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Texas John Slaughter
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
John Horton Slaughter wore a grim, determined expression on his goateed face as he strode along the boardwalk toward the sounds of violence. People in his way hurriedly stepped aside.
They got out of Slaughter's way for two reasons: he was the sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona Territory, with the tin star pinned to his vest to prove it, and he carried a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun with a familiar ease that indicated he knew how to use it.
The shouted curses and crashes of furniture being thrown around came from Upton's Top-Notch Saloon and Gambling Establishment, a place that had been a thorn in Slaughter's side ever since he'd been elected sheriff a year or so earlier. The owner, Morris Upton, had come from back east somewhere and was a shady character as far as Slaughter was concerned.
Of course, at times he had also been considered a shady character — a rustler, even — by some folks, Slaughter reminded himself as he approached the saloon's bat-winged entrance. But that didn't make him feel any more sympathetic toward Morris Upton or the Easterner's rowdy saloon.
Today of all days, Slaughter thought angrily as he slapped the batwings aside and stepped into the saloon.
Peace didn't suddenly occur because of the sheriff's entrance. The brawl was too far advanced. At least two dozen men were wrestling, slugging, and trying to bash each other's brains out with broken table and chair legs.
Fortunately, no guns, knives, or broken bottles had come into play ... yet.
Slaughter stood just inside the door and solemnly regarded the melee in front of him. He wasn't a big man, but power seemed to radiate from his compactly built frame, anyway. He was in his forties, a time when many men began to slow down as the years caught up to them, but not John Slaughter. He was still a vital, energetic man.
He had Viola to thank for that, he had thought many times. A beautiful, passionate wife would keep any man young.
As Slaughter looked across the room, his gaze locked with that of Morris Upton, who stood behind the bar with both hands resting on the hardwood. Upton's lean, saturnine face, topped with a shock of iron-gray hair, was creased in a frown, but Slaughter thought he didn't really look that unhappy about the brawl.
In the saloon business, a bad reputation could actually be good for business. The cowboys from the big cattle spreads came into Tombstone looking for excitement, and the Top-Notch certainly gave them that.
Slaughter recognized cowboys from several different crews among the combatants. When the other hands on those ranches heard about what had happened, they would be eager to come to town and settle the score.
Before they got around to that, though, they would guzzle down gallons of Upton's liquor and lose plenty of money to his house gamblers. Then, after any ruckus that broke out, he would collect damages, too.
It was a good setup, as long as you didn't care whether anybody got hurt.
Slaughter lifted the sawed-off and pointed the weapon toward the ceiling, then decided not to play into Upton's hands by blowing a hole in it. He waited until one of the battling cowboys reeled within reach and slapped the twin barrels against the side of his head, knocking him to the floor. The cowboy lay there, momentarily stunned.
The cowboy's friend saw what had happened and charged Slaughter, either not noticing or not caring that the newcomer was a lawman. Slaughter rammed the shotgun's barrels into the man's belly. When the man doubled over in pain, Slaughter brought the weapon's stock around in a sharp blow that cracked against the man's jaw and put him on the floor, too.
Wading into the brawl, Slaughter knocked down men right and left, sometimes with the shotgun and sometimes with a well-placed fist. As he cut a path through the battling cowboys, some of them began to realize what was happening and drew back. They didn't want to wind up being tossed into Slaughter's jail.
As Slaughter neared the bar, he grabbed an overturned chair, dragged it with him, and used it to step up onto the bar. From that commanding position, he bellowed, "Hold it! The next man who throws a punch will do thirty days in the hoosegow!" His powerful voice cut across the hubbub in the big room.
Cowboys stopped fighting to turn and look up at the man standing on the bar.
Slaughter was an impressive sight, from his broad-brimmed, cream-colored hat to his expensive boots. He was a rich man, something many peace officers weren't, and always dressed well. He wore a gray tweed suit over a darker gray vest and white shirt, with a string tie around his neck. The suit went well with his dark hair and salt-and-pepper goatee.
In addition to the sawed-off shotgun, he carried a pearl-handled, Single Action Colt Army revolver holstered on his right hip. He was known to be fast on the draw, but he had even more of a reputation for deadly accuracy. When he fired his gun, he seldom missed, and everybody in Cochise County knew it.
"I'm glad you're here, Sheriff," Upton said. "Things were about to get out of hand."
