Short Story – Against All Odds

He lived on the edge of town in a log cabin that seemed to spew out gentle looking
smoke all year round. He had no friends, or if he did, they did not visit him very often
and if they did never in the light of day.
It was apparent that he went to great pains to tend to his land and look after his flock
and because of that he had one of the most beautiful homesteads in Long County; the
happy fields of green punctuated every now and then by rolling hills and cut across by a
calm creek.
If you gazed hard enough, you could see the sun smile just a tad more warmly on his
crops and the rain fall just a mite more abundant for his cattle. He troubled no one;
barely even spoke when spoken to. Not that he was rude or callous, no; he would just
make it so that you understood he wanted to keep his own counsel.

Of course the fact that he was colored was a bit of a shock to most the first time they
met him, but because he paid no never mind to them and their business they tended to
do the same with him. Outsiders who tried to rouse rubble were usually put in their place
and in due haste.
He might have been ‘not white’ but his ranch provided labor for a good number of the
cowboys in town; when they were not transporting beef down to Maringo for sale, they
were traversing the rocky ridges spotting, capturing and breaking the wild mares that
inhabited the land.
And that meant trade with the other towns and trade meant more people coming to
town to try and do away with the transport fee that caravan keepers charged at their
end, and that meant more money flowing into the town. Everyone was happy. Not to
mention that he had the freshest and healthiest crop in the county. He took care of
them, and they protected him.

He came to town twice a month; in the second and fourth weeks. The former was to
barter or sell his wares as well as stock up on provisions for his home and the latter
would be to enjoy the revelry that the local salon put on every end of the month and
indulge in a few drinks. Always sat at the corner, alone and drank in silence- clapping
subdudely every time an act was done whether it was good or not.
“Look at that nigger!” spat Danny Wilde as he tossed a fresh handful of tobacco into his
mouth. “Sittin there like he own the place, somebody needs to show him is place.” “And
who exactly gon do that Danny? You know the whole town be rooting for im, we
couldn’t touch im and ever be welcome ere again.” Peter Dunn told him even though the
gleam in his eye told them all that ol Danny was past the point of caring.
Lesley Black was in his usual spot at the base of the pillar; a glass of cherry in hand and
a cheroot in his mouth. He had on tan colored pants with a like colored waist coat over
a starched white shirt and wide brimmed Stetson hat; and of course his trade mark long
coat completed the attire. Maybe it was overkill for a simple salon, but whenever e went
into it he considered it a social hall and thus dressed accordingly.
He noticed her looking his way; it was hard to miss, after all she was the centre of focus
for most of the evening. It was more than just the entertainer making eye contact with
the audience when her eyes found his: they were searching, pleading even demanding. He
smiled at her as he did all the performers and clapped when she finished each ballad but
in his mind gave himself another mental kick. He shouldn’t have gone after her, he
should have gone home.

She kept her eyes on him even as she left the stage for the last time that evening. He had
not responded to her eyes just as he had not responded to any of the missives she had
sent him since that night. She understood his reasons for it but that did not quell hr urge
to strangle him any. Yes a union between them would surely raise a few tempers
throughout the county and even beyond. She was among the most sought after females
for a stretch and he was, well he was black.
People tended to let him be because he was a big outfit and most of the townsfolk’s
livelihood depended on him but were he to snatch one of their own from right under
their noses the shaky truce hey maintained would be destroyed. He knew that as did she
but that did not stop hr wanting him. “Shall we?” the man asked, and she took him by
the hand making sure that everyone in the salon knew exactly what their intention in
going up the stairs was, but again he did not react. Instead he lifted his glass in salute
to the call for another round of applause to the lovely Miss Daisey May.
Milly, the barmaid bent over his table to add another shot to his glass and the ire she
had barely been keeping in check exploded. Everyone knew of her reputation; she took
any man to her bed when she had a mind to and if the rumors were true they always
crawled back to it, married or not. And there she was giving him a full view of her ample
bosom. She said something that had him raising his brows and he responded in a
manner that had color rising in Millicent’s cheeks. Of course no one would raise an
eyebrow if he took the local bar maid as a wife; and the unfairness of it all had her
seeing only red.

