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New American Western
Saddlebag Dispatches




Western Short Story
Prairie Wells
(Part Two)
Don Emigh

Western Short Story

Prairie Wells: Dade Foster, Gunfighter (Part Two of Five)

The Diamond D drive to the railhead saw the usual problems in trailing three thousand head five weeks across an open prairie. The one exception to the usual was the crossing of the Red River. The river was troublesome, caused by heavy weather far upstream to the north. A few cattle were lost in the higher than usual, debris-laden river, and Jed Stanton's lead horse stepped in a hole, broke a leg and had to be shot. But once across the river they made good time. Three weeks up the trail from the crossing saw them at the gates to the Dodge City cattle pens.

It took no time at all for the ranch's free and celebrating cowboys to spread Dade Foster's story. The story of what had happened at Prairie Wells was repeated over and over, in every bar, livery stable, blacksmith shop and restaurant in town. Foster's reputation gained with each repeating. He was eagerly pointed out to strangers on the street as the man who had "wiped out 'Coffee Jack' McKinney's gang single-handed," and the gunfighter who had killed the notorious Marcel Foulet.

"Watch out," advised his friends, "with the big repetation yer gittin', all the cheap guns in town will be out to see whether they're faster'n you. Careful. Yer gonna git yerself kilt.'"

Good advice. Dade found a gun shop at the west end of Front Street. The establishment was a one-story, false-front business sandwiched between a barbershop and a Chinese laundry. A sign propped in the window read, "S. Davis, Firearms." An old dog sleeping in front of Mr. Davis' door got stiffly to its feet and moved slowly to one side, eyeing Dade. Dade opened the door and found himself in a small shop with a battered counter along one wall and a curtain at the back hiding the rear of the premises.

"Hello! Hello! Anybody back there?" Dade had to repeat this several times before a man came out from behind the curtain. He was an overweight fellow, red-faced, barefoot, and clad in dirty red long johns. A webwork of purple veins covered his nose. He said, "No need for the big hurry, mister. We got all day here."

"I need a sidearm. The sign in the window says you got 'em for sale."

The man took a few steps into the room to stand behind the counter. He pointed down through the glass top. "Right here they be," he said. "Colts an' Remington’s. Peacemakers and Widowmakers."

"Those all?" Dade asked. "All you got? For my way o' thinkin', Colts are a little light in the hand. They kick like a mule." He paused, then added, "I've never thought much of the Remington." Not that he was superstitious, but he had heard that Remington’s were the standard Army issue carried by the cavalry at the Little Bighorn. And then, of course, there was his unpleasant memory of the long-ago gunfighter, Marcel Foulet.

"That's mostly all I got, mister, Colts an' Remington’s. Unless yore lookin' fer somethin' special."

"Maybe I am. What you got?"

The man reached down and opened the door at the back of the counter and brought out a handsome revolver that had been half hidden behind a stack of ammunition boxes. There was a worn look to the revolver's blued steel.

"Here she be," he said, pushing the gun across the glass, "second-hand and used, maybe, but a real beauty. This here's a Schofield. I'm surely in no hurry to sell 'er--that's why I had it kinda hid. It's a Civil War piece. I wheedled it off'n an old widder, finally. Damn near had to start courtin' her to get it. Her husband took it out of a dead man's fingers at Spotsylvania."

Dade laughed. "Nice story, mister, but I don't think so. They didn't start makin' these guns until somewhere in the '70's. But maybe the war went on a spell longer than I heard."

The storekeeper was not at all embarrassed by being caught in his lie. He sighed and said, "I've sold a few with that. I bought a batch of Schofields from the Army an' that's the only way I can sell 'em. Any man that wants a gun won't look at anything but a Colt or a Remington. An' new." He reached across to retrieve the gun, intending to put it back under the counter.

Dade said, "Hold on. I didn't say I wasn't interested." He picked up the revolver and immediately liked the balance and the fit of the grip in his hand. He liked the design and the trigger action. He broke open the breach and looked down the length of the barrel. The rifling was high and unpitted.

