The first thing he noticed was the smell. It hit him like a ton of bricks; a very stinky ton of bricks that made his eyes water and his nose burn. Earl Kincaid was accustomed to patrons with sub-standard hygiene habits - as a barkeep in the Middle of Nowhere it was the norm, but this was on another level. Still, business was business and unless the stench was driving off the small herd of regulars lurking in the corner like festering mould, Earl had no qualms serving the young man from which the strong, almost visible fumes were emanating from.
Wiping down the sticky surface in front of his new customer, Earl took his order while holding his breath. Even the keen salesman couldn't sufficiently rein in his manners and curb his language, but with no other bar in a mile's radius, where else could he get some decent booze? He wasn't going anywhere.
"Ever think 'bout takin' a bath?" Earl asked smartly, round beer belly shaking in amusement at his own jibe.
"Never heard that one before," replied the kid with a strong dose of sarcasm. "Nah, I get it. I smell - you try dying twice before breakfast and then go smell your own ass!" he added hotly.
Earl was pretty sure he'd just been insulted, but that particular comeback was new. Inventive or not, no one took the piss out of Earl and got away with it! Who did this kid think he was anyway?
"See here - mouth me off one more time and I won't serve ya!" he threatened.
"Sorry, Gramps," he apologised, raising his hands in mock surrender. "I didn't know a place like this had a policy like that."
At that point, Earl checked himself and shut up. Getting worked up over this kid's digs was below him. Rolling his shoulders, he went back to work and poured the cowboy a drink before sliding it the last few inches down the bar in his direction.
"So, where ya from?" asked Earl.
"I travel, mostly. My home is gone," was his cryptic reply.
"So dramatic," Earl ribbed. "Ya got a name, Mr. Mysterious?"
"Philly," answered Philly as he downed the last few drops of beer. Earl motioned for a refill and Philly pushed his glass towards the tap. "Less talking, more drinking," he said.
After Philly had shared his name, that was when the whispering began. The group at the back of the tavern seemed excited or agitated or something. A debate of some sort had begun - that much Earl was sure of, but the subject remained a mystery. The only thing that seemed to elicit this kind of reaction from those heavy-set thugs was the thrill of the hunt. For bounty hunters, they remained pretty inactive in their drunken stupors unless they were about to cash in big-time with a bounty or were itching to test some new gear they'd acquired.
Unable to suss their motives, he turned his attention back to his newest patron. At his request, Earl handed him yet another drink... followed by another and another. The pair continued this pattern - down a glass, pour another - until Earl realised Philly had been drinking solidly for the best part of an hour. This wouldn't have been a problem for the tight bartender except for the fact that the inebriated cowboy had insisted the price of each drink be added to his ever increasing tab and had yet to fork over any of the promised cash.
"You are gonna pay for this right," he grumbled sceptically.
"Yeah, yeah," Philly slurred, almost slipping off the stool.
All of a sudden, and almost on cue - as if they had been waiting for Philly to become suitably wasted - the group of scheming bounty hunters made their way towards the bar, stopping directly behind him and leering in a way that most would find menacing. Most... but not all as Philly kept up a steady supply of booze to his mouth. Earl's first thought was that he hadn't seen the bounty hunters, but this theory was disproved as he put down his empty tankard with a chink and swivelled around on his seat.
"Can I help you?" he inquired in a tone that was distinctly less-than-polite.
"Say, are you Philly the Kid," the leader of the gang asked, grinning evilly.
"Who's asking?" questioned Philly evasively.
"The guy who's gonna collect ya bounty," he sneered.
A sigh, then, "Better men than you have tried; none - evidently - have ever succeeded... What makes ya think you're gonna be the first?" he smirked.
They were certain now; this man had not denied that he went by that moniker and he had the big hair and tattooed arms as pictured on the wanted poster.
"You let your guard down," the leader informed, referencing his compromised state of intoxication.
Earl watched Philly the Kid peer down at the floor - his attempts to focus on the wooden planks foiled as he swayed from side to side. Still, as he slid off the stool he managed a cocky retort. "Did I?"
Then, without warning, Philly un-holstered his weapon. But instead of pointing the gun at the aggressors, he turned it on himself and rested the barrel against his temple. With a final and somewhat apathetic decree of, "I'm too drunk for this," the cowboy abruptly pulled the trigger.
