The Sharpest Aim

Man strides into town, nowt but skin and bone and gunbelt. The boys at the saloon watch him go by. “Them’s a sweet piece of iron, mister,” says the oldest and boldest — they called him Lorenzo. The Man doesn’t so much as look at him. “Hey now, mister. That’s rude of yer,” says Lorenzo. He’s calling after the Man’s back now ‘cos he ain’t turning round for such youngsters. More fool him think the boys. Man with that fancy gear should know better to just walk into town. They look at each other and nod and pull rusty sidearms from their waistbands. “Oi, mister!” Man turns out to be wiser than they thought. Ducks behind a barrel as if he had eyes in the back of his head. The lads’ bullets miss empty air and then one by one they fall to the ground bleeding blood and shocked surprise. One bullet for each lad. The Man’s aim with that long piece he’s carrying is uncanny.

Display only lasts ten seconds (five boys, do the figures) but the Man picks up quite the audience. Couple of men watch between the sheets they’re hanging up to dry. Might be they were hoping the dirty grey rags could stop bullets. Old gennelman who runs the bar takes a worried interest. And then there’s Gian. Many tales about Gian while he was alive to spread ’em, not so many now he’s out for the count. Anyways. Then he was still the biggest water lord ’til you hit Nimue fifty miles widdershins. In the middle of a water war with the Wolf Gang, who o’ course were them as who hired the lads to stand guard on town. Gian was losing that war too, but now he figures he can win it easy with this new guy on his side. Eyes as sharp as an eagle and the skill to make the best of ’em, that’s what you need to take down a pack of wolves. So Gian says to the Man, “What’s your name, son?” And the Man says, “I don’t go by any name. You can call me the Man Mal Fet.” The Ill-Made Man. Gian shrugs. “Don’t need no name to shoot straight. There’s good money in shooting with my crew, and I’d be pleased as punch to cut you in.” It’s a fair offer.

Pity Gian couldn’t read his man. Sure, he looks like a cold-blooded killer. Just shot up a bunch of lads for looking at him funny down the wonky barrels of their cheapass revolvers after all. But the Man Mal Fet ain’t no total scumbag. Gian’s going to regret this.

He holds a party that dinnertime. Might as well celebrate the Wolf Gang losing five of their recruits, after all. Might as well celebrate picking up the weapon that’ll take them out for good (and then where — Camelot?). All his crew are carousing, drunk ’til they stop noticing that the Man Mal Fet ain’t imbibing so much. Fact is he’s looking around himself with those narrow eagle eyes, and the thing that most interests him? One of the serving girls, don’t look like she’s from around here. She’s crying ‘stead of angling for some man’s lap, bed and purse. The Man wanders off (for a piss, he says), takes her into a corner. “What’s your story?” he asks. She don’t trust him, tries to get away, but he backs away to let her go and that gives her pause. “I just got here,” the Man Mal Fet says. “Ain’t necessarily like these others. Do you want to tell me what’s up?”

“Yeah.” She does if he ain’t going to force her. “Ma name’s Mary,” she says. “I ain’t never meant to be Gian’s whore, but he done killed ma lover Dan. I did refuse Gian acos o’ havin’ a lover, but he ain’t havin’ none of it so he just goes kill poor Dan. Found him down by the stream, I did, drownded. And Gian kills another man for havin’ done it, then says as they’re nothin’ to stop us being together now…”

So there’s no just man here, the Man figures, and he figures he might as well be the one to set that one straight. Gian and his crew are pissed as can be so sneaking into the garage is no gunfight. They got some good rides in there as well. He finds the best and quickest, surely Gian himself’s, and hot-wires it quick as you like. “Up on this you get, Mary, and don’t look back. Make for Camelot. I hear it’s safe enough nowadays.” Now if this were a story she might be looking for a kiss or a promise round about now, but this ain’t no story so she just says her thanks and runs in terror. Don’t know what happened to her since. Here’s just hoping she fares better than anyone else in this recounting.

