Character: Cort (The Quick & The Dead)
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He stood still, sweat running down his bruised back. Two feet away stood John Herod– his former friend, mentor, and ally. Now all Cort saw was a twisted shell, a wasted life.
“You know, Cort, I’ve always dreamed about this day. You and me. A test to see who’s faster, who’s better.”
Herod’s smile was evil; but Cort saw the tiniest spark of fear in his eyes. The outcome of the gunfight was now determined.
It would be a short-lived victory for Cort. As both gunfighters turned to walk to opposite sides of the street, Cort heard Herod speak to one of his men. He couldn’t make out the words; it didn’t matter. He knew what Herod’s order had been. Cort was not to walk away alive. Most of the citizens were standing outside, transfixed by the gunfight. They knew Cort wouldn’t live if he killed Herod. But if he succeeded in killing the cruel tyrant, maybe his men would leave town. Maybe Redemption would have some peace. He saw the sharp shooters on the building tops watching him. If he met his Maker today, possibly his sins would be atoned for and he would finally find peace.
Cort turned to face Herod. The pain in his right hand was intense. His ribs ached along with every other part of his body. This had to end soon. He had been running on adrenaline for the past few days. Herod was waiting, his left hand poised over his gun and a sneer on his lips. Herod glanced at the clock tower anxiously. Cort knew what to listen for—the click before the minute hand hit 12. When it came, he’d be ready. There it was—the click. The first thing Cort noticed was the look on Herod’s face—surprise. Then he realized his own gun was drawn; he had done what had always come natural. Herod stumbled and fell forward. Cort holstered his empty gun and sighed with relief. It would be over soon.
He thought he heard gunfire in the distance, but was too exhausted to pay any attention. Cort closed his eyes and waited. And waited. And waited. He opened his eyes to find several of Herod’s men standing a few feet from him. Cort frowned.
“Well, which one of you is going to shoot me?” Cort asked.
“None of us is gonna shoot you.”
Cort blinked in disbelief. First Ellen interfered with his hanging, now this.
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, we ain’t all bad even if we worked for Herod.” Cort frowned. “Only a few of us were trusted by Herod. Most of us had our own families in town. We did what we were told to keep them alive.”
“The gunfire I heard—?”
“We killed his men. In the end, there were more of us with families than those with Herod. We figured if you did away with our boss, it was up to us to break free from the others.”
“What about me?” Cort wondered.
“Shoot, that’s up to you. You’re welcome to stay or you’re free to ride out. We have our town back again; that’s all we care about.”
“If that don’t beat all,” Cort whispered. He looked to the saloon. Dang, he was thirsty. Maybe a drink first—then a meal. Maybe a bath.
Cort shook his head. Life sure was funny. One minute he was ready to meet his Maker; the next he was handed another chance at life. He looked skyward and smiled. When the time was right, he’d face death again. But for now, his Maker can wait.