Sunset Stories : Banking On It And Others. - Page 2


Page 2 of 6 FirstFirst 123456 LastLast
Results 11 to 20 of 56

Thread: Sunset Stories : Banking On It And Others.

  1. #11
    Dear Jamie,

    Thank you for your comment. Brewer did not want matters to come to a head before he was ready, so wished to avoid his teller causing unnecessary trouble. That was why he wanted him to remain composed and not cause problems at the wrong time.

    Best wishes - CJ
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  2. #12
    NOON TRAIN

    Jack Wade was happy, or at least as happy as a man of his temperament and way of life could expect to be. He was a morose, withdrawn character, sardonic in his attitude to everything and everyone, including himself and his affairs. As to occupation, he was a criminal. Now approaching forty years of age, he had not done a lick of conventional work for over two decades. His only job had been as a helper in a general store, from which position he had been fired when his employer could no longer tolerate his incompetence and pilfering.

    Even at barely eighteen, Jack Wade’s personality had been firmly set. He didn’t philosophise. His response to adversity was, as it ever afterwards would be, invariably swift and frequently violent. During the night following his dismissal, he broke into his ex-employer’s store, emptied the tin cashbox, filled a sack with provisions from the shelves and rode off.

    Young Jack soon fell into like-minded company and from then on his course never wavered. In the ensuing twenty-two years, he had chalked up an impressive list of felonies, including just about every kind of robbery imaginable, plus the odd killing. Sometimes he worked alone, sometimes with one gang or another. Once, during flight, he had taken a bullet in the left shoulder, but he had never been caught.

    Had he been more careful with the proceeds of his activities, Wade would have been comfortably placed. But his attitude to his gains was cavalier and any booty he acquired soon found its way across one or other of a hundred gaming tables. Only when he had worked his way through most of his roll did he consider a fresh enterprise to replenish it, confident that the cornucopia of other people’s money would provide. This was his mission now, as he headed northwards through Colorado.

    Wade had been surprised and flattered to receive the summons that had brought him from his usual haunts in the Southwest. Surprised because the call had come from a man not known to him, flattered because his talents were considered appropriate for the obviously big job in prospect. The approach had been made in the form of a letter, brought by a rider who’d claimed to be an employee of the sender.

    In the ten days since he had received the note, Wade had pored over it at least a dozen times, seeking some nuance that might initially have eluded him. He could not find one. Adjusting his long thin leathery body in the saddle, he lit a cigarette and pulled the now grubby single sheet of paper from his shirt pocket. Checking it over yet again, he read:
    Dear Mr. Wade,
    Please excuse this unsolicited approach from a stranger, but I am hopeful that our relationship will soon become closer. I have heard of your abilities in your line of work and have in mind a project which I think would interest you. At this stage I must be circumspect, but I shall be happy to explain everything if you will kindly accept my invitation to call on me here at noon on Thursday, the twenty-fourth of this month.

    Should you decide to participate in the operation, your share of the takings would be worth about twenty thousand dollars and I believe the enterprise is likely to have at least a ninety-five per cent chance of success. If, after our meeting, you feel unable to offer your services, I will guarantee your travel expenses both ways, plus a sum of five hundred dollars to compensate you for any inconvenience.

    The work requires several men and I am inviting certain others to meet me at the time and place in question. I believe all of these gentlemen are known to you. They are James and Robert Moran, Tom Wilson and Martin Broderick. I am offering the same terms to each of you.

    I do hope you will be able to join me and as I see it, the worst that can befall you is a reunion with old comrades and fair compensation for your trouble. I would be grateful if you could wire me your reply to the telegraph office here in Eden Ridge, Colorado.

    Assuming your acceptance, I would request that you arrive at the time I have specified and not earlier, as this is a small community and a lengthy stay by five newcomers might attract attention. For this reason, I have taken the liberty of arranging a brief outing, so that we may discuss our business undisturbed. If you call at our one and only saloon, you will find me waiting. I ask you to bring this letter as confirmation of identity.

    I look forward to your wire and to your company.

    Yours truly,
    John Beresford

    Wade stuffed the letter back into his pocket. Try as he would, he could find nothing sinister about it. Maybe a little quaint in its formality. Still, it was not unknown in Wade’s circles for a gang to be recruited in a piecemeal way. Perhaps the only odd thing about it was that Beresford had made his approach in writing, which Wade reckoned was indiscreet. Of course, all the letters would be handed back to the sender, who would undoubtedly destroy them. Even if he didn’t, there would be no conclusive proof that he had originated them.

    There had never been any question about Wade’s acceptance – he had wired it at once. With regard to funds, he was far from desperate, but an unexpected source of income was not to be scorned, especially when someone else had done the planning, and anyway, a man could hardly turn down the prospect of twenty thousand dollars without careful consideration.

    A thin smile twisted Wade’s lips as he considered the possibility of working with his old cronies again. Though not regularly operating as a gang, these men got together from time to time, if there was a job big enough to require their combined efforts. For a while, until six years ago, they had raised hell in Montana, finally making things too hot for them when they had looted and burned down the luxurious Talbot ranch house near the Big Belt Mountains, shooting dead the owner and his wife. Dick Moore and Clem Hawkins had been in the gang then. Later, Moore had been killed in a saloon gunfight in Wyoming and Hawkins had met his end while trying to rob one stagecoach too many in Texas.

    Wade was, by a narrow margin, the oldest of the five men invited by John Beresford. He looked forward to seeing the Moran brothers and Martin Broderick for the first time in over two years, but was less enthusiastic about being reunited with Tom Wilson, who was an unstable, disruptive character. Well, a man had to take the rough with the smooth. Wade had little doubt that Beresford’s summons would flush out the other four. The chance of laying hands on so much money would be too tempting for any of them to ignore.

    Wade removed his hat, ran a hand through his long scraggly dark-brown hair, rolled another cigarette and rode on slowly. Eden Ridge was, as far as he could make out, no more than a railroad halt, well south of Denver and now only thirty miles north of his present position. He would camp in the hills overnight and time his arrival for noon on the morrow, as requested.

    As Wade had been riding north, so the Moran brothers, Robert and James, had been travelling west by train, intrigued by Beresford’s invitation. Both men were short slim black-haired and in their early thirties. They had been relaxing in St. Louis when they had received the single letter addressed the two of them. Like the one to Jack Wade, it was delivered personally by a man who’d said he was a member of the writer’s staff. It had come at an opportune time for them, as they had been contemplating a return to work, with no clear idea about what to try next.

    Like Wade, both Moran brothers were given to gambling and in that activity they were no more successful than was their occasional partner in crime. When engaged in their chosen work, they were cool, competent and dangerous and neither was averse to killing if it became necessary, or even if it didn’t. Robert, the younger by eighteen months had, in separate incidents, shot dead two train guards, who hadn’t been spry enough in doing as they were told. James had once whacked a stagecoach driver on the head so hard that the man had died. None of these things weighed heavily on the conscience of either of the Morans, nor would either shrink from further murdering, if it promised a worthwhile return.

    Tom Wilson, travelling south from Wyoming by horse, was already almost at his destination. At twenty-seven, the youngest of Beresford’s invitees, the lanky angular Wilson was also the most undisciplined and headstrong. It was he who had fired the shots that killed both the rancher Talbot and his wife, up in Montana. That had been the beginning of Wilson’s bloodthirsty career and there had since been four further killings on his record. To him, shooting was a first resort and at times his wild ways were too much for even his most hardened accomplices. However, he was usually tolerated as he was a great one for getting things done. Furthermore, if anybody wanted to take issue with him, he was lightning fast and deadly accurate with a gun and scarcely less lethal with a knife. Like many of his kind, Wilson had no illusions about living to a ripe old age and no great desire to do so.

    Last of the five was Martin Broderick. He also had the shortest journey, as he was in Denver when he received his letter. He would travel south by train on the day of the meeting. Broderick, sandy-haired, of medium height and heavy build, was by far the most sober of the five men converging on Eden Ridge. At thirty-eight, he was just over a year younger than Jack Wade.

    Brought up on the eastern seaboard, Broderick had been nearing thirty when he moved west, seeking whatever was on offer. It hadn’t taken him long to find the company of Wade and the other gang members. He had always been careful with his booty. Apart from the necessary risks taken during his crimes, he never gambled, didn’t smoke and drank little. His associates often wondered what made him tick, but if he knew himself, he showed no inclination to enlighten anyone else.

    Of the five, Broderick was the only one who had never killed, but he had stood by during the infamous incident at the Talbot ranch. Young Wilson had once taunted Broderick about his aversion to bloodshed, only to receive a vicious backhander which spreadeagled him on the ground. Clawing for his gun, Wilson had found himself staring down the rock steady barrel of Broderick’s forty-five. He had never again tried conclusions with the stocky Easterner.

    Though he had accepted Beresford’s invitation as readily as had the other four, Broderick’s interest at this stage was hardly more than academic. He was well placed financially and would try this job only if he could satisfy himself that the chance of success could be raised to virtually a hundred per cent.

    The morning of the twenty-fourth was bright, clear and cool. Punctually at noon, the five desperadoes gathered in the saloon at Eden Ridge. There were no other customers. After serving drinks paid for by the host, the bartender disappeared. Beresford allowed his guests a brief period to exchange pleasantries then, at ten minutes past the hour, he emerged from an upstairs room and descended the bare wooden stairs. The five men saw before them a young fair-haired fellow of middling height and chunky build, well dressed, carefully groomed and smoking a large cigar. He advanced on the party, smiling broadly.

    ‘Good day, gentlemen,’ he said. ‘Glad you could all make it. I made sure that we wouldn’t have company. Now, I hope you won’t mind my hurrying things along a little. The fact is, I’ve arranged for us to take a short railroad journey – just a couple of hours. I hired the train specially for us, so we can talk privately.’ Beresford spoke quickly and crisply, moving among the five men as he did so, shaking hands with each of them. He also recovered the letters he had sent them. Apparently satisfied as to the identities his visitors, he tossed the four sheets of paper into the pot-bellied stove and watched them burn away. ‘There,’ he said. ‘That disposes of anything connecting us. Shall we go?’

    Everyone but Wilson seemed to appreciate the host’s brisk, businesslike approach. Perhaps because of his relative youth and his fearsome reputation, the sharp-faced gun wizard had to be different. ‘Not so fast, mister,’ he snapped, bellicose as ever. ‘I ain’t had time to wet my whistle yet, an’ I don’t take kindly to bein’ hustled around.’

    Beresford, the soul of urbanity, met the ill-mannered outburst with a grin and the raising of a placatory hand. ‘No offence intended, Mr Wilson,’ he replied. ‘Of course you must satisfy yourselves. However, I can assure you that you’ll be able to imbibe to your hearts’ content on the train. There’s food and drink aplenty on board. The only problem is, the engine has steam up and I have to make sure we’re back here back here at three o’clock because the driver has another commitment then.’

    There was a general rumble of approval from the older men. Jack Wade grinned tolerantly at Wilson. ‘Tom,’ he said, ‘I’ll swear you’re still the most cantankerous gent I ever came across. Mr Beresford here may be a mite eccentric, but he’s paying well enough for it. Let’s just do as he says.’

    Wilson hitched his gun belt, shrugged and nodded. That settled, Beresford led the way and the party left the saloon, ambling along the single street to the train.

    Behind the locomotive and tender, there was one carriage and no caboose. Obviously, Beresford believed in doing things in style, for the car was extravagantly fitted out for the brief trip. At the rear end, across the whole width, was a two-foot deep slab of mahogany, supported by a pair of wall-mounted struts and laden with bottles of beer, wine and whiskey. Lengthways down the middle was a narrow table with three chairs on each side, the top covered with a spotless white cloth on which were six place settings and three large, covered tureens. Most of the remaining space was occupied by a pair of three-seater couches, placed so that the six men could sit in two groups of three abreast, facing each other. It was a trifle cramped, but lacked little in opulence.

