He walked through the swinging doors of the saloon. As soon as he
stepped inside the saloon, he stopped to look around. There were four
men at a poker table, but they weren’t really playing cards anymore.
They were just going through the motions, terrified that Red Carter
would start in on them next. The barkeep was standing behind the bar
cleaning up just so he’d have something to do. Red Carter was standing
at the bar with a bottle of whiskey and a shot glass. He looked up at
“Why, little Jess Williams,” Red said sarcastically, “What the
hell are you doing in a saloon? And what the hell is all that you’ve
got on you? Are you wearing a six-shooter now?” Jess didn’t reply.
“What the hell you got behind you,” continued Red. “Is that a
shotgun? Are you going rabbit hunting or something? Speak up, boy, I’m
talking to you!”
Jess looked him straight in the eyes with no discernable emotion. “You
shouldn’t have killed the sheriff, Red. He was my friend and a good
man. He didn’t deserve to be shot down like that.”
“The hell he didn’t,” retorted Red. “He was gonna crack me on
the head with that goddamn shotgun again.”
“You still shouldn’t have killed him,” said Jess.
“What the hell is it to you, boy?” asked Red. “You gonna do
something about it?” continued Red, “Oh, you ain’t going rabbit
hunting are you? You mean to tell me that you came in here to square off
with me for killing a two-bit sheriff? You gotta be kidding me, boy. You
ain’t got the gonads to face me or any other man for that matter.”
The barkeep, William, who hadn’t said anything up to now, got up
enough courage to speak. “Jess, do us all a favor and go on home,”
exclaimed William. “We’ve had enough killing here today. Red, you
leave the boy alone.”
“You shut your mouth, barkeep, or there will be some more killing real
soon, starting with you!” hollered Red. The barkeep went back to
minding his business.
Jess moved over to the left of the saloon. He knew that Sara was still
looking out of the window across the street, and he didn’t want to
chance a stray bullet hitting her. He moved toward a corner where no one
could get behind him. He never took his eyes off Red. Red finally
realized Jess was serious. Red moved himself away from the bar a little
and straightened up his stance and dropped his hand a little closer to
the butt of his pistol.
“Boy, why don’t you go home now before you get hurt,” exclaimed
Red. “I ain’t never shot a boy, but if you plan on pulling for that
gun you’ve got, I’ll kill you for sure. Don’t you ever doubt
“You’re killing days are over,” replied Jess. The cheeks on
Red’s face quivered. His ears turned a cherry red and he was about all
out of what little patience he had.
“Why you cocky little bastard!” hollered Red. “You think you can
come in here and threaten me? I ain’t scared of no man, much less a
wet-behind-the-ears little shit-head punk like you. You’ve got about
five seconds to clear out of here before you go too far!”
“Then I guess you got about five seconds to live. What are you
planning to do with your time left?” asked Jess, his eyes locked with
“I guess I’ll kill me a punk-ass kid,” replied Red.
Red moved his hand a little closer to the butt of his pistol. Jess had
already placed his hand in position without Red even knowing it. Jess
could see in Red’s eyes that he was going to draw. Jess never moved.
He waited until Red went for his pistol and Jess still never moved. Red
finally got his hand on the butt of his pistol and pulled. Red’s gun
barrel just cleared the top of his holster and then the gun fell
backwards. Red’s hand was no longer holding it. Instead, his hand was
clutching his chest where the bullet from Jess’ pistol had just torn
through his heart exploding it instantly. Red slumped to his knees. He
looked at Jess with a look of surprise. An instant later, he was lying
face down in a pool of blood not more than ten feet from the drying pool
of blood that had been left from Sheriff Diggs’s body. Jess watched
Red’s death with no emotion. After Red fell to the floor, Jess put his
gun back in the holster in one quick, smooth movement.
“Jesus Christ!” exclaimed the barkeep. “I ain’t ever seen anyone
draw like that before. If I hadn’t seen if for myself, I would have
thought you drew on him before he had a chance. Jess, you’re lucky you
got a witness or else they’d say it wasn’t a fair fight.”
Jess said nothing. He just looked at Red Carter’s dead body lying face
down on the floor. Jess walked over to Red’s body and using his left
foot, he rolled him over. He unbelted his holster and reached down and
picked up Red’s gun and stuck it back in the holster. He checked
Red’s pockets and found about fifty dollars and he placed ten dollars
of it on the bar.
“This should help pay for any damages,” exclaimed Jess.
“I don’t know if you should be taking his stuff, Jess. It doesn’t
seem right,” exclaimed the barkeep.
“He won’t need it anymore,” replied Jess. “Besides, as far as I
see it, I’ve earned it. Is that his horse out there?” The barkeep
“I’ll be taking that, too,” said Jess.
“Don’t matter to me. I mind my own business, Jess,” replied the
“I’ll be selling the horse and saddle. If you need any more money to
clean up or fix any damages, you see Mr. Jameson at the bank and he’ll
give you the money, okay?” Jess stated.
“Sure thing, but this is more than enough,” exclaimed the barkeep.
Jess walked out of the saloon and Sara was standing in the middle of the
street with her hands over her mouth.
“Oh my Lord, Jess, what have you done?” asked Sara.
