Chapter 1

Of course, I don't remember any of the details, but this is what I was told had happened:

I'm Jack Hazard, an' I'm a bounty hunter. I had just spotted Arlo Jenkins at the bar, an' he was worth $200. That was too much money ta let slip by, so I waltzed up behind him an' stuck my gun muzzle in his ribs on his right side. My S&W .44-40 was cocked as I said, "Arlo Jenkins, ya are under arrest. Come with me an' nobody will git hurt."

I had hardly got that out of my mouth when Jenkins twisted away from me an' a friend of his cracked a filled beer bottle on the back of my head. Both Jenkins an' his friend took off, leavin' me lyin' on the saloon floor. I was knocked completely out an' didn't know what was goin' on. Well, I have some friends, too, an' they took care of me. Whenever I'm in town, I stay at the Widow Jones' boardin' house. Anyway, they stopped the bleedin' from my scalp an' hauled me ta my room at the boardin' house on a door they used as a stretcher.

I was right friendly with Mrs. Jones, too, soz she looked after me while I was unconscious. The best part of her lookin' after me was that she didn't let the local doctor touch me! I knew that I wouldn't be here ifen he'd got his paws on me in my delicate condition. Well, I was out fer two days afore I got my senses back, but I had the strongest notion that people was shoutin' inside my head fer about an hour afore I woke up.

The most strikin' thin' was that I could recognize the people from their voices. It was just like they was standin' right beside me an' talkin', but there wasn't nobody in the room but me. I listened ta those voices fer a while, an' let me tell y'all, they was sayin' some might funny an' some mighty foolish thin's, but it was like I was the only one what could hear them.

After a while, Mrs. Jones said, "I guess I better check on Jack again. I sure hope he wakes up pretty soon. Ifen he don't, he's gonna die of thirst!"

Yeah, now that she mentioned it, I did notice that I was damned thirsty, an' I would easily settle fer a glass of water, though I really preferred coffee or beer. I woke up, I guess, when Mrs. Jones came through the door. She looked at me an' said, "Land a Goshen, Jack! I sure am glad ta see ya with yer eyes open. I was afeared that ya was gonna die on us." Then she said, "Jack sure is a nice man, an' I'll bet that he would make a good bed partner, based on what I seen when I held him while he pissed." But that last bit was said without her ever movin' her mouth! What was that all about!?! I was so startled that I didn't say nothin' 'bout that last sentence. Mrs. Jones, Alice, was always so nice ta me that I didn't want ta embarrass her, or nothin'.

"Jack, I'll bet ya are so thirsty that ya would drink most anythin! I'll be right back with a glass of water for ya. Now, don't ya try ta git up while I'm gone, 'cause ya've had quite a crack on the head."

OK, that explained the bandage an' the monster headache I've got, but it don't explain them voices. Or does it? Oh, well, maybe I kin git the whole story when Mrs. Jones gits back. Hey! What the hell? I'm naked under this here sheet! Did Mrs. Jones do that!?!

About that time, I heard Mrs. Jones' voice in my head again. "Dammit, I'm beginnin' ta hate these blasted stairs. Ifen I'd a knowed what was gonna happen, I'd of put Jake in one of the rooms downstairs. Heh, heh. That would of given the town gossipers somethin' ta talk about. My bedroom is the only one on the ground floor. Well, I sure could go fer Jake ifen he would just look at me that way."

Mrs. Jones came through the door with a glass of water still cool from the well. I sure did appreciate that there kindness, an' I told her so. "Jake Hazard, there ain't no need fer ya ta be carryin' on like I done ya a great favor. I just brung ya some of the same water what all the rest of us drink."

Well, I didn't think no more about it, except that I did remember wishin' that the water she brought would be nice an' cool. I was a lot more interested in what she could tell me about how I got here in bed with a bandage an' a headache. "Mrs. Jones, would ya be so kind as ta tell me what happened ta me? I don't remember nothin' after I stuck my gun muzzle in Arlo Jenkins' ribs."

"Jake, I done asked ya afore ta stop callin' me 'Mrs. Jones.' Ya know good an' well that my name is Alice, an' I want ya ta call me by that name."

"OK, OK, Alice. I'll try ta remember. Now, answer my question, ifen ya please."

"Jake, all I know fer sure is what Otis Brown told me when they brung ya here after the incident. The story I heard was that ya braced Arlo Jenkins at the bar without bein' careful enough 'bout yer back. Harley Smith walked in just as ya stuck yer gun in Jenkins' ribs. He was behind ya, an' he grabbed up a beer bottle what was on the bar. He looked like he swung that bottle as hard as he could ta hit ya on the head with it. I guess ya was lucky that ya had yer hat on, though I kin't see how that could have made that much difference.

