Ato waited, filled with a terrible inward shame. Out of his jealousy he had seized on the first excuse to break up Chris and this girl. What would happen if Chris got to Uncle Chad and realized that the old man was safe all along? Wouldn’t that make Chris suspect the truth? He waited with much anguish as Elaine buttoned up her dress and picked up Chris’s clothes.
“I am ready,” she said in her angelic voice, and Ato turned around. He saw that she was angry, and it sent a stab of new jealousy and anger through his heart, and mingled somewhere inside was shame. He thought, erroneously, that the girl was angry with him because he had interrupted them.
Elaine, indeed, was angry, but it was aimed at the man called Uncle Chad. She had come to realize that Chris Bawa loved that silly old man more than he did her, and to her that was totally unacceptable. She couldn’t understand why any young man in his right senses and with pure hot blood running through him could prefer the company of a shrivelled old man like Uncle Chad when he had her incredible charms! Elaine, on the other hand, just couldn’t get enough of Chris Bawa, and missed him all the time, and this really irked her. She had wanted to stay with him in the woods for a while longer, making sweet love over and again! But then, as usual, he had to go and attend to a call from that old man!
Ato gave her his horse, and then led them out of the woods at a leisurely pace. He was so miserable he wanted to apologize to her. He would have given anything to have her smile at him, but he was filled with shame, and could not speak.
The girl, on the other hand, was busily planning and rejecting options about how best to pay Chris back for abandoning her like that.
By the time they reached Little Rock, Chris Bawa was both a hero and a killer.
“There were five of them,” Sheriff Short answered young Chris Bawa’s question. “Uncle Chad got those two over there, but then he was using Phil Mortimer’s gun, which had only two bullets in it. The three Spencer brothers then killed him in cold blood.”
“Where are they?” Chris hissed.
“They came with their gang, the meanest bunch of cutthroats you ever saw!” answered an old man from the edge of the crowd. “Saw some of ‘em at Slade’s bar. Me think them three Spencer killers are headed that way!”
Chris Bawa nodded. His body began to shake as he fell on his knees beside the corpse of his mentor. With trembling fingers he unbuckled the gun-belt from around the waist of Uncle Chad and picked up the empty gun still lying close to the right hand of the corpse. He stood up, buckled on the gun-belt, drew out bullets, and then began feeding cartridges into the empty chambers of the colt. Now the crowd was confused. What had started the confusion was when Uncle Chad had drawn his gun and killed two men with the quickness of a devil. Uncle Chad, the meek cook, the likeable old man whom everyone loved so much, had changed in just a second into a gunfighter with a deadly hand. And then the confusion had continued when the dying old man had cried out that Chris Bawa should let go, and stay out of the fight. At first they had thought that it was the ramblings of a dying old man whose fuddled brain was grasping at things that made no sense as he ascended into whatever mysterious depths that death embodied. This seemed quite applicable because no one in Little Rock had ever seen the fat Chris Bawa with a gun. He was the little flash, the boy with the pretty face of a girl, the lazy loafer who seemed more at home with girls than with anything else. They had known him to walk away from fights which every hot brave man would’ve dived into for pride, if for nothing else. In plain language he was a coward, though a likeable one at that. No one really picked on him for being a coward. In his own way he was a charismatic figure, and was quite helpful to many of the citizens in several ways. That was why they were all taken by plumb shock when he began to load the gun
His fingers swift and sure, his face a dead mask that had lost its usual flamboyant lop-sided smile.
“And what in the name of all foolish insanities are you up to, you little fool?” boomed the harsh voice of Ted Bawa, filled with anger and something close to uncertainty.
Francine Bawa, her pretty white dress still covered with the blood of Uncle Chad, was still kneeling beside the dead old man. Now as she watched her favorite son loading the gun, her eyes opened wide. She took one look at Uncle Chad’s dead face, and then she looked up at her son. She recollected how swiftly the old man had dispatched off the two killers, how he might even have killed all five had it not been because the gun was empty, and then suddenly everything made sense to her. With an intuition which only a woman was capable of, she saw in her mind’s eye how close her son and the old man had been. She remembered their frequent rides into the forest, the little bruises she had seen on her son, the gradual disappearance of his clumsiness around the house, replaced with the startling reflexes she had caught glimpses of.
