October, 2015

 
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Issue #73



All The Tales

Courtship Texas Style
by Nancy Peacock

The stout wooden door swung open. The owner of the saloon secured it to the side revealing the half doors. Fresh air flooded the interior. Sam surveyed the street, beginning to bustle in the early morning. He tied his black apron and began to sweep the boarded walk in front of his establishment. He nodded to a man trotting his horse down the middle of the street. Another hot day. What a country! What a good life!

Going inside, Sam looked down the expanse of dark wood that formed a barrier between the public area and the array of bottles and sale goods against the wall. Few customers at this time of day; business would pick up toward evening. He took a tiny hammer out of a drawer and opened two new boxes of cigars. Supplies were low, but the train should bring his tobacco order tomorrow.

The swinging half-doors slammed open and a dusty, bedraggled figure reeled in. "Mr. Sam, I need a drink." He slumped onto a barstool and threw his hat on the bar. Dust motes climbed up the shaft of sunlight piercing the front window but he didn't notice. "I done it again."

Chuckling, Sam poured a cup of coffee and set it in front of him. "On the house, Timmy. What did you try this time?" He lifted the young man's hat, mopped the dust under it and replaced it.

"I told her Pa I'd break that new mustang for him. I thought she'd see what a great hand I am. She didn't even come out to the porch. I wasted my time." He drank a sip of coffee and rubbed his aching head.

Sam had to ask, "Did you break the mustang?" His lush mustache hid the smile. He knew the answer to that.

"No sir, I sure didn't. All I broke was my backside. You know my problem: if I was called Tex or Pecos or, or anything but Timmy, I'll bet she'd take a shine to me."

"Wait, son, you got to use your head. Maybe fix up your house, make it look homey, dress up and go calling some Sunday after church."

"Now look here. I believe I done all that. Three Sundays ago I went by her house. She just smiled and shut the door in my face. Two weeks ago, I brought her wild roses from the fencerow alongside my house. She took them, said 'thank you' and shut the door in my face. Last week I took her a jar of honey from my bee hives and she took it, said 'thank you' and smiled at me for the first time—before she shut the door in my face. I'm out of ideas, Mr. Sam. I love that little gal and she won't even talk to me. I think today was the last straw." He sighed and finished his coffee. "I'll just go back home to my lonely life. Thanks for the coffee." He stumbled out the door, adjusting his hat against the West Texas sun.

Sam wiped the bar again as he shook his head. "Poor lad. We have to do something about him. I wonder . . . "

* * *

"Miss Lucy, may I come in?"

"Well, of course, Mr. Sam. Do you need to see Pa? He's over checking on some yearlings in the back pasture, but I'm sure he'll be home for dinner."

"No, Miss Lucy. I came to see you."

Her eyes widened. She was used to every eligible male for miles around trying to court her, but not a man of this age who was securely married with several children. Her mind raced as she tried to fathom what his visit was all about. "Won't you sit down?"

Sam could see the puzzlement on her pretty face. His wife would laugh when he told her about this visit. "Miss Lucy, a young man came into my saloon this morning. He had a sad story to tell."

She narrowed her eyes. She knew exactly who that young man was.

Sam continued, "He seems to value your opinion." His mind scrambled for the perfect words to impress this young woman. "He called for a drink. I gave him a cup of coffee because he doesn't believe in drinking hard liquor. He said that he believes his problem is his name. That folks don't take him seriously because he's called Timmy. I think that's silly. My folks called me Sammy until I was near grown and it didn't stunt my growth." Now was the time to get to the point. "Do you think you could start calling him, oh, maybe just Tim? You know, at church or when you run into him at the market. It would mean the world to him. Other folks might hear you and it'd catch on."

"Why me?"

Was this the time to let go with both barrels? "Folks look up to you, Miss Lucy. If they heard you being nice to Timmy, er, I mean Tim, then they might follow suit. He's a fine rancher, a good man and a credit to the community. I hate to see him so depressed." Had he said enough? Should he stop now and let her mull over what he said?

"I appreciate you coming here on his behalf, Mr. Sam. I'll see what I can do." She rose and led the way to the door. "I think he's a fine man, too."

Sam looked into her twinkling eyes and knew for a fact that he hadn't fooled her for a minute. He bid her good day and rode back to town. Should he tell Tim what he had done? Of course not. That young man had no idea what he was in for. She would make a wonderful rancher's wife and mother to his children.

* * *

The day lengthened. Sam's saloon filled up with tired cowboys, ranchers and businessmen who stopped for a little drink before they went home for supper. Sam saw Tim come in and make his way to the bar.

"I'm gonna give her one more chance. I'm going out there right now and ask her to marry me. If I have to shout through the door, then I'll just shout through the door. I can't think, I can't work, I can't do nothing worthwhile. Oh, Mr. Sam, pray for me. I never been so scared in my life."

Sam was amazed. Gone was the tentative young person of the morning. Here was a man on a quest. Scared to death—but on a quest. He hoped Tim would stop by on his way home and tell him what happened.

* * *

Sam was disappointed when he didn't see Tim. Had he lost his nerve? Did Lucy's Pa shoot him? Did Lucy shoot him? He wondered what could have happened?

The next morning he was again sweeping the walk in front of his saloon when he spied a buggy coming, driven by Lucy herself. She stopped and greeted Sam.

"Mr. Sam. Good morning. I need to talk to you. Right now."

"Why, good morning, Miss Lucy. Whatever could you want to talk to me about?"

He leaned against the hitching post and smiled at the pretty woman.

"I got to studying about your visit yesterday. Wondered why you came all the way out to my home to see me? I thought over every word you said and I decided that you were there for that rapscallion, Tim. Is that true?"

"Of course, it's true. I believe I asked you to call him Tim instead of Timmy, and here you are already doing just that."

Lucy narrowed her eyes. "Did you see him last night?"

Ah, now Sam had to decide whether to tell her the truth or maybe hedge a bit. The truth was always better. He just hoped he didn't ruin Tim's chances. "Yes, ma'am. He came by here on the way to see you." He thought he'd see what she was going to say before he added more.

"He told me that. He also asked me to marry him."

"And what did you say, Miss Lucy?" He held his breath awaiting her answer.

She threw her head back and smiled. "Of course I'm going to marry him. Don't you look so shocked. He's a fine man and a persistent one, too." Her face gentled. "Thank you for being his friend, Mr. Sam. We're going to be married Sunday after preaching. We hoped you'd stand up with him. Now I have to buy a new bonnet. I've had my wedding dress made for months. Just waiting for the right man to ask the right question."

Sam shook his head as Lucy urged her horse farther down the street to the dry goods store. Maybe he should be a matchmaker like they had in the old country. He wasn't sure what he said, but it sure did the trick. The right man and the right question . . . that made sense.

