Last few sips and the glass is empty. He puts it down on the table and looks around. The bar is full of all sorts of characters. Every time someone comes in, the reddish midday Mars light shines a little bit brighter, for a mere moment reminding about the time of the day. Everybody glances towards the door, evaluating the level of threat, before going back to sipping their poison and letting the shadows take over once more.
A couple of guys on their way to the bar hesitantly pass the round booth, trying but obviously failing not to look at the mysterious man sitting in the middle of it. A few steps further they slow down, say something to each other, turn back around and stop right in front. One of them finally works up the courage and says:
“You… aren’t you Warren Crow, by any chance?”
“I might be,” the man replies confidently, barely lifting his eyes up from the empty glass standing right beneath. While he doesn’t seem to move much himself, something suddenly clicks under the table. A faint, short, high pitched sound follows. “Who’s askin’?”
As the passengers hear the sound, they both instantly take a step backwards and raise their hands in fear.
“No, no, no, don’t get us wrong, we don’t want any trouble!”
“Then what do you want?”
“We… Could we buy you a drink, sir?”
A moment passes before another set of almost identical clicking and high pitch sounds follows. The man behind the table pushes the glass forward and slightly nods.
One of the guys carefully takes a seat on the left side of the booth while the other picks up the glass and runs off to the bar.
“I just want to say, it’s a greatest honor to meet you in person, sir,” the man suddenly says. “My name is Connor, by the way. And the other guy, Thomas, he’s my best friend. We’re huge fans.”
Warren slightly tilts the front of his hat and glances at the speaker but remains silent otherwise. Moments later, the second guy comes rushing back with three identical glasses of whiskey on the rocks. He sets them down and then, just as carefully, sits down himself on the opposite side of his friend. Barely containing their excitement, the men look at each other.
“So, what does a legend like yourself happen to be doing here?” Thomas finally says.
“No doubt, there must be some big bounty rambling around these parts if it got your attention,” Connor adds.
Crow picks up a drink and carefully inspects the glass before taking a sip.
“Well, seems like you kids are pretty good at answering your own questions.”
“Yes, I knew it!” the guy on the left suddenly shouts looking at his friend. “Pay up, brother.”
The second guy sights, lifts up his hand and presses a couple buttons on his ID bracelet.
The mysterious man looks at both of them, patiently waiting for an explanation. Thomas notices it first and instantly says:
“Oh, I’m sorry sir. We had this little bet going on. See, no one’s heard anything new of you for a while now. I was sure you retired, while Connor here never lost hope. He was convinced you’re still active. Seems like he was right after all.”
Warren stares at him for a second before letting out a small laugh:
“You have just the worst luck, son,” he says with a little smile. “Call this my last day at the office, if you will. Once I snatch this bounty I’ll be done for good.”
“Well, that sucks. For me, of course” the guy on the right says as both friends join in for the laugh.
As they all cool down, Connor turns to Warren and asks:
“So, who is this mystery man then? Or is that a mystery woman?”
“Aren’t you nosy?” the bounty hunter replies. “Tell you one thing: you’re better off staying the fuck out of this, for your own sake. Can’t risk you trying to play heroes here, nor do I want to endanger my retirement plans.”
“Come on, sir. Look at us, our lives ain’t anywhere close to hunting heads,”
“And they better stay that way, if you wanna keep carrying them on those shoulders of yours.”
“We might be plain farm boys, but we ain’t dumb,” Thomas adds. “Besides, if that would be you we have to compete against, better just shoot ourselves straight here and now. It’s just harmless curiosity, sir.”
Warren Crow picks up a glass from the table and for a moment spins it back and forth in his fingertips. Then he takes a big sip, puts it down and speaks:
“Alright. I can give you the name if you want it so badly. I guess I owe you that much for the drink anyway.”
Both of the listeners turn to the man speaking, giving him their absolute attention. They’re waiting to hear the name as if that was some secret word that could open some magical door.
