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Dead or Alive

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Three years earlier.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen!” the stranger in the gray suit jacket and bowler hat said as he pushed through the wooden doors of the saloon. His whitish beard outlined his smile. More than a trace of accent was evident in his voice and in the pauses between his words, lending him a strangely dignified air. Through the open doors, a cool dusk breeze blew into the warm tavern.

He paused for a moment, still smiling, to look around at the mostly barren bar. The ginger haired piano player had paused in the middle of a jaunty tune as soon as the stranger spoke and he sat looking up at him, a chewed toothpick hanging from his lips. In the back of the tavern five men of various sizes and levels of cleanliness sat playing poker.

Behind the bar, a tall, blonde woman had stopped wiping the counter and eyed the stranger cautiously. She was pretty, but in a world-weary way. She had a full figure, with curves in the right places and a face that five years earlier might have been dazzling, but had since been baked and wrinkled somewhat by the cruel southwestern sun. She seemed cautious, but not overly so, like a possum that hadn’t decided yet whether or not to play dead.

The stranger held up his hands, palms forward, in a gesture of friendship.

“I apologize. I didn’t mean to interrupt your festivities. I merely have a question with which I require your assistance. You see, I’m looking for a man by the name of…”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black notebook, which he opened to a marked page.

“…by the name of James McCreedy.”

Seven blank faces stared back at him. One of the poker players spit casually into a nearby urn.

“Have any of you heard of this man?” he asked.

After several tense moments the woman behind the counter spoke up, breaking the silence.

“I’ve heard of ‘im,” she said with a nod.

The stranger’s smile widened and he moved towards the bar. All at once the tension that had descended on the room was broken. The piano player resumed playing and the card players went back to their game as the stranger propped himself up on a stool.

“Excellent!” he said as he removed his hat and set it on the bar. “Then you may be just the person I wish to speak to. While we converse, if it’s not too much trouble, might I ask you to bring me a beer? Whatever you have on tap will be fine. I have been travelling for several days now and good beer is a true pleasure after the dusty roads.”

The woman nodded slightly and reached under the bar for a glass that was almost clean. She brought it up to the tap and began pouring.

“You talk funny,” she said without looking at him, “You some kinda doctor or somethin’?”

“Why yes, actually! Very observant of you. Although, admittedly, I am not that kind of doctor. Merely a doctor of law. My name is Doctor King Schultz and I am an attorney with a firm based in Boston.”

The woman handed him his beer, nearly the top half of which was foam, and stepped back, smirking slightly.

“What brings a fancy Boston lawyer out to a tiny shit-hole like Penance, Texas?” she asked.

The doctor laughed briefly and shrugged. He grabbed his beer, swirling it around slightly to try to settle the foam.

“What always brings the wealthy and privileged out into the wild world and drags them down into the mud. Business of course, my dear. Business and money. Now, would you kindly tell me what it is you’ve heard about this man, James McCreedy?”

“Not much,” the woman said with a shrug, “Heard he came through town about a month ago. Didn’t stay long. Heard he robbed some banks back in Virginia. Shot some folks, maybe. Just rumors.”

“Yes, well, fortunately my business with Mr. McCreedy has nothing whatsoever to do with that unfortunate bit of indiscretion on his part. You see, my firm was on retainer to Mr. McCreedy’s uncle, Proincias McCreedy, who died some weeks ago of fever in his home in Boston. It seems that he was rather fond of his nephew and left him a large sum of money in his will. I’ve been sent by my firm to try to track down the younger McCreedy so that we can discharge the will and settle the elder McCreedy’s estate.”

He took a sip of his beer, using a pocket handkerchief to wipe away the foam that clung to his upper lip.

“You say he left town already. Do you recall how long ago?”

“Couldn’t rightly say,” she said. “Maybe… three weeks? He wasn’t here long.”

“Do you know which direction he left in?”

“No, not really. Word around town was that he headed south towards Mexico, but I never even saw him, really.”

The doctor smiled and raised his hands again.

“Well,” he said, “I suppose that’s that then. I shall have to start out first thing tomorrow for the Mexican border and hope that I can intercept him before I lose him completely. There is no rest for the weary, it would seem. It would look very bad on my company record when I put in my request to become a partner were I to not be able to discharge this mission successfully.”