"How much you askin' fer this?"

"I'll let you have it for twenty-five dollars, an' I'll throw in a holster. I got one out in back. If yore interested, I'll go get it."

"I'm interested."

With the holster as well, the deal was all right, and Dade certainly liked the gun. Someone who knew what he was doing had elaborately embossed and carved the holster and it was fitted on the bottom with a "tie-down"--a thong for tying the holster to the leg. A tie-down kept the holster from rising when the gun was quickly drawn. In actual practice, only gunfighters used such tie-downs, or had need of them. But the holster came with a tie-down.

Dade put his money on the counter and ran the holster onto his belt and tied the thong around his leg. He slid the Schofield smoothly into the holster and asked for five boxes of cartridges. "Thet'll be two more dollars," the man said. Dade paid with silver.

Out in the street, Dade turned his steps back toward the main part of town. In the gun shop behind him, the man reached down and brought up another Schofield from the counter's bottom shelf.

* * *

Dade was a tall, thin fellow with grey eyes perhaps set too close together in a rather long face. His light brown hair fell shoulder length below the brim of his hat. The legs of his striped corduroy trousers were stuffed into the tops of tooled leather boots, and the spurs on his boots jingled when he walked. Now, with the revolver low at his hip and the tie-down on the holster, he looked very much--too much--like the professional gunfighter he most certainly was not.

So it was unfortunate that he stopped at the Longhorn Bar that afternoon. The Longhorn had a sign outside, "Rye whiskey, one shot, ten cents" and rye was his usual drink.

Dade stepped through the Longhorn's swinging doors and into a half-lighted, smoky room. A bar with several cowboys leaning against it extended along one wall of the narrow room. There were two round tables, each with men sitting at them playing cards. It was a quiet, almost subdued interior except for the clink of poker chips and the murmur of the men appraising and betting on their card hands.

Dade stepped up to the bar and ordered his drink and was just beginning to enjoy the occasion when he heard the scrape of a chair and someone saying in a rough voice, "Deal me out this hand." The man who had said this came up behind Dade and, close to his shoulder said, "Hey, there, Mister Gunfighter."

Dade turned to look into the unshaven face of a short, broad-shouldered man at his elbow. The man was wearing a battered hat pushed back on his head, a buckskin vest over a red plaid shirt and brown dungarees. His boots were scuffed. He wore two revolvers, holstered butt first, left and right.

"Noticed that big iron ya got there," the man said. "I'm needin' a drink, an' I thought it would be nice to git it from some'un important, like you. I'd consider yore buyin' a drink fer me to be right neighborly." He grinned, showing Dade a lot of bad teeth.

Dade didn't know what to say, so he said nothing at all. He turned back to his drink.

The man said, "Hey!" so sharply that the murmur of the gamblers stopped. The startled cowboys at the bar turned, saw what was in progress, and began to move away down the bar.

"I'm talkin' to you, mister. No man turns his back on me. I said buy me a drink, tha's what I said, an' I want it now!"

Dade looked down into the heated and belligerent face of the man. For a moment the two stood like this, a few inches apart, while the patrons of the Longhorn collectively held their breaths. They were waiting for the face-off, the gunfight. This was how such confrontations usually ended.

Dade saw that he was being confronted by one of those "men of the trade," as gunfighters called themselves, a man who was intent on either terribly humiliating him or killing him. Dade was no gunfighter, and he knew it. He had just purchased the Schofield. He had yet to fire the weapon, of course, much less familiarize himself or practice with it. He knew that here in a bar, at such close quarters, he was going to be killed.

"All right," he said in a low voice, looking away. He motioned to the nervous and sweating man behind the bar. "Bartender, bring over that bottle o' rye an' a clean glass. This feller wants a drink." The bartender took the bottle of rye from the shelf behind the bar and grabbed a glass from under the counter and put down the bottle and glass in front of Dade.

