Bang!

He was backed into a corner. The Apache Kid’s tenure as sheriff had been a rocky one, to be sure, but it was only as three consecutive bullets ripped into his abdomen, flopping him on the ground against the back of the player piano (“Maple Leaf Rag” still playing), that he finally thought the end might be drawing near. The grave digger chuckled as he blew the smoke from the long end of his Remington rifle. “Looks like you’re at the end o’ yer game, shurrrrrif,” he drawled.

The Kid watched as blood seeped into his shirt, spreading warm and sticky under the star on his chest. No, this wasn’t okay, he thought. It wasn’t his time. He had to do something. With a lurch, he reached to the top of the piano and slowly—wheezingly, dizzily—he pulled himself up.

Some patrons had left a few mugs of beer on top of the piano in their hurry to escape the gunfight. The sheriff grabbed one of these with a shaky hand and chugged it, half expecting to see streams of the amber fluid leaking out of the bullet holes in his belly. But instead his vision cleared, and his mind, too. He grabbed another mug and gulped it down, then another, each one revitalizing, rejuvenating. As he drained the last one, he flung the mug down to shatter on the floor right where the grave digger stood.

“It’s time to settle this,” the sheriff said steadily, and he lunged at the other man, fist in the air, and sunk his weathered knuckles square in the grave digger’s nose. The man staggered back, stunned.

“Ya know yer outnumbered, sheriff. We got ten times as many on my side of the law than on yor’n, and most o’ them are on their way here right now.”

The Kid pulled out his revolver, spun the magazine, and cocked the hammer, pointing it at the grave digger. For a moment he hesitated, unsure of the justice of the action. But the town was in utter chaos, a deputy dead and an outlaw killed, too. “Yeah, I know. But I ain’t gonna jus’ roll over ‘n’ die without a fight.” So he pulled the trigger.

The bullet’s impact shoved the grave digger jarringly back a few feet, making a loud bwang sound like a gong. To the sheriff’s surprise, the grave digger not only stayed on his feet, he started reloading his Remington. “Never leave home without an iron plate under yer shirt, ‘s what I always say,” the old man said.

The sheriff fired again, but this time the grave digger dodged the shot with unexpected speed and returned fire, pumping four bullets into the sheriff’s lead-riddled body. The sheriff grabbed a tequila from a nearby table and practically flung it down his own throat, but the grave digger shot him again, negating the effect of the burning alcohol.

“You can’t last forever, sheriff,” the grave digger mocked. “One more shot and yer dead!” The grave digger prepared to fire, the sheriff trembling with the fear of death.

“¡Ay ay, no lo mates, hombre!” came the voice of Pepito the diputado from out of nowhere. The little mexicano with the big sombrero leaped in front of the sheriff, and the grave digger’s bullet struck him in the shoulder, ricocheting off the bone. Pepito hardly seemed to notice, and he rushed at the grave digger, grabbing the man’s gun and throwing it behind the bar counter, then pummeling him with punch after punch. Soon the grave digger was on the ground, not even fighting back anymore.

At the entrance to the saloon, the swinging doors swung in and two ragged characters walked through. The tall one carried in a howitzer, and set it firing on all others in the room. The grave digger took a bullet, and he died where he lay on the floor. Somehow the big gun missed the sheriff, and its shot at Pepito simply whizzed through his sombrero, flinging it off his head. But the other man, the short one, rushed up to Pepito and stabbed him with a rusty puñal, and Pepito breathed his last.

The two newcomers turned towards the sheriff, the Apache Kid. The tall one was ready to unleash his howitzer on the doomed officer of the law. “It’s time for new management in this town, sheriff. You done a poor job an’ we citizens won’t stand for it.” He laughed triumphantly, but before he could fire his weapon the short man, standing behind him, tossed a lit stick of dynamite onto the floor in front of the sheriff.

The sheriff kicked the dynamite over to the tall man, who kicked it to the short one. The short man kicked it to the sheriff, and on it went like a hot potato until finally it exploded, launching the tall man with a crash out the window and onto the dusty road.

“It’s just you and me now, sheriff,” the short man said unnecessarily. “I’m glad to see the other fool go,” he said, gesturing to the shattered glass window. “‘Cause I’m not like those other outlaws. I’m a solo operator and I report to nobody but me.”

That’s when the sheriff understood. “So you’re the renegade! I wondered who it was amidst all the chaos.” The short man nodded, glad to be recognized. “So what’re you gonna do now?” the sheriff asked.

The renegade stood there for a second as if trying to suppress some great burst of laughter, but he couldn’t do it. He laughed a loud and terrifying laugh that the sheriff hadn’t heard the likes of since he put the Finuccis in jail for running the salt mine gang. But before the short man knew it the sheriff had him Pepper-boxed, Springfielded, and Delengered, and with a punch to the face he laid the renegade out cold.

The sheriff breathed a sigh of relief, surveying the pile of bodies around him and the wreckage strewn through the saloon. Too bad they killed the gravedigger, he thought, ’cause there’s gonna be a lotta work to do. And the player piano still played “Maple Leaf Rag” as the sheriff sat down and poured himself one more drink.

Note: this story is based on the four rounds of a game titled “Bang!” that I played with my friends tonight. I was the renegade three times, but on the fourth round I was the sheriff’s deputy and my name was most definitely Pepito. In the game, all forms of alcohol have a rejuvenative effect, ironically.

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