Character: Cort (The Quick & The Dead)
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John Herod poured whiskey into a pair of shot glasses. He watched with satisfaction as the amber liquor filled the ornately etched crystal. Redemption was his own little kingdom; and this house was his castle. No expense was spared in acquiring the best for his enjoyment.
As Sgt. Jeremiah Cantrell lit his pipe, his eyes squinted with disgust. He had arrived in Redemption two days ago. The difference between the oppressed, almost poverty stricken people in town and this tyrant was appalling. Oh, he was going to enjoy killing John Herod.
“So, why are you here?” Herod asked lightly, a sneer curling his lip. “Who paid you?”
“No one paid me. I’m here for the contest money, same as all the others.”
“No, you aren’t like the others.” He handed one of the delicate glasses to Cantrell.
“I am a shootist. I have killed several men in such contests. There’s nothing personal in it.”
“Have a seat.” Herod motioned to a chair opposite him at the table.
“You have a very handsome home,” Cantrell noted.
“Why, thank you. I have spent years furnishing this place with what pleases me.”
“Where ever do you get the money?” Cantrell asked.
“Off the backs of the people who hired you. I’m sure they filled you in on their pitiful lives.” He took a sip from his glass, letting the liquor slowly slide down his throat. “I thought Ace Hanlon was the hired gun at first. But he was a buffoon, a joke.”
“I am no joke.”
Cantrell took a long puff on his pipe.
“Can I ask you a question?”
“I’m fascinated with the relationship between you and the Preacher.”
“He’s no Preacher! He’s a gunfighter!” Cantrell watched Herod’s fists slowly clench.
“I don’t think many people get under your skin. He does.”
“A man shouldn’t try to change what he is. Cort is a gunfighter. I feel it’s my duty to show him the error of his ways.”
“Forcing a man to be what he doesn’t want to be?”
“You don’t know Cort. He wants to kill. It’s in his blood. You should have seen him in the gun shop today. Like a cat treading hot coals. Pacing, trying to keep his eyes off the guns. But I put one in his hand.”
“And he used it.”
“Yes, he did.”
Cantrell took a sip of whiskey. He smiled with appreciation; it was the best he had ever swallowed.
“I think there is more to it than that.”
Herod frowned. This shootist was a clever man. He folded his hands and observed Cantrell for a few minutes. He was a well dressed and well educated man—that was obvious. He appreciated the same things Herod did. But this shootist took pity on people. And that made him laughable in Herod’s eyes.
“More to it?”
“Yes, I think there’s another reason you brought Cort here.”
Herod leaned back in his chair.
“How very discerning of you. And, since I’m going to kill you anyway, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tell you.”
“Or, if I kill you….”
“It won’t matter to me then, will it?” Herod lit an expensive cigar and blew a ring of smoke in the air. “When Cort was 15 and cleaning slop in the stables, I rode into his life. I saw a young man with potential.”
“You saw someone you could use.”
Herod shook his head.
“No. Normally I choose men I can manipulate. Cort was different. He had an independent spirit none of my other men dared have. He thought for himself. But he was loyal to me. The first thing I did was hand him a gun.”
“He was fast?”
“Yes, very fast. The fastest draw I had ever seen.”
“So, if you couldn’t use him, out draw him, or control him, what was the attraction?”
Herod got up and poured them another round of whiskey. He carefully placed the crystal stopper in the bottle and returned to his cushioned seat.
“He kept me on my toes. In the back of my head was always the notion he might be faster than me. In a way, I admired the fact that he was quick-thinking. That he could survive on his own; yet he sought my approval.”
“Cort was like a son.”
“Yes!” Herod said angrily. “Not like Fee, that farmer’s boy.” He slammed his fist on the table. “All that we had been through together, all I did for him, taught him, and he runs off to join a mission. You know why?”
Cantrell shook his head.
“He got soft. AlI I asked him to do was kill someone who could identify me.”
“It couldn’t have been the first time he had killed.”
“No, it wasn’t. But this person fed us and hid us when the law was after us. Cort allowed himself to like the priest.” Cantrell felt his stomach turn. Herod was more than a self-serving tyrant; he was a disease. “Oh, he finally came to my way of thinking after I put my gun to his head.”
“And so you’ve brought him back here and forced him to kill again.”
Herod’s face lit up with an evil grin.
“See how quickly he’s reverted back to the killer he tried to suppress. How well the gun fits in his hand—like a well worn glove. He’s no preacher, no man of God. He’s a gunfighter; and when I’ve eliminated everyone else from this contest, I will finally scratch the itch that Cort’s been all these years. I will kill him and end the suspense.”
“You have to get past me first,” Cantrell smiled.
“And once this rain stops, I plan on making an example of you in front of the whole town. Until then, how about some more whiskey? What kind of tobacco do you stuff in that pipe? I have some exported from Spain I think you should try.”