The reporter stopped before the farmhouse and squinted at the structure while cleaning his glasses. It was a humble, single-story dwelling with a covered porch and tin metal roof. Sliding windows were visible on the front and side of the building and a rusted stovepipe could be seen protruding from a wall at a right angle. Peeling white paint revealed sunbaked wood slats that formed the house’s siding.

Now bespectacled, he dabbed some sweat from his forehead with his sleeve and adjusted his bowler hat. He reached down to wipe the dust away from his fraying trousers and grabbed the worn briefcase he had placed on the dry dirt path. He let out a deep exhale as he gathered the courage to approach the front door.

His knuckles rapped sharply on the door thrice and then hovered over the spot.

               “Who is it?” called a gruff voice beyond the door.

               “It’s me…” the reporter’s voice squeaked as he spoke. He coughed to clear his throat before starting again. “It’s me, Benny O’Leary from the Austin Gazette. I’m looking for a Mr. Jacob Webber.” His voice had returned, albeit the pressured nature of his speech still betrayed his tense nerves.

There was silence for a moment before the reporter heard footsteps near the threshold. With a rattle of the knob, the door creaked ajar. Staring through the gap in the door was a portion of the face of an elderly man. His visible clouded eye was set in a wrinkled, leathery face and his lips pooched to suggest he was edentulous. “I’m Jake Webber, what do you want?” he asked staring at the mustachioed reporter intensely.

“Ah,” the reporter began with more confidence now that the man’s age was evident. “You may recall that we spoke briefly over the telephone regarding an interview about the death of the gunslinger, Jim Haight?”

The old man let out a “Humph” while nodding with recognition.

The reporter, taking the response as an invitation to continue, asked “Well then, if I may, I’d like to ask you a couple questions about Jim and how he died?” The old man stood in silence; the door remained opened only ajar. Sensing the old man’s reticence, the reporter was quick to add, “I’d like to remind you, I’m authorized by the Gazette to renumerate you for your time in the amount of two dollars and fifty cents cash. And we will be delivering a copy of the edition of the Gazette in which the interview is printed to your preferred postal address.”

The old man’s eye widened at the mention of money, and he opened the door after the reporter finished. “Well, come on in then,” the old man said beckoning the reporter in with a wave.

“Thank you, Mr. Webber,” replied the reporter who tipped and removed his hat. He entered and took in the full interior of the home. A single wall partitioned the house in two, separating the kitchen from the living space. To the reporter’s right, a bed with a thin mattress was pushed into one corner and to his left, situated under the lone window on this wall, was a simple table with two chairs. The old man pulled one of the chairs away from the table and gestured an invitation to sit as he took his place in the other chair.

“So, tell me,” the old man began as the reporter took his seat, “What does the Austin Gazette want with stories about an old shootist who went and bought the farm ages ago?”

The reporter snapped open the latches on his briefcase before replying. “Simply put Mr. Webber, times are hard and the downturn on Wall Street is being felt in the newspaper business everywhere.” He pulled out a fountain pen and notepad and then continued, “Part of it is that people don’t want to read about domestic misery, discord in Washington, or tensions in Europe when they’re questioning if they’ll put dinner on the table tomorrow.” He snapped the briefcase shut and placed it on the floor. “That’s when we at the Gazette got the idea to write lighter, more digestible pieces. Stories about great American heroes like Davy Crockett, Lewis and Clark, and Paul Revere. Along these lines, we know people love reading about the gunslingers of the frontier and this very reason brings me to your cozy parlor today.”

The old man nodded and shrugged, accepting the reporter’s explanation. He shifted in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him. “Well, I guess that makes sense,” he started, “What do you want to know?”

The reporter leaned forward eagerly, pen in hand, and asked, “Putting it bluntly Mr. Webber, I want to know how you, at the time just a boy, managed to gun down one of the most famous gunmen in the great state of Texas?”

The old man clasped his hands over his stomach, sighed, and then replied, “Well that’s quite the story…”


Jim Haight studied the colors and contours of his hands closely. Soft creases where dirt collected interrupted the hard, rough callouses that covered his palms and fingers. He clasped and released both hands while watching the color blanch and then return. He then rubbed his thumbs across the fingers on both sides, noting the lack of feeling in the index and middle fingers on both sides. “Years of recoil catching up with me,” he murmured.

A shadow crept over the outlaw and interrupted his study. He looked up to see a boy standing just beyond the porch of the general store where he was seated. Jim was acquainted with the boy who he recalled was sixteen, maybe seventeen years old. He knew the boy’s family had a small plot of land a mile or so out of town. The boy was pale and staring wide-eyed at the bank that stood next door to the store.

“You look like you’re trying to blow the place down with that hard stare of yours,” Jim stated after observing the boy for a couple of moments. His low, gravelly voice seemed to startle the youth who jerkily shifted his gaze to the outlaw. Jim chuckled softly and rubbed the bushy white moustache that almost completely covered his mouth. “You have business in the bank today, son?”

