Summary: AU Story. This is the crossover story for the August 2018 Bonanza Brand challenge — Bonanza’s Adam Cartwright goes to Dodge City and meets the cast of Gunsmoke in a WHN for the episode of that series, A Stranger In Town. The story starts with a summary of that episode to make the reading of the story easier to understand.
Word Count: 8091
FYI: Gunsmoke “A Stranger In Town” – Harvey Cagle, a resident of Dodge, owes money to a gambler in another town. He tries to convince that man to give him time to pay the debt, but the man gives him only a few weeks. While Harvey’s there, he sees a gunfighter, Dave Reeves, kill a man for money, and he decides to hire him. He wants him to kill his partner, Carl Anderson, so that Harvey can get control of their business where he has already embezzled a large sum of money. When Reeves arrives in Dodge, he finds out that the woman Anderson is seeing is his former wife, Ann, a woman who left him years earlier, and this makes him want to kill Anderson more. However then he discovers that she has a son, his son. When he realizes his son wants to be a gunfighter like him, it shakes him and his resolve. He decides not to kill Anderson and wants to leave, but he knows Cagle will get someone else to kill Anderson. If Cagle does that, people will assume Reeves did it. Reeves will get the blame, Cagle will get the business, and Reeves’ ex and son will be left with no one. Reeves kills Cagle in cold blood instead and surrenders to Matt.
Traveling by train was so much better than the spine crunching days in the saddle and the back stiffening nights sleeping on a bedroll spread on cold, hard ground. However, sitting in a seat for hours at a time with nothing to do wasn’t enjoyable either. Adam Cartwright had finished his last reading material in Denver and had hoped to shop for more before the return trip to Virginia City. Then plans had changed when the buyer he and his father were to meet wired that he was laid up in Dodge City with a broken leg. Ben Cartwright had returned to the Ponderosa and sent Adam to meet with the man to see if a deal could still be struck to buy cattle from their ranch. Under the circumstances, it was unlikely, but they had already come so far, it was worth the added inconvenience or so his father had told him. It was easy for him to conclude that of course as he wasn’t the one being inconvenienced. Adam had simply dropped his head and not argued knowing it wouldn’t have made a difference.
The passenger car had few occupants and none of them appealed to Adam as likely partners in a conversation. Several were drummers for various products or product lines. Knowing where he was going, he had eschewed his more formal business wear for his more comfortable clothing. The all black ensemble with the pistol rig seemed to give them the impression he was dangerous. He didn’t mind as it kept them from bothering him. The other occupants were three men recently mustered out of the Army. By the looks of them, it had been for violations of rules. They were sharing a bottle they passed around frequently when they weren’t snoring from their frequent naps. That was just as well. Adam preferred sleepy drunks to loud and obnoxious ones.
It was a welcome relief when the conductor walked through and made an announcement. “Next stop, Dodge City, Kansas. We’ll be there one hour, folks, if you need to stretch your legs. We depart again promptly at four o’clock.”
Noting the time, Adam decided that he would get a room, a bath, a drink, and dinner. He would find the buyer the next day as he doubted there would be time to conduct any business in the time left on this day. As he walked from the train station, he got a number of strange looks from people or so he thought. He wondered a bit at that, as he hadn’t ever been in Dodge City yet people looked at him as if they knew him or thought they did. He shrugged it off and assumed he must be mistaken in his assumption. He did ask one man who looked at him where there was a hotel.
“Don’t ya remember? The Dodge House ain’t moved.”
“No, I don’t recall as I haven’t been here before today. Could you point me in the right direction?”
Frowning, the man jerked his thumb to the left.
“Thank you, sir. I won’t trouble you any more.” With more sarcasm in his tone than anything, Adam let him know how rude he had been without actually being that way in return. He continued down the wooden walk until he found the Dodge House. It seemed nice enough though small. When he got to the desk, the man there too seemed surprised to see him and even somewhat nervous.
“Do you have an empty room for me?”
“Just sign the register.”
After signing, he asked how much the room cost and the man handed him a key.
“Three dollars a day unless you want more services.”
“What are more services?”
“A pitcher of fresh water in the morning with clean towels is a dollar more every day. If you stay for a week, clean sheets are one dollar more.”
“I’ll pay the extra dollar a day. I don’t plan to be here a week. The sheets are clean now, aren’t they?” When the man hedged on that answer, Adam agreed to one more dollar in order to have clean sheets on his bed. “Where’s the nearest bathhouse?” After getting directions, he decided to head there with his valise telling the man he’d be back soon and expected his room to be ready. The man said he would have it ready and looked at the register.
