As Cody stood in the middle of the dusty street, facing the most deadly gunfighter alive, the words of his old blind Mexican mentor, the man who taught him everything he knew about the gunfighter profession, flashed from his memory.
First, you pick the time and place to fight. If daytime, keep your back to the sun. If there is no way out of the fight, the only thing left is to kill him before he kills you. Last, and most important of all, watch his eyes and face. A nervous eye flicker, a tightening of the lips, clenching of the mouth, bulging jaw muscles. Any of these natural actions will be your warning that your opponent is about to draw.
That will give you a split second warning. Use it. It could make the difference in living and dying.
This was the defining moment of the endless hours of instruction and practice. This was the apex of his entire life. Cody's mind, senses, and body focused their total energies on one thing and one thing only: the moment.
His hearing shut off all sound. His mind rejected any distraction. His hands and arms were relaxed and ready. His eyes locked on Longley's eyes like a beacon with a fixed, unwavering, and unblinking stare.
For a small slice of eternity, time stood still.
Then it came.
The slightest hint of a thin smile wrinkled one corner of Vance Longley's top lip. In that instant, Cody's practiced hand moved instinctively. The bone handled Colt, that had become a mere extension of his hand, leaped from the greased holster. His thumb instinctively raked back the hammer, his finger feathered the trigger, and the weapon bucked in his hand. Once, twice, three times, the jarring explosion radiated past his hand, journeyed up his arm, and rocked his shoulder. All this in less than an eye blink.
But what was wrong? Vance Longley was still standing! Cody was puzzled. How could he have missed at point-blank distance?
The famous gunfighter stood there, not twenty-feet in front of him, his pearl handled Colt in his hand. Blue smoke curled like a serpent from the nose of the barrel that was pointed toward the ground.
No, this can't be possible, Cody's mind screamed. He's too fast. There must be some mistake. I don't understand.
Then he saw it again, that same thin smile. The one he had seen just before the draw. Longley's eyes suddenly glazed and went foggy. His gaze dropped to his chest. A shocked, unbelieving look crept across his face at the sight of three thumbnail-size holes. He lifted a weak, confused and questioning gaze up into Cody's face.