Original article posted by bluesman:

Joshua had one round left in his pistol. One round between a new life in Rincon or vultures picking at his bones.

But there were still two men out there in the darkness.

Tom Hagar had jumped out at him from behind a clump of creosote bushes with a knife in his hand, and gotten one in the right cheek from Joshua’s ragged Forty-Five. Joshua had a hard time turning the heavy body over, and found nothing on old Tom that would serve: a snuff box with a few pesos rattling around inside, some tobacco in a smelly leather pouch, a few rolling papers. He saw the dog eared deck of cards that they all used to pass the time while waiting for the Wells Fargo diligence, creaking under the strain of sturdy lock boxes, to pass through. Now, Tom Hagar was lying face down in the dirt, the back of his head an open, bloody mess. Joshua took what he needed and then rode south through the junipers.

* * * *

Harlan Gates looked up from his saddle bags as he heard the crack of a pistol shot echo down the canyon. That would be Old Tom, he knew. Tom was stupid and a bully, which was just fine with Harlan—he would be the next to take a bullet from Joshua’s deadly hand. Old Tom had stood there, silent, kicking at the dirt when Harlan told him to wait by the canyon entrance for Joshua: he knew it was a death sentence. But Harlan knew Tom would rather take on Joshua and maybe have surprise on his side than be gunned down by Harlan in front of the other men. So he left. Now, Harlan was down another man, but Joshua was down another round. It was simple mathematics. That was why Harlan sent Rob Cherry to sneak up on Joshua last night after everyone had bedded down for the night, why he told Sam Spade to lurk in the San Pete Hollow.

Jake Combs he shot in The Flats.

George Juarez while he was taking a piss.

Alistair Finnes on the Tristeza Trail.

Eleven men in all, so far. Joshua had stalked them all this way, picking at them where he could, but beating a hasty retreat when the others came running. But Harlan Gates wasn’t worried; he had stolen Joshua’s ammo belt two nights ago, rummaged through his clothing and bags while Joshua was taking a bath at Nancy Crier’s place. He wasn’t worried because he knew what Joshua knew:

Harlan had one more man than Joshua had bullets.

* * * *

Flint Egan was stumbling over the stones, slowly stalking the south canyon wall. Harlan had told him to find cover on one of the rocky promontories that overlooked the canyon, oiling his rifle as he did so.

“You get up there and lay real still, and when that sonovabitch comes struttin’ from the east side, you wait till he’s past ya and then blow him to hell. I’ll cover ya from the north side.”

So Flint, picking up his gear, forced himself to leave the small camp, glaring at the others until he reached his horse. When he was out of sight of Harlan, he let out a sob. He knew who Joshua would get first.
The footing became more treacherous as he ascended and Flint was forced to crawl on our fours as he made his way to the nearest outcropping of rocks. Then he froze—the sound of a horse’s gallop from a ways down the canyon stopped him, filled him with dread. Hugging the ground, sweating in fear, he turned his head ever so slowly to the left.
There, not a hundred yards distant, was Joshua, leaning heavily over his saddle. Flint felt a shock of hope, like cold water in his chest, and pulled his weapon free. The figure on the horse was clearly hurting, bobbing up and down against the horse’s neck, his face turned down. Flint wiped his brow, steadied his rifle on a nearby boulder. Flint waited until Joshua passed by. He fired. Joshua fell from the saddle into a heap on the sandy canyon floor. Trembling, Flint stood, made his way down to where the body lay. Flint’s hands were shaking badly as he approached the form. He let his rifle drop.

The body was a scarecrow—Joshua’s clothing stuffed with brush and branches; a rope was around the neck.

Flint Egan never even felt the round pass through his skull.

* * * *

Harlan watched as Flint’s body crumpled into the ground. He saw Joshua emerge from behind a bush, holding the other end of the scarecrow’s rope. He waited until Joshua ran for Flint’s rifle. Just as Joshua reached down, Harlan jumped out. Joshua whirled about, pulling free his Forty-Five. The speed of his turn made Harlan’s guts turn to water. Then he remembered:

Joshua was out.

Harlan raised his rifle higher, a bitter sneer on his face.

“It’s useless, Josh, you sonovabitch; we both know yer empty. You’re good, all right, best I ever seen. But nobody steals from my gang. You know that. Now, I’m gonna be merciful to ya, cause we got a history, you and me, and I’m willin’ to show a little compassion. You can choose whether you see it comin’ or not.”

Josh stood there, silent. Harlan waited, as he had waited for this moment for two days.


Josh pulled out his pocketwatch, looked at it.

“Are you ready Harlan?”

Harlan screamed:


The report of the weapon was loud. Harlan looked down in dumb amazement at the blood spreading from his chest. He sank to his knees, his life’s blood pumping out in rhythmic time.

“How…how did…”

Joshua held up the watch.

“You gave this to me, Harlan. You said it was a ‘damn sneaky place for hidin’ something’. I’ve always kept a round in it since.”

Harlan looked at Joshua with murder in his eyes, then fell flat.

Joshua stood a moment longer, then gathered his belongings from behind the bush. The morning was breaking and he had a few days yet before he hit Rincon. Mounting his horse, he kicked his heels, and Barley answered with a burst of speed.

Orginal comments:

Nickname: Asmodeus
Re: A Game of Numbers
You know I have not, hmm I aught to play with a western I am good with conflict.