Little Pit was a miserable little town. It always had been. Miserable, dusty and run down.
It was born as decaying as the souls of those who built it, and the persistent beating of the sun only made matters worse. The only thing that could explain its continued existence was a small watering hole from which to draw a few buckets of muddy water to sprinkle over the sparse vegetables. The watering hole was the only one for miles, but it wasn't worth much to anyone, save the occasional drifter who stumbled across it after surviving a journey across No Man's Land.
Anyone who came to the town certainly did not do so for enjoyment. Many of its inhabitants had less-than-respectable pasts that they were trying to escape. Sometimes they were even brought there against their will. Whether they were on the run or had been banished to that snake-pit hellhole to die of exposure, the occasional visitor would usually appear at the watering hole, weary and nearly dead, without a penny to their name. If they did happen to arrive there with any wherewithal, it was so rare that it would never have been enough to sustain any local business.
In Little Pit, no saloon was to be found. At least, not anymore. One day many suns ago, an enterprising Joe Otthims came back with a load of beer and whiskey, the source of which is better left a mystery. It was enough to put behind a countertop and call it a saloon, which is exactly what Joe did in his rickety old cowshed. As not entirely unpredictable, the years came and went, but the patrons were few. Old Joe, having nothing better to do with his time waiting for patrons, whittled away at his inventory until he had no more. He ended up a drunkard without a drop to drink.
Through the years, Joe s saloon crumbled into kindling until all that remained was its welcome sign. Now illegible and softened by rot, it dangled on its last remaining rusty hook. It swung in distress with every gust of wind. The grim creaking sound it produced was typically the only noise that filled the unnerving silence of that place. It was a place made of crumbling buildings whose inhabitants were equally worn and weary souls. The town was a hodgepodge of transients, fugitives, and outcasts. The women were usually either discarded wives or whores so used up they weren t employable even by the worst brothels. More often, both.
Truth be told, not all the wayfarers who sought relief from the well were completely destitute. In that lawless and godless place, however, the art of making a living through commerce was completely lost on the townspeople. To compensate, many took advantage of the persuasive power of firearms to earn their keep. The unlucky newcomer who brought anything of value became the unwilling prey of the crook who got to him first. The resulting spoils usually offered them at least a few dollars to get properly roostered at Joe s saloon. In fact, the few patrons that Joe had in his best years were mostly his own fellow town folk who were the first to take advantage of the generous donations of passers by.
On a harshly dry and windy day like many others, a man arrived on horseback and approached the watering hole. Apart from his hat and boots, he wore only dusty, threadbare rags. However, strapped to the saddle was a curiously suspicious parcel. The inhabitants of Little Pit were very fond of curiously suspicious parcels. In fact, curiously suspicious parcels very often contained happy little surprises. The man was well armed and seemed to be in quite hurry C all excellent signs. His surly demeanor and body language suggested that he was not to be prodded. However, before that theory could be proven, Hugg Badfinger put a bullet in his head.
The watering hole was perfectly framed by the little window on the door of the outhouse; the ideal spot from which Hugg Badfinger could point his rifle without being seen. Hugg never relieved himself without Jagg, his tried and true Jacob Hawken rifle. It wasn t that strange of a habit to keep. After all, there were plenty of dandies out there who never did their business without a book. Hugg couldn t read, but his aim sure as heck made up for it.
The sound of the shot drew some attention, but it was his kill and he had no intention of sharing the spoils with anyone. Hugg sent his young son to do the picking while he stayed back and made sure no one got the bright idea to enter his space.
There was no need. Everyone in Little Pit knew that Hugg s left index finger was as prone to bouts of cold-blooded murder as a baby was prone to bouts of colic. No one was safe from his unpredictable wrath; not even his oldest boy who he gunned down over a petty squabble and his Misses who tried to protect him. God rest their souls.
There was no doubt that of all the scum that Little Pit had to offer, he was the most loathsome. As a result, he was also the most feared and respected.
Scurrying around like a ferret, the young boy expertly raided the corpse, pocketing the valuables. He then grabbed the bridle and returned to their dilapidated shack with the horse in tow. While all of this was going on, Hugg popped out of the outhouse, taking more care to keep the rifle well aimed than to finish pulling up his drawers. He walked heedfully up to the house, his empty holster not the only thing swinging in the dusty breeze.