    Beresford, still leading, entered the car by the front-end door, abutting the tender, and made for the drinks table. He helped himself to a whiskey, inviting his guests to pick what they fancied. All of them opted to follow their host’s example. Wade drank first, smacking his lips appreciatively. ‘Say,’ he grinned, ‘this is good. I guess it set you back plenty.’

    Beresford laughed. ‘Just a little,’ he said. ‘I don’t think you’ll find anything better of its kind.’

    The older Moran brother looked around, lost in admiration of the lavishness. ‘Well, mister,’ he said. ‘I reckon you must have some connections to put on a show like this.’

    Beresford nodded. ‘It just so happens I know the president of this railroad,’ he said. ‘This is his personal car, but he’s happy enough to make a dollar hiring it out when he isn’t using it.’

    The hot-tempered Wilson turned on Beresford. ‘Hey,’ he shouted, ‘the windows are all fastened on this side.’

    ‘They have to be,’ Beresford answered. ‘Company regulations. Just a few miles up the track we pass around the mountains. There’s a sheer drop on one side and a steep rock face on the other, which nearly touches the windows, so if you tried to lean out you’d hit the rock and could get killed. It happened once.’

    Wilson grunted. ‘Seems to me it would’ve been better to fasten the windows on the other side,’ he said.

    Beresford chortled. ‘I think not. You’ll only take one look at that drop and there’s no way you’d want to take any chances there.’ Placated again, Wilson turned his attention back to his drink.

    At Beresford’s suggestion, each man took a glass and a bottle of the whiskey and the party shuffled along past the dining table to occupy the couches, the Moran brothers bracketing their host and facing Wade, Wilson and Broderick.

    As the train moved off, Beresford cleared his throat, commanding attention. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘we have around two and a half hours to discuss my proposition. I’ve asked you here because I know you’re all eminent in your line of work and the scheme I have in mind will need six men, including me.’

    The impetuous Wilson interrupted. ‘How come you just happened on us?’ he said, his aggressiveness only slightly blunted by the show of hospitality.

    Beresford laughed. ‘Oh, I didn’t just happen upon you,’ he replied. ‘In fact I think I did my research work pretty well. You see, I’ve never been involved with anything like this before, so I had to make a lot of discreet enquiries. I started out with quite a list of names, but for one reason or another, I eliminated a dozen or more before I approached you. The decisive factor was the consideration that, apart from your individual reputations being at least as impressive as the others, you’ve all worked together before. I consider that critical.’

    Wade broke in. ‘This must be some job you’ve got planned,’ he said. ‘You’re offering us twenty thousand dollars each, so I guess you expect a bigger cut for yourself.’

    Beresford nodded. ‘Yes indeed. Since I had the idea and had to work out the details, I think that’s fair. My suggestion is that I take half and you share the rest among you – I’ve assumed equally, as you’ll all be doing similar work and taking the same chances. I expect the proceeds to be just over two hundred thousand dollars, which means the twenty thousand each for you that I’ve already mentioned.’

    The younger Moran goggled. ‘Mister, you must be planning to empty the Denver Mint.’

    Beresford laughed again. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘the Mint comes into it in a way.’

    ‘Whoa, just a minute,’ Broderick exclaimed. ‘If you’re planning to rob that place, I guess you can count me out. I’ve no taste for suicide.’

    Beresford raised the calming hand again. ‘No need for excitement, gentlemen. Hear me out, then decide.’

    ‘That’s what we came for,’ Wade answered.

    Beresford picked up a flat leather case from the floor, extracting a large brown envelope. ‘It’s all in here,’ he said. ‘Now, I’ll just outline the scheme, then, if you’re all interested, we can go through the details after we’ve eaten.’

    ‘Just one point first,’ said Broderick quietly. ‘You mentioned ninety-five per cent chance of success. Why not a hundred per cent?’

    Beresford pushed a hand through his hair, as though puzzled by the question, then shrugged. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘I guess nothing in this world is a hundred per cent certain. Why, if you want to push it to the limit, I suppose there’s no guarantee that we’ll survive this little outing.’ He gave a short, barking laugh before continuing: ‘No gentlemen, I can’t be absolutely certain that it couldn’t go wrong, but I truly believe that the chances of success are at least as high as I put them. Anyway, you’ll soon judge for yourselves.’

    ‘That’s right boys,’ said Wade. ‘Let’s hear what the man has to say.’

    Everyone relaxed and Beresford went on: ‘It’s really fairly simple. The fact is that I’ve a good head for business and over the past few years, I’ve made a fair amount of money legitimately. Now, I could go on doing that and end up wealthy – in ten or twenty years. However, one advantage I get is having a lot of contacts and it was through one of them that I came up with this idea. If it works out as I’ve planned it, the operation will just save me a long spell of hard work and I don’t know of a man who wouldn’t like to do the same.’

    Satisfied that he had his audience gripped, Beresford took a swig of whiskey, settled himself back and continued: ‘It’s like this. A friend of mine who’s in a strategically useful position was celebrating a deal with me a little while ago. He got drunk and let it slip that the consignment of merchandise I have in mind is coming through Denver next week, on its way to San Francisco. Fortunately, my acquaintance was so far gone that night that by the following day, he couldn’t remember a thing that passed between us. Anyway, I learned that the Mint has agreed, as a favour to the transportation people, to hold the consignment overnight, then it leaves the next evening, under heavy guard.’

    ‘Well,’ said the older Moran, ‘ that doesn’t sound too promising.’

    Beresford lifted a forefinger. ‘Ah,’ he answered, ‘on the face of it, no. But I also learned that nobody wants any public display, especially around the railroad station, where there are bound to be the usual loungers. It’s been decided that the trains carrying the goods are to make special stops just outside Denver, both coming and going, so that the transfer can be made without any unwelcome attention. Now, on the way in we have no chance, but as to the way out, I know where the stop will be made, when the stuff will leave the Mint and what route the guards will take. There’s just one weak point along the way and I’m as sure as I can be that we could walk off with the jackpot.’

    ‘Wait a minute.’ This was the older Moran again. ‘Two hundred thousand dollars in gold may take little transporting. You got that worked out too?’

    ‘Gold?’ Beresford replied. ‘Oh, no. I didn’t say anything about gold. I’m speaking of diamonds, gentlemen, and I hardly need to say that weight for weight they’re far more valuable than gold. There’ll be no trouble in moving them.’

    While Beresford was speaking, the train began to lose speed as it approached the steepest, most tortuous part of the journey, where the track began to wind around the formidable mountain wall. As it was leaving the last section of open country, Wilson suddenly sat up straight and stared out of the window. ‘That’s queer,’ he said.

    ‘What is?’ asked Beresford.

    ‘Out there. A horse, all alone. Saddled, bedroll an’ all, an’ no rider in sight.’

    Beresford shrugged. ‘Well, he’ll be around somewhere, I imagine. Now, if you’ll humour me by taking your places at the table, you’ll find that those tureens contain potatoes and a good spread of vegetables. I’ll just go see the fireman and get our steaks. You’ll probably be surprised at what a good engine crew can do with a nice piece of beef and all that heat.’ He rose and made for the forward door as his guests sorted out where they were going to sit.

    The train was taking a curve now, revealing the precarious stretch that Beresford had spoken of earlier. Now it was clear why the windows on the left were fastened. The sheer rock wall was only inches from the side of the car and any attempt to lean out could have had serious consequences. On the right was a vertiginous drop. Wade was peering out on that side. ‘Quite a sight,’ he said. ‘Must be close to a thousand feet.’

    ‘It’s six hundred,’ replied Beresford. ‘This is the last spot where a man can get off and back on again, if he’s quick enough. Up ahead, there’s barely even room to walk alongside the train. Anyway, I’ll be back in a minute.’ He jumped down to the track and, to his guests’ surprise, began to trot back towards the last bend.

    ‘What’s he doing?’ asked the younger Moran. ‘The engine’s up the other way.’ A flutter of consternation ran through all five men, then Beresford came padding back, outpacing the train, which was now labouring along at walking speed. He waved to the outlaws and moved on ahead to the locomotive. As he did so, there was a loud explosion.

    Broderick lowered a window, poking his head out almost over the dizzy precipice. ‘What was that?’ he yelled.

    Beresford looked back, waving his arms. ‘Engineers down in the valley,’ he shouted. ‘They use a lot of dynamite.’

    The desperadoes returned to their seats. Impatient as always, Wilson took the lid from one of the tureens, revealing a heap of whole boiled potatoes. He speared one with a fork and began munching. Broderick shook his head at the breach of etiquette. ‘Your table manners don’t improve, Tom,’ he sighed.

    ‘Manners be damned,’ snapped Wilson. ‘I ain’t eaten yet today.’ He jabbed up a second potato, satisfied that he had managed to shock at least one of his partners. By this time, all five men had helped themselves liberally to the whiskey and mellowness was coming to the fore. They began ribbing each other about the jobs they had done together. As they were taking their liquor on empty stomachs, no-one was stone cold sober, the intemperate Wilson being near-enough outright drunk.

    The train was now close to the top of its ascent and moving at snail’s pace. Beresford appeared again at the rear of the car. He waved, fiddled with the door handle, then turned to kneel on the platform, where he grunted and strained for a moment, then rose to face the outlaws. Reaching down with his right hand, he produced a double-barrelled sawn-off shotgun. He used the butt to smash the glazed upper part of the door, then swivelled the weapon, pointing it at the bandits. ‘Right, gentlemen,’ he said grimly, ‘the party’s over.’

    For a moment, through the alcohol fog, none of the bandits grasped what was happening, then the younger Moran bawled: ‘Hey, the engine’s goin’ on without us. What the hell…?’

    ‘Shut up,’ snarled Beresford, all traces of the earlier geniality wiped from his face, now a fierce mask. ‘You don’t have time to talk. You don’t have much time for anything.’

    The car, released from the locomotive and tender, had begun to roll backwards. Beresford raked the muzzles of his shotgun back and forth, covering the five men. Not one dared to draw in the face of that menace, for a single blast would have hit all of them.

    ‘Now,’ said Beresford, his glance taking in his guests, turned prisoners. ‘The noise you heard just now was an explosion right enough. I blasted the track back there. In about thirty seconds, you boys are going to take the long drop and there’s no way out. Before you go, you’d better know that my name isn’t John Beresford. It’s Richard Talbot and those people you killed six years ago in Montana were my parents. Now you’ll pay. I guess you don’t do much praying, but if you’ve anything to say, you’d better say it quick.’ With that, he directed the shotgun barrels at the ornate ceiling of the car and pulled one of the triggers.

    Instinctively the five outlaws dropped to the floor. As they did so, Talbot swung himself backwards off the platform railing and dropped to the ground, overbalancing and landing on his backside. Jumping up instantly, he ran after the car. He was just in time to see it reach the curve where he had, minutes earlier, wrecked the track.

    To Talbot, it seemed that time stood still for an instant as the car followed the fractured metals, now hanging over the void. Then the rails bent under the weight and the outlaws’ temporary coffin began its long descent. It caromed off a rock ledge a third of the way down, then completed its last journey in one unbroken plunge, shattering on the valley floor.

