Sam Dichter rides into town past a man hanging by the neck from a tree. In town, Dichter goes to the saloon and asks the bartender for a bottle of whiskey. He then goes to the only table, where four townspeople are playing poker. The doctor, Soames, knows Richter as a deadly gunslinger.
Returning to the bar, Dichter asks the bartender what the name of the hanging man was, and the bartender says it doesn't matter now. The gunslinger says that he doesn't mind when they squirm as they die, and boasts that he has a taste for death. The clock chimes 9 and the poker players stare at it for a moment, and Soames tells one of the players, Charlie McKinley, that it's time. McKinley says that it's the designated hour and gets up to leave. Dichter offers to take his hand until he comes back, and Soames says that Dichter well knows that McKinley won't be coming back. Dichter has no idea what he's talking about, and McKinley says that he used to know him. Staring, Dichter finally recognizes him and notes that rumor has it that he was shot in the head in Abilene, and says he's relieved to see him alive. McKinley tells him not to get to relieved, goes outside, and a gunshot rings out. Dichter starts to go out, but Soames and the others say that there's no cause for concern, and that McKinley was just shot in the head. Dichter looks outside and sees men hauling McKinley's corpse away.
The players invite Dichter to join them, and the gunslinger slowly sits down and picks up McKinley's hand. another player, Joe Bristol, says that they're all acquaintances. Bristol and the last player, Abe Bennett, say that they were all gunslingers before, and tell him to look at them and remember. Dichter stares hard and realizes who they are. He remembers seeing Bristol shot down by a young gunslinger named Max Auburn, but says that he's hallucinating because of a fever. He asks Soames to proscribe something for him, but Soames says that it wouldn't do any good and asks if he gets the point. When Bristol says that Dichter is slow, the gunslinger tells him to stand up and say it. Bristol stands up and starts to go for his gun, but the clock chimes 10, interrupting him. Dichter asks Bristol what he's doing, and Bristol says he's going out into the hot sun despite the fact it was night when Dichter rode in. A young man calls Bristol out, and Bristol says that he's coming. When Dichter asks who is calling him, Bristol says that it's Max Auburn and goes out. Dichter starts to go after him, but Soames says not to and invites him to sit down and continue playing.
Dichter insists that he's delirious, and Bennett says that they all had the fever for killing. The gunslinger says that they're all crazy, and the clock chimes 11. Bennett gets up and says that it's his turn, and informs Dichter that he was a bank robber. Dichter remembers who he is, and that he died in Tombstone after gunning down a teller for $20. He fled to a church and a deputy picked him off as the church bells rang. Bennett goes to the door and Dichter asks what he's doing, and Bennett explains that he's going out to relive his death. He steps through the saloon doors and Dichter hears a gunshot and ringing church bells. Soames asks if Dichter finally understands what the point is, and explains that he took care of gunslingers so they could go out and kill again.
The church chimes 12 and Soames tells Dichter that one night he took out a gun and shot himself. The doctor gets up and tells Richter that they are all doomed from the moment they picked up a gun. As he goes to the door, Richter insists that he can outdraw any man alive. Soames says that that's no longer the case, and that someone finally appeared, someone younger and faster, and gunned Dichter down. Now it's time for them to pay the bill, and Soames goes outside to pay his price. A gunshot rings out.
Richter turns to the bartender and asks what the name of the town is. The bartender says that it's just a waiting room for people to wait for their ordained fate, and that some call it Hell. Richter asks for another drink, but the bartender tells him that there's no more time as the clock chimes 1. He refuses to leave, but they both hear a crowd talking outside. The bartender tells him that it's a jury of all that passed judgment on him after his last kill, and they're outside waiting. The bartender turns off the lights, goes to the door, and tells Dichter that it's closing time. After a moment, Dichter puts on his hat and goes to the door, and the bartender says he'll be seeing him again. Dichter says that they won't see him again because he doesn't like the place or the company, and steps outside. As the bartender turns to the clock, he says that he'll be seeing Dichter gain.
Sam Dichter rides into town past a man hanging by the neck from a tree. He stops and removes the hood, and sees his own face. Shocked, he screams and the horse throws him. Proceeding on foot, Dichter goes into the town and enters the saloon, and finds Soames, Bennett, Bristol, and McKinley playing poker. The bartender is waiting with a drink for Dichter, and the clock keeps ticking... and ticking... and ticking. The clock chimes 9 and they all stare in horror... but no surprise.
Written by Gadfly on Sep 27, 2018