All right, kid, how d we do? The man s bulky mass loomed over the boy who, in contrast, was slim and small in stature; his mother s son. Hugg had no doubt, however, that he was the boy s father. Not because he had ever trusted the harlot he had regretfully married; as far as he was concerned, only the shiny forty-four in his belt was to be trusted. He had no doubt because of the thick and wiry reddish hair, freckled complexion, and snaggle-toothed features they had in common.
Yes, Paw. I have a nice cowhide belt. In the holster there s a brand new Colt Navy, then I found this gold paperweight with about a hundred bucks in it. I really shoulda taken the boots and hat. They weren t bad at all, but in my hurry I didn t get a chance to take em. You want me to go back and fetch em? The boy finished his sentence without meeting his father s gaze. He never looked anyone in the eye. He observed the world with meticulous detail, but never let it show. He was the only person in the entire town with the skill enough to be able to exchange more than four words with Hugg without sending him on a rampage. Finn was his given name, but everyone called him Weasel.
No, let those four scoundrels out there scrounge for scraps. That way they won t bother us for a while. Y know son, if you wanna get a pack of dogs out of your hair, toss a bone at em and wait for em to tear each other up. The boy had already come to that conclusion on his own, and knowingly chose not to pick the generous guest completely clean. He was getting pretty good at letting his father believe that he was the one in charge.
Whew, I thought I messed it all up again. What do you say we take a gander at what s in the parcel, Paw?
Hold your horses, boy! Take the saddle off the horse and put him in the lean-to before he shits all over the parquet. With a shit-eating grin he spat on the floor, which was made not of parquet, but of rough cut, split, raw wood planks.
The boy did as he was told and led the animal through a back door that allowed access to the shed without having to leave the house. When he returned, he found that his father had just opened the cloth of the parcel on the table and was evaluating its contents. His eyes glistened as he surveyed the haul.
People always said that Badfinger was heartless. Oh, how wrong they were! The deep sentiment that Hugg felt about treasure was both tender and all-consuming.
The objects in the carefully obtained haul he was scanning resembled the image he had had in his mind when he first laid eyes on the package strapped to the stranger s saddle. There was only one thing he hadn t anticipated: the quantity. As he scanned over the banknotes, which were carefully folded and secured with a fine golden clip, he grew ever more elated. Goods like this couldn t belong to the likes of him, let alone the baboon he just offed. That guy would have either spent the money or kept it crumpled in his breeches. The hat and boots were too prissy for him too; they clashed with the rest of his getup like a glass of milk on a saloon bartop.
So, Paw, how d we fare? Damn good. Too good. Weasel knew it already, and in his gut and he was starting to get worried.
When re you gonna learn how to valuate a haul? You can t figure it out on your own? he replied, winded with excitement. I d wager to say the guy and his cronies have been aiming high. They must ve cleaned out the whole family of some big shot. Look at these jewels! I never seen diamonds like this. And this little revolver? It s got ivory and mother of pearl in it, with solid gold finish. By ginger, I m droolin all over myself! He ran his hand across his mouth and dabbed at his eyes with his handkerchief. It s pretty fine, but damn near useless. It s the kind of so-called weapon them Nancies like to carry, he wiped some more spittle with his filthy sleeve then used it to try to shine the pistol. It even has a backloader. Wouldn t want to get gunpowder all over Nancy-boy's pretty little hands! Reckon its owner must ve had it made just for him, he continued, examining it.
Dang, Paw, I ve heard about em before, but I ve never seen a gun you can load in a single stroke!
Simmer down, kid. Backloading is a stupid invention and won t stick around for long. If you want to shoot straight, it s best to load the chamber yourself. Leave the toys to the babies. Way I see it, this ain t no different than the other baubles we found in our haul. Good to get a few dollars, but not something you use to put a bullet in somebody s behind.
He pulled out his long-barreled gun which he kept squeezed between his pot belly and his belt. He then slammed it on the table next to the smaller one and stood up straight, as though he were introducing a prize-winning hog. Now this is a weapon. Eats black powder like a sow and shits it out in forty-four caliber pellets! Progress advances and the world becomes more and more confusing, but there s one thing I m sure of: when talkin weapons, nothin shoots better than a Walker Colt and that ll still be the case a hundred years from now. Sure as shootin .
The overall value of the loot was very high; much more than he had ever possessed. Because of this, the man was in a fantastic mood. After he pinched his son s cheeks raw, he burst into a resounding laugh.
