The following short story was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Whiskey Saloon. Please enjoy.
“Kirk, the Reviled. That’s what they called him.” said the man reclining in the wooden chair, chewing on tobacco and rocking back and forth.
“Why Kirk? That doesn’t sound like a Southern name. Or a Texan name. Or…” The man behind the door of the iron clad cage with rusty bars replied. “Is he from…New York?” He ran his hands up and down the bars, stroking them furiously, leaving lacerations in his skin.
The man in the wooden chair took off his tan Stetson, revealing an aging scalp. The few hairs he had were a salt and pepper mixture. He stared at his worn hat for a second and smiled, brushing it off ever so lightly. Suddenly, he tossed it on the ground in a violent motion. “What the HELL did I tell you boy? About asking stupid questions?” He yelled as he pulled out his 86’ Smith and Wesson, as shiny as the day it was stolen. He cocked back the hammer and fired into the cage, hitting the prisoner in the leg. The man screamed as he fell back on the dusty ground. Both his screams and the sound of the blast echoed through the deep cavern for several seconds.
“What the hell did you do that for?” He winced in pain, holding his leg to try to prevent the blood from spurting out, uncontrollably. “I need a tourniquet.” Said the man, clamoring for something he could wrap the wound with.
The man with the revolver laughed. “Tourniquet? What do you think this is? Some kind of Holiday Inn?” He fired another round, hitting the ground beside the fallen man. He let go of his leg and covered his face instinctively. “Or maybe a Bed and Breakfast, where…where I tend to your every fucking need like your wet nurse!” He grabbed a jug of whiskey next to him, labelled “X X X” and approached the cage. “I was going to save this for a special occasion, but seeing as I have a responsibility to tend to my guests with ‘Southern Hospitality,’ I guess I have no choice to oblige your request.” He smiled as he opened the jug and splashed the whiskey on the man’s open wound. The man in the cage screamed again, this time in so much pain that he ripped off his cowhide shirt with his bare hands.
“Tarnation! Well it’s not a tourniquet, princess, but at least it’ll keep it from getting infected!” He said as he raised his gun in the air and fired with abandon. “Yeeehaaww. Now that’s what I call hospitality! You can at least pretend to be thankful!” He threw him the dirty, booze-soaked rag that he was using to cork the bottle. “See what you can do with that!”
Hours passed, and the man in the cage was slipping in and out of consciousness, mostly from blood loss, but also from an apparent desire to just end his suffering. “Why, are you doing this? I didn’t do nothin’ to you sir.”
The man with the gun approached the cage, spinning the barrel of his six shooter nonchalantly, looking around the large cavern where the two, both predator and prey resided. “You didn’t? I think you did.” The man behind the cage’s face was now pallid. “You didn’t let me finish my story. About Kirk?” He stroked his mustache. “You know before you started interjecting with idiotic interrogatives.”
The prisoner, thinking that maybe entertaining his captor was the best solution to his dilemma, tried to do just that, with his remaining strength. “Yes…yessir, I’m sorry. So…what’s up with this Kirk fella.”
The man with the gun smiled, bearing his tobacco stained teeth. “Now that’s more like it. So Kirk, the Reviled. They called him that because he was well loved.” He wagged his gun back and forth at the wary, wounded prisoner. “I see the confused look on your face, friend, but it’s really not that complicated. You see, he was well loved by the Sheriff, by the innocent townsfolk and by criminals of the basest cunning alike.” He smiled again as he spit a black, gooey blob onto the ground.
“Why…then the name?” The suffering man, genuinely confused asked meekly. He hoped not to raise the gunman’s ire any further.
“Now that’s the right question. See you’re learning! It only took a bit of…discipline!” He knelt down in-front of the cage, placing his gun beside him on the ground. “See, Kirk was a man of tangibles. He did everything punctually, and he did everything for this.” He unstrapped a small leather sack from his belt and held it up, shaking it a bit. A jingling could be heard as he let its shiny contents fall on the ground and roll about, mostly into the cage.
“He didn’t compromise on either his price or his promises. His vices weren’t bathed in saloon hookers or even anything naive as ‘moral sensibility.’ He had a job, and he did it…as long as his client could pay. He was Reviled and Revered simultaneously. Reviled was a bit catchier than Revered, and more to the point.”
The caged man, with his strength failing, tried with every ounce of his being to keep himself engaged with the conversation. “So why are you telling me this?”
The gunman again stroked his mustache. “Well Kirk decided to come after me one day. Actually I guess someone decided for him. And you see, I’m more of an artist. More moody. More arbitrary. I do things, not for that,” he said pointing at the strewn about coins. “But more because, hell, I get a kick out of it.”
The gunman got up and turn around, his back to the cage. “It’s really too bad Kirk was principled in the way that he was, having to follow a contract to its completion. Whether that meant the end of the contract, or…”
A wave of quiet anger washed over the man in the cage as a grim expression formed on his face “Or the end of him.” He got up slowly, despite his pain, trying not to make a commotion. “And I suppose you did him in?”
The gunman laughed darkly, still not facing him. “Did him in? Tsk tsk. I told you I was an artist. That’s a plain way to put it. You can say I made him one with the land.”
The caged man smiled. “Oh I get it. You ground him up and fed him to the chickens. Just had to make sure it was you.”
“I was wondering when you were going to stop this little game of ours. I’m glad you came though. I figured Kirk’s deputy would help me fill a new canvas, so to speak. I just didn’t think…”
The caged man deftly slipped his arms through the bars and in one motion swept them underneath the hapless gunman’s own arms. He put him into a reverse chokehold, with the skill of a professional assassin. “That it would be this easy? Me neither!”
The gunman, caught off guard, struggled to free himself. The caged man said, “What you said about me is mostly true. The part you forgot is that I always pay my debts as well as collect what I’m owed. I owe one to my deputy.” The horrified gunman, suddenly realized his mistake.
In his left hand, Kirk took the rag that he was given earlier and wrapped it around his victim’s neck. With the rag, he pulled him into the bar with such force that the cracking of bone could not help but be heard. The gunman struggled some more and then gave in to the inevitable, his body slumping forward, lifelessly.