Silver Dollar Trail (by Stardust)

Summary:  Can you name the series the characters in this story are from?
Category:  Crossover
Genre:  Multiple westerns
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  22,100


Even for San Francisco the hour was late. The poorly lit saloon was filled with cigarette smoke, and the smell of liquor, sawdust, and unwashed bodies. The deafening noise of a few hours ago had diminished to only a few muted conversations and the occasional slap of a card as the poker game continued at a table near the bar. At one end of the bar a tall Chinaman stood, a broom in hand, waiting for the game to end so he could begin cleaning before putting down the fresh sawdust that sat in a burlap bag at his feet. A Scotsman, with a bored expression on his face, leaned against the bar turning a shot glass slowly in his fingers as he watched the poker game. He wore a long black coat that seemed stiffer on one side than it should have been. Dressed in a fashionable suit, Jerrod Barkley, also leaned against the bar, and sipped a beer as he watched the game and his brothers.

“I’m out,” said Heath, as he tossed his hand face down on the green baize. He tipped his chair back so he could watch the other players. He was interested in knowing who would win, as were the rest of the few onlookers. The game had drawn out, even though the pots on the table had never involved very much money. It had started out as just a friendly game to pass the time but somewhere along the way it had become more than that between Nick and The Gambler. The cowboy next to Heath tossed down his cards, too.

The Gambler’s sidekick, Billy, glanced at the cards he held and added eight bits to the small stack of coins in the center of the table. “I’ll stay, and raise a dollar,” he said. “How ‘bout you, Brady?”

“I’ll see your dollar, Billy,” said the gambler, Brady Hawks as he pushed a coin out of what he had in front of him. It wasn’t a fortune, but he had more in front of him than the others did.

On the Barkley ranch Nick was considered a fairly good poker player but he was beginning to wish he had dropped out of this game a long time ago. “Oh, what the hell,” he muttered and picked up a silver dollar from the small pile of coins he had beside him. The coin was well worn, and had a small chip in the side. Nick wondered where he had gotten the badly abused coin. He barely noted the Philadelphia mint mark one it as he spun it onto the table and watched it clank against the other cash and currency and then came to rest in the accumulated pile of money. “Call,” he said, and laid his cards face up for the others to see the three queens he had been holding.

Billy gave a sigh and showed his hand, a pair of six’s. “Beat’s me.”

Nick’s big hand reached for the stack of money. “Wait,” said Brady Hawks. He fanned out his cards for all to see a pair of eight’s and a pair of aces.

Nick snorted in disgust at loosing, but couldn’t help but comment. “Dead Man’s Hand, Ace’s and Eight’s. Everyone knew that had been the hand Wild Bill Hickok had been holding when he was killed.

“Not tonight,” said Hawks, as he gathered the money to himself and began placing it in a leather bag. He kept out a few coins, one being the chipped silver dollar with the P mint mark that had been Nick’s last contribution. “Last drinks on me, bartender,” said Hawks as he stood, and using his cane walked to the bar and placed the silver dollar and some others on the bar.

“Drink up,” said the bartender, as he grabbed the money and thrust it under the bar. He set out nine shot glasses and poured a bare swallow of whiskey into each. He downed one himself as his customers drank theirs and then left through the bat-wing doors, the last to leave being the silent Scotsman.

“Chinaman,” commanded the bartender. “Time to earn your keep. Sweep up. And make sure you empty them spittoons. Oh, and here’s your pay fer tonight.” He reached under the bar and then tossed the chipped silver dollar at the Chinaman, who caught it and dropped it into the leather pouch, that he had around his neck and shoulder. As the bartender placed the chairs upside down on the tables, the Chinaman began sweeping.

*****

In the small hours of the night, after he had finished cleaning the saloon, Kwi Chang Caine had found a corner on the wharf where he could wrap his blanket around himself and try to catch a few hours of sleep. He woke at the sound of gulls screeching at the rising sun, and then again at the sound of a foghorn as a ship pulled away from the harbor. The sun was barely up and exhaustion claimed him again so that he didn’t hear the sound of light footsteps as a gang of waterfront ruffians slipped up to try and take the leather pouch and anything else he might have of value to them.

At the first tug on the strap Caine was on his feet and wide awake. The robbers had not expected that and were caught unawares. Caine kicked out and connected on the chin of one would-be-thief. The man crumbled onto the pier and lay still, but that only served to enrage his friends who rushed at the Chinaman. The Chinaman, wide awake now, fought back with his strange Kung Fu moves. But it was six to one and they had managed to surround Caine when there was a yell. “Make way. Leave the mon be.” With a shove the Scotsman pushed one thug off the pier and into the water.

The ringleader of the group drew back and with a roar pulled a long-bladed knife as he sprang at the Chinaman’s rescuer. “Be off, you, or I’ll cut out your heart.”

The Scotsman laughed and answered in his Scottish brogue. “Come ahead and try. If you’ve got the guts for it.” His hand disappeared inside his long black coat and came out with a sward. He swung it in an arching figure eight, causing one of the robbers to jump into the water so he wouldn’t be hit and two others to run for cover around the corner of a warehouse. They had thought it would be easy to take from a Chinaman. They had just decided to find easier prey elsewhere.

They leader’s eyes went from the sword to his knife.

“Mine’s bigger than yours,” taunted the Scotsman and before he could blink the last two ruffians followed their friends in flight, the sound of the Scotsman’s laughter following them. The swordsman turned to the Chinaman, his sword still extended, really to be used.

“Thank you for your help,” said Caine to the Scotsman, bowing slightly.

The Scotsman’s sword seemed to magically disappear back under his long coat. “Come,” he said with a nod of his head. “Let’s go before they regain their nerve and return.” The two foreigners to American soil left the wharf to walk toward a small business district.

“Thank you, again,” said Caine, “for your help. I am called Kwi Chang Caine.”

“It was nothing. Not even a good fight. And I am MacLeod, Duncan MacLeod, of the clan MacLeod. I liked the way you fought. The moves you make.”

“It is called Kung Fu. An old defensive way of fighting that I learned in China.”

“Would you teach me?” asked MacLeod.

“Yes,” said Caine, “but it is only for defense of one’s self or someone who needs help.”

“That is a good way of thinking, and I, too, prefer to think that way,” said Duncan. “I think you Chinaman have good ways and ideas.”

Caine chuckled, and shrugged his shoulder. “Some do and some don’t, as with all peoples.”

They had come to the door of a small eatery. “But first we must eat. I am hungry.” The Scotsman and the Chinaman learned of each other’s ways as they lingered over their meal and cups of hot tea. When they left, Caine paid his share with the chipped silver dollar.

*****

Minutes later the waitress put the coin into another’s hand, as she made change. “Mr. Paladin, it has been good to see you again. Will you be staying in town long this time? We’d certainly like to see more of you here.”

“It would be nice,” replied the rough voiced man, as he took in the comely sight of the Irish girl, “and much as I would like to share your company for a while, I have to leave again tonight.”

“Oh, and where might you be goin’ to this time, sir,” asked the young woman, her eyes bright with wonder at the idea of always traveling.

“Arizona Territory,” answered Paladin, as he dropped his change into his pocket. “Tucson, Arizona.”

“Oh, and how exciting’.”

Paladin winked at the waitress, causing her to blush. “I’ll tell you about it when I return.”

*****

Days later Paladin entered the mercantile and paused to let his eyes adjust from the hot, bright sunlight of the Tucson street to the shadowy interior of the store.

The shopkeeper looked up from where he was building a stack of horse blankets. “Hey, Mister, see you’re still in town. You find that fella you was lookin’ fer?”

“Yes, I did,” answered Paladin, “and now I’m ready to leave. But I need a few supplies.”

“Sure, sure. What do you need?”

“A half a pound of coffee, another half pound of sugar, and a couple of cans of tomatoes and —— some of those peaches.” Paladin pointed at the fruit in jars on a shelf.

“Sure, sure thing, mister,” the shopkeeper began gathering up the required items, and placing them in a burlap bag. “That’ll be a dollar and fifty cents.”

Paladin dropped two silver dollars on the counter. One had a small nick in the edge of it. He reached into a box and took out four cigars. “Add these.”

“Be two dollars even, then.” The shopkeeper grabbed the two coins and opened a cash register and dropped them in. His customer picked up the filled burlap bag, slid the cigars into his vest pocket, then turned and went out the door. Just at that moment several cowboys crowded through, almost running into Paladin.

“Pardon me,” said Paladin moving back a step to give the men room.

“Sure thing, Mister,” said one man.

” ‘Cuze me,” said another.

“Por fa’vor,” said the last, “please excuse us. My friends, their manners, well, they are lacking, and they get a bit hasty and rambunctious when they get a day off, sometimes.”

“Only to be expected,” said Paladin with a last look at the rowdy bunch, he went to his horse, placed the supplies in his saddlebags, mounted, and rode out of town.

Manolito Montoya watched the stranger leave, glad a confrontation had been avoided. That man had the look of a very dangerous man, maybe even a gunfighter. He had promised John and Victoria to keep everyone out of trouble. Most of the hands wee examining the various and sundry things that were for sale. Ropes, and bandannas, shirts, pants, boots, and perfume for their girlfriends. Manolito approached the counter and laid a list on it.

“Please,” said the shopkeeper, his hands raised in protest. “The last time you High Chaparral boys were here, you left my place in a mess, an ab-so-lute shambles. Please no fighting in here.”

“No, fighting, senior; the men will behave, I promise, and here is a list of things for the ranch, and,” he pulled out another piece of paper, “and this is a list of things for my sister, Victoria.”

“Sure thing, Manolito. I’ll fill it.” Still he cast an anxious eye at the hands, even as he was glad for the business brought to him by the High Chaparral ranch.

One of the hands laid a colorful new shirt on the counter. “How much?” asked Blue Cannon.

“One dollar,” was the answer.

Blue laid a five-dollar bill on the shirt.

“Paper money,” the shop-owner picked it up and examined it. “Don’t care fer paper money. Banks don’t always except the different kinds.”

“Will you take that one?” asked Blue.

“Guess so,” the man was reluctant to turn down any kind of money, especially from the son of Big John Cannon. He put it in the money drawer and gave Blue back three one-dollar bills and one silver dollar in change. The old silver dollar.

Before Blue could close his hand, Sam Butler picked out the silver dollar. “Seems I remember you owing me a dollar, Blue Boy, and sayin’ you didn’t have no money to pay me with.”

Just as quick, the silver coin left Sam’s hand as Buck took it. “And you, Sam, owe me a dollar.” Blue and Sam both looked disgusted as the piece of money went into Buck’s pants pocket.

“Enough,” intervened Mano before the three could get into an argument over the dollar. “Let’s go get a drink at the saloon while this order is being filled.”

Following a night of carousing and to little sleep, Manolito, Buck and Blue sent Sam and the other hands back to the High Chaparral with the supplies.

“Shirt’s crooked.” Buck poked a finger at his nephew.

Blue’s bloodshot eyes tried to look down at his new shirt. His eyes wouldn’t focus well enough to be able to re-button it properly. He fumbled with the buttons a moment and then gave up, and crawled onto his horse.

“It’s gonna be a long ride to Santa Fe,” commented Buck to no one in particular.

“Si,” agreed Mano, as he, Buck and Blue set off for New Mexico Territory, and a horse sale at a fiesta in the town of Santa Fe. John was sending them to buy some brood mares. It would be good to get away from Tucson and the High Chaparral thought all three as they rode off.

*****

The narrow streets of the small town were crowded. The adobe homes and buildings were hung with strings of red chilies, and bright cloth banners. Children ran and played, dashing recklessly around the legs of the many horses that moved with their riders through the streets. From the plaza Lucas McCain, rifle at his side and his son Mark watched the festivities. There were several groups of musicians, singers, and dancers. It was almost a circus-like atmosphere with the arrival of a group of acrobats, and jugglers. As they watched they ate bowls of stew laced with hot peppers and chunks of fried bread they had bought from a street vender. “Well, Mark, what do you think about your first Santa Fe fiesta?”

“It sure is excitin’,” said the boy, as he watched wide-eyed. He wiped a smear of chili off his chin. “I’m glad we came. Just hope someone’s willin’ to buy some of the horses we brought.”

Lucas gave his bowl back to the street vender. “If you’re through eatin’ we better get back to those horses. See if we can sell a couple, at least.”

“I wish we didn’t have to sell them,” muttered Mark. In his mind he was thinking about one bay mare he had become very fond of.

Lucas knew Mark had become attached to several of the horses they had for sale. They had spent long hours over the past few months, first capturing a herd of wild horses that had shifted their range onto the McCain ranch. Then they had gentled and green broke the wild bunch. Now they were here in Santa Fe to see if they could sell some. As they made their way to the edge of town Lucas thought about the horses and how much he could expect to get for them. H hadn’t told Mark how worried he was. He didn’t want his son to worry, too. They had to sell the horses if they were to hold onto the ranch, and make it through another year.

They found three men looking at the string of horses that were hobbled and tied to a rope strung between two short, stout Juniper trees. “Can I help you gentlemen?” asked McCain.

“Howdy, Name’s Buck Cannon, this here’s my nephew Blue and this is Manolito Montoya.” Buck noted they way the tall man kept hold of the Winchester rifle, and of the boy who followed him. “Nice stock. You lookin’ to sell any?”