He finished off his beer and set it down with a loud and satisfied sigh. He reached into his pocket and produced a large billfold from which he took a dollar bill and laid it on the counter.

“In that case, my dear, I thank you for your beer and the pleasure of your company. You are as enchanting and beautiful as the Loreley.”

“The what now?” the tall woman asked, raising an eyebrow. The doctor waved his hand, as though dismissing the notion as a passing fancy.

“A very old legend among us Germans, my dear, similar in many ways to the greek sirens. The Loreley was the spirit of a young woman who resided on a cliff over the Rhine. She was said to be so beautiful and so sad in her beauty, that she would lure poor, unsuspecting sailors towards the rocks and they would smash themselves to pieces trying to find her.”

The woman smiled genuinely.

“I like that,” She said. “You’re a bit of a flatterer, huh?”

The doctor returned her smile.

“I am merely a humble traveler,” he stated, “And perhaps a silly and somewhat romantic one at that.”

“Anyway…” he said, standing up and taking his hat, “I require only one more service of you this evening.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Well, it is already past dark, and I’m afraid I’m not as young as I once was. Do you by any chance have a room that I could rent for the night?”

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The door to the rented room opened with a slight creak.

Dr. Schultz turned from where he sat reading a book on the small bed and saw the tavern waitress standing in his doorway. He removed his glasses and looked up at her questioningly. She wore only a loose fitting night-shift of some rough material.

“This is an unexpected visit. How can I help you, my dear?”

She made no reply, but instead moved towards him, one step at a time.

“Do you really think I’m pretty, doctor?” she asked him when she stood barely a foot in front of him, so that he had to crane his neck back to look her in the eyes, “Or were you just saying that?”

He reached out and took her hand in his, running his thumb gently over the back of it.

“My dear, you are every bit as beautiful as a siren.”

“And...” he added with a smirk, “Possibly just as dangerous, if I’m not mistaken.”

The woman smiled and bent down, pressing her lips to his. Surprised, he allowed her to push him backwards onto the bed.

“Mmmmph... my dear...” he muttered when she finally let him up for air, “...I really must insist...”

“Shhhhh...” she whispered, as her hand moved downwards to the buckle of his pants. She undid it with practiced ease and reached inside, removing his cock and holding it lightly in her calloused hand.

“Relax...” she muttered, “Close your eyes.”

For a moment he continued watching as she moved down his body, her mouth quickly enveloping him. As she began to bob her head, however, he gave in to her ministrations and lay back, closing his eyes.

“Ohhh...” he whispered, “Mein gott, Fraulein...”

For several minutes she continued caressing him with her mouth as he moaned quietly beneath her.

Then came a clicking sound next to his head, and the unmistakable feeling of cold steel pressed against his temple.

He opened his eyes.

He peered up into the upside down face of the ginger-haired piano player, holding a cocked .44 colt to his head. From this close range he could make out the individual freckles on the man’s face.

“Goddamnit, Rita, get your wrinkled face off his cock already!” the red-haired man grumbled, looking over at the woman, who was still eagerly going about her business. “I said distract him, not suck him to death.”

She looked up at him and scowled, reluctantly pulling her mouth off of the offending organ and stuffing it back into Dr Schultz’s trousers.

“Shit, Jim. You never let me have any fun.”

“Mr. McCreedy, I presume?” the doctor asked.

“And you...” McCreedy said, looking back down at the doctor, “Stand up and keep your hands where I can see ‘em.”

Doctor Schultz willingly complied, standing up near the edge of the bed with his hands in the air.

“You ain't no big city lawyer, are you?” McCreedy asked. “I heard your name before, Doctor King Schultz. You’re a bounty hunter.”

“Guilty as charged.” Dr. Schultz said with a shrug and a smile, “It’s good to know that my reputation precedes me.”

“It won’t for much longer,” McCreedy sneered back.

The doctor’s smile never faltered.

