Lark Ridley rode into town tall in the saddle. His horse’s hooves kicked up small clouds of dirt that were quickly blown away by the hot wind. Tumbleweeds rolled in from the open plains, down the wide street, and back out of town at the other end. The few buildings that lined both sides of the street were ramshackle and weather-worn. To the right, creaking, swaying signs that hung from two of the buildings advertised they were the dry goods store and the barbershop. On the left hung signs for the undertaker and saloon. In smaller lettering beneath the word saloon was the word hotel. It was the only two story building on the street. In front of the saloon, two horses were tied to a hitching rail.
Lark rode up to the saloon and climbed off his horse, let it drink from the murky water in the trough, and then tied it to the rail. He stepped up onto the rickety wood walkway, lowered his bright red bandana beneath his cleft chin and pushed open the saloon’s swinging doors and walked in. Standing perfectly still with his hands resting on the pearl handles of his Colt six shooter revolvers holstered in a belt that hung low across his hips, he scanned the dimly lit interior. It was sparsely furnished and the walls were bare. A staircase led to the second floor. Two cowpokes were seated at the only table and a man in a dusty, black suit stood at the bar. The bartender was wiping a whiskey glass with a rag. They all turned and looked at Lark.
He pushed back his white Stetson, letting his curly blonde hair cascade over his forehead. He then brushed the dirt from his rawhide jacket and then walked to the bar. His spurs jingled and the heels of his boots thudded loudly on the wood floor.
He stepped up to the bar and said to the bartender, “Give me a whiskey.”
The bartender nodded and twisted one end of his handlebar mustache between his thumb and index finger. He put the glass down on the bar and poured whiskey into it. “What brings you to town?” he said.
Lark gulped down the whiskey and set the empty glass on the table. “Just passing through.”
The man in the black suit said, “On your way to where?”
Lark smiled at the man, devilishly, showing his perfect, brilliantly white teeth. “What’s it to you?”
“I’m the town undertaker. Since you’re a stranger, if you happen to die while you’re here I like to know where you’re headed or coming from so I can locate any next of kin.”
Lark tapped the edge of his glass. “Give me another,” he said to the bartender.
The bartender filled the glass.
“I don’t have any kin,” Lark said. He drank the whiskey and looking at the undertaker questioningly through his baby blue eyes said, “Why would I die here?”
The undertaker wiped beads of sweat from forehead with the back of his hand. “It happens more often than you might think. All sorts of people pass through this town.”
Lark downed the whiskey. “What’s the name of this town?”
At that moment Lark was drawn to the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. He turned and saw a young woman with light brown hair piled on the top of her head and wearing a bright green knee-length ruffled dress. Her cheeks and lips were heavily rouged.
“Who’s that?” Lark said to the undertaker.
“She says she sings and dances, but she hasn’t done either one since arriving here about two weeks ago,” the undertaker said. “She looks and dresses like a scarlet woman but she hasn’t let even one man go up to her room with her. She sure does liven up the place though.”
Lark removed his hat and ran his hand through his thick, curly hair. “What’s her name?”
Lark casually leaned against the bar and watched as Rose sashayed toward him.
Within a foot away, Rose said to Lark, “Howdy cowboy. I saw you ride into town. Wanna buy a lady a drink?”
Lark turned to the bartender and said, “Two whiskeys.” To Rose he said, “What’s a pretty gal like you doing in a town like this?”
“Trying to earn a living,” she said. “You’re easy on the eyes yourself.”
“So I’ve been told,” Lark said. He brushed a long curled eyelash from his tanned cheek.
The bartender set two glasses of whiskey on the bar. Lark handed one to Rose. They drank down the whiskey at the same time while gazing into one another’s eyes. The scent of her rose perfume hung in the air.
“Those are some fancy guns you have there,” Rose said as she handed her glass to Lark.
Lark set the glasses on the bar. He took one of the revolvers from its holster and held it up, showing off the handle. “Real pearl,” he said. “Got them from some fella in Kansas City.”
“May I see it?” she said.
Lark handed the gun to her.
She looked at the handle for a moment, and then turned the gun barrel toward him and put her finger on the trigger. “Get your hands up.”
The undertaker moved away from the bar. The two cowpokes got up from their table and went to the swinging doors and stood there, watching.
Lark kept one hand on the handle of his other gun. “What’s this all about?”
“You’re Handsome Lark Ridley. It’s easy to recognize your face from the wanted posters. You killed that man in cold blood that you got those guns from along with a few other people east of the Mississippi,” Rose said. “I can take you back dead or alive.”
“You’re a bounty hunter?” Lark said.
“That’s right,” Rose said. “I knew you were headed this direction. All I had to do was not let on why I was here while I waited it out in this town.”
“What’s the name of this town?” Lark said.
“Does it matter? Get your hand off that gun and raise your hand in the air just like you have the other one.”
Lark smiled at her, seductively. “Are you sure we can’t work this out another way?”
“I’m certain of it. You’re worth five thousand dollars when I get you or proof that I killed you back to Kansas City.”
Lark pulled his gun from its holster so swiftly that it was almost a blur.
Rose shot him in the chest.
He dropped his revolver and fell back against the bar, and then slid to the floor.
Rose bent over him. “You’re so good looking. It’s a darn shame I had to shoot you.”
Lark smiled, sweetly. “What’s the name of this town?” he said. And then he died.
About the Author: Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 240 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. He has two collections of short stories, Sandand Rain, that have been published by Clarendon House Publications. His third collection of short stories, Heat, was published by Czykmate Productions. His YA collection of stories, The Tales of Talker Knock was published by Clarendon House Publications. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960.