The lean, scruffy outlaw had plenty of space at the bar, and the conversations swirling around him in the saloon carefully omitted any reference to him.
He heard a feminine voice behind him, and the voice was saying his name: “Barker Krebs.” He swiveled on his barstool and caught a small fist with his nose. He bellowed briefly and began bleeding into his bushy moustache. He stared hatefully in the direction from which the offending hand had come.
There he saw a woman. She was built along the lines an Amazon if the designer had been instructed to bring the project in under budget. That made her five feet tall, counting the boots and hat.
“Barker Krebs,” she said, “you killed my daddy, burned our home…”
“I’ve never seen you before, girl!”
“And had unnatural relations with what would have been a prize-winning watermelon.”
Krebs’s eyes went wide, and he brought his hand down from his bleeding nostrils. “Sarah Jane Buonarroti. I thought…”
“You thought you killed me in the fire. You were wrong. I’ve buried my daddy and that watermelon, and I’ve spent a lot of time tracking you down. And now, we’re going out in the street and settle things.”
“I can’t shoot with a woman! You know that. I may have my faults, but drawing on a woman ain’t one of them.”
“A mangy, rancid, low-down polecat like you can’t possibly have any scruples.” Krebs suddenly found his attention captured by the business ends of Sarah Jane’s Colts. “I’ll gun you down right here if you don’t come outside with me. Do you understand, or do I have to paint you a picture?”
In addition to the bleeding he had already been doing, Krebs began to sweat a little. He hadn’t seen Sarah Jane’s hands move, and she hadn’t telegraphed in any little way that she was going to draw on him. He moved his eyes around the saloon. Most of his networking had been of the don’t-breathe-my-air-or-I’ll-kill-you sort, and he could find neither a friend nor a business contact in the room. If ever there was a time to stand on the rules of chivalry, he reasoned, this was it.
“Surely,” he orated, “no one wants to see this young woman open herself up to a murder charge. And surely, no one would want to see me go into the street to shoot with her.”
There was some quiet murmuring. The drinking men of Mesa View Gulch weighed long-standing custom on the one hand with letting the young woman sacrifice herself to the law and the scaffold to rid them of a long-standing nuisance. Krebs began to see that they might very well decide the better part of valor would be to, after the fact, erect a statue in memory of Sarah Jane Buonarroti, the martyr who saved them from the further depredations of Barker Krebs. But Sarah Jane pre-empted that line of thought.
“There won’t be any legal problems,” she said from behind her guns. “I spoke to the sheriff when I got to town. I bet could have offered him half what I did to let me deal with you and he’d have taken it. So you just have to decide where you want to die: inside or outside.”
Krebs threw a few things into his own mental scales. First, his reputation, such as it was, would never survive a showdown with a woman; the number of people he would have to kill for mouthing off to him would increase exponentally – not that he was familiar with the mathematical concept. Second, he might or might not bodily survive the showdown. Krebs had a reputation for being a fast draw, but this little girl might have the final artwork finished, framed, and hung on the wall before his guns could clear their holsters.
“I don’t suppose,” he said quietly, “that a heartfelt apology would suffice?”
She coldly cocked the Colts.
“No, I didn’t think so,” he murmured. He beat his left fist on the bar and shouted, “All right!” Everyone but Sarah Jane jumped. “It’s against my principles, but I’ll go out there with you.” He addressed the saloon at large. “You’re all witnesses! It’s shoot with her or be shot where I sit. I don’t have no choice, and that’s the story every last one of you will tell.” He looked into Sarah Jane’s narrowed eyes. “Lead the way.”
Sarah Jane uncocked her pistols, twirled them briefly, and shot them home into their holsters with a maximum of showmanship and a minimum of effort. She turned and began to walk toward the exit.
Krebs realized his best chance of survival lay, as it so often had, in a sneak attack. He snatched up a beer bottle and swung it over his head to bring it down on top of Sarah Jane’s.
Sarah Jane, having both a solid understanding of the psychology of her foe and the advantage of seeing his actions reflected in a long pane of glass in front of her, neatly sidestepped the intended assault. There was nothing but empty air for the bottle to connect with, and Krebs followed it to the floor. The sound of that collision was followed by the sound of mirth as the barflies temporarily forgot how dangerous it was to laugh at this particular clown.
“Whenever you’re done foolin’ around,” Sarah Jane said, and she kicked him in the butt just because she could.
Krebs scrambled to his feet and glared at Sarah Jane and then at everyone else. He marched through the saloon’s swinging doors, and Sarah Jane followed him closely. She stopped, though, and addressed the others: “This is between us. Y’all stay in here.”
The sun was beginning to set behind the Presbyterian church’s steeple as the enemies walked down the street a ways to get clear of the saloon’s windows. A long moment later, gunfire echoed through the town.
It wasn’t long at all before Barker Krebs strode into the saloon and reclaimed his spot at the bar. Without being asked to, the barkeep set a beer and a whiskey chaser in front of the gunman. Everyone was quiet as Krebs drank. When he was finished, he stood up. As an outlaw, he had never been welcome in town, certainly, but now he was something beyond a pariah. He felt angry eyes sizing him up with each step, and he stopped to make a little speech.
“Remember: I didn’t have a choice. It was her or me, and she started it.”
“Seems like you started it when you killed her daddy, burned their home, and had unnatural relations with her watermelon,” one reasonably sober man said.
“Don’t you start with me! I’m Barker Krebs. Don’t you forget that.” But the outlaw began moving toward the door again and picked up a little speed.
“For Sarah Jane!” someone yelled, and pretty quickly every man in the saloon had pulled his pistol and unloaded it on the bad man. Krebs fell into the swinging doors and down to the sidewalk where he exhaled his last. The gunsmoke hung in the air and all was quiet again.
Until Sarah Jane walked into the saloon.
Then there were gasps and exclamations and one scream that wouldn’t have been out of place coming from a three-year-old girl.
“Much obliged, gentlemen,” she said. “That was awfully nice, the way you avenged me.” She stepped around her nemesis and headed toward the bar.
“Miss Buonarroti,” the barkeep began.
“How the hell are you still alive?” everyone else finished.
“Well, it’s like this. I’m a fast draw, and I can do some fancy things with my guns.” She unsheathed her Colts and twirled them around prettily before putting them away again. “But the fact is I’ve got no aim. I can’t hit the broad side of a barn at three paces. So when he drew, I fell back as though I had been shot.”
“Krebs missed?” several men asked. It was unheard of.
Sarah Jane smiled. “I’m short. He couldn’t change years of shooting at people roughly his own size. The bullets went over my head as I fell. It was chancey, but it worked. And then you were kind enough to deal with him for me. Now my daddy will rest easier and my watermelon patch will be safe.”
She took a couple of twenty-dollar bills from a pocket and gave them to the barman. “Drinks for my friends,” she said. “Thanks again, and goodbye, gentlemen. Oh, and you might give just a little thought to the fact that you could have been rid of Krebs any time you wanted to be. It didn’t have to take me showing up.”
The men watched her sashay to the swinging doors. She gave Krebs a final kick before disappearing from their lives.