    Stepping forward to the break in the track, Talbot looked down at the roiling dust. ‘Yes,’ he said to himself, ‘it’s six hundred feet all right.’ Then he tramped off to join the waiting horse that Wilson had noticed earlier.
    * * *


    Last edited by Courtjester; March 28th, 2019 at 02:07 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  3. #13
    LAST CONTRACT

    It was a fine, bracing spring morning in Arizona, the air still crisp from overnight frost. Hissing, hooting and clanking, the short train came to a halt. The manager bustled out of his office in the weather-beaten wooden station building, calling a greeting to the footplate crew. The guard jumped down from his caboose, hauled out a crate and an assortment of parcels and sacks, then loaded a small pile of items left for him on the platform.

    On this occasion no passengers boarded and the only one to alight was a man, five feet ten inches in height and slimly built. In this seedy township, he was turned out well enough to attract attention, if there had been anyone around interested enough to pay it. He wore a thigh-length black coat of top quality, matching pants, white shirt, narrow black tie, low-crowned black hat and lightweight black shoes, well polished – a smart dresser, if a little funereal in appearance.

    It was, however, not so much the man’s garb as his face that was arresting. Though he came from the heart of the West, he had nothing of the tanned, weathered look exhibited by so many men who shared his background. His sharp, narrow features were set in the sallow parchment skin of a clean-shaven face. Not the appearance of a man who spent much time outdoors. It was a closed face, the thoughts and feelings that went on behind it veiled from inspection. He didn’t look like a man who would have much need of company, or much taste for it. The glittering black eyes flickered around, missing nothing.

    For perhaps a minute, the newcomer stood on the platform, then he picked up his single item of luggage – a large carpet-bag – in his left hand, walked softly along the sun-bleached boards and down the ramp which led to the dusty yard. He set down the bag by the slumping fence of a disused cattle pen. As he bent, the long coat fell open, revealing a gun belt, the open-ended holster carrying a Colt revolver with a long barrel and walnut hand-grips. He straightened up and took a leather cigar case from an inside pocket, extracting and lighting a long black cheroot. Then he looked at the town.

    It wasn’t much. Seventy or eighty buildings, he guessed, almost all of them wood frame. Just enough to form two intersecting streets, plus a few nondescript shacks, straggling out into the seemingly endless surrounding space. None of the structures looked any too solid and there was scant evidence of paintwork. That wasn’t important to the new arrival. He didn’t plan to be there long.

    The train did some more gasping and snorting, then hauled itself off to another town, further east. The depot manager, apparently exhausted by his minimal burst of effort, dumped his ample backside onto the platform bench with the air of a man who had little to do until the evening train arrived, and was not too sorry about that.

    Invigorating though the atmosphere was, it did nothing to encourage activity beyond the station. The town’s somnolence, barely and briefly lifted by the train’s arrival, descended again. The only movement around the drowsing depot was provided by a boy of about ten, who was performing handstands outside the waiting room abutting the manager’s office, his shoes slapping the plank wall like a slow-set metronome. The newcomer watched the display for a while, then called to the boy. “Hey, kid.”

    The youngster aborted his latest short run-up and wheeled to face the voice. “Yes, mister?”

    “You know Bob Michaelson?”

    “Sure do. Everybody knows him. He runs the saloon.”

    The stranger nodded. That would be Bob all right. It was the sort of thing he’d be doing. No cowpunching or mining for him. With a thin smile, the man fished a silver coin from his left-hand coat pocket, spinning it through the air, a couple of feet to the boy’s right. A grimy little hand flashed out, fastening onto the precious object.

    “Go find him,” said the stranger. His tone was low and flat, cutting through the still air. “See he’s alone. Tell him Eddie Geller’s here. Say I’ll be paying my respects soon. Then come back and let me know you’ve done it. And be sure you don’t tell anybody else. You got that?”

    “Okay,” said the boy. “I’ll be right back.”

    The move was typical of Eddie Geller. A man should make use of the resources around him efficiently and economically. If you wanted a job done, get a boy to do it and pay him well. He wouldn’t think things over or ponder about the consequences. He would do exactly what was wanted of him.

    Geller dismissed the impending business from his mind, quietly enjoying another inch of his cheroot while he waited. That was true to type too. A man did what he had to do, when he had to do it, then switched off and waited. No philosophy, no moralising. Good smokes and quality liquor, both in moderation, a wide spread of reading, especially about financial matters, and a little card-playing. Long periods when nothing happened, then a job would come up and a man had to bustle around for a while. When Geller worked, he was paid handsomely, but never spent much, preferring to tuck most of his earnings away, thinking of the future.

    The boy came scampering back. “I done what you said, mister,” he gasped.

    “Good. What did he say?”

    “He said he understood an’ he’d been expecting somebody. Said he figured it would be you or Newt Bradley. Does that make sense?”

    Geller nodded. “Yeah, it makes sense.” His lip curled slightly at the mention of Newt Bradley, a man he considered distinctly inferior to himself in the profession the two shared. “Okay son, you did well. Now keep your mouth shut tight and there could be five dollars more for you in a day or two.”

    The boy was overwhelmed. “Mister,” he said, “for that much money I’ll stay dumb till I’m twenty-one.” He turned and expressed his joy by resuming his exercise with such vigour that the dozing depot manager leapt up, threatening to thrash him if he didn’t stop trying to demolish the building.

    Eddie Geller hefted his bag and walked slowly along the main, east-west street, then along the shorter intersecting one, his eyes darting jet chips, taking in every detail. His stroll took less than ten minutes, but that was enough, for this was an art form with him. He could have departed right away and drawn as accurate a map of the town as any local resident could have done, without a day-long study. Much of the time, most people see things without really registering them. Geller always did both. That was often useful and occasionally vital in his line of work.

    At the western end of the main street, the last place on the right was a two-storey house, set back a little from the from the neighbouring street-side buildings by a garden, somewhat unkempt but bearing the marks of toil. Well, at least somebody had tried and the house looked smarter than most of the others. A sign in the front window offered a room for rent. Apart from the hotel – not a good option, as it would probably mean people around – there was no other place that looked promising. Geller settled for what he was looking at.

    The house was owned by a widow, about sixty years of age, grey-haired, and with a weary, careworn look. She explained that she made ends meet by renting out the room, following the loss of her husband, who had been killed in an accident at the silver mine, which had been the basis of the town’s former prosperity. Now the heady days were over. Digging had stopped over a year ago and those who stayed on did the best they could. That tallied with Geller’s information about the place. It was surviving on inexorably depleting capital. Soon it would fold up and die.

    Geller wasn’t interested in his prospective landlady’s travails, but listened politely. The woman, her eyes telling the story of defeat better than any words could, made only the most perfunctory enquiries of the welcome, respectable-looking guest. He told her that he was recovering from a lung complaint and that a spell of Arizona air had been recommended to him. It wasn’t a particularly convincing story, but didn’t need to be. The woman offered to supply breakfast along with the room and Geller paid her a week’s rent in advance, though he had no intention of staying so long. One day would probably do, but he reckoned that the extra payment would add substance to his story in a place where tongues might wag, and anyway, to do him justice, he was generous in some ways. He could afford to be.

    Having dumped his bag and freshened up, Geller went to the livery stable, adjacent to the railroad depot. He bought a durable-looking horse – one way or another, he would dispose of it later – and arranged that it be kept ready for him. Being an amateur astronomer, he explained, he was fond of riding out at night, under the stars. A much-used but serviceable saddle completed the deal. Geller wasn’t concerned about the cost. Even if he didn’t bother to sell his acquisitions, the investment was trifling in the context of his financial affairs. Satisfied, he returned to his room. He didn’t unpack – there’d be no need for that. He took a bottle of rum from his bag, removed his coat and shoes and lay on the bed. Clasping his hands on the pillow behind his head, he reviewed his position.

    For three years now, Eddie Geller had been promising himself retirement at forty. Well, he was now four months short of that, so this would be his last job. It was a fitting finale, for this was the first occasion on which the man who was to receive his attention was known to him. All the others had been simply cases. They were objects rather than people. Bob Michaelson was different, for the two had known one another years earlier. They’d drunk whiskey and played cards together, each knowing the other’s business, each respecting the other. But they had never been friends.

    It was because of their earlier acquaintanceship that Geller had taken the unusual step of informing Michaelson of his arrival. That was a special touch to mark the fact that this was Geller’s final bow. He was tired of his way of making a living. He had started out on it almost by accident, shortly before his twenty-sixth birthday. At first there had been a kind of stage-fright before each performance. That was history. Time now to call it a day. Geller had no illusions about growing old in his trade. He reckoned he had already beaten the life-expectancy odds for that kind of work by several years. If he were to continue, he would take on one job too many.

    Geller was undoubtedly the top man in his line of work, which explained his displeasure at being bracketed with Newt Bradley as a candidate for this job. In Geller’s opinion, Bradley was a crude operator. Not that Geller’s own methods were always the acme of finesse, but to place him alongside Bradley was insulting.

    When Geller’s services were required, the process was usually a delicate one, for nobody in his business did any advertising. The principal would have to find someone who in turn might know someone, who might just be able to get word to the master workman. Naturally, no-one wanted to come right out and say he was a friend of a man like Eddie Geller. Nevertheless, the dark, sinister osmosis began, and after muted talks in smoky barrooms, someone would get word to him. In due course, Geller would act. He did not often take a case through direct negotiation with the originating party.

    In his fourteen-year career, Geller had accepted twenty-three jobs. He had never failed. Twenty-three contracts, twenty-seven killings, two being doubles and one a triple. Well, twenty-eight disposals to be precise, as one employer had been foolish enough to argue about paying the balance of the fee, claiming that the job had not been done as agreed. He’d been despatched free of charge. Five times, Geller had refused to act. Twice, the proposed targets had been women. Though Geller disliked and distrusted females, he drew the line at killing them. Whether that was attributable to his peculiar brand of chivalry or because he considered such work beneath him, he never said, but simply refused the jobs. The other three cases he had declined because he didn’t consider the transgressions involved as sufficiently heinous to warrant assassination. Nobody could fairly say that Eddie Geller lacked ethics.

    Once the contract had been made, there was no escape for the target, not even through his seeking protection from the law. If necessary, Geller would have gone through ten peace officers in line astern to complete his work. Professional pride dictated that. No, if a man had Eddie Geller after him, there was no sanctuary. Not that the quarry usually knew what was coming. Only three of them had known, but awareness hadn’t helped them.

    As Geller’s tally of successes had mounted, so had his charges. At first he had worked for sums he would now consider derisory. But of course, a man had to build a reputation, whether he was a merchant, an engineer, an architect, or a killer. Now Geller was atop the heap. He was expensive, but he was infallible. From the moment he accepted a job, it was as good as done.

    This, Geller’s final case, was unusual not only in that he knew the target personally, but in that he had also dealt directly with the principal. Knowing Bob Michaelson as he did, Geller would have believed anything of him. Now in his middle forties, Michaelson, a tall, slim, handsome, fair-haired, genial fellow was an inveterate crook, any kind of swindle coming as naturally to him as breathing. Had he used his talents for legitimate purposes, he could have been a wealthy, respected man. But that was not his way. He enjoyed his reckless lifestyle. More than once, his chicanery had netted him enough to retire on and he had promptly gambled it all away. Then he had tangled with the Shearing Company. That had been a mistake.

    Eddie Geller allowed his mind to wander back two weeks, to his sole meeting with Gerald Shearing, eponymous head of a large mining company. Using his considerable resources, Shearing had found out about Geller and sent for him, paying handsomely in advance for the interview alone, irrespective of its outcome. Having no conceivable connection with the businessman and seeing no reason to suspect any deception, Geller had accepted the invitation.

    The mining boss was a tough middle-aged man and a self-made tycoon. Without much preamble, he had said that he wanted Michaelson taken care of. He didn’t ask about the usual fees, but mentioned a sum that made even so high-priced an operator as the man facing him raise an eyebrow. Nevertheless, Geller had insisted on knowing what Michaelson had done to deserve a death sentence. Shearing, an autocrat, accustomed to giving short shrift to hirelings, intimated that that was his business. Geller had countered that he had his own code – no explanation, no contract.