The End

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Mitchell and the Silver City Stage
by Dick Derham

"Three Dead, $10,000 Taken."

Dave Mitchell set aside his envy at the take, a better day's pay than he had scored in all his years working stages; the sloppiness of the robbery offended him.

Mitchell put down the Denver Union Democrat and thought back to the afternoon in Vernal, Utah after his role in the capture of Jed Fowler and to the confrontation he had rehearsed in his mind for days, nerving himself up to face down the only person he ever looked up to and throw off his shackles.

Two whiskeys had helped steady his nerves, but still he still quivered with trepidation as he began. "Tell the man I quit."

Collins, his pencil scratching out the report on the Brown's Park assignment, barely looked up. He didn't seem as surprised as Mitchell had expected. As he had hoped? "What? Quit Wells Fargo?"

"I know the man won't like it. He figures he's got his lead rope tight around my neck with the dodger and the sentence to Yuma. Not telling you where I'll be, but I'll take my chances I can keep out of his grasp." Collins put down his pencil and sipped his whiskey as he waited for Mitchell to continue. "Tell him, he don't need to worry about me going back to my old line of work."

"What will you do?" Collins asked, maybe just making idle conversation. But maybe more, maybe doing The Man's work.

"Try to find somewhere I don't need to wash the slime off every night." Mitchell knew better than to blabber his plans to Wells Fargo. Five years in Yuma had taught him the danger of letting anyone see inside him. "Skulking in outlaw holes, doing undercover work, I can't learn to be a man like you."

"A man with badge stink?"

Mitchell shifted resentfully. Flinging his words in his face always shushed a man up. Finally, his eyes met Collins' and he admitted that he'd finally seen the truth. "It don't stink when you wear it, Chet."

Collins seemed disappointedly relaxed at Mitchell's declaration of independence. After their days on the trail together, the battles they had fought, each of them coming close to death one time or another, Mitchell wanted to hear at least the pretense of regret that their relationship was ending. In a rush, Mitchell understood that the professionalism he had admired in Collins, had tried to emulate, meant he himself was just one more man Collins had to work with.

* * *

Mitchell put behind him the unsettling Vernal confrontation that had ended one phase of his life and picked up the newspaper again. This time he read with the professional scrutiny of a man adept at the business of stopping stages. "Brutal murder" read the subheadline.

* * *

In a brazen daylight robbery not more than six miles south of the town limits of Boise City, three armed, hooded riders hailed the stage from Silver City last Tuesday. As reported by the driver, Frank Williams, when Dave Olmeg, the shotgun rider, was slow to toss down his weapon, he was dispatched with a single shot.

The passengers, including L. F. Carpenter, a respected local businessman, and Andrew McCausland, a drygoods salesman, were shot down as they dismounted the stage, hands in the air. In the confusion, Williams escaped into the brush despite a flurry of shots seeking him. While the U.S. Mail was left untouched, the bodies and luggage were searched. Carpenter's partner reports that he carried over $9000 in gold dust from Silver City miners for deposit in the Boise banks in addition to at least $1000 in greenbacks. How much was stolen from McCausland is unknown.

Sheriff Kemble declared that the full resources of his office will be devoted to finding the robbers described by Williams only as men of medium height and dressed in miner's garb. Wells Fargo has posted a $500 reward for information.

* * *

Robbing stages was a business of choice. Mitchell remembered back to his early days, sixteen years old and happy to find that stages carried money free-for-the-taking. As a robber, he had all the advantages. Stop the stage wherever he chose, far from any settlement, leave the stage driver afoot, and there'd be no pursuit for hours. By then, his spoor would disappear in the trail dust of a town, and he could not be tracked. Sure that no timely alarm could be given, no killing was needed. If it ever was. All part of good planning.

The experienced robber in Mitchell had questions the news story couldn't answer. Why was the Boise-Silver City stage stopped so close to Boise? An inexperienced team of robbers not having calculated that the stage could be stopped safely in the rocky hill country near Silver City? The description of the robbers by Williams, so general that it fit half the men on the streets of Boise City, was of no help. And how did they know that one of the passengers would be carrying so much gold dust?

* * *

Mitchell set down the paper again and puzzled through what he had learned that he could use. For he had not set the concerns of crime behind him. Robbery, especially stage robbery, remained his profession.

In Vernal, after his announcement, Collins had continued writing up their report, seemingly with no more interest in his former "partner." Finally, Collins finished and passed over the report. While Mitchell read the report of him taking down the Fowler Gang, making him sound like a hero out of a dime novel, Collins fished for something in his saddlebags. It clinked when it landed on the table in front of Mitchell.

"Mr. Crandall said the day would come when you're ready to put it on. We'll still be partners, Dave, but well be riding side-by-side."

Wells Fargo had cancelled the reward on him and used its influence in Flagstaff to secure a pardon by the Governor. And his life out of the shadows began.

After the career of stopping stages, after five years in Yuma Penitentiary, after a life organized around the conviction that "riding free" summed up the essence of manhood, Mitchell had thought the emblem of his new life would tear his shirt with its weight. It still felt alien, unsettling, but in a different way than he expected. The 5'6" man crossing the saloon was the biggest man Mitchell had ever known. The tin circle on Mitchell's chest carried the burden of being worthy to ride with Chet Collins.

"You read it?" Collins asked as he pulled back the chair. "What do you think?"

"Why do they have to kill, Chet? Taking money, that I understand. Ten thousand dollars! Never made such a good haul myself."

"Never killed either, Dave." But he had killed, shot a man in the back, brought down Ed Quentin as he drew a bead on someone in the Willcox posse, maybe Collins. How did he feel about killing an outlaw? Mitchell decided that it was good he couldn't answer the question.

* * *

From Denver, the train ride to Boise City, changing railroads at Cheyenne and then at Ogden, took two days, but the drudgery of chasing after a hot trail belonged to local law.

The regular rhythm of iron wheels as they rode over the expansion joints in the rails lulled a man hypnotically; a man could think "clickety-clack" and let his mind idle. But Mitchell couldn't allow himself that luxury. He had work to do, to think, to try to put himself in the mind of the robbers, to resolve the problems posed by the newspaper report, to use the experience he had, the only thing that made him of any value to Wells Fargo, the only thing that justified his space here in the seat next to the dozing Chet Collins.

"I can't do it," he muttered aloud. Collins' eyes blinked open. "Can't figure out the killings. Even Jed Fowler knew putting a man in the dirt increased the risk."

"Amateurs, you think?"

"In my first year in the business, just a kid, I knew better. But they got away with it so easy, likely they'll try again."

And so they had. When Mitchell and Collins alighted from the train in Boise City, the Ada County Gazette screamed the headline. "Two Dead in Daring Stage Robbery." This time the robbers hit the Boise-Placerville stage ten miles north of town. With no passengers, only the stage driver and guard had been killed, and the strongbox looted.

