Character: Cort (The Quick & The Dead)
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It wasn’t that guns weren’t allowed in Baxter’s Crossing. Plenty of people owned them. Few, however, used them. So when he heard two gunshots from across the street, Cort grabbed his hat and headed for Jake’s saloon. The patrons were scattering right and left; and he could hear Jake’s girls screaming inside.
“What’s it this time?” he muttered under his breath. “Someone’s cheating at cards, two men lusting after the same whore, an old score being settled?” If it wasn’t for the fact that he spent a fair amount of time at Jake’s, he’d consider shutting the place down.
Using the side of the building as a shield, Cort peered over the swinging doors. In the center of the room was an overturned table. Cards and money were strewn on the floor. To the right of the upset table lay a body, arms outstretched, blood oozing from a chest wound. Standing to the left was a young man, gun still drawn. His wild eyes were sweeping the room, begging for someone to challenge him. Cort had lost count of how many hot-headed kids, looking for a name, had come and gone. Most ended up in the cemetery. Although his preaching days were far behind him, his belief in the Almighty was strong. As he pushed open the saloon doors, he prayed he wouldn’t be forced to take another life.
“Drop the gun,” he said firmly. The young man whirled around, but stopped dead when he saw the badge. “I want you to put the gun down.”
“That badge don’t scare me none,” he spat.
“It’s not the badge that should scare you.” Cort pulled his black duster open revealing two Schofields. “I can assure you I don’t wear them to look pretty.”
The man holstered his gun.
“I’m calling you out, lawman. Billy Foy never backs down to a badge.”
Foy? The name wasn’t a common one. There was only one “Foy” Cort ever knew—Jackson Foy, one of Herod’s men. It was Foy and Ratsy that burned down his mission.
“How old are you?” Cort asked.
“Nineteen. What business is it of yours?”
“Was Jackson Foy your father?”
Billy’s eyes narrowed.
“How do you know my Daddy?”
“I rode with him once.”
“My Daddy never rode with no lawman!”
“I wasn’t always a lawman.”
“Well, you are one now and I’m going to kill you!”
“I used to ride with John Herod. Remember him?”
“Yeah, I remember him. Me and my Daddy worked for him.”
“Do you recall what happened to Herod?” Cort asked.
“Yeah, some filthy rotten preacher killed him!”
“I was that preacher.” Billy’s chin jutted out and Cort could see beads of sweat forming on his upper lip. “Just walk away.”
To Cort’s dismay, a fiendish smile spread across the young man’s face.
“That was a long time ago, Preacher.” Billy threw his head back and laughed. Cort sighed. “You killed Herod because he got old. Now I’m gonna kill you because you’re old. You still fast, Preacher?”
“Faster than you,” Cort replied sadly.
“We’ll just see about that.” Billy left the saloon and walked out to the street. Cort followed–he had no choice. Billy would only come after him another day. “Any time you’re ready, lawman!” Cort waited patiently, arms by his side. “Hey, lawman, you afraid to draw? Well, I ain’t. I’m gonna show you just how fast—“
It was a common ploy—draw your gun mid-sentence and catch your opponent off guard. Billy should have known better than to try it with Cort. Billy hit the dirt face first. Cort stood there for a few moments, eyes closed, wishing he hadn’t been so fast. He walked back to the Sheriff’s office and slumped in his chair. A few minutes later Ellen walked in.
“Are you all right?” She could see he wasn’t.
“Remember Jackson Foy?” he asked.
“Vaguely. I remember cuffing a few of his brats.”
“That was one of them.”
“Apple didn’t fall far from that tree,” she noted.
“Why would it?” Cort shrugged.
“It was a good shooting. If he had lived, he would have hanged for killing a lawman and the guy in the saloon.”
“Come on, let’s get a drink.”
Reluctantly he followed her to Jake’s. The place had already been put back in order; the body was removed. It made Cort sadder. Life just went on. Had anyone known the dead man? Did anyone care that his life was over? They sat at a back table; a good bottle of whiskey between them.
“Foy had six kids. I saw them in Redemption. I remember thinking what a sad and miserable lot they were. Their father was no good. Probably beat them. If just one of them could have been saved, break away from the path of sin.”
“I wouldn’t bet any money on that happening,” Ellen replied.
“No, me neither.”
“I wonder how many of those kids are already dead,” Ellen mused.
“All but me.” Cort and Ellen turned to the next table. “I’m the only one left.” The young man stood and walked over to Cort with extended hand. “I’m John Foy.” Cort didn’t know what to think. The boy had a firm handshake. He had always trusted a man with a good grip. He motioned John to join them and poured him a drink.
“After you rode out of Redemption, my Daddy left with the four oldest boys. Billy and I stayed with Momma. They formed a vicious gang that went around robbing and killing. They’d return home every few months, shoot up the town, drink and gamble their money away. Then they’d ride out again. Five years later the law caught up with them. They all hanged in Yuma. I was 13, Billy was 14, and Momma was dead. A relative came and took us to Denver. I went to school. Billy just caused trouble. I tried to reason with him, help him see how his life could be good now. He just got meaner and meaner. I’ve been following him the last two years, picking up his messes and apologizing for his cruelty. Now that he’s dead, I’m going back to Denver. There’s a college there that offers the education I need.”
Cort and Ellen looked at each other in disbelief.
“I know you think you failed in Redemption. You arrived with a collar and left with a gun. But what happened there left a deep impression on me even though I was only eight. It could have touched my brothers, too, if they had the right spirit. They had their father’s heart—cold and evil.”
John stood. “That’s all I wanted to say. Thank you for the drink…..and thank you for putting my brother out of his misery.” He shook hands with Cort again.
“Thank you for letting me know,” Cort said. “I’m glad you’re going to college. If I might ask, what are you studying to become?”