the beard that made them recognize the rebel lawman, it was the different color eyes. His right eye was a piercing blue. The color of lake water on a clear day. His left eye was almost white. Thanks to his father. The eye looked faded and deformed, but the man's vision was perfect. A scar ran over his left eye and down his cheek, disappearing beneath the beard. It was a permanent reminder of the type of man his father was. A colt .45 sat nestled on his hip.
The first man to leave the bar looked nervous and you could hear the fear in his voice. "Come on, Griff, let's get out of here."
The man ignored him and stepped closer to Brady. "Last I heard they took your badge away and threw you in the calaboose."
Brady responded. "Is that so?"
Griffin smirked. "That's right, after what your father did to your Ma, I heard you hunted the polecat down and took the law into your own hands."
It was the truth and he had no need to deny it. "That sounds about right." Feeling confident, Griffin pushed his luck, "What are you doing here, in my town?"
The man in question raised his left hand slowly and pulled his slicker to the side to display the star pinned to his shirt.
Griffin nodded and smiled. The fact that he now knew the man and that he wore a badge meant nothing to him. He had started on a course of action moments earlier and he would see it through. "I'll repeat my question. What are you doing in Driftwood?"
Brady leaned off the bar and stood firm. "Driftwood needs a lawman."
"Is that right?"
The lawman smiled. "That's right. So, before you do anything rash, know this. I play for keeps. I'm not here to make friends. I don't care who you are, or who you think you are. Your reputation means nothing to me. I've been tasked with establishing law and order in Driftwood and I will see it done."
It was the tall man, the man called Slim, who spoke. "Driftwood is peaceable enough, Brady, without the likes of you throwing their weight around. It seems unlikely that the law would see fit to give a man like yourself a badge, considering what you have done."
His partners chuckled. Feeling important he decided to goad the lawman some more. "Do you have warrants? Seems to me you'll need quite a passel. Driftwood doesn't take kindly to lawmen."
Brady smiled and waved the man forward.
Slim looked from Griffin to Brady and back again. He stepped forward tentatively and stopped just to the right of Lincoln Brady.
"I'm not here to arrest anyone; if you know what I mean." Quick as a flash the lawman reached around and grabbed the tall man by the back of the hair and slammed his head into the bar. His nose made a sickening sound as blood squirted from the destroyed aperture. The old woman behind the bar recoiled as blood flew through the air and left a discordant pattern on the ailing décor. The tall man was unconscious and Brady held him by the hair and the seat of his pants and hurled him towards his partners.
The man to Griffin's right instinctively went for his hogleg but he was hopelessly inept and the lawman blasted a hole in him. The man wavered, his gun discharging into the rotten floorboards by his feet. He tried to eye his killer one last time. As he lifted his head, blood ran from his mouth and down his chin. The man fell forward in a lifeless heap. The man on Griffin's left turned to run and copped a slug in his leg for the trouble. Brady had never shot a man in the back, and wasn't about to start now. The man fell in a crushing heap. His high pitch squeal echoed in the small room. Griffin didn't sport a gun and stepped forward. His huge bulk, closing in.
Brady reholstered clean and stepped backwards. His back against the bar. Griffin swung but it was easily blocked and countered. A straight right fist found Griffin's guard down and hit him clean on the point of the chin. The big man's knees buckled and that was all Brady needed to step to the side and kick Griffin's legs from underneath him. The latter fell to his knees and Brady moved deftly behind him and grabbed his hair. He proceeded to deliver a series of blows to the man's right ear. Griffin tried to protect himself but it was hard. Brady let go of him and kicked him in the back right between the shoulder blades. Griffin fell forward and rolled onto his back only to be met with the imposing bulk that sat on his chest and grabbed him by the hair again. He unleashed a series of right hands that cut the prone man's face open. He let go of his hair, his head thudding against the floor. Griffin was unconscious and bloody. He would have permanent scars to remind him of the day he tangled with Marshal Brady.
The lawman stood, but not before wiping the blood on his fists on the unconscious man's shirt. He grabbed the whiskey bottle and eyed the old woman seriously. "I don't know what kind of place you're running here, but you haven't seen the last of me."
Brady took a hefty swig and shattered the bottle against the bar. The old woman jumped, and he smiled. Moving to the batwings he heard the familiar click of a Colt but in the time it took to think about it Brady had turned, drawn his own Colt and shot the wounded man through the head. His brain matter added to the filth that was the seediest saloon in Driftwood.
He pushed through the batwings and stepped into the street, rain falling heavily. His boots sloshing in the mud. He cleaned his hands in the horse trough, unhitched the palomino and began the long walk down the main street of town. Men and women came out of hiding to investigate the origin of the gunshots. They peered along the boardwalks without braving the downpour. All they saw was a wild looking man leading his mount. He watched them all, left and right. After all, many a lawman in Driftwood had been found dead with lead in his back. He wasn't about to be the next.
A bullet hit mud behind him. The report of the Colt was muffled in the heavy rain. He turned on his heels and removed his Winchester from the scabbard on the stallion.
Todd Griffin, blood running down his face staggered out into the street with his dead companion's hogleg. He raised the pistol and fired again. The shooting brought more people out into the street and this time they clambered along the shopfronts to get a better view of the unfolding dilemma. Griffin stumbled to his right, righted himself and fired again. The distance was too great. The slug hardly made an impact as it buried itself in the mud.
Todd Griffin yelled. "Damn you, Brady."
The latter moved away from his mount, raised the rifle. Steady and true he sighted the bloody figure of Todd Griffin and squeezed the trigger. Griffin fell face first, without a sound. There was complete silence. The only sound was the pitter-patter of rain.
Brady stood with the Winchester at his waist as he turned slowly and faced the citizens of Driftwood. Young women and old men stared at him. Some indifferent, others with hate, and some with joy. Griffin wasn't well-liked by the law-abiding citizens of Driftwood, but a bully only has friends while he is alive. In death, no one will mourn him. A frightened child clung close to her mother. From his left a man scurried off the steps to check on Griffin. In the rain, he could be seen shaking his head.
No-one spoke. They stared aimlessly at the stranger. He cut quite an imposing figure, but he knew despite the shooting they were staring at his face. It was always the same. People were more interested in his appearance than they ever were in the man himself.
A squat man forced his way to the front of the onlookers. He was ugly and knew it. "How do we know you're the law?"
Brady moved his slicker and the badge, dull in the fading light, caused the man to nod his head. "What did you say your name was mister?"
He stepped closer to the man. "I'm Marshal Lincoln Brady of Driftwood, and law has come to town."