Hello out there, fellow holiday celebrants. Hope you had a good one. It was hot and humid around here. Good beer and burger weather. Rolling Thunder has moved out of the city and the roads in all directions are probably rumbling as the bikers make their various ways homeward. The annual Memorial Day Concert on the west lawn of the Capital was canceled because of a severe thunderstorm warning. Plenty of disappointed tourists told to evacuate immediately. I don’t know, I guess it’s better safe than sorry. But I just can’t picture John Philips Sousa canceling out because of a little rain. But he wasn’t there. Gary Sinese was the MC. He looked like he was the most disappointed of all.
Well, no disappointments here. We promised the final installment of “Samurai Blade” for today, and here it is. Speaking of Rolling Thunder, when Mordecai Slate rolls into town, there is almost the same reaction from bystanders. A little awe, a little fear, and lots of excitment.
John M. Whalen
Slate pulled the rifle from its scabbard, climbed down off the buckskin and tied the reins to the hitching post in front of the Blue Canary. It was after one in the morning of the next day. He walked up to the entrance and pushed through the batwings and saw only a handful of men in the place. There was no sign of Courtland, but two of his hard cases sat at a table playing cards with one of the girls who worked the saloon.
“Hey, you son of a bitch!” one of them yelled. “I got orders to shoot you.” He drew his gun. Slate raised the rifle and fired. The silver bullet struck the gunman’s hand. He yelped and the revolver clattered to the floor. Slate covered the other man. “Don’t try it,” he said. “Throw your gun down.” The man hesitated. “Do like I tell you,” Slate barked. The man complied. Slate swung the rifle around the room. The half dozen male patrons and the two girls with them froze. A door in the back of the room opened and Courtland came out with a pistol in his hand. “Hold it!” Slate ordered. Courtland stopped at the end of the bar. “Drop it,” Slate said, aiming the rifle at Courtland’s chest.
“What is this?” Courtland said. He let the gun drop to the floor.
“Kick it away,” Slate said. “The rest of you men and you women get out of here.”
They high-tailed it.
“All right, barkeep,” Slate said. “Hand me down that sword.” The one-eyed bartender looked to his boss. Courtland nodded. “There’s something I want to show you, Courtland,” Slate said.
The barkeep reached up for the sword. He turned with it in his hands and started to hand it to Slate when a sly look came suddenly into his eyes.
“Don’t turn around,” a voice behind Slate said. It was Chaw. Slate had forgotten about him. He must have come in from the outside. Slate started to move but stopped when he heard the hammer of Chaw’s .44 click. “Drop it.”
Slate dropped his rifle. He heard footsteps come up behind him and felt his Colt being lifted from its holster. An explosion went off in his head and he fell to his knees. Chaw hit him with the gun barrel again. Slate dropped to the floor. The toe of a boot kicked him in the side and he rolled over on his back. Chaw stood over him, a narrow-lipped grin on his face, a white bandage over his broken nose. “Not so tough now, are you?” he said.
Courtland came into Slate’s range of vision. “You shouldn’t have come back, Slate,” he said. He picked up his gun. Slate didn’t say anything. But he saw something, something that nobody else could see. A dark shadow seemed to float around the room above everybody’s head. He’d only been able to sense its presence the last time he was here. But the potion Black Star had given him to drink now enabled him to see it more clearly. It was the “demon” that the medicine man had shown him. Slate could feel its rage and hatred.
“Should I kill him right there?” Chaw asked Courtland, aiming his revolver down at Slate.
“Nah, that wouldn’t do,” Courtland said. “Kill a man while he’s lying on his back? What’s wrong with you, Chaw? Get up, Slate.”
Slate got to his feet. The gunman he’d disarmed earlier came over, along with the man he’d wounded in the hand. Footsteps pounded and the batwings flew open. Slate saw Courtland’s fourth gunman run into the saloon, gun drawn.
“So what do we do with him?” Chaw asked, keeping his gun on Slate.
“That’s a good question,” Courtland said. “Why’d you come back, Slate?”
“I came back for another look at that sword,” Slate answered. “And to show you something.”
“Show me what?”
“What it is that made that soldier boy try to kill you.”
“What are you talking about?”
Slate reached into his jacket pocket. Chaw and the others raised their pistols. “Easy,” Slate cautioned. He took out the pouch that Black Star had given him. “You were a damn fool keeping that sword around here after what happened, Courtland. You must have had an idea why that boy took the sword to you. There’s a spirit haunting this place. A spirit that’s out for revenge. He’s here right now. It was the spirit that made that soldier try to kill you. He’s waiting for another chance to try. Let me sprinkle some of the powder in this pouch and you’ll be able to see him.”
“A spirit?” Courtland said. “Are you loco?”