* * *

After a cursory glance at the agents' credentials, the Ada County Sheriff gave the usual sniffy welcome Collins had come to expect from local law. "Maybe you city boys figure Idaho's only a dinky little territory, but we like to think we're smart enough to solve our own crimes up here."

Facing touchy local law was a new experience to Mitchell, but Collins turned it into a springboard. "Sometimes robbers move from one territory to another, Sheriff Kemble. If we see something here that connects up with other robberies, it may give you some ideas."

Kemble shrugged. "I can't stop you, just don't get in my way. Let me know if you turn up anything." It was clear that Kemble expected little from the agents but the promise was easily made, and Collins and Mitchell were after results, not bragging rights. Maybe mollified, the sheriff began to talk. "Likely holed up in the hills someplace," Kemble speculated. "Could be anywhere."

"Three of them, the paper said," Collins prompted.

"So said Williams, and I guess he'd know," Kemble replied. "That afternoon, we had one of them brisk summer squalls sweep across southern Idaho before Williams even got in with the news, him being afoot. By the time I got there, all the prints had been blotted. Yesterday where the Placerville stage went down, all I could find was one set of hoofprints." He shrugged. "Maybe a different fellow got the idea stages carry money after reading how much they took off Carpenter."

Collins and Mitchell got up to leave. "One thing I can tell you," Kemble continued. "None of them give a bucket of warm spit about human lives, not the way they buck their guns."

* * *

The agents received no warmer a welcome when they presented their credentials to the Wells Fargo stationmaster. Men from outside are always resented, their simple presence standing as a reproach, a statement that only someone "from the big city" knows how to solve the local problem.

Experience had taught Macklin that offended outsiders with the ear of higher-ups would send in a tattle-tale report to Division, no matter how unfounded. So he masked his hostility with pretended civility as he answered their questions. But right away, they got off on a hostile footing.

"Someone with a grudge against Wells Fargo?" the Boise stationmaster repeated. "You saying I'm at fault for the killings?"

"You've been in charge for . . . "

"Two years, come summer," Macklin said. "Built the business, too. Wells Fargo just ran a long-distance freight in these parts, letting feeder companies handle short hauls. But that left too much money on the table. I put on local runs, kept ahead of the competition—not that any of them had a chance, not with the Division manager telling me to run a line at a loss to get the job done. A lot of our stages even run empty, but now that we squeezed out the small fry, I'll be cutting back and pushing profits up."

"Williams?"

"Good man. Reliable. Never missed a run, until this week. Of course, there was . . . "

"What?"

"Nothing really. Him and me had a run-in a month ago. Claimed he'd been here longest of the drivers and shouldn't have to pull the night runs. I said, 'I'm a fair man. I don't play favorites.' A working man's entitled to cuss out his boss once," Macklin said. "Maybe he groused some, but he pulled his runs like always.

"The men who got killed?" he continued. "No complaints. Been with Wells Fargo four-five months. Came with experience, though; knew their routes. I signed them on when I added to the schedule."

* * *

"I want to talk to that fellow Williams," Mitchell said as they left the station.

They found him packing a small valise. "I'm quitting Wells Fargo," he told them, "Leaving on tomorrow's train to Ogden. Ain't worth a man's life to ride stages for you. I'm just lucky I swapped shifts with poor Bob Wakefield, or I'd be the one being fitted out with the coffin."

Williams could tell them little about the first robbery that they hadn't learned from the Union Democrat article. "Young, old, how could I tell?" he asked. "Like I told the sheriff, they all wore hoods."

Mitchell shifted uneasily at Williams' unhelpful answer. A man's posture, his agility, even the gruffness of his voice, usually told a lot about him, but Williams seemed a dull, unobservant fellow.

"Cold, the way they done Olmeg," Williams continued. "Just said, 'Wells Fargo paying enough for this?' And fired away. That's when I took off running."

* * *

Over supper Mitchell reflected on how little they knew. He didn't see how a man like Collins could build anything on such scraps of information. He tried to think on what was missing in the picture, what was discordant. He shook his head."None of the outlaws I knew ever liked to work that hard."

"What are you thinking, Dave?"

"Whether it's Brown's Park, Parsons Den, Hole-in-the-Wall, ordinarily robbers ride out when they need to fatten their wallets, they stop a stage or visit a bank, and then ride back to their hideout. They just need money for whiskey, food, and shoving back and forth across the poker table."

"The Silver City haul should last them a long time," Collins said, "but I don't hold with Kemble's idea of two different sets of robbers."

"Both of them less than an hour's ride from Boise City," Mitchell said. "Jed Fowler liked to travel far from Brown's Park when he was working," he added. "Bunching robberies together calls the local law down on you."

* * *

In the morning, mounted on saddle horses from the Wells Fargo corral, the two agents left Boise City behind, following the road south toward the Snake River ferry and the road to Silver City. "What do you expect to find?" Mitchell asked his companion.

"Nothing," Collins replied.

"Then why—"

"Facts first, opinions later," Collins told him. "If a man knows what to expect, likely that's what he'll find. Might be he won't even hear what the scene is screaming at him."

The road traveled through open terrain, not many trees left this close to the city. The native fir had been cleared to make way for the small farmsteads they passed, but Mitchell knew things would change as they neared the descent to the Snake and the ferry. The ferry! That was a thought. Robbers couldn't let the ferryman see them cross the river. But that meant the robbers holed up near Boise City. Maybe in the city itself?

Collins drew up. "Right along here is where the sheriff said it happened."

"I guess those must be the trees Williams ran to." Mitchell pointed to a small stand of fir across a meadow. "A hundred yards, while three rifles were trying to take him down," Mitchell said. "Maybe his Mama was an antelope."

"Or the robbers had little experience with rifles. Miners, maybe," Collins speculated. "Men who don't work with guns."

Collins swung down and knelt to examine the blood stains while Mitchell tried to understand the scene through the eyes of a man in the business, to look at the scene as any robber would. The road was level, ditches on both sides to prevent the stage from trying to flee across the fields, the stage was trapped. As easy stage stop. Too easy.

Collins rose from his knees and looked around, seeing the same view Mitchell saw. Finally he shook his head. "At least I don't know less than before," he said as he placed a boot in the stirrup.

"This is the wrong place." Mitchell's voice expressed his certainty.

"Look at the blood-stained gravel," Collins said. "When the summer squall washed away most sign, Carpenter's body covered the gravel where he fell. He died right here."