Once she had spread a generous amount of home-made jam on his bread, and as she had been replacing the bottle it had slipped off the table. The speed with which Chris Bawa had leaned down and caught the bottle had startled her very much, but she had said nothing about it.
She remembered another day when her husband had slapped her across the face for one flimsy reason or the other. She had watched how her son had squeezed a tin cup until it was disfigured and mangled. Francine had later seen it in the rubbish bin in the kitchen, and she had marveled at the sheer strength that had been applied to maim the metal that way.
Her horrified eyes went to her son’s face now, and she saw that it was a hard mask, and filled with a grieved purposefulness that suddenly set her heart soaring with unbridled fear. She knew then that the old man had taught her son all the things she had been scared he might learn elsewhere. In an instant she was on her feet, reaching out blindly, touching his arm, noticing how he tensed, his arm muscles coiled like a tiger about to unleash itself.
“Chrissy!” she whispered tremulously. “No son, don’t. Uncle Chad wanted you to stay out of this. It was his dying wish. Everybody here heard him say so. Ask them!”
“He had no right to make such a wish,” the boy said as he thrust the loaded gun into its holster. It looked a little funny because the gun belt was barely able to encircle his massive girth and, secondly, dressed only in those ridiculous blue shorts with his guts poking out he looked more like someone’s idea of a comical relief than a potential hero, but then no one felt like laughing because his body language and the look on his face spoke of something else.
“I’ve always known your stupidity would get you killed someday, you fool!” Jamie Bawa said with a nasty curl to his lips. It was evident, even to those who didn’t know, that there was no love lost between the brothers.
Ted Bawa moved forward and planted himself squarely in front of his youngest son. No one had ever infuriated him more than this boy, and he felt nothing but undiluted contempt for him. He had a strong displeasure for the ways of Chris, and he considered him to be a weakling, and definitely did not plan to leave him with any share of his wealth. But deep down he still had a paternal inkling, an inherent love that still burned in his heart. Not being a sentimental man, he expressed it in the only way he knew how, and that was by looking at his son disdainfully with eyes that shone with contempt.
“Now take off that gun-belt and get your lazy butt home!” he said unkindly. “I don’t care if you get yourself killed, but spare me the tears of your mother!” For an answer the boy stepped past him and began to walk away. The infuriated father raised his hand. No one ever knew whether he meant to strike out, or restrain his son, but at that particular moment the boy turned his head and fixed his father with that cold stare which would later in life freeze many a heart.
“Don’t,” he said softly. The father’s hand froze in the air. For a moment, as he gazed into his son’s eyes, he felt the power emanating from him, the deep fury that was held back, straining to be unleashed. Ted Bawa was confused, and felt strangely challenged. He almost reacted in his usual manner, meaning to slap the boy across the face, but he restrained himself. Somehow, he sensed that it would have been one encounter they both would have regretted later.
“Did they leave town?” Chris asked no one in particular. He was answered by a fat short man called Theo Siaw. He was a skilled blacksmith who had a penchant for liquor. On a good day he could turn out masterpieces on the forge, but those days were becoming rarer and rarer. He peered through bleary eyes at Chris and belched loudly.
“Them three hombres are at The Bliss,” he said in a strangely well-modulated voice. “Rumour has it they plan to stay in town for tonight. You aren’t planning to go after them, are you? They got some real nasty hombres with them.” Without another word Chris moved forward, and the crowd parted for him.
“Chrissy!” his mother cried plaintively, and he paused long enough to gaze back at her.
“It is alright, Ma,” he said in that dead voice. The eager crowd rushed ahead. Rumours of what was happening spread. Incredulous onlookers began to gather on the sidewalks and on the roofs. Sheriff Doug Short melted into the crowd. Filled with shame, his every inclination was to walk down the street with the kid, but in his heart was lodged a great fear that made him admit finally to himself that he was not a brave man. He knew too that he would not survive this present storm; the time had come for him to find new employment. With Phil Mortimer dead, and the town becoming hotter and hotter, it was time to retire and spend the rest of his life with his family.
