A Weird Western Saga
week in Serenity... A mob of riders road into town, causing trouble. Marshal Boxer seemed to calm things down but when, later that night, the riders returned and wrecked the Serenity Star newspaper office and tried to have their way with Raven Clark, Nolan Paige and Raven suspected the marshal had put the riders up to it. The two reporters were saved, surprisingly, by the mysterious Grimm, who killed or drove off the remaining riders. And when Marshal Boxer later confronted Grimm -- the marshal ended up with a broken hand.
And though the sinister marshal being taught a lesson might be a good thing. In this instance, it could prove trouble for the town...given the events about to unfold...
It was longest shave and haircut in Serenity history.
Every time Mr. Curruthers moved in for a snip, Jackson Diamond, self-professed killer of twenty-seven men, and one great ape, would remember another of his escapades and launch into a demonstrative recitation of it.
Tom Putnam had had enough. “Mister, I’ve got three young'uns here that need clippin,’ a general store to tend, and I ain’t even next in line. So, either leave your tall tales for after your turn, or get the hell out of the chair.”
Diamond fixed Tom Putnam with a glare. He pulled the drape from around his neck and rose to face Serenity’s shopkeeper. “Are you suggesting, sir, that my chronicles are not authentic?”
Tom had no problem getting in the slight dandy’s face. “You’re dressed like a showgirl, you look like a banker, and you ain’t even heeled. What am I supposed to think?”
“You want proof of my prowess? Very well!” Diamond jerked a Derringer from his vest and seized little Abercrombie Putnam. “Summon the man who speaks for this town and meet me in the street! I have a challenge!”
Marshal Boxer was in no mood for this. His arm was killing him.
The entire town was watching. Jackson Diamond was mounted at the end of the street, using Abercrombie Putnam as a shield. Boxer, his left arm in a sling, faced the dandy gunman from thirty paces. Deputy Lake and Mayor Brubaker were at his shoulders. Lake, his rifle cocked, scanned Diamond’s anatomy, looking for an opening.
Brubaker stepped forward. “Mr. Diamond, maybe there’s some kind of a . . . uh . . . arrangement we can come to. How would you feel about a free steak dinner?”
Boxer rolled his eyes and pulled the mayor back by the shoulder. “Yeah, that’ll do it. Thanks a lot, Branson. Look, Mister . . . Diamond, was it? What’s this challenge of yours?”
Diamond mopped his brow with his puffy sleeve, then returned the Derringer to the little boy’s temple. “I’ll return tomorrow at noon. I want your best gunfighter on this street when I arrive for a quick draw contest. If your man wins, I’ll release the boy.”
Brubaker wrung his hands. “And if you win?”
Diamond grinned. “Then I prove myself by killing the best man this town has.”
Tom Putnam leapt forward. “You don’t need my boy for that! Let him go!”
Abercrombie squirmed in Diamond’s grasp. “Daddy, I’m scared. I’ll be good for my haircut. Honest.”
Deputy Richter pushed the shopkeeper back with his shotgun. “Come on now, Tom. Let the marshal handle this.”
Boxer whispered to Deputy Lake. “How’re we looking on a shot, Stu?”
“Nothing doing, Box. He’s shifting Abbie around too much.”
The marshal clenched his jaw. “Very well, Mr. Diamond, we agree to those terms.” Boxer ignored the collective gasp from the townspeople. “But if you don’t show or little Abbie has so much as hair out place when I see him next, there won’t be a safe place for you anywhere. Ever.”
“Save your bravado, Marshal, I’ll keep my word. After all, I have reputation to uphold.”
Boxer, his deputies, Mayor Brubaker, and Abbie Putnam’s parents gathered in the marshal’s office. Before Richter could close the door, Raven Clark and Nolan Paige pushed their way in.
Boxer rolled his eyes. “Aw Christ. I don’t have time for you two today. Take the crusade someplace else.”
Paige shook his fist in Boxer’s face. “How could you let that man just ride out of here? If anything happens to Abercrombie Putnam, I will hold you personally responsible!”
“Noted.” The marshal pushed Nolan out of the way and stepped to the center of the room. “Now that the Quill’s had his usual say, we have to figure out who’s going to represent us in the quick draw tomorrow.”