“That’s why we brought them here.” Lucas reached out to shake hands. “Name’s Lucas McCain, and this is my son, Mark.”

Buck nodded at a black gelding. “That one’s real nice.”

Lucas smiled. “You got a good eye, Mr. Cannon, but that one’s not for sale.” The black horse was his own special mount.

“Which one’s are? My brother owns the High Chaparral Ranch near Tucson. He sent us to buy some brood mares, and maybe a few good ridin’ stock.”

“All of them. ‘Cept my black, and Mark’s sorrel gelding. The rest are for sale.”

The four men and the boy went from horse to horse discussing the good points and bad of each animal. At the end of several hours, the High Chaparral hands and the McCains had agreed on a price for eight mares, and two of the geldings that were broke to saddle. Money exchanged hands and both sides were more than satisfied. The High Chaparral was getting good breeding stock and Lucas could pay off a loan that was almost due, and he still had six more horses he could sell.

Respect and liking grew between the families, so Lucas invited Manolito and the Cannons to camp with Mark and himself. The next morning they joined a large group who had come for the fiesta, and were now crowding around a makeshift, half-mile racetrack just to the south of the outskirts of the town. By noon several races had been won and lost.

“Hey, Mano,” teased Buck, “why don’t you race Macado. That sorrel of yours could beat the hosses linin’ up to race now, real easy.”

Hands on his hips Manolito looked at the competition. “I would not insult Macado by putting him in a race with those – nags – or – excuse me – those caballos. They look more to be in Rebel’s class.”

Buck frowned at the insult to his horse, while Blue burst out laughing, as did Lucas and Mark.

Mano was unable to resist another gig at his friends, “or maybe Blue’s horse, Soapy.”

Blue wasn’t about to take offense. “Soapy ain’t no racehorse. He’s just a good ridin’ horse, and a fair cowpony.”

Mark had been watching and listening. Now he spoke up. “But Windy is.”

“Who?” asked Buck.

“The bay mare. The one you bought. She’s really fast. I call her Windy. I bet she could be a racehorse.”

Lucas put a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “Please excuse my son. He has a habit of naming the animals he likes and that bay mare – well – he is real fond of her.”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with namin’ a horse,” said Blue. “Shows you care for the animal. Man should always name his horse.”

“The three of us,” Mano indicated himself and the Cannons, “name our horses. Blue is right. A man should care for and respect his animals. And name them.”

There was a gunshot and much shouting as the horses lined up for the race were off. A pinto surged to the front, and led most of the way, but then a chestnut over took the pinto and won by a neck. There was a lot of cheering and booing for the winner and the losers, while money changed hands as bets were collected.

Buck watched the goings on and then turned to Mark. “You say that mare’s real fast, Mark?”

“Yes, Sir,” answered Mark. “I rode her some and so did Pa. I thought she was fast. Ain’t that so, Pa?”

“She does have some speed, I’ll admit,” said Lucas, “but I wouldn’t say she’s a racehorse. Besides, you gota remember, she’s only green broke.”

Buck took off his hat and scratched his head.

“What are you thinking, Amigo?” asked Manolito.

“Yeah, Uncle Buck, you’re thinkin’ somethin’, real hard. I can tell.”

“Mr. McCain,” asked Buck. “You think that bay mare, Windy,” he looked at Mark. “Is she as fast as them last bunch of hosses?”

“Sure she is,” cut in Mark.

“Now, son, we don’t know that.” Lucas wanted to say ‘yes’. He knew the mare was fast, but didn’t want to get Buck’s, or Mark’s hopes up. “I’d hate to say so for sure. Besides who would ride her?” Even as he spoke Lucas knew he had said the wrong thing.

“I can,” yelped Mark. “I can.” The boy was jumping up and down at the thought of riding the mare in a race.

“No!” His father quickly replied.

“The boy rides good, Mr. McCain.” Buck was as caught up in the idea of Mark riding in the race as the boy was. “You got to admit that, and he’s a lot lighter than the rest of us, which would sure give the mare an advantage. I bet he could do it.” Mono and Blue echoed him. ” ‘Sides, there can’t be no harm in it. If he wins, – great, he wins. If not, no big deal.” Buck had to grit his teeth as the last words left his mouth. He had plans to make some money on the mare, even though he had never seen her run. He was taking a boy’s word on it. But he was sure Mark had been around horses all his life and had a lot of knowledge about the critters. He knew she looked fast, and he had a hunch she really was.

It didn’t take much pleading from Mark, and Buck for Lucas to give in. Within minutes he, Mark and Blue had saddled the mare while Buck and Mano paid the entrance fee and placed a few bets with several men in the crowd of people waiting to see the next race. Many local people were more than glad to place bets with them when they learned the mare was barely broke and a boy was going to ride her. They were sure it was money already in their pockets, as they watched the mare crow-hop and shy at every little movement in the crowd as Mark and Lucas brought her to the starting line. It seemed the boy was barely able to stay in the saddle. Lucas was still a bit reluctant to let Mark ride in the race but couldn’t think of a real good reason to not let him. He knew Mark was a good rider, and if he should win, maybe they would be able to sell the rest of the horses while they were still here in Santa Fe.

Before Mark could get too excited at the thought of riding in a race he found himself astride Windy and moving into place with seven other horses and riders. But now Windy was getting even more agitated. She was still mostly a wild horse, and had never had any experience with anything like the crowd of people and horses she found herself in now. She was frightened and showed it by tossing her head, and prancing as Mark eased her toward the starting line. A stranger tried to help but Windy half reared and lashed out with her front hooves making him dodge back. Loud laugher erupted from the crowd making the mare even more nervous.

The race starter yelled over the crowd. “Quiet, everyone. Quiet. Son, you get that mare in line so’s we can have this race, or get her out of the way.” Mark eased her almost even with the other horses. When the starter saw Windy move up he fired the gun he had pointed at the sky. The frightened Windy shied out and into the crowd, scattering watchers, as the other riders urged their mounts into a run.

“Come on, Windy, let’s go. Run!” shouted Mark into the mare’s ears, as he drummed his heels into her sides, and she leaped into a gallop.

Down the racecourse went all eight horses. A black horse stumbled and almost fell and Windy went swiftly by it. In moments she had passed two other horses, and then another. Three others were still in front of her. Mark barely noticed that they had circled the half-mile track once as he urged Windy to run faster and faster. She crept up on another horse and passed it.

Blue, Buck, and Manolito yelled and jumped up and down, cheering boy and horse on. Even Lucas couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement. “Come on, Mark, come on.”

Legs flashing, hooves thundering, necks outstretched the horses bunched up into the last turn. Windy, a sorrel and a pinto raced for the finish line. Unable to keep up the pinto dropped back. With a final burst of speed Windy pushed herself out in front of the sorrel and almost flew across the finish line.

Gradually Mark slowed the very tired mare and brought her back to where the starter and race judges stood. Lucas, Buck, Blue and Mono rushed forward to congratulate him. Mark was thrilled at winning but knew he had to take care of Windy. With help from Lucas and Blue they unsaddled her, put a blanket on her and took turns walking her while she cooled down. Some time later Buck and Mono came back from collecting their winnings from the bets they had made. Having cooled down from the hard, frantic run, Mark was finally able to give Windy a few sips of water.

“That was a good race you rode, Mark,” said Buck, even though he had already said it several times to Mark and anyone who would listen. “It sure was.”

“Buck, do you not think Mark should have a little something for winning the race on a horse that you own?” asked Mano.

“He sure should,” agreed Blue. “You won all that money, Uncle Buck. Mark should get a share.”

Lucas was proud of his son for winning but not sure that excepting money won on a bet was the right thing to let Mark do. But how could he say no.

Buck reached in his pocket and pulled out a couple of silver dollars and handed them to Mark.

“No, oh, no. I couldn’t,” protested Mark, as much as he wanted to reach for the money. Lucas smiled as he realized he had even more reason to be proud of his son.

“Amigo,” gruffly whispered Mano to Buck. “More. More.”

Reaching deeper into his pocket Buck pulled out a ten-dollar bill to add to the two silver coins.

Blue reached out, caught the money from Buck and stuffed it into Mark’s shirt pocket. “You earned it, Mark.”

“Thank you,” said Mark to his new friends.

“And one more,” said Buck as he flipped a silver dollar at Mark. The boy felt the nick in the edge of the coin as he deftly caught it.

“Thanks,” he said again. “Ah, – Mr. Cannon.” Taking Windy’s lead rope that Lucas held, he handed it to Buck. “You will take good care of her, won’t you?”

“You bet I will,” said Buck as he petted the mare’s neck, and rubbed her velvety soft nose. She whinnied softly as if agreeing with all of them.

“Senior?” A Mexican man had walked over to where they stood. The man was scowling, while the three men following him were grumbling darkly to themselves and each other. Immediately Lucas pushed Mark behind him. This bunch was trouble for sure.

“Senior Cannon? You fooled us. We want our money back,” said the Mexican, and Buck could see his friends agreed.

“How you figure that, Garcia?” asked Buck.

Garcia spat on the ground. “You tricked us. You said the caballo, the mare, was wild. That the boy would ride her. That the boy, and the caballo have never raced. I do not believe it is so, Cannon. You and your friends lied to us. It is how you call it, a fixed race. We want our money back.” He ground his teeth in his anger, and his hand hovered near the six gun that hung on his hip. The men backing him echoed his words.

“No one lied to you, Senior Garcia,” said Manolito. “It is true, the boy and the mare had never raced before.”

“Yeah,” agreed Blue. “We was takin’ a big change that Mark would even be able to ride her.”

“No one wants trouble,” said Lucas as he shifted his grip on the Winchester that was always at his side. The rifle was almost, but not quite pointing at the renegades. “It’s like you were told. That mare was wild. I caught her about a month ago. She’s only green broke. But Mark is a good rider and the mare is fast. We decided to take a chance by putting her in the race. She could have lost just as easily.”

“But she won, Senior, and you and your amigos have our money, and we want it back. We do not think the race was fair.” Garcia was determined to get his money back. He and his friends were sure that the strangers to their town would back down from them, as others had. In Santa Fe they were known for intimidating and bullying others. They were sure they could do it with these men as well.

One of the men let his hand slowly reach for his pistol. “It is time to quite this talking, Garcia, and make them give us our money.”

“Si,” agreed another of the thugs. “Our money and theirs, as well. We want it all.” The man’s hand had barely touched his pistol’s butt for what he considered a fast draw before Lucas McCain’s rifle was tipped up, the lever cocked and a bullet ripping its way into the man’s shoulder. Instead of pulling his revolver he found himself screaming and rolling on the ground in agony.

At the same time Garcia and the other two men reached for their guns, Mano, Buck, and Blue drew theirs. Mano fired and Garcia’s pistol when flying. Buck fired into the ground between the feet of another man, who, along with his friend and Garcia, raised their hands and started to back away. They did not want to be die on this day.

Lucas pointed at the man he had shot. “Don’t forget to take him with you.”

Stumbling in their haste to comply, two of the Mexican’s grabbed the one on the ground. As they turned to leave they were almost ran into the Santa Fe sheriff. “Gracias, Seniors. I understand these four desperadoes have been steeling from honest people all day. I was just trying to find them, so I could arrest them. You will not have to worry about them disturbing you any more.” He motioned to a couple of deputies and the outlaws were taken away.

The High Chaparral hands holstered their guns. “Thanks, Sheriff,” said Buck. “We’ll sure sleep better tonight knowing them hombre’s is locked up.” The Sheriff turned and followed his deputies.

Buck gave a low whistle “That was sure some fancy shootin’, Lucas,” said Buck admiringly. “I had noticed you never let that there Winchester out of your sight. Now I know why.”

Blue and Manolito were both taking second looks at the rifle, also. “Boy, I wish I could shoot like that,” said Blue.

****

The next morning Mark and Lucas McCain packed their gear on packhorses and saddled their riding mounts. They had sold the other horses, and said goodbye to the High Chaparral men who had already left. As they rode through the town of Santa Fe, Mark hesitated in front of a small display of silk scarves and bandannas that a young Mexican woman was trying to sell. She balanced a baby on one hip.

“What is it, son?” asked Lucas when Mark halted his horse, staring at the fluttering awry of bright colored material as they stirred in a slight breeze.

“Ah, Pa, you think, maybe I could get one of those fancy bandannas?” asked Mark.

“Sure, son, don’t see why not.” Lucas realized it had been a long time since the boy had asked for something frivolous for himself. He guessed Mark had known more about the tight money fix that they had been in than he had given him credit for knowing.

After careful consideration Mark selected a red scarf with a gold design on it. “How much?” he asked shyly.

“One dollar, American, Senior,” said the woman, so Mark handed her the chipped silver dollar, then quickly tied the bright piece of cloth around his neck. Remounting he and Lucas rode on.

As they disappeared down the street a man stopped by the woman’s scarf display. “You make any money, Rosita? Give me what you got.” He opened the cigar box she used to keep her money in.

“No, Carlos. No.” She grabbed at the box. “It is for the baby. We need food for the baby.” But she was unable to stop him. Carlos shoved her away. The money held in his fist, he threw the cigar box at her feet. The baby started crying and Rosita turned away to comfort her as Carlos sauntered down the dusty street and into a cantina.

