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The Gunfighter

Luke Jackson
Western
38,274 words

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Chapter 1

 

A jarring ride on hard wooden benches, an endless rattle, scorching cinders that

 

blow in the windows and attack the eyes whenever the train rounds a curve: his

 

train trip West had not been a pleasant one.

 

"Shut the window," holler half a dozen passengers, several ladies among them.

 

Despite a facade of gentility, the ladies holler the loudest, for they are the most

 

concerned about the appearance of their clothing.

 

"No," shouts back the fat balding salesman who sits in the seat behind Arthur

 

Marsall. The salesman sweats continuously and the odor of his sweating body is

 

reason enough to keep the window open.

 

Arthur says nothing. He cares little for his fellow passengers, save one Mary

 

Ellen Mills who sits four seats back en route from St Louis, while the open

 

window represents Arthur's only relief (and that merely partial) from the odor of

 

salesman and the scorching heat of the train. With luck, Arthur can feign sleep

 

until the train has passed through the curve. At worst, some would-be-gentleman,

 

anxious to ingratiate himself with the womenfolk, will slip past Arthur's prone

 

figure and attempt to lower the frame. The man will fail, of course, for the train

 

windows tend to stick fast. He will rouse Arthur from his make-believe slumber

 

and ask for his aid. "It's the women, you see," the man will explain, "messes up

 

their clothes," though the man himself will be rubbing at tearing eyes. Arthur will lend a reluctant hand. At the exact moment the window comes

 

crashing downward, the train will curve in the opposite direction and Arthur will

 

be left to his own devices to try to force the window up again.

 

"Avoid the Summer's heat; let the Union Pacific take you through cool Northern

 

breezes." the railroad's brochures promise. But in summer, the train routes across

 

the great North American prairie are pretty much the same: whether south, south

 

central, central, or north, they are hot, hot, and more hot.

 

Just as the prairie itself is pretty much the same, dull and more dull, like riding

 

forever through a golden brown meadow. Oh, one will see Indians, and an

 

occasional herd of buffalo, but Arthur suspects the Indians have been hired by the

 

train company—white men with a coat of red-gold paint, and the buffalo are

 

probably some tame herd the railroad keeps just for show.

 

For two days now, since the train crossed the Mississippi, life aboard has been

 

almost insufferable, hot and dull, a noisy company that Arthur doesn't particularly

 

care for, (and, he suspects, doesn't care much for him), and the endless rattle of the

 

train.

 

I want to see scenery, thinks Arthur, waterfalls, tall trees, and jagged mountain

 

peaks, new, exciting places. Why did I risk imprisonment if the life around me is

 

going to be as monotonous as it was back home? But all he sees besides the

 

endless brown meadow are the irritated faces of his fellow passengers.

 

Once in a while, the whistle blows as they slow for a boxcar station in the

 

middle of nowhere: A railroad-owned grain elevator, a few farms, bright green in

 

the sea of golden brown, pigs and chickens by the railroad track, a barking dog, some geese. Men and women, children too, walking up and down the train aisles

 

selling meals at ruinous prices. But a few minutes later, the trainman hollers

 

"booard," and they are off through monotony again.

 

At that very moment, the candy butcher, a steady affliction since St Louis,

 

comes down the aisle parading his wares: Candy, overcooked corn on the cob; the

 

Sioux-City newspaper—all one page of it; Indian trinkets—useful as souvenirs if

 

one is heading back East, but hardly of value on the prairie, and tea-makings, the

 

candy butcher's best buy—tea leaves, hot water, sugar, lemon, and, sometimes,

 

fresh cream.

 

Arthur knows them all, has inspected them all two or three times and knows he

 

cannot afford them.

 

He fingers the coins in his pocket; for despite the heat, he would really like a

 

cup of tea. But his few remaining funds must last until his arrival in the Wyoming

 

Territory, four tedious days and nights away, when he will be able to change bills,

 

he hopes, without being charged a premium.

 

Candy butchers must be the richest people in creation, he thinks. Even that best

 

buy, a cup of tea, cost of tea-makings and bringing the water to a boil included,

 

must represent something like a four hundred percent profit.

