“I’m callin’ you out.” The stranger said, his voice full of gravel.
Travis’ eyes widened with fear. “But it’s not my fault. I never said anything…”
“Don’t matter who said it.” The stranger coldly stated. “All that matters is that people believe it. Now I gotta fix it. That means fixing you!”
Cotton filled Travis’ mouth as sweat clamed upon his palms. His mind raced back to the Headline in the paper two months ago.
Travis Morgan judged the quickest gun in the west!
Travis Morgan beat out twenty five competitors in the annual fast draw competition held in dry bean county. Travis won five different timed shootouts against the best the west had to offer…..
“Can you believe this?” Travis called to his friend, Antonio. “It had to be Travis Monteque that entered and won that contest. Not me. I wasn’t even in the county when that happened.”
Antonio held an expression of amusement as he read the paper for himself. “Si. But maybe you are making that story up. Maybe you were at the contest instead of branding cattle with the rest of us.”
Travis was not amused by the joke. “Yeah, and maybe I’m the President too!”
“People will believe it if it’s in the paper.” Antonio teased as he handed back the paper.
Travis grabbed it and immediately crumpled it into a ball. “Damn thing ain’t even good for toilet paper.”
Antonio patted Travis’ on the shoulder reassuringly. “I would not worry about it too much, Amigo. We live in a small town and it’s just a small town newspaper. Nobody will take it seriously.”
Travis kicked up a small ball of dust with his boot. “I hope you’re right.”
The next morning did little to ease Travis’ mood.
“Ye Haw! Lookie there!” Cried out one of Travis’ co-workers. “If it ain’t Quick-draw Travis six gun himself!”
“Put a cork in it Abe.” Travis replied dourly.
“You better listen to the man.” Another man warned. “Ol’ Six-gun there will shoot you quicker than you can blink!”
The crew laughed heartily as Travis hiked to the barn. “Where the hell’s the coffee.”
The teasing continued through the day when a boy with his mother passed by. The child, curious at the men working stopped and moved closer to the corral. Mesmerized, the child couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.
“Are you really a gunslinger?” The child yelled to the men.
The men chortled as Travis swore under his breath.
Ape stood straight and exclaimed, “Why yes he is! This here is Six-gun Travis. The fastest gun in the west!”
“He don’t look like a gunslinger.” The child said, eyeing Travis up.
“Well I got the paper to prove it.” Abe said as he pulled out a folded copy of the story and handed it to the kid.
The boy’s eyes widened in amazement. “Really? That’s swell! Hey mister! Can I have your autograph?”
Travis’ face turned beet red as he made a move towards the barn when his coworkers grabbed him by the arms and pushed him towards the kid.
“Go on!” They cajoled. “Give the kid an autograph.”
“I ain’t got a pen!” Travis protested as he reluctantly walked towards the boy.
“Gee mister,” the boy said as he stretched out his hand. “I’ve never met a real gunslinger before!”
“You still haven’t.” Travis muttered as he shook the boy’s hand.
“What was that mister?”
“I said Travis. You can call me Travis.” He lied, covering his true remarks.
The child shook his hand even more vigorous. “Gee! That’s Swell!”
Travis pulled his arm away before the kid could shake it off. “That’s good enough, kid.”
The boy was rapt with enthusiasm. “Can I get your autograph, Travis?”
“I’d like to help, but I don’t have a pen or paper to write on.” Travis said rather relieved.
The child pouted for a moment before Abe thrust a pen in Travis’ face.
“Here ya go!” He chipped. “I got you a pen. And some paper to write on, too!”
The boy’s face beamed brightly as Travis dourly grabbed the items. “Thanks, Abe.”
“Don’t mention it.” He quipped back.
Travis roughly signed his name as the child asked him, “How do I grow up to be a great gunslinger like you?”
“It’s easy.” Travis replied, handing over the paper. “Say your prayers, do your chores, and eat your green vegetables?”
The child looked up with horror. “All of them?” He asked.
“All of them.” Travis echoed while stealing a look at the child’s pretty mother. “Especially the spinach. It’ll make you strong.”
The mother smiled as Travis winked at her.
“Well, ok.” The boy agreed unsure.
The mother took her son’s hand to lead him away. “We have to go now, Tommy. The train’s coming.”
They hurried off as the boy waved happily. “Thank you! Good bye!”
The child tripped and almost fell off the platform when the conductor caught him.
“Pay attention, son!” He admonished. “What so important that you can’t see to walk?”
Tommy handed held up the paper and autograph for the conductor to see. “That’s Six-gun Travis over there. He’s the fastest gun in the west!”
The conductor scanned the article and signature before handing them back. “Well I’ll be…”
Three weeks later a strange came to town. Steely eyed and stone silent he cut a path of intimidation wherever he went.
He didn’t say much except for one word, “Travis.”
The townsfolk just shuddered and pointed the way, and in little time he had found his man.
“Travis Morgan?” He asked to a man holding a calf to the ground.
“Yes.” Travis replied before looking up to see who was calling.
His face fell as he heard the stranger say, “I’m calling you out.”
The townsfolk scattered as the Stranger strode to the middle of the road. Travis was pacing behind.
“But it’s not my fault. I never said anything…” Travis argued.
“Don’t matter who said it.” The stranger stated coldly. “All that matters is that people believe it. Now I gotta fix it. That means fixing you!”
“What if I pay to have the papers renounce me and correctly state that you’re the fastest gun in the west?” Travis offered.
“Too late.” The stranger countered. “Too many people think otherwise.”
“What if I just run and never come back?” Travis asked.
The stranger’s eyes tightened. “I’ll just hunt you down.”
“But I don’t even have a gun!” Travis protested.
“Well then get one or I’ll plug you with your hands plum naked!” Barked the stranger.
A store keeper ran over and handed Travis his gun and belt.
“It’s a shopkeepers model.” He said as he helped Travis put on the belt and tie the leg thong. “Short barrel. Quicker to draw.”
“Stop squakin’ and get out of the way before I shoot you too!” The stranger yelled to the store owner.
“How we gonna do this?” Travis asked, mortified at the situation.
“Easy.” The stranger drawled. “I’ll let you skin leather first and then I’ll pull. I recon you’re so slow that I could pull, kill you, and reholster before you even clear leather.”
Travis felt sick to his stomach.
“O. Ok.” Travis stammered as he put his shaking hand on the grip of the revolver. “On the count of three. One… Two…”
Suddenly the gates threw open and the cattle in the corral stampeded right on top of the stranger. Travis’ co-workers screaming and yelling behind to urge the cattle on.
After the dust and confusion settled, everyone stood over the broken remains of the stranger. Antonio pulled the revolver from the stranger’s holster.
“Here. Take it.” Anotnio said to Travis as he handed him the gun. “Something tells me you’re going to need it.”