The shots echoed across the plain, and a small plume of smoke slowly rose from the muzzle of the emptied pistol. The figure paused in his shooting stance, then slowly raised his arm and emptied the spent shells. They clattered satisfyingly as they fell at his feet. Nailed to a tree nearby was his target: an old wanted poster with the name "Blackjack" scrawled across the bottom.
Slipping the pistol into his hip-holster, Timmy Derrick crossed to the tree and yanked down the paper. He absently rubbed his free hand over his growing stubble as he inspected his shooting. Timmy hadn't been shaving long, and he often forgot to do so. He didn't mind the stubble, though; he rather liked the rough feel of it.
He inspected the paper. One shot missed, and another was just a graze. The rest were dead on. He admired his work for a moment, and smiled. As if the paper could hear him, he taunted, "How do you like them apples, Blackjack?"
Timmy rolled the paper up and turned in the direction of the town. After a time, he reached the north end of Hill Street, where the every day bustle of life in Gomorra was in full swing. He smiled as the orphanage came into sight, and began to whistle tunelessly. As Timmy swung open the door, a pair of running children tore out of the doorway, nearly bowling him over.
"Whoa! Slow down there, fellas!" he called after them.
Chuckling, he again tried to enter. The path was clear, and the common room was mostly empty. The orphanage was cramped and small, consisting of only one room. Filled with cots, ten in all, the only privacy in the room was a shoddy chest at the end of each cot. There was barely enough space to walk between the rows of chests. At the west end of the room, Miss Singleton tutored little Anna on her letters. Timmy approached, clearing his throat. As Miss Singleton looked up, the small girl on her lap smiled around the finger she was sucking on and waved to Timmy.
"Miss Singleton?" Timmy asked, smiling at the little girl.
"Yes, Timmy?" She followed his smile to the little girl in her lap and scolded, "Annabelle, don't put your finger in your mouth."
"You said you'd set aside some nice clothes, you know, for church and stuff? I was wondering if maybe you got any that would fit me."
"There might be some. The empty bunk has some men's clothing in the chest. You know which one it is." She nodded towards the east end of the room.
"Thanks, Miss Singleton."
"You're welcome, Timmy. Now, Annabelle, what's this one?" She went back to tutoring the child.
Timmy slowly advanced on the unused bunk, his heartbeat quickening. The children of the orphanage avoided the cot, though none would admit it: dead men's clothes were nothing to be afraid of, after all. Timmy glanced over his shoulder at Miss Singleton. Reassured by her presence, he squatted before the dusty chest and slowly lifted the lid. Inside, folded neatly, were several sets of clothes the town had donated to the orphanage, most frequently when the former owner died without bequest. Slowly, Timmy sorted through the discarded shirts and pants, looking for the best he could find. He stood, the object of his search in hand.
"Miss Singleton?" he called.
"These clothes belong to T.C.? They look kind of funny," he said unfolding them and holding them up.
Miss Singleton chuckled. "Yes, they were his. Wendy donated them because he was a smaller man than most. She thought they'd probably fit one of you boys, eventually."
"Huh. Can I take these?"
"Yes, you may."
"Thanks, Miss Singleton."
He left the orphanage with a spring in his step, the clothes tucked under his arm. Timmy walked purposefully to the town bathhouse, just around the corner. He waved to the owner as he entered; a kindly old man, Mr. James let the orphans use the baths freely. Timmy proceeded to one of the two back rooms, where he shined up his boots and slicked back his hair. He turned to face the mirror, then put on the most serious expression he could muster.
"Sheriff Hunter," he said to the mirror, "I know you're a busy man, so I'm sorry to be bugging you. But I was hoping you might have a job for me. I'm a real good shot, and I'm smart as a whip. I got a real good eye for spotting trouble, too!"
Disappointed with his performance, Timmy hung his head. He scuffed the ground with the sole of his shoe, and piteously asked, "How am I ever gonna pull this off?"
After a brief moment, Timmy straightened back up and looked into the mirror. A bit more relaxed this time, he asked, "Jenny, I was just wondering if you wanted to come with me to the harvest festival on Saturday?"
Timmy waited a minute and then sighed. He ran his hands through his hair, to make sure it stayed back, straightened his belt, and checked his appearance. Satisfied that it couldn't get any better, he pulled the curtain back and walked into the main room.
"Thanks, Mr. James."
"See you, Timmy!" A pause, then, "Timmy?"
"Good luck, son." Mr. James winked and went back to tallying his books.
Feeling a bit foolish, Timmy left. As he walked down Main Street, his stomach began to turn. The butterflies that kept fluttering about inside him almost made him turn back more than once. Finally, he found himself standing outside the Sheriff's office. Tentatively, he opened the door.
Inside, Sheriff Hunter sat at his desk, writing in a ledger of some sort. Nearby, not far from his writing hand, lay his pistol. His eyes turned toward Timmy as the door opened.
"What do you need, Son?" Sheriff Hunter asked.
Okay, Timmy thought, you can do this...