    Having for once met his match, the captain of industry capitulated. He explained that Michaelson had inveigled his way into the confidence of Gerald Shearing Junior, only child of the great entrepreneur. Young Gerald had run one of the company’s mines in Nevada. Michaelson had tried, unsuccessfully, to bring off a crazy, illegal stunt, which had gone badly wrong. As a side-effect of his inexcusable conduct, there had been complications, during the course of which Shearing junior had been killed. Nothing could be proved in law, but Shearing senior told Geller enough to convince him that Michaelson’s time had come.

    Through the mysterious nexus of Geller’s contacts, Michaelson had been located. The links were many and varied and few people refused to do a favour for Eddie Geller. After all, a man never knew what might happen if he declined. Now, here they both were, predator and prey, in this decaying community in the middle of nowhere. There was no local law – Geller had checked that. In fact there was no law of real substance for a good long way in any direction.

    Knowing Michaelson as he did, Geller was sure that the man would not try to run. For one thing, he would know that flight was useless. For another, in his perverse way, Michaelson would regard this matter as a challenge. Though no great gunman himself, he was an irrepressible optimist. He would conclude that, even with Geller upon him, he would be able to plead, bribe or trick his way out of the situation. Something would save him. Geller chuckled at the thought. Would it now?

    As the afternoon wore on, Geller sipped sparingly at the rum, worked his way through three of the long, thin cheroots and concluded that there was no point in delay. He would deal with the matter at once. That decided, he began to plan how he would spend his retirement. His display of showmanship in revealing his identity did not give him any qualms. It wouldn’t help anybody to know that he had accounted for Michaelson. As soon as the job was done, Eddie Geller would disappear forever. A change of name and location would see to that. Edmund Gale of Philadelphia sounded good. Maybe he would get into the mainstream of life. Perhaps buy himself a small business. It was working out right.

    Geller ignored the pangs of hunger for some time, then succumbed, taking a chunk of jerky from a packet of emergency provisions stowed in the carpet bag he had been toting largely for the sake of appearance. He chewed away the food, then waited another hour. By then it was dark and time for action. Taking only a small bundle of personal items, he slipped quietly away from the house.

    First, he went to the livery stable, now unattended. He saddled the horse, not wanting to waste time when his business was concluded. Hooking his package over the saddle horn, he left the animal and walked off towards his target. He didn’t need to check the position again, his first brief survey having sufficed. Between the saloon and the adjacent general store was a narrow alleyway. As Geller started to enter it, a scruffy mongrel dog rose from the shadows of the sidewalk, sniffing at him. For a moment, he thought that meant trouble, then the animal relapsed into its lethargy, apathetic within the town’s greater apathy.

    Geller went to the back of the saloon. At the right-hand end was a small outhouse, its flat roof just below an upstairs sash window, the bottom part of which was half-open. Geller smiled. It was too easy. People didn’t seem to learn. Within seconds he had hauled himself up seven feet and was kneeling by the upstairs window, peering in at a sparsely-furnished room. By the inner wall to his left was a bed, the mattress bare of sheet and blankets. So, seemingly unoccupied. That would do. Pushing the sash fully open, he clambered inside, his intention being to wait here. If anyone disturbed him, that would be too bad for the party concerned. Geller didn’t want to kill a ‘casual’ but a man had to deal with what turned up.

    It was a Tuesday and from Geller’s brief glance at the front of the saloon, he judged that business inside was none too brisk. Most likely Michaelson would close early. Even if he didn’t live on the premises, he would be the last to leave – only this night he wouldn’t do that, unless his covert visitor was much mistaken.

    Geller opened the door a few inches, hearing subdued conversation from the barroom. He couldn’t emerge further without unacceptable risk. There was nothing to do but settle down and wait, checking the position from time to time.

    After a couple of hours, the talk below died down as the few customers drifted away. It was close to eleven o’clock when Geller pushed the door open a little wider, giving himself a view of the room below. There was now only one customer, talking quietly with his host. Twenty minutes later, the man left and Michaelson closed the larger doors behind the batwings, throwing a bar across them – a security precaution, Geller noted, in sharp contrast to the laxity in respect of the rear window he’d used.

    This was it. Geller, soft shoes muffling his approach, started down the stairs.

    Michaelson was tidying up and had his back to the intruder. “Hello, Eddie,” he said.

    Geller realised that he had been spotted in the mirror behind the bar. That didn’t matter, as stealth wasn’t necessary at this stage. “Hello, Bob.”

    Michaelson turned. “You didn’t waste much time.”.

    “I rarely do.”

    “It’s been quite a while, Eddie. How’s life treating you?”

    “Can’t complain. You?”

    “I’m getting by. Like a drink?”

    “As long as it’s a fresh bottle.”

    “Pick your own.” Michaelson waved an arm at the selection.

    Geller, his still-holstered gun indicating supreme confidence, walked over to the bar. Not satisfied with what was on immediate offer, he went to the backbar shelves, selecting a full, stoppered bottle of whiskey. “Join me?” he asked.

    “Might as well,” replied Michaelson, who seemed, despite obvious knowledge of his desperate situation, quite calm. Or maybe, Geller reasoned, it was just fatalism.

    The two stood together at the bar. Geller, aware of Michaelson’s deviousness, kept his coat open and clear of his gun butt. Michaelson opened the bottle, picked two large glasses and poured king-sized measures. “I suppose there’s no point in a toast to good health?” he said laconically.

    “I reckon not,” Geller answered.

    Michaelson downed his drink in one swift gulp and treated himself to another, half of which he also despatched quickly. He was staring into Geller’s eyes as he put down his glass. Rapping it awkwardly on the edge of the bar, he lost control and let it fall, the liquid dribbling across floorboards and sawdust. “Damn,” he said. “Guess I’ve had one too many.” He dropped to one knee to retrieve the glass, stumbling as he did so and feeling for the bar with his left hand. He missed, clawing instead at Geller’s right leg, just below the gun.

    Geller stepped back quickly, dropping his right hand to the weapon and whipping round his open left to give Michaelson a vicious cuff to the right temple. The saloon-owner slumped sideways, his head slamming against the bar. “Don’t try anything else like that, Bob,” snapped the gunman.

    Michaelson rubbed his head ruefully as he rose. “I wasn’t trying anything Eddie. Just a little unsteady. I reckon a man has a right to feel that way when you come calling.”

    “Maybe,” said Geller. “Anyway, keep your distance.”

    “Okay. Listen, I’m not feeling so good. Let’s sit down there. That is, if you can spare the time.” He nodded at the nearest table and they walked over, sitting opposite one another.

    “Somebody must have put out a contract on me,” said Michaelson.

    “That’s right,” Geller replied.

    “I suppose it was old Shearing?”

    “Yes.”

    “Well, that wasn’t one of my better ideas.”

    “No. Seeing as you’re about to die for it, I guess you could say so.”
    Michaelson downed another shot of whiskey. “Maybe if I put back a little more rotgut, it won’t come so hard,” he said. “I don’t imagine I can buy my way out of this one?”

    “You know better than that, Bob,” Geller answered quietly. “No feelings involved here. It’s just business. I figured you wouldn’t try to run.”

    Michaelson shrugged. “I reckon I’m a philosophical man, Eddie,” he said. “I’m near forty-six years old and I’ve used myself up pretty freely. Way I see it, even if I go on, it’s downhill all the way now. Who wants to live another twenty or thirty years, getting older and weaker?”

    “You have a point there,” Geller answered. “Anyway, what were you doing before you came here?”

    Michaelson laughed. “You know me. Anything for a dollar. I pulled off a few jobs. Some of them were pretty good, too. I made a lot of money. Lost it again. Meantime I filled in any way I could. You might not believe this, but I spent two years working as a magician in a travelling show up north. Got damned good at it too. You’d be amazed what I can do with a pack of cards, a hat and a few other oddments.”

    Geller permitted himself a dry grin. “Yes, well, you always were a tricky man, Bob. It’s a pity we’ve got to this. We might have been friends if things had worked out some other way.”

    “I guess that’s life,” said Michaelson, shrugging again and downing another whiskey. “How do you aim to play it, Eddie?”

    “I figure just one, Bob. A head shot. Whenever it suits you.”

    “Might as well get on with it then. With this much firewater inside me, I’ll probably not notice.”

    Geller hauled out his gun. At this range, he didn’t need to prepare himself. “See you in Hell, Bob,” he said, levelling the Colt and firing in one smooth flow. The sound of the explosion racketed around the barroom.

    The shot didn’t kill Geller, but it didn’t do him any good. As the smoke wreathed up, the mangled gun fell from his twisted right hand, banging loudly on the floor. He sat back in his chair, mouth agape in astonishment, staring at the grinning saloonkeeper.

    “I believe you’re slipping a little, Eddie,” said Michaelson. “I just told you I used to be a conjurer. See, your weakness was that open-ended holster. Amazing what happens when you push a little metal wedge into a gun barrel, especially if you know how to do it. Back at the bar there, remember? I had two other ideas in mind in case that failed, but I’ll not need them now. Anyway, like you say, Eddie, see you in Hell.” Michaelson chuckled as he pulled a Derringer from a clip inside his right boot and shot Geller neatly in the forehead.

    * * *



    Last edited by Courtjester; March 31st, 2019 at 03:13 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  4. #14
    FLIMFLAM

    That Jack Gilling and Clay Mellowes should meet was not inevitable, but seemed more than likely. Both men were in the same small part of the world at the same time and were, albeit in the broadest sense, in the same line of business. So many ‘sames’ suggested that they might well come across one another.

    The exact nature of the confrontation involved several kinds of irony. It took place in the Rosewood Basin of New Mexico at a critical moment in the history of that region. The area was a tinderbox. Cattlemen and sheepherders had been embroiled for some time in a steadily intensifying dispute which had just about come to a head as Jack Gilling and Clay Mellowes converged on the town of Rosewood. Neither man was aware that this was the focal point of the impending clash.

    Though Gilling and Mellowes were involved in gunplay, they were in distinctly different branches of it. Jack Gilling always operated with his partner, Luke Marsh and the two had evolved a remarkable way of making a living. It wasn’t exactly a steady occupation and was never likely to be a long-term one but it had already lasted well over a year when the two men arrived in Rosewood.

    Gilling was passably handy with a six-shooter, though nothing like good enough to be a real gunfighter. He could draw fairly quickly but was a poor marksman. Had he ever been obliged to try conclusions with a genuine professional, he would not have had a chance. However, so far he had avoided any such inconvenience. Not that he was greatly troubled by the prospect, for apart from his total aversion to working for a living, his most pronounced quality was recklessness. He simply didn’t care what happened to him. Furthermore, he had complete confidence in his ability to brazen or wriggle his way out of any difficulty.

    So far, Gilling and Marsh had done business in eleven towns, and had fared well in ten of them. The failure was the one in which the local lawman had been an exceptionally tough and very irritable fellow. Without waiting to find out what the two adventurers were up to, he had assumed the worst and sent them on their way.

    The system was simple. Gilling and Marsh sought out communities which were big enough to give them what they wanted, but too small to offer them much resistance. First, Marsh would survey the target, returning to report his findings. If the outlook was promising, he would ride in the following day, ahead of his friend, enter a saloon and let it be known that he was fleeing from the dreaded gunslinger Gilling, who had a score to settle with him and would soon hit town. Gilling would allow a reasonable time for Marsh to attract attention, then swagger into the saloon, confront his quarry and call him out. Invariably, Marsh would go for his gun and always Gilling would outdraw him and apparently shoot him, usually in the gun hand. The master marksman would then declare himself satisfied and Marsh would be sent packing.