The gunman relaxed and a smirk came over his face. "Tha's better," he said. "Thought for a minute I'd have to kill ya, Gunfighter." He was right at Dade's elbow. "Pour it yerself, Killer," he said, waving toward the bottle and the glass. "I want pussonal service from you. An' fill 'er up."

Dade poured the glass nearly full to the top. "This full enough?" he asked. With a quick motion he threw the whiskey into the man's face. He moved swiftly down with his hands to yank both of the gunman's revolvers out of their holsters. He skittered one of the revolvers across the floor and poked the other revolver hard into the man's belly.

The gunman, gasping and blinded by the whiskey in his eyes, heard Dade say from somewhere above him, "Your comin' up so close an' askin' for a drink like that--you knew you wouldn't have room to draw those big hoglegs, much less shoot em'. So I guess you were just joshin'. You were just funnin', weren't you?" He jabbed the gun hard into the man's stomach. "WEREN'T YOU?"

"Y - y - yes," the man stammered.

Dade took the gun out of the man's stomach and walked towards the door, scooping up the other revolver on the way. "I'm leavin' these revolvers at the marshal's office," he said, turning to face the man still digging at his eyes. "You can pick em' up from him, when you're able." He raised his eyes to the nervous, perspiring bartender. "Maybe the man needs another drink, mister. An' pour one fer yourself. He's payin'."

* * *

Dade walked over to the marshal's office. He found the marshal sitting on the boardwalk outside the office, tilted back in his chair, sound asleep. The marshal had his hat down over his eyes. His hands were folded across his stomach.

Up on the boardwalk Dade said, "S'cuse me." There was no response. Leaning forward a bit Dade said, "Hey, there." A light snoring came from the sleeping man. Dade gave the man an exasperated shake. With this the sleeping marshal came suddenly awake and with a loud "huh?' looked wildly around with unfocused eyes. He made a futile grab at his falling hat as he brought the chair upright. He got unsteadily to his feet.

"Wassup, son? Problem?" He had a gravelly, grating voice.

"I'm turnin' these guns over to you, marshal. You might want to hold 'em for a few days, 'less you want some real trouble here." He gave a short laugh. "Feller that owns these surely wants to kill me with 'em."

The marshal said, "Les' go inside. An' lemme see those irons."

Once inside, the marshal placed the guns on his desk and picked up one of them and started to look at it. He noticed right off the six notches on the grip and the smooth, worn look of the gun--a gunfighter's weapon. And he knew immediately to whom the guns belonged. His jaw went slack and he stared across the desk at Dade. "M'Gawd! How'd you come by these, son?" he half whispered.

"Got 'em off a man in the Longhorn," Dade said.

"Was he dead? 'cuz tha's the only way anybody could take these away from SomeCat Bodine."

"Who?"

"SomeCat Bodine. Biggest troublemaker I've ever had the misfortune to have show up in Dodge. He hit town a couple o' weeks ago, an' I'm waitin' for him to break some law so I can kick his butt clear out o' town. But he's jes' too keerful." The marshal added, hopefully, "What'd he do?"

"Tried to prod me into a fight. Didn't work out too well for him. You can believe he's goin' to try to kill me."

The marshal gave a raspy chuckle. "I surely believe you, son. It's a miracle that you're standin' here a'fore me, after runnin' crossways o' thet polecat. I'll throw 'im in jail for a couple o' days, an' by that time you an' the Diamond D boys will be out o' town an' on your way home. You are with the Diamond D outfit, aren't you?"

"Yep. Wonderin', why do they call him 'SomeCat'?"

"He used to have a mountain lion on a chain that he took everywhere with him. That sure got people's attention. They gave 'im the whole boardwalk an' the whole store wherever he went. When he came walkin' by they'd say--from a little distance, o'course--'tha's sure some cat you got there.' By an' by they got to callin' him 'SomeCat.'

