His long, lean face wrinkled as he leaned over and shot from his mouth foul spittle left from his chewing tobacco. The man smelt of sweat, horse and the open range with a rather battered felt cowboy hat perched upon his head. Worn and tattered clothes hung loosely on his lanky body. He was a homely looking man with sandy colored hair that had a slight wave to it leaving a clumped mess to fall to his shoulders. His hazel eyes seemed vacant and lost.
The lone man pulled the remaining chew from his mouth, stuffing it into a small tin can. He then reached for his saddle bag that still clung to his worn saddle. From there he pulled the instrument that gave him his name: a harmonica. The finely crafted metal glimmered in the light from the small campfire and the sound that resonated when the man put it to his lips was like that of a beautiful song bird. The lonely twang rang through the prairie lands like a lost lovebird calling to its mate.
The lone man did not stir, but kept playing his harmonica as the stranger’s companions rode up behind him.
“Do ye mind if we join ye for the night? Been travelin’ for a long while,” said the first stranger.
Only then did the man stop playing, offering his hand towards the fire in a silent attempt to invite them to sit. The strangers dismounted their steeds, leading them towards an old bay mare tethered between two trees.
“She ain’t much to look at,” one man snickered.
“Can she even carry the fella?” came another.
A shrill shriek rang out in the night and a bellow from yet another beast quickly followed. The bay mare had lounged for one of the strangers’ “nicer horses” inflicting a terrible wound on his right flank. The strangers tethered their horses far from the bay mare.
The five strangers untacked their mounts, dragging their gear with them as they approached the campfire. The lone man had already begun to roast canned beans and the hare he had caught earlier. The strangers pulled from their packs flasks of whisky and instruments of their own. They ate and drank first, the lone man refusing the strangers spirits, preferring his canteen of water.
The sweet sounds of the harmonica sang blissfully into the open sky, slowly the strangers gathered their instruments to join in. The leader, a tall muscled man, played a finely crafted guitar. The heavy man who had first snickered at the lone man’s mount also had a guitar, but with seven strings. Two men of smaller stature had a fiddle and violin, and the last man carried nothing but his voice. The men played long into the night.
The lone man left his small camp as the first birds was rising, leaving the strangers to sleep off their whisky in the cool morning. He, in his weathered saddle, sat quietly on top of his old mare as she plodded along. The morning was misty and a cool welcomed relief from the previous day’s heat.
By high noon the lone man had made his way to a dusty town called Hafstead. Quiet and quaint, there wasn’t much to the town except for a small saloon, bank, hotel and an even smaller trading post. A handful of children skidded past, their mothers aimlessly wandering the dusty streets. Another man sat on a small wooden stole, his finely trimmed face suggested he was the local barber.
The lone man urged his steady mount towards the saloon. An old man sat on the porch in a wooden rocking chair watched the lone man dismount with ease only a slight rustle coming from his unused spurs. Silently he tethered his mare to a post next to a misshapen mule and strolled lazily into the saloon.
In the back left corner, just past the bar and in front of a small stage, sat an expansive piano with a man as dark as coal sitting at its keys. The strange melody he played was out of sorts, lacking rhythm and harmony.
“What can I do you sir?” the bartender was a tubby man who was nearly bald with a pleasant smile.
The lone man placed three coins onto the finely polished counter. “Scotch,” he grumbled his voice like an un-oiled wagon that had not been used in decades.
“Coming right up.”
The saloon was quiet for most of the afternoon and beginning of the evening when the lone man made his way to the hotel, stopping briefly to feed his mount before retiring for the night.
When the lone man descended the steps and out into the small office he found the desk clerk huddled in a corner.
They had come.
He shifted his belongings, freeing his shot gun while shifting the two fine revolvers that lay on his hidden hips. The rest of his things were sat next to the large wooden door.
The heavy guitar player that had joined his campfire stood in the center of the town, two pistols thrown in the air. His thin lips and pointy nose were covered by a red bandana.
The fiddle and violin were rounding up what little livestock that was worth stealing. The man with the voice was in the bank, his brassy tenor easily heard across the frozen town. That left only the leader.
“I wouldn’t be going out there mister,” came the faint voice of the desk clerk. “Them the Acoustic Bandits known all over the west, no body, but nobody has ever survived an encounter with them.”
The lone man said not a word to the desk clerk, simply peered out the small window to gauge his opponent. Within the time it takes an eye lid to close the lone man loaded his shot gun with two shells and with the time to open that same eye he pulled the trigger.
The sound erupted through the expansive building, deafening the sound of the broken glass as the slugs hit their mark. The heavy man clasped instantly without a sound. The lone man dropped his shot gun by the window before sliding out the door. He was met by the fiddler, the lone man’s revolver echoing a distant shot as the fiddler dropped, a bullet in his head. It was the violin that came next and he dropped just as easily.
“SAL! SAL!” came the man with the voice. He was still hidden within the bank as the lone man rolled behind a rain barrel then out of sight.
The back alleys were surprisingly clean, with very little waste and debris, and not even a beggar. The lone man crouched under low windows that he didn’t have to glance inside of to find where he was because he already knew.
The faint click was quickly silenced by the clatter of another man’s shot gun going off. The lone man rolled against the wall milliseconds before a spray of round metal pellets shot through the wall. They exploded into the wall of the building across the alley. The lone man rolled over the gaping holes as the man shot again, but where the lone man had been.
The lone man stood then, both revolvers drawn. The first shot broke open the window; the second fell into the Voice’s left leg. An awful curse escaped the Voice’s lips as he stumbled away from the window. The window was too high for the lone man to easily climb through and treading to the front door too perilous, so he waited.
“Nick! Nick you in here?” it was the leader’s voice, cockiness had taken away caution.
The lone man stood and with precise movement let loose two shots, one hitting the man in the chest and the other in his forehead. The lone man twirled away from the window, his revolvers held close to his chest as he dashed from the side of the building. Shots echoed behind him. Rounding the corner and onto the wooden porch, the lone man seemed not to mind that his boots made an awful racket. The banker lay dead just inside the door, the Voice on his back next to his fallen comrade. Blood pooled around the two as the Voice pointed his shot gun at the lone man.
“Ya evil bastard!” came the Voice’s broken tenor, tears streaming down the man’s face. “Ya killed him! Ya killed my brother!”
As the man shouted the lone man drew from his waist band his harmonica. He held the silver metal to his lips, drawing the revolver in his left hand up.
“You’re…you’re that…that…oh god…”
The bang was quickly drowned out by the sweet sounds of the harmonica as the lone man holstered his weapon. He gathered his things from the hotel, fetched his mare and rode off towards the west.