Vasant (Spring) 2021 Stories - Mark Jabaut


The Day John Hardin Killed the Same Man Twice
By Mark Jabaut


John Wesley Hardin failed to understand the difference between cheating at cards and outright murder. In fact, he felt that the latter was a reasonable curative for the former. This was a point on which he took no exception.


By the age of twenty, Wes had killed eleven men, including four officers of the law, and was wanted on numerous warrants. Traveling under the name Wesley Clemens, he arrived in the small, parched town of Hemphill, Texas with the intention of doing some drinking and laying low for a while. Wes, however, was not the type to lay low for long.


One afternoon during a card game, Wes believed he caught a fellow by the name of Gus Parker hiding an ace in his shirt cuff. Parker was a stranger in town and presented like a bit of a dandy, with a ruffled shirt and a waxed mustache. Wes declared the crime loudly, and Parker hotly denied it, although he was unable to provide a reasonable explanation for the presence of the card in question being in his shirt cuff. He stood up from his chair in indignation, and Wes shot him through the chest, killing Parker and bloodying the fancy shirt. Parker’s body was removed from the saloon, and the card game resumed.


The sheriff was summoned, and after a detailed investigation involving an interview with Wes, an interview with the bartender, and two shots of house whiskey, the sheriff made a determination of justifiable homicide. Wes was asked to remand his pistols, which he refused to do. Carefully considering the fate of the last man to cross Wes, the sheriff chose not to insist on the pistols, and, in as friendly a tone as possible, requested that Wes try not to shoot anyone else for the remainder of the day.


Several hours and several whiskeys later, Wes excused himself from the game to go outside and take a piss. The sun was just beginning to slide behind the distant mountain range, giving the dusty town a golden glow. Wes admired the light as he pissed, feeling the warmth of the whiskey in his belly. When he had finished his piss and put his member away, he turned around and found himself face to face with Gus Parker, the man he had only hours ago shot through the chest.


“Good lord!” Wes exclaimed, taking a step backwards. He squinted at the man in front of him. “Didn’t I already kill you?” The man didn’t say anything, but stared at Wes in a hard way. Wes noted the ruffled shirt did not appear to have a bullet hole in it, nor any blood.


“Are you a ghost?” Wes asked. “I do hope you ain’t, as I can’t abide ghosts, or spirits of any sort. My daddy was a preacher, and I learned early not to trust them.” There were a few people nearby watching this exchange, and Wes looked at them out of the corner of his eyes to see if they appreciated his cleverness.


“I ain’t no ghost,” replied Parker.


“Well, thank goodness for that, I guess,” said Wes. “But how do you explain your presence here, then?” Parker didn’t answer, just fed Wes that same hard stare. Wes waited a moment to see if he would say anything.


“Well, you sure are a quiet one,” Wes said. “I seem to be the only one keeping up my end of the conversation. Are you sure you ain’t a ghost? I only ask as that might explain your lack of discourse.”


“I already said I ain’t a ghost,” said Parker.


“Right you are,” said Wes, trying to shake the whiskey from his skull. “I will take your word on that. But now— “he scrunched up his forehead in thought – “how do we explain the fact that I already kilt you once?”


“That ain’t my problem,” said Parker in a surly tone.


“Friend,” said Wes, “there ain’t no call to get churlish. I am merely trying to ascertain the reason for your presence on this earthly plain.” Wes was naturally a man of few words, but the drunker he got, the more four-dollar ones tended to find their way into his speech.


“Are you gonna draw on me, or not?” asked Parker.


Wes sighed. “That has been the last question of many men in these parts,” he said. “I have no great desire to kill you again. Once has been enough for most fellows, you being the only exception I can recollect at this moment. I would rather enjoy this beautiful evening air, and return to my chair in the saloon, and swallow a bit more whiskey. But if you are insistent, sir, I cannot say no.” He stood still, hands at his sides, and waited for Parker to decide whether or not this was the night he wanted to die. Again.


“You’re a son of a bitch,” said Parker as he pulled his pistol. Wes drew with liquid speed and shot Parker through the chest again.


As Parker crumpled to the dirt, Wes said “You could have made that point without dying.” He watched for a moment as Parker’s life fled, and then the body was still.


“For both of our sakes, please don’t come back again,” Wes asked. “I don’t know how many times a man can be kilt by another man, without one of them losing their soul.” Wes wandered back into the saloon.


It wasn’t until the next morning that a somewhat hungover and confused John Wesley Hardin was given the news that he had killed both the Parker twins, and that it was in his best interest to move on to another part of Texas.


Which he did.


Mark Jabaut from US is a playwright and author living in Webster NY. Mark’s plays include IN THE TERRITORIES which premiered in May 2014 at The Sea Change Theatre in Beverly, MA, and Rochester Key Bank Fringe Festival entries THE BRIDGE CLUB OF DEATH, THE HATCHET MAN, DAMAGED BEASTS and COLMA! Mark’s fiction has been published in the print magazine POST, The Ozone Park Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spank the Carp, Defenestration, and Uproar.


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