“His heart was ripped out,” the sheriff said when he slammed his glass of Brandy on the bar, “chest punched through like he was hit by a small cannon!”
Ronnie continued, “yhup, just as the sheriff says,” Ronnie paused and shook his head, “Anyway, we picked up the body and took it to Dr. Bennington’s office, the doctor cleaned it up and conducted an autopsy to try n’ deduce what took Billy out. It lasted for hours, the doctor had a sweat coming from his forehead that’d fill a reservoir and a strained look on his face with a vein pulsing in his temple. He had the gaze of a man in deep concentration, like it was just on the tip of his tongue, right on the edge of his consciousness but not quite there. Finally, after about four hours, he said, ‘if I didn’t know any better, I’d say Billy was taken out by a tiger.’ The sheriff and I looked at’im like he’d gone mad, ‘what do you mean a tiger?’ the sheriff asked, ‘ain’t no tigers in Deadman’s County or anywhere in California!”
“Dr. Bennington took another look at Billy’s body and spotted a tooth lodged inside his chest and pulled it out. ‘Now,’ the doctor said, ‘if I really didn’t know any better, I’d say this’d be the tooth of a saber tooth tiger,’ the doctor added, ‘and they’re long extinct!’ ‘what?’ the sheriff asked, ‘what are you sayin’, doctor?’ ‘I’m saying,’ the good doctor replies as he shows us a tooth that was lodged in Billy’s chest, ‘exactly what I just said.’
“‘so, now what?’ the sheriff sighs and rubs his forehead, like he’s doing now.” Ronnie gestured to the sheriff, “‘we’ve got an extinct tiger on the loose? That what you expect me to believe, doctor?’ ‘I don’t expect you to believe anything,’ the doctor says, ‘except what is right in front of you, sheriff.’ The sheriff looks at the tooth closely, clearly recognizin’ it ain’t no human tooth, and rubs his forehead again. He flashes his brows and looks to me and says, ‘well, guess we gotta find us a tiger or whatever the hell took Billy out’ and I nod stiffly, not particularly thrilled to be deputized for such a task. ‘Alright, doctor,’ the sheriff says, ‘let us know if you find anything new and we’ll go out and hunt this thing.’ The doctor nods and we leave. We start off at the scene of the crime and work our way from there, we go around the town, not going no more than a mile, and search the woods all night and half the day only to find nothing. Only thing we saw was deer, squirrel and other wildlife natural to these here woods. We circle back and get into town at ‘bout high noon when we see the whole town gathered at the square and some fool spoutin’ a bun’cha nonsense, getting’ the people all riled up ‘bout nothing, or was it nothin’? The sheriff n’ I investigate and find out the town had found out ‘bout Billy’s death and wanted to form a mob to find the fella that did it.
“The sheriff makes his way through the crowd to the square and calms the people down like he always does, sayin’ he’ll find the son of a gun who killed Billy and bring’im to swift justice, but he can’t do that if a whole bun’cha people are in the way n’ killin’ each other. The crowd quiets and the sheriff looks at each and every one of’em dead in the eye n’ says, ‘it’s my job as the sheriff to protect the town n’ its people n’ by God that’s what I’ll do if it kills me!’ The crowd cheers and they go back to their affairs, the sheriff yolks up the fool that was spoutin’ junk by the collar and hauls ‘im over. ‘you mind tellin’ us what the hell you was thankin’, boy?’
“the poor fool only has that dumb look on his face, you know? The one ya used to have when ya momma caught ya doin’ sumptin’ you ain’t have no business? Yup, that one. Anyway, the sheriff hauls the fool over to the side and gives ‘im a good scolding then tells ‘im to go on home and he does. Sheriff comes back, rubbing his forehead, and we go on back to Dr. Bennington’s office. The doctor’s stone cold knocked out on his desk when sheriff slams the door like a ruffian and the doctor shoots up and nearly falls backward out of his chair. When he rights ‘imself, he looks ‘round and sees me n’ the sheriff then stands up n’ comes to his senses. ‘Hello, gentlemen,’ the doctor says, ‘have you found the fellow?’ ‘real question is,’ the sheriff says, ‘how long you been sleepin’, doctor?’ ‘not long,’ the doctor replies and looks at his pocket watch, ‘about half an hour.’ The sheriff takes off his hat and gets to rubbin’ his forehead n’ goes to take a seat.
