Jane knew someone was trying to kill her from the first night. Not her first night per se, but certainly the killer's. She sat in the corner of the Fat Chance, eyeballing her opponents over an exquisite full house, and became aware that someone in the room was eyeballing her with the same intensity. Not that she could tell who exactly. The Fat Chance was choked to the gills with gunman, miners and mad scientists, all working industriously to drink themselves into a stupor. Spotting one focused face in such a sea was ridiculous.
Nevertheless, she felt someone's gaze boring into her, felt it in the same place she kept her gunfighter's instincts. You didn't live as long as Jane did without listening to that place very closely.
"Raise," she smiled quietly and threw another chip onto the stack.
Just because her life was in danger didn't mean she have to blow this hand. The cowboys surrounding her looked glumly at their own cards, then tossed them onto the table. Jane slid the winnings into her hat and stood up.
"Nice game, boys. I'll let ya try an' win it back tomorrow." Already, she was scanning the crowd for the watcher, trying to nail his eyes to the wall. To the bar where Charlie Landers poured his drinks and chatted amiably...to the far corner where a pair of Texas Rangers, almost succeeded in looking inconspicuous...past the poker games and the beer pitchers and bar fights waiting to happen...There. A darkened form near the swinging doors, black hair sprouting from behind a tan rancher's hat - that one. She strode across the floor with powerful steps, pushing men twice her size out of the way. The figure turned and vanished through the doors at the first sign of movement, disppearing into the Gomorra night. Jane broke into a run, but it was too late. The streets outside were deserted, the figure vanished.
"Bring it on pal," she muttered beneath her breath. "I ain't goin' anywhere."
She was back in the Fat Chance several days later, lounging at the bar with a drink in her hand, when he next appeared. The form hovered in an alleyway across from the saloon, visible through the windows. It never moved, only stared intently back at her. She couldn't make out the face, hidden behind the shadows and that rancher's hat. She could feel his gaze, though, boring into her like screws. Her eyes slit and she gazed right back.
"See anythin' green?"
She started and turned in a flash. Charlie the bartender stood behind her, his flattened face broken with a toothy grin.
"Easy there. I ain't packin'."
She sighed and turned back around. "Sorry Charlie. You kinda snuck up on me."
"Yeah, I got a way o' doin' that. So what're you lookin' at out there that's so interestin'?"
"There's a man across the street who wants to kill me."
"Oh." He fell silent for a moment. "Plan to do anything about it?"
"Sure. As soon as he makes his move."
"Any idea who'd want ta kill ya?"
"Plenty. Bucktooth Jim Sampson fer what I did in Tombstone. The LeVile twins, they got a beef. Then there were those guys in Shan Fan..."
"Sounds to me like you could use some friends."
"Those were my friends, Charlie. Why do ya think they're so mad?"
"Then it sounds like yer pickin' the wrong ones."
"Maybe. That's why I stopped."
"Lonely way to live. Lonely way to die, too."
"I don't apologize for my mistakes, but I'm smart enough to learn from them. If I pick the wrong friends, at least I'm smart enough to know it."
"I suppose. Still - it can leave you hangin', can't it?"
"Hangin' can't kill me, Charlie. And I don't die easily." Tossing a coin on the bar, she leapt suddenly and sprinted out the door, charging towards the shadowy figure in the ally. He vanished the instant she moved, and as Charlie watched, she turned this way and that, searching vainly in the dusty street.
"Lonely way to live," he repeated quietly.
Evening again, spreading deepening purple across Gomorra's west side. The cowboys were out in force as they were every night, trying to spend as much money as they could as quickly as possible. Shouts and drunken singing filled the air, punctuated by the occasional gunshot. Arizona Jane moved through the crowded thoroughfare with unusual sobriety. She hadn't had a drink in three days, and didn't intend to until her stalker lay cold and stiff. She walked briskly towards the Fat Chance, weaving between crowds of men in various stages of inebriation. As she moved, she let her gunfighter's instincts take over, reach out, scan the area in ways her eyes and ears couldn't. He was out there. Somewhere. Waiting for her.
