Based on the film High Plains Drifter with influences from Stephen King's The Dark Tower.
The world was moving on. The old ways, like it or not, were coming to an end. Things were changing, mostly for the worse. In the west, where all the Great Baronies were located, there were rumors of war as John Farson—the Good Man—sought to bring something called "democracy" to the land. Even the Gunslingers, those paragons of chivalry and virtue, had become scare, and now harriers ran wild, taking what they wished by force of numbers and the power of their guns. The world, sad to say, was moving on. Out here, in the far eest, in the small mining town of Largo, things were still as they had been. The troubles to the wast hadn't yet arrived, but they would come, they would come. But first, there would come a stranger in black, a stranger who would bring fire, death, and destruction to the town of Largo and its people. And one could argue the people of Largo deserved everything that happened to them.
Chapter One: The Stranger In Black
If asked later, the people of Largo (those who survived, anyway), all swore they knew the Stranger was trouble the moment they saw her. But that, like so many other things dealing with Largo, was a lie. When the Stranger first rode into town, no one gave her a second glance. She looked much like any other drifter, dressed in black denim and a black cotton shirt, her long black coat covered in enough dust to make it appear gray. Her only notable feature was her hair, which fell in a glossy black wave past her waist, and her eyes, which were a cool gray.
These same eyes surveyed the town of Largo from under the brim of her broad hat as she rode in, her horse's hooves kicking up small clumps of sand and dust. Like many who'd come before her, she seemed emotionless, just another stone-faced "hard caliber," who spoke more with her gun than with her voice. The only time her expression changed was when André the drover snapped his whip—at that the Stranger whirled around in her saddle, gray eyes flashing, to stare intently as André and Ayane got their rig underway with a clattering of hooves and creaking wagon wheels. Although no one saw it (or ever admitted to seeing it), one could almost swear the stranger looked more than startled by the crack of the whip—she looked almost afraid.
After riding through almost the entire town, the Stranger finally drew up her horse at Largo's only saloon. Dismounting with a creak of leather, she tied her horse to the hitching rail, studiously ignoring the three men lounging near the door. They struck her as just one level above harriers, hard calibers who felt they were tough enough to handle any problems due to having a gun strapped to their hip. Not even bothering to spare them a glance, she went up the steps and into the saloon, glad to be out of the bright sun, if even for a moment. As if one cue, the three men looked to each other, nodded, and followed her in.
Aoi sized up the newcomer with an experienced eye. Not very tall, not tall at all (although for Aoi, tall was a very relative term), and dressed in black from head to toe. Boots, denim trousers, cotton shirt, range coat, hat—all covered in a thin layer of pale gray dust. Only her hair seemed clean, hanging as it did around her face and past her shoulders in a straight drop to near her waist, where, Aoi noted with a touch of trepidation, a heavy revolver rested. Well, it wasn't like the Outlands were totally free of harriers and Slow Mutants. A man—or a woman for that matter, Aoi corrected herself—needed the means to defend themselves if trouble came a callin'.
"Get you anythin'" she asked as the Stranger pulled up to the bar.
"Beer." She paused and glanced at the other patrons, looking almost through them, as if they weren't really worth her time. "And a bottle."
Picking up a mug, Aoi pulled the handle to the tap, feeling the pump kick in below her feet. "Ain't much good., but it's cold." She slid the mug in front of the Stranger and produced a bottle of whiskey from under the bar. "And it's all there is. Will you be wanting anything else?"
Taking a drink from the beer, the black-clad woman gave a small sigh of appreciation and tossed a few coins onto the bartop. "Just a peaceful hour to drink it in."
Aoi nodded at that and moved down the bar to where Evelyn and Theresa sat. Former dance hall girls from back West, the two had drifted in a few years back and never bothered to drift out. They roomed over the saloon, sharing a single bed, and made their living running after-hours card and dice games, as well as occasionally bedding miners and drifters who caught their fancy. As long as they didn't make a mess of the place, Aoi let them alone. They were easy on the eyes and brought in a little extra business, and these days, she needed all the extra income she could get.
