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By Brian Garfield
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1970 Brian Garfield
All rights reserved.
Ten minutes before the train arrived, a rider, cutting it fine, skewed his horse to a halt in piercing lemon sunlight at the crossroads store at Mountain View Junction. He could see the approaching Espee train straining up the long grade from Benson, where the Tombstone road made connections with the Southern Pacific. From this high point on the desert the weather-beaten plain dropped away in all directions except southwest, where brush-studded foothills staircased up toward the barren, dry range of mountains.
The rider had taken three hours to get here from Tucson; his horse was covered with a caked foam of lather and dust, evidence of hurry.
He dismounted, tossed one rein over the trading post's hitch rail, and loosened the single-rig cinch before he climbed three splintered steps to the porch. By that time the storekeeper had come to the door—a squat Mexican tradesman with too much belly and the cheekbones of a Yaqui.
The storekeeper said, "Bad to ride out a horse like that. Might get him windbroke."
"I got to meet that train, Miguel. They gonna stop here to take on water?"
"Always do," said Miguel. "It's a thirsty grade up to here from Benson. How you been, Kelly? Ain't seen you since that fuckup down to the OK Corral—when was that, before Christmas?"
"October. You got any cold beer?"
"No. I got a lot of warm beer. Where'm I gonna get ice this time of year?"
"I was just asking," Kelly said, but he did not turn to go inside. The train was within three miles, throwing back a rich plume of smoke. He could hear the rumble, or perhaps he was feeling it with his feet.
Miguel grunted and moved inside momentarily, walking with the slow care of a fat man who knows enough to conserve his sweat on a hot spring Arizona day. Kelly picked at his flannel shirt, pulling it away from the places where it stuck to him, turning his face advantageously into the tepid breeze, watching the train out of the corners of his eyes. He was a freckled, skinny man with a big Adam's apple, a bowler hat on his head, and a Wells Fargo badge sagging from his shirt. He was thinking it was a damn stupid-ass thing to do, riding that hard in this heat just to bring word to the Earps on the train. He didn't care much one way or the other about the Earps. But two of them—Wyatt and Virgil—had worked for Wells Fargo, and the dispatcher had reckoned Wells Fargo owed the Earps fair warning. Which meant somebody had to reach them before the train got to Tucson. Kelly wasn't brimming with enthusiasm; it wasn't as if the Earps were still working for Wells Fargo. That had been a while ago; since then, the Earps had had other things to do. Like running the whorehouse district in Tombstone, for instance. All the Earps, particularly Wyatt, were very big on whorehouses and gambling concessions, and of course politics, since one went hand in hand with the other.
Kelly took a wadded plaid handkerchief out of his hip pocket, removed his bowler hat, and wiped his face and ears and the back of his neck. Only late spring—what was summer going to be like?
Maybe reading his mind, the storekeeper spoke behind him, startling him: "Hot enough for you?"
Kelly turned. Miguel stood in the doorway shade, a clay mug in either fist. The fat brown hand proffered one of them; Kelly crossed the porch with two strides, took the mug, and swallowed half the beer from it. With foam on his lips he said, "You were right. Beer's warm."
"Ain't no place south of the Mogollon that ain't hot."
"Why do any of us stay in this miserable country?"
"Beats shit out of me," said Miguel.
Kelly squinted westward. The sun would be setting in a half hour or so; night would bring some relief. It occurred to him he hadn't stopped to pick up his jacket. It would be a cool ride back to Tucson. Of course he could ride the train, but then he'd just have to come back later for the horse.
The train was a quarter mile down the tracks, slowing. Miguel said, "Funeral party's on that train, you know. The whole Earp gang."
"I know. What car they in?"
"Probably the express—they're carrying the casket."
"Sure." Kelly handed the empty mug to him and walked out to the edge of the porch. The high- stacked woodburning locomotive chuffed and clattered; he winced against the piercing steel shriek of wheel brakes; the engine slid past and rumbled expertly to a halt right under the long spigot of the high wooden water tank.
Kelly dropped off the porch and dogtrotted back past the eight freight cars to the express. The sliding door stood part-way open against the heat; a pretty young man in a dandy black suit stood in the opening, his face cindered. Kelly didn't recognize him but there was a faint clannish resemblance to Wyatt and Virgil Earp in the high, handsome features and the dark-blond hair. One of the Eastern Earp brothers, maybe—God knew how many brothers there were altogether.
Kelly stopped, smelling his own sweat, and said, "I got an important message for Wyatt."
"Yeah? Who're you?"
"Kelly, Wells Fargo. He's seen me around."
Someone inside spoke a muffled question; the young man in the doorway turned his head and spoke inside: "Wells Fargo fellow name of Kelly says he's got a message for you."
After a moment the youth stepped back into shadows and the doorway filled with a new shape, older and bigger. Kelly recognized right away the tawny mustache, the illuminated gray-blue eyes, the jut jaw and wide shoulders.