Chris was still barefoot when he hit Main Street. Tall and fat with a gun across his hips, he looked more of a freak comedian than a gunslinger. Indeed, people soon forgot what a brave act he was embarking on and instead let their tongues wag free…and there was not anything flattering about the things they said about Chris Bawa. To the young women however, it was a classic example of charisma and bravery as it was meant to be. Several cried openly at the imminent death facing their favorite young man.
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The Bliss and its environs were taken up by the killers. Sensing the passive nature of the townsfolk, and knowing no one was brave enough to take them on, they had started making the town their own. Loud music, laughter and screams could be heard from within the bar. Already, several were crowding the single brothel, driving all other male clients out. They forcibly sought the attentions of the prostitutes, making lewd remarks and gestures in the process, and shocking most of the decent people of Little Rock. There were gunmen on the street, and some of them were lining the porch of The Bliss, drinking from glasses and bottles. They took one look at the fat boy coming down the street and burst into raucous laughter. The Spencer brothers were also on the porch with Tiny, the giant. The four of them had noticed the half-naked fat boy walking down the street, and they passed unkind jokes about him.
Chris’s gaze swept over them, noticed the facial resemblance of the brothers, and changed direction toward them. He stopped five paces from the single-topped railing and fixed them with his cold stare.
“You must be the three skunks that shot down a man who had no bullets in his gun,” he said softly, and deliberately spat on the ground.
“And you must be the local fashion designer,” Tate Spencer said and began to chuckle. Chris Bawa fixed his stare on him, and the younger brother saw the fury burning within the depths of those dead eyes, and the chuckle slowly died from his lips. “Don’t know what your beef is, young man,” Billy Spencer said coldly. “That gent killed our Pa, and we came to settle the scores. Now run along like a good boy and leave things be.” Now Chris’s gaze came back and settled on Billy. They could now see how tight his jaw line was, and could almost hear the gnashing of his teeth. Billy knew then, that they might have to kill the fat boy after all.
“Well, I guess you had a duty to fulfil, seeing Uncle Chad killed your Pa and all,” Chris said coldly. “Your Pa must’ve been a skunk for Uncle Chad to smoke him. Now, way I figure it, Uncle Chad was like a father to me, and I have to settle the scores for him now. So, will you come down here and get it over with, or you prefer to draw where you’re standing?” Many of the Spencer gang had heard what was happening, and they began to emerge from the bar and crowd the narrow porch. They heard the boy’s words, and they looked at their leader expectantly.
“I don’t kill kids,” Billy Spencer said coldly, his hands gripping the top of the railing, his eyes blazing with an anger that matched Chris’s. “That’s why I’m not going to kill you where you’re standing like the stupid pig you are. But, no one calls my father a skunk. No one!”
“Your Pa was a skunk, maybe a weasel too, the way I see it,” Chris repeated with deliberate scorn. His pain at Uncle Chad’s death had filled him with a white mist of fury that he couldn’t control, and which was boiling through his veins, forcing him to hurt, and destroy.
Billy’s jaw grated and his eyes narrowed. He turned to Tiny and nodded. The giant rubbed his great hands together with gleeful anticipation, and then he turned and deliberately walked down the steps to the street. Now the sideboards were filled with people.
Those in front of the Sheriff’s office included Sheriff Short, Ted Bawa, his wife, his older son and most of the riders of the Circle T ranch. They watched the giant approaching Chris Bawa, and their faces reflected their horror.
“The stupid boy!” Ted Bawa whispered savagely.
“The stupid, stupid fool of a boy!” Tiny regarded Chris Bawa with cruel eyes. There was nothing he liked better than teaching lessons. Of course he liked it when his opponents were big and mean. He liked to see the fear increasing in his opponent’s eyes, and loved the sound of breaking bones and spewing blood. He had never been defeated in hand-to-hand fighting, and thus he had the confidence of an anaconda stalking a wounded deer.