Finishing her beer, the Stranger set the mug aside and pulled the cork on the bottle. The sharp smell of distilled alcohol filled the room as she poured a shot, apparently oblivious to the approach of the men who had followed her in. The three had exchanged knowing looks before electing one of their number to make the Stranger's business their own. Stopping at the woman's elbow, the scruffy harrier-for-hire pushed back his hat and winked at his companions. "Y'know, flea-bitten dust-covered range runners don't usually stop in Largo.... Life here's a little too quick for 'em."
A sour glance was the Stranger's only response. She downed her shot in a single swallow, pushing the cork back into the bottle with her thumb.
Giving his companions another glance, the man continued. "Maybe you think you're fast enough to keep up with us, huh?"
"A lot faster than you'll ever live to be." The woman seemed to finally have reached her limit. She pushed back from the bar, causing Aoi, Evelyn, Theresa, and the other patrons to duck, while the three ruffians stepped back, hands dropping down near their belts. The woman took all of this in, reached out, and snatched the bottle of whiskey off of the bartop. Aoi blinked at that. The woman's hand had been a blur, and had snagged the bottle clean. The three men harassing her should have taken that as a warning—if they'd had the common sense too. Then again, if those three had any common sense, they'd never come into the saloon in the first place.
Pausing only to give her three harassers an appraising glance, and obviously finding them wanting, the Stranger turned on her heel and strode out of the saloon. A few moments later the three men came out after her, watching as she walked across the sandy expanse of street and made her way to the barber's.
Chapter Two: Tom, Dick, And Harry
David Lam watched through the window of his shop as the Stranger came closer, long hair blowing in the wind. While not a coward, he also wasn't one to look for trouble, but right now, it seemed he didn't need to worry, trouble was just a few seconds from entering his place of business.
The Stranger clumped her way into the barber shop, the bell over the door ringing to announce her entrance. Inside, David swallowed and went out to meet his customer—experience had shown him people like the Stranger didn't like to be kept waiting.
"Yes, ma'm?" he asked politely, nervously wiping his hands on his apron.
The Stranger let her gaze travel around the inside of the shop before answering. "You wash hair?"
The Stranger removed her hat and set it on the rack, revealing straight locks nearly as glossy and black as his own. Grabbing a fist full, she held it up to his face. "Wash and a trim. How much?"
"Well... I don't normally wash hair...." David's voice trailed off as he saw the look on the other woman's face. "But I can get Ling Ling in here, she's good at that sort of thing. Does my hair, in fact. Can't barber myself, y'know." He laughed nervously, wondering where Ling Ling had run off to. Woman was never around when you needed her—and he'd paid good money for her too.
"And a hot bath?" The woman had now taken her coat off, setting on the hook next to her hat. David raised an eyebrow at how snug the black denim of her trousers fit her obvious curves. As she turned back to face him, he quickly brought his eyes up to her face, trying to ignore exactly how tightly her shirt fitted. He'd better have Ling Ling draw her bath too, else he might end up in a whole heap of trouble.
"Wash, trim, and bath? That'll be ninety cents." David paused and noticed the three so-called gunmen who normally lounged in front of the saloon making their way across the street. "Cash." He held out his hand, trying to keep it from shaking. "I mean, the money usually comes first... but..." The three men were coming closer, and David was fairly sure none of them was interested in a shave or haircut, two-bits or no. "Hell, it doesn't really matter, now does it?"
Seating herself in the chair, the Stranger dipped into a pocket and handed over a silver dollar. David took the coin, decided to test it later, and rooted around in the change dish. "Say... lilac water is only ten cents more." He looked over his shoulder, "The ladies around here all love it... Shall we make it an even dollar?" A few moments of the Stranger's virtually dead stare and David answered his own question, "No...." He handed back a dime and then threw a sheet over the woman's shoulders.
Busying himself with the pump, David started to fill a bucket with water, mentally debating going out back to find Ling Ling—who was probably hanging out the wash, come to think of it. The sound of the front door opening dispelled all notions of escape. Turning around, his hands full of the water-laden bucket, David managed a pleasant smile. Jason Stone's three gunmen had decided to enter the barber shop. "Right you are, gentlemen. Be right with you. Just have a chair." He nodded to one side of the room and set the bucket down under the Stranger's head. Going over to the counter for some soap he found one of the gunmen blocking his path. The man gave him a dark look and jerked his thumb to the back room. David, no fool, took the hint.