"Anyway, yer gun went off an' probably put a big powder burn on Jenkins' side, but he had twisted far enough that the bullet missed him. Whatever the case, he an' Smith ran out, leavin' ya lyin' in a pool of blood. Ya know how head wounds bleed like there's no tomorrow, an' yer head was fillin' the bill. Otis slapped a reasonably clean rag he got from the bartender on yer head an' held it 'til the blood clotted. When that finally happened, four men brought ya ta me ta look after.

"We got ya ta this room an' the men left, all but Otis. He told me what I just told ya while we was gittin' yer clothes off. He held yer hips up a bit while I pulled yer pants off by the legs. Actually, the only tough part was gitin' yer boots off. How in the world do ya git them thin's on in the mornin'. I swear, ya must grease yer socks!" Her laugh at this statement almost covered her words in my head, "With a cock that big, how does he ever button his pants?"

My God! I had no idea decent women had thoughts like that there one!

Well, I had an interestin' three more weeks of recovery time, some of it in the bed, but most of the later time sittin' in Alice's parlor gittin' ta know her a whole lot better than I ever had afore. I've come ta think that gittin' bopped in the head kin sometimes be a good thin'.

I've had ta practice walkin' an' shootin' all over again. It amazed me how a blow ta the head kin mess up yer muscle coordination. It was nearly two months afore I was confident of my ability ta draw an' shoot as well as I needed ta. One change I did make was ta go from a regular draw ta a crossdraw. I ain't sure just what it was, but it was easier ta learn the crossdraw from scratch than it was ta relearn the regular draw. While I was about it, I added a gun fer my left hand, an' it seemed like I learned ta shoot with my left hand a hell of a lot quicker an' easier than I would have before my bang on the head. Another side advantage of the crossdraw was that I could safely carry six bullets in each gun instead of the customary five that most people used.

I hadn't given a whole lot of thought ta what my "hearin' voices" might do ta me, but I got a good lessen in that about three months after I was hit in the head. I was walkin' down the street mindin' my own business when I heard in my head a voice sayin', "There he is. This time I'll get rid of Jack Hazard fer good!"

Well, that got my attention real quick! I recognized the voice of Arlo Jenkins, an' I could tell exactly where he was: up on the roof of the hardware store across the street. Somehow, I could feel him brin' the aim of his Henry rifle toward me, an' I could feel him tightenin' his trigger finger. Shit, there wasn't no time ta waste! I dove behind a full waterin' trough just as I heard his gun go off.

I felt the bullet snag my shirt as I jumped off the sidewalk an' ta the ground. Thank God, I had the warnin', or I surely would have been deader than a doornail! I pulled out my pistol with my right hand—I still wasn't fully confident of what I could do shootin' with my left hand. That roof where Jenkins was hidin' was a long shot fer a pistol, but I didn't have nothin' else with me fer a weapon.

The other half of the question what was botherin' me was where Harley Smith might be. He an' Jenkins were real thick, an' I wouldn't be surprised ifen he was somewhere around ta help with my killin'. That's when I got two voices in my head.

The voice of Arlo Jenkins said, "God damn it! I don't know how it happened, but I missed. I hope Harley kin git a getter shot."

The voice of Harley Smith said, "I'll be damned! How did Arlo miss? Well, I kin see Hazard, soz I should be able ta pop him off ifen I kin git a few yards closer."

That's when I knew where Smith was. He was about a block away an' also carryin' a Henry, soz he should be shootin' pretty damned soon. I was protected from Jenkins by the waterin' trough, but Smith had a clean shot at me ifen he knew what he was about. I didn't dare move for fear of drawin' another shot from Jenkins, but I was gonna have ta do somethin' 'bout Smith pretty damned soon.

In a fit of desperation, I held my revolver in both hands an' leaned against the waterin' trough for extra stability. I lined Smith up in my sights an' willed my bullet ta strike him in the heart. I was very damned careful when I fired at Smith, so I was only mildly surprised when he fell ta the ground after the one shot. Shit, I knew that shot had ta be the best luck I'd ever had with a pistol shot, but I was always a little bit on the lucky side, so I figured that this was just one of those times.

However, I still had ta contend with Jenkins. He was standin' on the roof an' hidin' behind the false-front of the hardware store. In order ta shoot at me, he had ta expose some of his body above the edge of the false-front, an' that's when I planned ta take my next shot.

I sat up an' rested my elbows on the edge of the trough. I just sat there waitin' for Jenkins ta show himself. Somehow, I knew that he was gonna try at least one more time ta git me, soz all I needed was patience. I guess I sat there for a little more than five minutes afore I sensed Jenkins raisin' his body in preparation for his next shot.

