A Routine Matter by Maureen

Word count: 480

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“He’ll never get more than twenty dollars for that nag he calls a horse,” Johnny said. Ten steps from the saloon door his pace slowed.

“The trouble is, everyone knows that but him,” Scott said. He matched Johnny for two more steps and then dropped back, four behind.

Johnny placed both hands on the batwing doors, pushed them apart and, after moment’s pause, stepped inside.

Scott waited three seconds and then put a hand to the left batwing and pushed it open.

Johnny stood off to his right, gaze fixed across the room on the second table from the back. Scott spared it a quick glance and spotted the stranger seated there. The man, dark-skinned and wearing Mexican-style clothing, offered Johnny an infinitesimal nod of acknowledgement. Scott stepped inside.

“Keep goin’,” Johnny whispered.

Scott headed to the bar, and stopped where the angle of the mirror behind the long counter provided the best view of that table. He ordered a beer while Johnny made his way toward the stranger . . . stranger to Scott, at least. Along the way, Johnny’s fingers flicked the leather tie off the hammer of his handgun. Scott picked his mug off the wooden bar with his left hand and mimicked Johnny’s caution with his right.

Scott drank without tasting, the vision of his brother in that mirror his sole focus. Johnny didn’t sit, he just stood across the table from the stranger and spoke. Quietly, it seemed, as no one around them offered much notice.

A minute passed. Two. The stranger stood, extended a hand. Johnny shook it, and then watched the stranger until he left the building.

Scott watched Johnny. After the stranger had gone, he waited a full minute to order another beer and a refresh on his own. He paid for the drinks, carried them to that table and sat beside Johnny.

“Friend or foe?” Scott asked, taking a sip of his beer.

Johnny reflected a moment while he tasted his own drink. “Can’t tell yet. Used to be a friend.”

“Will he be staying?” Scott asked.

“Can’t tell yet,” Johnny said. He stared, unwavering, at the front doorway, like the answer might be written in the stars just starting to flicker across the darkening twilight sky. “I’ll ride home alone tonight.”

“No, you won’t,” Scott said after another sip.

Johnny wrapped his fingers around the bottom of his beer mug and rotated it several times in slow circles while he thought it through. “I tell you to fall back, you go, no questions.”

“How far?” Scott asked after a sip.

“Into whatever cover we just passed. I’ll go on, you follow five minutes behind.”

“Three,” Scott countered.

The glass took another lazy spin atop the table. “Five.”

“Five,” Scott agreed.

Johnny downed half his beer in a couple of swallows. “Don’t tell Murdoch,” he said.

“Never do,” Scott said.

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~end~
MP – December 2011

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