Today's story is a Metal and Men Patreon exclusive. Justice is something I'm thinking about a lot due to current events, and it's an interesting topic when viewed through the lens of a Western. The Giant of Big Bend is a first look at Gwendolyn Hatch's attempt to bring forgiveness and compassion to justice in this broken Texas.
I'll likely keep exploring this topic, and I've written one other story on it already (I'm shopping it around right now). If I write enough of them they'll make it into a compilation book, but for now--it's all yours.
The Giant of Big Bend
By Anthony W. Eichenlaub
Gwendolyn Hatch set her revolver on the table in front of the giant man in the dusty tavern. She tipped her hat to the bartender and signaled for two whiskeys. At her age, a person couldn’t run around wasting time waiting for drinks.
As she sat, she said, “I’m not here for your bounty yet, Mr. Yates.”
The man’s expression didn’t change. He looked to the gun, then to the bounty tracker on her wrist, then back to the gun. “I ain’t done nothing wrong.”
“You’re fixin’ to.” The bartender set the two whiskeys down and Hatch sipped the first. The giant reached for her second, but she scared him off with a hard look. “Get your own, young man.”
“Taking things that don’t belong to you is what’s going to get you killed.”
A deep chuckle rumbled in the man’s chest. “I ain’t done nothing wrong.”
Hatch met his gaze for a good long time. He was young, at most in his early twenties. The man wasn’t artificially large, but he had enough augmentation that his bulk seemed intentional. She watched the tense movements of his corded muscle and the sheen on his dark, augmented skin. This was a rancher’s son built for hard work—someone out to prove himself as a fighter. He probably thought he could crush an old lady like Hatch in one of his massive hands. He might be right.
“You’re fixin’ to,” she said quietly, downing the first of her whiskeys.
He flinched. Good, maybe it was still possible to get through his thick skull. “What makes you say it like you know?”
“I’ve seen a hundred of you if it hasn’t been a thousand. You grow up the biggest and strongest on your ranch. Get used to being the toughest in the community. Someone early in your life gets you playing sheriffs and outlaws or some variation and you always win. You work hard all your young life so as you start hating working hard. When you’re big enough, you get a few upgrades. Tough skin, metal in your bones. Makes you tougher than the toughest around.
I wager not five hours ago you got on your horse and left your Pa up around the Big Bend where the spread of the iron kudzu threatens your ranch. It’s a problem you can’t do anything about since you got all that metal in your body. Now you’re sitting here eyeing my revolver and wondering if those bullets will pierce your skin.”
“Like a hot knife through butter, and you won’t have the time to blink before I unload that whole cylinder.” Hatch drew a slow sip from her second whiskey. The amber liquid burned well enough, though it wasn’t anything near good. “But I’m not here to shoot you, Jeramiah Yates. I’m here to convince you not to rob that bank.”
“I’m not here to—”
“You’re sitting next to a pack containing a torch someone told you will cut through vault doors. It will, but not as quick as you need. Your guns are all loaded for bear and a combat drone for backup. You’ve sucked back almost all the courage you need but taking that first step as an outlaw is a big one. Every sip of the drink—” Hatch polished off her second whiskey “—slows you down. Takes the edge off. That tells me you don’t really want to do this.”
“You got me wrong.”
“Some folks come out here looking for a fight. They want to prove themselves tougher than anyone around. They come out slinging guns and brawling first chance they get. It’s like they have a death wish. Others are out here because they think the outlaw life brings them a life of luxury where they don’t need to worry about being hungry ever again. Then there’s you.”
Hatch gave him a long pause in case he wanted to respond, but he didn’t.
“You’re the type of man who comes out here to save his Pa’s ranch. Help the old man claw his way out of debt before you’re finally gunned down. You want to be a hero, and you forgot that your Pa doesn’t want that kind of hero.”
The big man drew a long breath, the softness in his eyes making him look even younger. Hatch had trouble seeing him as anything other than a kid, even as dangerous as he was. The man’s life hinged on this moment, but so, too, did Hatch’s. He knew she was a bounty hunter. If he decided to go down the hard path, she’d be the first one he’d try to kill.
Yates raised a massive arm, signaling the bartender for two whiskeys. “I said you got me wrong.”
“I’ve been gone from the ranch eight hours. Turned back halfway down here because I got cold feet.”
“But you’re still here.”
The bartender placed two whiskeys in front of the big man. Yates pushed one of them to Hatch and downed the other. “No other option,” he said through gritted teeth. Tough as he was, that whiskey burned.
“It’s not right that your Pa might lose his ranch. It’s not right that the men running the financial system can rob a man’s family blind and get away while you have absolutely zero chance of getting away after robbing one of their banks.”
“I thought maybe I—”
“No chance, Yates. None at all.”
His shoulders slumped.
Hatch polished off the last of her whiskey. It burned on its way down, refusing to get better after several drinks like a proper bad whiskey. “I can’t save your ranch,” she said, “and I can’t bring any kind of peace of mind to your Pa as he goes through the toughest transition of his life.” She let that linger in the air. “But I want your help finding others like you. I want your help saving those about to go down the wrong path. It’s the one thing we can do that might make Texas a better place.”
The door opened, and an ugly man with a scar along the side of his neck stepped in, every step clanking with his heavy armament.
“What about your work as a bounty hunter?”
Hatch smiled her wicked grin. “We can’t save everyone.”
He glanced at the revolver, still on the table. “You really as fast as they say?”
At the door, the ugly man raised two automatic weapons. “Everyone stick ‘em up. This is a—”
Hatch snatched up the gun and fired three shots. Two thumped into the ugly man’s chest, one pounded him square in the head. Quick as she’d swept it up, she placed it back down. The computer on her wrist blinked green. Her bounty was complete.
Yates said, “You pretty much have that under control then?”
Hatch shrugged. “Are you ready to make Texas a better place?”
He smiled a weak smile. “I’m in, but I could use another drink first.”
Hatch gave him a hard look until he started to look nervous, then let it melt into a grin. “I think we’re going to get along just fine, Jeremiah Yates. Just fine, indeed.”
Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and don't forget that if you want to chat about reading, publishing, writing, or the nature of justice, you can find me over on Discord.
Anthony W. Eichenlaub