“I don’t like fat kids,” Tiny said as he linked his fingers together and pushed them outward, cracking his knuckles loudly. “They are ugly, clumsy gluttons. Worse, they break wind like fornicating elephants. Why don’t you get down on your knees and lick my boots? They kind of look dirty, see? And then, maybe, I’ll forget about what you just said to my boss.” Some of the men on the porch began to snicker. Others began to chant out Tiny’s name.
“Don’t break his bones, Tiny,” Billy Spencer called out. “Just slap him around some. Make his nose bleed for me, and you can knock out a couple of his teeth.” Chris turned to face Tiny fully. None of the people present knew what rigorous training Chris had had from one of the best warriors of the New Territories. None of them knew that the fat boy was indeed a compact mass of deadly skills, honed to almost perfect proportions. Worse, the boy was now a mass of grief, totally consumed by a pain so deep that it needed the comforting hands and shoulders of loved ones to provide a balm; but his had been a lonely road, loved only by a devoted mother and a freshly-departed mentor. In his heart was a cauldron of raw hatred and agony, and the only feelings left in his heart was to hit back and give equal pain.
He was barely aware of his actions as he moved toward the giant. He took two steps forward, gathering momentum, and then his feet were off the ground and he was pivoting, gathering his weight and force unto his right foot, and bringing it down on the side of Tiny’s right leg. It had happened almost in a blur. In one moment Tiny had seen the boy take a step, and in the next moment he felt his knee shattering, the bones breaking with a nasty sound, and the pain shot through him like his heart was being torn out, and an animal scream erupted from his throat, shattering the air with its pain decibels and bringing goose bumps onto the skins of all those who heard it.
Chris stepped back a pace. Tiny was on his left knee, his right leg crumbling at an awkward angle, shards of bone emerging through his trousers, blood soaking through the material.
Through his pain Tiny made his second mistake: he went for his gun. His gun was halfway out of its holster when Chris bore down on him again, his face ruthless. When the gun cleared leather Chris gripped the hand of the giant, pulled it taut and up, and crashed his own elbow into the joint of the giant’s elbow. The joint snapped, and Tiny’s forearm sprung up, now running almost parallel to his upper arm. Again Tiny howled, the gun dropping harmlessly, and he collapsed to the ground, floundering helplessly like a fish out of water.
“Lordy!” Sheriff Doug Short breathed, his tone incredulous. Ted Bawa was breathing shallowly, for once shaken off his high pedestal. Chris stepped away from the whimpering giant. There was no pity on his face, only grim resolve. His gaze swept the porch and came to rest on the three brothers.
The faces of Spencer brothers were ashen. Tate was trembling now, fear a dark companion on his face. Sandy licked his dry lips and glanced at his older brother. Billy could not tear his eyes off his fallen giant. It was like a dream. Tiny had been treated like a doll by this fat boy! It was beyond comprehension. He knew then that he was in great danger. He dragged his eyes from the thrashing whimpering form of Tiny and looked at Chris. The boy was walking toward his former spot, which was directly opposite them. Billy knew what was coming. It was an unwritten understanding, accepted by them all. The boy was not going to wait for them to face him on the street. It was going to happen right there on the porch. Already he could feel members of his gang peeling away, getting out of the line of fire. Across the street people were also scattering, leaving the space behind the boy clear.
“Get him!” Billy screamed when Chris turned to face them. Billy’s gun was barely half-drawn when the shots came. Chris Bawa’s gun seemed to jump into his hand, so fast was he that his hand movement seemed to be a blur. There was no fear in him, no mercy, no hesitation! His grief had taken over totally, and in his heart was the hot volcanic molten wrath! His right palm fanned the hammer as his left forefinger swept over the trigger, and his bullets spewed out over to the porch with relentless accuracy.
Tate Spencer died first, hammered back through one of the windows of the bar, breaking glass and going down in a shower of glass shards. His gun was still not drawn. Sandy Spencer, the fastest of the three, had his gun out, but could not bring it to bear. Chris’ bullet hit his heart and shattered it. Sandy pitched forward over the railing head first. His face hit the ground, but one of this boots got caught in a V-shape joint of the railing, and kept his body upside down.