“Yes sir, Mister, ah, Cartwright.” He said the name as if he was surprised at that too.
Frowning a little again at the odd behavior of people in this town, Adam turned and left for the bathhouse as the man rushed to get clean sheets for the man’s bed. He thought he was getting a gunman’s room ready and certainly didn’t want to anger a man who was known to have killed including one unarmed man in cold blood. When Adam returned, he was dressed the same except the clothing was clean as was he. The clerk nervously handed him his key and told him his room was ready. Adam thanked him, dropped his things in his room, and headed out to get that drink. Feeling that he would enjoy it even more now, he saw the Long Branch Saloon lit up not far from the hotel and walked in that direction.
When he entered, it seemed all eyes were on him. It was an odd feeling but when he walked silently to the bar and ordered a whiskey, the activity in the saloon gradually returned to normal. A rather grizzled looking man stood next to an attractive woman at the end of the bar and both seemed to find him fascinating because they stared at him as he drank. He looked back at them and found they didn’t flinch.
Again, he wondered at such odd behavior and then it got worse. The whole saloon got silent and everyone moved away from him. He looked to either side and realized they had made an alley and he was at the center of it. Turning around, he saw why. A U.S. Marshal stood at the door of the saloon staring directly at him.
“Dave, I didn’t expect you to come back here so soon, but I do know it’s a violation of your parole to be wearing that pistol. I’m going to have to lock you up for that.”
“Listen, I don’t know who you think I am, but my name is Adam Cartwright, and I’m not on parole for anything.”
“I know you signed into the hotel under that name, but that doesn’t make you anyone else other than Dave Reeves. Now you need to hand over that pistol and come with me.”
“If you need proof, I have papers in my pocket that can prove what I say.”
As Adam reached for the wallet in his vest pocket, he felt a shotgun poke him in the back, the marshal drew on him, and the grizzled man at the end of the bar drew his pistol too. He froze with his hand halfway to his vest pocket and stayed that way as the marshal approached and took his pistol from him. Using his pistol to point at the door, the marshal directed him to walk that way. With that many weapons pointed at him, he wasn’t going to argue. As they walked to the jail, he tried again.
“Marshal, you’re making a mistake. My name is Adam Cartwright. I’m from Virginia City, Nevada. I’m here on business.”
“Dave, you’ve always been straight with me. I don’t know what game this is you’re playing, but it isn’t working.”
Once inside the jail and pushed into a cell with the door slammed shut and locked behind him, Adam hoped he could finally get the marshal to listen. “All right, now will you listen and let me show you the papers I told you I have? I’m in town to meet Jason Peters, a cattle buyer. My father and I were supposed to meet with him in Denver, but he sent word that he was laid up here with a broken leg. I came here to see if we could still make a deal and my father went back to our ranch.”
Because it was quite a story and because Jason Peters, a cattle buyer, had been in town laid up with a broken leg, Marshal Matt Dillon decided to listen. He wanted to hear more of this. “All right, go on.”
At least he had the marshal’s attention, so Adam reached into his vest and pulled out his wallet. There was a substantial amount of cash in it, which Matt saw. The first serious doubts began to filter into his mind at that point because a newly released prisoner wouldn’t likely have much money. The man in the cell had a lot. He had also rolled up his sleeves so Matt could see the tan he had which was another thing a prisoner wouldn’t have had unless he was on a chain gang, and Dave Reeves had been locked up inside. When the prisoner handed him a set of papers, he was ready to believe what he read. Surprised though, he looked back at the man in the cell and realized he was a bit young to be Dave Reeves. He looked like the Dave Reeves who had gone to prison nearly ten years earlier. Prison and ten years would have made him look much older than this man looked.
“How old are you?”
“Does that make a difference?”
“Thirty-three on my last birthday, but I have another one coming up in a month.”
“So almost thirty-four. Dave Reeves should be about forty-four by now.”
“You’re starting to believe me, aren’t you?”
“I’ll send a telegram in the morning. Until then, you’re staying right there.”
In the morning, Matt brought a tray with breakfast to Adam and slid it into the cell through the space for that. He handed a cup of coffee through the bars too. Adam stretched and rubbed at his back trying to ease the pain there.
“Yeah. After riding in a railcar for a couple of days, I was looking forward to a much softer bed.”
There was a commotion then in the front office as Festus came in and started calling for Matt who yelled that he was in the back but walked to the front to talk to his deputy. In a short time, he was back and stopped outside the cell where Adam sat sipping his coffee.