I don't know how it worked, but I knew just exactly where his head was gonna show when he rose far enough. As soon as I was sure that he had enough of his head exposed, I fired. Again, I willed the bullet ta go where it was needed. There was a big splash of blood an' brains thrown up when the bullet contacted Jenkins head, so I knew that he had ta be dead.

What I was concerned about beyond that was whether or not his face would be recognizable enough ta let the marshal sign a receipt for his body. I was intent on collectin' that $200 for Jenkins if it could possibly be done. I wasn't worried about Smith. He had been shot in the chest, so his face would be undamaged an' the marshal wouldn't have an excuse for not lettin' me claim the $50 on him.

I stood up, an' that signaled ta everybody that the fight was over. The marshal came trottin' up an' assured me that it had been a fair fight as he saw it. The first thin' we did was ta collect Smith's body, an', sure enough, there was a bullet hole in his chest right over his heart. Both the marshal an' I were absolutely astounded by the fact that the bullet hole was square over Smith's heart. We knew that his death was essentially instantaneous because of the lack of blood around the wound.

The marshal called for the undertaker ta process Smith's body. The next job was bound ta be the messiest as we climbed ta the roof of the hardware store. There was a bloody splotch on the false-front an' on the roof. Jenkins' body was lyin' on his back, stretched out with his Henry very near his right hand. The interestin' thin' was that the bullet had entered Jenkins' head well above his eyes an' had been deflected downward ta take out the whole backside of his head. I guessed that the bullet had been deflected by the inside of Jenkins' skull. Whatever happened, his face was untouched an' a positive identification was easy ta make.

With no ceremony, the marshal simply rolled Jenkins' body off the roof an' let it flop into the alley after I had gone over him ta see what I might want ta salvage (otherwise known as "loot"). I picked up a little money from a moneybelt an' his pockets. I took his Colt Navy, his Henry, an' his bowie knife. They would brin' a little money when I sold them. I had done the same thin' with Smith, so I ought ta pick up as much as $50 from the men an' their horses. The catch on the profit from the horses was that I would have ta pay the livery stable fees afore I could claim them. Oh, well, everybody has ta make enough money ta eat.

Once thin's settled down, I dropped in on my favorite saloon fer a Mexican beer. The bartender knew my tastes, so he didn't even offer me none of the local swill. He had a beer ready ta pour fer me when he saw me walk in. I hadn't said anythin' ta anybody 'bout me hearin' "voices." Shit, I knew that as soon as I told somebody about them voices, the word would be all over town, an' I would be universally known as "that crazy ole coot."

Nevertheless, I did need ta spend some time cogitatin' about what them voices meant an' how I could use them. So far, it seems like I kin depend on what they tell me, but I'm still a little leery of dependin' too much on them. What I needed ta remember was that ifen I heard the voices, then I could believe what I was hearin', but I was not sure, yet, that the lack of voices meant that I was safe.

Also, I was wonderin' just how much trust I could put into my ability ta will where a bullet was gonna strike. Shit, that took a lot of concentration an' I wasn't sure that I would have the time fer that in the midst of a gunfight. Today, I had the time because there wasn't enough shots bein' fired ta give me a problem. But, when there's a lot of bullets flyin' around an' about, I would have ta stick ta my former practice of pointin' an' shootin'.

While I was sittin' in the saloon sippin' my beer, I had a big surprise. It was a damned hot day, an' I found myself wishin' that my beer was cooler. I didn't think much about it, but my next sip of the beer nearly scared me out of my socks! My beer was almost too cold! How the hell did that happen!?! I didn't say anythin' ta the people around me, but I noticed that my beer glass was gittin' so cold that water drops was startin' ta appear on it. Hell, that could attract too much attention!

I didn't know what would happen, but I wished that my beer would warm up enough so that the water drops wouldn't form. Ta my amazement, the beer did warm up a little. The beer was still cold enough ta be pleasant ta drink, but it wasn't so cold that it would attract unwanted attention.

This change in temperature was fascinatin'! Normally, one beer is my limit since my job makes it too dangerous ta be any less than completely in charge of my body. However, I was kind of on holiday, so I took a chance on havin' a second beer. The bartender was real surprised when I asked fer another beer, but he served up my order without argument.

This beer was just as warm as the first one, but this time I wished that the beer would cool off, but not get so cold that the water drops would form. I didn't know how cold in degrees that was, but I could remember what temperature it felt ta my hand, so I called fer it ta match that temperature. Damned if it didn't work! Hell, I was never gonna suffer with too-warm beer ever again!

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register