There was a terrified scream that reached the ears of every soul in the puny town of Patience. It wasn't an uncommon sound. There was always one person or another being threatened, strangled or murdered in towns like Patience. However, in this little center of civilization, there had always been one man to stop such heinous crimes. How times had changed. This miniature town had become lawless. Gangs armed with Winchesters and sharp blades, rode in on foam-mouthed stallions, hunting for blood. It appeared that no one was willing to fight against the wave of crime that had sprung up in sharp spurs.
"Sheriff! Sheriff Cooper!" A delicately dressed young man came stumbling into the town's only saloon, his oversized hat placed precariously on his head and sweat dripping down the nape of his neck. The few customers of the early morning didn't pay any attention to the man and merely continued to brood over their drinks.
A man sitting in the gloom, whose broad rimmed hat was placed on the bar in front of him, cleared his throat and tossed back his third shot of whiskey. "Ain't been Sheriff fer some time now, Mister Change. Ya know that."
"But, Sheriff, you just have to do something! My Sally is being held captive by that damned Cliff Burns and his crew of miscreants!"
"You think I'm gonna risk my neck fer some broad you fancy? Shouldn't ya be the one rushin' off to save the damsel?"
"Well, sir, you and I both know that I'm a terrible shot."
"Time to start practicin' then." Another shot of whiskey was poured into the Sheriff's tiny shot glass.
"SHERIFF COOPER!" The vicious voice of a man with a murderous attitude came in through the windows. "C'mon out here! I wanna talk with the Sheriff!"
"Ain't the Sheriff no more," the man with the wide-brimmed hat muttered into his drink.
"Aren't you going to do something?" Deek Change wrung his clammy hands and glanced over his shoulder, looking much like a terrified rat face to face with a large tabby.
"Why should I? Ain't my problem. Why don't you run along with that absurd ten-gallon you got on an' find someone else to help ya. I ain't budgin'."
"How can you just sit there and do nothing?! I thought you were a man of honor...of...of integrity! Now, it seems you're just a coward!"
Cooper remained still for only a brief moment before he was on his feet and had the young man's shirt in his fists. "Don't you dare call me a coward when you're the one in here askin' me fer help."
"Sheriff Cooper! If ya don't c'mon out here this purdy little lady's gonna lose her noggin'!" The taunting voice from outside cackled.
At the voice of the criminal outside Cooper released the grip on the younger man's shirt. "Can't a man have a peaceful drink these days?" he asked the barkeep with a sigh.
"So," Deek coughed and straightened his shirt, "are you going to help her?"
Cooper snorted, "I ain't plannin' on doin' nothin' if I ain't gotta. But, I s'pose it won't hurt to have a look-see an' figure out just how this whole thing's gonna go down."
His hand travelled down to his sidearm as he put his hat in its proper place. His shoes jingled from his spurs as he strode across the wooden floor. Several of the men in the room cast nervous glances Cooper's way and then went back to nursing their drinks.
The once-upon-a-time Sheriff stepped outside, the brim of his hat shielding his eyes from the sun, and stared at the men on horseback. A petite young woman was perched delicately on a horse, several guns from several thugs pointed at her. Her cheeks glistened with tears but she dared not speak for fear of getting her brains blown all over the dusty road. Deek Change, who had run out after the Sheriff much like that of a terrified, but loyal dog, cowered behind the impressive lawman and snuck looks at his love.
"Jack, it's great tah see ya!" cried the man at the front of the group. He was seated on a dark Palomino, a sickening grin plastered on his gritty face and a Winchester rifle in his hands.
"Cliff," Cooper nodded, "been a long time."
"Bout since you killed my brother in cold blood."
"You and I know that ain't the truth. Mason caused his own death-"
"You shot him in the heart without givin' him time tah surrender!"
"Your brother was a violent man! He killed Mary Ann-"
"She was a damned whore! She didn't matter. Just some damned cock-suckin' whore who didn't do right an' listen to my brother."
Cooper's thoughts were dragged to the sight of his love from long ago. He closed his eyes briefly and in his mind's eye he could clearly see her body. He thought he could smell the stench of death and he recalled swatting away the flies that buzzed around her head and landed on her startling blue eyes. He remembered falling to the ground and holding her limp, bloody body close to his chest. The tears that fell from his eyes were hot and he felt a coldness seep through his skin. He sought revenge and on that day, and in the light of the setting sun, he found it. It was on that day that a man was killed and that Sheriff Jack Cooper attempted to throw off his badge and no longer call himself a lawman. It was on that day that Cooper became a broken man.