“You got a response to the telegram?”
“Yes, I did. He told me to ask you who the cook is on your ranch.”
Walking away from the cell, Matt returned with the keys and unlocked the cell. “But I have to tell you that you’re going to have a heck of a time in this town. You look exactly like Dave Reeves or at least like he did about ten years ago. Except he did have a mustache.”
“Now can you tell me: who is Dave Reeves?”
“He’s a gunslinger who killed a man in cold blood here.”
“Then why didn’t he hang?”
“It was complicated.”
“Listen, if I’m going to have problems because I resemble him so much, it would be helpful if I knew the whole situation.”
“He came to town to try to force a man named Carl Anderson into a gunfight so he could kill him. He’d been hired by Carl’s partner, Harvey Cagle, to do it. Harvey needed money for gambling debts and had stolen from the company. Carl was going to get married and when he did, his wife would inherit not Harvey.”
“So he wanted him dead before he got married. All right, so he killed this Carl Anderson?”
“No, he killed Cagle. Carl Anderson was going to marry Reeves’ former wife. He saw that the only way she and his son were going to have a chance at happiness was if Carl lived. He figured Cagle was going to have him killed one way or another, and he figured he would be blamed for it one way or another, so he killed Cagle to save Anderson.”
“You know, it seems a jury would have a hard time believing that he killed a man so his ex-wife could marry another man.”
“Yeah, Carl had a hard time believing it too until he looked at the books at his business and saw the money Harvey had stolen from him. It made sense then. I spoke up for Dave at his trial too. He had killed but never murdered anyone before.”
“That makes sense that he didn’t hang, but how did he get out in less than ten years?”
“There was an outbreak of fever at the prison. He stepped up and helped, and when some prisoners used the situation to try to escape, he protected some guards they were going to kill. It meant the escape attempt failed and lives were saved. The governor commuted his sentence and offered him a parole. If he had stayed in that prison, he likely would have been killed by other prisoners for what he did.”
“And he has to check in here with you?”
“Yes, that’s why when you showed up, I reacted as I did. I thought you were violating your parole.”
“Now I understand. All I want to do now is meet with Jason Peters and head on home when my business is done.”
“Well, that’s another reason I thought you might be telling me a story. It was in the paper here. Jason Peters was in town here laid up as you said, but he was robbed and killed a few nights ago. Somebody went into his hotel room, knifed him, and took anything he had that was worth anything. I haven’t caught who did it, but Jason Peters is in a pine box headed back to his hometown.”
“This keeps getting better and better.”
“We do have a couple of herds due in here within a week. That means there will be other cattle buyers here. Maybe one of them would be interested in talking with you.”
“I suppose as long as I’m here, I could wait to see. Thank you. You don’t suppose you could let some people know that I’m not Dave Reeves, do you? It could make walking around town a bit more comfortable.”
“I haven’t had breakfast yet, and you didn’t finish yours.”
“No, all I had was the coffee.”
“We’ll let Festus have what’s left and head on over to Delmonico’s for breakfast. I can tell people there who you are. That should get the word out.”
Festus was all in a fuss hearing that. “Now, Matthew, I don’t go eating leftovers from the cells. You oughten a know that.”
Doing his best to placate the man, Adam smiled and offered some reassurance. “Honestly, all I had was the coffee. I never touched the rest. It’s as if it was served to you first. I’ll buy you a beer later at the Long Branch Saloon if you like, and you can introduce me to your friends there. All right?”
“Well, then, in that case, I accept. You’re a right fine gentleman, Mister Cartwright.”
“Thank you. And your name is?”
“Festus Haggen. There’s lot of us Haggens but not none hereabouts ‘cept me. I kin tell ya all about the family when we has that beer later.”
“I’ll be looking forward to that, Mister Haggen.”
Watching Festus stand so proud with his hands gripping his vest and his chin up and his chest puffed out, Matt shook his head at the way Adam had manipulated his deputy so easily. He could understand that he was ready to negotiate with cattle buyers, a more slippery lot he had never met. “Festus, you’re in charge while I’m gone. If anyone comes in, tell them where I am.” Then he opened the door and pointed for Adam to precede him out the door.