Let it never be said that Earl was a wuss, but even he closed his eyes. Something soft and wet landed on his face and he shuddered. When he finally cracked open an eye, brain tissue was splattered across the counter and white fragments of skull swam in pools of crimson blood, decorated with wet clumps of hair.
"It's in my mouth! It's in my mouth! Pth-pthth!" sputtered one of the bounty hunters who had been caught in the Splash Zone.
The leader was now laughing heartily. "Did you see that! The Philly the Kid took one look at all of us and shot himself in the head!" he gloated. "Good job the poster says dead or alive, ay boys."
Earl leaned over the counter to look at the body. He was fuming. "One of you sumbitches are gonna pay his tab!" he yelled, waggling his finger. "Typical. He drinks me outta business and then goes an' tops himself... Absolutely typical." Earl exasperatedly threw his hands in the air for good measure.
The bounty hunters then proceeded to squabble over who should have to pay up.
"Rick should - he's the one who made 'im do it," argued one.
"Nu-uh," protested Rick. "Boss is way more scary than me!"
"Damn right I am!" their leader agreed, but then he realised what the implications were and had a better idea. "Check his pockets. Take his money!" he ordered gruffly.
The group looked at Philly's corpse warily. It didn't smell too good even before he kicked the bucket and now a heavy stench of iron drifted into their lungs. Who knew what nasty surprises his pockets held? But, in the end, greed won out and the bravest of the bunch stepped forwards and began to root around in Philly's back pocket.
Earl waited for his money, watching the scene before him unfold. He could have sworn he saw the side of Philly's skull glow purple for the briefest of moments... and seconds later a pale vapour began to drift up from the chunks of brain until there was not a speck of blood left on any surface. The others were still yet to notice these weird occurrences and were only tipped off when something truly supernatural happened.
Philly's corpse spoke.
"What the hell! Quit groping my ass!" Philly yelped, pushing himself up onto all fours. This had the unfortunate effect of trapping the man's hand inside the pocket as the fabric of his trousers were pulled tight. Philly tried to stand - the guy's fingers still sandwiched between the material of the pocket and the seat of his trousers - but the extra weight pulled him back to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. "Get off me!"
Delivering a swift kick to the man's ribs that sent him flying, Philly grunted and swiftly picked himself up off the floor. His drunken stagger was gone and now he seemed even more focused and clear-headed than when he had first wandered into the backwater town.
"I'm in a good mood today," he drawled - eyes sparkling and alert. "So I'm gonna give ya one chance to save ya sorry asses." He paused, turning his silver gun over in his palm darkly and the temperature of the room seemed to drop by a few degrees. "Run."
But these men were hardly half as bright as they looked and refused to back down from a fight. "Yeah, right. What ya gonna do to us, Kid?"
"You do realise I can't be killed, right?" Philly double-checked. When no one moved to surrender Philly grinned maniacally. "That's what I like to hear."
Chills. Literal chills ran down Earl's spine. It was fortunate that he wasn't squeamish or he would have lost his lunch ten times over. Philly tore through the tavern, firing shot after shot at the attacking bounty hunters. Most hit their target, but with distressing regularity, a bullet would rip through a wall or shatter a glass. Soon, the walls and tabletops were riddled with holes and wood chips peppered the floor.
"My bar!" thundered Earl. "My beautiful bar!" He had taken cover as soon as the immortal outlaw had dispensed his first shot, plugging it into the nearest clan member's meaty shoulder and was sheltered from the fray.
But he still felt every shot.
The once mottled floorboards were now looking rather macabre, carpeted in fresh blood - so newly spilled that it was still warm. Philly himself had fallen a few times, but the others didn't have the luxury of immortality and stayed down, clothes soaking up vermillion blood. His shirt was drenched, none of it belonging to himself and he alone made his way back towards the bar top, loosening his tie by a fraction of an inch.
Earl popped up from the other side just in time to watch him issue a sudden hacking cough into his palm. Philly sent the barkeep a deceptively innocent grin with a silver bullet caught between his
teeth, before spitting it into his empty glass.
"So what do I owe ya?" he asked way too casual and out of key with what had just transpired.
Earl gawped unintelligently at Philly with a slack jaw. "Take your freaky ass out of here and we'll call it quits!"