Deputy Richter dug a pinkie into his ear. “Well jeez, Marshal. Everyone knows yer the fastest draw in town. You should do it.”
Boxer glanced at his crushed wrist, glared at his deputy, and sighed. “I think we can all agree our missing friend, Mr. Grimm, has removed me from contention.”
“What a pity.” Raven sat in Richter’s chair, her feet on his desk.
“What about you, Deputy Lake?” Nolan leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. “You seem pretty handy with that rifle.”
“I am.” Lake ran a hand along the long barrel of his weapon. “I can put a shot between a hare’s ears from two hundred yards.” His gaze dropped to the floorboards. “But I can’t quick draw a pistol worth a damn.”
Mayor Brubaker put a finger in the air. “What about our other fine deputy?”
Everyone turned to Richter, whose finger was up his nose to the second knuckle. “What’re y’all lookin’ at?”
Tom Putnam could no longer keep still. “Let me duel him, Marshal. It should be me, Abbie’s my boy after all.”
Harriet Putnam gasped and grabbed her husband’s arm. “No, Tom! You’ve never handled a gun except to sell it. I can’t lose a son and a husband in one day.” She turned to Boxer with tears in her eyes. “Please, Marshal. There must be someone, some way to save my Abbie.”
Boxer put a hand on her shoulder and broke into a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Harriet, no one wants to save Abbie more than me, but-”
“I’ll do it.”
All eyes looked to the corner, and Nolan Paige stepped forward. “I’ll represent Serenity in the duel.”
Raven was on her feet. “He’ll kill you.”
Boxer nodded, looking from Raven to Paige. “Yeah, Quill, she’s right. You’ve never fired a gun in your life.”
“Better me than the one-armed man.” Nolan stepped past a seething Boxer into the center of the room. “Besides, we’re out of options.”
At eleven fifty the next morning, Jackson Diamond reappeared in Serenity. Alone.
The entire town lined the street. Marshal Boxer, Mayor Brubaker and Nolan Paige stood at its center. Diamond dismounted and crossed to within ten paces of the Serenity trio, grinning all the way. “Good morning. Is this rather peaked looking gentleman my opponent?”
Boxer stepped in front of Paige and into Diamond’s face. “Where’s the boy?”
Diamond put up both palms. “He’s safe, I swear it. Call his absence my . . . insurance policy.”
Nolan looked from Boxer to Brubaker. “Insurance policy? What does that mean?”
“It means you can’t kill him.” It was the marshal who answered, his good hand on his hip. “If you kill him, we’ll never know where he’s stashed Abbie.” He looked Paige dead in the eye. “You’re going to have to be very careful where you shoot, Quill.”
Nolan took a deep breath and squeezed his grimy gun belt, a loan from Deputy Richter, as sweat dripped from his hairline. “As if I didn’t have enough to worry about.”
“Yeah.” Boxer and Paige held each other’s gaze for a moment longer before the marshal turned to Brubaker. “Alright Mayor, let’s get on with this.”
The mayor stepped between the shooters, as Boxer headed for the sidelines. He looked back at Diamond. “Nice revolver, by the way. Where was it yesterday?”
The dandy gunfighter placed a hand on the pearl grips of his silver pistol. “Hidden outside of town. I saw the ordinance posted on my way in. Far be it from me to break the law.”
Mayor Brubaker pointed to the Serenity clock tower. “Gentlemen, the time is now eleven fifty-five. Ready yourself to draw in five minutes.”
Nolan spent four minutes with his back to everyone, his eyes closed. He felt a presence behind him and knew who it was without turning around. “I can’t beat him.”
“I know.” Raven’s voice was the softest he’d ever heard it.
Though he wanted nothing more than to see her face, Nolan couldn’t bring himself to turn around. He opened his eyes and, for a split second, thought he saw a glint of light come from the clock tower. “That boy’s going to die because of me.”
He felt her hand on his back. “You’re the reason he has a chance to live.”
A single tear trickled down Nolan’s cheek.
Twenty-five paces away, Mayor Brubaker cleared his throat. “Thirty seconds to noon. Shooters, take your places!”
Raven stepped close to Nolan, got up on her toes, and kissed the tear away.