As Carlos pushed open the door to the cantina, three men came out. One tall rider reached down and picked up a coin. “Hey, Mister,” said Buck Wilmington, but Carlos was already inside. “Oh, well,” Wilmington started to put the old silver dollar into his pocket, then realized Chris Larabee and Josiah Sanchez were watching him. “I ain’t steelin’ it. I found it.”

“So you did,” commented Josiah, his tone saying more than his words.

Chris tipped his hat back, and grinned, enjoying the exchange between his friends without saying anything.

“Well, here,” said Wilmington, disgruntled and embarrassed. “Put it in the church fund when we get back.” He thrust the coin at Josiah’s open hand.

Josiah took the coin and held it up to squint at it, the sun glinting off it. His rough, callused thumb noted the nick in the edge. “The Lord sure do work in mysterious ways,” he muttered as he slid the coin into his vest pocket.

Chris stifled a hoot of laughter as he and his friends mounted to leave Santa Fe and head back for Four Corners.

*****

I need some more nails,” exclaimed Josiah, in an exasperated tone. “I done asked you twice. I gave you that silver dollar to buy ‘em with. Now quite sparkin’ that gal and go get them. That is if you going to help me fix this cabinet for Casey.”

The young man and his girl sat on the end of the wagon’s tailgate, feet swinging, and holding hands. They had been watching Josiah as he repaired a broken drawer in a small end table. Casey had driven in with the broken piece of furniture hoping Josiah would fix it. It had, Josiah knew, been a good excuse for her to be able to see J. D.

“All right, all right,” complained J. D. as he slid off the wagon and headed down the street for the hardware store.

Josiah had an annoyed look on his face. “And remember I said I need a half pound of four penny finishing nails,” he added as he watched J. D. leave. Then he turned and winked at Casey, causing her to giggle.

There was a pound of hooves as the stagecoach appeared at the end of the street. J. D. paused to let it go by. It stopped in front of the saloon. The driver hollered down at his passengers as they disembarked. “Be ‘bout two hours, folks. Long ‘nough to take a good break, and change horses. Get you some grub, and then we’ll be headed out again.” Several men got off the coach.

J.D. stared at the last man to get off. He wore a dusty, black suit and had a gunbelt tied low on his hip. To J.D.’s eye he looked like a man who knew how to use that pistol. A man who might mean trouble for him and his friends. Trouble for Four Corners. He sure did look like a gunslinger. The man went into the saloon and J. D. decided he should follow and find out what he could. Especially as he was the Sheriff.

He looked around and spotted two small boys playing marbles on the boardwalk in front of the newspaper office. “Hey, Billy. I got a job for you.”

“Yeah,” answered one of the boys. “Doin’ what?”

“Here,” J. D. walked over to the boy. “Josiah needs some nails. A half-pound of four penny finishing nails. Go down to the hardware store, get him some and take them to him. Think you can do that?”

“So what’s in it for me,” grumbled the boy. He hadn’t been observing the seven men who helped guard the town without learning a little bit of how to get things for himself.

“Well,” J. D. thought a moment. “You can use the change to get yourself some candy. You and your friend.”

Billy grabbed the dollar out of J. D.’s hand. He and his friend gathered up their marbles before running down to the hardware store.

paced down the street toward the saloon, taking a moment to rub the Sheriff’s badge pinned on his vest.

“Now what’s taking that boy so long.” Josiah laid his hammer on the wooden cabinet. He looked down the street but all he saw was two boys. He recognized one as Mary Travis’s boy, Billy.

“I’m sure he got sidetracked, as usual,” said Casey.

The boys came on until they had to stop or run into Josiah’s legs. Billy handed a paper sack up to the big man. “Here’s your nails that J. D. said you wanted,” said Billy around a mouthful of gumdrops. The other boy didn’t say anything as he sucked loudly on a licorice stick.

“Where’s my change?” asked Josiah.

“Ah – ah – h, – change?” stammered Billy “J. D. said to get some candy with it.”

“He did, did he,” Josiah could see he wasn’t going to get anything back. He was fixing the table and paying for the nails and for the kid’s candy, too. “You got any left? How ‘bout some for me?”

Billy held out another sack, and Josiah peaked inside, then withdrew a slightly damaged peppermint stick. “One for Casey, too,” he said, motioning to the girl still sitting on the wagon’s tailgate.

Billy hesitated, eyes wide at the sight of his candy disappearing, but handed the sack over. Casey chose a jawbreaker. Billy and his friend were suddenly gone before any more of the candy had to be given up. Grinning at the boys and Casey, Josiah returned to work on the cabinet, peppermint stick in the side of his mouth.

“Wonder what happened to J. D.?” asked Casey. She jumped off the wagon and went in search of her errant boyfriend as the sound of hammering filled the churchyard.

“Youngin’s,” muttered Josiah, as he gently tapped in another of the finishing nails.

*****

J.D. entered the saloon. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room, he saw several of his friends sitting at a table and joined them. “Anyone know who he is?” he tipped his head toward the man who sat at a corner table eating a bowl of Inez’s good, hot chili.

“No, can’t say as I do,” said Buck Wilmington as he sipped a beer. “Or that I care.” He was more interested in staring at Inez as she waited on customers.

Ezra Standish moved a card on his game of solitaire. “Never seen him, that I can remember. Don’t think I want to either. He looks like trouble.”

“He sure does,” agreed J. D. “Wears his gun tied down like a gunslinger.”

Leaned back in his chair, hat over his eyes, Chris Larabee looked to be asleep, but he had heard and seen everything. “Leave that one alone, J. D. He won’t start any trouble, but he might just finish it, if it starts. And I don’t want no trouble today.”

Furtively a man came through the bat wing doors and sidled up to the bar. “Bottle of whiskey,” whispered the hardware salesman to Inez as he always did. It was an old story to her. He didn’t want his wife to know he had been in the saloon, but she was sure the woman knew about her husband’s drinking. Inez handed him a bottle of the cheapest liqueur she had, and he knowing the price, laid several coins on the counter. One coin was a grimy silver dollar he had just taken in payment for some nails bought by a small boy. He slid the bottle into a large pocket on the inside of his coat and was gone out the door. Inez hissed through her teeth. “Snake. He is a snake. He will never be a man.”

The stranger had finished his chili and the big, thick chunk of bread that had been served with it. Now he lingered over his beer. When he had drained the mug, he took it and the bowl back to the bar, setting them down in front of the waitress. “Good food. I appreciate it. What do I owe you?” His voice was soft with a southern drawl.

This one, Inez thought, was a man. Much man. “Thank you, Senior,” she answered. “One dollar, and I will throw in another beer.”

“You got a deal,” the stranger said. He searched through his pockets. “Sorry, ma’am. All I got is a ten-dollar gold piece. Used all my change I guess.”

“Not to worry, Senior.” Inez took the gold coin, chose some change from a cash drawer, then handed it to the stranger. One of the coins being the battered silver dollar she had just received from the hardware salesman for his bottle of whiskey. The stranger dropped the coins in a pocket and added the bills to his wallet.

Against his friend’s advice, J. D. walked up beside the stranger. “Saw you get off the stage, Mister. You gonna be in town long?”

The stranger looked at J. D., noting the badge he wore with such obvious pride. “Don’t plan on it, Sheriff. You got reason for asking?”

“Just thought I’d let you know we don’t want no trouble here. Where you from?”

“That boy ain’t never gonna learn,” Buck growled, his right hand hovering near his pistol, as he took another sip of his beer. He, Ezra, and Larabee were ready and expecting trouble to break out, now that J.D. had decided to brace the stranger.

“Virginia, originally,” answered the stranger tolerantly of a question that generally wasn’t asked of strangers.

“Where you headed? What’s your business here?” J. D. knew he was pushing the man, but stubbornness made him do it anyway.

The stranger was getting a bit perturbed by the questions. “North, not that it’s any of your business.” He, too, was trying to avoid trouble with the young, persistent lawman. “I work for Judge Garth, at Shilo Ranch, outside of Medicine Bow, Wyoming. I’ll be leavin’ soon as the stage is ready.”

Chris Larabee left his chair and moved up beside the bar. “J.D., leave the man alone. He’s just passin’ through.”

J.D. realized he had been pushing to hard. “Just tryin’ to do my job,” he grumbled as he walked away.

Inez handed the stranger another beer. He took a big swallow, as she drew another for Chris. “Sorry,” Chris said. “J.D. don’t mean no harm. He’s still a bit young and takes his job seriously.”

“I can see that,” said the stranger. “Good thing to take a job seriously, most of the time.”

“You’re the one they call The Virginian, aren’t you. Sorry, I’m as bad as J.D.” Chris took a drink of his beer.

The Virginian chucked softly. “Some call me that.”

“Heard Shilo was a good ranch to work for?”

“It is.”

“Always wanted to see Wyoming and that Medicine Bow country. Hear it’s real pretty. Might head up that way sometime.”

“It is that. Stop in, if you do,” invited the Virginian. He had recognized Larabee as being a man a lot like himself.

The stage driver poked his head in the door. “Stage is ready to go.”

The Virginian tipped his hat to Inez. “Ma’am.” He walked out the door.

“Sure didn’t want no trouble with that galoot,” commented Buck Wilmington.

*****

A nicely dressed woman can out of the newspaper office, and looked up and down the dusty street of the small western town. She was the owner and editor of The Clarion News. “Billy?” called Mary, as she looked for her son. She spotted him across the street playing marbles with his friend. Disgustedly she took in the sight of her son. He was filthy dirty, and had the remains of sticky candy smeared across his face. The last jawbreaker was still in his mouth. “Where did you get that candy?”

Billy knew he was in trouble. “From J.D. and Josiah,” he mumbled.

Mary sighed in exasperation, then took her son by the arm. Sometimes she wasn’t so sure the seven were a very good influence on him. “I think it’s time for you to clean up, young man.” Mary marched Billy into the house for a bath.

*****

The Virginian stepped off the stagecoach in Medicine Bow, right into Betsy Garth’s arms. “Oh, it’s so good to see you,” she squealed as she hugged him. “You’ve been gone so long.”

“Only two weeks,” he said as he hugged her back and shook hands with the Judge. The Virginian was as fond of the Judge’s daughter, Betsy as if she had been his own daughter. “It was good to get away from here, – and you – for a while,” he teased her. She punched him lightly on the arm.

“So I gather you had a good trip?” asked the Judge.

“Sure did,” answered The Virginian. “All taken care of, and it is good to be back.”

After a quick lunch, the rancher, his daughter, and foreman drove off toward Shilo ranch. Yes, thought The Virginian, it was good to be home.

A week of hard ranch work passed for The Virginian and his crew. Then another, and payday rolled around. Over the next few days several small poker games helped break up the evening hours in the bunkhouse. Even The Virginian sat in on a couple of hands one evening. After loosing several silver dollars to Trampas he left to go over the books with the Judge.

Trampas picked up the coins he had won and stacked them neatly beside himself. The chipped silver dollar caught his eye. He picked it up and held it up to the light of the lamp hanging over the scratched and scarred table. “Hope this one is real. Be just like the Boss to pawn off fake money on me,” he said. “Looks like somebody tried to take a bit out of it.”

“Looks real enough to me,” said Beldon, as he shuffled the deck of cards. “You gonna play or not.”

“Sure, sure, deal the cards.”

Within minutes Beldon had the silver dollar, but not for long, as Trampas won it back, and then lost it to another cowhand named Fred.

The following night another game was started and this time it was Randy Boone who ended up with the dented dollar. As the next day was Saturday and he was expected to play for the dance to be held that evening, Randy took off early to go to town so he could buy some new guitar strings.

On Monday the storekeeper where Randy had bought the guitar strings made a deposit to the bank. There were several silver dollars, including one that was chipped. As evening approached the banker drew the blinds over the windows, ushered old Mrs. Hemmer out and started to shut and lock the door. Just before he turned the lock the door was thrust open and a revolver shoved within inches of his nose.

“Hands Up! Don’t make a sound and do exactly as your told and no one gets hurt,” whispered a harsh voice. The banker’s hands shot into the air. He couldn’t speak; his mouth was to dry, so he just nodded his head. The bank robber had a bandanna tied over his mouth and his hat was pulled low, as did the man behind him.

The second outlaw threw a big, burlap bag at the woman teller. “Fill it,” he commanded in a hoarse voice. “Be quick.” The other teller, a young man, raised his hands.

White-faced with fear, the woman did as told and dumped her drawer and the other tills into the bag.

“Now the safe,” said the robber, wiggling his gun in the direction of the small, walk-in safe, that the banker had unlocked only moments before in anticipation of adding the money from the day’s transactions to it. The woman ducked inside the safe and when the bag was bulging the robber grabbed it from her.

“Don’t nobody stick your head out this door, or I’ll shoot it off,” said the first outlaw, as he and his companion turned to leave, but the other teller, the young man, thinking to stop them, grabbed a gun hid under the counter. Seeing what he was doing, one of the robbers fired a shot and the would-be hero fell to the floor, blood pouring from his arm where the bullet had smashed it.

The two bank robbers darted into the street where a third man had been waiting with the horses. As the outlaws mounted, the banker yelled from the doorway, and fired the pistol his teller had tried to get.