Mitchell saw a different picture. "Three years I spent stopping stages," Mitchell reminded his partner. "I'd never do it this way." He stretched his arm out and pointed three hundred yards down the road where it came around a bend as it emerged from a small stand of trees. "Say the stage comes into view, no way off the road but to pull to a halt. Nice and convenient? Money in their pocket. Right?" He waited while Collins nodded his agreement. "And what does Olmeg do when he spies three hooded men blocking the road? He'd have his scattergun cocked and aimed before they got in range. Williams left something out."

"Unless he took the afternoon train, we'll ask him."

* * *

Williams missed his train.

Collins got no answer when he rapped on the door to Williams' third-story room in the boarding house on Bannock Street, so he tried the doorknob. Williams was inside.

"Throat cut," Collins reported to Sheriff Kemble. "A quick slash from behind when he turned to pick up his valise."

"Turned his back?" Kemble asked. "Then he trusted the killer."

"And his valise opened and the contents scattered."

"Who'd think he would have anything worth stealing?"

"Maybe his share from the robbery?" Collins suggested.

"You think—"

"How'd the robbers know Carpenter would be along with a big payoff for them? They had someone inside," Collins said. "And they figured, now that he'd quit Wells Fargo and couldn't help them anymore, he didn't need his cut."

"Didn't need to answer any more questions, either," Mitchell added.

"All the action is close to Boise City," Collins pointed out, "even when a well-planned robbery would be where pursuit couldn't get on their trail for hours. The robbers are men who need to stay close to town."

"Keep mum about Williams for now," Kemble told them. "I'll see if I can track down his buddies."

* * *

The agents were at supper when Sheriff Kemble found them. "No one admits to being much of a friend of Williams," he reported, "but I learned he did his drinking at the Hard Rock Saloon. Liked late hours."

Mitchell was new enough to the badge that he didn't carry the stamp yet. So he was the choice to stroll into the all-night saloon on Idaho Street, down the block from the Wells Fargo station. After a couple of whiskeys, he invited the barkeep ("Folks call me Jimmy") to join him and let it be known he was new to Boise City. "Looking for work," Mitchell admitted. "Done me enough hard rock mining for a lifetime. Pulled some time as a teamster under an Army supply contract. Guess I could handle mules and horses."

"Not much of that around."

"Saw a Wells Fargo office. Never driven a stage, but how hard can it be?"

Behind the bearded face, the glower came through. "Stay away from them bloodsuckers," Jimmy told Mitchell. "They drive a man down, roll their big Concord coaches right over him and grind him into dust."

Mitchell mentioned that a friend had told him to look up Frank Williams, but the barkeep was distracted by another customer and the conversation was over.

* * *

The morning edition of the Ada County Gazette carried a report of the Williams' murder and a front page editorial headlined "Murder Wave Continues—Kemble At a Loss." Aside from demanding that Sheriff Kemble lead posses throughout the county searching for the hideout of the outlaws or resign, the paper contributed nothing. "Sells papers, I guess," Collins said to Mitchell.

But newspapers can give information even when they don't know it. So Collins went to the office of the Gazette and read through a year's worth of back issues. "I checked the ads," Collins reported to Mitchell when they met for lunch. "The Ada County Express Company ran an ad in each issue until about three months ago. The editor said the company went out of business when Wells Fargo took their customers."

While Collins visited the newspaper office, Mitchell had found his way to a building that occupied a full block on Idaho Street under the sign: "Carpenter and Rollins, General Mercantile, Boise City and Silver City."

Hostility greeted Mitchell when he displayed his badge. "We were the Ada County Express Company's biggest customer," Josiah Rollins told Mitchell, "before Wells Fargo beat their prices and Macklin promised us Wells Fargo had a better safety record. When I told Jimmy Bowers I'd go back to Ada County Express even at his prices he cursed me out proper and said he wished I'd been on the stage with poor Lem."

"Carpenter's practice of carrying dust and money was well known," Mitchell reported to Collins. "He says Carpenter always carried dust, there being no bank in Silver City, so miners give it to him to deposit in Merchants Bank here. All the robbers needed to know was that Tuesday was Carpenter's regular day to come in to Boise City."

"So that eliminates the coincidence that robbers from somewhere just got lucky."

"Narrows it down to a few thousand who live around Boise," Mitchell concluded. "That sure helps."

Conversation lapsed as the waitress placed their orders in front of them. As he spooned in tomato soup, Mitchell began to think his undercover work in the Fowler Gang had been the easy job. He went over the puzzling parts one more time. Williams as an inside man, silenced when he quit. That was easy enough. Carpenter known to be carrying money. Fine. Making the robbery this close to Boise? Sure, robbers from town couldn't cross the ferry. But why out on the open road? Why had Olmeg not done his job? And how many robbers? And finally, that angry statement they had thrown at Olmeg had never made sense either.

Suddenly he put down his spoon and surged to his feet. "Come," he told Collins as he strode across the diner. "Food can wait."

Collins tossed some coins on the table and caught up to Mitchell in the street.

"I couldn't figure the low payoff on the Placerville robbery if they had inside information," Mitchell told Collins as they turned in at the stage station. "It isn't about money."

Collins was still trying to make sense of Mitchell's words as they entered the stationmaster's office. "How many of your men used to work for Ada County Express?"

"Just four now, since . . . "

"Where are they?"

"Chaz Littleton and Val Gorman are off today. Andy Lacey and Luke Hazen are on the Silver City run." Macklin looked at the wall clock. "You can talk to them when they get in. Should be around two."

"That's cutting it close," Mitchell said. "We got to rustle our hocks if we're going to get to them before they're dead."

"Relax, mister," Macklin said, no longer bothering to mask his hostility, "like I told you first day, we ain't as dumb out here as you hotshots like to think. If the robbers stop them, Hazen's got orders to toss down the shotgun."

"It won't matter." Mitchell stepped over to the rifle rack, selected two Winchesters and checked their loads. "Get saddles slapped on your two fastest horses."

"I don't take orders from—"

"Yes, you do," Collins barked, as an understanding of Mitchell's urgency suddenly flooded into him. "Now!"

In the moment, Mitchell was too intent on trying to prevent two more killings to appreciate the lesson he had just received. Collins had no more right to give orders than Mitchell, but speak boldly like you expect to be obeyed and people jump. But that lesson was for future reflection.

In five minutes both agents were in the saddle. "Tell Sheriff Kemble where we're going. If we're in time, he'll have an arrest to make."

* * *

Impatiently, the two Wells Fargo agents pressed south on Idaho Street, avoiding other horsemen when they could, knowing each second a slow-moving wagon kept them back endangered two men.

Finally, as they reached the edge of town, Collins moved up alongside Mitchell. "So Carpenter was just an unlucky passenger."

"He was the target. It wasn't robbery. It was out-and-out murder." They had passed into open country, traffic had thinned out. "Let's move," Mitchell said as he kicked his horse into a trot.