"Well, an irritated cowpoke shot the lion one day, right out on the boardwalk over in Plains. SomeCat pumped five slugs into thet cowboy a'fore the lion even dropped dead. SomeCat went into the nearest bar an' had several drinks an' killed another man jes' because he was still mad. An' that accounts for two o' the six notches on his gun."

"Now I know," Dade said.

The marshal scratched his chin. "I'll arrest 'im on a public obscenity charge. I'll say a couple o' citizens complained about it."

"Thanks," Dade said. "The Diamond D's packin' gear today an' we'll be out o' town by sunrise tomorrow."

* * *

Gwinnet Drexel, owner of the Diamond D spread, had bought a gunny sack full of Montana hard wheat at the Dodge City Feed & Livery. Fifty pounds. The old man intended to plant a few acres of his ranch with this wheat, to see if there might be money to be made in Texas wheat farming. Now, preparing to hit the return trail for home, he had the sack securely lashed to the side of the chuck wagon.

The Diamond D men went through Dodge City just at sunrise. Early risers on the boardwalks stopped to watch the clip-clopping and jingling line of cowboys, ponies and wagons moving down Front Street. Cowboys leaving town was a common enough event in Dodge City, but big cattle outfits hitting the trail for home always made an impressive parade.

By noon the Diamond D party was twenty-five miles west of Dodge and approaching some low, scrub-covered hills. The sun overhead was hot and the men and animals were tired and thirsty. The caravan pulled up under a few low trees.

Dade went over to the chuck wagon to get a cup of water. Just as he reached for the cup hanging by the water barrel there was a hollow "whump" against the side of the wagon. The sharp crack of a rifle shot rang out.

The bullet had barely missed Dade, passing just under his arm. The "whump" was caused by the bullet hitting Drexel's sack of wheat. Wheat was now flowing freely onto the ground, making a neat little mound, but no one was paying attention to that. The cowboys were instantly off their horses and reaching for their carbines.

"Bushwhackers!" somebody yelled, and the cry was soon taken up. "Bushwhackers!" "Renegades!" "Indians!" "Looters!" But Dade had a good idea it was none of these. There had been just one shot, and he had been the target. Now, who could that be? He shook his head. He had thought the marshal was going to lock up the man for a few days.

"Fellers," he said in a voice loud enough so that most of the men could hear, "I know what our problem is, an' I got a way o' fixin' it. That shot came from that first low hill. Make a lot o' racket an' keep movin' around in these trees whilst I fade off an' come 'round behind. I'll take care o' this. This here's a personal matter."

Dade drifted back through the trees in the opposite direction from where the shot had come and then angled off to the east when he was sure that he was out of the sight of anyone on the hill. Using the cover of a shallow depression in the ground and a rocky escarpment, he was able to make a circular approach and come up on the hill from the north. At the base of the hill he dismounted and hobbled his horse in a clump of willows and started up the hill. He paused to take off his boots when he had reached some boulders. There would have been no chance to surprise anyone with scuffing boots and jingling spurs announcing his approach.

Dade slowly and quietly edged forward, moving toward the top of the hill. He had unholstered the Schofield and had the revolver cocked. He was about to take a step around a large boulder when he heard a faint, metallic "click" from somewhere behind him. Instinctively he fell to the ground, made a twisting roll to his right and fired--all without thought or aim or question as to what had made the click. Almost simultaneously there was the loud "kawrang!" of a rifle shot and a heavy slug splintered the rock where Dade had been standing.

The man who had fired the shot gave a burbling grunt, did a little grotesque dance and fell face first onto the ground, still gripping his Winchester.

Dade got up and dusted off his clothes and holstered his revolver. He went over to the man and turned him face up. It wasn't SomeCat. Dade went through the man's pockets and found a fifty dollar gold piece and a note which read, "Fiftee now & a hunnert mor after." It was signed "Bodine."

Dade brought his horse up and threw the man's body across behind his bedroll and tied it securely. He led the horse down the hill, found the dead man's horse and then led both horses back to the men waiting in the shelter of the trees.

