Thomas Tobin Tate ducked back behind the boulder he was hiding behind. Chips of rock flew off next to where his head had been as a flurry of shots, some solid, some juiced and some of an altogether more peculiar bent slammed into his cover. Seven. There were seven members of Mean Jefferies’ gang following him. They seemed to have taken offence at Thomas shooting their boss in the backside whilst he had been performing his morning ablutions away from the cave where they’d made camp. Thomas blamed himself, he’d been aiming for the man’s heart but his eye had been off. That’s old age for you, he thought.
There had been nine gang members originally which meant two of them must have fallen foul of the bear traps he’d set up to waylay any pursuit. He hadn’t needed to lay traps for all of them. Just a couple of screaming men would make all the others cautious and that had given him the time needed to part Scalper Jefferies’ head from his shoulders. It sat in the sack tied to his belt. He’d present it to the Sheriff's office in Retribution to collect his bounty. Four hundred dollars. Most of that was put up by angry ranchers who wouldn’t be able to sell for meat any animal that Jefferies had come in contact with. That would clear his gambling debt to Bill Hickock and give him money for bed and board for a few days till he found some more work. That’s if he could get to his Iron Horse and away.
“Come out and we’ll make it quick you. Ain’t nobody that thinks they can just up and kill the boss of the Mean Men and waltz on outta here!” One of the Mean Men sounded like they were already taking charge now Jefferies had been retired. Always the way with outlaw scum like these.
Thomas looked around. He needed a distraction so he could make a break for it.
“Mierda!” He shouted from behind his boulder. He could imagine that the remaining Mean Men were already moving around to flank his position. There was a snap and a scream. Thomas smiled. He’d been right, he didn’t need to get all of them. Those screams would make the others pause. He stuck his head quickly round the boulder again then pulled it back before anyone noticed. One of the men was on the ground and making a hell of a lot of noise. The others were spooked and backing off. It was now or never.
Thomas burst from behind the boulder and made for where he had stashed his Iron Horse. A yell went up as one of the outlaws saw him and a flurry of panicked shots chewed up the ground behind him. Thomas ran as fast as he could but had never been light on his feet, even before Bimini. A couple of stray rounds pinged from the back plate of his golden armour chest piece. Another found flesh and clipped him in the thigh. He fell and rolled into a dip in the landscape just ahead of him. His leg stung but didn’t feel serious. He reached down to feel the wound as he peered over the lip of the depression at the oncoming outlaws and his hand came back covered in blood.
For a moment he was lost. Back to that moment three hundred years ago in Bimini, when he had been Tomasito Bernal. Things had seemed so much simpler then. Before they had become immortal. But was immortality the same as invulnerability? With all that blood spilling out of him, would he find out? Was he finally dying?
A shot ricochet by his head, snapping him back to reality. Grunting Thomas pulled himself into a prone position and pulled out his trusty rifle, Betsy. He kissed her for luck and propped her up on the lip so she was pointing towards the approaching Mean Men. He shot the closest man who went down writhing. His golden rifle was loaded with stun rounds so he was unlikely to kill any of the outlaws but that was fine, he just needed to slow them down. Return fire came his way but all it did was throw up clouds of dust as it hit the earth nearby.
One after another Thomas knocked down the men until there were none left standing. The screams of the man who found his last bear trap could still be heard further out. Thomas got up and brushed himself down. His leg felt fine, oddly enough. He looked down to see why he was bleeding so much. He wasn’t. Several neat holes had been punched into the sack tied at his waist which was now sodden in blood. Thomas swore and unhitched the sack. Looking inside he swore again and tipped the contents out onto the dirt. What had been the head of Mean Jefferies, known criminal, murderer, thief and steer worrier, was now little more than an unrecognisable mess of bone and bloody flesh. Thomas kicked the ruined trophy several times, swearing all the while.
After the initial rush of rage left him Thomas closed his eyes and squeezed his temples, taking a few calming breaths. No sheriff worth his badge would accept that as proof of a kill. He composed himself and looked over at the writhing forms of the Mean Men gang. He sighed. Twenty dollars a head for a Mean Man was better than nothing. He walked over to the nearest one and unsheathed Chiquita, his scalping blade. I hope they have a fresh head sack back at the camp, he thought as he went to work.