    What with Marsh’s build-up and Gilling’s awesome shooting display, the gunman would usually find the town nicely cowed. He would then presume upon his obvious powers to get whatever he wanted from the local saloons and stores, informing the owners that he would settle with them when it suited him. Rarely did anyone care to argue with him. After a couple of days, and without spending a penny, Gilling would leave the town, loaded with supplies, and rejoin his partner. The play-acting was effective and it enabled the pair to avail themselves of whatever they wanted.

    Clay Mellowes was different. For one thing, he was, or at least had been, a gunman of some notoriety, having killed four men in fair shootouts and faced down half a dozen others. However, by the time he arrived in Rosewood, he was a spent force. He knew it, and was aware that his survival depended on not letting anyone else know it. He had almost – but not quite – managed that. So far, his reputation had kept him safe, but he expected to meet his nemesis, sooner or later. He’d already had one close call, having dissuaded a young hothead from taking a chance against him.

    The truth was that Mellowes could no longer see properly. For nearly a year, his eyes had been giving trouble. His vision was intermittently blurred, and even when it wasn’t, he often had difficulty in focusing. Now, unless he was having a particularly good day, he couldn’t guarantee to hit a house from its garden gate.

    Gilling and Marsh arrived in Rosewood from the South on a blistering July afternoon. As usual, Marsh, a short thin rat-faced man, went in a couple of hours before his partner. There was a sprinkling of cowpunchers and townspeople in the Southern Star, the largest of the three saloons. It didn’t take long for Marsh to move into his routine. He had offended the fearsome Jack Gilling, who was now on his heels. Just time for a whiskey or two to steady the nerves, then he would be on his way. No future for anybody facing Gilling.

    With impeccable timing, the gunman strode into the saloon. He was a tall broad man, dwarfing his partner. Immediately, his eyes lighted upon Marsh, who was speaking. The smaller man stopped in mid-sentence, his mouth falling wide open as he saw Gilling. Then he deposited his glass on the bar and wiped his hands nervously on his pants. “H… Hello, Jack,” he mumbled.

    The pistolero was not disposed to waste time. He moved over to the bar. The locals, sensing what was about to happen, shuffled away, giving the two men a clear field. Gilling stood, arms akimbo, facing Marsh. “I’ve only one thing to say to you, feller,” he snapped. “Haul iron.”

    Marsh was quivering. “Now just … just …w …wait a minute,” he stammered.

    Gilling snatched up a glass from the bar. “I’ve waited long enough,” he said. “When this thing hits the floor, you draw or you take what’s coming anyway.” He tossed the glass high. The instant it hit the floor, Marsh made a show of going for his gun. He’d barely cleared leather when Gilling fired his single shot, a blank as always. Marsh cried out, dropping his weapon. He clapped his left hand over the right, neatly bursting the packet of cow’s blood strapped to his lower forearm. “Damn,” he gasped, staring at the red liquid dripping from his fingers to the floor. “You broke my wrist.”

    “That’s what I aimed to do,” Gilling replied. “It’s good enough. Now get your gun and hit the trail before I change my mind and kill you.”

    Making a show of his pain, Marsh did as he was told, leaving the saloon and riding rapidly out of the town. Gilling holstered his weapon and ordered whiskey.

    The bartender, now a bag of nerves, served him. “Mister, I never saw shooting like that before,” he said. “You just blasted the gun right out of his hand. Didn’t mean to kill him.”

    Gilling downed his drink. “Leave the bottle,” he growled. “If I’d meant to kill him, he’d be dead. You want to draw and see me prove it again?”

    “My God, no. I don’t have a sidearm anyway. It’s just the most amazin’ thing I ever saw. Didn’t mean any offence.”

    “Well, okay. None taken this time. Just mind your tongue in future.”

    “I’ll do that.”

    His initial performance over, Gilling settled himself down with three more shots of the raw liquor. People were leaving and entering the saloon and within an hour there wasn’t a soul in the town who didn’t know of the newcomer’s exploit. That was the usual way of it. Soon, Gilling would find the best accommodation available and set about acquiring what he and Marsh would need for the next month or two. Of course, he wouldn’t pay for anything and it was a near-certainty that nobody would press him to do so. That might be unwise.

    By mid-afternoon, Gilling was relaxing in the most comfortable room that Rosewood’s sole hotel had to offer. He’d treated himself to a bottle of the establishment’s finest brandy and was toying with the idea of a meal when there was a knock at the door. Sliding out his gun, he called the visitor to enter.

    The incomer was a slim fellow of average height, with the dress and bearing of a cowboy. “Evening,” he said. “Name’s Kydd. I’m foreman for Lewis Stockdale. He leads the cattlemen around here.”

    “I’m Jack Gilling. What do you want?”

    “I’ll get straight to the point. There’s big trouble here between us ranchers and the sheepmen. It’s just about ready to explode. My boss figures that a top gunhand will give us the edge we need. From what you did today, we reckon you could be that man, if you’ll take on the job.”

    “Oh, you reckon that, do you? And what do you think it’s worth?”

    “A straight thousand dollars. I have it here. Maybe you won’t have to do anything apart from staying around for a week or so. ’Course, if the sheepmen bring anybody in, we’d expect you to earn the money.”

    Like most men who lived by their wits, the fake shootist was quick on the uptake. His mind raced as Kydd was speaking. Even before the man had finished, Gilling knew he was going to take the cash. He would work out later what to do. Maybe he would just run off. He’d do so for sure if the sheepmen brought in a serious gunfighter. He made quite a demonstration of considering the matter, getting up from the bed and walking over to stare out of the window, rubbing his jaw.

    Both men stood in silence for nearly three minutes, then Gilling turned sharply. “All right,” he said. “I normally rate a good deal more than a thousand dollars for a job like this, but as it happens, I’m sympathetic to cowmen and I’ve no time for sheep. Give me the money and tell Stockdale I’ll look after his interests. Maybe we can bring things to the boil in a week. If not, we’ll think about it again.”

    Kydd handed over a wad of bills. “Can we rely on you to stand by us?” he asked.

    It wasn’t the right remark to pass to a top gunfighter. Gilling gave the foreman a look fit to kill. “Mister,” he said very quietly. “Are you questioning my integrity?”

    Kydd held up a protesting hand. “No, not at all. Sorry. I guess I just don’t know how to handle this kind of thing. I never did the like of it before.”

    “If you don’t watch your manners, you might never do it again. You can get on your way now. Give it a couple of days, then call again and we’ll talk. I’ll have worked something out by then.”

    Kydd left without another word and Gilling began to consider how best to handle his stroke of luck, without involving himself in anything so dangerous as flying lead. There was a good case for hitting the trail without further ado. After all, a thousand dollars was a tidy sum. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t be called upon to act at all, so there might be a chance of getting a haul of supplies, in addition to the money. Two days later, Gilling was still trying to decide on his best course. In the meantime, he had had the run of the town and had not heard anything further from the rancher, Stockdale, who was clearly giving him the time he’d suggested.

    It was late in the afternoon of this third day of Gilling’s stay in Rosewood when another visitor came to town, this time from the North. Clay Mellowes was making his way to nowhere in particular and was not in a hurry. This looked as good a place as any to stay for a day or two, so he took his horse to the livery stable then headed for the nearest saloon. This was a smaller place than the one where Gilling had made his entrance, and was the one favoured by the sheepmen for what little drinking they did in town. The owner, Coleman, kept two guest bedrooms, both a good deal less comfortable than anything at the hotel. However, Mellowes didn’t care to search the town for something better, so he decided to stay the night where he was.

    He hadn’t been in the saloon more than five minutes when the bartender walked across the room, bent over and muttered something to a man drinking alone at a table. The man nodded, got up and left. Mellowes, whose eyesight was still good enough to note anything so obvious, smiled to himself. He had been recognised. Well, why not? He wasn’t exactly travelling incognito. It would be interesting to see whether his presence would cause a stir. It would.

    As with the more dramatic arrival of Gilling and Marsh, the appearance of Mellowes, a renowned gunman, was known to everyone in the town within the hour. People began to drop into the saloon for a quick drink, before leaving to tell others that they had seen the redoubtable Clay Mellowes. The man himself affected not to notice. He just hoped that no young upstart would come along to spoil the day by trying to provoke him.

    After drinking his fill of whiskey, Mellowes crossed the street for an evening meal, then returned to the saloon, going straight up to his room. An hour later he was lying on his bed, smoking a cigar, when there was a knock at the door. He drew his gun, inviting the visitor to enter. An extraordinarily tall, lugubrious-looking fellow came in. “Evening,” he said. “Hope you don’t mind my asking, but are you Clay Mellowes?”

    “That’s right. What can I do for you?”

    “Plenty, if you’ve a mind to. My name’s Overton. I’m speaking for the sheepmen here.”

    “So?”

    “Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a storm brewing between us and the cattlemen. No point in giving you all the details. Long and short of it is there’s going to be a hell of a bust-up any day now. We’re just sheepherders, not warmongers. We need a good man with a gun to give us a chance when the ruckus starts. I’m asking if you’ll help us?”

    Mellowes took out his cigar, inspecting it while he stroked his chin. It was close to a minute before he replied. “I’m retired. Maybe, just maybe, I’d consider one more job. If you can afford it, that is.”

    “I hope we can,” said Overton. “Truth is we’ve no experience in such matters. We reckon we’d need you for about a week. Maybe you won’t need to … er … work. Your name alone might do the trick. We put together all the money we can spare. Comes to just a thousand dollars. That enough?”

    Mellowes stared at the man for another long moment, then said: “My usual rate for a job like this would be two thousand, half before and half after.” Seeing Overton’s face fall, he held up a hand. “All right. I hear you boys have had a pretty raw deal, so I’m willing to make an exception. I’ll do the job for you, but I want the money now. That suit you?”

    Overton was clearly uncomfortable, but had little choice. “Fair enough,” he said. “I guess you’ll stick with us, once you have the money.”

    “You suggesting I might run out on you?” Mellowes’ tone was suddenly menacing.

    “Hell, no,” Overton replied. “Didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

    “All right. I reckon you didn’t know any better. Just give me the money and allow a day or two for me to figure out how I’ll play it.”

    Overton handed over a roll of bills. “Just one thing you ought to know,” he said. “There’s been talk around town that the cattlemen might have hired a man. Don’t know whether it’s true or not, but there’s a stranger in town, name of Gilling. They say he’s handy with a pistol. Mean anything to you?”

    “No. He can’t be much of a gunman if I never heard of him. I know them all. Don’t worry about him. You can go now. Let me know where I can contact you and I’ll be in touch.”

    After giving directions to his place, Overton departed, leaving Mellowes to reflect on his own show of bravado. In his condition, it would be suicide to go up against even a second-rater. Still, he had collected his thousand dollars. Now he had to decide what to do, short of getting into a battle. Well, he would sleep on it. Something would occur to him. He was still pondering on the matter an hour later, when there was another knock at the door. Grabbing his gun again, he growled: “Yeah. Come in.”

    The door opened slowly and an elderly wizened little man, almost bald, entered. “Mr Mellowes, sir?” he asked.

    “That’s right. Now what?”

    “Well, sir, you don’t know me. I’m the swamper in the Southern Star, at the other end of town.”

    “That’s nice. What do you want with me?”

    “Well, Mr Mellowes, I was just wonderin’ whether you think information is worth anythin’?”

    “Mister, I’m tired. If you have something to say, spit it out. I’ve no time for riddles.”