Taking a couple of quick shots back at the bank, the outlaws raced out of town, the bag of money hanging from the saddle of the leader.

At the sound of gunshots Deputy Sheriff Emmett Ryker, ran out of his office, and was almost run down by the escaping bank robbers.

“It was Butch Cassidy,” yelled the banker. “I been robbed by Butch Cassidy, and I think I hit him. I shot Butch Cassidy!”

*****

Moving along at a good pace, but not to fast, Josh Randall noticed the sun hitting something shiny in the dirt of the road he was traveling. There was another one about ten feet from the first.

“Whoa, boy,” he spoke to his horse, and swung down out of the saddle to have a look. “Now, that’s what I thought that was,” he said to himself as he picked up the quarter and brushed it off. He looked around to see if anyone might be watching him. It might be some kind of a trap. “Now, who would a left a quarter just a layin’ here in the dirt. Somebody must a lost it.”

He walked to the next coin, a nickel, and picked it up, and then to the third one, another silver dollar, with another nickel beside it. There was two more quarters near it. Dropping the coins in his pocket Josh hunkered down to examine the fresh horse tracks that surrounded the coins. At the sound of another horse approaching, Josh stood up and led his horse to the side of the road; his right hand resting on the modified carbine rifle he wore tied to his leg.

The rider pulled up when he saw Randall, and the two men stared as they looked each other over.

“Josh Randall? Is that you?” said the rider.

“Yeah, it is,” agreed Josh. “What are you doin’ out here, Ryker?”

Emmett touched his badge. “Deputy Sheriff of Medicine Bow. Had a bank robbery this evening. I’m tryin’ to catch up to the robbers.”

Josh looked around and down the road behind Ryker. “Well, where’s your posse?”

“Ah, hell. Them city folks. They all wanted to eat their suppers first. Bank teller got shot, so’s now they’re all afraid. Most likely I can make better time by myself anyway. There’s three of them. Ridin’ hard by the looks of the tracks. Banker said one was ridin’ a sorrel. Two on bays. He said it was Butch Cassidy and he shot and wounded him.”

“Shot Butch Cassidy?” quarried Josh.

Emmett chuckled. “He fired a gun at the robbers, but I doubt he hit one. I was surprised he had the guts to even shoot at them. I ain’t seen any blood and they ain’t slowed up none. And if it really is Cassidy, I’ll only believe it when I catch him. You seen anyone, Randall?”

“No, I ain’t But there are three sets a fresh tracks here.” He pointed at the ground. “There a reward on these men?”

Emmett dismounted an examined the tracks. “Same one’s I been following from Medicine Bow. No, not that I know of. Banker didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout a reward, but I didn’t ask. But if you was to help me catch ‘em, he or the town, might be willin’ to make it worth your while. Can’t say for sure.”

“Will, I ain’t in no rush to be nowhere. I’ll tag along for awhile, if you don’t mind?”

“Would be obliged for you help.” Ryker and Randall mounted their horses and followed the tracks. A mile or so down the road Emmett pulled up and got down. He picked up several coins and a dollar bill. “This is the second pile of coins I’ve found. I’d say the bag they put the money in has a hole in it.”

“Maybe so,” said Josh. He didn’t say anything about the few coins he had picked up as he watched Emmett put the money in his saddlebags. It might be the only pay he got for helping the town of Medicine Bow. Minutes later the trail they followed left the main road and began to wind and twist across the Wyoming prairie. Now the outlaws were trying to hide their trail and it took longer to follow it, and dark was closing in, even on this long summer day.

*****

It was the afternoon of the next day before the lawman and the bounty hunter topped a ridge to see their prey. They had not realized they were that close on the rail of the robbers, and it seemed the outlaws were just as shocked to see the two man posse almost on top of them. They kicked their horses into a run. Randall and Ryker were hot on their heels, and the chase was on. In a quick mile the distance had closed to a few feet and the fugitives where shooting back at the lawmen. Emmett drew his pistol and fired. In amazement he watched one thief tumble off his horse. While Randall continued after the other two, Ryker pulled up, leaped from his saddle and collared the man who had dropped his gun when he fell.

“Don’t shoot!” gasped the man, cowering on the ground. “Don’t shoot. I think my arm’s broken.” He held his right arm gingerly with his left hand. Blood leaking between his fingers.

Ryker didn’t feel to sorry for the man. The teller at the bank would be glad to know that the man who had shot him had suffered the same fate. Emmett snapped a pair of handcuffs on him and then tied a makeshift bandage on his arm, hoping it would stop the bleeding. At the same time he was listening to the gun shots from the fight in the rocks a few hundred yards on down the trail. The other two outlaws had holed up in a stand of trees and boulders. Josh had settled in behind a rock outcropping with a juniper tree on top of it. He knew he would be glad of the shade if the fight lasted very long. He decided it might, as there were several trees where the outlaws were, too. It might last a long time or at least until someone ran out of bullets or water. Or both.

Josh peaked over his rock, and a bullet thudded into the ground in front of him throwing up a geyser of dirt. He fired a shot in return at a patch of blue shirt he could just barely see. The man yelped in surprise as a shower of rock chips struck him.

Josh wondered what was taking Ryker so long as he continued to shoot at the robbers to keep them pinned down, and they at him. He didn’t relish the idea of the fight lasting any longer than was necessary. He took of his hat and wiped at the sweat in it with his bandanna.

Emmett had tied his prisoner to a tree and gone to help Randall. Seeing where his friend was positioned and how he had the robbers pinned down, Emmett took his time to make a long, slow, circle so he could come in behind the bandits.

“Could you use some help, Emmett?”

Emmett spun around, gun ready to fire, at the voice. He thought he recognized the man who knew his name. “Cheyenne?” he asked at the sight of the big man. There was another man beside of Bodie. “Jim Crown?”

“None other. What’s goin’ on, Emmett?” The Marshal gestured toward the occasional sound of gunfire.

“Got two bank robbers pinned down. I’m tryin’ to get behind them.”

“Who’s that fella up on the ridge?” asked Crown.

Emmett smiled. “You’ll never guess. It’s Josh Randall.”

“The bounty hunter?” said Crown and Bodie in unison.

“The same,” answered Ryker.

“If they’re who I think they are,” said Crown, explaining why they were there, “these men been robbin’ banks, and stagecoaches over a large area of the west. I been on their trail for several weeks. Cheyenne’s been helping me.”

“Well, let’s go give Randall a hand,” said Bodie, pulling his large revolver.

Ryker was glad they were there. “Glad to have your help. I already got one of them tied up back there, a ways.”

From different directions, the three men sneaked up on the outlaws, who were concentrating on Josh Randall, and were unaware that anyone was behind them. Emmett called out. “Put your guns down, and your hands in the air!”

“Your surrounded,” yelled Cheyenne who was about a hundred yards to Emmett’s right.

“I’d do what they say, if you know what’s good for you,” added Marshal Crown from his place to Ryker’s left.

At the sound of three different voices, and knowing there was at least one or more men who had been shooting at them, the two robbers looked at each other in disgust, dropped their weapons, and put their hands in the air, as instructed. “Don’t shoot. We’re comin’ out.”

“Hold your fire Randall, we got them covered,” Emmett yelled out so that Josh would know what was going on.

Randall was glad Emmett had the outlaws captured but he wondered who ‘we’ would turn out to be. Could it really be that one of them was the notorious Butch Cassidy? He wasn’t thrilled when he found out Bodie and Crown had joined the posse, but was happier when the two decided to head on back to the Cimmaron, while he and Ryker took the prisoners back to Medicine Bow. It was the nearest town to find a doctor for the injured man, and the lawmen would let a judge decide what jurisdiction would get to try the outlaws first for the many crimes they had committed.

*****

A couple of days later Ryker watched as Randall saddled his horse. “Still say you could stay for a while, Josh. I sure could use a good deputy. The town wouldn’t object.”

“No,” said Josh. “No I don’t think so. Don’t seem to pay very good.” He considered the small reward the town had given him for helping bring in the bank robbers. That banker had sure been upset that it hadn’t been Butch Cassidy that had robbed his bank. But he had been glad to get the money back. Or most of it. No one had ever mentioned the few coins Josh had picked up. There were still in his pocket. He and Emmett had found a hole in the bag that the money had been slowly escaping out of.

“Yeah, you got a point there,” agreed Ryker, “but Medicine Bow is a good town to live in. And it’s a job.”

“For you, maybe, but not for me.” The bounty hunter turned and looked at the street and buildings of the small town. The pay was less, but maybe it would be better than the constant riding from place to place and never having a place to call home. He noticed a group of cowboys as they rode up the street, joking and teasing each other, ready for a night on the town. “Who’s the fella on the buckskin?” asked Josh, as he took a second look at the man. He was sure he knew him from somewhere.

Emmett was watching the men, too, and hoping they wouldn’t cause too much trouble tonight. “That’s the Shilo crew. That’s Trampas on the buckskin. You know him?”

“Uh huh. Him and me had a run in once. Think I’ll just mosey on out a town.” Randall quickly mounted up.

Well in that case it might be a good idea, thought Emmett, as he shook Randall’s hand in farewell. He didn’t need Josh and Trampas getting into a fight. “Where you headed?”

“Oh-o-o, I was thinkin’ ‘bout headin’ on down t’ward Texas for a while. I remember a pretty gal I knew down there once.” He touched his boot heels to his horse’s sides and clucked to it. “Let’s go.”

*****

Not a breath of air stirred as the sun beat down mercilessly on the small bordertown. Puffs of dust lifted from the ground as the hooves of the black horse pounded the ground as the horse and rider walked slowly up the street. The unbearable heat had pushed most people indoors or into a patch of shade somewhere for an afternoon siesta. Four men sat in the shade of a porch in front of the mercantile, where it was only a few degrees cooler than out in the street.

“Look’s familiar,” growled a gravely voiced man, as he watched the stranger stop at the livery stable and dismount.

“Simmer down, Bennett,” came another voice from under a hat pulled low over his face. The Ranger had his legs stretched out so he could prop his feet on the porch rail. “You always think ever body looks familiar. This heat’s getin’ to you.”

“It’s getting to all of us,” said the third man who had been leaning against a post. “But Reese is right. He does look like someone I should know. Keep an eye on him. I got more of that damn paper work to do.”

“Sure thin, Captain,” answered the forth man for himself and his friends. “But we might have trouble comin’ from another direction. Especially for Joe.” Chad Cooper nodded his head down the street the other way.

The other three Texas Rangers looked that way. The one with the hat over his face, used one finger to push it up enough to see what Chad was talking about. “Oh! No!” groaned Joe Riley, as if in pain. Then he was up and gone, disappearing around the corner of the building.

Reese let out a harsh cackle of a laugh, as Chad chuckled with him. The sight of the odd Indian couple, Blue Dog and Linda Little Trees was the only thing that could make Riley move that fast. It had been an on going problem for some time now. Linda Little Trees was completely enamored by Joe and wanted to marry him. Blue Dog was in love with Little Trees, so consequently wanted to get rid of his competition, namely Joe Riley.

As they watched Blue Dog passed something to Little Trees. Captain Ed Parmalee smothered an oath. “Those two crazy Indians have a bottle of whiskey. Cooper, Bennett take care of this before there’s a problem.” He turned on his heel and left. He remembered the mess it had caused a couple of times before when the two Indians had become drunk and disorderly. Of course they were usually disorderly even when they weren’t drunk.

The relentless sun still beat down, causing heat waves to shimmer at each end of the town of Laredo, Texas. The Rangers watched their Captain head for his office and then watched the familiar looking stranger leave the livery stable and walk toward the nearest saloon, which just happened to be where Blue Dog and Linda Little Trees were making their inebriated way toward.

Reese Bennett took off his hat and used a dirty bandanna to wipe out the sweat and re-seated the hat on his head. “It’s to hot for any trouble to break out. Even from them two.”

“Reese, for once I think you might be right. Anyway, I sure hope so.” Chad Cooper sat down in the chair that Joe Riley had vacated, propped his feet on the rail and tipped his hat over his eyes. The last thing he wanted was to have to arrest anyone today.

*****

Josh Randall barely noticed the two Indians as he entered the saloon. His only thought being it had to be cooler inside than out here in the street, and, oh, how good a cool beer was going to taste. And it was cooler inside, at least by a few degrees. Josh flipped a coin on the bar. “Beer, bartender.”

The lethargic bartender drew a mug full of beer and placed it in front of his only customer and palmed the coin. Hearing the swish of the batwing doors opening again he looked up and swore viscously when he saw who had entered.

Josh looked around but could only see the two Indians. Surely they couldn’t be that big of a problem. Maybe the bartender just didn’t like Indians. A lot of people didn’t. Josh thought of them the same way he did anyone else. As long as they didn’t bother him he wouldn’t bother them. Unless they had a price on their head. He turned back to his beer. It wasn’t cold, in fact it was barely cool, but at least it was wet and cut the dust.

As he raised the glass to his mouth his elbow was jostled, causing him to get the foam from the beer all over his face. He swiped at the froth, turned and he found the Indian woman leaning on the bar and staring at him, kind of like a moon-eyed calf. She reached out and patted his arm. “Me like you, white man. You like Indian woman. I make you good woman.”

Before Josh could think of an appropriate answer he felt someone push him from the other side. “You no want woman, white-eyes. Linda Little Trees my woman. You leave her alone. Or I cut your throat.”

