1897_saloon_blackhawkDoc comes out with my glass and chair. He sets them down and pumps my hand. “Ace Lone Wolf, as I live and breathe.” He starts coughing and has to bring out his hanky. His coughing fit over, he looks at the blood on the cloth before putting it away. “Well, as I live anyway.”
We sit down. “You look good, Doc. All healed up from that gut wound.” That’s not entirely true. Doc looks a bit pale and his clothes are loose on him.
He waves it off and pours me some whiskey. “I told you it was nothing but a scratch. No way a skunk like Ike Clanton is killing me. If a man’s going to shoot me down, it’s going to be a man of quality.”
I take a drink of the whiskey and for a moment I just sit there and enjoy the burn. Doc drinks good stuff. “Funny you should mention him. I saw Ike a while back. In Mexico.”
“Do tell,” Doc replies. “So Wyatt hasn’t caught up to him yet, then.”
“How come he didn’t hang?”
“It was that damned jury. They let him off, if you can believe that. Said it was just a gunfight and a man has a right to defend himself.”
I remember Billy Clanton up on that roof with his rifle, ready to cut us down. “What about the ambush?”
“Bah. I said the same thing. Ike claimed Billy was up there to make sure nobody tried to take advantage. Nothing would have happened if you hadn’t started shooting at him first.”
“They believed that?”
“That they did. Durned fools. You should have seen Wyatt afterwards. He was madder than a hornet in a hoosegow. No one could talk him down. He turned in his badge, gathered a couple friends, and took off chasing Ike a couple days later. I would’ve gone, but I was still laid up at the time.”
I believe that. Doc’s a loyal friend, as loyal as they come. At least this means I don’t have to worry about running into Wyatt.
Doc pours me some more whiskey and leans over the table, fixing me with those intense eyes of his. “What happened? Did you find the temple? Did you save the girl’s father?”
It takes a while to tell him the whole story. Doc interrupts me now and then to whoop it up. Another bottle of whiskey shows up. By the time I get to the end I’m drunk enough that it hardly hurts at all.
When I’m finished, Doc shakes his head. “How I envy you, out there roaming the wilderness, facing the worst it has to offer with your gun in your hand. You are the model of the modern Western man.”
“You think so? I never really thought of it like that,” I say. Probably because I’ve been busy feeling like a damned fool. I sit up a little straighter in my chair.
“I do, I do. Sure, this little adventure didn’t work out the way you planned, but I’m sure the next one will.”
“I wouldn’t mind that.”
“What’s next?” Doc asks.
“I don’t know. I’m dead broke. Maybe I can get on as a hand on one of the ranches.”
“No.” Doc shakes his head vigorously. “I won’t hear of it. You’re a man of adventure, Ace! You need to be out there, running free like a wild mustang.”
I have to admit, the whole running free sounds a lot better than punching cows. As fine as his words are, though, they don’t put any coins in my pocket. “I should at least find some work to get by on.”
“Let me put my mind to it. I must know someone who could use your considerable skills.”
About then a rowdy gust of wind blows through and right behind it comes a dust devil, right down the middle of the street. It’s a big one, carrying tumbleweeds, trash, a few hats. I might even see a cat stuck in there, but I can’t be sure. It sends everyone running but the two of us. Doc grabs hold of the bottle and pulls it close. I pull my hat down over my eyes and hunker down.
When it’s gone by, Doc squints at the sky and says, “We should probably be getting ourselves inside. Looks like it’s fixing to blow.”
He’s right. While we were sitting here talking some big old thunderheads have built to the south, like they do this time of summer. Lightning is flickering in their depths and a thick wall of rain is visible underneath them.
“We could be in for a real gully washer,” I say.
We pick up the table and hustle it indoors. None too soon, either. The first fat raindrops hit right after we get inside.
“See?” Doc says to Ralph. “I told you I’d bring your table back, didn’t I?”