If he had not wanted to take the risk the he should not have followed her up the stairs
that time and complimented her with all those nice big words and in that deeply male
timbre of his, especially not when he was standing that close. And he should not have let
her kiss him, just as surely as she should not have responded to his touch so ardently.
But what was, was and since that night weeks ago she had been unable to keep her
mind off the thought of him or the memory of them and she would be damned if she let
him forget it.
She took the seat opposite him at the table and leaned in close. “Bastard.” She hissed, to
which he merely smiled. “Milly why don’t you get Daisey May a sherry of her own?” “Why
sure honey.” She drawled giving him a meaningful look. “I would do anything for you.
Anything.” After the drink was served and paid for and Milly moved on to cavort
elsewhere she turned back to him eyes of steely gray boring into his, “You tell me right
now that the kiss we shared the other day meant nothing, you look me in the eye and
swear that you can walk away from me as casually as you are trying to and I will leave
you be.”
His response to that was to drain his glass and stand up to leave. She caught his hand
and turned him to face her. His eyes would not meet hers but she saw him fight for
composure and heard him swallow audibly. “I love you.” She pleaded with him, “And I
know you love me too, so why are you doing this to me.” “Please!” he pleaded in return.
“I don’t care what the townsfolk will say, and I don’t care what they will do so long as I
know you love me and…” he cut her short with a look filled with so much meaning it
literally stole her breath away.

“You don’t, but I do.” When she would have protested, he continued quickly. “With as
much as I have made over the years I could very easily support us for the rest of our lives
in a secluded mountain cabin anywhere in the country but…” “Then why can’t we? What
is to stop us from doing just that tonight, right now?” she wanted to know.
Before he had a chance to answer she saw something primitive, dangerous flicker in his
eyes. He pulled her towards and behind him and took a step forward. She had to grab
on to the table and pillar for support and was turning around to give him a piece of her
mind for the ungentlemanly handling of her when she had the unmistakable of fist
slamming into palm. She came around and found Lesley holding Danny Wilde’s fist in his
hand. “So you wan run off with this shitty negro, then do yer?” he spat at her.
Shocked that anyone had heard their conversation before they had made any decision,
she quickly shook her head. “So this nigger is trying to kidnap you then.” He deduced an
evil smile creasing his face. “No!” she said aghast and repeated when she saw that his
gang had flunked him on either side, “No, we were just having a conversation about
where would be best to live.” “I don’t want any trouble Danny, I was just on my way out.”
Lesley told him. “Damn right yer are, headed straight fer the undertaker.”
The music stopped and the bar all turned to see what was going on. Daisey May was in
shock; how had a simple conversation escalated into a gunfight in less than 10 seconds?
Everybody knew Danny’s reputation- after all it was the main reason he was the most
sought after coach protector in the Trench town. He was quick with his guns and if you
believed the carriages he had been hired to protect which came under attack, vicious with
his hands. The Wilde Bunch never let a bandit get away, even after they had escorted the
party safely into a town, they would hunt down whoever had attacked them to quell
their bloodlust.

It was a well known fact that the reason they always got their prey was because they
were little better than the thugs they pursued having been a couple of them for a long
time themselves. “Why don’t we take this outside then nigger?” Danny said walking out
the door ahead of his gang. Daisey May grabbed Lesley’s hand as he started to walk
outside. “Don’t do this.” She told him but the look I his eyes told her that there was just
no way he could do that. “This is about honor my dear.” he told her “He has issued me
with a direct and open challenge, if I do not answer it will taint my honor and what
would I have then?”

“You would have me, and I would have you. Please!” she implored taking his face in her hands and plastering it with kisses. “I have just found you, I cannot bear the thought of losing you.” “You ask why we cannot just leave town.” He said turning from her, “It is
because of you Daisey. You are a people person; you love the roar of the crowd when you
perform and the legion of adoring fans when you are not. You like being the centre of
attention, the one everyone wants to be around; the one they listen to and adore.”
“Lesley I…” “Don’t get me wrong, I do not think it makes you any less a wonderful
woman but even if I were to offer you the world right now you would despise me in a
month when all of your old friends desert you. Even if we were to run off to the
mountains and seclude ourselves in a cabin and fill it with love and hope, when after a
couple of days you realize that none of your former suitors are around to dote on you,
you will want to get your life back.”

She had not thought of it like that and he was right to a large extent. She had always
wanted, always loved attention; she did not know how to be without it. But she also did
not see how she could ever be without him- he was worth the risk. “Trust me Daisey
May, it is better this way.” She knew why Danny was doing this. Pretty boy Danny was
every woman’s dream and that gave him a free pass to most of the beds he chose; he
had never been turned down by any he approached, that is until he approached Daisey
May 4 years back.

He would surely think it was because of Lesley; that had to be why he was gunning for
him, he believed that his embarrassment had been caused by a black man. She rushed
out and into the middle of the street ahead of Lesley and faced off with Danny. “Don’t do
this Danny. It isn’t because of him that I turned you down.” And that was the truth, she
had tired of hopping from bed to bed ad had been looking for something more
meaningful, something deeper. She had wanted adventure and craved intrigue; she had
lusted after culture and dreamt of high society- she had needed more.