The rank smell of whiskey breath that enveloped Josh caused him to take a step backwards. “That’s fine, Mr. Indian,” said Josh to the short, stout man. “That’s just fine. I ain’t got no interest in your woman.” He turned to the tall, slim woman who might have been halfways good looking if she had been cleaned up. “Sorry, ma’am. I don’t need no woman, least wise not right now. Just my beer.” He held up the almost empty mug and tired to step away from them.

The woman shoved him in the chest with both hands. “You no like Linda Little Trees? Why you no like? I like you, white man.” She ran her hands up and down his arms, roughly, almost pinching Josh. “Very strong. You look very strong. I like very strong man.”

“No, ma’am,” said Josh quickly. “I ain’t strong. I’m week as can be.” Josh tried to pull away from the persistent woman. He didn’t want any trouble. He just wanted to get away from her. From his other side the other Indian was pulling at him.

“Little Trees is Blue Dog’s woman, leave her to Blue Dog. You leave my woman alone or you loose your hair. Me got big scalping knife.”

“I bet you have. And I’ll gladly leave your woman alone, if she will leave me alone,” said Josh. It was way too hot, and he was too tired for this kind of a problem today. He turned to leave the bar. “You just take her away.” He tried to push the woman toward the Indian man.

“You, Indian, Blue Dog,” yelled the bartender. “Get outa here. I don’t need no trouble with no drunk redskin. Mister, you got problems with them Indians you take it outside. I don’t need no trouble in here. I’ll call the rangers.” He pulled an ax handle out from under the bar, and raised it threateningly. “Outside now.”

Rangers, thought Josh, as he moved through the bat-winged doors and into the street. All he needed was trouble with the Texas Rangers. He realized the two Indians were following him. The woman was still asking him if he was strong and if he needed a strong woman, and the man threatening to cut his throat, and take his scalp, although Josh noticed he didn’t have a knife in his hand yet.

From across the street Bennett and Cooper watched the commotion in front of the saloon. “Damn it, anyway,” said Reese. “now why couldn’t them two a just gone an slept it off somewhere.”

Cooper stood up. “Come on. Let’s go stop it ‘fore the Captain hear’s ‘em.” The two drunk Indians and the stranger were raising their voices in argument, and the bartender stood at the door threatening all of them with an ax handle if they tried to come back in.

Josh had had about all he could take of the obnoxious couple. All he had wanted was a cool drink, a meal, and to rest awhile. “Now, look,” he pushed Blue Dog out of his face. “That’s enough. I ain’t got no interest in no woman a any kind. Now get out a my way, an leave me alone.”

Linda Little Trees grabbed hold of his arm and hung on. “I go with you, white man. I no like Blue Dog no more. What your name, white man?”

“No!” growled Josh harshly, jerking his arm loose, which caused the woman to lurch and stumble and fall to sit ungainly on the ground, her legs sprawled out in front of her.

At the sight of the love of his life sitting on the dusty street, Blue Dog got mad. He howled an Indian war cry, as he yanked a big knife out of a sheath on his belt and pointed it at the stranger, but he didn’t get any farther as Josh planted a fist in his midsection, causing the Indian to sit down on the street beside of the Indian woman.

Now it was Linda Little Trees turn to get mad at the sight of Blue Dog getting hit. She screamed and with a flurry of fist, feet, long black braids and bright calico skirts, she attacked Josh, hitting and kicking him. Blue Dog got onto his feet and shrieking an Indian warcry, jumped onto the back of the bounty hunter, causing Josh and the two Indians to go down in a heap where they rolled in the dirt fighting and yelling. Dust rose almost obscuring the view the rangers had of the scuffle.

Chad grabbed Little Trees and pulled her out of the fight. “Whoa, whoa. That ain’t no way for a lady to act.”

“She ain’t no lady,” hollered Reese as he waded into the fight and let loose with a wild swing, that left Blue Dog sitting on the ground rubbing his jaw. “You, there. Stay put and behave yourself, Blue Dog.” He grabbed the Indian, pinning his arms behind his back. “Stop that!”

By now Josh was really mad. He got to his feet and was reaching for his gun, but it wasn’t where it should have been in it’s holster on his leg. He looked around in surprise.

“You lookin’ fer this,” Joe Riley held the fancy, sawed-off gun in one hand, and Blue Dog’s knife in the other. “Now what’s goin’ on here?”

Josh knew when he was outnumbered. Actually he was thankful for the interference. He sure hadn’t been winning. He wiped at a smear of blood and dirt on his chin. One eye was beginning to swell. “These two started in on me. In the saloon there. I don’t want no trouble.” He bent over and picked up his hat, dusted it off, and resettled it on his head.

“Don’t want no trouble, he says,” chuckled Cooper. “Brawlin’ in the street and he don’t want no trouble.”

The bartender walked up. “You Rangers best keep them Indians outa my saloon, if you know what’s good for you. And get that feller outa here, too. He started it. Bringin’ them Indians into my saloon.”

“I did not,” yelled Josh. “I don’t even know ‘em. They started it. I just wanted a beer.”

“Don’t matter who started it,” said Chad, “you’re all goin’ to jail. Now come on. And you,” he gave a weathering look at the bartender. “Get back inside before you finish cookin’ what little brains you got left. Go back to your bartending.”

Appalled at the Rangers attitude toward him, the bartender ducked back inside the saloon.

“Jail,” questioned Josh. “I didn’t do nothin’, ‘cept defend myself.”

“Yeah, jail. And you can sleep it off,” said Joe.

“I ain’t drunk,” complained Josh.

“I don’t care,” said Reese, as he began walking Blue Dog down the street toward the jail. “You can sleep it off anyway. I ain’t in the mood for no trouble from the likes of you fellas. Not today.”

Within minutes Josh found himself locked in a jail cell, and thankfully the Rangers put Blue Dog and Little Trees in another cell. Well, anyway he was out of the sun and had a bunk to rest on. It wasn’t the first time he had spent a night in jail. If only the two bickering Indians would be quiet.

It was late evening when Josh woke up, but the sun was still making it’s journey across the sky, although it was low in the west now. His mouth was dry as cotton, and his belly was trying to remind him it had been a long time since he had eaten. His jaw was sore and he could barely see out of his left eye. To top it off Blue Dog and Little Trees were at it again. Only now it seemed Little Trees had turned her attentions toward the Ranger, Joe Riley.

Joe sat in a chair, feet propped on an old, beat-up desk. He, too, attempted to ignore the arguing Indians. Little Trees was declaring her undying love for him, while saying how much she hated Blue Dog. Blue Dog was devising all kinds of bodily harm for Joe, if Joe even looked at ‘his woman’. Finally Riley couldn’t take any more of the nit-picking couple. “That’s enough,” he said in a loud voice. “I don’t want to hear no more from either of you. Just shut up.”

“Yeah,” agreed Josh. “Just shut up. Let me sleep some more.”

Blue Dog spun around to look at Josh. “You, white eyes, you shut up. You no tell Blue Dog what to do. Blue Dog only do what Blue Dog want.”

“Yeah, your gonna do it from a jail cell, huh,” mumbled Josh.

Reese came through the open door, with Chad following. “Cap’in Pramalee, says turn them three loose, and run ‘em out a town, so we don’t have to feed ‘em tonight.”

“Fine with me, long as they leave town, and don’t cause no more trouble,” said Joe.

Cooper plucked the keys off a wooden peg on the wall, and unlocked both cell doors.

“Thanks,” said Josh, as he picked up his hat and stepped out of the cell. “Be obliged for my gun.”

Joe stood up, and handed him his weapon. “Make sure you leave soon as you can saddle your horse. Don’t plan on spending the night ‘round here.”

“Oh, I’m goin’. I can’t wait to get out of this here town. It’s about as unwelcome as a town can be.”

Chad ushered Blue Dog and Linda Little Trees out the door. “And you two stay out a Laredo, too. We don’t need your drunken shanagans around here. You done caused enough trouble today.”

“Me want Joe Riley. I stay with Riley. Or I go, if he goes.” It was Little Trees again, arms crossed, feet planted on the boardwalk, and a ill-humored, sullen expression on her face.

“NO!” yelled Joe. “I ain’t gonna have you followin’ me ‘round, Little Trees. Now go. Get. Just get outa here. Vamoose. And don’t come back.” Anyone could see that Riley was aggravated and getting irritated at the Indian woman by the second. She had been plaguing him for a long time.

Blue Dog pushed Linda Little Trees out the door as he spat cuss words in his Indian language as well as in English. But Little Trees suddenly had a different idea. “I go,” she said. “I go with this white man. Strong white man. What your name?” She had latched onto Josh’s arm. He tried to shake her off, but she clung tightly.

Blue Dog pulled at her. “No, Little Trees. You come with me.”

Little Trees turned loose of Josh and swung a fist at Blue Dog, who ducked, and it was Josh who got hit. Josh staggered back a step, and into Reese Bennett. “Not again,” bellowed Reese.

By this time Josh had had all he could take of the outlandish goings on between the Texas Rangers and the Indians. His temper raising to a hotter temperature than the heat of the sun at midday, Randall doubled up his fist and swung and hit Bennett square on the jaw. The Ranger went down with a loud thud. Hitting the big Ranger didn’t seem to accomplish much, except to make all the Rangers mad at him again, and Josh suddenly found himself back in the jail cell with the key clinking in the lock. Josh sat down on the bunk and leaned back with an exasperated sigh. “Just what I wanted,” he said, as he tipped his hat over his face, and clo0sed his eyes. “Just what I wanted.” That is as long as the Rangers ran Blue Dog and Little Trees out of Laredo and brought him some supper. A night in jail would be worth it, if he didn’t have to ever see those two Indians again.

Reese stuck his head back in through the door. “By the way, what is your name, Mister?”

Josh raised his hat back up, and answered Bennett. “Randall, Josh Randall.”

For a moment Reese didn’t say anything, then it came to him who Josh was. “The bounty hunter?”

“Well, yeah, guess I am,” said Josh. “When do you feed your prisoners, Mister Ranger?”

It was late the next morning before Bennett released Josh from jail. “Before you go, Mister Big Bounty Hunter,” said Bennett. “There’s the little matter of payin’ the fine.”

“Fine?” asked Josh.

“Yeah,” said Reese. “Fine. Fer hittin’ a Ranger.” Reese held out his hand. “Pay up.”

Josh sighed in annoyance. Boy would he be glad to get out of Laredo. “How much?”

“Oh, I figure ‘bout five bucks ought a cover it.”

“Five bucks. That’s robbery.” Josh reached into his pocket, and pulled out a handful of change and slapped it into the Ranger’s outstretched hand. One silver dollar was badly worn and had a nick in the edge of it. Josh remembered it was part of the coins he had found that had escaped from the bankrobbers up north in Wyoming. Oh, well, he thought, as long as he could get out of this crazy town. “That enough?”

Reese chuckled and said, “It’ll do.”

“Then I’m leavin’. And hope I never have to come back to Laredo again.” Josh beat a hasty retreat from the Ranger jail, almost running into another Ranger. Captain Parmalee sidestepped to keep from being run over by Randall, then entered the Ranger office.

“Make sure you don’t, bounty hunter,” said Reese to the man’s retreating back. “Bounty hunters, always troublemakers.”

“Bennett, I want you, Cooper, and Riley to ride out to that trail herd, north of town, and check the brands,” said the Captain. “Make sure they match the trail boss’s papers. What’s that money for?”

Reese was still holding his hand out with Randall’s fine in it. “Oh – that. Oh – Aaaa, nothin’, Cap’in – just nothin’.” He slid the money into his pocket. “Yes, Sir, Cap’in Parmalee. We’ll go check out them trail herd brands. Do it right now. I’ll go get Cooper and Riley, and get right on it.” The Ranger left the office almost at a run.

Parmalee watched Bennett intercept Cooper and Riley who where just leaving a nearby café, and they headed for the corrals, where the Ranger horses were kept. He wondered, as he always did, how he had been saddled with three such goof-offs. But, he thought, they did make life interesting.

*****

The three Rangers waked their horses into the trailherd camp and waited to be invited to dismount. A bewhiskered man with an apron tired around his waist watched them a moment before he asked. “You fella’s lookin’ for work?”

“No,” said Chad. “We’re Texas Rangers. Been sent out to check over the brands with the trail boss.”

“All right,” said the cook. “Light down and have some grub and coffee. Boss’s been expectin’ you. He’ll be here directly.” He turned to a cowhand that was just finishing his noon meal. “Scarlet, go tell Mr. Favor we got company.”

Chad, Joe, and Reese dismounted, picked up tin plates and cups of the tailgate of the chuckwagon and helped themselves to stew and coffee. While they ate they watched the cowpunchers at work putting the trailherd together.

In a few minutes two riders made there way around the edge of the herd and into camp. They dismounted and the cook handed each a cup of coffee.

“Thanks, Wishbone,” said the younger man, while the older, taller one just nodded his appreciation. Both men wore heavy, cotton shirts and pants with the added protection of rawhide vests and chaps, and well-worn boots and hats. They had been working for several hours under the hot, Texas sun and were covered with dust and sweat.

“What can I do for you, gentlemen?” asked the taller man. His attitude and mannerisms left no doubt that he was in charge.

