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Sweet and Sour Stories: (Spook)tober Edition

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Smilin' Bill McCall was gonna make history. Tomorrow, he told the other bar patrons, he was gonna be the first to catch Vash the Stampede.

Tall and thin, he had a cut sliced into the side of his mouth that made it look like he was always smiling. His teeth were stained with cheap tobacco. His hair and mustache showed threads of gray.

There were the usual cries of "sure, yeah right," but Bill had the whole bar's attention, and a small group gathered around him. Bill had a reputation, himself. Some said he had gone from bounty to bounty hunter, pardoned for bringing in Red Legs Harry Hill, who had been making a fool of the Feds for years.

"Why you?" someone dared to ask.

Bill spat tobacco juice in his general direction. "See, here's where the other bounty hunters went wrong. They chased 'im, but he's too smart fer that. What ya gotta do is be where he's *going* to be. So I been studyin' his habits. What he does when the other bounty hunters go after him. And I think I figgered it out."

"What?" said one of his stupider hangers-on, Harvey or Garvey or something. Bill reminded himself not to send Gharvey out on this delicate job.

"He never goes that far, like he's tryin' to minimize the damage. He sticks close an' hides in the commotion the hunters are makin'. He likes rooftops an' other high places. He'll go into crowds and yell that he saw Vash the Stampede go in one direction or other and then stroll off, the slippery varmint, congratulatin' himself. So this time, we ain't gonna let him play those dirty tricks."

The next day, Bill's "associates" were scattered across the roofs of New Bloomington at dawn, with sniper rifles and smaller guns and knives in case the Stampede sneaked up on them. Their ears were covered and stuffed with cotton wool as they awaited the sight of the bell ringing or a visual signal from one of the others. Bill himself stood at the center of town, waiting. He stood by the clock tower, a marvel of modern of engineering, with two of his best men stationed inside covering him. Any minute now, Vash the Stampede would show up for the duel.

It hadn't been hard to find him. Vash was standing around the hitching post at another bar down the street from Bill's favorite watering hole, all relaxed like he owned the place. Bill yelled something about revenge for killing his old auntie and challenged Vash to a duel. (No one knew if the claim was true. Bill never talked about his private life).

Sure enough, Vash arrived as the second sun was rising. As expected; Bill thought the man had a code of honor. The outlaw looked intimidating, with that stupid red coat swirling in the breeze, tails flapping like a flag. His eyes were obscured by thick yellow-orange glasses, and his face was grim. Bill knew the man would make an entrance, and he still found himself stepping back a pace. Vash the Stampede looked every inch the part of the notorious outlaw. Bill could only hope he looked like a serious challenger.

"Vash the Stampede," he said with a curt nod.

The bell began ringing, signaling the chase had begun.

"Three against one hardly seems fair," Vash said mildly, squinting up at the clock tower.

"Ya weren't smart enough ta bring yer own second 'n third?" Bill retorted. He knew that the men on the rooftops were focused on the center of the square, the closest ones with their crosshairs on Vash himself.

Vash shrugged. The men in the clock tower shot and missed by a hair. "Call off your men," he said. "I don't want anyone to get hurt."

"Tell that to July," Bill spat. To his surprise, Vash actually looked uncomfortable.

That was when everything went wrong. The others heard the shot and all began firing toward Vash. Bill had to step away from the outlaw toward the humiliating safety of the clock tower to avoid getting shot himself. He didn't think it would all go wrong so soon.

Of course, Vash managed to duck out of sight while Bill was glancing around trying to figure out what in tarnation had happened, and never did show up again.

That night, they gathered in the bar to complain and point fingers. "Who gave that signal to shoot?"

Everyone pointed at Gharvey, who looked fixin' to piss himself with fright.

Bill had planned everything out so perfectly, wrapped up every loose end he could think of, but either he'd forgotten to get word to Gharvey he wasn't to participate in this one, or the man had shown up anyway.

Either way, Gharvey had blown all of their chances at capturing Vash the Stampede.

"Next time, do as I say." With that, Bill stepped up to the hapless man and shot him point-blank in the head. Everyone but the bartender cheered.