“It’s the spirit of the Samurai you killed.”
Courtland laughed. “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard. I didn’t kill anybody.”
“He’s standing right next to you, Courtland,” Slate said, nodding his head at the space next to Courtland. “I wouldn’t laugh.”
Courtland turned to look where Slate indicated and his face suddenly paled. He’d caught a glimpse of something. With a gasp he jumped back. “What the hell!” The others stepped back in confusion. Slate tossed the contents of the pouch into the air and dove for the floor. A cloud of purple powder filled the room. Lighting flashed and there was howling wind inside the saloon. A deafening clap of thunder made Courtland and his men jump even further back in shock. Suddenly they noticed a dark shadow taking shape inside the descending cloud of purple fog. Courtland gasped when he saw the dark shape turn into a man.
He had yellow skin and thick black hair tied up in a sort of pig-tail at the back of his head. He wore the black costume of a samurai warrior and held a short sword in his hand. His yellow face was twisted into a mask of hate. His narrow eyes blazed red as they gazed at Courtland. The saloonkeeper turned deathly pale.
“What kind of trick is this?” Courtland said.
“It’s no trick, Courtland,” Slate said. “It’s unfinished business.”
Courtland gaped at the Samurai standing in front of him. He seemed terrified. “Kill him!” he screamed. Chaw and the others started to fire, but the samurai moved so quickly, Slate could not clearly see what was happening. There was a whirlwind of steel as the samurai’s blade slashed, stabbed, spun, hacked and thrust. There was the sound of tearing flesh, chopped bone, shots fired, and the death cries of three of the gunmen as they fell. Blood spilled over the barroom floor. When it was done only Courtland and Chaw and the samurai remained standing.
“I told you to kill him!” Courtland shouted at Chaw. Chaw raised his pistol.
“Don’t do it,” Slate yelled. He was on his feet and had his rifle in his hands now. Chaw turned and fired at him. Slate’s rifle spit flame and Chaw spun and fell.
It was suddenly quiet and still in the Blue Canary. The fog, the lightning and thunder were gone. Slate saw Jake, the one-eyed bartender, gaping in shock from behind the bar at what was transpiring. Courtland stood with his gun in his hand, staring at the samurai.
“What kind of devil’s trick is this?” he shouted.
“You know why I am here,” the samurai answered in heavily accented English. He wiped blood off the blade of his sword on the sleeve of his kimono. Slate noticed blood coming from several wounds in the warrior’s chest. Courtland’s men had hit him, but it hadn’t stopped him. “My name is Toru Tagara. I was bodyguard to Daimyo Shinsen Hayakawa, warlord of the Ichiro dynasty. I was on my last mission for my lord, when we met, Mr. Courtland. I came to this town by train to stay only one day before moving on to California.” He tucked the short sword under his belt and folded his arms.
“I stayed at the hotel up the street. The Dodge House, it is called. You had heard that I traveled with a box made of mahogany wood, that you believed contained valuables,” he said. “That night you and some of your men broke into my room while I was sleeping and attacked me. You took the mahogany box. I woke up for a moment as you were leaving and I saw your face. When I was able to, I searched for you. I found you and the others in the alley behind this establishment. You very angry because you discovered that the only valuable contained in my treasure box, was an urn containing the ashes of my lord. I was taking it to California to be placed at a memorial for him in San Francisco. You smashed the urn and kicked his ashes to the wind. I drew my sword, but that man shot me from behind.” He pointed to Chaw’s body. “I fell. You fired three more times. I died in the alley, laying in the scattered ashes of my lord.”
Courtland aimed his pistol at the samurai. “I don’t know how you came back from Japanese hell,” he said. “But I can easily send you there again.”
“I died in disgrace,” the samurai said. “My soul has no resting place now. Until honor has been restored I must linger here.”
“Not for long.” Courtland said.
“I have been here since the day you killed me. You could not see me. I wanted to find a way to make you pay for what you had done. But without a body, I could do nothing. My anger grew. But I did not know how to obtain my revenge. Anger turned to rage and I became insane—a demon seeking revenge. That night when the soldier took my sword. I found the way. For a samurai, his sword is his soul. When the soldier picked up the sword I was able to enter his brain. I tried to take back my honor, but you defeated me once again.”
“I’ve heard enough,” Courtland said. “Get ready to say hello to your ancestors.”
The Samurai stepped forward one step. Dark stains covered the front of his kimono. He pointed at Slate. “I tried again the other night when that man held my sword. But his will was too strong. I could not overpower him as I did the drunken boy.” He looked over at Slate. “But somehow he has brought me back and given me the chance to restore my honor.”
“Looks like you lose again, yellow man,” Courtland said. “Die!” He pulled the trigger. The samurai’s hand was a blur as it moved. He drew the short sword from his belt and threw it. Courtland let out a strangled cry. The hilt of the blade protruded from his throat. He staggered backward a few steps and fell to the floor.
