Buck looked at the little guy's fancy clothes and small mustache and grinned. "Come on," he said to me, and picked up his drink and started across the floor. "Find out who the dude is."
He pulled out a chair and sat down--and I saw he was careful to sit facing the front door, and also where he could see out the window.
I pulled out another chair and sat.
"Good shooting, huh?" Buck asked the little guy.
"Yes," said the little guy. "Very fine shooting. I confess, it quite startled me."
Buck laughed harshly. "Startled the old guy too...." He raised his voice. "Ain't that right, Menner? Wasn't you startled?"
"Yes, sir," came Menner's pain-filled voice from the bar.
Buck looked back at the little man--let his insolent gaze travel up and down the fancy waistcoat, the string tie, the sharp face with its mustache and narrow mouth and black eyes. He looked longest at the eyes, because they didn't seem to be scared.
He looked at the little guy, and the little guy looked at Buck, and finally Buck looked away. He tried to look wary as he did it, as if he was just fixing to make sure that nobody was around to sneak-shoot him--but you could see he'd been stared down.
When he looked back at the little guy, he was scowling. "Who're you, mister?" he said. "I never seen you before."
"My name is Jacob Pratt, sir. I'm just traveling through to San Francisco. I'm waiting for the evening stage."
For a second Buck's face got ugly. "You heard me, mister. You a drummer?"
"I heard you, young man, but I don't quite understand. Do you mean, am I a musician? A performer upon the drums?"
"No, you goddam fool--I mean, what're you selling? Snake-bite medicine? Likker? Soap?"
"Why--I'm not selling anything. I'm a professor, sir."
"Well, I'll be damned." Buck looked at him a little more carefully. "A perfessor, huh? Of what?"
"Of psychology, sir."
"It's the study of man's behavior--of the reasons why we act as we do."
Buck laughed again, and it was more of a snarl. "Well, perfessor, you just stick around here then, and I'll show you some real reasons for people acting as they do! From now on, I'm the big reason in this town ... they'll jump when I yell frog, or else!"
His hand was flat on the table in front of him--and suddenly his Peacemaker was in it, pointing at the professor's fourth vest button. "See what I mean huh?"
The little man blinked. "Indeed I do," he said, and stared at the gun as if hypnotized. Funny, though--he still didn't seem scared--just a lot interested.
Sitting there and just listening, I thought about something else funny--how they were both just about of a size, Buck and the professor, and so strong in different ways: with the professor, you felt he was strong inside--a man who knew a lot, about things and about himself--while with Buck it was all on the outside, on the surface: he was just a milksop kid with a deadly sting.
Buck was still looking at the professor, as carefully as he had before. He seemed to hesitate for a second, his mouth twisting. Then he said, "You're an eddicated man, ain't you? I mean, you studied a lot. Ain't that right?"
"Yes, I suppose it is."
"Well...." Again Buck seemed to hesitate. The gun in his hand lowered until the end of the barrel rested on the table. "Look," he said slowly, "maybe you can tell me how in hell...."
When he didn't go on, the professor said, "Yes?"
"You were going to say--?"
Buck looked at him, his bulging eyes narrowed, the gunman's smirk on his lips again. "Are you telling me what's true and what ain't," he said softly, "with my gun on you?"
"Does the gun change anything?"
Buck tapped the heavy barrel on the table. "I say it changes a hell of a lot of things." Tap went the barrel. "You wanta argue?"
"Not with the gun," the professor said calmly. "It always wins. I'll talk with you, however, if you'll talk with your mouth instead of with the gun."
By this time I was filled with admiration for the professor's guts, and fear that he'd get a bullet in them ... I was all set to duck, in case Buck should lose his temper and start throwing lead.
But suddenly Buck's gun was back in his holster. I saw the professor blink again in astonishment.
"You know," Buck said, grinning loosely, "you got a lotta nerve, professor. Maybe you can tell me what I wanta know."
He didn't look at the little man while he talked--he was glancing around, being "wary" again. And grinning that grin at the same time. You could see he was off-balance--he was acting like everything was going on just like he wanted it; but actually the professor had beaten him again, words against the gun, eyes against eyes.
The professor's dark eyes were level on Buck's right now. "What is it you want to know?"
"This--" Buck said, and his gun was in his hand again, and it was the first time when he did it that his face stayed sober and kind of stupid-looking, his normal expression, instead of getting wild and dangerous. "How--do you know how do I do it?"
"Well," the professor said, "suppose you give me your answer first, if you have one. It might be the right one."
