- Author: Jerome Bixby
Read book online «The Draw by Jerome Bixby (read aloud .TXT) 📕». Author - Jerome Bixby
This etext was produced from Amazing Stories March 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
BY JEROME BIXBY
Illustrator: Wm. Ashman
Stories of the old West were filled with bad men who lived by the speed of their gun hand. Well, meet Buck Tarrant, who could outdraw them all. His secret: he didn't even have to reach for his weapon....
oe Doolin's my name. Cowhand—work for old Farrel over at Lazy F beyond the Pass. Never had much of anything exciting happen to me—just punched cows and lit up on payday—until the day I happened to ride through the Pass on my way to town and saw young Buck Tarrant's draw.
Now, Buck'd always been a damn good shot. Once he got his gun in his hand he could put a bullet right where he wanted it up to twenty paces, and within an inch of his aim up to a hundred feet. But Lord God, he couldn't draw to save his life—I'd seen him a couple of times before in the Pass, trying to. He'd face a tree and go into a crouch, and I'd know he was pretending the tree was Billy the Kid or somebody, and then he'd slap leather—and his clumsy hand would wallop his gunbutt, he'd yank like hell, his old Peacemaker would come staggering out of his holster like a bear in heat, and finally he'd line on his target and plug it dead center. But the whole business took about a second and a half, and by the time he'd ever finished his fumbling in a real fight, Billy the Kid or Sheriff Ben Randolph over in town or even me, Joe Doolin, could have cut him in half.
So this time, when I was riding along through the Pass, I saw Buck upslope from me under the trees, and I just grinned and didn't pay too much attention.
He stood facing an old elm tree, and I could see he'd tacked a playing card about four feet up the trunk, about where a man's heart would be.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw him go into his gunman's crouch. He was about sixty feet away from me, and, like I said, I wasn't paying much mind to him.
I heard the shot, flat down the rocky slope that separated us. I grinned again, picturing that fumbly draw of his, the wild slap at leather, the gun coming out drunklike, maybe even him dropping it—I'd seen him do that once or twice.
It got me to thinking about him, as I rode closer.
He was a bad one. Nobody said any different than that. Just bad. He was a bony runt of about eighteen, with bulging eyes and a wide mouth that was always turned down at the corners. He got his nickname Buck because he had buck teeth, not because he was heap man. He was some handy with his fists, and he liked to pick ruckuses with kids he was sure he could lick. But the tipoff on Buck is that he'd bleat like a two-day calf to get out of mixing with somebody he was scared of—which meant somebody his own size or bigger. He'd jaw his way out of it, or just turn and slink away with his tail along his belly. His dad had died a couple years before, and he lived with his ma on a small ranch out near the Pass. The place was falling to pieces, because Buck wouldn't lift a hand to do any work around—his ma just couldn't handle him at all. Fences were down, and the yard was all weedgrown, and the house needed some repairs—but all Buck ever did was hang around town, trying to rub up against some of the tough customers who drank in the Once Again Saloon, or else he'd ride up and lie around under the trees along the top of the Pass and just think—or, like he was today, he'd practise drawing and throwing down on trees and rocks.
Guess he always wanted to be tough. Really tough. He tried to walk with tough men, and, as we found out later, just about all he ever thought about while he was lying around was how he could be tougher than the next two guys. Maybe you've known characters like that—for some damfool reason they just got to be able to whup anybody who comes along, and they feel low and mean when they can't, as if the size of a man's fist was the size of the man.
So that's Buck Tarrant—a halfsized, poisonous, no-good kid who wanted to be a hardcase.
But he'd never be, not in a million years. That's what made it funny—and kind of pitiful too. There wasn't no real strength in him, only a scared hate. It takes guts as well as speed to be tough with a gun, and Buck was just a nasty little rat of a kid who'd probably always counterpunch his way through life when he punched at all. He'd kite for cover if you lifted a lip.
I heard another shot, and looked up the slope. I was near enough now to see that the card he was shooting at was a ten of diamonds—and that he was plugging the pips one by one. Always could shoot, like I said.
Then he heard me coming, and whirled away from the tree, his gun holstered, his hand held out in front of him like he must have imagined Hickock or somebody held it when he was ready to draw.
I stopped my horse about ten feet away and just stared at him. He looked real funny in his baggy old levis and dirty checkered shirt and that big gun low on his hip, and me knowing he couldn't handle it worth a damn.
"Who you trying to scare, Buck?" I said. I looked him up and down and snickered. "You look about as dangerous as a sheepherder's wife."
"And you're a son of a bitch," he said.
I stiffened and shoved out my jaw. "Watch that, runt, or I'll get off and put my foot in your mouth and pull you on like a boot!"
"Will you now," he said nastily, "you son of a bitch?"
And he drew on me ... and I goddam near fell backwards off my saddle!
I swear, I hadn't even seen his hand move, he'd drawn so fast! That gun just practically appeared in his hand!
