"You gonna git over there or do we gotta push you?” Jason heard the large man with the long beard say through the bag he tied over his head a few hours before. He fought back against the man’s incessant shoving when he felt the ground disappear beneath his foot.
“Where am I?” Jason shouted at the man through the bag. If he heard him, the man gave no indication.
“Jason Garret,” the man said. More hands held him still. “You were found guilty by a jury of your peers for the murder of Jack Bartleby.”
They pushed him over the edge. A few seconds later, Jason Garret died.
He was alone at the bar, in front of him stood a shot glass filled with whiskey, beside it three empty ones. Noah Bartleby sat, head in his hands, staring at the soon-to-be-empty glass before him. The piano and card playing behind him didn’t distract him; neither did the occasional prostitute who sat down next to him, rubbed his thigh, and asked him if he wanted to let off some steam.
His brother was dead. His brother was murdered. Noah got revenge though. He threw the murderer over the cliff after the ‘trial.’ Law was a little different in that part of the country, especially when the murderer was a lawman. None of that mattered to Noah as he drank shots of whiskey at the bar. His brother was dead.
Noah lifted his head, reached up and grabbed the full shot glass. He looked at the bartender.
“Hey, bartender!” Noah yelled at the man behind the bar who was at the other end helping another customer. The bartender looked back at Noah.
“One more,” Noah lifted his glass, looked at it and downed the clear, brown drink in half the time it took the bartender to pour it. The shot glass clinked against the others when he put it down.
“There ya go,” The bartender dropped another full shot of whiskey in front of Noah.
“How much for the bottle?”
“Twenty,” the bartender shook the half-full bottle at Noah. Noah knew a bottle of cheap whiskey like that would only cost him about ten dollars brand new, but he wasn’t in the mood for an argument.
Noah dropped twenty dollars on the bar, snatched the bottle from the bartender’s hand and left the saloon.
Noah staggered down the dusty, torch lit street. He moved slowly from one side of the street to the other. To anyone walking down the street it would have appeared that he had no actual destination, but he did. He was making his way from one end of town to the other, to the graveyard.
Noah stood in front of his Jack’s grave. The full moon provided him enough light to see his brother’s name and the dates on the grave. The graveyard was far enough away from town that Noah could hear none of the drunken yelling that usually accompanied being outside at that time of night.
Uneasy on his feet, Noah fell to one side; he lifted his hand up to balance himself.
“I almost fell Jack,” Noah said. He lifted the whiskey bottle in the air above his head and looked at the grave.
“I got him for ya Jack. I got ‘im. You woulda never robbed that bank without me, so that means he murdered you. An’ I got that son of a bitch lawman for ya!” Noah rocked back and forth as he spoke. When he was done, he lowered the bottle to his lips and drank.
“Have one last drink with me Jack,” Noah swallowed the whiskey and poured some on the ground making sure to leave enough for him for the rest of the night. Noah didn’t hear the man approaching from behind him until he was almost right next to him.
“You know him?” The man asked. The low, scratchy voice soft, but strong. Noah turned to see who it was, but the man’s long hair covered most of his face. Noah closed one eye trying to see just one version of this man but it didn’t help. The man wore his hat down low and kept his head tilted down at the ground there was no way Noah could see his face.
“Ya,” Noah replied. “He was my brother.”
“Oh, I’m sorry for that.”
Noah nodded, and felt a strong cool breeze against the back of his neck. He turned too fast, lost his balance and fell down. The world spun around him. Noah saw the long-haired stranger standing over him, then he passed out.
The crows and robins woke Noah as the sun rose up over the horizon and shone on the top half of Jack Bartleby’s headstone. His eyes were still closed; he rolled onto his back and rubbed his head.
“Oh, Jack,” Noah groaned, opened his eyes and looked into the cloudless sky above him. He rolled over and got himself standing from his hands and knees.
Noah sat down in the lobby of his hotel; he was still considered a guest in town even though he had been there almost 6 months. Warm biscuits were offered every morning to the guests of the hotel; Noah took two and sat down on one of the couches trying to eat away his hangover.
There were few people up that early; gold prospectors getting an early start and business owners preparing to open for the day. Noah’s head pounded as he stuffed the biscuits in his mouth and chewed. He laid his head against the back of the couch and closed his eyes replaying the events of the previous day in his head. A blurry vision of the long-haired man at his brother’s grave jumped into his head.
“Who was that?” Noah asked no one in particular.