The boys stance relaxed slightly, although his attention remained intently fixed on Jim. “Ye…ye..yes sir,” he stammered, “I mean no sir…I mean, I don’t know sir.

Jim smiled and looked back down to his dirty, aged hands which were clasped over his stomach. “Interesting answer,” he replied, “Though it’s no misdeed to be unsure.”

“Oh I’m sure alright,” the boy shot back, his apprehension giving way to indignance, “I’m sure I need to do something, I just don’t know what.”

The gunslinger considered the boy’s answer and bobbed his head up and down softly in contemplation. “Well, here’s a bit of advice from an old outlaw who learned many important lessons a little too late in life,” he started to reply, “I’ve made many choices out of greed, anger, lust, or pride. Believe me when I say those decisions always lead to pain.” He leaned in before continuing, “But when I’ve made choices while staying in touch with my inner compass, my sense of myself and what I know to be right and wrong, those choices bring me peace.” He rested back on the bench but kept his attention fixed on the boy. “Whatever you choose to do, do it knowing its right by you.”

The boy hung his head and rubbed a tear from his eye before nodding sheepishly in thanks.

“You’re Tom Webber’s boy, is that right?” asked the gunslinger.

The boy nodded again. “Yessir,” he answered, “My name is Jake.”

Jim sighed and responded, “I was sorry to hear of your pa’s passing.”


Jim Haight woke and hour or so later to the tapping of a polished black cane on his boots. “Rise and shine Jimmy,” said a menacing voice. The old man opened his eyes and found a portly man in a three-piece suit and top hat standing before him.

               Jim shifted up on the bench before addressing the man. “Ramses Strauss, to what do I owe the displeasure of our meeting?”

               The garish man scoffed and twirled his cane. “Now is that any way to treat a friend and old partner-in-crime,” he responded with a sneer.

               “No, I reckon it wouldn’t be,” Jim replied with a grin, “It’s a good thing we’re not friends then.”

               “Well, I’m insulted you don’t see our partnership that way,” Strauss responded, sitting next to Jim on the bench.

               “Cut the shit you costumed snake, what have you come to tell me?” Jim growled turning to the man.

               Strauss sighed, removed his top hat, and hung it from the top of his cane. From within his jacket, he produced a cigar and lit it. “You’re going to shoot in a duel for me at sundown. It’ll be against a debtor who has defaulted on their loan.”

               Jim’s brow furrowed and he gave the suited man a hard stare. “I’d be awash in disbelief at the suggestion if I didn’t already know how low you can sink. But still, killing folk for a late payment is foul.”

               Strauss puffed on his cigar and shrugged. “I assure you,” he said matter-of-factly, “I hold no ill will toward the individual in question. In fact, they managed to deliver quite the impassioned argument to me just earlier today.” He reached again into his jacket pocket and produced a handkerchief which he used to wipe away sweat on his forehead. “Which is why I opted to give them a fighting chance to clear the account,” he finished.

               “And what,” Jim spoke slowly, “In hell makes you think I’ll agree to this.”

Strauss smiled and patted Jim on the knee. Then he leaned in close to speak into the old man's ear in nearly a whisper. “Because you also have a debt to me that I’m calling due, Jimmy m’ boy. But unlike the poor wretch you’ll face off against tonight, your debt can only be repaid in blood.” The suited man leaned away from the gunslinger still wearing a wry smile. “Besides, we both know you’re a killer at your core,” he finished.

Jim’s hand flew with dizzying speed to his right hip and drew his six-shooter from its holster. His numbing fingers misjudged his hand’s placement though, and the weak grip sent the gun spinning onto the ground in front of the men. Strauss let out a howl of laughter and brusquely hit the old man across the face.

“Hoo hoo, gunslinger indeed!” Strauss exclaimed while standing and shaking his hand. He popped the top hat back on his head and turned to face Jim who was rubbing his cheek. “Could it be that the great Jim Haight, the West Texas Widowmaker and Death’s own Deputy, is losing his touch?” He stepped off the deck and kicked the gun back toward the outlaw. “Perhaps the odds are better for the poor sumbitch you’re dueling than I thought. See you at sundown!” With that, the banker strode back into the bank and shut the door sharply.


When the sun touched the horizon, Jim Haight stood from bench where had sat perched for the day and walked into the street. Groups of onlookers had gathered in open windows and doors to observe. As Jim took his position, he stared at the shadow that stretched from his feet down the dusty street. The warm-orange rays from the setting sun comfortably framed the tall silhouette in the dirt.

Footsteps from behind stopped just short and adjacent to the gunslinger. “Are you ready, Jimmy-boy?” asked Ramses Strauss, “Ready to send another to an early grave?”

“Let’s get this over with,” replied Jim curtly.

Strauss raised his eyebrows and nodded in acknowledgement. He raised his cane and waved it high overhead. A thin, hunchbacked man that Jim recognized as Amos, one of Strauss’s cronies, pushed a thin figure into the street. After righting themselves, the figure began to walk slowly toward the gunslinger. Jim squinted to identify the figure and his stomach sank and shoulders fell as they neared.

