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When Wyatt Earp and his brothers left Dodge City, they left the job of keeping the peace to young Bat Masterson. But a lawman's badge is little more than a target in this rough, wide-open frontier town where, for every citizen who abides by the law, there are two who want to tear it apart. And nearly every stranger who rides in is offered a handsome fee to put a bullet between a lawman's eyes. Teddy Blue's come for a different reason. The Pinkerton agent has ...
When Wyatt Earp and his brothers left Dodge City, they left the job of keeping the peace to young Bat Masterson. But a lawman's badge is little more than a target in this rough, wide-open frontier town where, for every citizen who abides by the law, there are two who want to tear it apart. And nearly every stranger who rides in is offered a handsome fee to put a bullet between a lawman's eyes. Teddy Blue's come for a different reason. The Pinkerton agent has built a reputation as a useful man with a gun, having already saved the famous skins of Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok. But keeping Masterson breathing could prove to be the most difficult assignment of all. Because there's nowhere to turn for help in Dodge; it's just Bat and Blue against pretty much the whole damn town. . . with the killers lining up to take their shots.
They had been almost a year down in that country.
John Sears had wanted to cross the Rio Grande into old Mexico as soon as Teddy Blue busted him out of the jail in Las Vegas.
"Even Hoodoo Brown wouldn't have the cajones to come looking for us down there," John had said. But Teddy had made a commitment to his boss, George Bangs, the director of Pinkerton's Detective Agency, in agreeing to go meet with Colonel Cody, and so that's what they did. And once that matter had been taken care of, Teddy rode with John down across the border and found the little village of Refugio, where they were presently.
The first of the letters that arrived was written in pencil on butcher's paper.
Ma's dead. She wanted you to know. She died right after you were here. Married Antrim, then died. I guess he didn't do her no good like she thought. She said your name in her last hour. I guess that's about all I have to say. She wanted you to know so I promised her I'd write and tell you. Hope you get this. Antrim cries big tears. So what?
Wm. H. Bonney.
The letter had a dollar's worth of postage and was mailed originally to Teddy's address in Chicago. His mother had forwarded it with the others and included a note of her own praying that he was well.
John was tossing a stick so the little dog would chase it and bring it to him. They'd been sitting in the shade of an adobe when the letters arrived. Old man named Ortega rode a mule to deliver the mail every day like clockwork if there was any. Most days there wasn't any. They'd been down in Juarez since before Christmas, had taken their pay from Cody's hunting trip to sustain them an easy life. Had crossed the Rio Grande without getting their feet wet and kept riding. Refugio seemed the right sort of place for men like them who didn't want to be found.
"What is it, old son?" John said when he caught the look on his young partner's face after having read the letter.
Teddy held the letter a second, then let the wind take it. He and John watched it fly like a drunken butterfly until it snagged on the upper branches of a mimosa tree.
"You want some of this tequila?" John said, nodding toward an olla by his feet.
Teddy reached out for the jar and John handed it to him then took a sip himself when Teddy handed it back.
They'd raised beards and let their hair grow long and wore serapes and couldn't hardly be told from the natives, with their sun-browned faces and how they spoke the local lingo.
"Bad news?" John said.
"About as bad as it gets."
John passed him back the olla then rolled himself a shuck and smoked it.
"You want to talk about it?"
"It's the woman I went to see in Silver City," Teddy said. "Kathleen Bonney."
"Lung fever as I recall. She die?"
"I'm sorry as hell to hear of it."
The little dog worried John with the retrieved stick until John worked it loose from the hound's jaws and flung it again. He liked watching smart dogs just like he enjoyed watching a good horse or a beautiful woman or clean white clouds in a glass blue sky.
John looked at the other letters Teddy hadn't yet opened, weighted by a rock. He didn't say anything. The sky was hot-metal white that time of day—the siesta hour. The air buzzed with flies. A community well stood just up the street from where the two men sat. They'd spent the last hour sitting in the shade and watching the comings and goings of the locals to that well: women mostly, drawing up buckets of water and filling clay jugs.
"I've been thinking of going north again," Teddy said.
"Because of her?"
"It's too late for me to do anything for her. I was thinking about going north before today."
A boy came down the dusty street leading a burro loaded down with ocotillo sticks. The boy looked at them, at the olla they passed between them, his face dark as saddle leather, hair black as crow feathers. His name was Chico something and he worked for the priest doing odd jobs. Some said he was really the priest's own child, that the mother had died during birth -- God's retribution for the padre's sins. Who was to say what was true, what wasn't?
John said, "That kid reminds me of me when I was his age -- dirt poor and aimless."
"You made any plans yet?" Teddy asked.
"Me? Just to stay alive and out of jail, I reckon is all."
"You think you'll ever get over it, what happened in Las Vegas?"
John thought about the shooting, the way he'd come home to find his woman with the other man. John told himself a thousand times if he hadn't been drinking he wouldn't have pulled his pistol and let blind anger wash away all his reason and the woman would not be dead. He never meant for it to come out bad. The worst part was the man had lived. The man became a witness against him in the trial. He still remembered how that fel-low smirked a little when he told his side of the story.
"No," John said. "I never will get over something like that, I don't reckon."
The days had been as lazy as the Rio Grande itself. They'd subsisted on frijoles and fry bread, a little pork now and then, sometimes wild turkeys they'd shoot out in the chaparral ...Law for Hire: Saving Masterson. Copyright © by Bill Brooks. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted September 5, 2010
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Posted February 16, 2011
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