Noah knew almost everyone in town and the people he didn’t know personally he could recognize; the long-haired man was someone he’d never seen before. Although he hadn’t had a good look, or even a glimpse at the man’s face, Noah was sure that he would remember someone like that.
Noah went over to the man who worked at the front desk, curious.
“Hey, Jim,” Noah said. The man behind the counter knew Noah well, they had talked many times, but he seemed to be cautious, almost afraid to talk to Noah. Most of the town had been like that since the events yesterday.
“Uh, hi Noah,” Jim replied. His eyes met Noah’s shifted toward the door then back to Noah. Noah sensed Jim’s nervousness and knew he would get the truth out of him.
It’s good to be feared, Noah thought.
“Anyone new come into town lately?” Noah rested his hand on the counter and looked down at the man.
“No, no one new that I’ve seen,” the words sped from Jim’s mouth. “And usually anyone new comes in here first, well, you know that.”
“Ok, thanks.” Noah left the hotel and walked across the street to the saloon.
“Noah. How’re you doing?” Eli asked his old friend as he stroked his long beard with his right hand.
“You know,” Noah said. “I’m just glad we got that son of a bitch.”
“Ha, ha!” The large bearded man sat back in his chair, balancing it on two legs. “We sure did!”
A cool breeze blew in through the open door and windows of the saloon. Both men shivered, although Noah tried not to show this sign of weakness.
“Oh!” Eli said, “Getting cool out there.”
“Yeah,” Noah leaned back in his chair and rubbed his temples, still fighting the effects of the previous night’s drinks. The cool wind blew again, harder than before, this time sliding a chair sitting close to the door across the room. Both men turned toward the door of the saloon.
“Gentlemen,” the long-haired man stood just inside the door. His hair was still wet, hanging over his face, hat down low. Even in the bright daylight Noah could not make out the man’s face. But he could tell the man was smiling. “Having breakfast, or an early morning drink?”
“Neither,” Noah said. “Just havin’ a chat Mister…” Noah trailed off, hoping the stranger would fill in the blank.
“Oh well, I don’t want to interrupt. I’ll come back later tonight. But I would like to share a drink with the two of you,” the man turned to walk out then looked back over his shoulder. “I’ll see you tonight, we’ve got business to take care of.”
His voice low and Noah heard the anger in it, the words sent another chill down Noah’s spine. He was sure Eli felt the same way. Then the stranger swung the doors of the saloon open and disappeared from view.
“Jesus,” Eli said. “He—he musta known Garret.”
“Yeah,” Noah replied. “We’ll be ready for him tonight though.” Noah stood up, cobwebs and booze now completely gone from his head. “Get everyone together and we’ll be ready for him tonight.”
“You think he has people with ‘im or you think he’s alone?” One of the previous days jury members asked Noah.
“If he knew me and Eli were involved then he knows ‘bout the resta’ ya. He ain’t comin’ alone,” Noah said.
They were in the back room of the Keystone Saloon. Eli’s brother was friends with the owner of the place and gave them access. Noah told Eli to let his brother know that everything needed to look normal. He wanted the card playing to go on as usual and the prostitutes to go about their business. He didn’t want the long-haired stranger to think anything was wrong. He didn’t want him to think they knew why he was coming.
“Alright,” Noah turned to look at the twelve men waiting in the room with him. “You all are gonna wait in here. Jesse’s gonna keep an eye through the peephole. Me and Eli are gonna be right here at the end of the bar.” Noah pointed a thumb toward the bar just on the other side of the door.
“When he comes in, keep your eye on me. When I stand up and turn around you guys jump out. Even if he has guys with ‘im they won’t be ready for it. They don’t know we know anything,” Noah said.
Noah turned back around and listened to the murmurs of approval behind him. He turned and looked at Eli.
The men sat at the end of the bar, in front of them two full shots of whiskey and two empty shot glasses. The front entrance of the saloon was in plain view of Noah’s seat. The back entrance was visible to Eli; there was no way the long-haired stranger was getting into the building without being seen.
“You think he’s comin’?” Eli leaned over and whispered in Noah’s ear.
“He said he was. He’ll be here. Just act normal,” Noah said trying to relax his companion.
The night drew on and there was no sign of the long-haired stranger. Noah began to get impatient, when he was impatient, he drank. He was aware of the men in the room behind him, and what they were waiting for, but he couldn’t help himself, he needed more drinks.
“One more,” Noah lifted another empty shot glass at the same bartender he bought a bottle of whiskey off of the night before.