For her part, the Stranger observed all of this with an air of disinterest, scarcely turning to look when one of the men hooked a boot onto her chair and leaned forward, giving her a close-up view of his bristly stubble and stained teeth. "S'matter? You don't like our company?"
When this elicited no response, one of the other two men spun the chair around so he could face the unruffled woman. "What's the matter with you?" he snapped, leaning forward as well, as if his size would help him intimidate her where his manner obviously wouldn't. "I'm speakin' to you, pig shit."
"I think she's got some of that pig shit in her ears." muttered the first man.
Over by the counter third gunman sniffed dubiously at David's bottle of lilac water. "I don't know which smells worse, her or the shit in the bottle." The other two gave him a glance and grinned at the apparent joke.
Safely hidden in the back room, crouched slightly behind the big copper tub, David gaped in surprise as a deafening report tore through the small confines of the barber shop. The first gunman, the one who'd asked if the stranger didn't like his company, staggered back and hit the wall, a dark red hole marring the center of his forehead. His two companions went for their guns, but a second blast threw one of them across the room, the bottle of lilac water spinning from his hands, while a third shot sent the last of them out the front window to come crashing down onto the sidewalk.
For a long moment all was quiet, the Stranger utterly motionless in her chair, the only movement the faint curl of smoke from the barrel of her pistol where it poked through the hole it had made in the sheet covering her torso. Slowly she looked around the room, then pulled the sheet free and stood up. Keeping her pistol in her hand, she replaced her hat and laid her coat in the crook of her arm, collected her whiskey bottle in her free hand, then stepped outside.
The sound of gunfire had brought the townsfolk running. The saloon patrons were lined up at porch rail, staring the barbershop's broken window and the bleeding man slowly trying to pull himself up the hitching post. The Stranger stared at him for a few moments, her pistol pointed at the ground, then holstered it as he slid down to the wood planking of the sidewalk.
The sound of gunshots from inside the barbershop caused Ling Ling to drop the basket of wash she was pinning up and take off running. Coming around to the front of the shop, she slowed to a stop, staring in disbelief at the shattered window and the corpse sprawled near the door. A moment later she caught sight of the Stranger, a short woman with hair as long and as black as her own, drinking from a bottle of whiskey. The woman lowered the bottle, wiped her lips on her sleeve, and gave Ling Ling an appraising look. Ling Ling was used to such examinations—the dead man on the side walk had done it often enough—but somehow this felt different, perhaps because it was a woman this time. Giving the Stranger a grin—she certainly wasn't going to shed any tears over the gunman's corpse—she reached into one of the pockets of her apron and produced a thin cigarillo.
Quirking an eyebrow at the offer, the Stranger took the offered smoke, puffing it alight once Ling Ling lit a match. "Thanks." She continued to study Ling Ling's physique as she drew on the cigar, breathing out a cloud of smoke, her gaze lingering on the obvious swell of the other woman's full breasts and her long tapering ears.
Flashing the stranger her best smile, mindful of how she looked—rolled up sleeves, barber's apron, and all—Ling Ling suddenly felt foolish and realized David was going to yell at her for sure. On the other hand, he'd just had three men gunned down in his shop, so she doubted he worrying about her at this very moment. Besides, she saw no reason to anger the obviously touchy stranger, and if giving her a smile, a cigar, and some small talk keep her gun in its holster, so much the better.
"Ahh... What did you say your name was again?" she asked.
The Stranger narrowed her eyes at that. "I didn't."
"No...." Ling Ling watched as the Stranger stepped off the sidewalk and started over to her horse. "I guess you didn't at that, did you?"
Chapter Three: Rest And Relaxation
Apparently oblivious to the commotion behind her, as the townspeople of Largo decided it was time to get three dead men out of the barbershop, the Stranger untied her horse from the hitching post and started to lead it over to the livery stable. Up in front of the saloon, Evelyn watched as the sable-haired woman swallowed another mouthful from the bottle. Something about the black-clad stranger excited her—perhaps it was the callous way she'd ignored the dead men as she'd stepped over them, or the fact she'd gunned all three down in a matter of seconds, or the not-so-subtle aura of danger about her. In any event, there was no way she was going to let the stranger get away without getting to know her better—so to speak.