The miles fell away, slowly, slowly it seemed to Mitchell, but as fast as he dared push an unfamiliar horse over the distance. Now they were no more than a mile and a half from the turn where the road dropped down to the ferry, just over the next rise and they would have the last stretch of open road in sight. Mitchell began to hope they were in time to stop the murders.

Up ahead, a rifle barked.

* * *

The first shot brought down Luke Hazen before he could toss down the shotgun. "We had orders to surrender, Mr. Bowers. You didn't even give him a chance."

"Toss down the box, Lacey," the robber ordered.

Lacey wrestled with the strong box, got it to the edge of the coach roof. When it fell to the road, Jimmy Bowers swung up his rifle. "I done what you want, Mr. Bowers. I—"

"You and them other curs ruined my life," Bowers said. "Three years you took my money. Then you sold me out. You earned some termination pay."

From four hundred yards and on the back of a galloping horse, Mitchell's shot had no chance of going home. He'd be as likely to hit Lacey as Bowers. But firing in the air did the job.

Alert to his danger, Bowers forgot about Lacey and turned to see Mitchell and Collins thundering down the road toward him. Horsemen riding directly at a rifle make good targets. Mitchell was thirty yards away when the muzzle flashed. He heard Collins grunt but then his horse was colliding with Bowers, sending him sprawling, his rifle clattering away.

Mitchell swung down. He turned toward Bowers, on the ground and rolling for his rifle. Mitchell dropped his own rifle and palmed his revolver. Beyond Bowers, Mitchell could see Collins, stretched out in the road.

Mitchell stepped toward Bowers and wordlessly swung his revolver up.

As he saw the end coming, Bowers was unrepentant. "Putting a Wells Fargo badge-toter down," Bower said. "At least I done something good today."

Mitchell looked down at Jimmy Bower's bearded face, defiant even in defeat, no longer the face of a man, but the face of evil. Hatred surged into Mitchell's breast. In a moment the world would be a better place. He felt the terrible power, the intoxicating power over death grasp his soul.

He thumbed back the hammer.

* * *

Mitchell knew he had crossed a divide, one that left him changed forever.

He paced from the window to the door of small front parlor, pacing, because his mind churned too violently to let him sit. What right had Jimmy Bowers to live? he had asked himself as his finger began its satisfying squeeze. Why should Bowers pollute the world with breath when Collins had been lying there, blood gushing from his wounds? What kind of man would not avenge his downed partner?

Manhood, the glory of self-reliance, of being someone who made his own way in the world had been Dave Mitchell's driving goal since leaving home. As his finger curled he thirsted for the ultimate proof that he made things happen.

Whether he had passed his test or failed it, men could debate and never resolve. The evil that was in Jimmy Bowers needed to be destroyed, he knew that even as he heard what sounded like Chet Collins' voice echo in his imagination speaking of the duty of a badge and his oath . . . his oath to what? he had demanded. An oath that allowed evil to go unpunished?

Mitchell's breathing had come fast in the rush of the moment as he gloried in what he was about to do, as he tried to shush the voice of his partner. Death! Kill! He made his voice override Collins'. He focused on the rage-filled face of Jimmy Bowers.

And so Bowers, snarling like an animal, an animal that took pleasure in killing, an ugly face whose viciousness mirrored the hate consuming Mitchell, determined his own destiny. Mitchell's finger relaxed. Not for him the twisted soul that took pleasure in killing. The evil that was in Jimmy Bowers would end swinging from a hangman's rope. Mitchell had proved worthy to ride tall in the saddle next to Collins.

Except . . . 

Except the doctor had been in the back room too long.

Finally the door down the hallway swung open and Doctor Sharpe plodded heavily down the corridor, spent from his efforts over his patient. Mitchell looked at the weary face of the doctor. When Sharpe started to speak, Mitchell was afraid to listen.

"He wants to know why the report isn't ready for his signature."

The End

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Saggy Pete
by Robert C. Yalden

Hard-luck miners, a rickety old railroad track, and tumbleweed were the only things that passed through Jefferson, Nevada, just a desolate speck on the map nestled between disconcerting mountains and a barren wasteland of desert. People came and went, and seldom stayed for long.

During that hard winter of '80 the Lorton Gang, without remorse or sympathy, descended upon the remote town for no reason except getting out of the cold. It started with bar fights and target practice with the empty whiskey bottles in the barroom and it wasn't too long before the body count began climbing in earnest. People ran in fear, but really there was no place to go.

The person responsible for the murderous onslaught was a notorious outlaw, Pete Cowles, a small stocky man with a jack-o-lantern grin and trousers with a sag that no gunbelt could make right. Ole "Saggy Pete" shot a friend for calling him that, but the name stuck like the burrs in a dog's neck.

Billy King, a tall circumspect man just in from Wichita, found himself newly elected as sheriff in a desperate attempt by town elders to stop further bloodshed. When confronted with the situation presented to him by the scared townsfolk, the sheriff nodded like a priest, all slow and calm-like; he thought about it a minute and then proposed a simple plan. "The way to fight a snake is go after the head. Cut the head off and ain't nuthin' else can bother you no more." Townsfolk marveled, smiled, and breathed a sigh of relief at the simplicity of eliminating ole Pete Cowles, himself. Then the rest of the Lorton Gang would shrivel and blow away, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

One particular cold night not too long after, Sheriff King hid in a secluded closet in a brothel that smelled of perfume, stale beer, and cheap whiskey. Saggy Pete was through his second bottle, riding his second lady, when the sheriff caught the skinny-hipped outlaw with his pants down and his gunbelt around his ankles.

Apprehending Saggy Pete without a shot fired was cause for celebration and considerable relief. However, those feelings didn't last long. Word spread through town—the Lorton Gang was coming soon. Wasn't the snake supposed to wither away, they asked, fresh with new fear.

The sheriff considered his position of the only lawman in the town untenable, one gun against many. The question loomed what to do with the outlaw while his gang would soon gather. But, he could not let the townspeople believe that he did not have a plan. He had to get Saggy Pete on the train and out of there as soon as possible. It was really the only way.

Sheriff King walked slowly across the dusty wooden floor of the jail, stroking the stubble under his chin, and leaned against the doorway of the only cell, "I suppose it's time." Saggy Pete sat on the bench and stared defiantly at the lawman with dark, unflinching eyes.

"Sheriff, you know I ain't gittin' on that train."

The sheriff regarded the outlaw for a moment and spat a wad of chaw without taking his gaze off him, "That right?"

"My boys will spring me before we reach the train platform. They're gonna be waiting for us," he added with a toothy and confident smile.

"I know they are," the hard-eyed sheriff agreed, grabbing an earlobe and working it between his fingers. "I've got a plan and, truth be told, I never thought your gang to be very bright neither."