"You ride all the way down here from Tucson?" Wyatt Earp was dressed in black.
"I assume it's important, then. Hell of a hot day for riding. On a horse or a train."
"Yeah, I guess," said Kelly, resenting the way he felt so grimy and uncomfortable in Earp's presence. He puts his pants on the same way I do. But there was no denying the presence. What the Mexicans called machismo. Son of a bitch or not, Wyatt Earp was man-sized.
"All right, Kelly," Earp said mildly, "you said you had a message for me."
The lapse startled Kelly; when he swallowed, his big Adam's apple slid up and down. "About Frank Stillwell. The one you said killed your brother Morgan."
Earp's face hardened. "What about him?"
"Stillwell says he wasn't even in Tombstone that night. Says he had nothing to do with it."
"And you rode all the way down here to tell me that?"
"No. I rode all the way down here because my boss told me to get word to you that Stillwell's waiting for you."
Earp's jaw clicked. "Where?"
"Tucson. In the railroad yards where this train stops to couple on the cross-country coaches. Stillwells got a rifle and two handguns and he's been talking around town how he wants to see you tell him to his face that he bushwhacked your brother."
"I'll tell him," Wyatt Earp murmured. "If that's what he wants to hear, that's what I'll tell him."
Earp wasn't smiling. As far as Kelly could see, he wasn't armed. There were no bulges in the tailored black suit. Earp pulled one side of the coat back to dip his fingers into the side-belly pocket of his buttoned black vest; he took out something that glittered and tossed it down. Kelly almost missed his catch. It threw him off balance but he caught it.
Wyatt Earp said, "Thanks for letting me know, Kelly."
The woodburner engine hooted and Kelly heard the big driving wheels start to scrape. There was a series of loud bangs as the between-car couplings stretched. The express car started up with a jerk but Wyatt Earp kept his stance, balanced and easy, not using his hands, The train pulled forward and Kelly stood in the noise, looking down at the object in his palm. It was a twenty-dollar gold piece.
"Half my month's wages," he said aloud to himself. When he looked up at the express car receding in the middle of the train, he felt inarticulate anger well up in him. The caboose went by and he hollered: "Screw you!"
Warren Earp could, see that Wyatt had forgotten all about Kelly before he even turned out of the doorway and walked back to his place by the casket. In Wyatt's book there were people worth knowing and people not worth knowing; and by tossing the double eagle to Kelly, Wyatt had forgotten him. Warren, who had been studying his brother to learn how to act, had already learned how to overtip common people for small favors, but he did think this time Wyatt had been too extravagant. Twenty dollars was a goddamn lot of money.
When Wyatt vacated the doorway, Warren moved back into it. The express car was so damn hot he thought if he didn't stand in the wind he'd die—especially in this stinking black suit. Maybe it just took time to get used to the heat, but it was hard to understand how the hell the rest of them took it so stoicly—all except Josie, who had been complaining ever since they got on the train.
The wind carried ashes back from the smokestack. Warren breathed deeply of the smoke and watched the desert churn past, creosote and crabby cactus and tall, man shaped saguaros riding by in the elongated evening shadow of the train. Everything was powder dry. He turned his face and shifted his gaze inside. The windows were small and dusty; the light inside was bad. Wyatt stood, swaying a little with the lurch of the train, brooding down at the coffin in front of him, obviously knowing the others were anxious to know what the message had been, obviously not caring how long he kept them waiting. Wyatt was watching the casket as if he was waiting for something. Waiting for Morg to start banging on the inside of the box and yelling to get out, Warren thought with a sudden fearful, crazy impulse.
The rest of them were watching Wyatt. They were all afraid to speak, all except Holliday, who evidently didn't have anything he felt like saying at the moment. Holliday wasn't scared of anybody; he didn't care about, anything, even his own life, enough to be scared. Holliday was a shrunken little man with a lopsided face, sick-looking eyes, tiny broken blood vessels in his nose that made it look purple. Back East, Warren had read a dime novel about him, and now meeting him he had been shocked. This Doc Holliday was a dour little man with the mannerisms of a rag- picking tramp, a twisted, humorless being whose thick Georgia drawl was pitched on an incongruously thin, high voice.
Right now Holliday sat on the floor with his back to the car side, drinking from a bottle, playing cards with the three ruffians whom Wyatt in his expansiveness had invited to accompany the funeral party as far as the New Mexico line, where Texas Jack and his two unsavory friends would leave the train and go about their dubious business. The three ruffians had helped Wyatt catch the man named Cruz, the one Wyatt had killed last week.
The railroad had given them the entire express car as a favor to Wyatt and Virgil, who—according to the dime novels Warren had read—had caught several bands of train robbers. The other night Holliday, drunker than usual, had confided in Warren: "Don't believe the lies you read in that yellow trash, sonny. Wyatt and Virg have got plenty of powerful friends in politics and that's, how they arranged for the private car. None of us ever stopped any train robberies." Then, laughing sourly: "Quite the reverse." But Holliday was a habitual liar. It was impossible to know what to believe. The only sure and certain thing in all the confusion was Wyatt's rock-hard assurance.