 

A glance is enough for Arthur, a bookkeeper by trade, to compare the value of

 

the candy butcher's stock at purchase with its appreciated value at the time of sale.

 

The long green fields of corn by the river's edge appear to him as tall rolled-up

 

dollar bills and, the cattle, gazing absently at the passing train, can be priced automatically at so much on the hoof, so much profit added when the rancher

 

brings them back East for sale.

 

Only a few short weeks ago, Arthur began to divert his employer's money to an

 

account of his own. Oh not much, just a few dollars here and there, it would have

 

added up, eventually. He'd have had a real stake, in time.

 

But he hadn't had the time. They had switched managers the previous Thursday

 

without a word of warning. The unctuous Mr. Thompson departed for the head

 

office and a new man was placed in charge, a second cousin once removed, they

 

said, of the President of the line.

 

"There'll be an audit, of course," the chief clerk told him, looking off abstractly

 

into the distance, as Arthur, knees shaking, halted in mid stride to give his

 

supervisor his full attention. "Nothing to do with us, of course; standard policy

 

when there's a change. Do you mind working a bit late?"

 

"Not at all," Arthur replied though he meant just the opposite.

 

If only he'd had another two weeks or even another two days! But he hadn't.

 

He'd had to cut and run.

 

Arthur touches his money belt. No, he does not have as much cash as he'd like,

 

but there is enough, he hopes, to give him a fresh start, to buy some land, some

 

farm tools, and maybe a few head of cattle.

 

How many times has he counted these imaginary cattle of his, watched as they

 

put his ranch's brand on the new calves, seen those calves grow in turn into

 

breeding stock . . . . And once again, he begins to plant the crop in his mind, to

 

harvest and sell, to reinvest the profits in new land. "Tea?" The candy butcher wakes him.

 

Arthur needs a cup of tea: his mouth is parched, his throat cottony, and his head

 

aches from another night of fitful sleep on the bumpy train. If only... if only he'd

 

had another week to plan and prepare his departure. Again he fingers his few

 

remaining coins: "No," he says. Chapter 2

 

Arthur Marsall has been in Benton for almost a week. Waiting. And still hasn't

 

figured out what he is going to do for a living or how he is going to pay his hotel

 

bill.

 

Not that it is much of a hotel, though it is Benton's best and only

 

accommodation—tiny, stuffy rooms with two soiled sheets, a blanket and a hard

 

wooden bed Arthur has to make up himself.

 

Nothing in the town is as the railway promised. The "rich, lush farmland" is

 

largely stones. The "beautiful scenery"—no denying its existence, not with a line

 

of mountains on the western horizon—cannot take the place of a steady living. For

 

the mountains are only a few million years old and have barely begun to be

 

covered with topsoil. In some places, huge sheets of rock protrude through the

 

ground, and the farmers, a patient lot, mainly from Sweden and Norway though a

 

few are Quakers from England and Germany, simply work around them.

 

The town itself is little more a strip along the railroad track. "Benton's a big

 

town, as towns go out there." But this isn't very big at all. Say, three blocks long

 

by two blocks wide.

 

Arthur soon knows each of Benton's six and a half blocks by heart. He walks

 

them steadily each morning and each evening for want of anything else he can

 

afford to do. He knows he has to get a job, if only to pay his continually mounting

 

hotel bill, but what jobs can a man find in the Wyoming Territory if his only skills are with accounts and ledgers. As for Arthur’s dream of owning his own ranch,

 

with a huge, ever-growing herd of cattle, that was just a dream, wasn't it?

 

Arthur arrived in Benton with little more than the clothes on his back, two clean

 

white shirts, half-dozen fresh collars, and a second pair of shiny corduroys he'd

 

already worn too many days on the train. He has a small stack of bills, the sole

 

proceeds of the embezzlement, but these won't last long. Simple things like shirts

 

and shoes are far more expensive here than in Philadelphia or Chicago.

