Character: Cort (The Quick & The Dead)
Disclaimer: The following story has been written with no intention of claiming ownership or solicitation, No claim reassignment of copyright or copyrighted material is intended, nor should such be inferred by the publication of this work. The movie character(s) have been borrowed and are not being used for any other reason except entertainment. Please do not copy, publish or alter this work in any way without the written permission of the author.
Emma Lacy rode out the bumpy road in a numb state. Despite sitting in the middle of the stagecoach, the sun beat down on her from an uncovered window. The horses, running at a steady rate toward Dry Gulch, kicked rocks and dirt onto the passengers. The area was aptly named, she thought tersely. Her throat was so parched she couldn’t swallow. She had other things on her mind.
Yesterday she boarded the stage, leaving Sweet Water and her family behind. It was something she vowed she would never do unless it was a matter of life and death. If Emma was not successful in Dry Gulch, her oldest son would be dead by Sunday.
As the stage pulled into Dry Gulch, she thanked the kind hand that helped her down. Quickly surveying the town, she saw the Sheriff’s office and forced her unsteady legs to carry her there. She tried pushing the loose tendrils of blonde hair back on top of her head. Sheriff Jim Welch saw the dusty, bedraggled woman proceeding in his direction. By the time she reached his office, he had filled a tin cup with cold water. She blushed, realizing what an unkempt creature she looked like.
“Ma’am before you say anything, drink this.” Emma took the cup; the coolness of it felt good in her hands. As the refreshing liquid passed through her cracked lips and down her throat, a small smile appeared.
“Thank you, Sheriff. You have no idea how much I needed that.”
“Yes, I do. I’ve taken many a ride in those grimy stagecoaches. There’s nothing like a cold drink of water to make you feel human again. Now, what can I do for you?”
“I’m looking for Cort Wells.”
Jim hadn’t expected this.
“He isn’t a lawman anymore.”
Emma looked at her hands.
“I’m not looking for a lawman,” she said quietly. “I’m looking for a fast gun to save my son from sure death. I heard Mr. Wells is such a man.”
Jim looked away. Cort had been an exceptional Deputy and good friend for nearly ten years. It had been difficult, but Cort had managed to put his former life behind him. Now here it was coming to claim him again.
“He lives in the white house just outside town. I will have one of my Deputies take you there.” He hadn’t the heart to say anymore. She’d change her mind. Cort’s wife would see to it.
Janet Wells was tall for a woman. Which was good as her husband was a full 6’3”. They had been married for five years. Cort promised her once he quit being a lawman, he’d hang up his gun. It was a great relief to Janet. Cort was 35, and was beginning to feel it. She could see the tiredness in his blue/green eyes and hear it in his voice. They had enough money; and now he was going to rest for awhile. As Janet was leaving the house to pick some apples out back, she saw Deputy Warren driving a woman in a carriage. When the young woman got out of the carriage, Janet sensed her tense demeanor.
“May I help you?”
“I’m looking for Cort Wells.”
“What do you want with my husband?” Unintentionally, her voice was cool. “Who are you?”
“I apologize for my lack of manners. My name is Emma Lacy. I’ve come from Sweet Water to request his services.”
Janet’s first inclination was to tell Emma Lacy to go back to Sweet Water. However, she was not in the habit of speaking for her husband.
“What ‘services’ did you have in mind?” Janet couldn’t keep the chill from her words.
“Your husband is—is good with a gun.”
Janet felt her throat tighten.
“That is part of his past. He doesn’t wear a badge anymore.”
Just then a silky black horse rode up to the house; and a tall man with longish honey-brown hair dismounted.
“Who do we have here?” Cort asked, standing by his horse.
“My name is Emma Lacy. My son, Calvin, is the temporary Sherrif in Sweet Water.”
Janet tried to speak, but she saw the look on Cort’s face. He could never resist a woman or child in distress. She felt tears coming to her eyes. Emma raced on.
“He’s been called out by Hank Samuels and his gang. My son can rescue a cat from a tree and he can walk a drunk to jail. But he is no gunman. He will be killed.”
More emotions than she could bear rushed in on Janet. It was anger that won the upper hand.
“I am sorry about your son. But he knew the risks when he pinned on that badge. My husband has had a hard life and he’s given many years to law enforcement. He doesn’t live by his guns anymore. It’s unfair of anyone to drag him back to—to take him away—away from me.”
She looked at Cort who was still standing by his horse. His heart was torn, but his eye was steady.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Lacy. When I took off that badge I promised my wife she’d no longer have to worry about me coming home alive each day. I owe her my word.”
Emma looked from the resolute wife to the only man who could save her son. At that moment she knew it was hopeless. Her son would die. Feeling her stomach lurch, she started to walk away, stumbling on a stray rock. In two strides, Cort reached her and extended an arm to catch her should she fall.
