With one glance, Jarvis knew something was going down. Call it a premonition, if you must, for certainly there was nothing apparent that warranted such a feeling. He was exiting the General Store and looked across and down the dusty street to his next stop: the Saloon. It was before noon and for the several times a year he rode into town for supplies, there wouldn’t usually be many folks there this time of day. Often Jarvis would be the first.
Yet, when he saw the kid walking in, he wondered if he should reconsider his visit. Jarvis paused and let the ominous sensation pass. It was a sunny morning, with some horses and buckboards kicking up dust. The few people around could be heard exchanging greetings.
The saloon represented the highlight of his town visits and his store order wouldn’t be ready for a few hours. So he meandered over anyway, knowing there would be another patron.
As it turned out, Jarvis was the third. He took a seat at one of the corner tables, furthest from the two men at the right edge of the bar.
The kid glanced at Jarvis, but quickly returned his attention to the man he was facing.
It took a few seconds for Jarvis’s eyes to adjust to the darker interior. Although he wasn’t sure who the kid was, he immediately recognized the back of the man widely known as “The General.”
He had seen him on and off over the years and recalled his pa pointing him out when Jarvis was a youngster. His dad had served with The General in the Civil War when they were in their teens. Supposedly the name derived from his killing of a yank general. His dad stated that he killed a captain, but the story got exaggerated when they each independently moved west with their wives.
The General was readily identifiable by his confederate artillery hat, which looked like he had worn it every day for the past thirty-five years. Even when Jarvis was a kid, his dad had advised that The General was hard of hearing, as a result of his service as cannon crew.
Some years later Jarvis got word The General’s wife died, but their family didn’t go to the service. When Jarvis asked why, his pa was uncharacteristically slow to respond, but eventually remarked, “He’s not the best of company and wasn’t known for being kind to his woman.”
But The General had attentive company today. Except the kid wasn’t being friendly. He seemed to be badgering the old man about something.
The barkeeper appeared from the back carrying a crate of mugs. “Hey Jarvis, good to see you. You’re a little early, we don’t open for another 45 minutes.”
The kid turned to his left and protested, “But you served the heck out this old guy.”
The barkeeper surveyed the scene and lowered his voice. “Hey kid, you ought to head on outa here.”
“Well, those are unfriendly words for someone who just arrived.” The kid had a cocky way about him. “Go ahead and pour me a beer.”
The barkeep placed the box behind the bar, turned around and raised his voice before disappearing again, “Get on, now.”
The General paid no mind to anyone and downed a shot of whiskey. Jarvis observed five glasses lined up and now three were empty. That’s when Jarvis noticed the revolver laying on the bar, atop a hand towel, between the glasses and The General. Although Jarvis kept a rifle under a blanket in his wagon he only saw guns openly displayed like that in the store.
The kid turned to Jarvis. “That’s one rude proprietor. Why do you think he served this old guy and won’t serve us?”
“Perhaps he’s a better customer.”
“Heck yea. This guy’s a drunk!” The kid redirected his attention back to The General and spoke louder. “That sure looks like my old man’s pistol that disappeared when he was robbed and killed. How is it you done come across it?”
A fourth man walked in. Jarvis had never seen him before. He was as old as The General.
The stranger and the kid locked eyes. The new man announced with an Eastern accent, “Who’s the boy?”
The General didn’t budge but the kid was quick to retort, “I know why you’re here.” He looked back at the General. “The other night you guys made your arrangement loud enough for everyone in this place to hear, and word got back to me.” He gazed back to the stranger, still standing in the doorway, “That revolver belonged to my dad and someone killed him for it.” He then spoke even louder, in the direction of The General’s left ear. “I’m here to find out.” The kid reached for a concealed handgun under his jacket and instantly The General snatched the revolver from the bar and smashed it across the kid’s face.
The kid’s hands flung in the air. His gun flicked towards the door as he landed several feet behind, knocking over a table and chair. Crumbled on the floor, he lay dazed, bleeding and moaning.
The stranger kicked the gun further away from everyone and walked up to The General, who wiped the fresh blood from the revolver and handed it over for inspection. The stranger opened and closed the cylinder. With some mild surprise, he remarked, “It’s loaded.” The stranger turned the gun over in his hands several times, studying it carefully. He then placed an envelope on the bar. “As agreed.”
“I changed my mind.” The General pushed the envelope away. “I don’t need money no more. You can have it.”
The stranger cocked his head quizzically and then turned to the kid, pointing to the engraving on the bottom of the handle. “Do you know whose initials these are?”
The kid mumbled that’s how he knew it belonged to his dad.
“You never asked your dad whose initials they were?”
The kid let out a low moan.
The stranger continued to examine the revolver, “These initials are my brother’s. This was a gift from our grandfather. My brother was a captain in the Union Army. Someone took this and executed him with it in front of a number of other surrendering Union soldiers. I’ve spent the past few decades tracking down leads from some of those witnesses in search of this gun and the murderer. If your dad was the original owner, then I was eventually going to find him and kill him myself.”
The kid mumbled that his dad was never in the war.
“Well then, how did he come into possession of this?” The stranger turned the gun over in his hands, admiring it like a sacred treasure.
The General downed another shot and without turning around spoke his first words, “I sold it to the kid’s pa twenty years ago when I needed some cash.”
The kid stopped moaning. The stranger became icy still. And Jarvis, who hadn’t moved much, became a statue.
The stranger looked directly at The General, “Then how did you originally get this?”
After downing his last shot, The General slowly turned around to face the stranger. “I’m the one you’re after.”
The stillness in the room congealed into a suffocating tension.
“You murdered my brother!?”
The General silently extended his arms left and right, making himself a better target, “It’s time.”
The stranger took a step back and pointed the gun at The General’s face. “Any last words?”
“You ain’t the only one who lost a brother. Your captain killed both of mine. Or at least his men did. And someone needed to answer for them.”
Jarvis watched with amazement. A man waiting to be shot by a man who was determined to kill. Even the kid stopped squirming.
The General stared at the stranger. He was not defiant, nor resistant. He was not so much resigned as receptive. “I died back then, along with my brothers. My existence since has been nothin’ but a damned curse.”
An eternity passed in a few moments. The stranger opened the cylinder and let the bullets fall and bounce off the wooden floor. The General lowered his arms in disappointment.
The stranger then placed the revolver on the floor next to the kid, who was watching through one partially opened eye, the other covered in blood. The stranger retrieved the envelope, removed a bill and placed it on the bar, stating loud enough for all to hear, “This is for the barman. As agreed.” Then he turned around and walked out.
The General sat in silence while the kid grabbed the revolver and struggled to get up. He recovered two bullets from the floor, inserted them into the cylinder and staggered toward the bar again. “You killed my pa.”
The General said nothing.
by George Alger
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