Slate stood with his rifle on the samurai. He wasn’t sure what would happen next. The samurai bowed stiffly at the waist, his hands at his sides.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“How is it possible that I am here like this?” he asked.
“A Kiowa medicine man gave me the magic that was in that pouch. He told me why you were here.”
The samurai nodded and grunted. “The red man understands what the white man can not.”
Slate lowered the rifle.
“There is not much time,” the samurai said. “Do you know what must be done?”
Slate nodded. “I’m familiar with the ritual,” he said.
“You have the soul of a samurai, my friend Slate,” Tagara said. “I am glad to have met you. Here in this wilderness, among my enemies.”
Slate walked over to the bar and rested his rifle against it. He picked up the long sword from the bar where Jake had set it down. The barkeep shook his head and backed away. Tagara went over to Courtland and pulled the short sword from the man’s neck. He picked up a bottle of whiskey from the bar and poured it over the blade and wiped it clean on the skirt of his kimono. When the blade was cleaned of blood, he dropped to his knees in the middle of the floor. He raised the blade up behind his head and cut off his top knot and placed it on the floor next to his leg.
“I failed my mission,” he said. “And I have added further disgrace to my failure. I regret being responsible for the death of the soldier and the man he killed with my sword. My rage was inexcusable. I was unable to control myself. I will leave this world. But there can be no honor for one such as I.” He pressed the tip of the dagger to his abdomen. His eyes were fixed and now gazed intently on something Slate could not see.
Slate stood over him and unsheathed the nodachi. He tossed the scabbard aside and held the weapon over Tagara. The samurai shoved the point of the short sword into his stomach, letting out only a brief grunt of pain. He pulled the blade from left to right and down. His body convulsed and he bent forward, his head extended.
Slate heard footsteps running down Front St. The law would be here soon. He brought the nodachi down in a fast, shining arc. The samurai’s head rolled across the floor and blood gushed from the kneeling body. Then Toru Tagara’s body fell on its side and lay still.
Footsteps pounded at the doorway. Slate saw Tilghman standing there, his eyes locked on the sword in Slate’s hand.
“What the hell have you been up to, Slate?”
“You don’t know the half of it, Bill,” he said, tossing the sword away.
Tilghman’s gaze shifted and his cool grey eyes took in the entire scene. Courtland, the beheaded samurai, the dead gunmen. He looked back at Slate. “Where did that Japanese guy came from?”
“Said he got off the train and was laying over on his way to California,” Slate said.
Tilghman looked the scene over again. He walked over to the bartender, who stood behind the bar, his face pale as newspaper.
“What happened here, Jake?”
The bartender was shaking, his one eye a shiny glass button that didn’t seem to focus. He couldn’t speak.
“What did you do to him?” Tilghman asked Slate.
“Never laid a hand on him.”
“So what happened? The Japanese guy have a little too much red eye?”
“No,” Slate said. “He just got slightly pissed off.”
“Yeah,” Tilghman said. “Always knew Courtland and Chaw would end up bad. But who’d have reckoned on this? What a bloody mess.” He brushed his hat back on his head a bit and studied the scene more closely. “This is how I see it. That Japanese guy went nuts with that sword, killed all them. He took a couple of shots himself. You got the sword away from him and took his head off. That about the way it happened?”
“Close enough. Except I killed Chaw. He fired first.”
“I won’t lose sleep over that,” Tilghman said. . He looked down at the bloody sword lying on the floor. “That sword must have some kind of jinx on it.” He looked up at Slate. “This has some connection with that soldier’s death?”
“You could say that.”
“I don’t want to know about that,” Tilghman said, shaking his head. “Bat’ll be back day after tomorrow. He’ll be sore, if I don’t arrest you. But personally I’d rather not let him know you were ever here. He’d chew me out for not kicking your ass out of Dodge the minute I laid eyes on you. He’ll be all right when he realizes the Blue Canary’s closing down. One less hell hole.”
“That’s one way to look at it.”
“What other way is there?” Tilghman said. “I told you things have a way of taking care of themselves down here south of deadline. But if I were you, Slate, I’d get out of here now. Tonight. Don’t wait for morning. And don’t ever come back.”
“Vaya con Dios, Bill,” Slate said. He stopped. “If I were you, I’d have that sword melted down into a doorstop.”
Slate walked out of the Blue Canary and started up Front St toward Deadline. The stars were bright in the black sky overhead. He looked up and felt cold and lonesome. He had one stop to make before leaving Dodge. It was late, but he knew the Wilkins woman would want to hear what he had to tell her. She was no ordinary woman.
Copyright 2011 by John M. Whalen