The Saloon doors swung open and a portly man with a sheriff’s came in and scanned the place. The bartender smirks and chuckles as he threw his towel over his shoulders and went to fill the good sheriff’s usual Brandy on the rocks. Damon looked at the sheriff from the corner of his eye as he walked toward the bar, noting the gray hair and handlebar moustache, the beer belly, the gait that forced him to lean left when he walked, the cool, steel blue eyes that revealed experience and perception, and the laugh lines littered around his mouth. The sheriff sat next to Damon and minded his business, when the bartender came back the sheriff spoke.
“So,” the sheriff said, “how you gentlemen this here evenin’?”
“Workin’ hard and cuttin’ clean, Sheriff.” The bartender said, “this gentleman here’s just passing through, and I’m keepin’im entertained with a story.”
“Might I ask what story that’ll be, Ronnie?” The sheriff raises an inquisitive brow.
“Don’t worry sheriff,” Ronnie smiled, “nothing ‘bout you and the shenanigans.” Ronnie continued, “just that time that fella wit the red eyes rolled in and out-drank Billy Weissman.”
The sheriff nodded thoughtfully then raised his glass, “thank God we’ll never see that fella again,” the sheriff shivered, “you tell’im ‘bout the fight?”
“Actually,” Ronnie said, “I was just gettin’ to that.”
“Well,” the sheriff said, “gone tell it then.”
Ronnie nodded, “The crowd was dead silent, they never saw no one take on Black Death as that fella just did. A sea of open mouths filled the room and the only sound to be heard was the wind blowin’ in the night. The doors swung gently, the air grew cold, and the silence was deafening. Billy could barely hold ‘imself up as it was but he ain’t have no problem just then, he was just as shocked as everyone else. Even the sweat upon his brow stopped and gazed in astonishment. The fella cracked his neck, hunched and relaxed his shoulders as a self-satisfied smirk came across his face and he nodded at Billy toward the glass, knowing good n’ well Billy wasn’t gonna do it.
“The crowd remained silent and the tension filled the room like nothing else, felt like if a pin dropped the place would explode. The sea of mouths started closing slowly and a sea of eyes took its place, looking at each other for confirmation of what had just occurred; the sea of eyes was soon tinged with a sea of whispers permeatin’ throughout the room, people didn’t know what to make of this fella, but I did. I knew what he was . . .”
Ronnie paused a moment as the wind blew and the saloon door swung wildly back and forth. The three men didn’t stir as the pitter-patter of rain came down and drops of water sprinkled upon the windows. Ronnie looked outside meditatively for a moment then turned back the two men.
“He was a demon. No doubt about it.
“The fella got up and took the glass he pushed toward Billy and chugged that too. He went into his pocket and took out a few Gold Ones and dropped’em on the table, he threw a gold one my way and I caught and, outta habit, checked to see if it was real. It was. The fella made his way out the bar just as cool as a bachelor with two fine women at his arms and strolled out as sober as the next man. The crowd remained quiet for some time after the fella left, Billy held his head down in shame as he’d just been out-drank by a stranger. Billy didn’t like to be out-drank, ‘specially when all he did was drink all day. One of the scallywags tried to cheer Billy up but he waved her away and shot up like a man with the world on his shoulders and made his way out the saloon, swaying back n’ forth and left to right like one o’ the village idiots at the theater, breathing heavily with a grim look on his face, the look of someone itchin’ for a fight.
“I thought the whole thing childish n’ ridiculous but, when you run a business like mine, its often those shenanigans that pay the bills. So, I went back to work and slowly but surely the crowd went back to havin’ a good time. Thirty minutes later, the whole incident was nothin’ but a memory as the debauchery regained its momentum.
“Now,” Ronnie said, “I know you’re askin’ when the fight comes in but gimme a minute, there’s something else you need to know before that.
The sheriff nodded imperceptibly, and Damon listened intently with cold, hard gaze.