 

The white shirts he packed so neatly mark him as a gambler rather than a ranch

 

hand, and have earned him only hard looks. He wore an old faded blue work shirt

 

on the train, a shirt his father had worn before him. Now, washed by hand in the

 

very same water he bathes in, it is all he has left to wear.

 

With the money Arthur took from the cashier's drawer, he was able to ride first

 

class from Philadelphia to Rock Island, coach from Chicago to St Louis, and then,

 

his "fortune" reduced to a small, half-inch stack of bills, was happy for just any

 

kind of seat on a train.

 

The candy butcher who came aboard at Iowa City made constant fun of him—

 

"Guy here takes the free cream and sugar, but won't pay for the tea. Says he works

 

for the railroad. Can you imagine?"

 

Arthur writhed in embarrassment each time he heard the candy butcher's call.

 

Once, Arthur was sitting with Miss Mary-Ellen Mills, a schoolteacher from St

 

Louis, who was on her way to Wyoming to accept a position in Happy Valley,

 

somewhere to the west of his own destination. Lost in conversation, Arthur hadn't

 

noticed the candy butcher creep up on them. "Do you want something, Miss?" the vendor asked and, when Mary-Ellen indicated Arthur might want something too,

 

continued gratingly, "Not him of course, he hasn't got the cash."

 

Well, Arthur had worked for the railroad, once, had a future there they told him,

 

though his progress had been slow enough. I'm a pauper, he thinks, unable to buy

 

a girl a cake and a cup of tea—much less buy one for myself. Embarrassment and

 

shame flood through him once again.

 

If Arthur had little money with him on the train, he has even less by the end of

 

his first week in Benton. His hotel bill, only partly paid, his one bath shared with a

 

pair of pants and his workshirt, and the too few, too small meals devoured more

 

than half of his remaining funds.

 

The prices in the saloon next door are as high or higher than those on the train.

 

The food is plentiful, good and tasty, but a man can spend almost as much at that

 

plain table as in the finest restaurant in Philadelphia.

 

Can he afford another, a final beer? The day has been a hot one. His throat is

 

as dusty as his clothes, for he spent the day trudging from store to store, asking

 

unsuccessfully for work. "A beer," he orders, though his heart sinks even as he

 

takes the first refreshing draught. He plucks a final handful of coins from his

 

pocket and slowly, reluctantly places the largest on the counter.

 

"My treat," says a voice in his ear and the coin is flipped backwards toward

 

Arthur's deadened fingers. "A whiskey and a beer here for the winner," says the

 

voice, "and I'll cover the beer here for my friend as well."

 

"Thanks," stammers Arthur, and would have babbled on in gratitude. But the

 

cowboy, his name is Fleming, Arthur learns shortly, pushes off with a friendly thumbs-up gesture, grasps the nearest dance hall girl by the arm and leads her off

 

toward a room upstairs.

 

In the days that follow, Arthur often sees Fleming standing just outside the

 

saloon joking with his friends. A tall cowboy with bad teeth and an ever-present

 

smile, the dome-shaped hat that he wears indoors as well as out with his long hair

 

streaming down in a pony tail beneath it sets him apart from the other men. The

 

top two buttons of his shirt are always open, displaying a silver locket resting

 

against his neck. The locket is a woman's, topped with a filigree of rosebuds, but

 

Arthur sees no one there cares to joke about it. Other men in the saloon may

 

appear more dangerous, like the two full-bearded mountain men who often sit at

 

Fleming's faro table, or a slick gambler called Graham whose silver-handled

 

derringer can be glimpsed each time he reaches inside his vest pocket for a

 

cheroot, but Fleming alone commands universal respect.

 

I would like him to be my friend, Arthur thinks, although the truth is that apart

 

from a certain innate generosity and a perhaps-not-altogether-traditional sense of

 

right and wrong, Fleming is not much better or worse than the other men around

 

him. If Fleming makes his living today with a deck of cards rather than a gun, who

 

is to say how he'll earn his keep tomorrow.

