The Legacy

Joey had run alongside the horse for a while, at least until Cole had reached the gate, his thin legs pumping and his breath coming in quick gasps.

"Think you're fast enough?" the boy had questioned every minute of the way. "Guess we'll find out," Cole eventually told his little brother. "I'll either come back famous or in a wooden box."

"Wanna be buried next to Paw?" Joey asked with a grin.

"Well ain't you just plumb fulla confidence?" replied Cole, nudging the grey stallion through the fence posts.

"I'll look out fer the young'uns while you're gone," said Joey, suddenly serious, "and Ma too, but I sure do hope she quits that bawlin' soon."

Cole nodded and leaned down to shake the boy's hand. "You do that, pardner."

The trail went on further than Cole had expected. Seemed like every time he pulled into a town, Bart Johnson had just pulled out. The man was a slippery customer, never hanging around anywhere for any length of time...just long enough to enhance his reputation with a couple more showdowns and leave a dead body or two in his wake.

Cole was becoming anxious. The more time it took to find him, the more chance there was somebody else would get the honor first. He hoped to catch up with Bart before the gunslinger's well of good fortune finally ran dry. As luck would have it, he happened to hit Amarillo the evening after Bart Johnson rode in. Tethering his horse outside the Silver Dollar, Cole walked in and ordered a beer.

"To wash the taste of mother's milk outta ya throat?" asked the bartender with a crude guffaw. Cole ignored the remark. He hadn't travelled all those miles to take down a loud-mouthed barkeep.

"Bart Johnson in here?" he asked. The bartender nodded, pointing to a table in the rear where four cowboys were playing poker. "He's the one..."

"I know which one he is," interrupted Cole, absently-mindedly stroking the high-riding pistols worn across his chest in the fashion of the late, great John Wesley Hardin.

"Don't be a fool son," cautioned the barkeep. "Ain't no man alive faster'n him."

Cole laughed. "There's always someone faster!"

Bart Johnson's eyes were listless as he looked up at the young, would-be hero. He appeared much older than Cole had expected. Lines of tension and stress were etched deep into his face. His body had a tired slouch about the shoulders. Cole couldn't believe the man had yet to see the age of thirty-five.

"Be on 'bout ya business boy," the gunfighter said wearily. "I ain't lookin' fer no trouble here. Just wanna a nice quiet card game and some Texas whiskey."

He beckoned to a sweet-faced young thing in a red dress who was hovering by the bar. She sashayed over. Motioning toward Cole, Bart slipped her a crisp bill. She tucked inside her tight bustiere.

"Now take that there kid upstairs...show him what a good time really amounts to." He gave her a hearty slap on the rump. She giggled and tugged on Cole's sleeve.

"It don't get no better'n this honey," she whispered. "Already bought and paid for!"

Cole shook her off. He hadn't travelled all those miles to be fraternizing with no cheap whore neither.

"Scared?" he sneered, knocking the cards out of Bart's hand. The three cowpokes at the table instinctively moved out of the way. Bart sighed and gathered up the scattered ace, jack and three deuces.

"Why doncha just take Molly an' go on upstairs, boy?" he asked. "Maybe she'll make a man outta ya!"

Cole kicked the chair out from underneath the slow-talking Bart. "Why doncha just get ta ya feet so I can show ya how much of a man I already am?" he scoffed. "Or are ya waitin' until my back's turned? Way I heard it, that's how ya do mosta ya killin' anyways!"

Bart ran his fingers through his thick, curly hair. The accusations were depressingly familiar. He'd heard them dozens of times...hell, he'd even said them himself once.

"Guess ya backed me into a corner, son," he said reaching for his gun.

Cole whooped in triumph as the bullet ripped through Bart Johnson's heart. "Who's the fastest now?" he asked the dying man, wondering why Bart was smiling. "You didn't even have time ta get ya pistol halfway outta the holster!" He bent down to catch the last whispered words.

They had no choice but to acquit Cole of murder. He had witnesses who swore that Bart had gone for his gun first. There were some hefty rewards to be collected too between Amarillo and the Rio Grande. Except that Cole never appeared to make much headway in getting to the border or in claiming the money along the way. Seemed like every town he pulled into, there was always some hotheaded kid with a gun, either already there or on his trail, with somethin' to prove, no matter how much he tried to explain that he weren't lookin' fer no trouble, justa bit o' peace and quiet.

He hadn't had a good night's sleep in months and sometimes wondered how Ma and Joey and the young'uns were doing back on the farm...wondered if they'd heard and whether Joey was stuttin' like a prize turkey.

Sometimes, when he was alone and it was real dark, he remembered Bart Johnson's dying words. They didn't mean much at the time. He knew different now.

"Enjoy the legacy!"

Back to Scribbles