He had his gun in pieces on the dining room table. The ancient revolver had seen better days, as had the hands that disassembled it, but they could still hit a tin can from 10 yards, and at 85, you take what you can get.
Lois didn't care for him cleaning his guns at the table, particularly when the children were about. He'd tried arguing that every boy should know how to clean and shoot a gun, hell, he'd been a crack shot by the time most kids learn to read these days, but she was adamant in her opposition. Lois was the wife of his great-nephew, and she'd never been too fond of the old man.
Lois and John's oldest boy was another matter. The old gunfighter heard him approach from behind him. He let the kid think he was sneaking up on him and then...
"Isn't it past your bedtime, boy?"
The boy, unfazed by the old man's gruff voice, climbed up into another chair. "Aww, I'm not tired, Uncle Bill. Can I help you clean your gun?"
The old man smiled. Uncle Bill. It had been Bastard William once upon a time, when he'd made his living hunting outlaws in the Arizona Territory. Captain "Iron Will" McKendrick was what his men called him on the battlefields of the Civil War, and he was known as Lucky Bill for the amount of battles that left him unscathed during the War of 1812. "Gun's clean, Billy," he said. "Nothin' to do but put her back together."
"Can I help?"
Old Bill shook his head. "'Fraid not, son. Your mom won't be too pleased to know I'd let you handle a weapon."
Billy crossed his arms, leaning back in his chair with a pout. "Awww. Mom don't let me do nothin' fun."
Bill finished reassembling the gun, looking down the sight. "That may be, but she's still your mom, and you gotta do as she tells ya."
"Yeah. I guess." Then the boy's face brightened, and he looked up at the old man. "Can I have a story?"
Bill chuckled. "Boy, you heard all my stories."
Billy was undeterred. "Tell me the one about the ghost town again."
Bill slid the gun back into the battered holster, and placed it on the table in front of him. "Don't you get enough excitement? With this war goin' on over in Europe, I don't see how an old gunfighter's reminiscing can be all that compelling."
Billy waved the comment away. "Ah, that old Hitler is good as dead. We'll lick the Nazis, no problem."
Bill pointed at the boy, making the youngster look at him. "Any war's a problem for the ones is fighting it, boy. I seen enough proof of that over my life to hope that you never do."
Billy nodded, swallowing hard.
"But you wanted a story."
Billy nodded again.
Bill leaned back in his chair, making himself as comfortable as he was able. "Well, you go get your old uncle a glass of water, and I'll tell the story of the ghost town. And if you're still awake after that, I may tell you what I did to Colonel Carson when I finally found him, but only if you promise not to blame me for the nightmares."
Billy rushed to the kitchen to get the water.
A couple of hours later, Billy sat, wide-awake, rapt with attention as the man once feared across the West and all the levels of Hell as Bastard William McKendrick finished the end of his tale.
"More!" Billy demanded.
Bill chuckled. "No. You've been up too late as is, and my voice is near to shot. G'wan. Up to bed with you before yer mom finds out." He continued to chuckle as the boy ran to the stairs.
"Still corrupting the young with your wild ways, you old Bastard?"
Bill had the gun out and had spun up out of his seat to face the man behind the voice before it occurred to him that there was no way he should be so fast and limber at his age. Dread was a cold burst in his gut. This could only mean one thing.
The sight of his old friend, known ever only as Shaman, convinced him.
"Another mission?" His shoulders sagged. "I thought I'd passed all this on to the American Ace back in '16. You must have the Gun with you, or I wouldn't be feeling so hale and hearty. What happened?"
Shaman produced the weapon in question, a gleaming silver six-shooter that shone with an unearthly glow. Shaman bowed his head and sighed. "The American Ace proved unworthy. The years following his Great War were most unkind to him." He tossed the revolver to Bill. "He sold that to a pawn broker for money to buy morphine in 1932. By then he'd long since stopped using it, and the country suffered for its lack of a hero."
Bill considered the weapon in his hand. It was as though he'd never put it down. Holding the Gun, he was the greatest marksman who ever lived. He was as strong as ten men and damn near unkillable. And he'd thought he was done with this once and for all. He said as much to his visitor. "You told me last time, that this was not my time. It was no longer my century. America would choose a new hero, and I'd live out my life."
Shaman nodded. "As it should have been. But there is something wrong with this new century. It will know horrors unthinkable in human history, yet will be among the most enlightened of any age. It will ask much, particularly from America's hero, and has already claimed one before his time. The next will have to prove mighty indeed."
"So, where am I to go?" Bill replaced the old revolver with the Gun in the holster. He made his way to the basement stairs, and the old pack he kept stored down there. If he was going to go traipsing off to god knows where to find the American hero of the 20th Century, he sure as hell wasn't doing it in his robe and slippers.
"There is an American airman being held as a spy by Russian agents outside Berlin. You will help him escape, then give him the gun. He has been chosen, and it is hoped he will prove stronger than the Ace." Shaman laid his hand on Bill's shoulder when the old gunfighter came back upstairs. "The agents of Chaos run rampant across the globe, dressing up evil and calling it Order. An agent of true Order must be found, and quickly, before all is lost."
Bill nodded. "Just get me there. I'll do my part." He looked his old partner in the eye. "But this is the end, right?"
Shaman nodded, opening a portal to a field outside the prison walls. Bill stepped through, and missed the sad look on Shaman's face. When he was alone, Shaman spoke to the empty air.
"It is indeed, my friend," he said. "In every way."