In many stories the protagonist is such an aggressive force that they overpower everything in the story. In “Remorseful Kinda” the protagonist, David, isn’t the brazen, uncaring personality that you’d expect from a bounty hunter. — ed, N.E. Lilly
by Ian Welke ©2008
David is five or six kilometers away from town before he stops to camp. No sense in going in half-cocked, he smiles, always best to go in whole cocked, and he laughs.
After his horse is watered and his tent pitched he flips open the hand held again to get another look at the wav and the picture of his target. “Dead or alive, they didn’t specify, and that’s tough luck for you son,” he says to the picture on the screen. “Never did have much luck with the alive specified jobs no how.”
He doesn’t worry too much about making a fire. So close to town near the road, there were plenty of fires from travelers, not to mention the numerous campfires from the shantytown to the west. Other smaller camps... on this moon he needs to be more careful. Giving away his position there, the law and whomever else the devil of misfortune sends tend to take an undue interest in a lone fire.
He sleeps in well enough past the dawn, and takes his time knocking down his camp. No sense in going into town in the morning, this isn’t a rush job. He wants to keep the low profile, at least until the shooting starts.
There are three bars in this town. He skips the largest, and heads to the lesser of two dives. He hasn’t had lunch yet, so he starts with beer. They claim to have core system brews in bottles. “I’ll have the local suds you have on tap,” he says through his crooked smile.
The bartender gives a half hearted “you’re all right” grin, and pours a mug full. He’s sitting at a table with a half dozen empty mugs when they come for him. He sees them coming through the doors through the bottom of a shot glass he’s just downed. He sets it down and tries not to slur. “Damn. Y’all looked a lot smaller a second ago.”
“We’re the law in this town,” the fat one in the center says. “We’d like to know your business here.”
“Drinking is my business, as you can probably tell from the state of the table.”
“And what about your guns,” the fat one seems to be doing all the talking.
“Are you the sheriff?”
“Deputy. And answer my question.”
“My guns are for my protection. This is a rough town. Does your jurisdiction end at the city limits, or does it also cover the roads and the spaceport?”
An older, thinner man speaks now, the Sheriff David guesses. “The feds cover the port, but you know that don’t ya? You wouldn’t be dumb enough to take those handguns into that place would ya?”
“No sir,” he answers trying not to laugh, but the empty glasses on the table outnumber him. “Y’all are on duty, but if y’all care to join me for a drink, I’d buy.” He notices several empty shot glasses amongst the beer mugs and frowns at remembering neither their arrival nor their contents departure.
“I think maybe you’ve had enough,” the Sheriff says. “I think maybe you’re in town to collect on a bounty from off world. And since you don’t have the means of getting a man through the port’s security, I believe you have designs to kill a man in my town.”
David smiles and forces his head back to look the man in the eye, but over shoots the mark and finds himself staring at the ceiling. “I wouldn’t want to take any action that would create trouble for you sir,” he says or he thinks he says. He’s pretty sure he’s slurring and his memory is bad enough he might have already said a variation on the theme more than once in the course of the conversation.
David wakes up on a cold floor next to a toilet. He rolls over and notices iron bars where he’d normally expect a wall to be. “The drunk tank, eh,” he asks no one. The cell is empty except for him. “At least the ceiling ain’t spinning. I hate that.”
“There’s a glass of water on the other side of the can,” the fat deputy from the bar is watching the cell from a chair he barely fits into.
David sits up. There’s a cot to his right. “I see I chose the comfort of the floor last night,” he says patting the mattress on the cot.
“That’s where we left you. Figured the floor would be easier to clean up if you voided yourself.”
David looks around and moves his hand quickly across the front and back of his trousers. “Looks as though I’ve escaped unscathed.”
The man snorts. “It’s a wonder that. I guess God really does watch over drunks.”
A door swings open somewhere and light floods in for a moment making David wince. The sheriff produces a set of keys and opens the door to his cell. The sheriff sits on the cot. He offers a place on the cot, but David winces and gives a look to say that the effort to move from the floor seems like a lot.
“Suit yourself,” says the Sheriff. “You have the air of a man of experience. It’s most likely useless for me to make threats, you know that I can’t really hold you here, but you also know that we’re keeping an eye on you while you’re in town.”
“Yessir,” David nods trying the most respectful expression he can muster.
“I’m turning you loose now. But instead of telling you to watch yourself, I’m just gonna say that there comes a time in every man’s life where he needs to reflect on the things he’s done and what he’s gonna do next and see if he can live with it.”
“Yessir,” David said again. “I mean, I know just what you mean. And I respect that, enough so that I’ll do all I can to avoid causing you any trouble.”
Back in the bar, nearing the bottom of another glass, he sees the bounty walk through the doors and sit at a table with four other men. David orders another drink, just to avoid reaching for his gun. He doubts they’d see him touch steel, but it’d be a tell if he did. In his younger days, putting one in the back of the man’s head and then spraying the table while he backed out the door would’ve been his first option. Drinking another glass, and thinking over what the sheriff had said, he figured he’d wait for them to get good and drunk and see where they went from here. “The sheriff won’t mind so long as it ain’t in town,” he mutters and then shakes his head hard surprised he said the thought out loud at all.
After another shot David starts to pace himself: one drink for every two rounds they order, he thinks, got to drink enough to keep the hands steady. After a short while it’s not much trouble letting them outpace him, as their drinks are arriving at the table quicker than he’d drink normally, and their table is the loudest in the bar.