“You the trail boss?” asked Bennett. “We’re Rangers from Laredo. I’m Reese Bennett. This here is Chad Cooper, and Joe Riley. Cap’in Parmalee sent us put to check brands.”

“Good. Need to get it done. Name’s Gill Favor, and this is my ramrod, Rowdy Yates. Puttin’ together a bunch a beeves to take on to Abilene where I got another bunch waitin’. Then we’ll drive ‘em on to Dodge. Be glad if you Ranger’s ‘ll check brands and sign ‘em off. We ain’t got to many left to road brand, and then we’ll be movin’ out.”

For the rest of the day Favor and the Rangers worked their way through the herd, counting cows and brands, and making notations in tally books. By the end of the day the Rangers were as dirty and tired as the cowboys were. Finally returning to camp they climbed down off their horses and along with the rest of the crew, filled plates and cups and hunkered down to rest and eat.

“This here is real fine grub, cookie,” Bennett tried to compliment the cook, as he went back for seconds.

“Name’s not Cookie. It’s Wishbone,” growled the cook, threatening the Ranger with a dripping ladle, he had been serving beans with. “And don’t you forget it.”

A smile crossed Gil Favor’s usually stern face. He had seen this same exchange of words between his cook and friend, and other strangers to the camp who didn’t know Wishbone’s dislike of being called ‘Cookie’.

Riley stood up and groaned. “Now I remember why I never liked playin’ nursemaid to a bunch of cows.”

Cooper tried to brush a little more dirt off of his cloths. “Yeah, me, too. Be glad to get back to Laredo, and clean up. This is no life for me.”

There was several good natured comments about sissified lawmen from among the cowboys, but the Rangers just laughed with them.

As Reese started to mount his big, bald-faced bay, he noticed the horse was favoring his off hind leg. “Easy, boy,” he soothed the horse, as he picked up the big hoof in his hand and looked at it. “Ah, hell. Cactus done threw a shoe.” He turned to the trail boss. “Favor, you think I can bar’ry a horse, so’s ole Cactus can take it easy goin’ back to town. I’ll bring your’n back tomorrow.”

Favor looked at the horse’s hoof, then called out. “Hey –soos!”

A small Mexican man came running. “Si, Senior?”

“Can you shoe this horse, so’s he can get back to Laredo?”

“Oh, si, Senior Favor. It will only take a few minutes.”

While the Rangers had another cup of coffee, the wrangler trimmed the hoof and nailed on another shoe from the supply in one of the wagons. Hey-soos was as good a blacksmith as he was a wrangler. Reese watched the work appreciatively, knowing the man was doing an expert job. When Hey-soos had finished he had Reese walk Cactus around for a bit to make sure the shoe fit right. “I sure do thank you, Mr. Hey-soos. I sure didn’t want to ride ole Cactus all the way back, and maybe cause him to go lame.”

“Por nada. It was nothing, Senior Ranger. I did not want such a nice horse to go lame, either.” Hey-soos turned to walk away.

Reese pulled at his sleeve. “Well, what do I owe you?”

“Nada.” The wrangler waved his hand in the air.

But Reese wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Ah, here, take this. I can’t let you do it fer nothin’.” He shoved a silver dollar into the man’s hand. Besides, thought Reese, it was one he had got from that no good bounty hunter fella, Josh Randall.

Hey-soos looked at the chipped coin. “Gracias, Senor.” He put it in his pocket and disappeared into the horse herd that he cared for so diligently.

*****

The Favor herd trailed north to Abilene joining the rest of the cattle that were already there, and then started the long, long drive to Dodge City, Kansas. The trail drive from Texas had been a hard one. It had been plagued by problems almost from the beginning. The cattle had been wild and cantankerous, refusing to settle down into the daily sequence of driving and grazing. But that had only been the start of the troubles. There had been stampedes, bad water, and thunderstorms, as well as dry spells with no water. There had been harassment by renegade Indians, and rustlers. But now it was over.

They had made it to Dodge City, Kansas. Or almost. It was just over the hill from where they were holding the herd. The herd had been sold, counted, and the buyers had hired other cowhands to watch over the herd until they could be loaded onto traincars and shipped back east. Gil Favor’s crew was preparing themselves for a night on the town. They had bathed in the river, put on clean clothes, and teasing and joking, mounted up for the short ride to Dodge City.

The trail boss stopped his horse in front of the men. “I want to thank all you men for sticking with this drive. It’s been a rough one. You earned your pay and them bonus’s. And a night in town to let of steam. Just remember. This is Dodge City. It’s Marshal Matt Dillon’s town. He’ll let you have your fun, – but don’t get out a line, or you’ll wind up in his jail.” He raised his reins and started his horse for Dodge. “First drinks on me.”

The man all kicked their horses into a run and made a wild, dash for town. They slowed as they entered the town and pulled up in front of the Long Branch Saloon. Dismounting and tying their mounts to hitch rails, they trooped inside to begin their celebration.

Hey-soos had a couple of drinks with the men, then he, Wishbone and Mushy went out to look over the town. They walked down one street and then another, looking in windows and admiring the merchandise on display. There were fancy women’s dresses and bonnets, and men’s eastern style suits, as well as all types of western clothing. There was a set of cooking pots that had Wishbone talking of how they might make it easier to cook with on the trail.

Hey-soos wondered on down the street and stopped in front of a gunsmith shop. Apparently the gunsmith, or someone, also did some leatherwork. In the window hung a bridle. It was the prettiest bridle Hey-soos had ever seen. The workmanship was perfect. The leather was soft and supple, and the braided reins would fit a man’s hand just right. A small band of silver was fastened to the headband and silver conchos were set to hold the bit. A nice snaffle bit, that would be easy on a horse’s mouth completed the set. With a shrug the horse wrangler started to turn away, then he turned back to look at the bridle again.

Wishbone laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Why don’t you get it, Hey-soos? You always send all your wages home to your family. Go ahead. Get something for yourself for once.”

The wrangler looked at the cook and then back at the bridle with a strong hankering on his face.

“Sure would look good on that pinto pony your so fond of,” encouraged Wishbone.

“Get it, Hey-soos,” added Mushy.

Hey-soos smiled as he came to a decision. “Si, Seniors Wishbone and Mushy. Si. I will buy the beautiful bridle.”

Moments later the wrangler counted out a wad of bills and coins into the hand of the shopkeeper, including one slightly dented silver dollar that had come all the way from Laredo, Texas with the Mexican man. Taking the bridle Hey-soos left the store and rushed back to where he had left his horse.

Newly O’Brien watched his customer leave, a pleased look on his face. He was glad that the bridle he had spent so much time and care making; had been bought by someone who seemed as if he would really appreciate it and take care of it. The hand that could do such excellent craftsmanship noted the nicks and warn surface of one of the coins he held, but without really thinking about it. Newly dropped the coin in his pocket. He was already planning another bridle.

*****

The stage pulled into Dodge City and stopped in front of the hotel. The door swung open and several passengers stepped down. One, a tall, good-looking, but rather dandified gentleman had on a black coat and pants, and white dress shirt with ruffles down the front, with a black string tie at his throat. He took off his black hat and tried to beat some of the dust off his clothes. Giving up he picked up a small grip and entered the hotel, and walked up to the desk.

“A room, Sir?” asked the desk clerk.

“Yes,” answered the man, “and can I get a bath and have my clothes cleaned?”

“Well – ah,” the clerk hesitated. The last thing he wanted to do was haul water for this guy to have a bath. “Usually we can, but we’re kind of short handed today. You might have better luck down the street. Couple of places. New one, called Wallace’s Barbershop and Laundry. I been hearin’ good things ‘bout them.” He turned the guest book around to be signed.

The dapper looking man sighed deeply, not relishing the fact of having to leave the hotel to get his bath, picked up the pen and dipped it into the ink well and signed his name. The clerk flipped the book around and read it. “Mr. Maverick. That will be a dollar a day. You be stayin’ long?” He took a key off the board behind him. “Room number three. Upstairs, on your left. Oh, and supper is served at six o’clock sharp.”

“Thanks. Can’t say for sure how long I’ll be here,” said Maverick as he took the key, dropped a dollar on the counter, and headed up the stairs.

*****

Spurs jingling and whistling a tune, Festus Haggen walked into the gunshop. He gingerly carried a package in his hands.

“Howdy, Festus,” Newly greeted his friend.

“Newly.” Festus set a small, brownpaper-wrapped parcel on the counter. “This package done come for you on the stage a few minutes ago.”

“Thanks, Festus,” said Newly, as he placed the package in a cabinet.

“Well, aren’t you gonna open it? See what’s in it.” Festus asked as he gestured toward the cabinet.

“No,” answered Newly. He grinned at Festus, knowing how curious his friend could be about every little thing.

“Well – why not?” Festus’ curiosity was getting the better of him.

Newly thought about not telling him but knew he would never get any peace until he did. “I know what it is. It’s just some parts for some guns that I’m repairing. I’ll open it later, when I’m ready to work on the guns.”

Festus’s eye’s lit up. “Is one a them that part you need for Bill Cody’s rifle?”

“Well, yes, I figure it is,” admitted Newly.

“I sure hope he does some more a that trick shootin’ when he comes back. He sure can shoot,” said Festus admiringly of the sharp shooter that had suddenly become famous.

“I agree with you on that, Festus, and that’s why I wanted to order a special part from back east to fix his rifle with, – but right now I’m going to get a haircut.” Newly turned over the open sign so that it read closed, ushered Festus out and locked the door.

“Haircut,” echoed Festus. “Why, shoot, Newly. Your hair ain’t long ‘nough fer a haircut yet, and if you do need one, I’ll be glad to do it fer you. I’m a fair hand at cutin’ hair. My Aunt Molly done taught me how when I was just knee high – – ,” Festus turned and followed newly down the street. “Newly, your goin’ the wrong way. The barbershop’s this way.” Festus gestured back up the street.

“Well, I thought I’d try that new place.”

“Oh, you mean the one opened by that ole man Wallace and his family. They got a bath house and a laundry, too.”

“Yeah, they do. Maybe I’ll take a bath,” considered Newly.

“Yeah, and a couple a cute, young girls workin’ in the laundry, from what I understand.”

“Festus, maybe you better not come. They might try to shave your whiskers off, and make you take a bath,” teased Newly.

Festus hesitated, running his hand over his chin. “Newly, I think I’d better go see if Matthew has anything he needs me to do.”

*****

Newly didn’t mind having to wait several minutes for his turn in the barber’s chair. The room was large and he and the other customers were interested in watching all that was going on. Newly’s turn finely came, and he slid into the barber’s chair. The elderly man expertly flipped a large, white sheet around him, and proceeded to clip and snip at the already short, dark hair, while Newly tried to keep an eye on what was going on in the rest of the room. While Wallace cut hair, his daughter oversaw the whole operation. Her teenage sons hauled water for the bathhouse and the laundry, but it was Wallace’s granddaughters that Newly was watching for the most. Yes, Newly had to agree they were two good looking young women. Like their mother, they were tall, and trim, with long, brown hair pinned high on their heads to help keep them cool, while they worked. Newly noticed that although both worked hard at their jobs, they took plenty of time to flash their blue eyes at him and any other man that came in. Newly noticed that the line for haircuts was getting longer and longer. A lot of drovers, cowboys, railroad men, business men, and others were coming to the new shop to get a haircut, a bath or their laundry done, – or for just a peak at the pretty women. Wallace finished with the haircut, shook out the cloth, and offered Newly some cologne.

The gunsmith and part-time deputy excepted a few drops in his hand and rubbed it on his face, and neck. He walked to the laundry counter and asked for the bundle of clothes he had dropped off the day before.

One of the women handed it to him. “That will be a dollar and a half for the haircut and the laundry,” she said, making sure she gave Newly a big smile. There was a twinkle and an invitation in her eyes. Newly grinned back at her. She let her fingers linger on his hand as he gave her the nicked silver dollar and two quarters. “If we can be of service again, let us know,” she said in a soft, almost shy voice that was belied by the look on her face.

“Oh, you can be sure I will,” said Newly. She was still holding his hand. After another moment he slowly slid his hand out of hers, and turned to leave. Another customer walked up. As he left Newly could hear him start to sweet talk the women.

“Well,” said Maverick. “I do believe I’ve come to the right place, after all.”

“I’m sure you did, Sir. And what can we do for you, today.”

A bath and some clean clothes will do for starters, Miss – -?”

“It’s Amy. You can just call me Amy, Mr. – – ?”

“Maverick,” he said, tipping his hat to her. “Bret Maverick.”

“Well, Mr. Bret Maverick, you come this way and we’ll get you a nice hot bath.” She indicated her sister. “This is my sister, Carrie. We’ll clean your suit and wash your shirt and – your undies, and – might you be interested in a shave or a haircut, too.”

Bret smiled back at Amy and Carrie. “Yes, ma’am,” he said to both of them. “I just might be.”

With a swish of skirts and lots of giggling they led Bret to the back room that held the tubs for bathing.

An hour later, Bret had bathed, shaved and put on clean underclothes with a fresh shirt, and reclaimed his well-brushed suit. “I’ll pick up the rest of my laundry tomorrow, ladies,” he said as he dropped a large bill in Amy’s hand and she handed him his change. With a flourish he handed her a couple of dollar bills and then some to Carrie. “For such excellent service,” he said as he dropped the remaining coins in his pants pocket. He noticed how old and well-used one silver dollar was.