And 2 years ago she had found it in Lesley Black; he was well travelled and widely read,
had a quick mind and a kind heart. The type of man that had forever written on their
coat lapels; the fact that he was rich was a bonus and the fact that he was colored, well
that she got over after a few weeks. They had become fast friends and whenever she was
in town they would exchange letters and when he went to Ford County on business they
would share a meal in her private residence at the performing hall.

His business prowess and infinite wisdom had captivated her mind just as his experiences
and abundant generosity had captured her heart as she had gotten to know him and
when 3 months ago she had locked lips with him and laid hands on him, she had had no
doubt that her body belonged to him too. The fact that he cared enough about her
happiness to deny himself his own was proof that he truly cared for her. She would pay
him back in kind.

The reminder that she had turned him down after he had boasted to everyone that he
would make a wife out of her fuelled the rage that he was feeling. “Move out of the way
woman.” He barked at her. “This ere biznis does not concern you.” “If you let him be, if
you walk away from this, then I…I… will marry you.” “You do not have to do this
Daisey.”Lesley said from behind her. “You love me enough to think of my peace of mind,
well my mind will not be at peace if I know you died for me.” There was laughter in his
voice as he replied, “I will not be dying, at least not tonight.”

Danny already had on a big smile and was on the verge of reconsidering his options
when somebody from the sidelines commented that Miss May must surely have loved
Lesley if she was willing to marry Danny just to spare his life. He would not be made a
fool of again, Danny fumed. So the wench was trying to trick him, he wouldn’t have won
at all, in fact that nigger would have because he would be alive and God knows what
the 2 of them would get up to when he was out of town working.

“Get out of the way woman.” He repeated with an icy undertone. “But…but..I” “Do move
out of the way please Daisey, this will be over in a flash.” Lesley repeated from behind
her. With tears flowing freely down her face she turned and wept into his chest.
“No. No, I won’t let you do this for honor’s sake. I would rather live with a dishonorable
husband than survive on an honorable memory.” He kissed the top of her head and
squeezed her quickly and intimately. “After what you have just done; after what you
have just put on the line to give me my wildest dream, do you really think I intend to die
any time soon?”

It should have taken more than just those simple words to put her mind at ease. He
should have tried longer and said more to get her to move, but he didn’t have to. With
every fiber that was Daisey May Miller, she knew that this man would give her anything
in the world that she wanted; and she wanted him, there was just no way he would fail
to give her that one wish.

‘This must be love.’ She thought to herself as she stood up on tip toes to kiss him on the
lips, ‘The power to trust unconditionally, the ability to see a future through the haze of
hate and glaring death.’ “Be quick about it, I intend to make sure you finish your supper
early tonight. We have a whole world to travel starting tomorrow.” She told him as she
walked off the road.
“So yer ready ta die nigger?” Danny taunted. “I would very much like to avoid this fight
Danny, if you don’t mind. I lay my arms down a long time ago and truth be told I am not
much in the mind of taking lives anymore.” “Shut up!” Danny yelled. “Yer just shut your
goddamned trap yer good fer nuthin ass eating nigger. Seems to me yer afraid of facing
me, is all.”

“For God’s sake, somebody get him a weapon.” Came a voice from the crowd. “
“Somebody ought ter have plugged one in this here good fer nothing piece o trash as
soon as he tried to get on level with regular folk.” Danny shot back. “Yer bout to get
what’s been coming at yer for years now.” He directed at Leslie.
“Please!” Leslie pleaded one last time even then knowing it was futile; even as he spread
his legs just a bit wider and bent slightly at the knee. “Here that folks, our gentleman
nigger thinks he can walk way from a gunfight just because he knows how ter spells
Please and Thank yer.” “It can’t be considered a gunfight if yer the only one with a gun.”
The same voice challenged from the shadows.

“Yer shut it.” Danny shouted at the unseen instigator, “Else it will be you twitchin in hell
tonight and not this lump of shit.” Leslie looked up at the town clock; it was just under 3
minutes to 9:00pm. By tacit agreement, duels in this part of the Wild West were fought
at the top of the hour so it was foregone that they would draw at the stroke of 9:00 PM.
As the minutes ticked down the crowd grew more restless at the skewed state of the
impending battle, as the seconds flew by Danny lost more of his resolve; nobody walked
out into the middle of the street with no weapon and not as much a flicker of
apprehension about him. The nigger was up to something, ‘No matter though,’ he
thought to himself. ‘There is no way he is as fine a shot as Danny the devil and lord
knew he couldn’t hope to be faster draw.’

At 15 seconds to time, Leslie finally moved; or rather his hands moved to reposition his
overcoat- he didn’t want the sides of it getting in the way. The shock was audible,
almost tangible as people beheld the shocking new development.
While most cowfolks slung the low hip riding one pistol holster, a very select few could
concentrate enough to coordinate slinging one holster on each side and handle 1
weapon after the other without a break in stride. And a very rare click indeed had the
fortitude to tot 2 such holsters on each hip and handle 4 pistols as though it was the
most natural thing in the world.

