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fastest draw this side of the mountain

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Jeremiah waited at the bar for the weathered old man to pour him another scotch. It was cheap stuff that burned like seven hells going down, but it did what he needed it to do.

He looked at his hands, curled loosely on the scarred wood of the bar-top; they were over-large and tanned, his fingers long and his fingernails dirty. These hands were legends, he thought, fastest draw this side of the mountain, but they were also just his hands. There had been a time when they were pale and manicured, but those days were long gone now.

“Scotch,” the barman said, plunking down a glass of the stuff. Jeremiah dropped his money on the bar and gestured for another.

There was a posse out with his name on their lips, he knew, tossing back the scotch. He didn’t choke, which was a nice change of pace. Maybe he really was acclimatizing to this place.

Then again, if he was still using words like “acclimatizing,” maybe he wasn’t.

He wouldn’t go down without a fight, though. He set down the glass and flexed his hand. Fastest draw this side of the mountain, they called him. He’d earned the title. He intended to keep it. If some scruffy posse thought they were going to bring him in, he’d just have to show them the error of their ways.

“Another again?” the barman asked, setting a second glass in front of him.

Jeremiah shook his head. “Ought to be on my way.”

“Heading somewhere?” the barman asked, wiping the empty first glass with a dirty dishrag.

Jeremiah threw back the second glass in a smooth motion, letting the cheap booze scorch down his throat. He exhaled roughly.

“You could say that,” he replied.

The barman took back the second glass with a gap-toothed grin. “Know the difference between running from and running to?”

Jeremiah shook his head, his dark hair loose around his face. “No, what?”

The barman chuckled, a wry punchline. “I was hoping you’d tell me!”

Jeremiah picked up his jacket, not quite ready to put it back on. He quirked his lips into half a smile.

“If I ever find out, I’ll let you know,” he said.

“I’ll be here,” the barman said. “Only way they’ll get me outta this old place is in a box.” He rubbed briskly at the second glass, nodding to himself as he turned away.

Jeremiah wondered what it would be like to have a place like that, a place to belong, that belonged to you. But that wasn’t the hand he’d been dealt, not by a long mile. He turned toward the door, shrugging back into his jacket.

Running from seemed to be his lot, these days. He flexed his hand again, his guns laying heavy on his thighs. Maybe he’d find something at the end of this. If there ever was an end to this.

Maybe the posse would catch up to him, first. He sighed, and reached for the door.