 

I wish I were a gambling man, Arthur thinks, just maybe I could win the money

 

I need. But he isn't a gambler; and the prospect of losing his few remaining coins

 

keeps him from the gaming tables. Still, the dreams of winning keep Arthur

 

coming back again and again to the doorway of the saloon. He has sketched it all out in his mind, a dozen times, as he sits in his room or

 

walks through the streets of the town:

 

The draw of the cards, his slow casual raising of the stakes. . . . One after the

 

other, the men at the table drop out of the pot, until only one opponent remains.

 

This man seldom has a face; he is, if anything, more like one of the clerks Arthur

 

knew back in Philadelphia, than like one of the dusty, all-too-real ranch hands with

 

tobacco-stained teeth who sit playing cards hour after hour in the saloon. In the

 

final betting round, Arthur is the winner. He gathers the bill-filled pot toward him

 

across the table. "The pot against the dance hall," he hears himself croak, or, in

 

another variation of his dream, "your farm against the pot." Another draw from the

 

deck, and there he is—the winner! Deed in hand! Fleming is the first guest at his

 

new ranch, and Mary-Ellen Marsall prepares supper in the kitchen.

 

Many times after dreaming this dream, Arthur gets up from his narrow hotel

 

bed, extracts the last dollar certificate from the depths of his suitcase, and is

 

halfway out of his hotel room before the dread hits him: what if I lose it all?

 

And men did lose; he'd seen this through the crack in the dance hall shutters,

 

men with farms, men who'd worked for a month or a season to get the money lost

 

in a night of gambling. But if Arthur cannot find work, what else can he do but

 

trust to luck?

 

Once again that evening, Arthur sets out on a long aimless walk that takes him

 

to the edge of town and out into the country. He follows the trail the stage

 

followed before they’d built the railroad, a trail maintained only because those who

 

came from the East to farm settled along it. About a mile from town, the road splits into two. To the north, the road soon

 

ends in a heap of rubble where the railroad construction workers piled the

 

unwanted rock. The remaining branch circles west toward the hills from farm to

 

farm, part boundary, part gateway. Soon, tomorrow perhaps, Arthur will have to

 

set out in this direction, hat in hand, to ask for work. He does so to occupy the

 

time this evening, walking for several miles, and passes only a single farm along

 

the way.

 

He walks until the sun disappears behind the western hills and the last light

 

flees from the graying sky. For an instant, the tall peaks to the north are bathed in

 

an orange-red glow. Then Arthur is immersed in a total, all-embracing darkness,

 

for the stars are hidden behind a thick bank of clouds, the lights of the town few

 

and distant. What am I doing here, he asks himself. And slowly, carefully, a tree

 

branch held before him like a blind man's cane, he makes his way back along the

 

trail.

 

Just at the edge of town, a single point of light marks where the lamp outside

 

the livery stable burns. He stops for an instant in the circle of its radiance and

 

recalls ruefully how he once told someone back home, jokingly, "Well, I can

 

always work in a livery stable."

 

And he could, if he knew something about horses, if he knew the right way and

 

the wrong way to rub them down after a ride, knew how to mix their feed, and

 

wasn't afraid to slip the feed bag over their enormous tooth-filled heads. He'd been on top of a horse exactly once in his life, a Saturday afternoon outing

 

with other men from his company—rented horses in the park, sedate horses,

 

already saddled, that walked one after the other in a line.

 

Not that he has the money to rent or buy a horse now. He curses his poverty,

 

his lack of foresight. For a moment, just one, he thinks, I shall kill myself, and

 

then he puts that thought away.

 

For an hour or more that evening, Arthur lay on his narrow hotel bed, with only

 

his black thoughts for company. At eight, he left the hotel and set out on his final

 

walk of the day; he had no particular destination in mind; really, this walk like his

 

first was just a way of escaping the voices and the music in the dance hall below.

 

This time, his route takes him to the eastern edge of town where several of the

 

merchants have built their homes. Their houses have large, heavily planted front

 

yards, and make Arthur just a little less homesick.

