Lincoln was no longer with us. It was a period tucked between two revolutions: one social, the other technological. The eye of an American storm. A time when fashion ruled, and global war didn't. Also a time of selfishness and competition. Of disease and danger. Of envy and enmity. Predators and killers. Talent and stardom. Free will and cheap thrill...
They called him "Lone-Finger Pete", and it was no mystery why. Three of them on his right hand - three that had helped give him deadly aim back east during the war - had been amputated during a bout with gangrene following the Battle of Pea Ridge.
They called the other man simply by his name: Blake Flint. Both men were evil as sin itself in the eyes of a small railroad town called Clovis, New Mexico. Neither were wanted here (except for murder). It would suit anybody just fine if they both ended the day nailed shut in pine boxes.
The street was as quiet as death. The sun hovered in silence high in the fume-filled July sky. Independence Day had already come and gone, but today there was going to be some more fireworks alright. There was going to be blood, and there was going to be death. One winner, one loser. And it had all started with a simple dispute over a haircut.
I sat in the safety of the shadows, watching. For me, it was night time. The two men - each clad in contrasting shades of black and grey - paced around each other in their own quirky ways. Lone-Finger wore what looked like old grey Army trousers, an untucked button-up shirt of a lighter grey shade, faded black boots rounded at the tips, and a loose black sash around his neck that made me think of a cut hangman's noose for some reason. Blake wore what appeared to be black suit pants, a pressed black vest with hints of thread-thin pinstripes over a clean white shirt, boots that were also black but shiny and pointed at their long tips, a short flat-topped black hat with a paper-thin brim, and what would have been a comical bow-tie had he been a clown instead of a killer.
Only the vague wisp of a dusty breeze provided any music to the moment. Off in the distance, beyond the gaps between buildings - half of them wooden and half of them adobe - the same breeze tossed the tips of the tall grass around like gentle waves on a shallow ocean. So opposite of the gritty scene taking place here. I really didn't want to see anyone die, evil or not. But this moment had me glued, and I simply couldn't bring myself to leave. I wondered: "If I had a gun right now, would there be anything I could do to put a stop to this? Would I be brave enough to try? Would I be safe enough from this inconspicuous vantage point?
The tight grin on Blake's bloodless, angular face seemed to speak directly to me to answer those questions. I felt a jitter in my hands, and the naked feeling my absence of a gun belt induced.
Lone Finger matched Blake with a smile of his own. His unruly, peppery-blonde hair flickered in the breeze much like that tall grass. A face like a baby held the expression in place. Soft, round, and plump with life. To see the looks on these two faces, you'd almost think a couple old friends were about to get together again for a drink after years of being apart.
"Sheriff! Aren't you going to do something?", a woman in a church-type dress asked from behind the cracked door of the building labeled "General Store" with abrupt shakiness in voice.
"Nah," the tall skinny man with the tin star answered over his shoulder while leaned against a post. "Why do any more work than a fella's got to, when you got nature doin' it for ya'?" He leaned forward, straining his elderly eyes at the bank's clock across the street. "In three minutes, Clovis's gonna have one less troublemaker pollutin' the peace. That's how I figure it."
The lighting flashed across my face just like gunfire as I watched. Two sets of eyes - one I assumed navy blue, and the other dark brown - exchanged glances from ten feet away. One pair was oval and shiny, like glazed porcelain; the other, diamond-shaped and reddened with the venom of vendetta. Neither men ever blinked. Two sets of hands: One, smooth and tan I presume; the other pale and withered, seeming cold as the heart that gave them their pulse.
"Clang! Clang! Clang!"...the clock chimed with an alerting echo as it counted off twelve whole hours since midnight. The empty vacuum that followed felt like another twelve. Without realizing it, I held my breath. Without realizing it, the taste of an earlier drink came up in my throat.
"Well, Pete...Guess this is our lucky day," Blake blared across the dirt of the street in a Robert Mitchum-esque tone. "Question is: Which kind of luck for whom?"
Pete made sure his calm snicker could be seen through the loudness of his smile.
"Don't laugh you cross-bred, crippled whipper snapper! You're mighty cocky for someone too ignorant to even think to wear their pistol on their good hand's side. Too high and mighty to even care that raggedy shirt tail of yours is right in the way!"
Lone Finger yawned, patting his mouth with his "good" hand. "Ain't no rule that says a man's gotta tuck his shirt in to win a gunfight," he taunted in an Eastwood-esque voice as he made his point by grasping the six-shooter's handle with his forefinger, thumb, and the bottom of the shirt.
With the magic of his reflexes, Blake already had his fingers around the handle of the Colt 45 - tapping at the side of the holster with his pinky - in a perfectly-synched display of lethal potential with his rival.
Lone finger whistled, shook his head, and clicked his tongue against the back of his teeth. "Aren't we a speck fidgety today? Tell ya' what, amigo: I was first in line and you know it! You say you're sorry and allow me my rightful turn in that barber chair, and maybe all you'll get outta me this time is a warning shot in the shoulder."
One of Flint's teeth beamed at Pete in the sunlight as he smiled. "Nice try at covering up the fact you're a miserable slithering coward, Boy! In the back or between the eyes! It's your move, but either way your next stop's gonna be Hell!"
Everything went black for a moment. Then, a bunny rabbit started marching across the screen playing a drum. "It keeps going! And going! And going!"...
I yanked at the thick hair of my mullet and screamed. "Why, TBS? Why?" Always right in the middle of a perfectly-good scene! Then I remembered.
"Oh," I said with a tinge of embarrassment as I hit "Fast-Fwd" on the remote. But when I got the tape past the commercials, it sat on "Pause". I realized something. The clock on the VCR flashed "12:00" as it always had. But the annoyance of it wasn't what was on my mind. It was the symbolism.
"High noon! High noon!", it shouted into my brain. It was high noon in the movie, and this weekend it would be high noon in my life too. I turned off everything in the living room and went down to the basement. I plugged in the amp, sensing the pride of a notorious marksman building up inside. The "street" was going to be the Mid-Town Auditorium; the weapons would be Fenders; the showdown would be my band, the "Dead Wakers", versus another local Metal band called "Six-Six-Six-String". Two evil, vicious forces much like Lone Finger and Flint - only "settling our differences" with vocals instead of insults and riffs instead of bullets. And unlike in the movie, we'd all live to tell about it.
The amp hummed, begging for something to scream. I gave the guitar a quick tune before arching my fingers over the frets, pick between thumb and forefinger. I always warmed up before my practice sessions with "Master of Puppets". After all, what better way to get off to a good start than starting with the undisputed masters of Metal? Of course, I wasn't going to actually wear these dorky, ink-blotted Jams to the real jam session; nor would I ever dare divulge to anyone that despite my skills behind a guitar, the "Rubik's Cube" still stumps me; or that I've seen the "Care Bears" movie five times. I'll just leave it at this: This decade is totally rad!