"He killed her," Cooper murmured, eyeing Cliff from beneath the shadow of the brim of his hat.
"She don't matter! Never did. You ran off an' shot him down a'fore he even hada chance to splain hisself!"
"That's why you're here? 'Cause I did my job?"
"Like ya keep sayin' an' tellin' everyone: ya ain't the Sheriff no more. An' I've come tah verge my brother!"
"I...I do believe the word is avenge, not...not verge," Deek chirped up from behind Cooper.
Cliff's eyes blazed and he hoisted his rifle up, pointing it directly at Mr. Change's quaking form. Deek squeaked and hid directly behind Cooper, clinging to the older man's jacket.
"Best not be pointin' that gun at me, Cliff," Cooper growled.
"Ain't pointin' it at you yet. Just at that lil pip-squeak with the big mouth."
"Be better if ya went inside, Deek." Cooper pulled out a small bit of paper and a wad of tobacco and began rolling his cigarette.
"Yes sir, Sheriff sir!" Deek darted back inside the safety of the saloon and peered out through the dark window panes, waiting for the shooting to begin.
Cliff lowered his rifle and leaned back in the saddle for a moment. His horse snorted and pawed at the ground. "I hate cowards."
"That's somethin' we have in common," Cooper remarked.
"Likely the only thin'. How come you ain't Sheriff no more? Ain't guilty 'bout shootin' Mason. Ya ain't a man tah lay down an' die."
"Ain't nobodies business but mine, Cliff. Now, you gonna let the girl go?"
"Ya know, she's quite purdy. 'Cept fer the fact that she ain't got half a brain in that purdy lil noggin' o' hers. I've been thinkin' Jack, I might as well keep her. Seein' as I'm more o' a man than that stupid fella hidin' out behind ya. I reckon she'd like that, don't ya think?"
"I think you should let her go. She ain't done nothin' to harm you or your boys."
"Ya think I give a shit what she done? Shit, Jack, I ain't here fer her. Only reason I got her was to get your attention. An' now I got it." He raised his rifle, pointing it straight at Cooper's chest.
"Kill 'im boss!" one of the men on horseback yelled.
"Let 'im have it!" said another.
"Any last words, Jack? Got anythin' tah say a'fore I kill you like you done killed Mason?"
Cooper stared at the golden toothed Burns brother and shook his head sadly. It was a shame that it was all going to end like this. His fingers touched the cold metal of his sidearm and he took a deep breath. Everything seemed to slow down during the time that it took him to draw his gun. His fingers wrapped around the weapon, his pointer just touching the trigger. There was a click as he cocked it, pointing it at the vengeful criminal and then there was a loud boom as he pulled the trigger and time seemed to speed up again. There was a pained scream, the firing of Cliff's rifle, the whinny of a horse and then there was silence.
Cooper grunted, his hand pressing against his shoulder where the blood was coming from and he staggered back a pace. Deek ran out from inside the saloon to support the injured man. The pair of them looked at the scene in front of them. There was blood on the ground-quite a bit of it-and the body of Cliff Burns was slumped over in the saddle. The top half of his skull was missing, blown to pieces from Cooper's gunshot, and there was a sickly bloody matter that was oozing from his head. The dark Palomino snorted uncomfortable and pawed at the ground again.
Jack Cooper straightened himself up and gave the remaining men a hard look. "If ya'll wanna see the sunset, I'd let the girl go and get outta here as quick as you're able."
Suddenly the rest of the gang, now that they had lost their leader, became spineless. One dropped the reins of the horse that the young girl was perched on, kicked his heels into the side of his horse and rode straight out of town. The others, after sharing a cautious glance between Cliff's body and Cooper, followed without a second thought.
Deek, still holding onto Cooper, looked up at Sally. "Go get your girl. I'm alright," he said softly.
The young man hurried up to his girl, who sat on the horse in shock, and helped her dismount slowly. Relief was evident on the young girl's face and she flung her arms around Deek just after he untied her hands. Cooper watched carefully, leaning on a hitching post and keeping pressure on his aching shoulder. The body would have to be taken care of but for the moment it seemed to be better to just rest.
"Thank you, Mr. Cooper," Sally, her hand wrapped around Deek's arm, said softly. The two lovers approached him cautiously, being sure to step around the bloody mess that was Cliff Burns.
With a small smile he nodded then said, "That's Sheriff Cooper to you, Miss."