“As you are no doubt aware, Mr. McCreedy, you are a wanted man. The warrant for your arrest very clearly states that you are wanted ‘Dead or Alive’. By the powers vested in me by the 15th circuit court of Austin, Texas, I am hereby executing my duly granted authority and placing you under arrest for the murders of George White, Sven Jorgensen, and Deputy Sheriff Alexander Cormand, as well as the robbery of the second national bank of Virginia. Please lower your weapon and surrender to me so that I may transport you for trial. This is the only time I will make this offer.”

McCreedy stared back at him, dumbfounded.

“You’re shittin’ me, right? You got an army waitin’ outside to bring me in or something?”

The doctor sighed.

“No, Mr. McCreedy, I won’t be needing an army.”

“Well, then, with all due respect, doctor: Fuck you.”

The doctor shrugged.

“Very well.”

With a quick, casual gesture, the doctor lowered his arm, a tiny derringer appearing in his hand. There was a single, loud shot, and a red hole appeared in McCreedy’s chest.

Rita screamed and jumped backwards, hugging a corner of the room. McCreedy fell to the floor with a grunt and lay still.

“Oh god!” she screeched, “Jim!”

With a nimbleness belying his age, the doctor leapt over the small bed, hastilly grabbing up the colt peacemaker that had clattered to the floor. At that moment the door of the room swung open forcefully, and a heavyset man rushed in.

“Holy shit!” he exclaimed, reaching for his side arm.

Before he even grabbed his pistol, Dr. Shultz took aim and fired twice, painting the wooden wall behind him red with blood and brain matter.

Rita fainted, her head smacking loudly on the wooden floor.

Dr. Schultz got up from his crouch and made his way quickly to the door. He grabbed his hat from a nearby table and waved it once in front of the opening. Immediately, three shots rang out, striking the opposite wall of the bedroom. He pointed his gun around the doorframe and fired twice blindly before immediately stepping into the doorway. A tall man with an eyepatch was crouching down behind the bar to avoid his bullets. Just as the man stood up to fire again, Dr. Schultz took aim and hit him squarely in his good eye. The man dropped to the floor in a heap.

Dr. Schultz sighed and adjusted his shirt. He then remembered that his pants were still unbuttoned and quickly closed them.

“They always have to do things the hard way...” he muttered to himself.

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Rita awoke to find herself propped up on a stool at the bar. She looked around blearily and saw the doctor dragging the body of the late James McCreedy towards the door, a trail of blood leaking out behind him, staining the floorboards.

“Oh god...” she said. She tried to stand, but realized that one of her hands was handcuffed to the railing of the bar.

Her face crinkled up with rage.

“You bastard!” she shouted. “Fucking Kraut son-of-a-bitch! You shot Jim!”

The doctor ignored her and continued his work, dragging the body out through the swinging saloon doors. A minute later he reappeared, wiping stray blood from his hands with his handkerchief.

“I take it...” he said, calmly, “That you are Rita Dunbar, Mr. McCreedy’s long-suffering companion?”

Rita said nothing, staring daggers at the man.

“I thought as much. And I will likewise assume that the man with the eyepatch is ‘Deadeye’ Daniel Waters. Which means that the portly fellow would be Clem Tatum. Both known fugitives and members of McCreedy’s gang of hoodlums.”

Rita’s expression softened.

“Please...” she said, “You already killed Jim... I can’t... please just let me go.”

The doctor smiled.

“My dear, I wouldn’t dream of harming you. I don’t have the authority. Your name wasn’t included on the list of people I am authorized to bring to justice. In fact...”

He reached into his belt and pulled out the peacemaker he had taken from McCreedy’s body.

“I’m going to leave you with a parting gift for your information and hospitality.”

He handed her the gun. She stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment and then reached for it slowly, as though it were alive.

“There’s one bullet left,” he said. As she took hold of it, he turned and began walking away.

For a moment, Rita seemed unsure what to do. Hesitantly she raised the gun with one shaking hand, pointing it at his back.

The click of the hammer being pulled back caused him to pause in his stride and turn around once more.

“Did you know...” he asked calmly, looking into her eyes, “that the greeks believed there was only one way to ever kill a siren? They used to say that when finally a man managed to evade their grasp and escape their clutches, they would hurl themselves from their rocky pedestal out of grief and die of a broken heart.”

He turned and began walking away once more. A few moments later he was gone.

It wasn’t long before one final shot echoed through the dusty saloon.