BY LUIS E. MATOS
Watch his eyes, not his hands. I could almost hear Father whispering in my ear. Keep your eyes on him. Don’t let him distract you. He’s a mean cuss. But you have to be meaner.
If you’re going to be a legend Bella, you have to want the part, act the part, be the part. You have to watch his eyes. He can try to fool you with his hands, but you’ll only be able to tell he’s ready to draw, if you watch his eyes.
His name is Bastion Strange. He’s the low-down gutter snake that killed Father. Father tried to collect on his bounty, and when he drew down on Strange, Father was too slow. Now, Strange just rode into Jericho, and it’s my turn. In full daylight, he just strode into town, unhindered by the $200 bounty on his head.
His eyes catch on my flaming red hair as he dismounts his dark mare. My long hair is like a leonine mane, windblown, and even though I’m wearing a black buckaroo hat, there’s no way to contain my hair. He knows who I am. I see the recognition in his eyes. He tries to freeze me with his stare, but I move easily to intercept him. I want him to see that I’m not afraid of him. As I stride toward him, he stops. I smile, knowing that he has already lost. I made him stop.
He eyes me. Standing ten steps away, I could see the hesitation on his face. Is it because I’m a girl? Father said that it wouldn’t make a difference to a low-life varmint like him. I smell the fear on him. The stale sweat on him makes my eyes water, but I don’t dare blink. Father’s words echo in my mind as I keep my eyes on him. He’d just as soon gun you down as kick a raccoon.
Desperadoes are mean to men, women, children, and animals. There’s no lower form of beast, so when it’s time to draw your gun, don’t you hesitate, Bella! Don’t you hesitate! Still, I do hesitate. I’m not afraid, but I want him to see me, to know that I’m bold, to know that I have conquered much in my young years, and that he is just a stepping stone to my legend.
My face is half covered by my scarf. I prefer the scarf to the bandanna Father wore. I had been riding the Arizona desert searching for this dung heap. The black scarf screened me from breathing all that alkali desert dust and sand. Now it serves to hide my grin. My heart is happy that I finally found the rat-filth that killed Father.
I face him. My body standing in front of him, assured of what I’m doing. I move my unbuttoned trench coat and tuck it behind my holster on my left. I see the surprise in his eyes. I don’t think he’s ever faced a left-handed shooter before. Or it could be that he sees that I don’t have a right hand. Not many shooters have a hook for a hand.
I was born with a stump for a right hand, but the blacksmith, Lucas Carver, made me a hook to help me manage my day-to-day. It’s heavier than my left hand, so sometimes it’s hard to run. I don’t run much anymore.
I think Father always expected me to go into the family business. Mother died when I was born, and I always thought that he blamed me for her death. He didn’t. Then, I thought it was because I was born with only one hand, but Father was never very warm with anyone.
I think it’s just the type of life you lead when riding the desert plains. Being a bounty hunter doesn’t allow too much time for friendships before you have to move on to somewhere else. There was always somewhere else. So when we moved, we lost those ties I tried to build.
And the training was constant. I appreciate that now, not back then. Not just training to shoot straight, but training to draw quick. Learning to read and write, was a must with Father. He expected me to have all sorts of knowledge, from the formal to the arcane.
Is it any wonder I’m like him? Cold heart, relentless, knowing that one day it will be my turn to be gunned down be some stealthy polecat, too scared to face me head on. Is it any wonder I hunt bounties, I live a transient life, and travel alone?
I don’t have Father’s coal black hair, but I have his cobalt blue eyes, his steely gaze, and his thin, quick fingers that give me an edge on the draw. My wild, flaming red hair, belonged to Mother. My deep silent rage, Father says, comes from her, too. I don’t remember her so; I take his words at face value.
I don’t doubt that he tells me the truth, it just doesn’t matter where it comes from. I just know that it’s inside of me. It needs to be quenched, sated somehow by the spilling of blood.
Bastion Strange stands at three quarters view. His head is looking at me straight on, but his body is tilted away from me. His right hand is hidden under the poncho. I’m certain he hasn’t drawn his gun yet, because he knows that any little move will cause his death.
It suddenly dawns on me that there are a few people in the street. It’s noon and the sun is shining brightly. I need them as witnesses to my intention. “Bastion Strange! My name is Bella Donna Bishop. I have a post warrant that authorizes me to take you in Dead or Alive! If you resist arrest, I will be forced to draw on you.”
People around us immediately scatter. No one wants to be caught in the crossfire. They only have to worry about his bullet. I know where mine is going.
“If the Lady will permit me to move my poncho out of the way, so we can do this fair.” There’s a false grin on his face. It’s more like a sneer, but the throbbing vein at his forehead betrays his fear.
I don’t like the way he says Lady. It sounds vile in his mouth. On top of everything else, he’s a lecherous pig. I think there will be joy in the spilling of his blood. “So you intend to die! You killed Father. You know, Jeremiah Bishop! His blood will be avenged! You should really reconsider, because I WANT to kill you. I won’t hesitate to kill you. Take this as my final warning.”
Bella, pay attention! The eyes, Bella! The eyes. Before you draw take a breath, imagine where the bullet is going, and then exhale on the draw. It will go wherever you send it. Every time. It doesn’t matter that you have one hand. They will take it as weakness. You must take it as strength. One shot, Bella. Make it count. One shot.
“Will you let me move my poncho? Bella!?” He says my name with the same syrupy inflection that he said Lady, and I want to make him dead quick. However, I know that this is the distraction that Father was talking about. He seeks to make my rage, a blind rage. But I see clearly what he is doing, and there is no blindness in my eyes.
“Go ahead. Move your poncho.”
He moves the poncho with his left and draws his six-gun with his right in one fluid motion. He’s fast, but I’ve trained for this moment. Father said to look in his eyes, but Bastion Strange was a man with dead eyes. His eyes were not connected to his hands, the way most men would. While Father watched his eyes, Strange had already moved his hands, and that’s why Father was dead.
By the time Bastion Strange drew his gun, I had already fired a bullet through his eye and into his brain. The quizzical expression on his face followed him into death as he collapsed beneath his horse.
I understood the game Bastion Strange was playing, but I wasn’t playing no game. For me, this was a harsh reality. He was playing the same game that everyone that saw my hook hand played. They didn’t think I could do anything. And I wanted to make a name for myself. Father told me to become a legend. Well, I know that there aren’t a lot of woman legends. So who knows?
My Father was avenged. I had earned my first bounty of $200, and the legend of Bella Donna Bishop had begun.