“Three . . . two . . . one . . . fire!”
Nolan reached for his borrowed gun with all the speed and concentration he had, but he didn’t even clear his holster before Jackson Diamond’s shot was in the air.
The bullet took Nolan in the right thigh. The pain was excruciating.
Paige let out a prolonged scream. Everything went quiet and moved in slow motion as he fell to one knee, then pitched forward toward the dust. Nolan brought his gun hand up, his body following through with the impulse to shoot. The elbow of his gun arm hit the dirt and Nolan’s gun fired. The writer from New York collapsed face down in the dirt, clutching his thigh as blood poured from the wound.
Fifty paces away. Jackson Diamond was on his back, wailing, his shooting arm ruined. The bullet found the exact point of conjunction between the arm and shoulder and destroyed it. Diamond’s right arm flopped about like a wet noodle, as he writhed in the dust. He’d never use it again.
Along the street, the people of Serenity screamed for Nolan Paige to rise. If he could show he was still able to shoot, Abercrombie Putnam would be saved.
With everything he had left, Nolan pushed himself back up to one knee. Blood from his wound squirted between his fingers as Nolan used the last of his strength to thumb back the hammer of his gun and point it at the downed Jackson Diamond. “Ready . . . to shoot . . . Mayor.”
Brubaker wasted no time. “Mr. Paige is the winner!”
The cacophony of cheers was deafening, but Nolan would never hear it. As soon he as heard the mayor’s decree, Paige let the revolver tumble from his hand, then followed it into the dust, unconscious.
Jackson Diamond was still writhing on the ground when two shadows fell over him. “Get him up, Bump.”
Deputy Richter seized the dandy gunfighter by his starched collar and hauled him to his feet. Diamond squealed in pain, his right arm dangling, flaccid. “Doctor! Please, Marshal, I need a doctor now!”
“Doc’s with the Quill, what you need is a hacksaw.” Boxer grinned at Richter’s giggling, then, stone-faced, turned back to Diamond. “Take me to the boy.”
It was past midnight, but the party was still in full swing. Art Chaney decided all drinks were on the house and most of Serenity was taking full advantage. Stick played nothing but happy songs, and Abercrombie Putnam was passed from one set of glad arms to the next. Everyone loved his new haircut.
At the bar, away from all the merriment, Deputy Lake felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, and was surprised by who he saw. “Mr. Paige! Jesus we didn’t know if you’d ever walk again.”
Nolan leaned heavily on his new cane. “I was very lucky, as it turns out. Dr. Bullshank tells me it was only a deep flesh wound, though I’m afraid I won’t be able to get around without this cane for a while. I would have been here some time ago, actually, but there was something I needed to do before I joined the festivities.”
Lake put a hand on Paige’s shoulder. “Well, Miss Clark’s over by the piano. I’m sure she’d like to see you. But I just wanted to say you’re a hero for what you did today. This town will never forget it.”
Nolan mirrored the deputy’s token of friendship. “I’m sure it won’t, but I wonder if the town will ever know the truth about what happened.”
Lake leaned against the bar. “What do you mean?”
Nolan eyed the deputy’s chest. “Your star’s looking mighty shiny.”
“Thanks, I just polished it this morn . . . ing.” Lake looked down at Paige’s open palm.
He was holding a spent rifle cartridge.
“I found this in the clock tower. Thank you for saving two lives today, Deputy Lake. I won’t forget it.”
On the other side of the saloon, Avery Cobb, the old postmaster, took Marshal Boxer into a dark corner away from the crowd. “I fergot to tell ya what with all the excitement today, Marshal, but I got a cable from New York this morning.” (Boxer asked Cobb to do some checking on Nolan Paige back in Chapter Two: "Questions" ~ the ed.)
Boxer clenched his fist. “And?”
Cobb shook his head, grinning. “That Paige feller don’t work for any newspaper they got in New York City. Not a one.”
Boxer looked across the saloon, where Raven Clark and Nolan Paige were sharing a passionate kiss, and broke into a wide grin.
“Is that . . . right?”
Next - Chapter 6: Crossroads
Previous - Chapter 4: Riders
Serenity is copyright by Jason Chirevas. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)