| BLOOD FOR BLOOD
Published January 2004
Johnny Kemp strolled through the swinging bat-wing doors of the Bull's Head, combination saloon and theater. A stage occupied one end of the interior, and a pianist was playing a fast, happy tune on an ancient and faded piano at one edge of the stage. Johnny chuckled in a low voice as his partner, Tony Malone, made a wry comment on the elegance of the place.
Dual guns slung low on Johnny's hips only hinted at the taste and proficiency he had developed for them. He was in his mid twenties, taller than average and brown of hair. A black, flat-brimmed and flat-crowned hat nestled on top of a mop of brown curly hair. Beneath those, eyes which seemed to have a life of their own looked out from beneath thin brown eyebrows. His powerful build was a testament to the work he had done, both as a boy on his father's Missouri farm, and later as a cowhand, gold miner, driver of spikes, or whatever else it took to survive, depending on the time and the place.
The two strolled up to the bar, resting their forearms on the edge as the bartender set a bottle down and placed two glasses before them. As the bartender moved off, Tony made another sarcastic comment, and Johnny laughed audibly. The bartender appeared not to be listening, but his face moved a shade nearer to red.
There were only two men besides them in the bar, two cowpunchers in from off the range, judging by their looks. Both were dusty, both were dressed for the job, and both had that hard look that exuded confidence. They were speaking in hushed tones, and from time to time the man with the red hair lifted his eyes to the two strangers who had walked in and were loitering at the bar.
Tony caught one of them glancing his way, and made a slight nodding gesture as a greeting.
"That's funny," he said, half to himself. At Johnny's query, he continued. "That feller looked away nervously when he caught my eyes, yet he don't appear the type to be 'fraid of anything."
"Aww," Johnny drawled, "yer just being suspicious."
The two cowpunchers got up to leave at about the same time as Kemp and Malone, who followed them out. The punchers looked left and right once outside, then turned to the right. Following them through the door, Tony watched them walk away, then turn out into the street fifty feet away.
Three men were riding up in the middle of the street from that direction, and the punchers stepped out and began talking to the man in the lead, a man wearing a white hat and a gray vest. His hair was cropped short, his mustache drooped, and after the men from the saloon had spoken to him he looked up, straight into the eyes of Johnny and Tony. He nodded, saying something quickly to the man with the red hair, and continued walking his horse down the street.
He stopped his horse when he neared them. He looked down at them with an icy glare. "This country isn't safe..."
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