The two men headed to breakfast to some stares from townspeople who wondered what was happening. When they encountered someone Matt knew well on the way, he introduced Adam to them. Each one was wary at first meeting Matt with a man they thought was a killer, but each smiled when they heard the story and learned the dark-haired man was a rancher from Nevada. It made a good story and each couldn’t wait to tell the next person he or she saw. By the time they got to the restaurant, Matt guessed the story was already well on its way around town. To be sure though, he greeted Kitty and Doc and told them the story loudly enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear. He guessed from how quiet it became that he had their attention until he was done talking. There was a bit of a pause then as some stared at Adam comparing their memories of Dave Reeves to the younger man in the restaurant. It was a remarkable resemblance so no one was surprised that Matt had been fooled. Kitty and Doc began asking Adam about his family and the Ponderosa to help him relax and feel more accepted. Of course, much of that was overheard as well.
Adam found Kitty charming but suspected she could be feisty as needed. Marie had been like that: sugar on the outside and steel on the inside. Those piercing blue eyes and that tilt of the head when she smiled could probably fool most people, but she was a strong woman. There was no doubt of that. Doc reminded him of Sheriff Roy Coffee with his gruff manner but caring eyes. By the end of the meal, they knew him better and he felt more at ease than he had since entering Dodge City.
A couple of hours later, Adam decided that he had never met anyone like Festus though. He told outrageous stories that no one could believe, but they were certainly entertaining to hear. Although uneducated in the traditional sense, the man had a great deal of knowledge and was as willing to share it as an eager teacher fresh out of normal school. Dressed like an itinerant hunter or trapper, Festus had worked his way into the position of deputy marshal of Dodge City which was no small accomplishment so Adam was willing to buy him a beer for the privilege of finding out more about the town and its inhabitants as well as anything he might be able to tell him about potential cattle buyers who would be in town in a few days.
They spent an enjoyable afternoon in the Long Branch Saloon until Adam decided he was hungry and wanted dinner. A sandwich with his beer earlier had sufficed for lunch, but he preferred a more substantial meal for his dinner. Festus suggested they dine together at Delmonico’s, but Sam, the bartender, warned him with a smile that he might be buying two dinners then instead of one.
“I don’t mind too much, Sam. The entertainment is worth the price of admission.”
“Entertainment? What entertainment? Delmonico’s ain’t got no entertainment? Now ifn ya want entertainment, there’s another place we could go for dinner down the street a piece.” The nasal twang got stronger the more irritated Festus became. His voice could be almost normal when talking about something he enjoyed, but excited or upset at anyone, it got that high-pitched whine to it that almost grated.
With a wink at the grinning bartender, Adam walked out of the saloon with Festus and down the street to Delmonico’s. After a dinner there with more tall tales from Festus, he was ready for some quiet time in his room. He decided to buy some paper and do some writing and perhaps some drawing in his leisure time as he knew he would likely have quite a bit before he met with any cattle buyers. Although he had some books to read that he had purchased after breakfast, he preferred to have some variety of activities to keep him busy.
Of course, Festus had to accompany him to the store and had an opinion about cowboys who also liked to draw and write. When he finally bid goodbye to Festus, he hoped that enough people had seen them together that no one would consider him a threat or a problem. He relaxed that evening, spent a few hours playing low stakes poker in the Long Branch Saloon, and slept well that night.
Over in Matt Dillon’s office the next morning, Festus gave a report to the marshal that was probably a bit misleading. “Matthew, he may look like gunslinger with them black clothes he wears and the way he wears that gun of his, but Matthew, he likes to draw pictures and write things. He even said he was gonna write down some of them stories I tole him and send them off to a friend of his who might enjoy them. Said his friend’s name was Samuel and he wrote a lot of books that people found humorous. You know anybody like that, Matthew?”
After that speech, Matt shook his head. “No, I don’t know anyone like that, but Mark Twain’s real name is Samuel Clemens. I know that because he was here in Dodge once. Maybe Adam Cartwright knows him.”
“Aw, Matthew, now how could a cowboy from Nevada know a famous man like Mark Twain? Now that’s just silly.”
“As for drawing pictures and writing things, plenty of dangerous men have had hobbies like that or even occupations that would surprise you. Many times it’s the quiet ones who are the most dangerous.”
“Oh, you mean like Reeves? He was kinda quiet like that too.”
“Exactly like that. It was why it was so easy to think Adam was Dave when they looked so much alike. Both walk with that quiet confidence that tells people not to mess with them. They look at you with those eyes that send a message that they won’t back down. I saw that look when I arrested Adam. He considered his options and decided to go with me. If he had decided something different, I would have had a big problem.”
“That’s ’cause he’s a law-abidin’ man.”
“You think when Dave Reeves gets here that he can be a law-abidin’ man?”