"Will you now?" he said again, and the bore of his gun looked like a greased gate to hell.
I sat in my saddle scared spitless, wondering if this was when I was going to die. I moved my hands out away from my body, and tried to look friendlylike—actually, I'd never tangled with Buck, just razzed him a little now and then like everybody did; and I couldn't see much reason why he'd want to kill me.
But the expression on his face was full of gloating, full of wildness, full of damn-you recklessness—exactly the expression you'd look to find on a kid like Buck who suddenly found out he was the deadliest gunman alive.
And that's just what he was, believe me.
Once I saw Bat Masterson draw—and he was right up there with the very best. Could draw and shoot accurately in maybe half a second or so—you could hardly see his hand move; you just heard the slap of hand on gunbutt, and a split-second later the shot. It takes a lot of practise to be able to get a gun out and on target in that space of time, and that's what makes gunmen. Practise, and a knack to begin with. And, I guess, the yen to be a gunman, like Buck Tarrant'd always had.
When I saw Masterson draw against Jeff Steward in Abilene, it was that way—slap, crash, and Steward was three-eyed. Just a blur of motion.
But when Buck Tarrant drew on me, right now in the Pass, I didn't see any motion atall. He just crouched, and then his gun was on me. Must have done it in a millionth of a second, if a second has millionths.
It was the fastest draw I'd ever seen. It was, I reckoned, the fastest draw anybody's ever seen. It was an impossibly fast draw—a man's hand just couldn't move to his holster that fast, and grab and drag a heavy Peacemaker up in a two foot arc that fast.
It was plain damn impossible—but there it was.
And there I was.
I didn't say a word. I just sat and thought about things, and my horse wandered a little farther up the slope and then stopped to chomp grass. All the time, Buck Tarrant was standing there, poised, that wild gloating look in his eyes, knowing he could kill me anytime and knowing I knew it.
When he spoke, his voice was shaky—it sounded like he wanted to bust out laughing, and not a nice laugh either.
"Nothing to say, Doolin?" he said. "Pretty fast, huh?"
I said, "Yeah, Buck. Pretty fast." And my voice was shaky too, but not because I felt like laughing any.
He spat, eying me arrogantly. The ground rose to where he stood, and our heads were about on a level. But I felt he was looking down.
"Pretty fast!" he sneered. "Faster'n anybody!"
"I reckon it is, at that," I said.
"Know how I do it?"
"I think, Doolin. I think my gun into my hand. How d'you like that?"
"It's awful fast, Buck."
"I just think, and my gun is there in my hand. Some draw, huh!"
"You're damn right it is, Doolin. Faster'n anybody!"
I didn't know what his gabbling about "thinking his gun into his hand" meant—at least not then, I didn't—but I sure wasn't minded to question him on it. He looked wild-eyed enough right now to start taking bites out of the nearest tree.
He spat again and looked me up and down. "You know, you can go to hell, Joe Doolin. You're a lousy, God damn, white-livered son of a bitch." He grinned coldly.
Not an insult, I knew now, but a deliberate taunt. I'd broken jaws for a lot less—I'm no runt, and I'm quick enough to hand back crap if some lands on me. But now I wasn't interested.
He saw I was mad, though, and stood waiting.
"You're fast enough, Buck," I said, "so I got no idea of trying you. You want to murder me, I guess I can't stop you—but I ain't drawing. No, sir, that's for sure."
"And a coward to boot," he jeered.
"Maybe," I said. "Put yourself in my place, and ask yourself why in hell I should kill myself?"
"Yellow!" he snarled, looking at me with his bulging eyes full of meanness and confidence.
My shoulders got tight, and it ran down along my gun arm. I never took that from a man before.
"I won't draw," I said. "Reckon I'll move on instead, if you'll let me."
And I picked up my reins, moving my hands real careful-like, and turned my horse around and started down the slope. I could feel his eyes on me, and I was half-waiting for a bullet in the back. But it didn't come. Instead Buck Tarrant called, "Doolin!"
I turned my head. "Yeah?"
He was standing there in the same position. Somehow he reminded me of a crazy, runt wolf—his eyes were almost yellowish, and when he talked he moved his lips too much, mouthing his words, and his big crooked teeth flashed in the sun. I guess all the hankering for toughness in him was coming out—he was acting now like he'd always wanted to—cocky, unafraid, mean—because now he wore a bigger gun than anybody. It showed all over him, like poison coming out of his skin.
"Doolin," he called. "I'll be in town around three this afternoon. Tell Ben Randolph for me that he's a son of a bitch. Tell him he's a dunghead sheriff. Tell him he'd better look me up when I get there, or else get outa town and stay out. You got that?"
"I got it, Buck."
"Call me Mr. Tarrant, you Irish bastard."
"Okay ... Mr. Tarrant," I said, and reached the bottom of the slope and turned my horse along the road through the Pass. About a hundred yards farther on, I hipped around in the saddle and looked back. He was practising again—the crouch, the fantastic draw, the shot.
I rode on