The sheriff and prisoner walked in silence with winds off the barren prairie and dust trailing them. Handcuffed in front with a threadbare blanket draped over his chapped and calloused hands, the prisoner shuffled clumsily. He wore shackles with his duster hung over his shoulders, collar pulled high, and hat slumped low across his brow.

In the distance, the 2:10 train chugged slowly towards the depot, belching black smoke under a low gray sky. The sheriff stopped and tilted his head back like a dog testing for a scent when the anticipated gang of horsemen appeared like the apocalypse, with their coats and dusters pulled back exposing their heavy revolvers, rifles, and vengeful intentions.

The gang leader, with slicked black hair and a round face, stole a glance at the train in the distance measuring his limited time. "Come on, sheriff, we ain't letting you hand him over to the marshal. Give him up," a smile widened into a grin, "nice and easy now."

The sheriff's mistrustful face narrowed while the forlorn prisoner stood cold and silent, his head drooping lower. Observing the menacing gang and calculating his poor odds, the sheriff reluctantly raised his hands slowly and gently, with his palms facing out, pulling the tension out of the air. With an embarrassed smile, the sheriff spat a wad of chaw on the ground. "I guess I'm outnumbered."

The ringleader, beguiled at the sheriff's unexpected cooperation, exhaled a long breath and gently leaned forward in his saddle in agreement and confident satisfaction. The gang observed in silence as the leader raised an eyebrow, his unease growing logarithmically by the millisecond, and looked at the prisoner. The captive slowly lifted his head and the threadbare blanket exploded violently, with two colt revolvers bucking and blazing, dealing death like a blackjack dealer.

The closest of the gang stared confused and blank with a lead slug through his forehead outlined with a ring of black powder. Another outlaw was thrown from his horse with two bullets ripping into his abdomen before he hit the ground in a meaty thump. The sheriff moved swiftly for his revolver, breaking leather, and firing a succession of quick shots. The leader saw the flash soon enough to flinch but not quick enough to avoid the .45 caliber lead ball that pierced his gut. His hands laced over his belly as he fell backwards.

The other horsemen took a brutal fusillade of black powder and lead. Another horseman, stitched with lead, slid backwards with his six-shooter barking in retaliation into an empty sky.

Through the smoke and confusion, the other horsemen dispersed in a starburst of panic and false bravado.

Still sitting and brooding in his cell, Saggy Pete jumped off the bench, wide-eyed, grasping the wrought iron bars, hearing the gunfire down the street.

The gang had come for the wrong man.

The End

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Sweet Potato Pie
by Steve Myers

That fall morning, when the old woman looked up from the sink and out the window, she saw them coming maybe two hundred yards away. The sun was up three full hours and bright behind them, outlining the riders like actors on an outdoor stage. She couldn't quite make out faces but she knew one had to be the sheriff. There were four of them now, stopped under the trees at the side of the road. One got off his horse and was looking around at the edge of the road. He bent down to examine something, then stood up and pointed toward her place. He mounted and all four started through the thin stand of red maples rich with color. In the still air the leaves floated slowly down.

She called over her shoulder: "It's them. Hurry it up. And, Lily, you take that pistol. There's not going to be any shooting in my house."

Behind her were scuffling sounds, something being slid across the board floor, then the flap of a carpet. She glanced back to see Lily straightening the carpet and putting the rocker back on it. Lily turned to her, the Colt in her hand.

"Hide that under the pillow in my room. Be quick, girl."

Lily, young and pretty, was quick. When she returned the dogs had just greeted the visitors.

The old woman went to the door and waited a moment as she took several deep breaths. She opened the door and stepped out.

They were now passing by the barn and the dogs were yelping and snapping at the horses' legs. The chickens rushed back into the barn and the rooster clawed the earth and complained.

The woman called: "Rascal! Beauregard! Hey! Quiet! I mean it!" She picked up a stone and slung it at the nearest dog. The stone skipped under its feet and it stopped yelping. The other dog barked twice more before stopping. The two dogs backed off but still watched, still ready.

The four rode up to a few feet from her and the tall man with the mustache, the one wearing the sheriff's star, dismounted. "Granny Selden, I suppose you know why we're here."

"Nope. Murray, I have no idea why you're out this way unless you just felt like visiting a lonely old woman."

"No, Granny, we're looking for your sister's grandson, Mason."

"Well, why ain't you at her place?"

"Because his trail leads here."

"So?"

"Well, common sense says he came here."

"Common sense could be wrong too."

"You wouldn't mind if we look around, would you?"

"I don't mind—but don't scare my chickens or disturb Bess. She gets upset she won't give milk for a day or two. And you watch out for my dogs. You get bit it's your own fault. Don't bother Chestnut neither. He's in the far pasture trying to find good grass. He's two years but still skittish."

One of the men asked, "Sheriff, we gonna sit here listenin' to her or get on with it?"

The sheriff turned around and snapped: "Watch your mouth, Rhodes. Don't you have enough sense to be polite? We come on her place. This is her land." He faced Granny now and said, "I'm right sorry about that. We'll be careful about your stock and such."

"Dog bite me and it'll be a dead dog," Rhodes said.

The old woman said, "You kill one of my dogs and I'll get my shotgun and blow a hole in you big enough for a dog to jump through."

"All right," the sheriff said. "Now you three search the barn and all around. Don't forget to poke any piles of hay."

"I suppose," the old woman said, "you want to look in the house. C'mon then."

The sheriff followed the old woman into the house. Lily had the oven door open and was looking in. She held a fork and only glanced at him. She reached in and then stood up and showed the fork to the old woman.

"Granny, it's clean. Nothing stuck."

"It's done then, girl. Take it out and put it on the counter."

Lily took a thick towel to cover her hands and pulled out a pie pan full of a deep-orange colored pie. She set the pan on a wood plate on the counter by the sink.

"Smells good, Granny. Looks like sweet potato pie."

"That's what it is."

The sheriff said, "Long time since I had any sweet potato pie. They don't seem to know how to make it around here."

"It's my James' mama's recipe but I don't have any bourbon. He was from down by Helena but his folks come from Clarksdale. I'm a Coldwater girl and natural for me to use bourbon, but vanilla'll do in a pinch. Search the place if you want then sit yourself down and Lily will cut you a slice . . . even though you go 'gainst your own kind."

The sheriff went through the few rooms: the parlor, the small bedroom, and the old woman's bedroom. He looked in closets and under the beds. He came into the kitchen and looked in the pantry. He stopped by the rocking chair. "I see you got a carpet here."

"Yep. The rockers mark up the floor."

He nodded. "You worried about somebody getting you at night?"

"Why you ask?"

"I noticed you sleep with a forty-four under your pillow."

"An old woman can't be too careful out here alone."

"I see. But you have your shotgun in the pantry and the girl here."

"Lily just come for a visit and I might not be able to get to the pantry."