“Jacob Webber,” Strauss announced to onlookers, “Will duel with intent to kill for the opportunity to resolve the debt owed on his property.” Strauss gestured toward Jim with his hands opened wide before continuing, “He will challenge none other than the famed outlaw known to many as the Deadeye Devil of the Frontier, the one and only, Mr. Jim Haight.” Strauss stopped, perhaps expecting fanfare, but the street remained silent.

Strauss shrugged and turned his attention to the duelists. “Gentlemen, you will fire at the first stroke of the hour. You have two minutes to speak your peace,” he instructed.

Jim looked up from the ground to the boy. A tear ran from the corner of his eye and traveled across his cheek. He cleared his throat before speaking. “You don’t have to do this son. There’s no shame in walking away.”

The boy was visibly trying to fight off tears. He raised his hand to shield his eyes from the setting sun. “I…I…I’m s…sorry, sir,” the boy stammered, “But I’ve got to do this. If Mr. Strauss turns us out, my Ma, my sister, and me, we don’t have anywhere to go sir. We’ll die without our home sir, sure enough. So, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to try. To do what’s right.” With that, the boy accepted the pistol that Amos was holding out and held it at his side.

“Yes, yes you do,” Jim replied almost inaudibly. He then turned his head to speak to Strauss. “Let’s have the kid and I switch places, give him a fighting chance without the sun in his eyes.”

“Well how gallant of you Mr. Haight, or perhaps you’re just a cocksure old man? But hell, I’m feeling generous,” replied Strauss who then whistled and waved to beckon the boy down the street.

The gunslinger found his position near Amos and turned to face the boy. Strauss walked several paces away and sat in bench that Jim had occupied earlier.

The sun warmed the old man's face. He clenched and released his hands several times and could feel the numbness abating.

“Duelists at the ready!” Amos called out.

Jim looked at the clock mounted to the top of the bank and then looked back at the boy. He listened as the seconds ticked down.

The clang of the hour was followed by the sound of two gunshots. One was quick, timed perfectly to the clock’s chime. The other followed a breath afterward.

Jim Haight fell to his knees clutching his abdomen. He looked down at his hands which, instead of dirt, were covered with warm blood.

Amos let out a whoop and exclaimed, “Hot damn, it looks like ol’ Jim Haight has lost his touch.”

Jim lifted his head and looked down the street to the boy. He stood in awe, eyes wide with terror. The pistol limply fell from his hand.

“Is that so…?” Jim spoke softly and with effort. Gasps started erupting from the onlookers who pointed in the direction of the general store. Amos squinted and then exclaimed, “Oh no!”

Sitting on the bench with his head tilted back and his top hat upturned on the ground, was the body of Ramses Strauss. A clean hole emitting a trickle of blood was positioned between his eyes and a dusting of gunpowder was visible across his face.

The only one not looking at the body was the boy who was rushing towards Jim Haight. “Mister, mister!” the boy exclaimed falling to his knees in front of Jim, “Oh I’m sorry mister. I’m…”

“Don’t…” Jim cut the boy off. His head was spinning, and darkness was creeping into his vision. “Don’t apologize.” The gunslinger took two shallow breaths. “That was a nice shot,” he spoke weakly before collapsing to his side.


               “Wow,” stated Benny O’Leary, his astonishment audible, “That’s quite the story.” His fingers were covered in ink and his notepad was full.

               Jake Webber sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, it’s the truth, plain and simple.”

               “And that’s exactly how everything played out, is that right?” the reporter asked, “And you were able to keep your land and all?”

               The old man shrugged, “We’re sitting here, ain’t we?”

               “Right, of course,” acknowledged the reporter who gazed briefly at his wristwatch. “Tarnation is that actually the time!” he exclaimed, “I’m on the seven o’clock back to Austin.” He grabbed up his briefcase and stuffed in the notepad and pen. After digging around for a moment, he retrieved a pocketbook from the depths of the case. Opening it, he pulled out some cash and several coins and offered them to the old man. “There it is, as agreed Mr. Webber. Two dollars and fifty cents for your time. I apologize about the rudeness, but I really must be going.”

               The reporter and old man stood and walked to the front door. The reporter turned at the threshold and thrust his hand at the old man. “Thank you, Mr. Webber. You’ve provided a really wonderful story for the Gazette.”

               The old man took the reporter’s hand and shook it. He then reached and opened the door for the reporter who exited onto the porch. “Any word on when Washington is gonna figure out the problems with the jobs and money and all?” the old man asked as the reporter walked down the stairs.

               The reporter turned back and looked at the old man before replying. “With all honesty sir, having known a couple of politicians myself and their respective intellects, I wouldn’t count on it being anytime soon.”

               The old man nodded, accepting the answer. The reporter started down the drive and called out, “Goodnight, sir.”

               “Night!” the old man replied.

September 02, 2023 03:01

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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