The Observation Deck – 2: Create a Conflict.

Okay, second card out of the box, here goes:

Create a conflict

‘I want that man dead – not another breath to let loose from his lips, you all understand that, right? I make myself clear enough to y’all?’

Harley slammed his Smith & Wesson pistol on the table, sending a tankard of beer crashing to the dusty floor.

Around him, all of his men nodded swiftly, a blur of hats accompanied by the checking and clicking of firearms being unholstered, checked, barrels spun, and then re-holstered. It was a show of strength, of solidarity, of loyalty to the man they referred to as ‘The Boss’ of Theakston Creek. Harley nodded back at them. ‘I know you boys, I know you’ll serve me well – ain’t nobody crosses me – nobody!’

Taking the sudden rise in the man’s voice as signal to leave, the group turned and started to move out, draining their glasses and then, en mass, departing the saloon. Their departure left only Harley, Jacob the bartender, and a group of the local good-time girls in the bar.

‘Oh, Harley-honey, it’ll be okay.’ Gwen McNee shuffled over to him, pulled her ruffled skirts high and perched on his lap. ‘They’re good boys. They’ll get him for you – you’ll get your money back for sure.’

He shrugged her off his lap and made to stand up.

‘Not now, Gwen – Thank ya for your kindness, but it’s no good to me right now. And it ain’t just the money either – whoever took it needs a lesson learned – a fast and hard lesson that he won’t come back from.’

Harley snatched up his pistol and fumbled it into his holster on the third attempt.

Jacob was watching from behind the bar, pretending to be pre-occupied with drying glasses.

‘You okay there, Boss?’ He called out. ‘Happy to keep that shooter behind the bar here for you if you’re not so steady with it right now.’

Harley turned on his heels, his spurs spinning and rattling with the sudden movement.

‘What’s that? You think I can’t shoot straight after a few whiskies? That it, Jacob?  Think I couldn’t hit a horse’s ass from ten yards after downing the watered-down brews you offer in this dust-bowl?’  He waved his arms about, staggered towards the bar.

‘No, not that, not at all.’ Jacob stammered. ‘It’s just that I think it might…’

Harley leaned in close, the stench of the whisky on his breath so strong that the bar tender thought it might be able to re-bottle the fumes.

‘It might what? Be safer for you? Be safer for the ladies here? Be best if I hand over my gun to you, Jacob Webster? Give a loaded weapon to a man who hasn’t ever wielded so much as a knife? Sorry, old timer, but that just isn’t a good idea.’

‘I’m not thinking about me…’ Jacob struggled to get the words out, clearly distressed and worried about the reaction he would get. ‘It’s you. Well, it’s you and your… brother.’

Harley stepped back, his hands held to his head.

‘My brother? My brother?  Now what in the hell has Jack got to do with anything – hasn’t even shown his face here in the Creek for over a year.’

‘That’s where you’re wrong, Boss.  Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but he came back.’

‘What?’

‘Jack was in town. Last night – he didn’t stay long, but I saw him. Saw him tie his horse at the rear of your place. If you didn’t know he was in town, Harley, then I think it’s safe to assume that he didn’t want you to know. And, knowing your brother of old, I think he may well be the man who took your money. If that’s the case, then it’s just possible that you’ve unleashed your pack of wolves to hunt down and kill your own flesh and blood.’

Jacob stopped talking and remained staring at the man who was sobering up before his very eyes, and half expected the crack of a pistol across his cheek at any moment – but it didn’t come.

Harley said nothing.

He raised a hand to his mouth and held it there tightly, his eyes were cold and remorseless as he looked at Jacob a second longer, before turning and walking out of the saloon.

Keith

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