"Mighty glad to see you," Drexel said when Dade pulled up at the group of men. Dade dismounted and walked over and Drexel threw his arm around his shoulder. "We heard the shots an' Jessup said, 'Don't worry none 'bout ol' Dade. He'll be comin' down that hill in jest a minute or two.' An' dammit, I'm sure glad he was right!"

Dade hardly heard what Drexel was saying. He was aware now that he had a real enemy in SomeCat Bodine. He was considering just how far Bodine's hatred would take him. Would Bodine search him out once he had returned to Texas, find him even in the small town of Prairie Wells, find him even in that huddle of buildings hidden in the West Texas plains? There was a good chance that Bodine would do just that. He was a killer, with a killer's persistence and vindictiveness in his blood. Dade decided that the situation could not long remain unresolved. The matter between him and Bodine had to be settled.

Certainly Dade wasn't a gunfighter. He hadn't drawn a gun in anger in the ten years since his face-off with Merle Tremont. He had left his old Adams revolver hanging on a nail in the bunkhouse back at the Diamond D because it had a broken spring. He hadn't wanted to bother with it on the trail. But quick-draw competitions were common among the cowboys and wranglers at the Diamond D, and Dade had participated in his share of them. He usually did well. In addition, he had gained some little reputation among the men for the accuracy of his shooting. Dade decided that he could meet SomeCat Bodine on his own ground. He was fully confident of his accuracy, and he felt that he had the nerves and coordination necessary for the draw, with just a bit more familiarization with the Schofield.

Dade didn't give the man the dignity of untying the rope. He took his knife from a sheath at the side of his saddle and cut the rope and let the body fall unceremoniously at the side of the horse. "Gwinnet," he said, "I've got some unfinished business back in Dodge. If its 'ceptable to you, you and the boys ride on without me. I'll be along later."

Drexel looked carefully into the eyes of the younger man. He said, "It's your call Dade." He paused a moment before he said, "Take care o' your problem. Pretty sure I know what it is. If we don't see you down the trail, we'll meet you back at the Diamond D."

"Much obliged fer this."

Dade mounted his horse, wheeled, and started back through the thin covering of trees. He had just cleared the trees when Drexel raised his voice and shouted after him, "Sure you can take 'im? Want some company?"

For answer Dade bent over the pommel and buried his spurs in the horse's flanks.

* * *

Long shadows stretched down Front street that late afternoon as Dade rode into town. He came in on a tired horse limping from a thrown shoe. He left the horse at a livery stable and told the stable owner to have the horse shoed and fed and then to hold the horse "for probably a day or two."

After checking in at the Palace Hotel he went down the street to a restaurant for a plate of potatoes and eggs and a cup of coffee. From there he went to the marshal's office.

"Where is he, marshal?" Dade stepped up onto the boardwalk.

The marshal brought his chair down to all four legs and got to his feet. "Ain't thet kin' o' abrupt, son? No 'howdy-do' or 'pleased to see ya'?"

"Did you lock that feller up like you said you would? If you did, I'd surely like to have a chat with 'im."

"Locked 'im up yestiddy, an' I got 'im right inside. Let's step into my office."

They went into the small building that served as a combination office and city jail. SomeCat Bodine was locked in one of the three cells. He was stretched out on a cot with his hands behind his head.

Dade looked at him through the bars. "I got your message," he said softly.

SomeCat turned his head slowly without otherwise moving and looked at Dade. He said, "Well, if it ain't Mister Lowdowndirtytrick. Sorry t' see yer alive an' well."

"I got your message," Dade repeated. "'Course, I had to take it off'n your sidekick to get it--you know, the man with the Winchester."

At this, SomeCat sat up. "Where's Macon?" he said.

"Macon? That his name? If that's him, you'll find him down the road a piece, with prob'ly a coyote or two standin' over his grave. That is, if the boys bothered buryin' 'im."