    “Okay, sir. Fact is, I got contacts here an’ there, an’ I keep my mouth shut an’ my eyes an’ ears open, so I get news that others don’t hear about. I know somethin’ about Jack Gilling that could be real valuable to you, if you had a mind to pay for it.”

    “What makes you think I’d be interested in this Gilling?”

    “Well, it’s goin’ around town that he’s been hired by the cattlemen to take their side in this here dispute that’s goin’ on. Now, a man don’t need to be too clever to put two an’ two together an’ figure out that maybe you’re here to take up with the sheepmen.”

    “Never mind that. What’s this about Gilling?”

    The swamper rubbed his hands together. “I’m a poor man, Mr Mellowes, sir,” he said. This news is real important. I reckon it’d be worth a hundred dollars to you.”

    Mellowes lowered his gun. He wasn’t going to need it. “What’s to stop me from getting a hold of that scrawny neck and wringing it out of you?” he rasped.

    “Oh, I don’t think you’ll do that. See, I took precautions. Left a couple o’ sealed-up notes around, in case somethin’ unpleasant happens to me. One of ’em’s with the town marshal. He ain’t too bright, but he can read well enough. If I don’t see him first thing in the mornin’, in good condition, he’ll read what I wrote. Guess I don’t need to say any more. Anyway, like I say, I reckon you’ll find what I can tell you is well worth the money.”

    Mellowes dug from his shirt pocket the cash he had received from Overton, peeling off a hundred dollars. “All right,” he said. “You’ll not find me small-minded if your information’s good. What is it?”

    “Well, it’s like this. Gilling’s a fraudster. He works with another man. They pick out towns. The partner rides in first an’ puts it around that he’s on the run from a top pistolero. Gilling goes in an hour or two after him and pretends to shoot him up, then takes over the place for a while. Gets everythin’ they want, then they meet up again. Fact is, Gilling’s no gunman. You can take it from me, he’d run a mile before facin’ a real shoot-out. If you’re in with the sheepmen, you just need to call him out an’ you’ll have an easy ride.”

    “You sure of this?”

    “As sure as sure can be, Mr Mellowes. You can bet your life on it.”

    “Maybe I will. Okay, I figure that’s worth a hundred. Here it is. Now get out and keep your mouth shut, or I’ll know who to look up after I’m through with Gilling.”

    Ten minutes later, while Mellowes was working out how to proceed in the light of what he had just heard, Jack Gilling was relaxing in his room at the hotel, when there was a knock at his door. He picked up his gun and bade the caller enter. It was the old swamper. “Evenin’ Mr Gilling, sir,” he said.

    “Yeah, same to you,” Gilling replied. “Something I can do for you?”

    “It’s more a question of somethin’ I can do for you.”

    “And what might that be?”

    “I have some news that would be real interestin’ to you.”

    “What is it?”

    “Well, see, Mr Gilling. I’m a poor man. Seems to me I deserve to be paid. Could be a matter of life or death to you, so I figure it’s worth a hundred dollars. Do we have a deal?”

    Gilling was as nonchalant in money matters as he was about everything else. He grinned at the little man. “What could you know that would be worth a hundred dollars to me?”

    “I guess it’s all around town that you’ve taken up with the cattlemen in this trouble that’s goin’ on here an’ I reckon everybody knows that the sheepmen have brought in a gunfighter of their own. Feller by the name of Clay Mellowes. You know him?”

    “I know of him. What about it?”

    “Well, Mellowes has a room in Coleman’s saloon. I can tell you somethin’ that’ll make sure you have the edge on him. I’d say that’s worth a hundred dollars. Wouldn’t you?”

    Gilling didn’t hesitate. He went to the commode, opened the top drawer and pulled out five twenty-dollar bills. Unlike Mellowes, he didn’t consider threatening violence to get the details out of the swamper. “Okay,” he said. “If I believe your story, the money’s yours.”

    “Well, sir, it’s like this. I get a deal of information that most folks don’t know about. I got contacts an’ I can tell you that you’ve no need to worry about Mellowes. He can’t see worth a damn.”

    “Can’t see? So how come he’s a gunslinger?”

    “He was one. That’s over an’ done with. There’s somethin’ wrong with his eyes. I know for a fact that he couldn’t hit you from across the street to save his life. You tangle with him an’ you’re sure to win.”

    “That’s a new one on me,” said Gilling, “and I’m taking your word for it. Here’s your money. Now get out of here – and remember, if you’ve steered me wrong, I’ll be calling on you.”

    “You won’t need to do that. What I told you is genuine. Good night, sir.”

    Half an hour after the swamper left Gilling’s room, Mellowes was preparing for bed when there was a knock at his door. “Come in,” he bawled, snatching up his gun yet again. The door opened, revealing Jack Gilling. Mellowes, now thoroughly irritated, glared at his latest visitor. “What the hell’s wrong with you people?” he snapped. “I paid for a room here. Seems to me I’d get more peace out in the street.”

    The intruder held up calming hands. “I’m real sorry to bust in on you like this, but I just figured we might have something to discuss. I’m Jack Gilling.”

    “Okay, now we both know who you are. What have we to talk about?”

    Gilling had been thinking hard and had decided there was no point in taking chances. Even if Mellowes was a has-been, there was a chance he would get off a lucky shot and Gilling had no intention of getting into a real gunfight with anybody. “Well, Mellowes,” he said, “I know all about your eyes. Never mind how, but I’m sure. Now, I’m a professional, just like you are. It wouldn’t be right for me to take advantage. You can call it courtesy if you want.”

    “You’d better sit down,” said Mellowes, indicating a chair, “and you might care to note that you’re not the only one with useful information. I happen to know something about you, too.” Without revealing his source, he told what he knew.

    Gilling’s rubbed his jaw, his fertile mind evaluating the position for some time. “Well,” he said finally, “I guess everybody must have figured by now that we’re likely to have things out between us. I think there’s only one thing to be done, and the sooner the better. Here’s how I see it.”

    The following day, at one minute to noon, Jack Gilling stepped out of the hotel into the oven-heat. His horse, prepared for departure, was tethered to the hitch rail. Slowly, he moved to the middle of the street and stood there looking eastwards, right thumb hooked in his gun belt, left hand holding a stone. Seconds later, Clay Mellowes emerged from Coleman’s saloon and took up a position facing Gilling. His horse too, was hitched and trail-ready.

    The two men began to pace forwards, narrowing the distance between them to less than thirty feet, then stopped. There was no one else in sight but the word had been passed around and at least fifty people were watching through windows and at half-opened doors.

    Gilling tipped back his hat. “So here we are,” he said. “I guess it just had to come out like this.”

    Mellowes nodded. “Was likely enough. You picked a nice day to die.”

    “We’ll see about that,” Gilling replied. I reckon everyone here knows by now that I always give the other fellow his chance.” He held up the stone. “Just so that nobody can say that one of us tried to get the drop, I’ll toss this over to the sidewalk. When it lands, the fun starts. Okay?”

    “Suits me.”

    “Fine. Here we go.” Gilling lobbed the stone, which hit the planking to start a strictly even contest. The two guns were drawn and roared simultaneously. Mellowes’ shot went high and wide and instantly he clapped a hand to his chest, staggered back three steps, then fell face down in the thick dust.

    Gilling walked cautiously towards his collapsed adversary. Kneeling, he turned Mellowes over onto his back. The fallen man’s shirt was already soaked with blood. “That’s it, then,” said Gilling to no-one in particular. Some of the more adventurous spectators began to emerge from their concealment, moving tentatively to the scene of the action. Gilling whipped his gun around in a threatening arc. “Keep away, all of you,” he snarled. “He’s dead.”

    “You sure?” one man inquired.

    “Did you ever hear of a man living after a shot through the heart?” Gilling said, his voice loaded with sarcasm.

    “I guess not.”

    Showing a degree of respect that amazed the onlookers, Gilling picked up the body, carried it to the horse waiting outside Coleman’s saloon and draped it across the saddle. Then he brought his own horse from the hotel, mounted and led the two animals away, turning to give a last grim look at the gathering crowd. “Okay, you’ve seen the entertainment,” he said. “Mellowes was a top-class gunman and a fair fighter. I know where he wanted to be buried and I’m taking him there. I don’t want anybody else along.” He put the horses to a slow walk northwards.

    Four miles out of town, with none of the local people in sight, Gilling arrived at a clump of trees. Luke Marsh stepped out to meet him. “How’d it go, Jack?” he asked.

    Gilling told the story in a few words and just as he finished speaking, a voice came from behind the two men: “Do you aim to stay here all day?”

    “Oh, sorry about that,” said Gilling, turning. “You can quit being dead now, Mellowes. You did real well.”

    The ‘corpse’ slid from the saddle and did a little foot-stamping to restore circulation. “Good idea of yours, that pack of blood,” said the grinning Mellowes. “Very convincing.”

    “Works a treat,” Gilling replied. Fishing in a coat pocket, he pulled out a roll of bills. “Here’s the money. Your nine hundred dollars from the sheepmen that you gave me for safekeeping in case they tried to get it back, plus five hundred of my own for damaging your reputation.”

    “Thanks,” said Mellowes. “I was about to change my name anyway, even if we hadn’t run into one another, so you’ve no need to worry about my fame and fortune. The first is more trouble than it’s worth and the second is all here.” He waved a thick wad of currency, to which he added what Gilling had just given him. “Nice doing business with you. Goodbye, Jack.”

    “So long, Clay.”


    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; April 2nd, 2019 at 01:05 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  5. #15
    OUTFACED

    He was lightning fast. Those who knew about such things rated him the quickest man with a gun the West had ever seen. Most put him well ahead of Ben Thompson, Wes Hardin, John Ringo, Wyatt Earp and other such luminaries. Some averred that, had chronology allowed a match to take place, even the great Wild Bill Hickok would have been far outclassed by this man. It was often claimed that he possessed a quality more akin to sorcery than gunplay.

    His name was John Widdup and now, at the age of twenty-seven, he was at the height of his powers. He had killed eleven men in fair, one-to-one encounters. All of his victims had been either known gunfighters or aspirants to that status. Not one of them had come anywhere near beating Widdup. Only two had even managed to get off a shot and in each case it had been hardly more than a post mortem reflex, one bullet piercing a ceiling, the other a floor. Of the remaining nine men, five had been struck down with guns barely clear of their holsters.

    Though he had always been fascinated by side-arms and shooting, Widdup had not set out to seek notoriety. However, his story was not an unfamiliar one. After his prowess had been demonstrated, albeit unwillingly and against a rash third-rater, he had become a target. Men just wanted to try him out. They were usually reckless fellows, intent on establishing who was faster, even if the reward for their curiosity was death.

    So it became a way of life for John Widdup. No matter where he appeared, some firebrand with more bravado than brain would show up, call him out and pay the price. In the early days, he went to some pains to avoid any looming showdown. Later, recognising inevitability when he saw it, he made no such effort, preferring to push matters to a swift conclusion. Like a certain monarch, he reasoned that, if a thing had to be done, it was best done quickly.

    Widdup did not rely solely on the exceptional talent seemingly bestowed upon him by nature. Realising that he was bound to be the object of some attention, he practised daily, always finding some place where he could use his Colt Peacemaker, kept in a silk-smooth holster. His repertoire did not include any fancy tricks, his phenomenal speed and pin-point accuracy being all he needed. There were other men who could shoot fast and straight – some gave public exhibitions of their skill – but few had the special kind of nerve required to stand still and put a bullet into a man who was blasting their way with a similar intention.

