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Posted: 10/1/2004 8:51:16 PM EDT
"Slow Motion"

By Andrew Vachss-From the short story collection "Everybody Pays"

I have to wait for the fear before I start my walk.

There's an Eastern man in town. Came by Train. Dressed lie a banker. A flashy banker. Says he's a writer.

Someone must have told him about me. Probably over at the Lucky Lady. One of the gamblers, one of the drunks-it don't matter.

He says he wants to write about me. Says people where he comes from, they're all interested in gunfighters. Lots of money in it if I'd tell him my story.

I asked him what a lot of money meant to him...what the word coming out of his mouth meant. I always do that when I'm striking a deal. I like to make sure.

He said I could get five hundred dollars if I told him everything.

I told him to give me the money.

He said, no, he'd have to hear what I had to say first.

We settled on half in advance, pretty much like I expected.

That was a week ago. I've been lying to him every day since then.

Now he's waiting to see one happen. Said I'd told him enough-all he needed was to see one happen so he could write about it from his own eyes. Then I could get paid.

That's why I do it, he thinks.

See, the way people talk, you'd think you could make a living being a gunfighter. You can make a living with a gun, all right, but not fighting.

Killing, that's what pays.

People talk different where the Easterner comes from. But they're just as wrong. They think gunfighters go around having duels just to see who's the fastest.

I didn't even know what a duel was until he told me. He said they do it back East, too, only they do it different. two men start back-to-back. Then they step off while another one counts out loud. When the counter gets to the right number, both men turn and fire.

It's a matter of honor, the Easterner told me. If someone does something against your honor, you challenge him to a duel.

I never fought a man for honor.

Some do, some men, you call them a coward or a thief, or even a liar, they'll want to step out into the street and face you.

I've been called a lot worse than that, but it never got me into a gunfight.

A man in Kansas said things about my mother. I didn't do nothing. He kept on. I told him if he was truthful about wanting to fight me he could prove it. And not be calling my mother no names.

He couldn't call the vicious whore enough names to measure up the truth, anyway.

But I didn't tell him that. What I told him was, put up a stake and I'd match it. Then we'd go out into the street like he wanted. Winner takes the stake.

He didn't have no real money. So I used on him what he was using on me. I told him he was a coward. Everyone knows I only fight for money. So him challenging me when he didn't have none-that showed his true color.

He was a young one. Stupid. He came back in a couple of weeks and put fifty dollars gold on the table right in front of me. Right in front of everyone.

I matched it. Then we stepped out. And it happened the way it always does.

He got at one end of the street and me at the other. Then we started to walk to each othe. My legs always tremble terrible when it starts. I have to walk real stiff, so it won't show. When the real fear hits me, I go right back there. Where it first happened.

I feel it inside me. A red wash comes over my eyes. I keep walking. I have to get very close. People don't understand it, not at all. I have to wait for the fear to take over complete. One man has to draw first. They say it's never me. Because I'm so fast. But I keep walking because I can't do nothing else. I get stiffer and stiffer as I walk, like adobe hardening in the sun.

It usually takes them a long time to draw. Everybody knows if you draw too soon your ain't going to hit nothing. Cowards, they start shooting from a long ways away. It's a big thing to keep walking, get close. I get credit for that. But they don't know I can't do nothing else.

I keep walking until the other man draws. Then it all slows way down. Just like it used to before, when it happened to me. I can see every move the other man makes. Like he's doing it underwater. Then the fear rips and jolts and blood fills up my ears and I can't hear nothing and my gun comes out. Usually the other man shoots first. Not always. I've been shot a few times, but never one to finish me.

I always finish them. When I shoot, I don't miss.

And I keep shooting. Every man I fight, he gets all six.

Tomorrow, it will happen again. The Easterner can see it all. He can write it down. He'll pay me my money then. People always pay me after I do the work.

People fear me. And I know what they say about me. That I ain't afraid of nothing. They don't know my secret.

For every man I kill, I feel less fear when I start my walk the next time.

That's the only thing I'm afraid of. One day, I won't be afraid enough. Things won't slow down.

That's the day all this stops.
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