“A smile is limitless,” the old man once told me.
I swung my feet off the pine studded bed and tried to brush away the sleep that clung to my mind. Something dawned on me that I could not explain; a deep, unnerving feeling crept up my spine. I had been here before, and not long ago. I shook the feeling away as I rubbed my hands through my hair.
“Of course I’ve been here before,” I said in attempts to calm myself as I searched for my boots.
A light breeze snuck through the open window and swayed the threadbare curtain. The sheets rustled behind me, fluttering the white cloth over the curves of her body. Golden brown hair draped over her face, shrouding her features. I pulled my boots on and grabbed my shirt.
It was time.
The tarnished silver timepiece read five after nine. I dropped it back into my pocket and moved quickly down creaky wooden stairs. The barroom was peppered with the salt of the town, braving whiskey just after dawn in hopes of escaping the day. My arrival warranted a few sullen glances and was dismissed with equal heedlessness.
I lowered the brim of my hat as I pushed through the saloon doors and into the almost blinding light outside. I paused and glanced across the street, waiting for my eyes to adjust. The town was all but empty. Curious eyes flickered from behind wooden blinds in search of some sign of life returning to normal.
The revolver at my hip was heavy. I stepped off into the middle of the street and headed towards the bank. I heard the hinges squeal, followed by two sets of boots entering the street behind me. I turned once I was across and nodded to the two men.
“A smile can buy you trust,” the old man would say just before spitting a gob of chew onto the stained wood floor.
Grey and Paul walked side-by-side across the street and to the awning just in front of the bank. I pulled out the timepiece and nodded once more at the two. They glanced at each other and drew their revolvers before pushing through the bank door. The yells were muffled through the rafters. The effect was successful, apparent due to the lack of gunshots.
I strolled back across the dirt packed road and into the quiet saloon. The same sad eyes greeted me once more. The barkeep stopped polishing a glass mug and nodded to the few patrons who, though reluctantly, downed their drinks and meandered out of the room.
“A smile can buy you admiration,” the old man would say as he sniffed the amber liquid just before throwing it back.
At the bar I checked the timepiece again. The barkeep slid me a bottle and three small glasses. I pulled the cork out and poured a generous portion. I threw it back and reveled in the warmth that crept through my chest. It tasted like honey and burned like fire.
The doors swung open. Grey and Paul sauntered to the bar, the bags over their shoulders almost bursting with crisp green bills. They sported easy smiles and dropped the bags at my feet. I returned their grins and poured three more glasses.
“But most importantly, a smile can buy you loyalty,” the old man would say between puffs as he lit the dark, dry cigar.
I flashed a smile that could have eased the minds of even the most cautious men. Grey and Paul grabbed the glasses and tossed them back greedily. I watched their faces change as they noticed the barrel of the revolver, as their eyes widened with understanding.
The gunshots stung my ears as they echoed through the large room. I turned the barrel to the barkeep who gasped something between “No,” and “Please,” before the final shot filled the air. My eyes traced the bodies of the three men. Blood pooled under them, adding to the collection of stains that permeated the wooden baseboards.
The puff of smoke behind me smelled of fine tobacco. I turned and saw the old man, as if he appeared out of nowhere, sitting at a table not three feet from me. His wind-beaten skin was dark and leathery, wrapped tight around black eyes and a crooked nose. He tapped the ash from the end of the cigar and took a long, hard pull.
“It’s all there,” I said through a clenched jaw, though I wasn't even sure why.
The old man exhaled a large plume of smoke and sat the cigar down on the table. He looked me over quietly, dissecting my every thought as if he wished to anticipate my very desires. “You can keep it, you know.”
I looked back at the bags of money, and then to the old man. “We had a deal, no?”
He chuckled and nodded. “Yes, yes we did have a deal,” he said as he rose from the table. “Tell me, this deal, will it be the same as before?”
I shot him a confused look. “As before?”
“Have you forgotten the original agreement?” He stared at me for a long moment, musing at my obvious confusion. “The room, the girl.” He moved to the bags slowly. “There is enough money here to last two lifetimes.”
I thought about the oddities that surrounded me. Something was different about the saloon, the town. How had I arrived here? I thought back, searched my mind for some kind of understanding.
“We have spoken before,” the old man said through a mouth riddled with missing teeth. “In this very bar.”
His voice, his thoughts, resonated through my mind. I remembered a time before that we sat across from each other at the same table, though I could not place when or how long ago.
He smiled an awful smile, a cruel smile. “I can bring her back,” he paused. “For a price.”
I looked down and tugged at the badge pinned to my vest in attempts to avoid his daunting gaze as he laid out his plan. “This is all I must do, and you will save her?” I said, trying to hide the desperation in my voice. My love, I remembered her. She was as moving as the setting sun, and I knew that I could not live without her.
The old man nodded with a trusting smile. “If the price is paid, she will live, Sheriff, she will live.”
I turned back to the old man as he dropped the bags at my feet. “What price?” I managed to croak through my suddenly parched throat. “What price did I agree to?”
A final gunshot erupted through the room. I looked to my left where Grey laid sprawled on the floor, his smoking gun was shaking in his hand. His eyes rolled back into his head and the gun clattered to the floor. I felt a chill of frost creep through my chest as my eyes refocused on the old man.
“You, of course,” he said with a smile that made my knees begin to falter. “The price was always you. ”
My legs gave out. I crumpled to the ground. The world slowly faded to black.
“A smile is limitless,” the old man used to tell me.
I swung my feet off the pine studded bed and tried to brush away the sleep that clung to my mind. Something dawned on me that I could not explain; a deep, unnerving feeling crept up my spine. I had been here before, and not long ago...
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