“I’m s-sorry I b-bothered you,” she stammered looking at Cort. “I didn’t realize.” Red-faced, Emma hurried back to the waiting carriage. Cort looked at the ground for a moment, then, sighing deeply, moved toward the house. Janet watched the carriage leave. Her victory was dampened by guilt. She had no children; how could she judge a mother’s feelings? She pulled herself erect and marched into her kitchen to finish dinner. A few hours later, she ladled chicken and dumplings onto two plates and sat down with Cort to eat. It was a meal she had worked hard on, knowing it was his favorite. She might as well have filled their dishes with dirt.
“You’re going to Sweet Water, aren’t you?”
Cort looked up surprised.
“No. I promised that you wouldn’t have to worry about gun play and I meant it.”
Janet blinked back tears. What had she been thinking? Cort was a man of honor and integrity. Just because he was no longer a lawman, did she honestly think the man underneath the badge would change? She dropped her fork into her plate and studied Cort.
“Do you know Hank Samuels?” she asked.
“Are you faster than him?”
“What about the others?”
“Probably Marty Potts and Lucas Dubs. They do everything slow—except drink.” He dared not look up at his beautiful wife. He had never loved another soul in all his life. “Why do you ask?”
Janet’s tears were flowing freely now.
“Go! Save that woman’s son.”
“I can’t hold you to a promise that will destroy your soul. We both know you’re the only one who can do the job.” Cort felt his heart swell. How could anyone know him so well? “But you’d best come back to me alive. That’s all I have to say.”
Cort rose and embraced his wife, kissing her wet cheeks tenderly.
“I will come back alive; I swear to you.”
“Y-you-you had b-better. I c-can’t live with-without you.”
Cort could sense the tension as he rode into Sweet Water. He dismounted in front of the Sheriff’s office and entered. Both Emma Lacy and her son were there.
She was shocked to see Cort and looked over at her son.
“May I help you?” His voice was tired.
“My name is Cort Wells. I hear you have a bit of trouble with Hank Samuels?”
Calvin turned slowly to face his mother.
“Mother, I told you I could handle this.”
“Cal. You can’t handle this; you aren’t a gun fighter.”
Calvin was exhausted and didn’t want to feel like a child on top of everything. He looked over at Cort and laughed shortly.
“He can’t help me,” he said derisively.
“Listen to your mother, ” Cort advised. “Mrs. Lacy, where are they?”
“Probably at the saloon.”
Cort turned on his heel and headed in that direction.
“Wait a minute. I told you I don’t need your help!” Calvin yelled racing after him.
Cort hated to do it, but he swung a fist at Cal, knocking him unconscious.
“He’ll be fine,” Cort assured her. ” Apparently he’s got a sensitive jaw.”
“Why’d you come here? When you die, it’ll be on my head. And my son will be dead, too.”
Cort was already out the door. He stood in front of the bar, still in the street.
“Hank Samuels? You in there? Come on out and bring those two sniveling cowards with you!”
After a minute or two, the three men came out. Both Dubs and Potts were already half drunk. Hank Samuels was a large, filthy man. His eyes were tiny coals of black and his teeth were brown with rot.
“You drawing on us? All three of us?”
“I figure I’m facing about a quarter of a man counting the lot of you.”
“What he sayin’?” Potts asked, stumbling forward. “He calling us half a man?”
“You better be mighty fast with those guns,” Samuels growled. Then something caught his eye. It was a coat sleeve….an empty coat sleeve. He began laughing. “Well, well, I never shot me a one-armed man before. This ought to be interesting!”
Emma was standing in the doorway of the Sheriff’s office, her hand clutching her throat. Dubs and Potts took their places behind Samuels, perfectly willing to let their leader claim the glory—and the first bullet. Nobody saw the first man draw his gun; but in less than six seconds, it was over.
Janet Wells alternated between pacing, crying, praying, and watching. She went outside hoping for a cloud of dust that might indicate he was returning, but there was nothing. Sighing, she went back into their home. Polishing silver was a good time waster. She grabbed a silver tray and old rag and began rubbing the surface with great vigor.
“How many times you going to shine that up,” a familiar voice drawled. Janet knocked over the chair as she ran to Cort. Choking on her tears, she hugged him as tight as she could.
“I’ll kill you!” she cried. “You ever run off like that again and I’ll skin you alive!”
“Whoa! You told me to go, remember?”
“Shut up and kiss me. Just kiss me.”
Cort, always obliging, gave her a kiss the likes of which she had never experienced.
“That’s more like it, cowboy. Care to stay awhile?”
“Oh, yes ma’am. I think I’ll stick around at least another five years.”