“We all stand there in silence for a long time, the tension in the room so strong you’d think the fella that killed Billy were among us. Then, after some time, the doctor speaks, ‘well, gentlemen,’ he starts, ‘after careful examination and study in the town’s library, my hypothesis proves to be correct in that this tooth is the tooth of a saber tooth tiger. Now, the question is, if a saber tooth tiger is in out midst, how long had it survived? How did it get here? And where is it hiding? All these questions I’m not equipped to answer as I am not a biologist of any sort, I treat patients, not animals.’ The doctor continues, ‘however, I do know of a man who may be able to help us, his name is Marcellus Flint.
“‘I have a feelin’ I’ve heard that name before,’ the sheriff says, ‘ain’t he one o’ those fancy detective fellas that solve mysteries around the world?’ ‘the very same,’ the doctor replies, ‘I’ll send him a telegram and he should be here within a few days,’ the doctor adds, ‘until then, gentlemen, I’ll be here, prepping Billy Weissman’s body for burial before it starts to get the dead man’s smell about it.’ The sheriff n’ I bid the doctor farewell and take our leave—”
The Saloon doors swung open and a tall, broad-shouldered man walked in. Ronnie glanced over to get a look at him without seeming suspicious and recognized him as the fella that out-drank Billy Weissman, the sheriff looked back and an expression of surprised consumed his features. Damon Blitz merely shifted his eyes as the broad-shouldered man took a seat at the end of the bar and signaled for Ronnie. Ronnie went over to him and took his order then filled it, Black Death whiskey. When Ronnie went to put the bottle away, the fella signaled him to leave the bottle on the table and took out a few gold ones and slapped them on the table.
Ronnie looked at him with an expression sayin, ‘are you sure?’ and the fella nodded just as casually as you’d please and knocked back the glass without compunction. The sheriff was all but astonished, Ronnie looked at the sheriff and nodded toward the fella to say that was the one who out-drank Billy, and the sheriff looked back at Ronnie with an expression that said, ‘I see.’ Damon’s face was expressionless, but his eyes were filled with an intense flame, he knew who that fella was, and from everything Ronnie told him so far, he knew who killed Billy Weissman. He was looking at him, Saber. That was his name.
“if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” Damon said, “while I go have a word with that fella.”
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Ronnie said, “‘specially if you plan on challengin’ him to a game of drink.”
“It’d be a tie,” Damon said, “besides, I know the guy.” Damon turns and calls out, “hey, Saber!”
Saber turned imperceptibly.
“It’s me, Damon Blitz.”
Saber turned back to his drink.
Damon got up and Ronnie grabbed his arm. Damon nodded and Ronnie’s grip subsided, and he went over to Saber. He sat down and grabbed the bottle of Black Death whiskey and poured himself a glass then passed it back to Saber, Saber took up the bottle and poured himself a glass as well and the two drank at the same time. Damon’s eyes shift and Saber’s eyes meet his, Damon could see the demon’s dancing with glee and excitement, anticipation and anxiousness to cause and create mischief. Saber saw the intense flame with the demon lurking, he saw the flames turn dark and transform into shadows. The tension between the two built gradually and pretty soon Ronnie and the sheriff started to get nervous. Both poured another glass of Black Death whiskey and drank without remorse, they were silent for a long time until Damon whispered,
“Why’d you kill him, Saber?”
Saber’s eyes shifted to Damon and he merely smirked.
“You know who I’m talking about,” Damon said.
“What makes you think I did it?” Saber asked in a low, grating voice.
“You’re the one that controls Saber-tooth tigers, you tell me.”
“He got what was coming to him,” Saber said, “I tried to leave town peacefully, but the fool wouldn’t stop following me,” Saber paused, “and you know how much I hate being followed. Especially by the likes of you, Blitz.”
“Well,” Damon said, “you are my quarry, after all.”
“Yhup,” Damon said, “someone’s willing to pay a hefty price for your head on a pike.”
“And you think you’re the one that’s going to collect?”
“Of course, I am.” Damon’s eyes shifted to Saber as he smirked.
“Perhaps we should take this outside,” Saber said, “I’d love to see you try.”
“Let’s finish this bottle first,”
The two took turns consuming the Black Death whiskey and rose from the bar. Damon turned to Ronnie and the sheriff and bid them farewell as he and Saber walked out the bar. Damon gets just as far as the door—