From what David can hear from the shouts and just overloud conversation, which at times is louder than the music and general bar hum of the place, the men at the table are old friends from off world, he’d worked with or gone to school with them in one of the core planets. Wonder what he’s doing on this shit hole, David sneers.
Hours have passed and David can’t remember how many shots he’s had even with using the fingers on both hands. He’s thinking about taking off his boots, when the table of men clumsily stands and makes their weaving way to the doors. David waits till they hit the door to through down a wad of paper credits on the bar, worries for a second if his bar tab is significantly cutting in or even over taking the profit margin, before shaking his head hard hoping for bearings but hearing only rattling. He stops to tie his shoes to give them a head start and let the world steady.
He follows at a long distance, not that they appear to be on the look out, till they enter the town’s main hotel. David frowns. He would have preferred to catch up with them on a road outside of town, especially with the man acting pretty incautiously for having a bounty on his head. He smiles in a half sneer; the stupid ones always get caught. He lights a cigarette as he spots the sheriff’s man that’s been following him. David stops to spit, and walks across the way, looks around a bit as though he’s lost, then sees his horse and heads that way. He rides out of town. When he’s sure the man stopped following him past the town’s limits, he rides back to town by a different direction. He avoids the main road, and ties his horse to a tree branch a few hundred meters behind the hotel.
He feels the dehydration from the day’s drinking in his head and throat. The task being at hand keeps him awake and on his feet at least. He sees no sign of anyone watching the hotel from the outside, but even drunk he knows that doesn’t me they aren’t out there. The lobby is still busy. He realizes that it isn’t as late as he thought, just feels that way from so much booze during the day. He starts towards the front desk, considering the words for fooling or bribing the attendant into giving him the room number, but then he overhears the attendant talking about the third noise complaint on a room on the third floor, and so he hits the stairs instead.
There’s a trail of vomit from the ice machine to the room, not that it would be necessary to follow anyway; the noise is enough. No music, just the loud voices of several drunk men. At the door he draws the gun in the left holster, and holds it with the left, his off hand, leveling it gut level at the door. With his right, he knocks. “Room service,” he says, standing close enough to the door that all they’ll see through the peephole would be his face.
“We didn’t order anything,” a drunk yell from inside. Someone else starts arguing with the voice hoping for some free grub.
“It’s been ordered and cooked,” David says. “If it’s our mistake, the food may as well not go to waste.”
This seems to pique the interest of the other voice, but the one that answered initially says “This could be a trick Charlie. You know there’s a bounty for you.”
The hard way, Charlie thinks, and pulls the other gun with his right hand. “If there’s a problem I’ll just take it back to the kitchen,” he says rolling his eyes a bit.
“Step back from the door so I can get a better look at you mister,” the same voice calls, closer now, his face pressed against the door.
“Sure thing,” David says smiling, and he snap aims and fires a shot with his right hand through the peephole followed a hair of a second later by a shot with the left through the middle of the door.
He hears a body drop as he kicks open the door, but the door is blocked by the fallen man and snaps back, the lock now busted, the door smacks back and forth until it settles only a few centimeters open. David hears screams of panic from inside, and steps to the side as the return fire begins. He hears seven shots initially, but only two new holes appear in the door. Panic fire, he thinks. He glances quickly at the door both a bit annoyed and afraid as to how to move body or get in. He doesn’t think there’s enough time to go around to the window or see if there’s an adjoining door between rooms. David shrugs, and falls to the floor.
He smiles when he hears “holy shit I think we got him,” and then frowns when that’s followed by “don’t check there could be more of them, quick out the window.”
He kicks higher on the door, but it just splinters mid way. Two more kicks near the bottom hinge, and he’s got the bottom half toppled over the body of the lookout. He crawls over the man, seeing the last pair of boots go out the window. He can hear a commotion in the hall now as well, probably not the law yet, but the hotel security is likely armed. He stands and runs toward the open window. There’s a man on the fire escape that fires a handgun wildly in the air. David jumps through the window and pistol-whips the man before he gets off another shot. “If you would have opened the door only one of you would have needed to get hurt,” he says as he disarms the man.
He sees his target and another man running out of town. He fires a shot that lands short behind him. He swears and after the first flight of steps lower he jumps the rest. He’s limping towards his horse when he hears the sheriff’s fat deputy shouting for him to stop. Even with the limp he out paces the fat one, but he knows the others will be on their way soon.
On his horse now the deputy and most the town are well behind him. He catches up with his bounty still at the outskirts of town. Both the men are firing wildly. One of them has a sawed off, but he fires it far too early instead of waiting for David to close. David puts two into the man with the shotgun. No sense in letting him reload that thing, he might actually hit me. He turns his attention to his target, who is putting a new clip into his handgun, but drops it and says “I have money. I can pay you more than the bounty if you let me go.”
“Sorry son,” David says. “You see there comes a time in every man’s life when he needs to reflect on the things he’s done and what he’s going to do next and see if he can live with it. I can live with killing you. But I can’t accept that I’d abandon a job once I’ve accepted it. Which is your tough luck. Like I say, I am sorry.” He puts a shot through the man’s skull. He pulls the handheld out to get a shot of the corpse, but decides to put some distance between himself and the town before transmitting the job’s completion.
As he gets on the horse he says, “and I suppose I’m a bit sorry for causing you the trouble Sheriff.” He rides off fast, not wanting to stick around to apologize in person.
Ian Welke lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. When he’s not at work or busy writing, Ian can be found stumbling back and forth between his home and the many nearby pubs.