He went over to the table and sat down and Lily brought him a slice of pie on a good plate. She gave him a fork and filled a cup with fresh coffee.

The old woman sat down at the table. She watched him eat. He took a few bites and smiled and said, "I near forgot how good this is. It's worth comin' all the way out here just for one bite."

"You're welcome to it, Murray. You were a good man before you became sheriff."

He smiled and kept eating.

"I knew you when you were no bigger'n a pup. You was a little ornery but your Mary settled you down."

He finished the pie and leaned back as he drank the coffee.

He said, "Granny, I know Mason came here. Don't pretend otherwise."

"Why you after him?"

"He shot a man."

"Kill him?"

"Sure did."

"What sort of man?"

"One of those detectives."

"A Pinkerton?"

He nodded.

"Well, I didn't know it was a crime to kill a snake. Was it a fair fight?"

"The detective never pulled a gun."

"That don't mean nothin'."

"Well, Granny, it's not for me to decide. My job is to bring him in."

"Well, he ain't here, but you're welcome to tear the place down if you have to."

"I tell you I know he came here. Probably late last night or this morning before dawn."

"Nobody come by. The dogs would've barked and raised a fuss."

"Not if they knew him."

She didn't answer that.

Someone knocked on the door and the old woman motioned to Lily.

It was one of the riders. He said, "Sheriff, we found tracks leading out of the barn going straight west. Same horse with the bent nail shoe."

"All right. I'll be right with you."

The sheriff stood up and shook his head. "Granny, he did come here."

"I won't lie to you, Murray. He did. He was tuckered out and I let him rest a bit and gave him water. You gonna arrest me for that?"

The sheriff went by her to go outside. He looked around. "Say, I ain't seen your hired hand about."

"Clarence? He's visiting that widow has a farm outside Palmyra. He helps her with the work . . . and what else she needs."

The sheriff went over to his horse and mounted. "Thanks for the pie, Granny. I'll come back for more some day when I'm not in such a hurry."

"You're welcome if you bring Mary and forget that star there on your chest."

He smiled and tipped his hat and turned his horse and led the others around the side of the house and set out across a field of white grass.

Lily watched them from the bedroom window. They went straight a ways, stopped to look at the ground, then turned to the southwest. They went through a stand of short-leaf pines that James had tried to transplant for a wind-break, but only a few survived. Beyond that were the maples bright red now with the sun full on them.

The old woman stood behind her. "Wait. They might turn back."

Lily said, "I could let him have some air."

"There's air enough. Wait."

The old woman went into the kitchen and put the sheriff's plate, fork, and cup in the sink. She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. She looked at the wood stained and scarred from all those years. She rubbed the dark charred spot where James used to set his pipe. She let her mind float for a while before she called: "Girl, c'mon, let the poor critter out."

Lily came back to move the rocking chair and the carpet. She knocked on the two planks in the floor and someone pushed them up. Mason, a little stiff, emerged from his hiding place. He ran his hands through his hair and brushed off some dirt from his clothes. He replaced the planks, covered them with the carpet, and set the rocking chair back.

"That's a good spot, Granny. Nobody'd think of looking there."

"James'd put contraband there and whatever coin we had. It come in handy during the War."

"I been smelling that sweet potato pie and my belly is growling."

"Lily, cut him a slice. Then get his pistol."

Mason ate quickly. When he was ready he took his revolver from Lily and stuck it behind his belt. He kissed her good and hard on the mouth, and then hugged the old woman.

"Lily, give him that poke. It's got corn cakes, apple snips, and sassafras root. Take the canteen and fill it at the well. You'll have to ride Chestnut easy at first, let him get used to you. There's an old saddle and bridle in the barn."

Mason took the poke and canteen.

"Listen good: Clarence will ride your horse all around the county until he gets it re-shod. They'll be chasin' their tails, but you got to go straight south maybe fifty miles before you turn west. You got that, boy?"

"I do, Granny."

"Your uncle Vernon's there in that Las Vegas, New Mexico. You go there. You get word back and I'll send Lily to you. But only once you got a job or a place of your own. I won't hold with anything else. I mean it, Mase. I'm dead serious. I don't know why you killed that detective. I don't care. I guess him being a Pinkerton is excuse enough. But you better not be an outlaw or thief. So help me God, I'll hunt you down myself. You understand, boy?"

"I sure as hell do."

"No need to cuss. Either you do or you don't. Now get going while the going's good. Wait. Lily fetch him James' coat from that hook. Mase, you take it. It's a mite big for you—my James was a good size. The nights will get sore cold and that'll keep you warm."

Mason put the coat on but didn't button it. He hugged and kissed Lily and went to the barn. In a matter of minutes he was out in the pasture getting the horse Chestnut. In no time he came riding by the house and waved to the old woman and Lily standing in the doorway.

They watched him for a long time until he and the horse disappeared into the far woods.

Lily said, "He got away."

"So far."

"How far is it to New Mexico?"

"No idea. A far piece I'd say."

"I sure love Mase."

The old woman turned and went back into the kitchen. She went over and straightened the carpet under the rocking chair. She smiled and sat down in the chair.

Lily came in and said, "Well, we sure fooled that sheriff, Granny."

The old woman rocked a few times and then she said, "No, Murray warn't fooled. He warn't fooled at all."

The End

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Texas Roulette
by B. Craig Grafton

"Elmer!"

"Leonard! Didn't reckon I'd see you here 'specially after that rowdy between us last night," slurred Elmer. "Figured the sheriff would have tracked me down by now, not you. Why the hell you here anyway? Feeling guilty after cheating me at cards and running off with my woman?" Elmer slumped his head down on the creaky wooden table in this run down flimsy shack that was now his hideout. A bottle of rye whiskey stood on the table. Next to it lay his six shooter.

"She's dead Elm."

"I know. I shot her last night right in her bed at the hotel, right after you was done with her. I was madder than a newly brand calf and I was rip roaring sauced to the gills and I killed her. You can have my god damn money but you'll never have her again." He paused, "Aw hell I don't care about either the money or her. Don't care about nothing anymore. I'm doomed anyway." He started sobbing uncontrollably, his head laying on the table.

"They'll sure as hell hang you Elm. The hotel clerk saw you go up and saw you in her room tottering over her body after he heard the shot. How the hell you ever got out of there in your condition before the sheriff arrived I'll never know."

But before Leonard could say any more Elmer interrupted him and blubbered on, "It doesn't matter now, no way, no how. It's all my fault. Getting drunk like that after the drive. Arguing and fighting with you, my best friend. Why how many drives have we been on together eating dust and beans and covering each others tails? Half a dozen at least. And all this over a handful of dollars and some cheap trampy woman named Lulu. At least I think that was her name. Why she wasn't worth the cost of the bullet it took to blow her away. Doomed. Got no choice. I'm going to end it all right now. Shoot myself." He raised the gun to his head, grabbed the whiskey bottle and took a good long pull.