 

As he strides a second time that evening through the circle of light outside the

 

livery stable, he sees Arthur Graham walking toward him. Graham, a professional

 

gambler, spends most of each afternoon and evening seated at a poker table. Like

 

Arthur he is much given to walks; his nocturnal strolls are his way of tuning up his

 

body for the long night ahead.

 

Arthur has encountered Graham on these strolls before, but the two have done

 

little to acknowledge each other's presence.

 

Once Arthur stood side by side with Graham on the porch of their hotel while

 

the sun set slowly in the distance and the evening cooled around them. Graham

 

puffed slowly on a long brown cheroot as the sky to the west of town turned a final fiery red, fading slowly away until only the glow of Graham's cigar could be seen

 

outlined in the darkness.

 

Arthur could hear the rush of bats, shrill high squeaks, hear, rather than see

 

three men, passing on horses. A coyote howled in the desert far off to the east of

 

town and, a short while later, the answering howls of a much larger band of

 

coyotes sounded from the hills to the north. Neither man spoke in the ten or fifteen

 

minutes they stood there. But before Graham went back inside the dance hall, he

 

nodded to Arthur, a slight motion of his head in the darkness. This nod, and the

 

occasional "howdy," have been their only contact.

 

Arthur knows who Graham is, of course; Arthur has watched Graham sitting

 

hour after hour at the gaming table, watched him strip the cowboys and the farmers

 

of their money, seen him seeming to match his opponents drink for drink while

 

only sipping at his glass. Not that Graham always won: "I'm the goddamed best

 

loser this side of Natchez." But Arthur, with a bookkeeper's natural affinity for

 

numbers, notes that Graham's many losses consist of small amounts, while his few

 

occasional wins, toward the end of an afternoon or night of intensive play, may

 

strip his opponents of all they possess.

 

In this sense, Graham and Arthur are brothers. Hadn't Arthur, too, suffered

 

many small losses, many small remembered insults, until one day, carefully

 

planned, he took the money bound for the office safe, slipped it inside his coat, and

 

made his way to the station where his bags, already checked, were waiting to board

 

the train. And where has that money gone, Arthur asks himself, those few dollars that

 

once meant freedom? On tickets, Pullman fares, clothes, food, hotel, until no more

 

than a few coins and a single bill remain hidden in the lower compartment of a

 

false-bottomed case.

 

Suddenly, Arthur is overtaken by a fierce trembling passion that forces him to

 

stand shaking at the side of the road: this evil man Graham, strolling nonchalantly

 

no more than a few feet away, has so much; he, Arthur, has so little. Literally

 

grasping for survival, Arthur picks up a thick piece of wood used to block open a

 

door to the stables during the swelter of the day. He hefts it in his hand. If they

 

would just give me a chance, he thinks. And brings the wood up into the air and

 

down on top of Graham's head. Chapter 3

 

He has no memory, none, of the walk from the stables to his hotel.

 

He should not have been able to walk up the broad front stairs without some

 

person hollering, "There he goes, a murderer," but somehow he has; somehow, he's

 

made it past the watchful eye of the clerk, up the two levels of narrow creaking

 

stairway, and down the darkened attic passage until he is in his own small room.

 

He didn't even light the oil lamp, but undressed in the dark, not wanting his room

 

to stand out like a beacon in the darkened rear of the hotel.

 

The valiant only die but once; a coward dies a thousand times. I know what I

 

am, thinks Arthur. He remembers how he felt when he first read the news from

 

Gettysburg: 10,000 killed. First, a wave of relief that he, Arthur, was alive, and

 

then only shame that he had not been there to fight alongside his schoolmates,

 

shame that he had failed to support and protect the older brother who now lay

 

among the dead on the long green Gettysburg plain. The older brother who lay like

 

a murdered gambler, dead in an alleyway.

 

No! A scream bursts from Arthur's lips. He sits bolt upright in the bed, his

 

heart throbbing. First, he paws at the air driving away unseen demons. Then,

 

realizing at last he is alone, awake in his room above the dance hall, he relapses

 

into fear. Has someone heard his scream? Would they know then, that he is the

 

murderer? Will they burst into his room, the marshal at their head, question him,

 

find him guilty, hang him on the spot? He lies motionless, determined to be silent,

 

to stifle even the sound of his breathing. But no corresponding sound of footsteps can be heard, no sound but the music of a Virginia reel from the dance hall on the

 

floor below, and slowly, gradually Arthur drifts off again into sleep.

