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The Second Fastest Gun in the West
by Roger Pattison

It was strange inscription for a tombstone; but it had a kind of prophetic ring to it. Puzzled, Hank pushed a well-worn Stetson back from his brow with the barrel of his Colt .45 and inadvertently blew his brains out. It was precursor of things to come; but not for Hank.

Mort Darthur drove the complaining hearse through town up towards Boot Hill. There was a good crowd up there today, it being the Tuesday shoe sale.

“Is that Hank in that thar coffin, Mort?” called a voice from the upper window of the saloon. A fitful breeze banged a bored shutter.

“Yep; it wuz when I put him in there. Unless he’s gotten out a way back.” Mort spat a chunk of cheroot to the dust. “Seems a mite unlikely.”

“Y’ can’t bury Hank up thar on Boot Hill, Mort.” The shutter fell off into the street, the breeze bemoaning its’ passing through a lone telegraph wire.

“Well, Seth; I ain’t a-heard him complainin’ none.” Mort chomped the cheroot between anthracite dentures, and the hearse groaned off; “but then he wouldn’t if he’d gotten out a way back.”  

Seth pushed the Stetson back from his brow with his sawn-off, shook his confused head and blew it off. Mort joined in with the head shaking.

“Seems like a’ reg’lar epidemic o’ head blowin’ off,” mused Mort Darthur to himself.

“Is that Hank in that thar coffin, Mort?” Mort jumped down and walked across the street. But Seth, having fallen from the second floor window of the saloon without a head seemed curiously silent on the subject.

“Ah’m over here, Mort.” It came from the hotel across the road. “Y’ can’t bury Hank up on Boot Hill, Mort.”

“What makes ye say that, Tex? He’s dead ain’t he?” The scrape of match on boot echoed in the tense silence of the whistling telegraph wire, battering shutter, the hum of customers for the shoe sale, and sound of a Winchester repeater blowing Tex’s head off. “Ye should be more careful with that in future, Tex.”

Along the street stood a lone figure, adjusting his holster under a copious belly.

“Is that Hank in that thar coffin, Mort?” he shouted in the silence of the whining telegraph wire, the battering shutter, the crowd on Boot Hill, and Mort’s approximate harmonica rendition of ‘Red River Valley’. Jesse lifted the Colt in its holster and stomped a cigar butt under his boot. Mort charitably slid his harmonica into a shirt pocket. He quietly hefted a ‘Peacemaker’ the size of a Howitzer and blew Jesse’s head off.

“Just savin’ ye a bullet, Jesse; thar’s a terrible run on head blowin’ off’s, lately.” Mort proceeded unhurriedly towards Boot Hill.

“Is that Hank in that thar coffin, Mort?” said Wally, the cemetery janitor. Mort nodded and looked along the line of headstones marching off into the distance.

‘The Second Fastest Gun in the West; The Third Fastest Gun in the West; The Fourth Fastest......’ Mort was wondering just how much cemetery was left for Hank, when his reverie was interrupted by Wally.

“Ye can’t bury Hank up here on Boot Hill, Mort.”

“That seems to be the gen'ral opinion, Wally; why not?”

“Cause we lost the shovel.”