Last Killer Standing
"Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing.
Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous.
The shape is drawn. No line can be erased."
-- Cormac McCarthy
Jefferson City, Missouri
Jonah Hex crouched down behind a pew in the church. He opened up the chambers of his big revolvers and dumped still smoking shells on to the sawdust covered floor. Close beside him was Timothy Perkins, outlaw turned preacher who found himself in a delicate position. Hex had come to collect the bounty on him. He would have to hang in Kansas in order for Hex to get his money. The alternative was the big man walking through the church with a shotgun.
Bill DeVery, Perkins' old partner from his outlaw days, had been cutting a path of dead bodies across Kansas and Missouri. One by one Bill killed the other members of their gang until only he and Perkins remained. He was after Perkins' piece of the map Migs Malone had drawn up five years ago when they robbed millions of dollars in paper money from a US Treasury train. By themselves the individual map pieces did not tell much, but all together they showed the location of the money.
Church got a backdoor, Rev?" Hex asked as he loaded his revolvers.
"Afraid not, Mr. Hex. The only entrance is through the vestibule."
"Heard that," DeVery said from across the room. "Only way y'all got in and out is through that door. Lucky for me."
Hex peaked his head up from the pew and took a potshot at the direction of DeVery's voice. He flopped back down as DeVery opened up with his own blast.
"Not a bad shot. Who's your friend, Timmy?"
"I'm a bounty hunter. Come to collect your friend here. Judge out in Lawrence is paying a fair price to see him hang. You, too, DeVery. It's why I'm only shooting to wound."
"That's mighty white of you, mister. All things considered, I think I'm gonna turn down your offer."
Hex looked at Perkins and made a talking motion with his hands. He put a finger to his lips and laid his spare revolver at Perkins' feet. The preacher nodded as Hex started to quietly slink through the pews towards the pulpit. Perkins picked up the gun and held it close.
"You know you don't have to do this, Bill. The money, the map, it's all yours. I can give you my piece and you can go on to get it without any violence. I have no desire for the money and all it entails."
"Obviously," DeVery said with a wry chuckle. "You got a good racket here, Timmy. Pulling the long con here, you'll make more than we ever could by robbing any bank or train. Sure as hell wished I'd have thought of it, but then again you was always the brains of the outfit."
"It's not a con, Bill. It's genuine. I've changed and seen the error of my ways. I got saved."
"Right, and how do you feel about tall, dark, and ugly over there? You're gonna stroll arm in arm with him to the gallows?"
Across the church, Jonah Hex approached Bill DeVery from behind. The big man's back made a clear target. He had his revolver out and raised. He made one step forward to plant his foot and prepare for the shot. The tip of his boot stepped on a loose floorboard and made it squeak.
DeVery whipped around, the shotgun aimed square at Hex's face. The gun went off just as Hex fell to the ground. He felt pellets cut through the top of his hat as he fell. Hex rolled to the left as DeVery used the second shot in his double-barrelled gun to destroy a floorboard where Hex had been. The bounty hunter scampered under a pew for cover as DeVery ditched his empty shotgun and pulled out a five-shot Smith and Wesson from his waistband. The outlaw walked through the pews, watching the floors and trying to avoid getting his ankles shot out by Hex.
"Saw from your hat that you was wearing rebel gray," DeVery said as he stalked the pews. "Take it you served for them traitors during the war."
"I fought on the wrong side that had the wrong ideas," Hex said from somewhere close by. "But I fought for my own ideas. I fought for what I believed in."
"Mighty poetic of you."
Hex popped up in front of DeVery with his Bowie knife out. He sunk the sharp blade into the outlaw's shoulder and twisted. DeVery yelled out and tried to shoot with his gun. Hex's free hand, the one that had been holding the knife, slapped DeVery's gun away and tried to get his own gun leveled to take a shot. The two men wrestled on their feet for control of Hex's lone gun while Hex's big Bowie knife stayed stuck in DeVery's shoulder.
DeVery's eyes went wide and he cursed as the fight suddenly left him. Hex looked over DeVery's shoulder and saw Timothy Perkins, holding Hex's spare gun in his hands. DeVery slumped over a pew and weakly tried to pry the knife from his shoulder. Hex saw the big bullet wound in his back, right where the heart was. Years later and Perkins was still a crack shot with the gun.
"Son of a bitch," DeVery mumbled. Blood gushed from his body and started to fill the pew where he was laying. "Son of a..."
"This could be the end of it," Perkins said as he looked down at Hex's gun. "Bill's dying. I could kill you, too. Run away from here, get the money, and then set myself up at another church somewhere else. A new name and a new flock. Another chance."
"You can try, Rev."
Hex held the gun in his hand ready. Perkins was good, but Hex was better. If he tried anything, the preacher would be dead before he realized it. A moment later, Perkins dropped the gun to the floor and looked at Hex.
"You were right, Hex. I am the preacher Timothy Partlow, but deep down I am still the outlaw Tim Perkins. I am a pious man now, but there is still evil and violence in my heart. Nothing will change that, and nothing will make right what I have done. 'Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully.' So say the Bible. I understand His justice fully, now, Hex. I have been granted salvation in God's eye, and now I must face man's justice. I will go to Kansas willingly with you."
"My horse is waiting outside, Rev. Let's go."
The two men began to head towards the exit. Hex stopped and walked back towards the pew where DeVery's body lay. Hex looked down at the corpse befoe rooting through his jacket and pulled out his pieces of the map. Scraps of paper that together were telling him something, but it was incomplete without Perkins' part. Sneering, Hex tore up the pieces and tossed them into the air.
"Goddamn map cost me four bounties."
He spat at the dead body's feet and turned back to Perkins, escorting the condemned man out the door and to his impending death.
"Mr. Ford, Mr. Ford!"
James Ford looked up from the road plans in his hands. Today was the third day of their roadwork project. Part of the PWA and the New Deal, the road crew Ford was supervising were building a brand new highway from Janesville to the Wisconsin/Illinois state line. Once there, the folks on the Illinois side would take over and build a new highway from the state line to Rockford. All told the project was creating at least a hundred jobs for the folks around Janesville, something a lot of folks were grateful for.
"What is it?" Ford asked the two workers who came up to him in a hurry.
"We were starting back on the grading of that hill, and the ground started to get all crumbly. A few of us went down and found something. You gotta see this, sir."
Ford scowled and lit up a cigarette. He'd been doing road work for nearly thirty years and had seen all kinds of stuff beneath the ground. Junk, a few buried cars, and even one time a body. Nothing much would faze him. He followed the workers a few hundred yards to where the crew had been busy leveling out a hill to prepare it for gravel and eventual paving.
"It's a couple of trunks. Big ones. We got 'em popped open. It's the damnedest thing we ever saw."
Ford puffed on his cigarette and looked down into the small hole the men had dug out. There were three large trunks the size of a regular man on the ground. The tops had been opened and inside was what had once been money. The stuff had the shape and form of dollar bills, but it was so waterlogged and degraded it looked more like mush.
"How much you thank that is, Mr. Ford?"
"Who the hell knows," Ford said with a long exhale of smoke. "It's all worthless now. Whoever buried it must have thought the trunks were waterproof. Looks like that rain runoff has been seeping into those trunks for years. Probably was worthless a few years after it got buried."
Ford shook his head and checked his watch.
"You boys move it out of the site and I'll call someone to come take a look at it. Get a move on, now, we got work to do."
Ford watched the workers move the trunks out of the hole and carry them to a safe spot. He made sure that they all got back to work on grading the hill before he finished his cigarette and went back to his own work.