“Festus, Dave Reeves never broke the law until he killed Harvey Cagle. It was wrong for him to do that, but by his way of thinking, it was the only way to save his wife’s future and his son’s. He knew Cagle was going to find some way to kill Carl, and he figured that he was going to be blamed for it under the circumstances.”
“Yeah, I remember him a telling the judge that by the way he figured things, he was gonna hang for a murder so he figured on hanging for one he did instead a one he was gonna be blamed for that he didn’t do. So he up and kilt a man he figured deserved to die to save a man he figured should take care of his wife and his son for him.”
“That’s about it. I only hope he hasn’t grown angry and bitter. But most of all, I hope he doesn’t want to go see Ann and Carl. They’re happy now with each other. There’s no reason to bring up the past.”
“But what about Billy? He must almost be growed up now. He might be wantin’ ta see his father.”
“That’s just it, Festus. He’s got a father and a good one at that.”
“Well, it’s just a right awful mess, ain’t it?”
“It doesn’t have to be. It’s up to Dave now and what he does.”
“What do you suppose he’s a gonna do, I mean not about Ann and the boy but about a job or something. Way I sees it, he knew onliest one thang and that was shooting people afore they shot him and then collecting money for doing it. He cain’t do that now so what’s he gonna do?”
“He’s smart, good on a horse, and I assume he knows something about ranching. Maybe he can hire on at one of the ranches here.”
“What ranch is gonna hire someone like him?”
“Well, now, that is the heart of the problem, isn’t it? Around here, there are more men than there are jobs. I don’t know who would take him on, but if he’s willing, I’ll do my best to find him a spot.”
“Well, Matthew, I got to wish you the best of luck on that one, but I cain’t see as how ya got a chance. Ya got a better chance of catching a fish in the horse trough out in front of the livery, I reckon.”
“Who put fish in a horse trough? I never heard of anything as darn foolish as that in my whole life. Must have been something Festus was mixed up in though. Sounds just like something he’d do.” Doctor Adams had walked in as Matt and Festus were talking.
“Now, you old coot, I ain’t sayin’ there is fish in that there horse trough. I was jest talking about how hard it would be to get Dave Reeves a job as a cowhand and said it would be as easy as catching a fish in that horse trough, dontcha know.”
“Well, that’s just a ridiculous thing to say. Nobody could ever catch a fish in a horse trough, but somebody could hire Dave Reeves so the comparison is just silly.” Doc shook his head as he often did at Festus and swiped a hand across his mustache as if in dismissal of the deputy and his ideas.
“It ain’t not silly. Matthew understood me. It was only you butting in and making your fool old coot nasty remarks that made it out to be silly.”
Turning to Matt, Festus was about to try to enlist him in support when Doc pointed out the window.
“Say, is that Dave Reeves getting off the stage now? He looks a bit different but he’s got that same walk and otherwise looks a lot like him.”
After getting up from his desk where he had been amused by the conversation, Matt took one look out the window, grabbed his hat, and left walking toward the stage and the passengers who had disembarked. Dave turned toward him expecting to be greeted by the marshal.
“Hello, Matt. Didn’t think I’d take too many steps in town before you corralled me.”
“Why don’t we go over to my office and have a talk.”
“Is that an order or an offer?”
“Why don’t we think of it as an offer for now. I’ve got some hot coffee, and I can get you up to date on things. Then maybe we can go grab some lunch on my tab.”
“Well, that’s an offer I can hardly refuse.”
“Did you get any money when they released you?”
“I got ten dollars and a ticket to Dodge.”
“All right, then, let’s go have that talk. Seems like you shouldn’t mind a free cup of coffee and lunch.”
“Can’t say as I’ve had any better offers.”
There wasn’t anything more said until they got to Matt’s office. There Doc and Festus greeted Dave until a look from Matt said he’d rather they find something else to do while he talked with Dave. They made their excuses and left still bickering as they walked out. Dave sat in a chair, leaned back, and crossed his arms expecting that he wasn’t going to like what he was going to hear. He didn’t.
“Ann is happy in her new life. She and Carl have made a good home, and Billy is doing well.”
“You’re telling me to stay away from them, is that it?”
“I think it would be for the best. All you can do by going there is to stir up bad memories. They’ve moved on. You should too.”
“It hurts not to be able to see my son.”
“So, you want to go see them and transfer your pain to them. Or maybe it won’t work and you’ll only cause them pain and still feel awful yourself. Then all of you will be suffering. How does that help anyone?”
“He’s my son, Matt. How do you move on from something like that?”
“He’s Carl’s son now.”
“Only because he married Ann.”
