Brandon McLeod, Senior, Criminal Justice, Albuquerque, NM
If everything went according to plan, Blazin’ Johnny Belmont would be dead before sunrise.
He’d been running from the law for longer than he could remember. His reputation had grown to such infamy that the US Marshals placed a five-thousand-dollar bounty on him. Wanted dead or alive. With such a price on a man’s head, there weren’t many places he could hide. That was, until he arrived here.
Hell’s Half Acre. Fort Worth, Texas.
Amidst the town’s murderous gamblers and greedy marauders, Belmont was just one in a crowd of many.
As he sat with his whiskey at the poker table of the Red Light Saloon, he listened to the rowdy card players curse President Grant and The Union. A wry smile crept across his face. Everyone there, even the dealer, had been too drunk and riled up to notice the spare cards Belmont was pulling from his sleeve all night. He quietly gathered his large pile of winnings and departed from the game.
“Didn’t expect a man with your kind of luck to leave the table so soon.”
Belmont, now at the bar, turned to find a woman dressed in black by his side. The same woman he’d caught gazing at him several times throughout the night.
“Gets old after a while,” Belmont replied. “Taking money from a bunch of drunkards.”
“If you’re tired of taking, maybe it’s time to start spending.” The woman dressed in black moved closer, sliding her hand across his leg.
A prostitute, just as Belmont thought. He’d certainly been with his fair share over the years. Knew one when he saw one.
“How do I know you’d be worth it?” Belmont said, looking her over.
“Tell you what. If I can’t make your night, it’s no charge.”
Belmont liked the sound of that, he wasn’t one to pass on free entertainment.
The woman dressed in black led him to her room at the inn across the street. She locked the door behind them. Gave a sultry look as she placed her hands on Belmont’s shoulders.
“Go make yourself comfortable. I’ll take your coat.”
Belmont obliged, positioning himself on the bed as she moved towards the foot of it. He took in the sight of her.
“Why do you dress in all black like that? Looks like you’re going to a funeral.”
“Maybe I am.”
“That so?” Belmont snickered. “Whose?”
She didn’t answer–just looked at him for a long moment before speaking, “You ever been to Dodge City?”
The hairs on the back of Belmont’s neck stood up. He’d been to Dodge City alright. Found a good deal of trouble while there.
“What do you care where I’ve been?” He noticed the woman dressed in black had taken on a different demeanor. Something about the look in her eyes concerned him.
“Reason I ask is to see if you’ve ever come across a family by the name of Abernathy out there.”
The name sounded familiar, but Belmont couldn’t place it immediately.
“Can’t say I recall any such folk.”
“It’s a real shame what happened to them, you know.”
“Why’s that?” Belmont shifted uncomfortably, his pulse starting to accelerate.
“They’ve fallen on some awful hard times of late. Money’s real tight, not sure they’ll be able to buy enough goods to last the winter. Especially with three young mouths to feed.”
“And? What’s this got to do with me?” Belmont wanted out. He started to slide his hand over to his trusty six shooter. A .45 Colt revolver he kept in his–
In his coat. The coat she was holding.
“You see, these poor folk started having all their problems when the head of the household perished unexpectedly. Killed in a bank robbery of all things.”
That’s when the memory came rushing back to Belmont. Some while ago, he and his former associates stuck up a Dodge City bank looking for a score. The teller behind the counter got smart with him, said he’d never outrun the law. Belmont made an example of the man by firing a bullet directly through his skull.
That man’s name was Gregory Abernathy.
Belmont moved to charge the woman dressed in black. He was quick, but she was quicker. She whipped the .45 Colt revolver out of his coat and had it pointed directly at his head before he could even sit up.
“That’s far enough.”
“Who are you? What do you want?” Belmont was furious with himself for letting his guard down. He’d evaded the law for all those years, but now here he was. Staring down the barrel of his own gun in the hands of a woman he’d never even seen before tonight.
“You’re worth an awful lot of money to the law. I’m here to collect.”
“If it’s money you’re after, I can get you more than a mere five thousand dollars.” A bead of sweat ran down Belmont’s face. His mind raced to think of something, anything he could do to survive.
“Dirty poker winnings won’t cut it. No matter how many aces you got up your sleeve.”
“That was nothing. I can get you triple what–”
“This isn’t a negotiation.”
The look in her eyes told Belmont he was out of moves. He was paralyzed as the woman dressed in black moved up onto the bed. Kneeled on his torso and pressed the cold steel of his gun directly between his eyes. Pulled the hammer back.
“That funeral I’m going to… it’s yours.”
* * *
Some four hundred miles away, Sara found herself face-to-face with a barren cupboard. She hadn’t eaten in three days, her children in a day-and-a-half. If she couldn’t put food on her family’s table soon, she’d have to send her son and his two sisters to go live with their aunt in Wichita.
At least they wouldn’t starve there.
The thought was unbearable to Sara. Her husband would’ve known what to do. He’d been gone for a long while though.
Just as she bowed her head in solemn prayer, there came a knock at the door. Unsure of who the visitor could be, she walked to the front of the house and swung the door open.
Nobody was there. But something had been placed on the porch.
Sara went over to the object. A canvas sack of some kind. She tried to lift it, but it was far too heavy for her malnourished arms. As she knelt beside it, a peculiar symbol caught her attention.
The emblem of the US Marshals. Printed on the facing of the canvas sack.
Filled with curiosity, she tore open the sack. Inside were stacks and stacks of bank notes. It was easily the largest sum of money she’d ever held in her life.
Tears began to well up in her eyes, she felt as though she could hardly breathe. Her every prayer had just been answered.
That’s when Sara Abernathy looked up to see a woman dressed in black riding off into the distance.
Another outlaw eliminated.
Another victim avenged.
Next stop: The Colorado Territory.
Another bounty to collect.