Now drunk’s as drunk may be, ain’t nobody who can miss the roaring of a Harlequin echoing off the walls. Gian comes running with all of his men, and there’s nowhere the Man can hide. No story he can spin neither, nor enough bullets in that gun to take down the lot of them before they’re on top of him. (He’s not that fast a shot anyhow). He gets a couple, but the rest get him. Pile on him like ghouls on a wagon train and he’s tied up in a basement before Gian notices which bike’s been nicked.

Things don’t go so well for the Man Mal Fet from now on in. See, Gian’s mighty pissed that he took his girl, and mighty more pissed that he took his bike. What’s more, he has a bunch of men on his side who’re righteously pissed with whatever Gian points them at. Mebbe they worry he’ll be pissed at them next. Who knows. Point is, Gian points them at the Man who robbed him and they go to town. Punch, kick him, throw rocks at his head ’til they’re sure as darn it that he’s a goner. Blood crusting his eyes shut and skin more bruise than whole. ‘Course he gets back up because that Man ain’t dead yet, and won’t be dead in this story neither. Man’s stronger than a few sticks and stones. So next they beat him with iron bars, ’til the boss stops them when he thinks they’ve broken enough ribs. “Food for the scorpions,” he says. He spits in the Man’s face, and grinds the spit in with his heel, and leaves him for dead on the edge of town.

Sure as Annwn he should be dead now. How many you know as were abandoned on the edge of the rust sea and survived? How many you know as were picked up by the coffin man and dragged away in the coffin of one they killed? That’s what happens to the Man. Townsfolk who aren’t Wolf Gang nor Gian’s crew (who’d be none but the barman and the coffin man, near as dangit) seen his handiwork and taken a liking for him. Take him away to an old shack on the other edge of town. Keep him fed and watered and in the shade and slowly he gets better. Takes to shooting dust rats when the Gian crew’s partying to make up his aim.

Too late for the Wolf Gang, not that the Man did them much favours to begin with. Gian goes back to check the Man’s bones is there and when he finds them gone, who does he suspect but the Wolves? That moment on they’re goners, and they’re goners for sure when he burns them out of house and home and shoots them all to blazes. Why didn’t he do that before, Gian must be thinking to himself as he’s drowning his losses in the boy he took as replacement from his lieutenant. (Nor she nor the boy being so happy about this, but what can you do).

Well, there’s all kinds of endings to this story. There’s those the Man Mal Fet would tell you if he told stories of himself, but he don’t. I guess we’ll never know the whole truth. There’s those as the tale-tellers tell, but you must never trust a tale-teller. Never trust a tale. They’ll tell you that Gian got suspicious at the barkeep taking food to that shed outta town each day, ’til one day he realised what’s going on and put the barkeep out of his misery. Man got no food that day. Left his hut, tricked Gian and his crew with smoke and mirrors while taunting them on Main Street itself, and the gunned them down in a hail of bullets. You seen the Man? You seen the slow steady way he picks his shots? Tale-tellers done exaggerated that bullshit. You listen to this truth then, for it’s much more true.

Once the Man knows how many’s left in Gian’s crew, he counts out that many bullets. Maybe he gets the barkeep to bring him extra if he needs ’em, I don’t know. And once he’s got the lot, he finds himself a nice shady spot on top of one of them pylons — there’s one over every town, so you watch it if you ever make an enemy of the Man. Then he shoots ’em down like those dust rats, one bullet for each man. Doesn’t miss a shot. Mebbe he leaves a couple maimed not dead. Mebbe he does that on purpose, leaves Gian bleeding out slow into the rust. I don’t know. But it sounds a darn sight more plausible if you ask me, and if I’ve gotten this far you must right have asked me. And bought me the drink to lubricate me throat. Still, that throat’s feeling a little dry after this much truth-talking, so if you got another drop in that bottle, I’ll happily relieve you of that there temptation.