They were all Westerners except Warren; it was as if they all knew some secret he hadn't yet learned. A few weeks ago he had still been pushing a plow back in Ohio, but then the telegram had come. Morgan Earp had been killed—from ambush, by three shotguns. The folks were too old to go West themselves; they had sent Warren to Arizona because somebody had to represent the home family at the funeral. He came all the way, and arrived to discover that his brothers had decided to ship the body back to Ohio for burial in the family plot. And here he was, back on a train, headed East.
Across the car, half hidden by the casket, Virgil Earp stood with his good shoulder braced against the wall. Virgil was the calm one. Morgan had been carefree; Virgil was level-headed; Wyatt—he was just Wyatt, too big to pin a label on. Warren thought, Where do I fit? Because he was damned if he'd go back to the farm now.
Virgil was over there talking to Josie, Wyatt's wife. It was hard to tell if she was paying attention. Josie had a little hand mirror; she was fixing her hair with hand-pats, watching herself in the mirror. Evidently she never tired of looking at herself. Not that she wasn't worth looking at. She was a medium-tall girl with dark cherry-red hair and golden skin, a wide, full mouth and a pointed nose that gave her, with her large brown eyes, a quizzical, pretty look. She had a dancer's hard, slim body—long legs, tiny waist, bouncy, pointy breasts. She had been a dancer-actress with a traveling troupe of players when Wyatt had met her a year or so ago. Josephine something or other; now she called herself Josie Earp, but Warren had heard they weren't really married. "Common-law wife," Holliday had called her in one of his caustic tirades. Whatever that meant, it had been enough to drive Josie out of the room in tears, real or faked. According to Holliday, who seemed to be the self-appointed clan gossip, Josie was the errant daughter of a wealthy San Francisco family who had run off with the acting troupe in rebellion after her parents had arranged her engagement to a boy she loathed. Warren had no idea whether that was true, but it did seem in character. Josie was as untamed as the rest of the Earp clan, in her way: she did as she pleased. She liked to shock people; she had a provocative, sexy walk; when she got bored she was likely to do just about anything for amusement. It didn't seem to bother Wyatt. He just laughed at her in his lusty way.
Now Virg said something to Josie—Warren didn't hear what it was—and Josie stiffened and said, very loudly, "Horse shit," and turned to walk away. Warren watched her buttocks as she walked. She went past the end of the casket and Wyatt reached out and gave her rump an affectionate slap. She went on to the far end of the car, knowing Wyatt was watching her: her awareness of his attention put an extra hip swing in her walk, put more of an arch in her back so that her breasts thrust out against the. fabric of her black dress.
She stopped at the far end and turned around. When she glanced at Virgil, her mouth was sucked in with a tight look of disapproval.
Wyatt said, "Something wrong with you?"
She shook her head mutely. Wyatt's leonine head turned toward Virgil. Virg, in his unhurried, unrufflable way, smiled slowly and said, "I asked her if she knew how to fry an egg."
Wyatt laughed. "She wouldn't know what to do with herself in a kitchen. Would you, girl?"
Josie said, "Horse shit. You tell them to quit picking on me."
Wyatt said, "Time you learned the difference between what's funnin' and what's serious. Now we'll talk about what's serious for a minute. Virg, Doc, pay attention. The message was that Frank Stillwell's waiting in the railroad yard at Tucson with a rifle and two belt guns."
Doc Holliday drawled, "Alone?"
Holliday nodded. "Yeah, who else would be left? You killed the other two."
Wyatt said, "He's the last of Morg's killers. Save me the trouble of looking for him."
Josie's face had changed. She said, "There's going to be trouble, then."
Wyatt had a tired, confident, masculine smile that worked slowly across his mouth. His heavy, deep voice was loose at the edges. He said: "Not for me, girl."
Holliday, without comment, had got to his feet. He was unbuckling the straps of a carpetbag; when he turned around he had a double-barreled shotgun. He walked over to Wyatt and handed him the gun. Wyatt broke it open, inspected the loads, and snapped it shut, setting both hammers on safety half cock.
Warren moved in away from the open doorway. "I wish to Christ somebody'd let me have a gun."
Holliday drawled, "What for, to shoot off your foot?"
"In my opinion I'm a pretty damn good shot:"
"Sonny, your brother isn't interested in your opinion."
"Nobody ever is." Warren grumbled. He went back to the door. His movements were graceful but self-conscious, in imitation of Wyatt: he carried himself like an open bottle.
Josie said, "Doc."
Holliday's glance shifted. "What?"
"Go shit in your hat," Josie said, and grinned.
Excerpted from Sliphammer by Brian Garfield. Copyright © 1970 Brian Garfield. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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