Billy Spencer was filled with a fear he had never known before as he saw his brothers knocked back away from him. He could barely breathe, and his heart sang an unusual dirge: I’m dead, oh I’m dead…oh, sweet Mary, mother of God, I’m dead… He was paralyzed with fear. He knew then how it felt like to stare Death in the eye. His gun was clear now, and he was bringing it up to bear on the boy when Chris’s third bullet hit his heart. Billy’s body was knocked back a step, and on his face was sheer horror. Blood dripped from his lips as he slowly collapsed on the porch, and remained still.
Chris was standing, his gun still pointing, his right palm still poised over the hammer, his eyes roving the porch and beyond, seeking out other would-be shooters. Slowly the mist of hatred cleared from young Chris Bawa’s eyes. He saw the broken body of Tiny on the ground. He saw the two dead bodies on the porch, and finally he saw Sandy’s body, still held erect, his dead face pointed up, glaring at his killer. Sandy’s eyes were filled with shock and accusation. Chris knew then that he had just killed three men, and fatally wounded a fourth. He had taken lives! He was a killer!
Chris Bawa began to tremble as he took faltering steps back, gun still pointed, causing some of the gang members to duck. His face broke, his lips began to tremble, and then the gun dropped from his nerveless fingers. He crossed the street in a stumbling, drunken run and staggered crazily toward the opposite porch. He was filled with horror and revulsion at what he had done! It had dawned on him that taking a life wasn’t as fancy as he had thought! He was filled with sudden agony, and fear, and horror.
His mother had left the Sheriff’s office and began to run toward him. Chris’s legs could not support him any longer. He collapsed to the ground, and he vomited hard. He turned round when he heard the footsteps, recoiling as if he was about to be hurt.
“Chrissy!” his mother cried, seeing the horror on her son’s face, the deep pain and all the incomprehension contorting that dear face. “Oh Chrissy, Chrissy, my son!”
“I killed them, Ma!” Chris whispered with horror, his face no longer hard but a soft mass of confusion and fear; he fell into his mother’s arms, clutching her so tightly that it hurt, but she did not draw back. The tears suddenly burst out of Chris’ shattered heart! Tears of sorrow for his mentor… Tears of remorse and horror for the lives he had taken! He had suddenly become the boy he was, needing the attention of his mother.
Francine Bawa held her son and rocked him, stroking his hair and back as he cried. His tears came out noiselessly but violently, racking his whole body. She cooed into his ears and rocked him, knowing at that moment that she had lost her little boy. Francine knew that as soon as Chris stopped crying he would no longer be a boy. She knew that these were the last tears of Chris Bawa, and his last seconds as a boy. He was realizing the horrors of taking another man’s life, and that was going to catapult him into adulthood knowing that he was a killer.
She watched as the Spencer gang came together silently. They gathered their dead bosses and tied them across their horses. Slowly and without a word they mounted and rode out of Little Rock, leaving only Tiny behind. Francine, however, noticed the way they cast glances at the shivering boy in her arms. There was shock on those hard faces…and something else too, something that went beyond mere fear and terror: some crossed themselves quickly and looked away from the boy. She knew how they felt. It had been macabre watching that ill-dressed Chris taking on four brutes and dealing the most savage form of punishments to them. Yes, she knew alright. At that moment her son had not been human; he had been the devil himself.
It was on the faces of the cowboys. They had seen something which was not human. They had seen the devil on display… El Diablo!
A shocked Sheriff Doug helped some kind citizens put Tiny’s broken body into a carriage and ordered them to take him to the doctor’s office. He then approached Mrs. Bawa and her son and took off his hat. Already people had formed a ring around her and Chris. She saw the shame on the Sheriff’s face, and the awe on the faces of the others.
“Man, did you see his draw!” somebody whispered.
“That boy’s greased lightning, I tell you!”
“No one can be that fast!” another answered reverently.
“Hell’s eye, that was the Devil’s own draw!” Sheriff Short cleared his throat, and Francine looked up.
“Ma’am, I think we should get him to the doctor now,” he said. Francine nodded and looked down at her son. His violent trembling had subsided, and the tears had stopped flowing. He looked up at his mother, his eyes pleading.
“I think I’ll take him home,” she said softly, and saw the relief in the depths of Chris’ confused eyes.