“You were only around him a short time. We talked about that some. He wanted to be like you for all the wrong reasons. You said you understood that then. Has something changed that I don’t know about?”
“Only that I’m older and maybe a bit wiser. I’m not a gunfighter any more.”
“That brings up the next question. What are you now? What kind of plans do you have?”
“Frankly, I don’t have any. I know I could never be a shopkeeper, and the governor’s pardon says I can’t wear a gun, so that takes care of a lot of other jobs I could do. I mean I could drive a stage or a freight wagon, but no one would want me to do that if I couldn’t be armed.”
“Would you work on a ranch?”
“I could, but I can’t see them hiring me with my reputation and at my age. When I was a young man, I could break horses or rope with the best of them, but those days are long gone. If I remember, you already have a town drunk, so that’s out of the question.” Dave had that half smile that said it wasn’t funny.
“The stockyards might have some work for you.”
“I’ll take a walk down there after we have lunch then.”
“Got a place to stay?”
“Not yet, and ten dollars isn’t going to get me much for very long.”
“You can stay here tonight if you need a place.” Matt saw the look he had. “I’ve got an extra bunk right here so you won’t need to sleep in a cell.”
“Thank you. I may have to take you up on that. If I can, I’d like to ask you a question.”
“You always this nice to ex-convicts who show up in Dodge?”
“Not always, but even though I didn’t like how you made a living, I respected that you didn’t break the law. Well, at least you didn’t until you shot Cagle. You paid a price for that, but I understand why you did it. Now you’ve got a chance to live a good life, and I’d like to see you get a chance to do it. If your boy ever wants to come see you, I’d like to be able to tell him he’s looking for a good man doing a good job.”
Standing up abruptly, Dave put on his hat and turned to the door. Matt heard his quiet response though.
“I guess I’d like that too.”
“Leave your things here. We’ll get some lunch, and then I’ll take a walk with you down to the stockyards. Maybe my being there can help.”
It didn’t help because there were no jobs available. There was nothing anywhere else that they checked either. The closest was the chance that Dave might work part-time with the blacksmith when he needed to get a big order done. It wasn’t going to be enough to support him, but it was a start. He needed to find something else that would provide enough money so he could have a place to sleep at night and buy enough supplies for meals.
As the sun began to get low on the horizon and cast everything with an orange glow, Dave sat in a chair outside Matt’s office and thought about what he could do. He wasn’t coming up with any answers to his questions when Festus sat down next to him.
“Matthew tole me all about your day. I’m plumb sorry it went so bad for ya. Now I figure you need to have a beer and some dinner so how about headin’ on over to the Long Branch with me?”
“Since you know about my low finances and poor job prospects, you should know I can’t afford to spend money in the saloon much as I would like to do just that.”
“Well, tonight, you can. Miss Kitty has a special going on tonight. You buy a beer and you get a free beef sandwich.”
Looking at Festus with a frown first and then a shrug, Dave stood. “Well, why not then. Let’s go.”
The two headed up the street together as men from all over town converged on the saloon. It was going to be a big night in Dodge.
In the saloon, Adam was playing a friendly game of poker with a couple of men he had met only two days earlier. Since then, each evening, they had a friendly game with low stakes so no one had to worry about losing too much. After a few hours, they would call it quits and agree to meet again the next night for another try. Up probably about one hundred dollars on the others after only two days with low stakes, Adam felt reasonably successful but not so much so that they were upset with him. Each day they tried to win back some of what they lost, but he was a better player and typically won a few more pots than he lost. Not one of them had picked up on any tells from him and could never determine if he was bluffing or if he had the cards when he bet. It made for an interesting game for all of them. Occasionally Adam would drop a hint about how to play better or at the end of the night as the night before, tell them directly how to win more than lose. They guessed they would be better players by the time he left town even if it cost them a bit of money to learn how to win. Intent on the game, Adam never saw Festus and Dave Reeves enter the saloon.
However, Dave saw Adam and asked Festus about the man in black wearing the pistol rig down low and playing poker. To Dave, Adam looked like a gunfighter. Seeing his back, Dave had no idea how much he and Adam resembled each other. Pushing his hat back a bit on his head, Festus smiled at Dave’s question.
“Now that’s right funny you should ask me that. When he come to town, Matthew arrested him thinking he was you.”
“Me? Why would he think he was me?”
“Well, after we get our beers and our sandwich ‘cuz we wanna do that ‘cuz with all these yahoos in here, they could run out of sandwiches right fast, well then, we’ll walk on over there ta answer yer question. How about that?”
