My finger’s not on the trigger yet.
The thought repeated itself as his fingers grazed the pistol at his side. His weapon called to him to take it up, screamed to seize it and shoot, but that was just the gun talking and he was trying to ignore it for the first time. The metal was unmistakably cool even as a heavy breeze blew through the darkened town, and yet sweat slipped down the back of Hugh’s neck and pooled between his shoulder blades. The sun should have been up, or at least he thought it would have been more appropriate, but then he hadn’t seen the sun for years. Most people didn’t miss it, and he couldn’t remember what things looked like under natural light anyway, but he could remember just how that bright sphere had been blinding when he stared straight at it. But of course, his father would then whack him in the back of the head and tell him not to be so stupid.
“Problem, Hugh?” Elliot’s condescending tone sailed down the dusty street and his teeth glinted in what light shined from the bar, its doors thrown open when the crowd inside heard the man’s warning shot. Now, as artificial light flooded down onto the makeshift street, broken by the over-excited bystanders’ shadows, the tension rose. Everyone would see and bargaining would be nigh impossible.
As Elliot’s barrel smoked, the smell made its way to Hugh and filled him with the memory of two younger boys. Elliot would break open the casing and pour the black grains out onto the kitchen table, mixing them with the white, then claim the first hit, exploiting his seniority. Hugh would gladly follow suit, arranging his straw with the line of gunpowder and cocaine just like his big brother. The pain was awful, as was the smell and taste, but back then they would do anything for that unrivaled sensation. And ammo was cheap.
But things were different now and they had followed different paths that they both knew would cross eventually.
“Well,” Elliot holstered his pistol and snorted, “I’d say I’m making this fair, but we both know that’s impossible.”
There it was, that arrogance that made Hugh twitch, made him almost grasp the handle. Point. Shoot. But he fought it, just for a second more. Anyway, it was true; they weren’t equals when it came to gun-slinging, but what Hugh lacked in speed he made up in precision.
Shadows fell into the hollows of Elliot’s face, thinning out his cheeks and darkening his brow. He reached up slowly and ran his tongue over his thumb then wiped the saliva where his heart would have been in that forceful, careless way. He was like an animal, his hand leisurely falling back to stalk his pistol, a beast pacing just behind his pupils. Hugh tried to convince himself that the man before him was no longer his brother, just an animal. And a disloyal one at that.
The crowds loomed in doorways, their elongated shadows flickering in the dim light. Hugh knew it would be soon, he could feel the moment mounting. He saw Elliot shift, but as he drew his weapon, light from the tavern caught the space just below Elliot’s left shoulder and a glint of silver blinded him.
It was short, sudden, and as if it didn’t even happen. His brother’s form lay limply in a cloud of dust as the shot echoed out into the desert, crimson pooling at his side then greedily lapped up by the dry earth.
Elliot rubbed excess dust from his badge again, the silver gleaming as he meandered up to the motionless form and crouched at his side, “Unfortunate it ended this way, huh?” He snorted, carelessly poking at the chest wound of his fallen sibling with the instrument of his demise. Somewhere in the distance the crowd cheered for their sheriff, crawling from the protection of their wayward houses, but Elliot focused on Hugh’s last shallow breath. “I couldn’t let you stop me, though.”