Death's Letter S

Helen Adams

Writer's group Challenge: Take the title 'Death's Letter S' and write a short story about it in your favorite western fandom.

(Moved to Blackraptor October 2009)

"Then she turned around and laid her lips right on mine. Never said a word, just flipped her hair in the other guy's face and walked out, nose in the air."

"And did you go after her; seein's how she kissed you and all?"

Buck winked. "Now Nate, a man would be a fool not to accept such a lovely invitation, wouldn't he?"

"Yeah, but she only kissed you to make the other fella mad."

He grinned. "He was mad all right, specially the next morning when he saw me kissin' her again outside her hotel room."

Lips quirked and eyes rolled all around the table, each of Wilmington's friends having expected just such a conclusion to the story. Hell, why not? All Buck's stories ended the same way!

JD frowned. "Aw, I'll bet that story ain't even true."

"It's true. Saw it with my own eyes when I tracked him down to head out the next morning," Josiah confirmed. "Happened just like he says, cross my heart." He grinned and drew a quick X over his heart.

"Don't do that!"

The young man's alarmed shout drew looks of concern from his companions. "Do what, kid?" Chris asked.

"Cross his heart with his left hand. It's bad luck!"

Ezra made a rude noise over his coffee cup. "Superstitious nonsense."

"Yeah," Buck agreed. "Besides, with that broken wrist he don't have no other hand to cross with."

"But you know the gypsy said-"

A theatrical groan cut him off. "Not those fortune-tellers again!" moaned Ezra. "Ever since they arrived it's been like a tomb in here, first with everyone flocking to spend their money on fraudulent glimpses into the future, then by one of those gypsies publicly declared this establishment to be cursed!"

"Maybe you shouldn't have cleaned him out an hour after he got into town," Vin suggested mildly, grinning as he joined the discussion. "He seemed to be in a powerful hurry to lay that curse after he left the other night."

Ezra eyed him coolly. "It is not my responsibility to decide what sort of valuables a man should stake. If he couldn't afford to lose, he ought not to have bet."

"Can't argue with that one," Chris agreed. "I wouldn't worry none. In a few days when none of their predictions comes true, folk'll forget all about 'em. They'll be long gone before that happens, though. I've seen it before in other towns."

"Yeah," agreed Nathan. "Besides, what kind of fool would pay fifty cents to have somebody wave a little necklace over a cup of tea that's gonna tell him all about his future?"

Raucous laughter erupted around the table and it took a moment before anyone noticed how red JD's face had gotten. A twinkle lit Buck's eyes. "Aw, kid. Tell me you didn't!"

"It was just for fun," he mumbled. "I got to talking with one of 'em about what's good luck and what's bad and she offered to tell my fortune."

Josiah raised an eyebrow. "You wouldn't happen to mean that cute little gal with the red bandanna around her hair, would you? The one who smiled at you out in the street this morning?" The quick drop of JD's eyes was all the answer anyone needed and Josiah chuckled. "Well, at least nobody can say you don't have good taste, son. What's that got to do with me crossing my heart, though?"

"With your left hand," he repeated significantly. When nobody did more than look mildly interested, he blew out a frustrated breath. "Come on, Josiah. Ain't you ever heard the saying about the left hand being the devil's tool?"

He shrugged. "Suppose I have heard something to that effect. Never paid it much mind, what with being left-handed by nature." He grinned at the young man. "Though maybe that explains a few things, huh?"

JD looked sheepish, but laughed at the dry comment. Then his face suddenly went serious again. "It's just that, well, maybe you shouldn't take chances."

"Kid, what the hell are you talking about?" Chris demanded; tired of trying to make sense of the cryptic remarks.

The youth swallowed. "Well, Sophia, that's the gypsy girl, she told me that somebody I knew was gonna-" He paused and looked around before whispering, "die."

A snort broke loose from Vin. "Way we all go attractin' bullets, that's a right safe prediction."

Buck chuckled. "Speak for yourself. I'm thinkin' I might just live forever."

"No!" JD shouted in exasperation. "She said somebody would die this week. Somebody whose name starts with the letter 'S'."

All was silent for a beat; then Ezra solemnly poured two drinks and raised one to Josiah. "Mr. Sanchez, it's been a pleasure knowing you."

Josiah lifted the other drink. "Mr. Standish, I'll be sure to say some real nice words at your funeral."

The two men clinked glasses and knocked back the shots. Then their eyes met and both broke into loud guffaws, Josiah pounding the table with his good hand. The rest of the men soon joined in, everyone toasting their soon-to-be-departed friends.

"That ain't funny!" JD protested.

Buck slapped him on the back and shoved a drink into his hand. "Lighten up, kid. Gypsies will curse everything from your best friend to the buttons on your shirt if it'll make 'em a few dollars. Your little girlfriend just picked a letter and got lucky."

"Indeed," drawled Ezra. "Very fortunate for her that she chose one of the most common letters in the alphabet to base her prediction upon."

Feeling a little miffed that nobody was taking his warning seriously, JD rose from the table, muttering something about checking things at the jail.

Slightly guilty expressions passed among the remaining men as he departed through the batwing doors of the saloon. "Suppose we could've played along, just to make him feel better," Josiah said slowly.

"Nah," Chris decided. "Better this way. Kid's too gullible for his own good sometimes."

Suddenly, the quiet morning was interrupted by the sound of thundering hooves, clattering wheels, a hoarse shout of, "Get out of the way!" and a shrill scream - abruptly cut short.

The six men were on their feet and heading for door the moment the ruckus began. A couple of the locals were holding tight to the bridle of a wild-eyed horse and more were trying to steady the wagon it was hitched to as the vehicle listed dangerously to one side. On the street lay the crumpled body of a young woman, a look of terror frozen in her staring brown eyes. As the lawmen came to surround the body, they found JD kneeling in the dirt beside her. "It all happened to so fast," he said in a hushed tone. "One minute she's waving to me as she crosses the street, and the next she's gone."

"Sorry about your friend, kid," Buck told him gently. "We'll help you take care of her."

The young man nodded and brushed a hand over her eyes to close them. Sadly he observed, "Looks like her last prediction wasn't such a guess after all."