Dust and frayed threads were the dominant features of William Johnson’s clothes. Running for your life was a hard ride. Blair studied Johnson’s sunburned face. His eyes held the pain he inflicted on others. Willy wouldn’t want the life of a prisoner. This was going to end with bullets, but would not be a mercy killing.
“Jonathan Blair,” Willy said as he looked at him from across the room. His quiet voice didn’t attract much attention. Blair heard him only because he was watching him. He took several steps toward Johnson. Neither man moved their hands. Two gripping pistols. Two holding glass.
“The lawman,” Willy said with a dry laugh.
Blair scoffed at the sarcastic remark. But the words caught the attention of the people nearby.
Eyes tired, Blair shot quick glances at the men in the saloon who watched him and Willy. They didn’t recognize Blair from the old wanted posters or the stories in the Denver paper. He was far from a lawman. He was part of Willy’s gang.
Now he was trying to escape the hangman. Blair couldn’t turn down the deal—trade his death sentence for a stay of execution. If he brought in his former gang members, the state and the railroad company would let him go free. It was the railroad company’s idea—let him risk his life to arrest the rest of the gang. The company set the rules and time limit. How they got the judge to agree, Blair didn’t know and didn’t ask. He took the chance of freedom.
The men at the nearby tables got up and moved, which brought everyone’s attention to the pair of old friends.
“Trying to save your hide or your soul?” Willy asked.
“My soul’s not worth saving,” Blair said. “But I ain’t ready to die.”
“So, you’re here to kill me instead,” Willy said. “You think I need killing?”
Blair took a step within reach of the chair on his side of the table. “No one needs killing. Death just has a way of finding those who taunt it.”
Willy grinned big. “We’ve done more than taunt death.” He slowly lifted the bottle of whiskey and poured two shots. He cautiously slid one shot glass toward Blair, then raised his own, leaving a third empty glass on the table.
Blair picked up the shot glass with his coarse fingers.
“To old friends,” Willy said.
Blair nodded and lifted the glass to his nose. He inhaled—vanilla, oak and grain filled his senses with pleasure. The aroma tempted him, but he set the full shot glass back on the sweat and whiskey stained table.
Willy frowned. “Too good to drink with me now?”
“It’s not like that.” Blair said. “Haven’t had any since I left… left the gang.”
“You mean since you ran out on us in Mexico.” Willy emptied his glass. “What scared you so bad you took off like a little girl?”
The question struck Blair like a bullet. Willy’s hateful words didn’t burn, but the memory those words evoked—a scar from a forgotten wound.
As kind as Willy had been at times, he was a mean son of a bitch. All of them were. Willy’s brothers were worse. He’d already dealt with Bart. And he wouldn’t have to worry about Cliff until he got out of prison. If he got out, which was unlikely to happen.
But I’m out, aren’t I?