Glancing over at Theresa, who was still looking at the dead man sprawled on the sidewalk, and checking to make sure that over-endowed trollop Ling Ling was being put back to work (she was, and didn't David Lam look utterly shaken?), Evelyn made her way down the steps to the street, following the Stranger at a hopefully discrete distance.
The stableboy took one look at the Stranger's face, her pale horse, and the gun at her hip, and made himself scare. The Stranger didn't seem to mind. She put her horse in an empty stall, removing the saddle and heaving up onto a rail, to sit out of the way. Saddlebags came next, then a brush down, water, and oats. Her own coat she set next to the saddle, while the bottle was kept within arm's reach.
Standing next to her horse, finishing off the last swallow in the bottle, the Stranger's hand blurred, coming up with her revolver cocked and pointed at the stable entrance. "You want something?" she rasped in a low voice.
How did she...? Evelyn thought to herself as she stepped out of the shadows, her confidence shaken just a bit. Well, to late to back out now. "You," she replied with her best sultry smile, the tip of her tongue making a slow circuit of her lips. "You're new here, and obviously dangerous. I like that."
As the pistol was returned, Evelyn let herself relax. This might just work out after all.
The Stranger turned back to her horse picking up a brush. "What makes you think I'll agree?"
"I saw the way you looked at Ling Ling. The way the men usually do."
A shrug answered that statement.
Feeling a bit miffed a being ignored, Evelyn unlaced her top. "Look... what does she have that I don't?" A shrug of her shoulders and the blouse ended up down near her elbows, exposing most of her full breasts.
The Stranger turned away from her horse, giving Evelyn a long, slow head-to-toe look from the corner of one eye. Tossing the brush to one side, she took her hat off and set it on a nearby hook. The gunbelt came next, the heavy leather curled protectively around the dark revolver and seated so the butt set upright and within easy reach. As her fingers went to the buttons on her shirt, Evelyn began to remove her own.
Chapter Four: Bad Dreams
Pausing at the entrance to the livery stable, the Stranger spotted the wide-eyed stable boy crouching in the shadows. Glancing back to where Evelyn still lounged nude in the hay, she gave him a wry grin and flipped over a coin. "Watch over the horse."
The walk from the stable to the hotel was uneventful. Most everyone had gone back inside, while the few gathered around the barbershop were more interested in loading the bodies into the teamster's wagon then in looking at her. The Stranger gave them a passing glance, cold gray eyes noting the multi-tailed Lynx who was handily dragging one body into place on the wagon bed, as well as the long, luxurious raven-black tresses of the preacher for the Man-Jesus who was making motions in the air with her hand.
The Largo hotel was a tall, two story structure and easily the largest building in town. Painted white on the outside, inside it was darker, cooler, with well-polished wood and bright brass fittings. "Sarah J. Ferrari, manager" was lettered on the window out front.
Stepping inside, boots clumping loudly on the floorboards, the Stranger stopped at the front desk, laying her coat and saddlebags down and tapping the bell. A moment later, the manager hove into view, causing the Stranger to cock and eyebrow at her appearance. Sarah J. Ferrari was of average height and had an obviously fit build, but what made her so remarkable was her body—skin, hair, eyes, she was colored in various shades of blue. People to the south looked that way, or so the Stranger had heard, but she'd never seen one. At least, until now.
"A room." A scattering of coins accompanied this request.
Giving the Stranger a nod, and unlike most everyone else in town so far, showing little other reaction to the Stranger's general appearance, Sarah lifted a key from the board behind her and handed it over. "Up the stairs and first room on the left." Reaching out with one hand, she tilted a thick book towards the Stranger. "Would you like to register, ma'm?"
Scooping up the key, the Stranger gave the book a disinterested book and headed out the front door and up the stairs. "I guess not," Sarah muttered, as the door banged closed.
Upstairs the Stranger closed the door to her room and gave it a thorough visual examination. Bed, dresser, side table with pitcher and wash basin, chair, the furnishings were fairly basic, but well-made. Nodding to herself, the Stranger pulled the curtains shut on the window, set her coat up on a hook, tossed her hat onto the dresser, and put the saddlebags at the foot of the bed. Checking the door, the throwing the bolt, she wedged the chair up under the door handle for good measure. Finally feeling some measure of security and peace, she filled the basin with water, washed off her face, and then undid her gunbelt, laying it across the table, the pistol butt within arms reach of the bed.