 

To wake again, and again, each time with the same fearful dream, the same

 

inaudible scream on his lips.

 

The next morning, before breakfast, Arthur goes through the money belt he's

 

taken from the other man: Some newly minted bills, already worn and stained

 

from many hands, a few odd looking coins—are they Spanish?—two American

 

silver dollars, a gold nugget. The nugget might be worth a great deal of money,

 

though it will be some time before he will be able to trade it safely for cash. At the

 

moment, too many questions will arise about where and how he'd come by it. Still,

 

with the bills and coins, he will be able to pay the hotel for his room and have a

 

good, filling breakfast. He will be able at last to buy the work boots he needs and

 

covets. He might even hire a horse from the livery stable and ride out into the

 

country on a tour of inspection.

 

Oh, God. He has killed a man. The coins he plans to spend so casually belong

 

by rights to the dead man, not to him. The food he will buy, the boots he will wear

 

are on loan from a man murdered in an alleyway.

 

A few moments later, Arthur stands on the hotel mezzanine. He had hoped to

 

creep down the stairs and into the dining room undetected, but trapped under the

 

direct gaze of the ever-watchful desk clerk, has not been successful.

 

"Sir, about your bill; did you get the money? You said you were expecting a

 

wire." What could the man be playing at? No telegram had come for him the previous

 

evening. He would know that. The town was too small for everyone not to know

 

everyone else's business. Did this mean the clerk knew about the murder? Is he

 

testing Arthur, trying to get him to confess? Arthur thinks quickly.

 

"No. No, I didn't; but, you know, I did find a couple of coins I overlooked."

 

The clerk's eyes widen at the sight of the silver dollars. "Thank you, Sir," he

 

says, completing the entry in his book, "and here's your change." Arthur will have

 

breakfast after all.

 

In the dry goods store, Arthur uses his own money to buy a set of work

 

clothes—two pairs of the new Levi jeans, and several sensible work shirts. He

 

also buys a leather jacket reasoning that the sooner he wears and breaks in such a

 

jacket the better.

 

(Later, he will regret not having bought a pair of leather workpants for use in

 

the saddle, but he could not have known then that he would soon embark on a long

 

and fearful journey through the darkness.)

 

He buys a kerchief, two of them, for use in wiping the dust from his face and

 

neck, and considers, then rejects a pair of work gloves. The men he sees about him

 

all have calloused hands roughened and ready for work. Better his hands should

 

bleed for a brief period than reap a harvest of scornful looks.

 

That night, for the second time since his initial entry into Benton, Arthur goes

 

into the dance hall, adjacent to the bar. Not to gamble, though more than a dozen

 

men are already hard at work at three poker tables, nor to go upstairs with the girls,

 

though the two that sit near the bar, rouged and powdered, seem ready and willing to go with him, nor to drink—he is not much of a drinker and at home a single

 

tankard of ale with supper was just about his limit, but simply for the company and

 

the hope he might find the man Jake Fleming with whom he'd spoken on his first

 

day in town.

 

One of the poker games breaks up and a group of cowboys come over to the

 

bar. "It's the dude," says one of the winners, Bill Toomey to his friend pointing out

 

Arthur. To Arthur he says, "You're looking better feller. Got yourself some work

 

clothes."

 

"Still looks like the rear-end of a horse," barks his friend Tom Feathers, the

 

biggest loser in the game that night. This insulting remark is not one Tom would

 

have made ordinarily, even to a dude, but he is angry from his continuing bad luck

 

at the poker table. The other cowboys look expectantly at Arthur. The dude has

 

been insulted; will it be fists or guns? Either way, they’d have some welcome

 

excitement.

 

Slowly, Arthur becomes conscious of their expectations. But I don't have a gun,

 

he thinks, I don't know how to fight.

