"That night in silence, the town was asleep. I sat by my window and looked down the street. I wished in my heart that he'd just ride away. I hated to face him at sunup that day." - Marty Robbins, Tall Handsome Stranger


The two men faced each other on the dusty street, only fifteen paces away from each other. The townsfolk were gathered in front of their shops and homes, silent and grim, but neither of the men looked around, their eyes steadfastly trained on the others'. Neither moved or looked away, but finally one of them - the handsome stranger that had come to town last night - spoke.

"You can't do it, Tom, you know you can't," he said with a short, harsh laugh. Even as he spoke, he slowly lifted the leather loop from over the hammer of his six-gun. "You can't kill me."

"I'll do what I have to, Jim," Tom answered calmly. "I don't want to have to kill you, I'll admit it. But I will if I must." Jim gritted his teeth, boiling with anger.

"You've already proven that," he said, his voice starting to shake with barely-suppressed rage. "Ten years, you were going to let me rot in jail! Ten years! For what?"

"You know for what," the deputy returned evenly. "You killed Boyce Earl at the Santa Fe line."

The stranger made a noise somewhere between a snort and a snarl. "He had it coming," he said viciously.

"Why?" Tom's voice had lost some of it's steadiness as he slowly gave way to his own anger and desperation. "Because he wouldn't let you court his daughter? If that's your only reason, you're not fit to be called a man." Jim's fists clenched.

"He humiliated me in front of the whole outfit!" he shouted. "He wasn't content with turning me away from his daughter, oh no! He heaped insult on injury in front of all the rest of the drivers and guards-!"

"And Carolynn? What's your excuse for her?" The deputy's voice was now shaking almost as much as the outlaw's. "Because she rejected you after you killed her father? You're lucky she didn't give it to you in the back the same way you gave it to Boyce!"

"She nearly did," Jim snarled. "You think I would have killed her otherwise?"

"I don't know what you'd do at this point, Jim," Tom answered. "If you shot Boyce Earl just because he insulted you, then I can well believe you'd shoot Carolynn just for turning you down."

Jim's face contorted with rage. "You don't know what it's like!" he yelled. "My whole life, I've been run down, shunted aside, laughed at, trodden on! Our father never loved me, he always took everything out on me and pushed me around, and after he died it was you! You were older, so you got to be in charge, and you took full advantage of it, treating me like some sort of ranch hand and lording around the place on your high horse..." He ran out of breath, but wasn't quite finished. "And then I left, and you still couldn't leave well enough alone! Oh no, you found out about me and instantly had to go put yourself in a position of even higher authority, so you could still control me even though I was a grown man!"

"I never tried to control you, Jim," Tom said. He wished with all his heart that his brother would just mount up on his horse and ride out of town. "I never liked how Pa treated you, but he wouldn't listen to me when I tried to stop him, and after he died, I tried to raise you proper. Everything I did, I did so you'd turn out right, so you'd not end up exactly like you have: A wanted outlaw. I never tried to control you, and I'm not controlling you now. All you have to do is leave town, and you're out from under my authority." Please, please take the hint! he thought desperately. Just go, leave, don't make me do this! Jim laughed again, a tight, angry sound.

"All I have to do, huh?" He clenched his left hand into a fist, keeping his right relaxed and ready. "If I do, you'll just make sure I'm tracked down and locked up again - all for my own good, of course. And if I don't, what'll you do then?" He narrowed his blue eyes, glaring at his brother with something akin to hatred, his voice softly dangerous. "What'll you do, Tom?"

"What I have to," Tom repeated. "Lord knows I don't want to, but I took an oath to uphold the law in this town, and-"

"And the good people therein are more important than your own brother." Jim bowed mockingly. "Once again, you place your lofty position and highfalutin' vows above family. Why am I not surprised?"

"Some of us can swear oaths without cursing, Jim," Tom said quietly. "And some of us keep the promises we make." The silver star on his neat vest flashed briefly as the morning sun struck it. The outlaw blinked against the blinding flicker, and his scowl deepened.

"You've made your last oath, Tom Downing," he said through clenched teeth. Quick as a blink, he dropped his hand to the six-gun hanging at his thigh, clearing the leather in about point seventy-five seconds - and then noticed the smoke curling from his brother's pistol. He dropped his eyes to his chest, cursing as he watched the red stain spread slowly over his shirt. Slowly, lifeless, he crumpled to the dusty ground.

Tom stared at the body with a stony expression as he slipped his gun back into the holster, half wishing the bullet that ended his brother's life had found him instead. Surely it hadn't hurt as much as the agony that tore at his own chest, weighing his heart down before breaking it into a thousand pieces.

Turning on his booted heel, he walked across the street to the sheriff's office. "Take care of him," he said to the mortician as he passed. "Give him the finest burial available, and send me the bill." Going inside, he closed the door on the staring eyes of the townsfolk.


"The whole town was waitin', and I was alone. The blood that I spilled was just like my own. When she hears this story, how Mother will cry. Brother 'gainst brother, and one had to die." - Marty Robbins, Tall Handsome Stranger