Sitting in the bed, she pushed her hands through her hair, combing a few errant bits of straw out and letting them flutter to the floor. Bending over, she pulled off one boot, then the other, dropping them heavily to the floor. Leaning back, she settled herself onto the bed, closed her eyes, and tried to get some rest.
The white-haired woman gave a cry of pain as a bullwhip encircled her throat. She scrabbled at it with her fingers, wincing as two other bullwhips lashed her body. Her eyes were closed and full of blood, and she stumbled to the ground as her attackers closed in, arms rising and falling as they snapped the whips they carried. She had been beautiful, once, this snowy-tressed woman, but now, she was streaked with blood and sweat, and her now-ragged clothes were covered in dust and sand. Her attackers were tall, broad shapes, barely seen in the faint light of the surrounding buildings. They said little, simply grunted with the exertion of cracking their whips across their target.
Finally, the woman fell to her knees, unable to stand, unable to see, barely able to breathe. As one, all three bullwhips lashed around her throat and were pulled taught, causing the woman to choke, blood spraying from her mouth when the thin strips of leather were tugged free. Coughing, she fell into the street, fingers digging into the sand, as her attackers lashed her jacket and shirt into shreds—and the flesh underneath.
For a moment, just a moment, she was able to blink her eyes clear. She could seem them, standing silent, motionless, simply watching—the people of Largo, doing nothing to aid her, viewing her death with almost detached disinterest. Even the preacher of the Man-Jesus stood there, wringing her hands but otherwise making no move to aid her so-called fellow sister.
“Help.... me....” she whispered, knowing it would do no good. Knowing no one would life a finger to aid her. Finding a small reservoir of strength, she raised her head. “Damn you all to hell...” she hissed between clenched teeth, as the whips fell across her body in a seemingly unending rain.
Chapter Five: A Hot Bath
"Good morning. Sleep well?" Sarah asked as her newest tenant entered the hotel lobby. The woman was still wearing her gun, which was a tad unsettling, but couldn't be helped, it wasn't like she could force her to leave it in her room, and calling the sheriff wouldn't be much better. Sandra might have been good once, but since losing an eye to a harrier's knife, she'd gone over to too much drink.
There was a pause as the Stranger apparently thought Sarah's question over. "Yeah...." she finally responded.
Nodding, Sarah felt a little better about the situation. Three dead men not withstanding (and Sarah was never going to miss that trio, not now, not ever), the Stranger seemed personable enough, if a bit terse. "Are you planning to stay, keep your room another night?"
"I'll let you know."
"All right." Sarah gave another nod, and went back polishing the front desk. "Anything you say." The customer was always right, especially when the customer was packing a gun.
"Mornin'." David Lam announced as the bell of the door rang and someone entered the barbershop. It looked pretty much the same as it had yesterday—all the broken glass had been swept out, the blood mopped, and the shattered bay window had been cleared away. Right now it was open to the air, but he was intending to tack a sheet up later, at least until he could order some replacement glass.
Glancing up from where he was trimming Sheriff Sandra Blackmore's unruly black locks, David caught sight of the Stranger in the mirror and started hard enough to almost sink his scissors into Sandra's scalp. Mouth working soundlessly, he tried to say something, anything.
"I've still got a bath coming." the woman stated in a flat tone, saving him the effort.
"Hot bath comin' right up." David nodded with some relief. "Yes, ma'm."
"Ling Ling!" he called into the back room, "Put some more hot water in that tub. This lady wants a bath." He turned back to the Stranger and pointed down the short flight of stairs to where a large copper tub sat, filled with softly steaming water. "You can hang your clothes right down there on the peg."
Sandra watched all of this with some amusement. It wasn't often the normally placid David Lam was turned into a nervous wreck. Following the Stranger's passage in the mirror with her one good eye (and keeping her fingers away from the leather and cloth patch over the other one), she decided it was best to let the Stranger get settled into her bath before going over to see her. Less chance of getting shot that way.
"Miss Lydia does a nice--" David paused as the Stranger started to undress right then and there, apparently not caring he was watching her. "I'm sorry," he stated as he turned around at the top of the stairs, only to find Sheriff Sandra silently laughing at him.