Crow looks them both in the eyes and quietly but surely says:
“They call him - Taj Silas.”
In the booth, a dead silence follows. A good minute passes before Thomas finally find something to reply with:
“I, I thought that guy was a myth?”
“Yea, his bounty has been hanging up for ages,” Connor adds. “And what a bounty that is. Nobody even knows who set it up! Surely someone would’ve gotten him by now if he was real.”
“Oh, but he is. And he’s more real than you know,” Warren answers to the confused listeners. “However, the true bounty isn’t exactly on Silas himself. No, they want something else.”
Both men sit frozen, listening to every single word leaving the legendary bounty hunter’s mouth.
“It’s his eyes.”
“His eyes?” both guys ask simultaneously.
“Yes, his eyes. And the real price is rumored to be much higher than what the posters advertises. If I didn’t know any better, I’d consider keeping them to myself. Though, I recon there will be room for some good ol’ bargaining here and there.”
“Huh. So what’s so special about those eyes anyway?” Thomas asks once again.
“I don’t think we should go into any more details, son. I already told you a lot more than I promised.”
For a few minutes they all go silent. While Warren enjoys slowly sipping his drink, both of the boys seem to be lost in their thoughts.
“But, all those stories,” Connor starts up once again. “The man is like a devil. Even someone like you should be at least a little scared, right?”
Crow takes another sip of his drink before setting down the glass and looking back up.
“Don’t believe everything you hear, kid. It’s easy to scare people.”
“But there has to be some truth to it, right? They don’t just make up stuff out of nothing.”
“Yea, I guess there is. But in the end, he’s no more or less human than any of us. And we all got something in common.”
“A well placed shot kills us all just the same.”
“Aren’t you afraid he’s gonna get to take that shot first then?” Thomas cuts in. “Some say he’s the fastest gunslinger that ever lived. His reflexes - almost supernatural.”
“They say a lot of things, son. What I say is that as long as I’m standing tall, he can only get as far as the second place.”
“But there must be something about those eyes that make them so valuable. Silas might be as human as any of us, but what if those eyes are what gives him the edge?” Thomas asks again after a pause.
“Yeah, what if they’re like super advanced cybernetic weapon system?” Connor adds in.
“Okay, listen. You watch too many movies. I can tell you from my personal experience, and you know that I have a lot of it. Nine times out of ten, in situations like these, the guy simply pissed off the wrong people. There’s probably nothing about those eyes that give him any sort of advantage. Distinctive look? Sure. Will make a nice trophy for the ones that want him dead. But I’m afraid that’s all there is to it. And even if, by some chance, it’s that one time where they actually do something useful, apart from looking pretty, when I get to him, it ain’t gonna make a damned difference.”
“But, but what if those eyes actually do give him some sort of powers or something?” Connor decides to slip another question in. “Traders from outer regions bring in all sorts of things we’ve never seen before!”
“Kid, cut this crap. Of course they bulk up the stories trying to sell all that shit. It’s new, it’s exotic. It must be somehow special, right? Me? I don’t buy into all that crap. It’s a scam. All there is to it. Sure, I imagine there’s a good story behind those eyes. Maybe I’ll get to hear it if I don’t have to drag out his lifeless body out of here. But as I said, in the end, the prick most likely pissed off the wrong people. The list might be a light-year long, but that’s it. All that really matters anyway.”
Suddenly, the door opens once more. Covered by the bright red Mars light shining through stands a silhouette of a man. Almost immediately, all the voices fall silent and all the eyes turn to him, leaving the music as the only filler of the bar’s background. He lets the creaking doors go and steadily walks inside, ignoring all the angry eyes glancing his way. Almost every single man in the room is sitting with an itching trigger finger, waiting for the face of the intruder to be revealed. The door slowly closes behind and shuts off the blinding light of the outside world. But the shadows, they never fully let go of his face. It’s as if they’re moving with him. With every other step, the people watching raise their hopes up to finally catch a glimpse. With every following step, those hopes are diminished once again.