“This here little tidbit’s ‘bout the Black Death Whiskey,” Ronnie went on, “see, the Black Death is the strongest stuff we’ve got around, and one glass o’ that stuff’ll knock you out a couple days.” Ronnie looked at Damon, “reason I say that fella was a demon was ‘cause there’s only one other I saw that drank Black Death like water and lived to tell the tale . . . his name was Devereaux, a tall, lean fella who wore all black, like you, stranger, and has the otherworldly ability to control animals. Thing ‘bout this guy was he looked like any other man of modest means and ordinary intelligence, but there was something in his eyes, something dark n’ sinister. When he came up to the bar and asked for the strongest whiskey, I tried to dissuade him and get’im to get something else, told him he didn’t seem the type that could handle Black Death. He took out a couple Gold Ones and slapped’em on the table, and that was all the argument I needed. I told him I wasn’t responsible for anything that happened after and he gave the ok.
“I got him the whiskey and he looked at it like man looks at a fine prostitute he wanna get a little piece of, souls of the damned played and ran amok in his eyes as they took on a dark quality, blacker than a night without stars. He picked up the glass and drank it as casually as you’d drink water after a hard day’s work. He slid the glass over and told me to get’im another, I asked was he sure and he nodded confidently, and so I did. He knocked back seven shots before he asked for the whole bottle and took out a small bag of Gold Ones and slapped it on the table; he slid it over and I slid’im the bottle and he chugged that thing like a madman! He stood up and leaned on the bar for a bit then said thanks and left just as quietly as he came in.”
“Now,” Ronnie said, “‘bout that fight,
“‘bout time you got to it,” the sheriff said, “I don’ already finished my Brandy.”
Ronnie went to the bar and grabbed the bottle then slid it over to the sheriff, “help yourself. On the house.”
“that’s more like it!” The sheriff grinned as he poured himself another glass.
“Now,” Ronnie went on, “the thing ‘bout that fight was no one seen it, but everyone knew it happened. Billy came in ‘bout an hour later all bloody and bruised, his eyes were black n’ blue, his right arm lay limp at its side, his bottom lip was busted, and he had a cut along his forehead the size of Texas. He hobbled into the bar a few steps then fell flat on the floor. I came from round the bar and went out get the sheriff here,”
The Sheriff lifted his glass at the mention of himself.
“and when I came back with him, Billy was gone!
“I whistled loudly, and everybody paused a moment, I asked if anyone see Billy Weissman and they all said no. I was bewildered, so I asked if anyone noticed the body that was just lying here, on the ground, damn near bleedin’ to death and hey all shook their heads like kids that just got in trouble for somethin’. Now, I knew it wasn’t my business what people did outside this here bar, but Billy’s one of my regulars, and I takes care o’ my regulars. Yeah, I know, the boy is a knuckle head but he ain’t so bad once you know’im a bit. In fact, Billy’s a funny guy. Anyway, I told ole sheriff here that I thought something happened to Billy and that we need to find him, the sheriff wasn’t surprised at the fact, we’d often found Billy sprawled out in the woods somewhere sleeping off a hard night o’ drinkin’. The man wasn’t homeless or nothin’, but if you drink like Billy drink, you ain’t makin’ it home ten times outta ten.
“I told my barback, Rusty, to look after things while the sheriff n’ I go find Billy and off we went. We looked in all the usual places: the woods behind Dr. Bennington’s office, the stables just outside of town, the woods by the theater, Madame Green’s porch, but we couldn’t find’im. We asked round town, and no one saw head nor tails of Billy Weissman and, after a whole day of searchin’, the sheriff and I called it quits. I went home that night and couldn’t sleep, Billy Weissman was still on my mind and something told me somethin’ happened to that boy, somethin’ bad. I got up and went out in search for’im again and ran into the sheriff,”
The sheriff raised his glass again.
“and he said the same thing, he couldn’t sleep, so we went and searched again. It took all night but eventually we found Billy sprawled out in the woods on the east side of town, he was all bloody and bruised like I first saw him but something was different, terribly different: his throat was ripped out as if by some wild animal!
The sheriff shivered and Damon listened intently.
“The sheriff and I recoiled in horror and the sheriff told me to go get Dr. Bennington n’ I did. When the doctor and I came back, the sheriff had moved Billy’s body from the woods and the doctor took a look at him. Now, we all knew Billy was dead, no doubt ‘bout that. Question was what killed him? His eyes were open and lifeless, you know, that opaque and spooky whiteness that marks the dead. Dr. Bennington saw a circle of blood soaked through Billy’s shirt and unbuttoned it to take a look, and what did we see, sheriff?”