"Finn, get me my Navy." His tone became serious, pensive.
"Right away, Paw!"
Is he really doing this? thought the boy as he handed it to him in its black and shiny leather holster.
Hugg pulled out the revolver, weighed it and flipped over in his hand. Being a thirty-six caliber, it wasn t a particularly powerful weapon, but it would do the trick. In his huge wooden palms it looked like a purse pistol.
"It s well made. A tad small. Little more than a toy, but for a kid like you it'll do fine," he said, handing it over to his son. He did so with some reluctance. He had no intention of using it anytime soon. He could actually make a few bucks hocking it, but now that he had that spread of riches in his possession he had to have someone to watch his back. Not that he trusted the little snot much, but he was the person he was the least wary of. More than that, he was cheap labor. All in all, he had pretty much hired him with a play gun and some ammo.
Finn took the gun with gratitude. I ll put it to good use. I did have a great teacher after all. His old man didn t ever really spend much time teaching him how to use one, but he was there nearly every time his father cleaned, loaded, and shot his. Finn had always been very observant. On top of that, his father had let him practice on a rusty old Paterson he had picked off of a dead Buffalo soldier. It had a little too much play between the barrel and the cylinder, but heck, it was a gun, and for years it was the only toy he had until it finally quit on him.
If I ever find myself backed into a corner, I want you to have my back. You'd better not forget.
If there was anyone in the all the West with an impeccable memory it was Finn Badfinger. Even the most minute and unimportant details of people, places, and events were indelibly etched in his mind. No, his memory was anything but lacking, and he would prove it.
"I won't forget, Paw!" Weasel took the revolver, put it back in the holster and fastened the belt on his waist. Then, with a swift action, he pulled it out, pretending to point it at an invisible adversary. He threw it into the air, grabbed it again, twirled it on one finger and put it back in place in one quick movement. The award for his performance was the back of a hand square in the jaw. The boy found himself on the floor with a red, swollen cheek and a puffy lip.
"Where did you learn that buffoonery? When you pull out the gun, it's for shootin and when you shoot, you shoot. Period. You want to be a gunslinger or a two-penny circus act?"
Weasel looked at his feet. Sorry, Paw.
Sorry ain t gonna cut it. If I catch you playin to the gallery again I ll ram that toy between your cheeks and pull the trigger so fast you won t know what hit you. He knew from experience that his father was dead serious.
Hugg went back to the table with the haul to try to summon back the good mood he was in. Muttering under his breath, he struggled to calculate how much he could possibly get for it all. The sums he was coming up with were in the thousands of dollars. That cheered him up a bit. It became short-lived, however, when he found himself unrolling a large sheet of paper. He hated when he couldn t understand things, and there was nothing he could understand less than a document full of writing. One thing he did know: rich and powerful folks could perform miracles by showing a piece of paper like that one. It looked official and the stamps seemed familiar, like the designs printed on banknotes. If tiny banknotes could hold so much power, maybe this big one would get him even further.
As he looked on, Weasel s stomach grew increasingly uneasy. It was something Hugg had mentioned in passing that Finn didn t think his father fully took note of while in the throes of his greedy bliss. The dead thief had not acted alone. Sure, he was alone when he had gotten to Little Pit, but that probably meant that he double-crossed his accomplices and took all the loot for himself. No doubt they would be on his heels in no time. If that band of outlaws could overpower the carriage of a big-shot, who when traveling with valuable goods would usually have some kind of security with them, they were not safe there. He had to turn the conversation back to the accomplices.
All in all, his old man was a clever man. Given enough time, he would always come to sensible conclusions. The threat, however, was imminent, and his greedy bastard of a father was so intoxicated by the bounty before him that he needed a little help to get back on track.
Paw, you know what that paper is? he began.
"No, but it could be worth somethin ." How could it not? If it had been placed among the most precious jewels, there had to be a more than valid reason.
"Why did you say the guy and his cronies before?"
"Don t be stupid, boy. You have any idea how many watchmen rich folks have when they run around? You think that goose made off with all that loot by his lonesome?"
"I see, Paw. But where do you think they are now?"
"How in tarnation should I know? As far as I'm concerned, they can all go..." Hugg froze. He stared off into the distance for a few seconds, then barked, Holy hell! We got to get out of here!