You Don't Get Three Mistakes: A Calvin Carter Western

"You Don't Get Three Mistakes" is the first Calvin Carter short story. It was created for David Cranmer's Beat to a Pulp webzine and republished in THE TRADITIONAL WEST: A Western Fictioneers Anthology.

Gunfighter Robert Prescott thought he got away with murder.

He thought wrong.

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PRESCOTT TIED THE reins of his painted horse around the hitching post and cocked his head. In his peripheral vision, a man stood not ten feet away. The late afternoon sun cast the man’s shadow onto the porch of the hotel. Prescott turned. Casually, out of sight of the man, he moved his suit jacket away from his gun. He turned and removed his riding gloves.

“Who wants to know?” Prescott noticed something shiny dangling from the man’s right hand. The sunlight sparkled off the metal chain.

“Robert Irving Prescott?” The stranger shuffled a pace or two forward, limping, the dust curling around his feet. Carved in the dirt street behind the man, in a sort of Morse code repeating the same feeble refrain, Prescott saw footprints—one longer, ragged rut where the man dragged his left foot for each clean boot print of his right—trailing back across the street.

A muscle in Prescott’s face twitched. He narrowed his eyes and took full notice of the newcomer. Trapped under some invisible weight, the man’s shoulders sagged and his right shoulder was lower than his left. In a town with enough dust to make dressing up for Sunday services an exercise in futility, the man’s collar was dirty around the neck and wrinkled. His black ribbon tie drooped over his brown suit. The brim was pulled low but Prescott noticed the glint of spectacles. The man carried no pistol.

Prescott hung his thumbs inside the pockets of his vest. He sized up the man and stifled a laugh. This wasn’t a bounty hunter after the price on his head. This man was small, meek, and lame. Prescott knew he could kill him, just for the hell of it. No one would care. All around them, the locals milled, their rapid Spanish too fast for Prescott. They took no notice of the two gringos staring at each other.

With an air of near boredom, Prescott dismissed the lame man. Surely this wasn’t another agent sent by the railroad after the bounty hunters came up empty. He suppressed a grin of pride. The getaway was too good, too clean and precise. No one could have followed his trail. Well, no one except that railroad detective. And Chet. Neither made it out of Texas alive. Not for the first time did Prescott wonder if either body had been found.

Too bad about Chet, though.

He allowed a smile. He felt no fear. “Yeah, I’m Prescott. Who the hell are you?”

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