Mysteriously, yet somehow calmly and confidently, the man makes his way to the bar. He sits down, order a drink and pays right up, all that without raising his head any higher than the actions require. The bartender stops for a moment and looks at his ID bracelet where the transaction just showed up. He then proceeds to take the bottle from under the bar and pour the liquor, all while carefully looking around and inspecting the surroundings. Right before the moment when the glass reaches the bar he swiftly slips some sort of napkin underneath and then proceeds to his other customers as usual.
One by one, the men in the bar cautiously go back to their drinks and the chatter resumes. They were all left unsatisfied, but not a single soul felt brave enough seek for the answers any further.
A short time passes until Connor’s excitement threshold breaks once again. He turns to Warren and, this time in a quiet tone, asks:
“Is that him? That must be him, right? What’s your plan, sir?”
“You’ll just have to wait and see, kid, calm down,” Crow hushes him.
“But are you sure that’s him?” Thomas asks looking at the newcomer doubtfully. “Everybody knows this bar is always full of mercenaries. Why would someone with a huge bounty do something so reckless?”
“Hah, it does look that way doesn’t? Pretty smart I’d say.”
Both boys stare at Warren with more question than answers in their mind, waiting for further explanation.
Warren bends a little bit forwards and even in a quieter tone says:
“Now this is not something that flies around everyone’s ear. It’s rather obvious when you know, but seems to work as a perfect disguise in plain sight when you don’t. The ownership, they play both sides. Simple as that. Sure it’s a merc bar. But order the right drink for the right price and they can be your only ticket out of this hellhole. And if there’s someone that can get you out unnoticed, this is where my money’s at.”
“So you’re gonna take him right here?” Thomas also whispers in. “Don’t you think it would be much better to catch him unaware? He will definitely be staying on guard here, now more than ever.”
“Oh, I’m counting on it. He knows he’s outnumbered. And greatly at that. No one wants to start a fight they can’t win. Besides, being a hands reach away from getting out, he’s bound to slip.”
The legendary bounty hunter quietly cocks his gun, picks up the glass from the table and pours the rest of the drink down his throat. Then, he stands up, turns to the boys and, again in his normal voice, says:
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take a leak.”
Warren, quite a bit off balance, walks out of the booth and heads towards the toilet on the other side of the room. He moves past the bar, at first sight completely unfit to go after any high volume bounty. However, as he gets closer to the mysterious man, he quickly drops the drunken act. With lightning fast reflexes, Crow sticks a gun to the guy’s right side and pulls up to the bar right next to him. But the man, he doesn’t even flinch. He only slightly turns his head, letting his new companion know of his almost undivided attention. He moves his head just enough so that the shadows finally reveal his slightly glowing yellow eyes. Accompanying them there are scars on both sides of his face, running down from above the brow and stopping midway to his upper lip.
Crow keeps standing calmly, not letting any surprise show on his own face. Without fully turning either, he calmly says:
“Alright, alright, Taj Silas. I think you and I both know how this will go down.”
Silas keeps on sitting, giving no response.
“Well, just so there are no inconveniences, I’ll walk you through. You finish your drink, stand your ass up and we slowly walk out the same door you just came in through, as the good friend we appear to be. Then, maybe you’ll have chance to make it to the holding cell with your heart still beating. Would be a shame if I had to drop you before I get to hear the story that comes with those scars,” Warren cracks a smile as he lifts up his left arm to put around Silas’ shoulder. Right before the contact hits – a shot.
All the chatter is cut short. Everyone who wasn’t yet looking at the bar now had their eyes pinned just like the rest.
A gun drops to the ground. The legendary bounty hunter takes a couple steps back and lets his hands down. With a surprised expression, he looks to his heart and then back to his bounty. Not a single word leaves his mouth as he drops down, straight on his back.
Many sudden clicks can be heard all around the bar. Faint, short, high pitched sounds follow…