“I did what was needed, Sara,” answered Jess. “I’ve got some
business to take care of. When I’m done, I’ll stop by and see you
and Jim before I leave, okay?”
Sara nodded and headed down the street toward the general store. Jess
walked the horse over to the stables and sold the horse and the saddle.
He sold the rifle he found on Red’s horse to the gunsmith and he took
the money to Jameson and deposited it. He kept Red’s .45. It was
always good to have extra weapons handy. Then he walked over to Jim and
Sara’s store. He found Jim behind the counter and Sara sitting in a
chair at the end of the counter by the small wood stove that Jim used to
heat up the front of the store. They both looked up at Jess when he
walked in as if they didn’t even know him anymore.
“Jess,” said Jim, “I know what you’re planning to do and it’s
no life for a young man. Is there any way we can talk you out of
this?” Jess looked Jim straight in the eyes and gave a simple one-word
“No.” Jess stated firmly.
Sara wiped more tears from her eyes and said, “Jess, you just killed a
man over at the saloon and you don’t seem the slightest bit bothered
by it. I swear you are not the same boy.”
“I’m not a boy anymore and I’m surely not the same person you knew
before,” replied Jess softly. Red Carter needed to be killed and I
won’t apologize for it to anyone. I only hope that you won’t hate me
“We could never hate you, Jess,” said Sara. “We will always
consider you family. We just don’t want to see you turn to this way of
life. Using a gun is not a good way to live. It’s a good way to
“I don’t plan on dying, but I’m not afraid of it either,” said
“Jess, where in the hell did you get that gun?” asked Jim.
Jess let his palm touch the butt of the pistol. “Let’s just say it
came to me,” Jess said.
“Was it your pa’s?” pressed Jim.
“I’m not rightly sure, but it’s my gun now,” replied Jess.
“Anyway, I have to leave now. The sheriff told me the other day he had
a lead on one of the men who killed my family. He said that he was
involved in a shooting up in Tarkenton about two hundred miles northwest
of here. I intend to hunt the bastard down and kill him.”
“Like Red Carter?” asked Sara, still wiping tears from her eyes.
“Yes, only worse,” replied Jess. “I plan on letting that son of a
bitch die a little bit slower.”
“Oh Jess,” Sara said in almost a whisper. Jim looked at Sara and he
knew what she was thinking. She figured it was time to tell Jess
something she would never reveal if his family was still alive. There
was no reason to hold back the truth any longer.
“Jess, there is something that we need to tell you,” said Sara,
still trying to compose herself. “Your parents swore us to never tell
you about this, but now they’re gone and we think you should know.”
“Know what?” asked Jess.
“Jess, you have other family,” interjected Jim. Jess turned to look
at Jim with a look of disbelief.
“What the hell are you talking about?” asked Jess, a bewildered look
on his face. “I don’t have any other family. My family was
murdered.” Jim hung his head and began to speak in a quiet, deliberate
“Jess, John Williams was a good man and a better friend; but he
wasn’t your real pa…” Jim began.
“That’s not true!” retorted Jess, cutting Jim off in midsentence.
Jim cleared his throat and gathered his emotions so he could continue.
“Jess, your real father was a man by the name of Ed Sloan. He’s a
gunslinger and a gambler who was taken with your ma the minute he saw
her. I tried to tell her he was no good for her, but she wouldn’t
listen. Don’t blame your ma, Jess. She was young and he was as slick
as they come. She spent some time with him and she ended up pregnant
with you…and your brother, Tim.” Jess sat down in the other chair in
the front of the store stunned by this revelation about another part of
his family he had never known about. Jim cleared his throat and
“After your ma had the two of you, your real father took off with your
twin brother and a gal from Dixie’s he’d gotten close to while your
ma was with child. Her name was Sally. He was a no good son-of-a-bitch
and he hurt your ma. Last we heard about your brother Tim, he’d taken
up the gun and hear tell he’s mighty fast with one. Your father, Ed,
is even faster. The two of them are no good and you should think twice
before you have anything to do with them if you have any sense, Jess.
Anyway, we figured you had a right to know.” Jim finished.
Jess couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The thought of all this
just balled his nerves up in a knot that found its way to his throat.
Then, he made a decision. He couldn’t let all this distract him now.
He would have to deal with it later.
He stood up and looked at Jim and Sara. “Do you know where they are
now?” Jess asked.
“Last we heard they were both in Wichita,” replied Jim. “That was
quite a while ago though. They could be almost anywhere by now.”
“Thanks for telling me,” replied Jess. “But, I still have to
“No you don’t,” exclaimed Sara, almost desperately, “you can
stay here with us.”
Jess thought for a moment, but he knew in his head there was no turning
back now. His mind was made up. Sara and Jim saw the look in his eyes
and they both realized it. They both knew he was going to live or die by
the gun. Sara stood up and walked to Jess and gave him a long hug. Jess
turned to Jim and extended his hand. Jim shook Jess’ hand, hoping it
wouldn’t be the last time he did so.
“I’m going to miss the both of you,” said Jess. “I’ll keep in
touch and if you need anything, tell Jameson over at the bank. He’ll
know where I am most of the time.”
Excerpted from "The Reckoning (A Jess Williams Novel) [Kindle Edition]" by Robert J. Thomas. Copyright © 2011 by Robert J. Thomas. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.