Jonas sprawled in the dirt, clutching his jaw and squinting through the rising dust his impact had thrown up from the dry ground of main street. Blood-tinted spittle soaked into the scuffle marks and began to fade, drying quickly in the baking heat. Glancing upwards, the silhouette that had punched Jonas down now stood protectively over him.
"Git up boy..." the mocking voice with its slow drawl called over from across the street.
A dry, gravely response grated from the shadowy silhouette, its weathered leather gloved hands clenched and brushed back the coat revealing the gunbelt and the holster hanging just off the hip. "Leave him be... Hofflund."
Jonas' head began to clear from the punch, although still groggy, he began to ask the stranger why he had hit him, why he stopped him from facing that murderous lout Hofflund but only got as far as adjusting his weight - trying to push himself up - and opening his mouth. The words died in Jonas' throat and his slowly raising hand fell limp and lay in the dirt at his side...
Now the boy was silenced before he even began to become a distraction. The silhouette returned its attention to the sweaty, unshaven and swaggering fool forty or so paces away.
"I ain't got no beef wit you mistuh... this ain't yuh fight. I jus' want the.." the voice abruptly stopped,
Hofflund began to back away from the slowly approaching stranger. "oh sweet Jesus... it can't be... oh Christ... it wasn't me!"
The weathered, leather-gloved hand flexed, suspended above the handle of the holstered six-shooter, and slowly continued onwards as Hofflund began panicking like a hysterical woman who'd never seen a redskin before.
"Billy-Bob... Rufus... McKintyre.." the dry voice slowly gave up the names which only unsettled the murderous bully more. The stranger's advance came to a halt. "...time for the reunion Hofflund. Time to..."
Sweat streamed down Hofflund's wide-eyed face, pudgy fingers scrambled and tore free the gun from his hip. Few men had the speed of Hofflund: even when drunk he was one of the fastest men to draw iron. Three shots rang out, one flew off wildly, another ripped a gash across the unflinching sleeve of the stranger and the third spat pieces of flesh as it passed through his unwavering torso.
Hofflund cursed, his six-shooter jammed, his footing faltered.
The gunsmoke cleared, wafting down main street as the echoing shots faded away leaving only hushed silence.
Slowly the gloved hand of the stranger closed around the grip of the tarnished handgun and lifted it from its holster to aim it at Hofflund. "Time to pay the piper Hofflund... your boys are waiting for you."
A single shot rang out and abruptly silenced the panicked scream of its target. The stranger's six-shooter circled backwards around the gloved hand, twirling on the leather trigger-finger, and slid back into the holster from where it came as Hofflund dropped to his knees. The jammed gun dropped from the opening hand, Hofflund keeled over and collapsed into the dust.
A single bird cawed in the distance as the stranger began to walk off down main street towards the growing dust cloud, now blowing into town. Jonas, whose face was spattered with dead flesh from the strangers wound, quietly watched the gunslinger disappear into the blanketing cloud of swirling dust.
The unforgettable image of the stranger's face had silenced
Jonas as quick as a mule's kick to his manhood: Those haunted
eyes, and the severed stitches that had once sewn the dead lips
closed, would haunt the boy for the rest of his life.