LDJM Revised 1

The Life and Death of James Moore

Part 1

Chapter 1

The sun was blazing in the southwestern sky, sending shadows racing toward the approaching night. It was late in the afternoon, the lazy, molasses-slow time, when the events of the day are all but played out. As close as the world could be to dusk, the heat still pressed around a little town, as hot as noon in hell. In the dusty street no one dared to step a foot and no horses stirred at their hitching posts.

A wooden creak rolled heavily through the empty air. Three men sat in rocking chairs on the wooden, covered sidewalk outside of the saloon. One of the men held a shotgun across his lap, 12 gauge, another a Winchester rifle, his hand on the trigger. The third rested his hand on the butt of a pistol he wore across his body. All the men wore clothes suggesting they had ridden in from a great distance.

The man with the shotgun looked to the man with the rifle.

"It's almost time, Boss." He spoke the words in a low voice, a trace of a Mexican accent flavoring his words. Those words did not nag, but held a weary finality to them.

The man called Boss nodded as he kept his chair tilting back and forth, back and forth, to some unheard rhythm. His chair was the only one that moved. The other two men kept their feet still, but the man with the pistol ran his thumb up and down the hammer of his gun in time to the boss' chair.

All three watched intently the southern end of town. There the dusty street bled out into a rambling road traveling south and then west, boulder-strewn foothills in both directions. The sunlight glanced off of dust hanging above the ground causing the air to glow a ruddy brown, the shimmering deception of the desert.

Through the shifting view, a figure began to emerge from the haze. The man with the pistol sat forward on his chair, his grip tightening around the butt of the weapon. Boss' rocking stopped. Although he did not alter his casual pose, he puffed with greater intensity on the thin cigarette held between his lips. A tongue appeared and transferred the smoke to the corner of his mouth. The two men turned to look at him.

Boss never took his eyes off the approaching person, his eyes tracking the man's every movement with an air of indifference. Boss inclined his head toward the motionless batwing doors to his left.

"Bernardo." He said softly.

The man with the shotgun stood with a scuff of heel on wood and pushed through the swinging doors, the sound of his steps echoing in dull clanks offset by the merrier jingling of his spurs. From inside the saloon rose muffled sounds of protest from a wide cast of people. One cried louder than the rest.

"Don't you touch her!" An indignant man called out.

Then came the sound of an open hand on flesh and a body hitting the hollow floor.

Boss and the man with the pistol sat through the disturbance, their faces showing no indication that they heard or cared about what was happening inside. Bernardo's boots returned, this time accompanied by the daintier boots of a woman, their uneven staccato a counter beat to the steady drum of Bernardo's steps.

The door to the saloon swung open again, outwards this time, and the man pushed through a lady in front of him. She was gagged with her hands tied in front of her, the simple blue dress she wore was wrinkled from sitting for so long and her bustle was askew. Tears left tracks down a dirt-smudged face. Bernardo remained several steps behind her, his shotgun leveled at the small of her back.

"No funny business, darlin'." He drawled. "You know the drill." The lady did not dignify his words with any attempted response of her own.

The boss rose to his feet. Following suit, the man with the pistol rose a moment later.

"What do you think Andy?" This time, the boss addressed the man to his left. Andrews leaned against the railing of the sidewalk and looked down the street to his right, his hand never leaving his pistol. The figure in the distance was much closer now, almost to the edge of the town, where the buildings begun and the desert scrub ended.

"It looks like him, sir." He looked up the street to the northern part of town, the steeple of the small church a mere shadow in the fading light. His gaze trailed to the other street, running away from the saloon, east, out into the plains and prairies. "And he actually looks to be alone." The boss grunted his agreement. "Dead by any means?" Andrews asked in his clipped way. A slight nod answered his question.

The woman, who until now had ignored the men, inhaled harshly against the rope in her mouth. Bernardo frowned, prodding her in the back with the barrel of his shotgun, and she froze again.

The first traces of emotion - anger - broke through the calm on Boss' face. "Dead by any means." He affirmed again. "No trial for him to talk his way out of, no faultily secured prison. I want him gone." The anger betrayed by his voice manifested most in his last guttural, growling word. It was final, it was judge and jury enough to condemn a man.

Boss seemed to realize that he had lost his composure. He made sure his hat was straight on his head as he took a deep breath. When his hand came down his mask was once again flawless.

The man approaching had halved the distance between them once again; he was now no more than thirty yards away. All three of the men and the woman, their hostage, could plainly see this was the man was who they were waiting for.

"Drop your gun." Boss' words were no louder than if he were having a conversation, but in the still air of the afternoon, the sound carried well. The man stopped where he stood, eyes evaluating the situation. His left hand went to the pistol belted at his side.

Bernardo ducked further into the lady's shadow, keeping out of the man's line of fire. Their hostage tried to speak, some last words of meaning, but the gag obfuscated them into a meaningless cry. The man's eyes were full of sorrow as he slowly drew the gun from its holster with the tips of his fingers and held it out, away from his side.

"Dead." the boss said again to Andrews at his side, words that the man in the street could hear clear too.

At his word, the man corrected his grip on his pistol and brought the barrel up and around, realizing, too late, that the boss had not intended to arrest him again. Two shots rang out in the ruddy haze. The man crumpled to the ground, the gun no longer in his hand.

The lady let out a scream around the gag and ran to where he lay, heedless of the shotgun or her bound hands. Neither prevented her from reaching her destination where she sank to her knees in the dirt and lowered her head, shaking.

The three men followed at a slower pace, Boss in the lead, Andrews casually reloading two of the bullets in his revolver, letting the expended shells fall to the ground with little regard. Behind the trio a man from the saloon, outfitted the same as the three outside, cautiously pushed aside one door to see what had taken place.

Both of the shots had struck true their target; the man lay in the dusty street with a graze on his hand and a hole in his chest. Boss pushed the woman out of his way with a knee. She lost her balance and fell to her side, elbow digging into the ground as she tried to catch herself. With one boot, he prodded the man's head. Hazel eyes stared at the cloudless sky, unseeing and unmoving.

That was enough to satisfy the boss. He turned and walked back toward the saloon, leaving Bernardo and Andrews standing with the body and the woman. After a beat they followed their boss, leaving the woman where she lay, righting herself with care. The men looked to Boss questioningly as he swung open the doors to go inside.