It was a well known fact that in the bloody history of the wild west only a handful of
people had ever totted 2 pistols in a particular manner. Only 9 to be exact could fire off
2 pistols simultaneously until the chambers were empty and then re-holster and switch
to the other 2, in less time than it took you to hold your breath, and still hit the target.
6 of these were dead; one was the mayor of the most prosperous town on the coastal
strip and another was the most feared and revered name in bounty hunting circles the
nation over. The 3rd was an enigma- not much was known about him; they said he
didn’t particularly take pride in his skills, quite contrary they said that he was almost
disgusted by his killing talent.

Disgusted but thoroughly adept at, if the stories were to be believed. 3 of the six had
fallen at his hands it was said and the 2 remaining had honed their skills through him.
Only one person is said to have ever seen Quickdraw and lived to talk about it, and the
bartender down in that sweltering port town of Ziwani had said that the identity of the
greatest gunslinger would take your breath away.

The clock chimed; Danny’s hand was going for his pistol, hovering just over his hip when
he felt the ground shift from under him. He saw the splatter of blood rise over him and
idly wondered why the nigger’s blood was spraying all over his new buck skin coat. He
was dead before he hit the ground- the bullet having pierced him clean through the
heart.

Billy Daniels, John Brewer and Chuck Philips all reacted in the manner expected of
lifelong brawlers; of psychotic brutes that enjoyed inflicting pain and raising hell
wherever they went. They might have been formidable fighters and brainless oafs but
they were also extremely loyal. Danny had been the spirit of their posse, the leader and
the idol. Seeing him go down they reached for their own weapons; none of them got a
firm grip on the butt of their guns.

Peter Dunn looked up from Billy who was the last to be cut down falling face first from
the balcony of the salon, where he had gone to indulge himself and found his eyes
staring into steely black pools. The pupils glowed so intensely with some emotion he
could not quite place with the rest of him as composed as a family portrait.
His pistols were re-holstered same as he had done when the bullet tore down Danny.
Whether it was a show of bravado or whether it actually aided his technique, Peter didn’t
know and if he were to be honest he didn’t much care to test. The man had just gunned
down some of the fastest gunmen in the county with exact precision; each had a bullet
wound to the forehead, without even giving them a chance to draw their own guns.
Leslie stared at the man for almost half a minute before he could relax; at least the one
was smart enough to know a losing battle when he saw one, and he didn’t seem like the
type to carry a grudge, at least not over that incident. That was the only reason Leslie
let him walk away with the rest of the crowd instead of finishing the job he had begun.
“I could kill you, you know?” came a teary voice from behind him. “I didn’t mean to keep
it from you, it’s just that I have no attachment to the reputation that Quickdraw gained
in the western wars, and I choose to not tell anyone about it unless I absolutely have to.”
Shaking arms encircled him from behind, “I have never been so scared in my life Les, I
thought I was going to lose you.”

“So you don’t trust me?” he chided. “I did tell you I wasn’t going to get away from me
now that I found you.” “Yes, I mean no; that is to say I do trust you. But I also knew that
should you miraculously managed to survive Danny, the posse would not let it slide.” “I
knew that too, which is why I made it a point to map out exactly where they were at the
time of the battle and also watched the way they sat, stood and walked.”
That last statement was met by a blank stare. “The way a man carries himself says a lot
about his manner with the gun; from it you can tell how fast he draws, which hand he
uses and how steady his aim will be.“ when she looked at him as though he spoke a alien
dialect, he explained it away by telling her that it was just one of the things you picked
up when you walked the devil’s path.

As they took comfort in each other’s arms in the middle of the street, avid eyes were
upon them and vapid tongues already against them. Surely that union would not be
allowed to be, would it? He was not suited for her and she damn well should know that.
But none would speak these thoughts out loud for though a diva by her own right,
Daisey May Richards was also a 3rd generation heiress to a shipping company. And
Leslie ‘Quickdraw’ Black, well Leslie was among the most renowned confederate
generals alive.
As they rode off into the pale moonlight on his coal black steed, her hand twined
lovingly around his neck and his eyes searching deep into hers, a lot of things were left
uncertain. How would the aristocracy react to a union between one of their own and a
black man? Would the federal government support a national war hero on an endeavor
as outrageous as this? What would happen to the stage coaches to and from town now
that Danny’s posse was gone? Where was the sheriff when you needed him?
But one thing was certain, the soon to be Daisey May Black and her husband had just set
a precedent in the harsh expanse of the old west. They had shown the world that love;
true love overcame race and even transcended class. What would happen next, for the
lovers and them all as well, only time would tell.

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