I lowered my hat and strode up to the bar knowing that if Max were there, he wouldn’t know it was me. People often could not see what was right under their noses. My face flamed as my eyes darted around the boisterous room in search of him. I cleared my throat as I took a seat at the bar and ordered a beer. I sat there in the shadow of death drinking the malty, cool drink with my eyes staring straight ahead. The sound of women’s forced laughter and men’s jeering grated my eardrums. Max’s unmistakable, musky cologne lingered in the air. He had been there moments before I arrived. I inhaled deeply and glanced over my shoulder, but he was not there. My stomach fluttered as the familiar sense of danger fuelled my inspiration. My last few moments were going to be interesting indeed.
My gaze wandered over to the winding staircase. The building was a mansion knock off and I smirked at the tacky decor everywhere. I downed my drink and then made my way to the rear of the building. I exhaled in relief as dark solitude surrounded me. I stepped toward the garbage container and crouched down. The honky tonk music and loud laughter sounded far away. I would be able to hear footsteps when they approached. I held my loaded pistol and waited. My eyes adjusted to the overcast night. A few feet away, a couple of rats fought over a juicy piece of rotting chicken thigh. Their squeaks sets me on edge. A raven watched them from her perch on the roof of the opposite building. Or, perhaps she watched me. I wondered if she sensed my impending doom.
Waiting was not my strong point in regular matters, but as the minutes blended together into an hour without any sign of Max, the anticipation gnawed at my nerves like one of the dirty rodents. I gritted my teeth, longing to scream out in frustration. I held it back, but I was unsure how much longer I’d be able to crouch there waiting. While I sat out there with the rats and the raven, he was probably using one of his prisoners. I put my gun back in its holster and stepped back out onto the lively, lit up street. I collided shoulders with a grotesquely perfumed woman. It was similar to the scent I doused myself in years ago when I worked for Max. I covered my mouth as I gagged. Scents often evoked the most intense memories.
I stopped at the end of the street and my resolve bled out of me as I stood there. Tears blurred my vision and I tried in vain to stop from crying. The frightened nineteen-year-old girl nearly returned, but I reminded myself that unlike her, I had acquired an excellent aim and courage that had assisted in my survival. I wiped my tears away with my coat sleeve.
“I can do this. I will do this.”
Fantasy was so different from reality. I imagined over and over how the scenario in Dodge City would play out. Instead of a monumental show down, I was trapped in a maze of sorts and crying like a little girl.
“He can’t vanish into thin air,” I told myself. “I’ll find him.”
I faced the town and made my way back down the street. I was surrounded once again by the crowds. Their words mingled together to form unintelligible sentences until I overheard someone utter the devil’s name. I froze and searched over the sea of faces. My eyes rested upon two men standing a few feet away. One of them mentioned Max’s name again. I inched closer to the pair, straining to hear above the various mutterings and shouts. One of the men noticed me and narrowed his eyes. I cleared my throat; my lingering fear evaporated as my desire to kill took over.
“I heard you say Max,” I said.
Both of them stopped talking to stare at me. They appeared to be around Max’s age, handsome in a weathered way, but neither seemed to share his cunning eyes.
“Yes, we were. What’s it to you, little lady?” asked one.
“Just curious. Are you friends of his?”
The other man scoffed. “We’re enemies. Now run along and go play your little cowgirl games.”
I smiled wide and tilted my head. “Funny fellas, are ya? Let me ask ya somethin’.”
Neither of them could hide their curiosity as they both stepped closer to me.
“Where is he?” I asked.
“That asshole is probably at Long Branch Saloon winning a game of poker. He’s got all the luck despite all of the people he’s killed.”
“I was already at Long Branch and didn’t see him there.”
They stared at me appearing as stupid as I felt. It should have crossed my mind that there would be more than one saloon in such an infamous city.
“Does he own one of the other saloons?” I asked.
“A saloon? No. He’s the owner of the brothel.”
“Of course he is.”
“A sweet girl like you doesn’t belong here searching for a man like him.”
I kicked a loose stone across the road.
“I should be on my way. Thank you, gentlemen.”
I turned on my heel and left them behind. They disappeared into the rowdy crowd and went on their drunken way. A large section of the crowd hovered in the middle of the street a little ways down. Two gun fighters faced one another in the middle of the ruckus. Beyond the town, the horizon came to life with the sun’s first rays. Dawn’s fight for power over the night had already begun and I had not yet caught one glimpse of Max. It should have been him and I in that gun fight.
The street grew so quiet that the tower clock’s ticking could be heard. I crossed my arms and scanned all of the people present. I chose not to wait around and see which of the fighters survived the duel. I had already wasted too much time.
I made my way down the street nearly ready to cry out from frustration when masculine laughter sounded from one of the buildings’ windows. Panic shot through me and I froze. It sounded exactly like Max when he laughed. I craned my head, lifting my eyes to behold a purple curtain billowing from the window of the building across the street. A feminine cry followed his mocking laughter.
I strode up to the front door of the brothel and pushed myself through. Perfume and cigarette smoke assaulted my nostrils as I stepped inside. There was no one in the parlour, but laughter, moaning, and hollering sounded from upstairs. I made my way to the staircase. At the base of the stairs was a girl far too young to even be considered a prostitute. A sloppy man wreaking of sweat and moonshine froze at the sight of me. He let the girl go. She tripped over her own two feet as she made an attempt to retreat.
“I am warning you once,” I said. “Get out of here before I shoot you.”
He narrowed his eyes and started to open his mouth.
I fired and the girl screamed.
“Go home. Now,” I ordered her.
She stood there staring at me. “Ma’am! Ya gotta get outta here yerself.”
“I’ll handle it. Get out of here before another one tries to eat you alive. Don’t go anywhere near this place, y’hear?”
Once she fled the building, I kicked the dead man down the stairs. I stepped down the hall expecting a door to open at any moment, but nothing happened. I reached the window at the end of the hallway. I stared out of it as a dreamlike mood filled my mind.
“Where in God’s name are you?” I whispered.
The second door to my left opened. I spun around and aimed my pistol at it. The soft creaking as it slowly opened made my stomach churn. The door ceased to move and silence followed. I creeped toward the open room. When no one sprung out at me, I held my breath and jumped inside. It was empty.
I groaned as my gaze found the open window. I went to it and peered down at the street. Across the road stood a masculine form in the shadows. Max. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I knew that he was staring at me.
I dropped to the floor just missing the bullet he would have lodged into my skull. It shattered the mirror on the wall behind me. I crawled out of the room and ran down the stairs in pursuit of Max.