- Behind you.*
Risking a glance, she turned back briefly. There it was. Tan hat. Black hair. About fifty yards behind her, following intently. "Time to end this," she muttered. She ducked suddenly into the alley beside the Fat Chance, but not so suddenly as to confuse her pursuer. The narrow walkway was empty, save for a few crates piled beside the saloon. She flattened herself against the wall and waited. Sure as sin, the man followed, stepping into the alley with cautious steps. He was shorter than she thought, his face still hidden beneath the hat's wide brim. As he moved, she grabbed his arm and flung him forward. He flew like a rag doll, smashing against the boxes in an ungainly heap. Despite that, he managed to break the fall, and the rifle on his shoulder moved instantly into his hands. Whoever he was, he knew how to take care of himself. She cocked her gun and pointed it right at the miscreant's head.
"Make a move and I'll drill yer skull wide open." The figure froze. "What do you want with me?"
"Nothin'." The voice was high, feminine. "Just wanted to meet you is all."
Jane's brow scrunched in confusion, and looked closely at the form. From under the tan hat, a teenage face blinked. Wide-eyed wonder broke the features of a fifteen-year old girl, a shining light of adoration in her eyes. The holster at her belt held a paperback book; the cover read clearly. *The Fightin' Life of Arizona Jane.* "I think you're the greatest gunfighter in the whole world!" she breathed. "Better even than Hank Ketchum!"
"My name's Mandy. Mandy Holland. They call me 'Montana' Holland," she added shyly. "On account of I want be just like you." Jane blinked incredulously, struggling for words. "Just...like...me...?"
"Did you really kill six banditos with a broken pistol?"
"Well...um...yes, actually. Although t'weren't like the newspapers said. There was this chandelier and when my gun misfired, it just..."
"That's great! I always..."
"Where are you from girl?" she finally found her tongue.
"Missoula. Lived there my whole life until my pa hit me, and I figured it was time to clear out. I been lookin fer you for two years."
"Two years? You been out here fer two years?"
"Yup. You ain't easy to find, you know that? I went to Arizona first on accounta yer name, and couldn't find you, but then this guy says he seen you in Denver, so I rode a cattle train up there but you weren't there an' then..."
Jane held up her hand for silence, a mixture of bemusement and perplexity playing on her face. "What do you want?"
"I wanna be with you, Miss Jane. Be yer partner, help tame the west."
"'Tame the west?!'"
"Just like the book says."
"Listen, sweetie. I don't know where you got that book, but I ain't here to tame the west. I'm just a gunfighter."
"That's okay. You're the best gunfighter in the world."
"I don't need a partner. Sorry."
Devastation played across the girl's face. "But you've got to! It's all I've ever wanted to do!"
"I live dangerous, girl. Follow me around and you could get hurt."
"I can take care of myself."
"I've heard that before."
"Oh please, Miss Jane...please?"
She eyed the rifle in the girl's hands - solid, well-used. Her young hands moved with an easy care, as someone used to handling weapons. And to get here all the way from Missoula...Jane sighed and took off her hat. "Okay. You can stay."
"Really?! Great!" she clapped her hands. "I won't be no trouble, Miss Jane, Honest."
"See that you ain't. This place don't forgive." Her face relaxed. "And you can call me Jane."
They turned and walked towards the entrance to the alleyway. "Can I ask you something?" Holland breathed. "What part of Arizona are you from?"
"The Cleveland, Ohio part," she replied. "Arizona just sounds better."
"Really? I called myself Montana 'cause I'm from Montana, an' I didn't wanna be Arizona 'cause you had it. I guess I'll stay Montana, even though you didn't stay Ohio, 'cause..."
Jane smiled to herself as Holland kept chatting. Maybe she did have a habit of picking the wrong friends. But it might be all right if a friend picked her. Just this once.