 

"You in the war, son?" asks one of the watching cowboys.

 

"I had a brother who died at Gettysburg," Arthur replies without turning to see

 

who has spoken to him. He keeps his eyes straight ahead on Feathers.

 

"While you cowered at home under the bed clothes," Feathers says.

 

Arthur slaps him.

 

A gun appears in Feathers' hand. "Hey!" Bill Toomey calls and grabs his friend's arm; when Feathers resists, two

 

other cowboys grab him from behind. "Tom, damn it, he doesn't have a gun."

 

"Go get your gun," Feathers hisses between clenched teeth.

 

"I don't have a gun," Arthur says. From out of the corner of his eye, Arthur sees

 

Fleming, black hillbilly hat perched precariously on his head, standing among the

 

onlookers.

 

"Well then, I'll give you half an hour to get one," Feathers says. "Meet me

 

outside, or the boys and I'll come and get you."

 

Arthur looked about him, vainly hoping for someone who understands the rules

 

of civilization. You can't just challenge a man like that can you? Force him to

 

fight a duel he has no hope of winning? But all he sees are steely faces, the same

 

blank expressionless faces that have greeted him the last two weeks: "No work, no

 

work here," or "What is it you say you do?" and when he tells them, ask "You

 

know how to cut cattle?"

 

Feathers' sidekicks, Bill Toomey and Ted Barnes, are openly sneering. Steve

 

Wilson, the head bartender, the only man present besides Arthur who wears a

 

white collar, seems entertained by the prospect of Arthur's death, as if it were a

 

treat arranged especially for his customers. As for Fleming, the man he's thought

 

of as his friend, Fleming simply walks away.

 

Arthur staggers from the room. One hour and they will come for him. Unless

 

he runs, steals a horse from the stables; but they will be watching the stables,

 

waiting for him to run. He has no choice. He straps on the money belt he had taken from Graham,

 

makes it tight and secure at his waist. He leaves on the long-tailed work shirt he

 

had worn downstairs, the one that makes him look like a man, not a dude. He puts

 

on his new leather jacket.

 

I'll go out in style, he thinks and his mind flashes back to the previous evening:

 

the gambler lying in the alley, Arthur crouching beside him, carefully folding back

 

the dead man's coat tails and reaching gently to untie his money belt.

 

Something glints in the moonlight: a small pearl-handled derringer, strapped in

 

its holster. Arthur left the gun in place initially—what did he know about guns?—

 

but later, standing in the alleyway, preparing to leave—it had taken Arthur a long

 

while to accept that Graham was not unconscious but dead, that he would never

 

recover from Arthur's cowardly blow—Arthur knelt down a second time and

 

removed the derringer from Graham's body.

 

He'd made the discovery then: not one, but two derringers, each in a separate

 

holster. The first, visible, straps to Graham's chest; the second, hidden, is behind

 

the gambler's back. Graham could surrender the first, the most obvious of the

 

derringers when he entered a gambling saloon and still have a backup available.

 

Now the straps go around Arthur's chest, the holsters are made secure, a

 

derringer is placed into each holster. Arthur practices drawing from the front

 

holster once, twice in front of the mirror, and then his new, untanned leather jacket

 

goes on over the guns, hiding them from view.

 

Sometimes, it does not pay to think too much. The world seldom attaches the

 

importance to our lives that we do ourselves. Had Arthur stayed up in his room, played the greenhorn the cowboys thought him to be, this story might have taken

 

quite a different turn. Downstairs in the Benton Saloon, the quarrel between

 

Arthur Marsall and Tom Feathers is forgotten. Feathers is well on his way to

 

getting drunk, matched drink for drink by his good friend Bill Toomey. From time

 

to time, one or the other emits a guffaw and says, "Did you see the look on that

 

greenhorn's face? He's probably gone upstairs to clean the brown stains from his

 

pants."

 

"New pants, too," says the other, "Pity." and they both guffaw a second time.