"I--" Buck shook his head--"Well, it's like I think the gun into my hand. It happened the first time this morning. I was standing out in the Pass where I always practise drawing, and I was wishing I could draw faster'n anybody who ever lived--I was wishing I could just get my gun outa leather in no time atall. And--" the gun was back in his holster in the blink of an eye--"that's how it happened. My gun was in my hand. Just like that. I didn't even reach for it--I was just getting set to draw, and had my hand out in front of me ... and my gun was in my hand before I knew what'd happened. God, I was so surprised I almost fell over!"
"I see," said the professor slowly. "You think it into your hand?"
"Yeah, kind of."
"Would you do it now, please?" And the professor leaned forward so he could see Buck's holster, eyes intent.
Buck's gun appeared in his hand.
The professor let out a long breath. "Now think it back into its holster."
It was there.
"You did not move your arm either time," said the professor.
"That's right," said Buck.
"The gun was just suddenly in your hand instead of in your holster. And then it was back in the holster."
"Telekinesis," said the professor, almost reverently.
"Telekinesis--the moving of material objects by mental force." The professor leaned back and studied the holstered gun. "It must be that. I hardly dared think if at first--the first time you did it. But the thought did occur to me. And now I'm virtually certain!"
"How do you say it?"
"Well, how do I do it?"
"I can't answer that. Nobody knows. It's been the subject of many experiments, and there are many reported happenings--but I've never heard of any instance even remotely as impressive as this." The professor leaned across the table again. "Can you do it with other things, young man?"
"What other things?"
"That bottle on the bar, for example."
Buck stared at the bottle.
It wavered. Just a little. Rocked, and settled back.
Buck stared harder, eyes bulging.
The bottle shivered. That was all.
"Hell," Buck said. "I can't seem to--to get ahold of it with my mind, like I can with my gun."
"Try moving this glass on the table," the professor said, "It's smaller, and closer."
Buck stared at the glass. It moved a fraction of an inch across the tabletop. No more.
Buck snarled like a dog and swatted the glass with his hand, knocking it halfway across the room.
"Possibly," the professor said, after a moment, "you can do it with your gun because you want to so very badly. The strength of your desire releases--or creates--whatever psychic forces are necessary to perform the act." He paused, looking thoughtful. "Young man, suppose you try to transport your gun to--say, to the top of the bar."
"Why?" Buck asked suspiciously.
"I want to see whether distance is a factor where the gun is concerned. Whether you can place the gun that far away from you, or whether the power operates only when you want your gun in your hand."
"No," Buck said in an ugly voice. "Damn if I will. I'd maybe get my gun over, there and not be able to get it back, and then you'd jump me--the two of you. I ain't minded to experiment around too much, thank you."
"All right," the professor said, as if he didn't care. "The suggestion was purely in the scientific spirit--"
"Sure," said Buck. "Sure. Just don't get any more scientific, or I'll experiment on how many holes you can get in you before you die."
The professor sat back in his chair and looked Buck right in the eye. After a second, Buck looked away, scowling.
Me, I hadn't said a word the whole while, and I wasn't talking now.
"Wonder where that goddam yellow-bellied sheriff is?" Buck said. He looked out the window, then glanced sharply at me. "He said he'd come, huh?"
"Yeah." When I was asked, I'd talk.
We sat in silence for a few moments.
The professor said, "Young man, you wouldn't care to come with me to San Francisco, would you? I and my colleagues would be very grateful for the opportunity to investigate this strange gift of yours--we would even be willing to pay you for your time and--"
Buck laughed. "Why, hell, I reckon I got bigger ideas'n that, mister! Real big ideas. There's no man alive I can't beat with a gun! I'm going to take Billy the Kid ... Hickock ... all of them! I'm going to get myself a rep bigger'n all theirs put together. Why, when I walk into a saloon, they'll hand me likker. I walk into a bank, they'll give me the place. No lawman from Canada to Mexico will even stay in the same town with me! Hell, what could you give me, you goddam little dude?"
The professor shrugged. "Nothing that would satisfy you."
"That's right." Suddenly Buck stiffened, looking out the window. He got up, his bulging blue eyes staring down at us. "Randolph's coming down the street! You two just stay put, and maybe--just maybe--I'll let you live. Professor, I wanta talk to you some more about this telekinesis stuff. Maybe I can get even faster than I am, or control my bullets better at long range. So you be here, get that?"
He turned and walked out the door.
The professor said, "He's not sane."
"Nutty as a locoed steer," I said. "Been that way for a long time. An ugly shrimp who hates everything--and now he's in the saddle holding the reins, and some people are due to get rode down." I looked curiously at him. "Look, professor--this telekinesis stuff--is all that on the level?"
"He just thinks his gun into his hand?"
"Faster than anyone could ever draw it?"
"Inconceivably faster. The time element is almost non-existent."