“Sure, I guess so.”
The two men pushed their way to the crowded bar and waited to get Sam’s attention so they could order their beers and get sandwiches. They were getting their order when Dave nearly dropped his as he spun around to chilling words.
“Reeves, stand and face me, you coward. You killed my brother, and it’s time you met your maker for that.”
Except the man wasn’t addressing him but was facing the man in black that Dave had seen earlier. Festus stepped forward a bit as Adam stood to face the angry man.
“I’m not Dave Reeves. My name is Adam Cartwright.”
“I don’t care who you say you are. I know who you are and it’s your night to die. If I don’t get you, my brother here will. You can’t get both of us.”
“I can get you. You don’t want to do this. I’m not the man you want.” That icy cold delivery should have told the man that he was facing a man who likely could back up what he said.
It seemed that the very large crowd in the saloon got much smaller as men squeezed off to both sides to avoid being shot by a stray bullet if they could. Festus stepped forward as Dave stayed where he was. Unarmed, there was nothing he could do except probably be murdered.
“Now you two listen up. This man is who he says he is. He’s a rancher from Nevada by the name of Adam Cartwright. I know he looks a lot like Dave Reeves, but Marshal Dillon checked him out, and he ain’t Reeves.”
“How would you know that?”
“I’m the deputy marshal here, Festus Haggen. Now you ain’t broke the law yet so ifn you was to back out them doors and leave, you wouldn’t have to get arrested.”
“I don’t believe you. You’re trying to save Reeves. I don’t know why.”
“No, he’s trying to save Adam Cartwright. I’m Dave Reeves. There’s no reason for you to shoot an innocent man when you want me.”
Dave had moved forward and stood beside Festus who whispered that he was a fool.
“I’ve got a lot of things on my conscience. I don’t need an innocent man to be dead because of me.”
The two brothers though weren’t convinced. “You can’t be Dave Reeves. You’re not even wearing a gun.”
The second brother who hadn’t spoken was even more upset. “They’re trying to buy time for some reason. Draw on him. He’ll draw so it’ll be self-defense. I’ll cover you.”
With eyes dark as storm clouds, Adam stood apparently calmly through the whole conversation never taking his eyes from the man who wanted to kill him. He saw the first twitch of the man’s hand when he was moving to draw. With a voice that would freeze most men and scared most of the bystanders, Adam tried to stop him.
“Don’t do it!” The warning wasn’t heeded.
Like that, it began and was over. The first man drew and Adam responded drawing faster and hitting him in the chest before he could level his pistol and fire. The second brother drew then which was foolish because Adam already had his pistol drawn. Adam was able to aim better though and hit that one in the arm before he could even pull the pistol all the way from his holster. The pistol fell to the floor as he grasped his arm and dropped to his knees beside his brother who was choking on his own blood. Adam and Festus walked to them to hear his last words.
“I knew you was him.”
“I’m not. I’m Adam Cartwright, but I wasn’t going to let you kill me.”
With a look of disbelief, the man closed his eyes for the last time and soon took his last breath. The wounded brother looked up at Adam.
“You really aren’t Dave Reeves?”
“No, I’m not, and I’m getting tired of being mistaken for him especially after tonight.”
“You look a lot like him.”
“So I’ve been told. Now, I’ll help get you to the doctor. I don’t need you to die too.”
“You killed my brother.”
“He drew on me because you told him to do that.”
“I guess it’s my fault then.”
“If you’ve got any family left, maybe you ought to give up this revenge thing and think about taking care of them.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right about that. It ain’t turned out so good so far.”
After Adam walked out with the man, Dave turned to Festus who was directing some men to take the body to the undertaker. “I can see why people mistake him for me.”
“Listen, until tonight, I thought he only looked like you. I had no idea he could shoot like that. Matthew is gonna be surprised too.”
About that time, Matt walked into the saloon. “I heard there was a lot of trouble here and a man got killed. What happened?”
“Matthew, you aren’t gonna believe this, but that Adam Cartwright is faster than a hot knife slicing through butter. He stood there as cool and calm as you please and told them boys he wasn’t no Dave Reeves and I tole them he was a telling them the truth and even Dave here stepped up and tole them the same darn thing. They wouldn’t listen to nobody. One of ’em tole the other ta draw and he done it. Adam drew a whole lot faster though and shot ‘im down. Matthew, that Adam there, he’s faster than I thought he could be. He might be almost as fast as you are.”
“Why did it surprise you that he was fast with a gun? He wears it like he knows how to use it.”