“You better not have scratched it up,” Ralph growls from his spot behind the bar. He points at me. “And don’t bring him in here. No Injuns in the bar. It says so on the sign.”
“He’s not an Injun,” Doc replies. “He’s with me.”
“That don’t change anything. I won’t have the likes of him in here fouling up the place.”
With those last words something changes. Everyone in the place can instantly feel it. Doc freezes. Slowly he sets the whiskey bottle down on the table and turns toward Ralph, who takes a step back and fetches up against the shelves behind the bar.
“You might want to reconsider your words, sir,” Doc says in a low voice. I notice he’s flipped his long coat back, exposing the pistol tied down to his leg. “I don’t appreciate folks speaking ill of my friends.”
Ralph swallows and tries to lick his lips with a tongue gone suddenly dry. “I might have misspoke.”
“And what?” The bar is completely quiet, everyone watching the drama unfold.
“And an apology for my friend. His name is Ace, so you can make it personal and everything.”
Ralph swallows again. “My apologies, Ace. No offense intended.”
“None taken.”
“Well,” Doc says cheerfully, just like that back to his old self, “see how much pleasanter the day is when we’re all civilized?”
The room gets really bright all of a sudden as a lightning bolt hits nearby, probably right out front in the street. The thunderclap hits right after, loud enough and strong enough to shake the heart in your chest.
The thunderclap dies away and the rain starts coming down, sheets of it. A man hustles for the doors. Probably it’s the owner of the roan gelding, going to catch his horses before he runs all the way to Mexico. I’m not worried. Even if Coyote runs off, he’ll come back.
I hope. At least he has so far.
“It appears we came inside just in time,” Doc says. He makes a show of looking me over. “Although, perhaps the shower would have done you some bit of good. You are a touch pungent, my friend, and your hat is so dirty that I believe it could be used to bait rat traps.”
“What’s wrong with my hat? It’s fine. Finally broken in right so it’s comfortable.”
Before Doc can respond, a man walks up to the table, leans down to get a good look at me, and says, “It’s you, ain’t it?”
I don’t know what to say. While it’s true that I am me, I’m not sure he knows that. “Do I know you?”
“No, but I know you.” He’s got a big, red beard that frames his round face. He’s wearing overalls and a big, straw hat that’s worn completely through in a few spots. His cheeks are red from drinking. “You’re the feller what shot Billy Clanton off the roof of the mercantile!”
I wish he wouldn’t have said it so loud. Between Doc’s natural loudness, the business with the bartender, and now this man, my plans for keeping a low profile in this town don’t seem to be working out all that well.
“I saw it all and that was fine shooting!” the man hoots. He makes guns with his hands like a child would do and starts pretending to shoot up into the corner of the room. “Pow, pow! Pow, pow!”
He turns and starts shooting across the room. “Then you shot old Frank McLaury. Pow, pow! I never seen the like.”
Everyone in the place is looking at me. I want to leave. “I don’t remember all that well, truth be told.”
“It don’t matter, because I do. I’ll never forget.” The man taps his temple with one finger. “It’s all right here. Let me buy you a drink, mister.”
Okay. That doesn’t sound too bad.
He buys me a drink and for some reason that starts some kind of stampede. Outside the rain is pouring down and inside they’re all but throwing liquor at me. Everyone wants to buy me a drink. I don’t understand it, but after a few drinks I give up and just start enjoying it.
Time passes and I get good and sauced. Most of what happens next is sort of blurry, though I do remember at one point someone saying that I owe them all a shooting demonstration, so they can see for themselves how great I am with a gun.
That seems like a fine idea to me and I get up out of my chair and stagger out onto the porch. Men crowd around me and start throwing items up into the air for me to shoot at. Of course, by then it’s dark and it’s still raining hard so I can’t see if I hit a single thing, but they cheer with every shot anyway and so I don’t worry about it.
After that the blurriness comes back, worse than ever, and eventually it all goes blank.
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