*****

What ya got there, Doc?” asked Festus as Doc Adams entered the Long Branch Saloon.

Doc hesitated a moment almost in mid-stride. “Och, stop that,” he grumbled. In a loud gruff voice he answered Festus. “It’s not anything for you, but if you must know,” again he hesitated and looked around the room. “It’s a present. A present for Kitty.”

“A present? Fer Miss Kitty? Why, Doc. What kind of a present would you be givin’ Miss Kitty? I don’t reck-o-lect it bein’ any present givin’ time. It sure ain’t Christmas, not now in the middle a summer, and I don’t think it’s her birthday. Is it, Miss Kitty?” Festus turned to the auburn-haired proprietress of the saloon, who was sitting between him and Dodge City’s Marshal.

Kitty Russell looked just as surprised that Doc would be bringing her a present. “Well, no, no it’s not my birthday. Festus. What have you got, Doc. It’s certainly making you wiggle and squirm.”

Matt Dillon just tipped back in his chair and sipped his beer, as he watched the proceedings, and wondered what Doc was up to this time. He was always amused by the jokes that Doc and Festus could dream up to play on each other, as well as Kitty and himself.

“Here,” said Doc, almost venomously, as he produced the present so that all could see it.

“Meow, meow, me-oow,” cried the present. Doc was holding a scruffy, half-grown cat.

“Oh, it’s a kitten,” exclaimed Kitty with delight. She stood and took the scared creature from Doc. It was a dark gray and black tabby with white feet, and nose. When cuddled by Kitty, it quite it’s crying and started a loud purring, as if it had found it’s long lost friend.

“Do you want it?” insisted Doc.

“Well, yes – yes, I do. Thank you, Doc.” She continued to hold the kitten firmly but gently. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a kitten.”

Doc let out a sigh and pushed his hat back on his head. “Good, I just thought you might like it.” He turned to the bartender. “Sam, I could sure use a good cold beer.”

“Comin’ right up, Doc,” answered the bartender, who, having anticipated the request already was setting the beer on the table in front of the elderly doctor.

“A kitty for Miss Kitty. Well, I’ll be,” remarked Festus as he sat down and tentatively reached out a hand to touch the small cat, but quickly withdrew his hand as it hissed and spit at him, showing it’s small, sharp, white teeth.

“Look out, Festus, that thing’s dangerous,” cautioned Doc.

“It’s a feisty little thing, all right,” said Festus. “But it seems to like Miss Kitty. What ya gonna name her, Miss Kitty? Ya can’t call her Kitty, ‘cause that’s already you’re name.”

“I don’t know, Festus, but I’m sure you’ll help me think of something.”

“Well, ya could call her Missy, or Stripes, cause she’s got stripes on her, or how ‘bout Doc since he done give her to you.”

Everyone laughed at the suggestions, and Doc added. “You could call her Claws, since she is so good at using them.”

“All right, Doc,” said Matt, unable to contain his curiosity any longer. “Where did you get it.” The Marshall knew there had to be a good story behind Doc’s having the cat and giving it to Kitty.

Doc rubbed his hand over his tired face, and then launched into his story. “You know that farmer fella, Fred Carver, he sent his oldest boy in to fetch me late last night, or maybe it was early this morning.”

“Yeah, I know him,” said Matt. Festus and Kitty nodded agreement.

“Anyway, his wife, Mary, had gone into labor. It’s their seventh. A boy. All been strong, healthy youngin’s, but they ain’t got any spare cash for doctor bills. I knew that when I went out, but they always try and pay me with octoring’. Eggs, pies, – Mary bakes good pies, – a jug a milk, – or what ever they can spare. – Well, today it was that cat.”

Festus, Matt, and Kitty burst out laughing.

“I tried to refuse, – – but they wouldn’t listen. Insisted I had to take octoring’. And all they had was that cat. Or rather, several cats. Their mama cat had had a litter. Fred, Mary, and them older youngin’s kept on insistin’. So I finely gave in and took the thing. Gonna have to be octoring’ my own injuries now. That critter knows how to use her claws.”

“That’s a good ‘one, Doc,” said Festus, as he slapped his knee, still laughing at the story.

“Kitty, looks like you got yourself a cat,” commented Matt, glancing fondly at the woman saloonkeeper. “Maybe you might want to name her Calamity. Bet she’s goin’ to get into all kinds of trouble. Most kittens manage to.” The big man reached gentle fingers out to softly stroke the now sleeping kitten as it sat on Kitty’s lap.

“I like that,” said Kitty. “Calamity. That’s what I’ll name her. I know that kittens can get into everything but they sure are cute doing it. The one’s I have had before were delightful pets.” She petted the kitten under the chin, and it purred louder. “And I’ll have to find her something to eat. And make her a bed to sleep in.”

“Miss Kitty, I’ll bet she’ll sleep right in your bed with you,” said Festus. “Cats like to do that. Cuddle up to people in the bed.”

“Well, I’m sure glad you like her, Kitty,” said Doc. “She’s all yours. And better your bed for her to sleep in than mine.”

The four friends looked up as several strangers walked in. Instantly Matt Dillon tensed up, as did Festus. “That who I think that is?” asked Festus.

“Uh huh. It’s Doc Holliday,” said Dillon. “Wonder what he’s doing in town?”

“He’s been here before,” said Kitty. “He never starts any trouble, just card games.” As they watched, the gambler bought a drink, sat down at a table, took out a deck of cards and began playing solitaire.

Minutes later another man came in and he bought a drink from Sam with an old silver dollar. He walked over to the gambler and introduced himself. “Name’s Maverick. Would you be interested in playing a game or two of poker.”

“Friend, that do sound like a good idea,” answered Doc Holliday, as he gathered up the cards and began reshuffling them.

“Time for me to find some food for Calamity,” said Kitty as she left the table and headed for the back room of the saloon.

The next morning Kitty sat at her desk in her office, a small room at the back of the saloon. It was here that she did the bookwork that was involved with running the Long Branch. But this morning she had help. Help in the form of her small, but very inquisitive kitten, Calamity. Kitty was sure that the kitten had tried a dozen or more times to scatter her papers, steal her pencil and quill pen, and find every way she could to make a nuisance of herself. Kitty had given it a couple of crumpled pieces of paper, a string, and a small rubber ball to play with, but it only seemed to want to play with whatever kitty had in her hand.

Finally leaving the paperwork for later, Kitty decided to count the take from the evening before. She upended a canvas bag and began sorting and counting the bills and coins. To the kitten this looked like even more fun. She jumped onto the table Kitty was working at. Neat stacks of money were scattered across the table.

“No,” complained Kitty. “Stop that,” she scolded as she grabbed Calamity and set her back on the floor. But no sooner had she turned the kitten loose and she was back on the table. With quick paws and deft movements, it rearranged the money again. Then she pounced on the old scratched silver dollar and sent it spinning to the floor. Calamity followed it, batting it around on the floor. “All right, young lady, you win. You can play with that one for now.” Kitty was more than glad to let the kitten play with the worn, and battered dollar, if it would keep her occupied while she finished counting the money. She could always retrieve it later.

*****

Over the next several days the two gamblers had become regular customers in the Long Branch Saloon. They played poker each evening with each other and with local cowboys, or drovers just off the trail, with store merchants, peddlers, or anyone else that was looking for a game. The games would see-saw back and forth according to who’s luck seemed to be best at the time. Other players might win a hand or two, but before the saloon closed you could just bet that Maverick or Holliday would have won the most.

Saturday night rolled around and it looked like there would be a big game that night. The saloon was full of customers and Kitty Russell’s bartenders and waitresses were kept busy. Many people had heard about the friendly rivalry between the two gamblers. The saloon was crowded with people who wanted to either play poker with them or at least watch the goings on. The Marshal and his two deputies, Festus Hagan and Newly O’Brien had made their rounds of the rest of Dodge City and now all three lawmen were in the Long Branch. Matt wanted at least one of them there that evening at all times. He had a hunch that there was going to be trouble.

“Beer, Marshal?” asked Sam.

“No, Sam. Not now, maybe later. Any trouble.”

“No, Sir. It’s been busy, but no trouble.”

“Howdy, cowboy,” Kitty greeted the lawman, as she made her way through the crowd. “Glad you’re here tonight. There’s trouble in the air. I can smell it.”

“I know,” said Matt, “Festus, Newly and I will take turns being here. How’s the big game?”

“First Maverick wins. Then Holliday, then one of the others. No tellin’ what might happen. Some well known people here tonight. Bill Cody’s sittin’ in on the game right now.”

Festus cut in, “Cody picked up that there fancy rifle of his from Newly today.”

“Uh huh,” commented Matt. He knew about Cody, but the buffalo hunter wasn’t one to be a problem. He continued to look around the room, trying to spot trouble before it happened.

“That feller over there looks like Kid Curry,” said Festus. “Said his name was Thaddeus Jones. He said his friend playin’ poker with Holliday and Maverick is named Joshua Smith. Smith reminds me of the poster on Hannibal Heyes.”

“We haven’t got any proof,” said Matt. “You can’t go on looks alone, and so far they haven’t caused any trouble. But I intend to keep an eye on them.”

“No,” said Newly. “They haven’t, but there sure is a lot of other trouble makers and riffraff out there. Frank Halsted, feller we locked up last weekend for drunk and disorderly is sure puttin’ the liqueur away again. And them two Wallace girls are with him. You would a thought they’d have better since.”

“Newly, I thought you was sweet on that Amy Wallace,” teased Festus.

“Seems she likes Halsted better.”

Matt watched the girls and Halsted. “Keep an eye on ‘em.”

“Sure thing, Matthew.”

“Will do, Marshal, and will you look who just walked in the door.”

Kitty, Festus and Matt looked where Newly indicated. Festus was the first to speak. “That’s James West.”

“It sure is,” said Matt. “West and Gordon.”

The two federal agents bellied up to the bar and bought drinks from Kitty who welcomed them back to Dodge. Then they wandered over to watch the big card game. As they watched the hand ended with Holliday raking in the pot. From the looks of the table he had been winning the most.

Jones, who had been watching the game from where he was standing by the staircase moved nearer to the poker players and caught Smith’s eye. He made a small movement with his head. Smith nodded his head in agreement. “I’m out,” said Smith. “That’s enough for me tonight.” He gathered up the small stack of bills and coins in front of him, then stood and he and his friend made their way toward the door.

The Kid leaned close to Heyes and whispered. “There’s trouble buildin’ here. I can feel it. Them two,” he nodded at West and Gordon, “sure look like lawmen lookin’ for someone special to arrest. And I hope it’s not us. Let’s get out a here while the getting’s good.”

“I’m right behind you, Kid,” said Heyes, but he stopped, as did the Kid when the Marshall moved in front of them.

“You gentlemen leavin’?” asked Matt.

“Uh, why, yes, sir, Marshal,” answered the Kid. “We’re leavin’ right now.” He and Heyes edged by the lawman and his deputies.

“See that you do,” said Matt to their retreating figures. He was glad to see them go.

Over at the poker game, West and Gordon had been watching. “Mind if we sit in for a hand or two?” asked West of the poker players.

“Sit down, Mister – – ,” said Maverick.

“West,” said Jim. “My name is James West and this is my partner Artemus Gordon.”

“Well, sit down Mr. West and Mr. Gordon. This game could use some new blood – er – money.”

Bill Cody stood up. “Since there are new players here for you two gamblers to fleece, I think I’ll leave you to it. You all ready have enough of my money.” He gathered up his stake, and walked away. As he passed Kitty he tipped his hat to her. “Miss Russell.” As he left the Long Branch, so did Amy Wallace and her sister. The two girls, also, seemed to suspect trouble was coming and didn’t want to be part of it.

The poker game continued through the evening and into the night. People came and went in the crowded saloon. A cowboy who had lost all his money left the game and Frank Halsted took his chair. Luck was with Halsted and he won several hands. As the evening progressed and the hour grew late the patrons of the Long Branch began to wind down. Many left to return to homes, hotel rooms, or bedrolls thrown down on the ground under the stars.

West and Gordon each lost enough money to allow them to bow out gracefully. They retreated to an empty table where they conversed in low tones while keeping a watch on the few remaining customers and the card game. They invited a tired Kitty Russell to sit with them, and join them in a drink. She excepted gratefully.

The Dodge City lawmen had taken turns checking on the rest of the town while always one of them stayed to keep an eye on the Long Branch. Now as midnight drew close all three joined Kitty and the federal agents.

“Ain’t been no real ruckus, no where, Matthew,” said Festus, as he excepted the beer Sam brought him.

“Couple a drunks we had to put in jail, that’s all,” added Newly.

The Marshal pushed his hat back. “I’m not complainin’. I was really expectin’ somethin’ would happen tonight.”

“Well, I’m sure glad it didn’t,” said Kitty, “and I’ll be glad when that poker game breaks up. I’m tired and want to close up.”

“Kitty, I’ll put a stop to it right now, if you want me to,” volunteered Matt.