    Wherever Widdup went, his reputation travelled with him, precluding steady work. He had to find some other way of getting along, so he became an outlaw. Being a man of modest needs and not very materialistic, he didn’t operate on a grand scale. He went to work only when he needed money, which he never hoarded. Sometimes it seemed to be almost an afterthought with him. When his pockets were empty, he had to fill them. His idea was that the fewer jobs he pulled off, the fewer lawmen would hunt him. With rare exceptions, his method succeeded.

    To any detached observer, a hostile confrontation between John Widdup and Thaddeus Dorf would have seemed a vanishingly unlikely event, for neither the circles not the circuits of the two men would normally have intersected. They were as different as cheese and chalk and neither was aware of the other’s existence. But fate has a way of arranging these things and the two dissimilar characters were brought together by its machinations.

    As to social life, Widdup was decidedly a man of the lower strata. Generally, he avoided pretentious places. Dark, smoky saloons, sawdust-covered floors, scarred deal bars and cheap rooming houses were his preferred surroundings. With regard to territory, he spent nearly all his time in Arizona, New Mexico or Texas, with occasional forays across the border into Sonora or Chihuahua. Only twice in nearly a decade of wandering had he been further north, each time pursued by a single lawman. He had fought off the first and outrun the second.

    To all appearances, Thaddeus Dorf was Widdop’s direct opposite. He travelled extensively, always by the most comfortable means available, and patronised only the best hotels and restaurants. Thick carpets, polished hardwood, good food and drink attracted him like magnets. As far as was possible in his part of the world, he moved in the more genteel levels of society. Where there was not sufficient refinement to suit him, he added a touch of class by his own presence, usually managing to induce others to raise their standards, rather than himself descending to theirs. He normally operated in the Northwest and Midwest, seldom reaching further south or west than Cheyenne. On the occasion of his meeting with Widdup, he had left his customary haunts only to cover for an indisposed colleague.

    Dorf’s parents had migrated from Austria to the United States shortly after his birth. His father was a medical practitioner, his mother a music teacher. Dorf himself, though extremely intelligent and energetic, had no taste for the protracted study involved in emulating the career of either parent. He decided early in life that he would have to find a way of assuaging his wanderlust, while also making a living.

    Having identified the problem, Dorf soon found a neat solution. He contacted a Philadelphia company, prominent in the manufacturing and importing of medical supplies, becoming its representative for the area in which he wished to operate. He was outstandingly successful and soon added more agencies to his portfolio, eventually becoming the conduit for five companies in the medical field.

    Dorf was a small man, barely five feet five inches tall and slightly built. He was a fastidious fellow, always immaculately dressed and groomed. Already at thirty-nine, his trim moustache and neat, short, pointed black beard were sprinkled with grey, adding to his general air of distinction. His quick, decisive way of speaking and exceptional command of language gained him respect from almost everyone he met.

    It was almost noon on a hot dry July day in the thriving little community of Canford, Colorado. Thaddeus Dorf had arrived the evening before, full of dark thoughts about the likely standard of accommodation awaiting him on his initial visit to the town. This was also his first appearance anywhere in this area, which he had long considered the realm of outer darkness. He was to be pleasantly surprised, for this was a place of growing stature. Mining, timber and cattle interests had combined to make Canford affluent. This was no here today, gone tomorrow boom town. The buildings were of dressed stone, neatly laid brick or well-finished timber, all constructed with a view to posterity. Most of the people were smartly turned out, clearly enjoying prosperity and seemingly imbued with a fair measure of civic pride.

    Most agreeable of all, from Thaddeus Dorf’s point of view, was that the town boasted an excellent hotel, with first-class dining facilities. Although he intended spending only two days in Canford, Dorf was delighted, for his aversion to rough living was profound and he had no intention of trying to overcome it. Owing to his peppery nature, he was not slow to voice his distaste for standards which fell short of his requirements. It was really quite surprising how he had developed the art of getting people to do things for him that they would not do for anyone else.

    There was no cause for complaint at the Grand Western Hotel. Dorf had enjoyed a good night’s rest and an early breakfast and had done brisk business in the town. He was now sitting in the hotel barroom, sipping a first-rate whiskey and feeling as mellow as his irascible temperament permitted. He had changed his mind about his midday meal, having first decided to eat in the hotel, then being seduced by enticing smells from an elegant-looking restaurant along the street. He would stroll along there when he had finished his drink.

    It was at this point that John Widdup arrived in Canford, having finally shaken off a lawman, after a long chase. In due course, the officer would report his conclusion that the pursuit had used up too much of his time and enough public funds. His decision may have been influenced by growing concern about what might happen if he were ever to catch up with the notorious gunman, for meek submission was not a reaction to expected from Widdup.

    As always on entering a town new to him, the desperado approached the place with caution. He set his horse to a slow plod along the main street, his eyes roving everywhere, ticking off the positions of the amenities he was most likely to need and the places he might wish to avoid.

    Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, Widdup would have sought out the meanest drinkery in town. That he did not do so on this occasion may have been attributable to his having noted the fact that this wealthy, tidy little community did not have much in the way of rough saloons. Or possibly he was simply too weary to make the effort to find one. Whatever the reason, he moved slowly northwards until he found himself outside the Grand Western Hotel.

    He sat his horse for a full minute, taking stock. What he saw was a two-storey brick-built structure. At ground level, the entrance was flanked by two wide windows, divided into foot-square panes. The upper level had six narrower ones in similar style. Between the floors, running along most of the facade, was the name of the place, in large gilt letters.

    Widdup nodded to himself. Too high-toned, but it would do for a quick drink before he saw to his horse. He dismounted, hitched the gelding, used his hat to beat dust from his clothes and crossed the sidewalk. Pushing open the pair of half-glazed doors, he entered a ten-foot square hallway, to the right of which was a small reception recess, now unattended. At the inner end were double doors with small glass panes, set from top to bottom in oak frames. Widdup opened the left-hand one, stepping quietly inside. It was a part of his survival equipment to be acutely observant and his eyes flickered around the room, taking in every significant detail.

    He found himself in a combined lobby and bar, and noted that the interior of the place was as imposing as the frontage. The entrance hall, being midway along the street wall, created alcoves by the windows of what was overall a thirty-foot deep by twenty-five foot wide room.

    The rear wall was taken up by, from left to right as incomers viewed it, a large iron stove, a door to a private room and a mahogany bar, fifteen feet long. The ceiling and all the walls were plastered and painted cream. Halfway along the left-hand wall were two further swing doors, matching those in the hallway and leading to the dining room. Hanging at each side of these doors was a painting. The right hand wall had neither door nor window. It bore two more paintings, between which hung a long-case rosewood clock, which had a pendulum with a large brass disc, swinging its tireless way through time.

    Small circular oak tables and chairs were set on the polished pine floorboards around the perimeter of the room, leaving an open central space, most of which was covered by a large carpet with a multi-coloured medallion design in the middle, echoed in whorls at the corners, all on a dark-red background. Behind the bar was a shelf with an impressive array of bottles. Above this was a mirror, six feet wide by three feet high, bracketed by two advertising posters, one proclaiming the virtues of a leading make of whiskey, the other a brand of cigars, described as being fit for a king. This second one featured the head and upper body of a man in royal regalia, smoking one of the company’s products, his head adorned with a five-point crown, each tip set with a representation of a gemstone, half an inch in diameter.

    Widdup took in all of this with one sweeping glance before turning his attention to the other occupants of the room. The barman, feigning activity with a towel, was tall, beefy and grey-haired. At a table close to the dining room doors, two middle-aged fellows with appearance of cattlemen sat, talking quietly. In the left alcove, seated alone, was a rotund man in a long black coat and flowered brocade vest. This was Judge Handley, who was not a judge and never would be, but was so called as a mark of respect. The only other person present was Thaddeus Dorf, sitting at a table near the clock.

    Widdup was discomfited by these plush surroundings. For a moment, he hesitated, wondering whether he would be better advised to leave at once and seek some place better suited to his tastes. But thirst prevailed and he decided he would have one drink here, tend to his horse, then look elsewhere. He crossed the carpet, ordered a beer and a whiskey and took both glasses to a table between the cattlemen and Judge Handley. As soon as he had served Widdup’s drinks, the barman lifted his hinged access flap and hurried off into the dining area. He was absent for two minutes and looked ill at ease when he returned. A moment later, a man pushed one of the dining room doors half open, glanced at Widdup, turned his head to the barman, nodded, then withdrew quickly.

    It was about then that noses began to twitch in the barroom. Judge Handley was the first affected, then the two cattlemen, then the barkeeper and finally, Thaddeus Dorf. Something was disturbing the pleasant atmosphere. It was a smell and it came from John Widdup. At the best of times, the dreaded gunman had never been a devotee of personal hygiene. Now, after a week-long dash over rough country in summer heat, even his none too particular standards had plumbed new depths. It wasn’t easy for one man to create a miasma sufficient to fill a room of that size, but Widdup managed it. He stank a mile high.

    For a little while, no one seemed sure what, if anything, to do about this situation. The judge coughed, drummed his fingers on his table top and fidgeted. The barman began to hold his nose, as surreptitiously as a man can do such a thing. Finally, one of the cattlemen broke the silence. “Jesus,” he said, “somebody got a skunk around here, or something?”

    The remark produced only an embarrassed silence for a moment, then the barman, looking alarmed, lifted his flap again and walked over to the two ranchers. Bending over their table, he mumbled something. Both men nodded. The barman went back to his post, pulled out a scrap of paper and a pencil, scribbled something and took it over to Judge Handley, who was sitting about eight feet from Widdup. The judge stared at the note for a moment, then stuffed it into his vest pocket, thanking the barman and dismissing him.

    Thaddeus Dorf was becoming annoyed. He had timed his actions with a view to savouring the last of his whiskey, then tucking into a good meal. He did not like anything that interfered with his enjoyment of food, and a bad smell certainly did that. His irritability index was soaring. Any minute now, he intended to give vent to his feelings and there could be only one target.

    The cattlemen began to mutter again, but only briefly, then everyone fell silent, leaving the ticking of the clock the only sound as all eyes turned to the noisome Widdup. It took several minutes, but the combined power of five intent stares finally got through to the gunman. He raised his head and looked around. He was not a particularly self-conscious man, but could hardly have failed to note that he was the object of attention. “Somethin’ wrong?” he asked gruffly.

    Judge Handley, as senior man present, felt it incumbent upon him to handle this delicate situation. “Well, young man,” he said, shuffling uneasily, “I don’t mean to be impolite, but now that you mention it, I . . . er . . . well – ”

    This was too much for the short-tempered Dorf. “Oh, for goodness sake,” he broke in, looking at Widdup. “It’s you, sir.”

    “Me?” said Widdup.

    “Yes, you.”

    “What about me?”

    “Not to mince words,” snapped Dorf, who never minced them anyway, “it’s your odour. There is a noxious emanation coming from you, sir. It detracts from a man’s appetite.”

    This was a little above Widdup’s head, for he was anything but erudite. He could not have coped with ‘noxious’, ‘emanation’, or ‘detracts’, even singly. All three coming together left him quite befuddled. All he was aware of was that Dorf’s remarks were derogatory. He therefore went into the state of defensive truculence that some men adopt when confronted with something obviously antagonistic but not quite comprehensible to them. “Just what do you mean, little man?” he grated nastily.

    Dorf put down his glass. “I was under the impression that English was the common language here,” he said. “However, if you insist on simplicity, what I mean is that you smell like a billy goat. It’s offensive, sir.”

    Apart from the relentless ticking of the clock, there was silence for a long tense moment, then Widdup kicked his chair away behind him, where it cracked against the wall, chipping out a chunk of plaster. Hauling himself to his slim, angular five-eleven, he moved forwards to the middle of the carpet, thumbs in his gun belt, greasy black leather vest open, facing the diminutive Dorf at a distance of ten feet. “Mister,” he said softly, “you must be some special kind o’ fool. I come in here peaceable. Now I guess I’ll have to plug you.”

