No matter how abandoned an old mining town might look, there was always at least one holdout who complicated the cleanup job.
And, in Fragile county, Deputy Hal Stinson always drew that assignment.
On this particular day, he’d brought along Timmy Watson, a greenhorn who’d only been on the job for a couple of weeks. What better way to learn the ropes of clearing out a ghost town than a quick trip out to Bitterwood?
“You tie up the horses,” he’d told Watson when they dismounted in the middle of town. “I’ll start in the saloon. Come find me when you’re done.”
Watson nodded, and the two men headed in opposite directions.
Hal knew from experience that fellas who stayed on after a town went belly-up tended to congregate in the local tavern. More than once, he’d been ambushed by a sharpshooter in a saloon window.
No such fate awaited him in Bitterwood, though, and he made a clean sweep of the bar before Watson finished with the horses. Hal had just pushed open the wing doors and set one foot back into the sunlight when a raspy voice called from back inside the saloon.
“Get outta my town.”
Without hesitation, Hal wheeled and fired into the gloom.
In the flash, he saw a ghastly old man with skin as pale as the moon. He wore a battered stetson and a string tie. One leg was splinted, the other one missing.
“What happened, boss?” Watson was breathless as he burst into the saloon.
Hal looked over his shoulder. “This fella’s a stowaway.”
“What fella?” Watson peered into the shadows.
Hal turned to face the bar again, but no one was there. Just a string tie coiled on the floor in front of a hat perched atop a leg bone.