“No, not yet anyway,” said Kitty. “Let it go on a few more hands. While I start getting things cleaned up.” She stood, moved to the bar where she and Sam started closing out the cash drawer. She directed another bartender to began stacking chairs on table. Kitty took a bag of money into her office and returned with her kitten Calamity following her, stretching and yawning. It had just woke up from its nap in her office where Kitty had locked her up earlier so she wouldn’t get hurt in the crowded saloon.

Bret Maverick tipped back in his chair, a disgusted look on his face. Normally the gambler never let his emotions show when playing poker, but he was tired and loosing. So was Holliday. A cattle buyer and a rancher quite the game leaving just Halsted and the two gamblers. Halsted had started out with barely enough money to get in the game but now he had a large stack in front of him. Holliday seemed to be breaking about even, but Bret’s stack had dwindled considerably. In fact if he didn’t win a hand soon he knew he would be broke.

Holliday shuffled the cards, let Halsted cut the deck and dealt another hand. All three men picked up their cards and glanced at them. Halsted threw down three cards asking Holliday for three more, which he picked up and added to the two in his hand. Holliday tossed down one. “Dealer takes one,” he intoned, picking up the top card off the deck.

“Two,” said Maverick, and Doc Holliday dealt him two more.

Halsted bet a hundred dollars. Holliday saw the bet and raised it fifty more. Maverick saw the bet and raised another fifty. And so it went around the table. All three men seemed in silent agreement that this would be the last hand, that it would finish the game. The pot in the center of the table grew to a little over five hundred dollars, making it the largest amount all evening. The betting continued until – there was one last bet, and it was up to Bret Maverick.

Holding his cards in his left hand, Bret counted the money he had left. “A dollar short,” he muttered.

“Guess your out, Maverick,” said Halsted. “Up to you Holliday.”

“Hold on, just hold on,” said Bret, as he searched through his pockets, hoping to find just one more dollar.

“Give it up, Maverick. You ain’t got it,” maliciously committed Halsted. Everyone in the room was watching now. It was obvious that Halsted was sure he had won.

Kitty Russell’s kitten had been playing in a corner. She batted at her toy, danced on her toes, and then swatted the toy across the room where it clattered to a stop against the leg of Bret’s chair. Maverick glanced down at Calamity’s toy. It was the worn silver dollar.

“Well, well, what have we here, kitty cat?” Bret leaned over and picked up the coin. “Can I barrow this?” He added the dollar to his money. “I’ll see you’re bet, and call.” The gambler spread his cards for all to see.

Holliday shrugged fatalistically. “You win, Maverick.”

Halsted hated cats and was mad at the turn of events. He threw his cards on the table, and as he stood he kicked his chair causing it to fall over. “You cheated, Maverick!” he yelled.

“No,” said Holliday calmly. “He didn’t cheat, but you tried to a time or so.”

Matt noticed that Doc Holliday’s right hand was hidden under the edge of the table. The Marshal was sure he was holding a gun out of sight.

Halsted started to say more but realized that the Marshal was standing nearby, thumbs hooked in his gunbelt waiting for trouble to start.

“Halsted, best you call it a night. Game’s over. Saloon’s closed,” stated the lawman.

Angry at having lost, but realizing anything else he might do or say would probably land him in jail, Halsted jammed his hat on his head, aimed a kick at the cat, which effortlessly dodged it, then left.

“Evening, Miss Russell,” said Doc Holliday, as he, too, left.

Maverick gathered up his winnings, but paused to examine the coin the kitten had loaned him. Bret knew he had an eye for noticing different coins and bills, and if memory served him right this was the same coin he had received in change at the bath house and then had used to buy a drink right here in the Long Branch later that same day. “Miss Kitty,” he said, addressing the cat. “I would like to thank you for the loan of your dollar.”

He picked up some different coins and handed them to Kitty Russell. “I shall return this to you, ma’am. I always pay my debts, plus some extra to buy the kitten some milk or what ever she would prefer. If you don’t mind, I’ll keep this one. I do believe it brought me good luck tonight.” He slid the old coin into his vest pocket. “And if you’ll excuse me, I’ll say goodnight.” He headed out into the night.

Kitty picked up Calamity and petted her, wondering at how things could go from calm, to dangerous, to almost whimsical in such a short length of time.

“Newly,” said Matt, still concerned over the outcome of the poker game. “Go along with Mr. Maverick. Make sure he gets to his hotel room safely with all that money.”

“Sure thing, Marshal.”

“I think I’ll say goodnight and go that way, too,” said Jim West.

Artemus Gordon tipped his hat. “Miss Russell, it’s been an interesting, and entertaining evening.”

“Well, now weren’t that there somethin’.” Said Festus to no one in particular.

*****

“Matthew, you done all ready made the coffee.”

“Yes, I did. Someone I could name was still sleepin’, and utting’ so loud I couldn’t sleep.” The Marshal refilled his cup and then stepped outside the jail to watch the morning sunrise. Festus ignored his comment about snoring and filled his own cup, before following Matt outside.

It was still quiet on the street. The only people up yet were the stage driver and a stablehand that was helping him harness up the six-horse-hitch. When done the driver slowly guided the team and coach down the street and pulled to a stop in front of the hotel

“Stage getting an early start,” said Festus.

“Uh huh,” agreed Matt, still sipping at his coffee.

As they watched Bret Maverick stumbled out the hotel door, eyes only half open, and giving a wide-mouthed yawn to the drivers greeting. Bret had received a telegram from his brother Bart about a big poker game in Denver, and he had decided to leave Dodge for Denver. But he certainly wasn’t used to getting up this early, especially after a late night playing poker. He trudged on over to the stage and handed his bag up to the driver.

The driver climbed down off the stage. “Be a couple more minutes,” he said. “Waitin’ on another passenger.”

Bret stood by the stage debating on having another cup of coffee. As had become his habit in the past few days, he reached in his vest pocket, took out the lucky, silver dollar and flipped it in his hand. Once, twice, three times – and he dropped it. With a sigh he bent over to pick it up.

A gun shot broke the morning peace and quiet and a bullet thudded into the side of the stagecoach. Because he was bent over the bullet had passed over Bret’s head. Had he still been standing the bullet would have hit him. Now Maverick wasn’t even bent over. He was flat on the ground and rolling under the coach, his gun drawn, but he wasn’t sure who was shooting at him or where they were.

“Maverick!” yelled a loud voice. “Throw out all that money you done won. Money you been cheatin’ people like me out of. And have that driver bring out that strongbox he went to get.”

At the sound of the gunshot and the shouting Matt and Festus had dropped their coffee cups, and ducked into a back ally. Quickly they slipped around to try to come up behind whoever was trying to hold up the stage and Maverick. Guns drawn they moved down the ally, around several businesses’ and up another ally back to the street.

“Come on, Maverick, give up. We just want the money.”

As Bret raised his head slightly another bullet hit the stage. The gambler fired several rounds in the direction he thought the shots had come from. More gunfire came from across the street. Matt and Festus held their fire, not knowing for sure yet who was shooting or from where, and hoping there were no innocent bystanders that would get hurt. “Any i-dee who it is, Matthew?” asked Festus.

“Not really, but there’s more than one,” Matt answered. So far neither of then had seen who was shooting. Then the Marshal caught a glimpse of Frank Halsted hiding around the corner of a hardware store near the stage station.

More bullets came from across the street keeping Maverick pinned under the coach, and some of them were coming awful close. Bret rolled out from under the stage and made a dash for a better hiding place near a millenary, but found himself staring down the barrel of a six-shooter.

“Move one muscle, Maverick, and your dead. Drop your gun and put your hands up.”

“Amy!” exclaimed Bret as he let his gun fall to the boardwalk, and raised his hands. He couldn’t believe the young woman from the laundry was the person threatening to kill him.

“Turn around and walk out into the street.” Bret hesitated. “Do it!” yelled Amy.

Bret could tell she was nervous and scared and so was he. She and her trigger finger seemed to be trembling and very unsteady. Bret walked into the center of the street with Amy right behind him, her gun poking him in the back.

“Marshal, I’m gonna kill Maverick, if I don’t get that money from the strongbox real quick.”

Matt had recognized the girl. “Now, Amy, you don’t mean that. Think about what your doin’.”

“Yes I do, Marshal. Frank! Frank, get the horses.”

Halsted appeared in the street leading two horses. Amy was watching Maverick, and not paying him much attention. “Marshal, I’m getting tired of waitin’. You. Maverick, let’s have that money you got on you.” Bret sighed and eased down his left hand to pull his wallet out of his inside coat pocket. He only had a small part of it in his wallet. He hoped it would be enough to calm the girl.

Matt tried again. “Amy, put down the gun. Don’t do this. You’ll never get away. Even if you get out of town with the money, I’ll track you down.”

Amy was beginning to get very uneasy. This wasn’t going at all like Frank Halsted had said it would. “I’m only going to say this one more time, Dillon. Get the money. Frank, you get Maverick’s money, while I keep him covered.”

At that moment the man dressed as Halsted reached up and jerked the pistol out of Amy’s hand. Amy tried to run but the man grabbed her arm and twisted it behind her back. Unable to escape, Amy looked up under Frank’s hat to see the face of Jim West. “Miss Wallace, you’re under arrest.”

Within minutes Amy and Halsted found themselves in the Dodge City jail. Halsted sat in one jail cussing at himself and the girl for getting caught. He wondered why he had allowed the girl to convince him she wouldn’t be any trouble. Now Amy sat weeping in the corner of a cell. “I just wanted to get out of town. I just wanted to get out of Dodge. I couldn’t stand it here any longer. I wanted to go to St. Lewis.” She kept crying.

“Guess she’s gonna get to get out a Dodge, all right,” said Festus, “but I don’t think she’s gonna like where she’s gonna get to go.”

“Your right, Festus,” said Arty Gordon. “I think Amy will spend a long time in prison. Jim are you ready.” The two agents had explained that they had eaten breakfast at a small café they were fond of and had been on their way to their private train to leave Dodge when they had interrupted the robbery. They hadn’t had any trouble capturing Halsted. While Gordon kept watch over the outlaw Jim West had put on the would-be thief’s hat and coat to make Amy think he was Halsted when he had walked out with the horses.

“Yes, Arty. I am. That is if the Marshal has everything under control here?”

Matt frowned slightly, but didn’t let West’s comment bother him. “I think we can handle it, West. But I do appreciate your help.”

“That was good utting’, utting’ on Halsted’s hat and coat,” said Festus.

“It was all I could come up with at the spur of the moment,” said Jim modestly. “It was a gamble, but it worked.”

“But if it hadn’t I would have been dead.” Bret had the silver dollar in his hand again turning it over and over.

Festus reached out and caught the coin when it flipped again. He looked at it closely as if he could see where the luck came from. “But you still had your lucky dollar,” he said, “sure wish I had a lucky coin.” He handed it back to Maverick.

The gambler took the coin and dropped it into his vest pocket. “Yes, yes I did. And if I hadn’t dropped it, and bent over to pick it up just as Halsted fired the first shot I would have been dead then, too. I do believe it really is a lucky coin. And now I’ll be going. I believe the stage is ready and waitin’ for me.” Bret left the jail, and got into the waiting coach. The driver yelled at the horses and the stage left Dodge City at a fast pace. They were leaving late and had to make up time.

“Matthew, you think Maverick’s silver dollar really is lucky?”

“I’m no expert, Festus, but it seems to be for Maverick.”

“Gona have to find me one a them lucky dollars,” said Festus.

*****

The boy sat at the table watching as his grandma untied the strings of a small leather bag and up-ended it so that several very old, worn, silver dollars fell out with a clatter. “These are old, Dusty, real old. Older even than I am,” she said in a low voice to the boy.

“Just how old are they, Grandma?” asked Dusty, as he picked up one of the coins to examine it.

“Well, this one has a date of,” she squinted hard at the faded coin she held, “of 1871 on it.”

“That’s more than a hundred years ago. Who did it belong to?”

The old woman settled deeper into her chair with a long sigh. “Well, let’s see if I remember the story right. This coin is real special. It’s supposed to be a lucky dollar. It belonged to my great, great granddad Bret Maverick. I never met him cause he died before my time. But here’s how the story goes —–.”

She handed the silver dollar to her grandson to look at while she spun the tale.

***The End***

TV Shows, Movies, and Famous People in the story in order of appearance:

The Big Valley
Cimmaron Strip
The Gambler
Cheyenne
Kung Fu
Laredo
Highlander
Rawhide
Have Gun Will Travel
Gunsmoke
High Chaparral
Doc Holiday
The Rifleman
Buffalo Bill Cody
The Magnificent Seven
Alias Smith and Jones
The Virginian
The Wild Wild West
Wanted Dead or Alive

People who had the Silver Dollar:

Nick Barkley
Mark McCain
Trampas
Brady Hawks
Lady Street Vender
Beldon
Newly O’Brian
Hey-Soos
Trampas
The Bartender
Carlos Fred the cowhand
Amy Wallace
Maverick
Randy Boone
Kwi Chang Caine
Buck Wilmington
J.D.
The Waitress
Josiah Sanchez
Storekeeper
Sam, the Bartender
Paladin
The Cat
Storekeeper
Kitty Russell
Sam Butler
Billy Travis
Bank Cashier
Grandma
Blue Cannon
Hardware Salesman
Bank Robber
Maverick
Inez
Josh Randall
Buck Cannon
The Virgianian
Reese Bennett
Dusty

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