 

For the other cowboys, too, Arthur is already the stuff of legend. So not one

 

person there can help but be surprised when Arthur appears at the entrance to the

 

saloon and hollers in a harsh quavering voice, "Tom Feathers. I've come back for

 

you. I'm wearing a gun, now."

 

Feathers looks up and tries to shake the cobwebs from his alcohol-clouded

 

brain. "Hav' a drink," he says, stumbling over his words.

 

But Arthur, still shaking with fear, does not hear him. "Didn't you hear what I

 

said, I've got a gun." He takes Graham's derringer from its holster and points it at

 

the drunken man.

 

"He's got a gun," someone hollers and cowboys and dance hall girls scatter.

 

In seconds, the center of the room is clear, except for a party of men at one of

 

the poker tables, Fleming among them, who seem more concerned for their hands

 

than their lives.

 

"Sit down," Fleming says, "We'll all have a drink." "I'm not afraid," Arthur says. Everything about him seems to be in slow

 

motion, as if it were part of a dream, a terrifying dream that had begun the night

 

before in the alley outside the stables.

 

"We know that," Fleming continues, "No problem. Have a seat. Things O.K.

 

with you Tom?"

 

"Yeah sure," says Tom from his kneeling position in front of the bar. An acrid

 

odor reveals that Tom like the legendary greenhorn has indeed gone to the

 

bathroom in his pants. "Can I get up now?" he says to Arthur.

 

Arthur sits down at Fleming's table, the gun held out lifelessly before him. He

 

doesn't, can't speak. He has risked all, died a thousand deaths in the loneliness of

 

his room, embarrassed himself, and it seems that no one cares.

 

"Can I get up now?" Tom Feathers calls a second time.

 

"Tell him he can get up," Fleming says.

 

"Oh, sure. Get up," Arthur calls to Tom, "Come join us for a drink." He smiles

 

at Fleming. Things will be all right then.

 

Fleming returns the smile, tongue showing between the gaps in his teeth. "And

 

you should probably put your gun away," he says to Arthur looking down as if for

 

the first time at the table where Arthur has placed the weapon.

 

"Oh sure," Arthur says a second time.

 

"Pearl handle," Fleming says admiringly, looking at the derringer, "Nice."

 

Abruptly, Fleming's eyes narrow. "Holy, shit," he says, "That's Graham's gun." To download the remaining chapters, go to https://www.shop.zanybooks.com/

 

You might also want to read a second exciting western by author Luke Jackson, The Canyon.

Reuben Lee has followed the trail from Louisiana to Santa Fe trusting and being betrayed at each step along the way. Looking for the “Source of All the Waters,” he stumbles upon the Grand Canyon and the hidden village of the Havasupai where two white women are held captive. Reuben instantly falls in love with Helen Winston, the golden-haired teen-age daughter.

Helen’s family had been en route from St. Louis to California when their wagon train was attacked and Helen and her mother taken prisoner. Reuben persuades Helen to escape with him, accompanied by her friend Spring Morning, the daughter of a Spanish ambassador. The Havasupai chase the trio up the trail to the Canyon's rim and through the forest toward Flagstaff. Helen's childishness brings the threesome close to calamity time after time, but is offset by Spring Morning's courage and maturity.

They reach the town of Sojourn where Reuben must compete for Helen's attention with a horde of single men. But the Havasupai have not abandoned the chase. The town of Sojourn is destroyed in the Indian attack and Reuben and the two girls are the sole survivors.

Reuben and the girls live off the land avoiding the Apache until they find the Southern wagon route to California. Approaching a burnt-out wagon train to see if they can aid the survivors, they narrowly avoid a group of bandits who are robbing the corpses.

The town of Hostler's Rest, near the site of present-day Phoenix, is not what it seems. The general store is stocked with merchandise stolen from the wagon trains; the townspeople are scavengers living off the leavings of the bandits. Reuben loses Helen to the bandit chief only to discover Spring Morning is the woman he has loved all along.

Purchase and read your copy of The Canyon today. To purchase more fine ebooks like the The Canyon and The Gunfighter, go to http://zanybooks.com.

 

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