"I can't let you do that Elmer."

"You can't stop me Len."

"Well there's no bullets in your gun,"

"How do you know?"

"I took them out of your gun after I, not you, shot Lola last night."

"What the?"

"Last night I was as wild eyed drunk as you. I knew where you would be so I went up to her room to shoot you after I recovered from our fist fight. I wasn't going to let a scrawny little runt like you get by beating the crap out of me, a fine young strapping fellow twice your size. Luckily for you I was drunk and missed. Bad luck for Lola. I took the bullets out of your gun thinking the sheriff would catch you right then and there as you were too schnookered to stand let alone run and he seeing that your pistol hadn't been fired and was empty he'd go looking for someone else, but my plan to save you didn't work because the sheriff and a posse are on the way. I came to warn you."

Elmer looked nonplussed.

"You have no idea what happened last night do you?"

"Reckon I don't but how come the clerk didn't mention you to the sheriff?"

"He wasn't there when I went up and after the shot I heard him running up the stairs so I ducked out of sight into the backside of the hallway and skedaddled after I seen him go in the room. Got lucky." Leonard grabbed the whiskey bottle from the table and took a couple of gulps.

"So why tell me now?"

"Have to mend the fence with you before I turn myself in. Can't let my best pard hang for a crime he didn't commit. Gotta get right with the Lord too, but you first." Leonard took another swig.

"Give me that," hollered Elmer and he grabbed the bottle from Leonard's lips. Elmer chugged it, tossed it against the wall, and pulled a flask from his leather vest pocket.

"You're a god damn stinking yellow bellied low down polecat and everything else liar, just like last night. You came here to kill me to cover for yourself. You knew where I'd be holed up. You could have told the sheriff but you didn't because you could come here and kill me and make it look like I killed myself. Case closed. You knew I would be bat guano crazy with grief and since you knew I had no bullets, you would graciously provide me with one."

"No that's not so Elm. I come here to make it right with you." He paused, "Give me that flask." Leonard ripped it from Elmer's hand, drained it and let it slide from his hand to the floor. "You're still drunk," he mumbled as he swayed back and forth.

"You gonna make it right and give me back my money? I lost all my trail drive wages to you."

"I would if I could but I can't."

"Spent it on Lulu did ya?" Elmer reached down and pulled up a jug, slammed it up on the table, popped out the corn cob stopper, heaved the jug up over his shoulder, tilted his head back and took a big long drink of the rot gut brew. "You want to do the right thing do ya? Then you kill yourself."

"OK, alright, I will," responded Leonard his head bobbing up and down. "Let's do this. Let's play Russian roulette. Give me that jug."

Elmer took another swig and passed the jug back to Leonard. A plan was coming together in Elmer's besotted mind. "We ain't playing Russian roulette. We ain't Russians. We're from Texas. We're Texans. We're playing Texas roulette 'cause were Texas cowboys."

"Texas roulette. What in the hell is that?," roared Leonard taking a drink and handing the jug back to Elmer.

"That's two players, one gun, one bullet but you don't spin each time. You just keep taking turns pulling the trigger until someone eats the bullet. The odds against you go up with each pull. Give me a bullet," screamed Elmer taking another big swig.

"Give me the jug first."

"No you give me the bullet first."

Leonard fumbled him a bullet. Elmer slid the jug across the table toward Leonard. Leonard's timing was obviously impaired and he missed it and it slid off the table onto the floor.

Now Elmer was as drunk as Leonard, but Elmer was not drunk enough to lose this opportunity. He knew what he had to do. As Leonard bent over to pick up the jug Elmer stuffed the bullet into a chamber of his six shooter. He inserted it so that on the fifth pull of the trigger the bullet would fire.

Leonard retrieved the jug, righted himself, pulled himself up to the table and plopped himself down into an old rickety wooden chair across from Elmer.

"Your idea, you go first Len," demanded Elmer shoving him the six shooter.

"OK I will." Leonard grabbed the gun, put it to his head, and pulled the trigger. Click. "One in five Elm," he chortled handing the weapon back to Elmer.

Elmer placed the gun to his right temple and hurriedly pulled the trigger. "One in four Len," he smirked and slid the revolver back across the table.

Leonard fired. Click. "One in three Elm old pal." Then he hesitated. He sensed something was wrong. He kept the gun.

Now Leonard was a gambler. He knew how to play the odds. That's how he won all Elmer's money and something didn't figure right here. Suddenly even in his drunken state it hit him. Elm had rigged the game so that Leonard would get the next to last turn and the bullet. Elm's so drunk thought Leonard that he thought I was too drunk and or stupid to figure it out, but I sober up quick and I'm holding the gun now and I got all the remaining pulls one of which will blow that dirty double crossing little weasel to hell where he belongs. When the sheriff gets here I'll tell him he killed himself playing Russian roulette since he was so despondent over killing Lola. Elmer would be a victim of the plan that he thought that I had concocted, Serve him right. Everything was going to come together just fine.

Leonard stared at Elmer and then pointed the gun at him.

Elmer knew instantly his hand had been called. He lept across the table grabbing Leonard's gun arm and pointing it to the ceiling. The table disintegrated under his weight, broke and splintered to the floor dragging down both combatants with it. The men rolled to and fro on the floor crashing into one side of the small wooden shack and then into the other.

Leonard was the bigger man but somehow Elmer managed to keep Leonard's arm extended and the gun pointed away from himself. Leonard fired the necessary click so that the next tug of the trigger would discharge the bullet. Both men knew this. Leonard was not going to lose this fight like he had lost the one last night and Elmer knew this.

Elmer was littler but he deemed himself wilier, and dirtier. He kneed Leonard in the groin. Instinctively Leonard dropped the gun, then with both hands cupped his crotch and sat straight up on the floor. Elmer moved for the gun that was now behind Leonard but Leonard stuck out his leg and tripped him. Elmer lost his balanced and fell into Leonard's lap, pushing his back into Leonard's stomach. This unseated Leonard knocking him over and flattening his back to the floor. Leonard groped for the gun that he felt against his spine. Elmer was stacked on top of him when the gun went off.

When the sheriff arrived with his posse two bodies lay on the floor side by side, both face up, a gun in the middle between them. The sheriff took off his hat, pounded the trail dust out of it on his thigh, scratched his bald head, twirled his mustache, expectorated, turned to his posse and barked out, "Well we got one fired gun, one spent shell casing, and two bodies with a bullet hole clean through each of them back to front. Anybody got any idea just what in blue blazes happened here?"

From the back of the room a posse member hollered, "Texas Roulette."

Then from the other side came, "Always pays double."

The End

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