    “Excuse me, gents.” It was the barman. Lifting his flap yet again, he strode over to the still-seated Dorf, bending to whisper into the small man’s ear. “I don’t know what you’ve been drinkin’ apart from that whiskey, stranger,” he said, “but if I was you, I’d apologise right quick an’ try to get out of here, if he’ll let you. That’s John Widdup.”

    Dorf was unimpressed. “Should that mean something to me?” he asked.

    The barman was aghast. “Where’ve you been all your life, mister?” he said. “Widdup’s the fastest, meanest gunfighter in the West. He’ll kill you for sure, then maybe he’ll start in on the rest of us.”

    Dorf pursed his lips. “Thank you,” he said, still unconcerned. “You can go now. And don’t worry about this fellow. He’ll not give any trouble.”

    The baffled bartender scuttled back to relative security, beginning to move some of his more precious bottles from the backbar shelf to the floor. Having allowed him to get clear, Widdup glared at Dorf. “If you’re through jawin’, you’d best get ready for drawin’,” he snarled. “An’ if you ain’t armed, you must be even dumber than you look.”

    Dorf stood, glancing around him. Something wasn’t quite to his liking. Deciding what it was, he pulled his chair away from the wall, repositioning it a couple of feet to the left, under the big clock. Then he sat down again, resting his well-barbered head against the base of the timepiece. He folded his arms and looked at Widdup. “Now, sir,” he said. “You seem to be envisaging a gunfight. I can positively assure you there will be no such event.”

    Widdup shook his head. He wasn’t used to this kind of thing. He was accustomed to short words and fast guns. However, he was sure of one thing. When it came to shooting, a man might listen to talk and watch out for hand movements, but the most important thing was to look into the other fellow’s eyes. That was where the first indication would come. He returned Dorf’s stare, deciding to bring matters to a head. “You can take it sittin’ or standin’,” he said. “It’s all the same to me.”

    Dorf stared back. “It is not all the same to me. I don’t intend to take it either way. Now, I repeat, you are clearly under the impression that there will be some kind of duel here. I tell you there will be nothing of the sort. You really must understand that.” It seemed to be important to Dorf to keep talking, to keep Widdup quiet. “What there will be is something quite different,” he went on, his previously lively voice having settled to a gentle monotone. “What is about to happen is this, Mr Widdup. I am going to continue sitting here. I shall not draw a gun, as there will be no need for that. No need at all. There will be no violence. No violence, Mr Widdup. As for yourself, you will, very slowly, take out your gun, then you will remove the bullets from it and put them in your coat pocket, then you will place the gun back in its holster, then you will leave and ride out of this town and you will not come back.”

    Time seemed to stand still in the place as Widdup continued to gaze at the little salesman. Then Dorf went on: “Do it, Mr Widdup. Do it now.”

    Another heart-stopping moment went by, then, astonishingly, Widdup did exactly what Dorf had told him to do. He drew the gun, looked at it as though he had never seen it before, shook out the bullets, pocketed them and re-holstered the weapon. Then he walked slowly out of the hotel. Seconds later, he passed, mounted, by the window where Judge Handley was sitting.

    No one spoke for a moment, then everyone started talking at once. “Well, I never thought to see the like of that,” said the barman, wiping a towel over his sweat-beaded head.

    “My God young man, you took an awful chance there,” said one of the cattlemen.

    His companion gawked. “I just saw it, and I still don’t believe it. Was that some kind of a show you and Widdup put on to impress us?”

    “No, sir,” said Dorf. “I never saw or heard of the man before.”

    “What happened then? How come you outfaced a top gunslinger?”

    “Oh, it’s simple enough,” said Dorf. “They’ve been working on this kind of thing for quite a while, especially in Europe. Originally it was called mesmerism, but some people refer to it as hypnotism. You see, I knew that gunmen always look one another in the eye when they’re about to draw. All I had to do was sit right under the clock there. You see how that pendulum swings. It’s perfect for such an experiment. Widdup couldn’t look into my eyes without taking in that as well. The poor fellow never had a chance.”

    “Just a minute, though,” said Judge Handley. “I’ve heard of this kind of thing, but I always thought you couldn’t hypnotise a man, then make him do something contrary to his nature.”

    “Well,” Dorf replied, “you’re right in a way, but that applies to attempts to make people commit unsocial acts they wouldn’t otherwise contemplate. All I did was to make Widdup do something quite innocent. There was nothing unusual about his either drawing or emptying his gun – he must have done that hundreds of times in the course of cleaning and maintaining it. You need to remember that although Widdup may have killed a number of men, the incidents concerned have taken up only a few minutes of his life. Most of the time, he’s probably much like any other fellow in this part of the world. There was no great danger here.”

    Dorf was already leaving when the judge, still shaking his head in wonderment, called out: “Well, sir, I’m greatly relieved, but I still think you took a terrible risk. It’s just as well that there was no gunplay.”

    Reaching the door, Dorf turned and drew a ten-dollar gold coin from a coat pocket. “You’ll need this,” he said, tossing it across to the barman.

    “What for?” asked the bemused recipient. “You already paid, an’ anyway, after what you just did, you could have drinks on the house for a week.”

    Dorf ignored the effusion and turned to the judge. “You’re wrong about one thing and right about another,” he said. “Wrong in supposing that I was in a hazardous position. I believe in having alternative plans in all situations. Right about gunfighting. The absence of that was just as well – for Mr Widdup.” With a speed that confounded the eye, Dorf produced from a shoulder holster a double action Colt .45, the big weapon looking incongruous in his dainty right hand. He swept up the gun and without any obvious aiming, emptied the five loaded chambers in a three-second blast of sound.

    Sliding the gun back into its holster, he peered through the coiling smoke, then nodded, satisfied. The others peered too. They looked at the cigar poster, noting that all five jewels in the crown had been drilled through by Dorf’s bullets. His lips twitching in a brief smile, the little man pushed open the doors and departed.

    * * *
    Last edited by Courtjester; April 2nd, 2019 at 01:04 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  6. #16
    It was a nice little story, but for me the lead up took too long, I found myself skimming to get to the point or find some action. There was nothing that stood out specifically as unnecessary or long winded but the culmulative effect was that I felt it needed a severe paring in the first part, the conclusion does not have enough gravitas to support it.

    I liked the way the language changed for Dorf and didn't feel it needed an explanation was one point.
    Visit my website to read and connect to my 'soundcloud', where you can listen to stories songs and more
    Hidden Content

    A thread of links useful to writers wishing to learn
    Piglet's picks. Hidden Content

  7. #17
    Thank you for your comments. I long ago wearied of western tales starting and continuing with bang bang action, and concluded that in my view the best ones were those told at a more measured pace, which is what I try to achieve. I appreciate that in seeking to offer entertainment, one cannot please everybody. As all my stories in this particular genre are constructed very broadly along similar lines, it would seem they are not your thing. Cj
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



  8. #18
    I am sorry if I appeared purely critical, I rarely make a comment unless I can see some merit, and in truth I quite like your writing. When I first looked at this thread, there had been no replies, but I was busy and determined to return. I think I must have scrolled up into the bottom of the page because I did not realise how much had been added, I think there was only one story when I first looked.

    This is generally good writing, and I found it a bit difficult to pin down what niggled me at first (Not a lack of 'bang bang action, I tend to agree with you on that). It seems to me that the whole point of the story is in the last part, the first parts are not unessential, but they are setting it up for the finish, as such it seems you linger over long. Look, I will leave the first paragraph, that is something else, but I will try and cut down the following a little and see if you can see what I mean. I will bold where I have actually put in words rather than cutting them, I apologise for taking liberties with you work, regard it as an experiment, I may have added a comma or two as well where I have merged shortened sentences.

    His name was John Widdup and, age twenty-seven, he was at the height of his powers. He had killed eleven men in fair fights., all with known gunfighters, or aspirants to that status, none of them came anywhere near beating Widdup. Two managed to get off a shot, they had been hardly more than post mortem reflex, one bullet piercing a ceiling, the other a floor. Of the remaining nine, five had been struck down with guns barely clear of their holsters.

    Though always fascinated by side-arms and shooting, Widdup had not set out to seek notoriety. However, his story was a familiar one, after his prowess had been demonstrated, albeit unwillingly, he became a target. Men wanted to try him out; reckless fellows, intent on establishing who was faster, even if the reward was death.

    It became a way of life for John Widdup. No matter where he appeared, some firebrand would call him out, and pay the price. In the early days, he went to some pains to avoid showdowns. Later, recognising inevitability, he prefered to push matters to a swift conclusion. Like a certain monarch, he reasoned that, if a thing had to be done, it was best done quickly.

    I don't know how it works for you, but to me leaving out inessentials and qualifying phrases in this way gives it a certain urgency and pace that seem appropriate to the genre, as well as physically shortening it.

    A minor point, When Macbeth said that he was contemplating killing Duncan, his King, so I think that should be "Like a certain regicide ... "

    Hypnotists initially make statements their subjects agree with, that is the point of the swinging pendelum, "Look at the pendelum, your eyes are getting tired ..." Of course they are you are staring at something without blinking. Typically it is pace, pace, then lead, along the lines
    "I have no desire to die, I am not looking for a gunfight, and there will not be one. There is always another way, things can proceed as regularly as the clock, I shall not draw a gun, then there is no reason for you to, instead take out your gun ..."
    You are pretty right about the way people react to things they wouldn't do, though the hypnotist can decieve them into thinking the situation is one where they would do it. "Transformations" by Bandler and Grinder is a good guide, as well as having a punning title.
    Visit my website to read and connect to my 'soundcloud', where you can listen to stories songs and more
    Hidden Content

    A thread of links useful to writers wishing to learn
    Piglet's picks. Hidden Content

  9. #19
    A bad review is more useful than an inaccurate good one.

  10. #20
    On being asked by a theatre manager to make changes to his play ĎVeraí, Oscar Wilde replied that he could do so, concluding with: but who am I to tamper with a masterpiece?Ē

    All very well for the great penman, but what about us, the mere mortals on our communal stage? I am seventy-five years of age and during a long mainstream working life, I spent a great deal of time writing reports, interspersed with journalism and editing. Had I been imbued with a desire to tell anyone else how to write, that last occupation would have disabused me of it.

    I realise that a piece of literary work can usually be produced in any number of ways, and that most can be improved and/or condensed without loss of substance. However, there comes a point in writing - in my experience after a reasonable amount of research and five or six drafts - at which one must say to oneself: ďEnough nit-picking. This item must now stand as it is, or I shall never get to the next one.Ē That is my position with respect to the Courtjester stories.

    This matter is influenced by the fact that I am immersed in an extremely demanding and complex scientific project and cannot afford to take my eye off that ball. Therefore I do not have the luxury of time to revisit a story after completing it. I would say that conscientious writers are seldom, perhaps never, entirely satisfied with what they have done, but they have to either offer it or scrap it.

    Your comments and the time you took to make them are appreciated. As for the liberties taken in the area of hypnosis, it so happens that I have considerable experience in this field, but will not labour that here. If you have read any of my other work, you may have noticed that much of it includes elements of surrealism. Now, if you will excuse me, I must dash off to pick up a bag of oats before the shop closes. Come to think of it, this seems appropriate. I work like a horse, so might as well eat accordingly. Cj
    Last edited by Courtjester; September 2nd, 2012 at 06:31 PM.
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.

    Hidden Content



Page 2 of 6 FirstFirst 123456 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
This website uses cookies
We use cookies to store session information to facilitate remembering your login information, to allow you to save website preferences, to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners.