Anna thrown sideways off Zeke, Clint's fists found his target's face several times before he realised Zeke had dropped his gun and it lay some distance away pointing towards them both. Zeke groaned as Clint pinned his arms to the ground with his knees. Tears welled in Zeke's eyes: "Is she okay? You okay? I didn't mean to... It went off when you hit my hand with the tray... I'm sorry I - "
Clint had no time to answer. A roar of anguish blistered the room and without warning Minister McGinley exploded into action, throwing himself at his son's assailant.
He saw the gunshot before he heard it. He saw the pale red flash hint colour over the floor, then die back to nothing.
He heard the thud of a bullet as bile rose in his throat preventing the scream of abject fear that sought release. Somewhere inside him, a part of him wanted to run to his Ma and bury his sobbing face in her arms; somewhere some part of him wanted to bury every bullet in the room into Zeke's face.
Then his hand found Anna's shoulder and, hoping it wasn't too late, he pushed her off Zeke.
"NO!" Clint's scream filled his whole world.
He couldn't see Zeke, obscured by Anna as she flew through the air. Couldn't see the gun in Zeke's hands. Couldn't see Zeke tremble.
If Zeke fired - in anger or in fear - he'd see nothing but Anna's back fracture red and erupt violently towards him through her clothes.
He leapt forward, intent on pushing Anna out of the way, but Time intervened; eons held him back, as slowly, so slowly, he reached out, pushed off from the ground, reached further, slow muscle movement somehow defying this terrifying lacuna, this vindictiveness of time's inertia.
Sometimes time has no duration.
Clint realised this as he saw the tray miss its intended target. He'd meant it to smash into Zeke's head but instead it merely scraped his chin, the deflected impact wrenching it out of Clint's hand.
That moment tensed into timelessness. He watched as the tray spun away from Zeke's face. Its hard edge bit noisily against Zeke's fingers and the metal of the gun as Clint anticipated the flash of the barrel and the pain of the bullet.
Nothing happened. Except, still trapped within eternity, Clint watched terrified as Anna threw herself at Zeke.
As the glass twisted and tumbled through the air, sunlight flashed and sparkled off it, briefly reflecting its dazzling, bejewelled fall onto the study's walls.
Zeke involuntarily reacted to the sudden glittering and his gaze was pulled to his left where the glass's silent fall diverted his attention for a split-second.
That single moment of time was all Clint needed. Instantly, he released the tray with his left hand and swung it through the air with his right, simultaneously twisting around to face Zeke.
Glass and bottle flew, jettisoned in every direction by the speed of the swiping tray.
Cole was about to speak, but Clint shot him a glance that said "No! Keep quiet!"
Astonishingly, the lawman appeared to understand.
Clint heard Zeke shift slightly behind him.
The potential bullet hole in his back throbbed as if it was real.
A clock ticked ponderously into the air.
Outside, sunshine suddenly lit up the world. Sunlight drifted into the room like a searchlight
"Move!" screamed Zeke.
It had to be now. While he still knew where Zeke was.
The thumb of Zeke's left hand flicked the glass off the tray and the whole world spun into slow, silent motion.
"Christ's sake Clint, outa my way!" Zeke screeched, his voice thin and strained.
"Oh shutup Zeke," Clint replied casually, like they were friends joking together.
Clint saw the dumbfounded look on everyone's face. Cole guessed that maybe Clint had either lost his mind and suddenly become stupid or he had suddenly become stupid and was playing a dangerous game.
Clint, though, refused to move. Apart from his left hand as he rejigged his grip so that his thumb held ready on one side of a glass.
His idea was fully formed.
And he felt like he was going to puke.
Clint didn't move. The muscles in his back throbbed and ached almost as if the barrel of Zeke's gun was pushed hard into his backbone, but he forced himself to stand motionless, an easy target if Zeke lost his cool - or if his trigger-finger quivered.
He recalled the time at Old Ma Cody's when Zeke had held them at gunpoint. He hadn't pulled the trigger then; maybe he wouldn't this time, either.
Sheriff Cole spoke quietly "Clint, come here, son. Just move, slowly." Anna's eyes begged him move.
But Clint was having none of it. An idea was developing.
He got it a few times, too, even if Pa did try defending him: Ma always knew best. And that feeling in the pit of his stomach when he got home late and had to explain the reason - well, he got that now, carrying this tray into Minister McGinley's study.
He didn't pause as he entered the room and stepped past Zeke as if he wasn't there.
"Ya wanted drinks, Sheriff? Y'all got a drink," he said as firmly and nonchalantly as he could.
"Nobody move!" Zeke's voice shook badly as he shouted, "Get out my way, Clint. Move! Now!"
As he leftt the kitchen, carefully carrying the tray close to his body in front of him, a faint smile played around his lips. It reminded him of when he was much younger, eight or nine years old maybe, he'd earn himself twenty cents on a Saturday fetching and carrying at the Waterhole Saloon. Many times he'd be taking trays of food or drink, or empty plates or glasses between the Saloon's kitchen and the tables.
He'd work until just before sundown, no later, that was his Ma's firm instruction. If he wasn't home by dark, he'd be for it.
The domestic scene of a ranch kitchen seemed incongruous with everything that happened during the night and belied the tension he felt. Plates on a shelf glimmered white. Weak sunlight formed a square on the sawdust covered floor. One drawer of an ornately carved sideboard left open. Embers, dead in the grate.
And on the wooden table, a tray holding a half- full bottle of whisky and a half dozen tin mugs and glasses.
Clint closed his eyes for a moment, as if in resignation, then opened them and headed for the study, on his way picking up the tray.
Clint's only reassurance was that the voices had died down and there'd been no more gunfire. He strained his ears and willed his eyes to almost see through the wood and stone walls, but there was no denying the fact that the study had fallen silent.
It was pointless trying to work out if that was good or bad, there could be only one way to find out what was happening. Besides, Anna was in there. She may be in danger. Shit, no maybe about it.
In the silence he stared around him.
Only one way.
A cunning way, perhaps?
It was instinct that made Clint turn swiftly and race for the kitchen door heading for the study - but it was common sense that bought him to a dead stop before he'd gone three steps.
From where he stood he could see that the study door remained wide open, but he couldn't see inside. Just what had happened in there?
He turned back into the kitchen and searched anxiously but silently for a weapon.
Okay, he sighed, just have to play the cool hombre then.
In his mind he trembled, but his face donned a mask of smiling nonchalance.
But the sound of the ricochet startled him and his hand involuntarily knocked over a glass. Zeke yelled "Shut up, Doc!" and reality pierced his thoughts with a jolt.
Something was happening in that room. Something... not good. He couldn't make out the words, but the hysteria and strain in Zeke's voice told its own story as did the forced calm in Doc Morris's voice.
And there was Mickey's voice. Then the Sheriff's. Calm. But somehow placating.
Clint's brow furrowed.
If their voices were placating, they obviously weren't in control. And that, most definitely, wasn't the situation when he'd left.
He'd kissed her.
Anna Cody: her name rang through his mind like a jubilation of church bells through bluesun skies. He'd kissed Anna. Properly. Not a kiss on the cheek, but a drowning in the soft waters of her beautiful eyes kiss.
And more: their hands had touched, their fingers intertwined. He'd felt her fingers close around his, wrap them like they'd never willingly let go.
And more: he felt her lips, initially hesitant, then press intentionally, forcefully, against his like they were land and sky and could never be sundered.
He'd kissed her.
And more: she had kissed him.
It was the ricochet more than the gunshot which startled Clint. Since the moment he'd escaped from his embarrassment in front of the older men into the sanctuary of McGinley's kitchen, his mind was roiled. Preoccupied with thoughts of Anna Cody, he'd grabbed a whisky bottle off a shelf and put it on the table; he fetched water from the well and found cups and glasses in a cabinet. Then, staring at the shelf, he wondered where he'd put the whisky bottle.
Silently, he moved glasses and the rediscovered whisky bottle absent -mindedly around on a brightly decorated wooden tray.
"Okay Zeke, take it easy," Mickey spoke slowly, squeezing one hand into his cheek to staunch the flow of blood. "Doc here will look after your father."
"No! Get away from him, all of you!"
Doc Morris intervened: "Zeke, he'll need some sutures - "
"Shut up, Doc!" Zeke screamed, "Just shut up!"
The boy's eyes were open, fixed and glazed and his head jerked frantically as he looked from one to another. His gun hand, his right, shook so much that he tried to stabilise the barrel and chamber with his left in a failed attempt to keep it steady.
The more urgent problem was Zeke. He had dived on top of the collected weapons, and sprawled over them. Frantically, he grabbed someone's Manhattan Navy revolver, fumbled and dropped it, then grabbed a Colt and rose to his knees.
His face glistened with tears and his arms and hands trembled as he held the gun unsteadily out in front of him.
"Get away from my Pa!" he cried.
Cole tried to stand, but co-ordination failed him and he toppled onto his knees again. Mickey put out a hand to steady the Sheriff, but his eyes never left Zeke McGinley.
Quickly, Mickey spun around and grabbed McGinley's arm, pulling it away from Cole's throat.
Cole's vision whirled and his arms and legs tingled as the returning blood flow fought with the numbness that almost overpowered him, but he still managed to turn and throw his elbow back into McGinley's face. He couldn't feel any contact, but he heard the crack of bone and the liquid groan that spurted from McGinley's bloodied mouth.
O'Donohue leapt to his feet, ready to down Samuel or his father if they should threaten, though given the state both were now in that was pretty unlikely.
Cole's face was a darkening purple, bloodshot eyes bulged manically and his lips were tinged blue. His legs kicked behind, thrashing out at Joshua McGinley, but increasingly weakly. One of his arms was trapped beneath him, his own weight preventing him using it, the other tugged progressively more feebly at McGinley's strangling elbow.
Desperately attempting to control the panic that suddenly exploded inside himself, Mickey fired two fists into Samuel's sides, seeking the lowest ribs. His right fist felt a crack as it made contact, and his left returned before finding his assailant's chin. Semi- conscious, the boy toppled sideways.