“Well, he reads books for fun and he likes to draw them pictures. I never done ever heard of a man fast with a gun who was like that.”
“Well, never mind that. What happened after he shot the man who drew on him?”
“Well then that other man who was his brother drew. Now when that there other one drew that was a real durn fool thing to do with Adam having his gun out and all. Adam shot him in the arm before he even pulled that pistol all the way out. He coulda kilt him ifn he wasn’t a man like he is. Then he took him over to Doc’s place to git his arm all patched up. You want us should go over there and arrest ‘im?”
“You said he shot in self-defense so why would I want him arrested?”
“Not Adam, that other one.”
“No, he lost his brother and he got wounded. If he leaves town that will be good enough unless Adam wants to prefer charges. Tell him that.”
“Yes, of course, tell Adam.”
“Well, ya don’t hafta get all feisty wit me. I was only trying ta make shur I was doing what ya wanted.” In a huff, Festus turned and left the saloon.
Dave could only grin as Festus walked out. “Maybe I could hire on as your deputy. I speak English better than that.”
“You certainly do, but my deputy has to be able to wear a gun, and you can’t do that in Kansas.”
“Yeah, I guess that could be a problem.”
“Have you had your beer and a sandwich?”
“No, we were interrupted.”
“No interruptions now. Let’s do that.”
As Matt and Dave moved to the bar, Kitty stepped up to them noting that their private conversation seemed to be over.
“Ready for some beer and sandwiches?”
“Thought you’d never ask.”
With a grin, Kitty turned to Sam. “We have two hungry thirsty men here, Sam.”
When Festus returned, Adam was with him. The wounded man had gone to the undertaker to make arrangements to have his brother’s body shipped home. Adam wasn’t going to press charges.
“I met with a cattle buyer today and made a deal. I’ll be heading home as soon as I can make travel arrangements.”
“I hope you’ve had a good time in our town.” Kitty smiled as she said it as Adam had spent some money in her saloon and had been there two nights playing poker which brought three other men into the place for hours. “I’m going to miss your friendly little poker group.”
“If they can find a fourth, they might keep playing. I taught them all a few tricks and they want to practice.” Adam grinned, and with that dimple showing, Kitty couldn’t help grinning back at him.
Dave looked at him and noted that they did have an amazing resemblance. “You shoot very well for a rancher.”
“Nevada is wilder than Kansas. We need to be able to defend ourselves and our property. There isn’t always a lawman there when you need one. We could use more.”
A thought that Matt had earlier began to grow. “Adam, I’d like to talk with you before you go. Do you have time now?”
A slightly raised eyebrow was the only sign that Adam was surprised and curious. “Sure. In your office?”
Matt nodded and the two headed out. Curious, Kitty and Festus watched them go.
Kitty especially was surprised at the abrupt departure. “I wonder what that was all about.”
A short time later, Matt made a visit to the telegraph office just before they closed as Adam returned to the saloon and his poker game. The men were glad that he was back and the excitement was over. Sitting back down, Adam dropped his hat on the table, picked up the deck, and grinned at the men.
“My turn to deal?”
Dave headed to Matt’s office to get some sleep, and Festus made the rounds of town checking that all was secure. The next day, Matt got some answers by telegram that made him smile, but he wasn’t sure if he would still be smiling after he talked with Dave. He double-checked with Adam and then went in search of Dave.
“Dave, I’ve got a job offer for you. It pays a dollar a day with room and board included. There’s also a commission system for the delivery of papers such as subpoenas and any other official court documents.”
“It sounds like a dream come true. What do I get to be? Governor of Kansas?”
“No, the job is a deputy marshal.”
“But you already know I can’t carry a gun.”
Dave got a funny look then. “But the pardon says I can’t leave the state for five years while I’m on parole. I’m to be on good behavior until then or the pardon can be revoked.”
“Under the circumstances, the governor is willing to forego that if you’ll accept the commission. Nevada will accept you as a deputy marshal. They don’t have near enough men who’ll do that job. You can travel with Adam Cartwright. He’s willing to take on the job of supervising you for the five years of your parole. The governor has agreed to that too.”
“How can I say no.”
“Oh, Adam has one thing he asked if you would do.”
“He asked if you would let the mustache grow into a full beard so no one mistakes the two of you again.”
Dave laughed heartily at that as Matt grinned broadly. “I can do that. Matt, I have one thing to ask of you.”
“If my boy comes looking for me, you’ll tell him I’m a good man doing a good job, and will you tell him how to find me?”
“I’ll do that, Dave. You can count on me to do that.”