"I'm gonna kill you," SomeCat said, getting to his feet and coming over to the side of the cell. He stood, gripping the bars and staring through them at Dade.

"No, you're not," Dade said, "but I'm a fair man an' I'm gonna give you a chance to try." He turned away to address the marshal, who was standing behind him.

"When you lettin' SomeCat out, marshal? We got a date."

"Now looky here, boys. I ain't gonna have no trouble in this here peaceable city. I don't care how fast a gun he is, or you are, nobody's gonna shoot up my streets. An' if I can't stop a fight, I'll get a hangin' posse together that can."

"When you lettin' SomeCat out?" Dade repeated.

"I put 'im in for five days--two for you an' three fer me. But you heard what I said."

"I heard you, but you don't have jurisdiction outside o' town, marshal." To SomeCat he said, "SomeCat, you'll be outa here Friday. You'll git back yer guns. We can meet behind the Santa Fe cattle pens Saturday morning."

SomeCat gave a sneering laugh. "You bet we can. What time Sattidy? I'll be there waitin', 'an I don't want you claimin' you missed the 'pointment."

"Sun up."

SomeCat nodded. The marshal said, "Boys, the citizens of Dodge are gonna love this."

* * *

"I'm layin' ten dollars on SomeCat," said Sam Limholz, the barber, as he placed a ten dollar gold piece on the counter of the Railroad saloon. The bartender took a stub of pencil from behind his ear and wrote "Limholz, $10, SomeCat" on a scrap of brown paper. He threw the coin and the scrap of paper into a cigar box under the counter.

"I swear," he said, "seems ever' man, woman an' chile in town wants to put their money on that little dustup Sattiday. The ol' cigar box is gittin' full. An' almost ever'body's bettin' SomeCat is gonna add Foster's scalp to the other ten scalps he's awready got."

Limholz snorted. "Ten? Why, they're claimin SomeCat's stretched out at least fifteen men, an' thet ain't countin' greasers an' redskins. Where'd you hear only ten?"

"From one of the boys. But meebe that weren't the latest count. Anyways, Dade Foster's only kilt eight men, which includes four injuns. Tolerable, but not good enough. Wot'll you have to drink, Sam?"

The townspeople were indeed looking forward to the meeting of the two men on Saturday. In voicing their enthusiasm for the event, the exploits of the two men were usually greatly exaggerated.

* * *

Dade spent the rest of Tuesday and most of the next three days preparing for SomeCat. He found a suitable place for target and quick-draw practice about a mile out of town, and he spent most of his time at the site. He went through four boxes of cartridges in target practice. He experimented trying to find the most efficient way of drawing the Schofield from its holster.
He briefly considered the cross-draw and the Mexican swivel holster, but quickly decided against both of these. The standard gunfighter's draw, he concluded, was the best way.

On Thursday morning he was practicing quick draws when he became aware of a slight drag as he pulled the revolver from its holster. His memory went back ten years, to his stand-off with Merle Tremont, where his front sight had gotten snagged in the holster.

Dade went to a blacksmith's shop in Dodge City that afternoon and had the front sight of the Schofield filed off. Did doing so add much to the speed of his draw? Hard to say, but it surely didn't hurt any. Was his accuracy harmed by filing off the sight? No, since gunfighters never used the front sight of their revolvers anyway. They never had the time.

Of significance here is that Dade had noticed the drag at all. Only a professional gunfighter, or a man with the instincts of a gunfighter, would be sensitive to such a small part of the game.

Saturday arrived. Dade showed up at the cattle pens half an hour before sunrise. Already a crowd had started to gather. Cattlemen, merchants, Indians, Mexicans, women, children--the rich and the poor of Dodge City were milling about. It appeared that everyone in town had come to see the shootout, and nearly all the men had bet money on either SomeCat or Dade Foster. Most of the betting favored SomeCat.

