Apparently, he wasn’t.
I’d known Jackson for five years and considered him a friend. I’d seen him stand tall against some fierce and foul beasts that spilled out of the Hollow on a cold night in November.
When I caught up with him, he was sitting in front of his fireplace with a glass of brandy in hand and a pistol on his lap.
Only his eyes moved when I stepped into the room, one of my Colts at the ready.
“Jackson,” I nodded and took a seat across from him.
He offered a tired smile, raised the glass to his lips and drained the liquor. For a moment, he considered the snifter, shrugged, and then tossed it into the fireplace with barely enough force to clear the fender. As the snifter rolled to a stop, he looked at me.
“I take you’re here to exact some measure of revenge for a tree?” there was a dry, bitter tone to his words.
“Aye, that’s about the size of it, Jackson.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t shoot me when you stepped in.”
I offered him a grim smile. “I want the name of the man who you’re selling my friend to.”
Jackson raised an eyebrow. “You really did consider that damnable tree your friend?”
“I did,” I answered. “I’ll be planting a few of his saplings in his honor.”
Jackson paled. “I’ll not be food for a tree.”
“You’ve no choice in the matter. The only choice you have here, Jackson, is how you die. Fast and easy. Slow and hard. It’s up to you.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t think it would come to this.”
“You murdered my friend, and you’re selling his body. And you didn’t think it would come to this?” I laughed. “Did you know me at all, Jackson Noble?”
“I thought I did,” he whispered, licking his lips nervously, fingers twitching as they moved towards the pistol.
“Lift that pistol, Jackson,” I snapped, “and I’ll show you what it means to die hard.”
He stiffened and then pushed the pistol onto the floor, kicking the revolver away.
“Who am I looking for, and where does he live?” I asked.
“His name is Tad Langer,” Jackson answered. “He lives up in Pepperell. Duncan –”
I put a bullet in his right eye, and he slumped out of the chair.
I stood up and left the house.
Langer wouldn’t have a choice.
He’d die slow.