"Right this way, captain," Ling Ling bowed her head and motioned to the steaming tub, carefully collecting the Stranger's clothes and putting them up on pegs.
"Miss Lydia does a right clean boiled wash." David tried again, this time with more confidence. "Do you want Ling Ling to take 'em over while you're soakin'...? She uses lye for pants rabbits, she does. No itch, no scratch."
Rising out of the barber's chair, shaking her head at Lam's senseless prattle—granted, he'd had three men gunned down here yesterday, but it wasn't like the Stranger had been shooting at him, was it? 'sides, those three hadn't been worth a spit and based on all reports, had caused the whole thing by not leaving well-enough alone. Tools, the lot of them.
"Pour the water, Ling Ling, before it gets cold," she chided as Lam's servant girl hurried past. "We want the lady to be comfortable."
Pushing past the still-fretting Lam, Sandra went down the stairs, stepping aside as Ling Ling hurried by with another kettle of hot water. The Stranger seemed to be settled in her bath and was calmly smoking a cigar, looking as if she owned the place. Sandra noted her tanned skin, black hair, and the curves of her perfectly-shaped breasts where they emerged from the bathwater. Well, that explained Evelyn staggering out of the livery stable covered in hay and with a stupidly-pleased expression on her face. Damn woman never knew when to quit. Sandra also noted the hard muscles in the woman's arms—she was strong as well as quick.
"I've been wantin' to talk to you," Sandra gave the woman a nod and tipped her hat back. "I might as well get this stool here...," she toed the stool over next to the tub, "and set right down and do it, huh?" She paused and gave the Stranger a look, "If that's all right with you?"
A languid wave of the hand was the other woman's answer, as she breathed out a cloud of smoke.
Settling herself down on the stool and leaning on the tub with one arm, Sandra tried to ignore what she could see other the other woman's apparently perfect physique. Some people have all the damned luck. Fixing her good eye on the Stranger she decided it was time to get it over with. "What this's about is Tom Borders."
"Don't know the man." Another cloud of cigar smoke.
Sandra nodded, and gave the woman a knowing grin. "You missed your chance, 'cause you shot him yesterday. Him and Dick Sharp and Harry Morris." She paused, "You know, those is just the names in case you're interested."
The woman have the badge pinned to her breast pocket a glance. "Well, I'm not really interested, Sheriff."
Sandra shrugged. "I can't say I blame you. Billy, he wasn't a loved man, no. He didn't have much personality. What he did have was all bad, just bad."
Now the woman's gaze flicked up to her face. "What you're tryin' to say is there's no charge, right?"
Sandra nodded in return. "'Forgive and forget.' That's our motto."
Any response the Stranger may have had was lost as she looked up past Sandra's shoulder and then vanished into the bath. Startled by the admittedly strange sight of the Stranger immersing herself, Sandra started to lean forward, when the sudden report of a pistol going off nearly deafened her.
"You bitch! Steal Evelyn from me!" Theresa screamed from where she stood at the stop of the stairs, holding a revolver in both hands. "I'll kill you!"
Ducking as a second shot ricocheted from the thick copper tub, Sandra kept low and scrambled up the stairs, tackling the dance hall girl around the knees. "Theresa, damn it!"
"Let go of me, you one-eyed bitch!" Theresa tried to point her gun at the Stranger, but Sandra managed to catch her wrist. "Stop-- Oww!" Heading ringing from one well-delivered slap, Sandra decidded she'd had enough. "Look!" she called over her shoulder to Ling Ling, "Tell her I'd appreciate it...if she doesn't leave town until I talk to her"
"Goddamn it!" Theresa ranted and raved as Sandra dragged her off. "Thief! I'll kill you!"
Turning back to the tub, Ling Ling stared at the tranquil water. Had one of those shots hit home? There was no blood, but still....
Finally, when it seemed she'd need to reach in and fish the Stranger out, she rose back up, a curious look on her face. Plucking the cigar out of her mouth, she gave it a quick look of disgust and pitched it on the floor.
"I wonder why she's so mad?" the Stranger asked as Ling Ling produced another cigar.
"Because maybe you didn't ask her to join in?" Ling Ling said as she lit the cigar with a smirk.
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