SomeCat was waiting with a couple of friends by the cattle pens, watching for Dade's horse in the dim, early morning light. He saw Dade come up. He walked with a bow-legged, swaggering gait over to where Dade was tethering his horse. He said, "Might as well hand thet hoss over to a frien' right now, Dirtytrick. You won't be needin' 'im no more."

Dade checked the half-hitch with a tug and turned. "Tell you what, Somecat. You stretch me out today, why, I'm more'n obliged that you yourself should have this beautiful horse. 'Course, there ain't no chance o' that happenin'. I'll be ridin' this roan home."

SomeCat said, "We'll soon see, won't we?" He turned and went back to his friends.

A yellow light gradually climbed into the eastern sky, and a buzz of excitement spread through the crowd that had gathered at the Santa Fe pens. In another twenty minutes the rim of the sun made its first appearance over the low hills.

"Foster!"

The buzzing stopped abruptly and a waiting silence fell over the crowd.

SomeCat had moved away from the pens and out into the open field. He was standing now, watchful, with his legs apart and his hat pushed back on his head.

"I'm gonna lead ya a purty dance, Dirtytrick. Come on!"

Dade gave a hitch to his belt and moved at an angle toward SomeCat. This was necessary to keep his horse out of the line of fire. A tomb-like silence hung over the field.

Dade stopped about fifteen paces from SomeCat. Neither man spoke. Finally Dade said in a soft, almost casually disinterested voice, "Let's see your cards, tough guy."

This rattled SomeCat. Tough guy--said of him in such a careless and indifferent way. For once he felt a touch of doubt and perhaps a little fear. He stiffened and his eyes widened as he drew his revolver and fired. Dade made his move as soon as he saw SomeCat's reaction, and although his draw was good and his shot was clean, he knew he was a trifle late.

Both men stood. For a time the crowd thought that both of them had missed their shots, but then SomeCat's gun suddenly dropped from his hand and he fell heavily onto his knees. "Damn you, Foster! I'll . . ." He pitched forward.

The barking of dogs startled by the gunfire, a stirring of human activity and a swelling hum of voices--the volume moving rapidly toward shouts and shrill, excited exclamations--marked the end of the face-off. Dade walked to his horse. He was about to swing into the saddle when someone tapped him on the shoulder. It was the marshal.

"Son," he said in a mournful voice, "I jes' lost five dollars on thet there drawdown. Thought SomeCat was better'n that. But I swear, that was a pretty good show on yer part. You got talent an' sand, an' I kin use a man like you. How's deppity marshal o' Dodge City sound? Pays twenty-five dollers a month, an' you kin sleep in the jail."

Dade threw his leg across the horse's back. "Now that's a flatterin' offer, marshal," he said, "an' I thank you for it, but I got friends an' my job waitin' for me over in Texas. I tole 'em I'd be there."

The marshal persisted. "Rasselin' longhorns on the trail ain't your life no more, Dade. Killin' SomeCat has put a bullseye on yer back. Perfessional shooters an' cocky kids will be comin' at you from all directions. Like it er not, you're a gunslinger with a repetation. They'll all want to prove that they're better'n you. Suggest you come along an' work fer me, Dade, an' git on the right side o' the law a'fore the shootin' starts."

The roan was getting nervous and eager to move on. Dade reached down and put his hand on the marshal's shoulder and said, "You're a good man, marshal, an' that's good advice you're givin', but I got obligations over in Texas. I'll say one thing, though, a'fore I leave. I intend to practice handlin' guns 'til there's nobody faster'n me. If some slicker or looney thinks they can take a piece out o' my hide, I'll be ready for 'em. Don't care who they are. Tell 'em that fer me."

Dade clucked twice and slapped the reins he was holding against the horse's neck. The horse began a slow walk toward the trail on the other side of the pens. When Dade put spurs against the horse's flanks, the horse broke into a trot.

The marshal of Dodge City, looking after him, shook his head and sighed. He had seen men like this before. He had heard boasts like this before.

Part Three, The Lord's Protector »