The Way of the Gun

Episode I: Just Another Night in Junkyard

"Hmph… cheap bastard," Joe muttered under his breath, watching with disgust as the man weaved his way through the crowd toward the door. Two hundred Union bucks to take down Shan Fan Sam? A damn insult to offer that little for the services of a man of his caliber. Especially if you're asking a man of his caliber to take down a man of Sam's caliber.

Good thing for this Northern boy that he was running low on funds…. And a little insult once in a while keeps a man honest.

Joe watched the Dandy teeter his way down the long flight of stairs that led down from The Ledge Saloon to the street and tried not to chuckle. The ol' boy really should have stuck with water instead of tequila. It was a wonder he didn't stumble right over the rail. Besides, he'd imagine that the water would've looked a bit cleaner than the stuff the bartender served him. The bounty hunter made another mental note to himself to be sure to challenge him to a drinking contest once he finished off Sam and gotten back to Salt Lake. He could probably make up for working cheap with a well-placed bet or two.

Joe had just turned his attention back to his cash and his whiskey when he felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder. A hand that felt considerably heavier than normal, even for a Junker.

Dammit. And I was just starting to like this bar, Joe thought sadly.

"You Joe?" a voice slurred.

Joe slipped a cigar and a match out from under his serape`. It was time to put his game face on.

"Well… Are ya or aint ya?"

Joe struck his match and took a long, slow draw from his cigar, not turning to see the owner of the hand just yet. Let him seethe. It'll keep him from thinking.

"Guess that all depends on who's lookin' for him."

The hand grabbed him up from his seat and stood him up in front of him, setting off a screeching alarm in the back of Joe's mind.

Shit!!! He's augmented!!!! He's augmented!!!

"Mah sister met a guy named Joe here last night. She described im' to me reel good. An you shore-nuff fit his description."

Joe kept his head down just enough to keep his eyes out of view while he sized up the brute. Fortunately, he knew this guy well enough, already: He was Bobo Hardaway, one of the Skullchucker players that hung out here after the games at the arena. He had an oversized Ghost Steel left arm, an implanted armor chest, and a temper hotter than Junkyard in July.

And he had a younger sister with a body that was even hotter than that.

Oh, yeah… I thought she looked familiar. Funny how the mind lets little details like a burly, mean-tempered brother who fights in the Bloodsport arena slip away at crucial moments.

Joe took another drag from his cigar and slowly breathed the smoke out of his nose, letting the cloud hang about his face. "She must have a mighty fine memory, to give you enough to pick me out of a crowd like that. Do I know her?"

Bobo's face went from pink to maroon in record time. "From what she said, you oughta know 'er reel well, ya lil' piece ah shit!!!! She said Ya slept with 'er last night!!!!" Bobo 's face continued to show off its knowledge of colors, proceeding on into the purple end of the spectrum. "An she said you had some damn rude things to say about us Skullchuckers after th' fact!!!"

Joe folded his arms across his chest and thoughtfully flicked the ash from his cigar. This part of the game was all about attitude. Work the temperamental ox into a lather, and make him do something stupid. Easy as pie… especially when you know exactly what stupid thing they'll try.

"Oh, yeah… I remember her now." He blew a bit more of his smoke in the brute's direction. "Nice girl. A bit loud, though." He pushed his hat back a bit and fixed Bobo's eyes with his own, a syrupy grin crossing his face as he chomped on his cigar. "Guess you shoulda taught her not to talk to strangers… among other things."

In one quick motion, Bobo lashed out with his steel hand and grabbed Joe by the head, lifting him several inches off the ground.

"Ah'll teach you somethin', you bastard," he yelled. The cold Ghost-Steel hand began to squeeze tighter.
Before it got too far, though, Bobo found himself looking down the barrel of a loaded pistol.

"I got a lesson of my own for ya. And I'd lay money I can finish mine before you can finish yours, Hardaway," Joe grunted. "Care to take me up on it?" He clicked back the hammer.

Bobo mulled over the gun for a few moments, and then finally set Joe back down. The gun stayed trained on his pupil all the while. He stared at Bobo for a few long, tense seconds, watching and relishing the sight of the sweat beading up on the gladiator's brow.

The game was his to win, now.

"Now, I've seen you in th' arena enough to know that that chest of yours is a tough nut to crack, and you're pretty fast with those hands. But those legs aren't quite as swift. And they're just as much flesh and bone as they were the day you were born." Joe pointed the gun at Bobo's knee, still keeping his eyes locked with the gladiator's. "Now, I'm gonna take my money and leave. But if you so much as make another move toward me, I can make sure that not only do you never see the arena again, but you'll always know when it's gonna rain… assuming you get to keep your leg." He raised the gun again, aiming squarely at Bobo's forehead. "Or if you really decide to piss me off, I could always just give that empty space in between your ears a nice new picture window." He slowly clicked the hammer back on his pistol. "Comprende?"

Bobo nodded and backed off, his hands held in front of him and his lips set in a grim line.

Hm… The lug's backing off. But those eyes say he's not done. Not by a long shot.

Joe holstered his sidearm with a quick flourish, and turned back to his table, gathering his money as quickly as he dared without looking like he was hurrying. But, before long, he heard a guttural roar, and felt the tremor of heavy footfalls charging toward him.

Sigh. Poor dolt. They always try the "charge from behind while they're gathering their stuff" trick.

Joe spun, snatching the scattergun from his back and leveling it at the charging beast's chest as he did. Before Bobo could react, Joe unloaded both barrels into the gladiator's armored midsection, the shot ringing off the Ghost Steel plate and sending Bobo crashing back into The Ledge's rickety railing. Fortunately for him the boards didn't give, sparing him the quick six-story trip to the street below.

Without a word, Joe snatched the last few dollars from the table, shoved them into the pocket of his jeans, and slid the scattergun back into its place at his back. Then, he turned back to Bobo. Slowly, he strode across the room toward the fallen warrior, and pulled his gun from its holster (gingerly turning the cylinder to an empty chamber… sometimes it paid to have one handy for just such a show). Kneeling in front of the brute, he held the gun to his temple, and pulled the hammer back again.

The look on Bobo's face was priceless as he pulled the trigger.

Before he took his leave, he leaned in close to the gladiator's face, grinning the same sugary grin.

"Give your sister my regards."