“Noah,” Eli leaned over again. “Take it easy. We gotta be ready.”
“I am ready,” Noah’s speech was slurred. “Bring ‘im on.”
As if on cue the cool breeze the two men had felt early in the day found its way into the room again. Noah looked over the tables of card playing and past the prostitutes moving throughout the room and saw the long-haired man standing motionless just inside the saloon. His hair was still wet; it dripped as it hung over his face. His head, as always, tilted down, his long coat covered his body and hung a few inches above the floor. The only part of the man Noah could see was the bottom of his chin and his hands, everything else was covered.
Noah looked at the man, nodded and pulled out the empty chair that was next to him, offering it to him.
The long-haired man made his way easily through the crowded barroom, the people in room barely noticed he was there.
“Have a seat, friend,” Noah motioned toward the chair he had saved specifically for this occasion. “We was beginnin’ to think you weren’t showin’ up.”
“I said I was coming. Why did you doubt me?”
“Here ya go,” the bartender delivered Noah his shot.
“Two more buddy,” Noah said to the bartender. “I’m Noah, this is Eli. And who might you be?”
“I know who you are,” The stranger said in the same low, scratchy voice. He didn’t look at Noah or Eli, from what Noah could tell. He just stared down at the ground. Noah could barely see his chin move when he spoke.
“Well, great,” Noah said. He stole a glance over the man’s shoulder looking for the rest of his gang. “We still have no idea who you are, friend.”
The bartender clinked two more full shot glasses in front of Noah.
“Ah, our drinks,” the stranger said.
“Mister,” Eli said his eyes darted around the room. Never focusing on one spot, and never looking at the man seated next to Noah, “the man here asked you are question. You gonna answer it?”
Noah could tell Eli was ready to get this over with, but Noah wanted to know who the man was before they shot him.
“You guys already know me,” the man reached for the shot glass, and picked it up but didn’t drink it.
“We do?” Noah asked, prepared to stand up and send the signal to his men.
“Sure you do. I’m not sure how you could forget me that quick.”
“Enough of this game bullshit, son. Who are ya?” Noah stood up as he spoke, Eli did the same. They expected the rest of the men to come charging out of the room when they did.
Noah looked behind him at the closed door to the secret room.
“They ain’t comin’ out, Noah, the place is closed,” the stranger said.
Noah looked around and the stranger was right. The saloon had been full the last time he looked; now it was deserted.
“What the hell is goin’ on?” Noah shouted. His eyes were wide and his heart raced, he could feel the warm stickiness of sweat building on the back of his neck. Noah moved toward the exit but the man put out his arm, stopping him.
“Sit down boys. We still need to have our drink.”
“Then we can leave? After our drink?” Eli asked.
“Of course. It’s just a nice drink between friends.”
Noah and Eli sat down, staring at the man next to them. The three of them huddled at the corner on the bar in the deserted saloon. Eli grabbed his drink first then Noah and finally the stranger picked his drink up again. The stranger held out his shot glass.
“To life-long friendship,” the stranger said. Noah and Eli said nothing and quickly downed their shots.
The stranger lifted his hand to his head and pulled off his hat, then raised his glass to his mouth which was still hidden by his hair. He tipped his head back, his hair fell behind his head, his face would have been visible to Noah and Eli if he wasn’t taking a drink. The stranger put his glass down and lowered his head, using his hand to keep his hair out of his face. Eli and Noah stared at the face of Jason Garret.
“Hi, boys!” Garret smiled at them. His eyes two perfect dark globes buried in his face, the stubble on his pale face about two days old.
“Jesus, Garret you, you’re…” Noah trailed off.
“Dead? Ya, I am dead. I died two days ago but I guess you could say I’m back to take you with me.”
“You, your hair?’ Eli said.
Garret stared at them. His skin peeled away from his face; blood dripped from the bones in his face as the paper-thin skin fell away. Garret stood up and moved toward the two men. Skin made tearing sounds at it detached itself from his face and fell to the floor in pieces leaving only the bone and blood of his face below. He towered over the two men.
“Garret, Jason, listen I—I was just— you killed my brother,” Noah said backing up into the corner of the saloon, his back pressed against the wall. The ghost continued to stalk them.
“He was guilty.” Garret said. “I saw him. And now you’re guilty too.”
Garret lunged toward the two men. Noah knelt on the ground and covered his head. The last thing he felt was the ghost’s breath on the back of his neck.
It felt like a cool breeze.
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