Slaughter surveyed the damage in the saloon. "If they'd got any more out of hand, Upton, they would have pulled this place down around your ears."
"Oh, I doubt that would ever happen. Not with the sterling law enforcement we have here in Tombstone."
Slaughter managed not to snort in disgust, but it wasn't easy. Tombstone had a city marshal, but Slaughter and his deputies were the ones who really kept the peace most of the time. Upton knew that.
"I won't waste my time asking who started this," Slaughter told the sheepish cowboys who filled the saloon. "And I'm too busy today to drag anybody off to jail unless I have to. So clean up this mess and throw some money on the bar to pay for the damages. Then get out."
"What?" Upton exclaimed. "What do you mean by telling my customers to get out, Sheriff?"
Slaughter used the chair to climb down from the bar, then turned to Upton. "I mean just what I said. The Top-Notch is closed for the rest of the day ... pending an investigation of this disturbance."
"You ... you can't do that," Upton blustered.
"I'm the sheriff. I reckon I can."
"But that'll cost me ten times what the damages were!"
"That can't be helped. I'm sick and tired of having to come down here and break up these fights, especially when I have better things to do."
And today was a day when he had much better things to do, he thought.
"All right, Sheriff," Upton said, his voice curt.
Slaughter knew he had made an enemy out of the saloonkeeper, but he didn't care. He and Upton hadn't been friends to start with, and that would never change.
Slaughter stood there while the cowboys shuffled around, set up the overturned chairs and tables, and coughed up the damage money. Then they all filed out of the saloon with gloomy expressions on their faces.
Upton wasn't the only one who seemed sorry to see them go. The frock-coated house gamblers and the girls in spangled dresses who served drinks and took customers upstairs glared at Slaughter, too.
When the saloon was empty of patrons, Slaughter told Upton, "This place will be closed down again every time a brawl breaks out in here."
"You can't hold me responsible for what my customers do," Upton insisted. "It's just not fair."
"Fair or not, that's the way things are going to be from now on." Slaughter tucked the scattergun under his arm and stalked out of the saloon before Upton could argue more.
He paused on the boardwalk outside and took his watch from his pocket. When he flipped it open, he saw that the time was almost three o'clock. Dealing with this trouble had caused him to cut it a little close, but he wasn't too late.
He walked toward the hotel where he lived when he was in town, which was most of the time, rather than on his ranch in the San Bernardino valley some sixty miles east of Tombstone. As he approached the hotel he saw a buggy rolling along the street from the opposite direction, trailed by half a dozen cowboys on horseback. A riderless saddle horse was tied on the back of the vehicle.
The buggy's driver, a young man with a shock of fair hair under his pushed-back hat, brought it to a stop in front of the hotel. He hopped down and turned back to help his female passenger climb out of the buggy.
She wore a dark blue gown that managed to look elegant despite the thin, unavoidable layer of trail dust on it. Her figure was elegant as well, slender but curved in all the right places.
Her thick raven hair was piled atop her head in an elaborate arrangement of waves and curls, but several strands of it had escaped from their confinement and hung on the sides of her exotically attractive, olive-skinned face. As she turned to face Slaughter, he thought those loose strands of hair made her even more lovely.
Slaughter tossed the shotgun to the grinning youngster who had driven the buggy into town. The young man caught it deftly. A deputy's badge gleamed on the breast of his bib-front shirt.
As he held out his hands to the woman, Slaughter said, "Viola, I swear you look more beautiful every time I see you."
"Don't waste your time with flattery, Texas John," she told him as she took his hands. "I think you can put that silver-tongued mouth of yours to better use."
"I never argue with a lady." Slaughter drew her closer to him and kissed her. He drew back just long enough to add, "Especially my wife," then brought his lips down on hers again.CHAPTER 2
John Slaughter was born in Louisiana, but raised in Texas. As he drifted west following the war and his first wife's death, first to New Mexico then on to Arizona, somewhere along the way he had picked up the nickname Texas John.
His personality was a bit reserved by nature, but he tolerated the name. However, he generally took offense if anybody called him "Tex."
His dear wife, however, could call him anything she wanted. Considerably younger than him, vibrant, beautiful, able to ride and shoot as well as most men and better than some, Viola Howell Slaughter was a true daughter of the West.
He had met her in New Mexico Territory while her father was driving a herd of cattle to Arizona. Their courtship had been a fiery, volatile one that met with some disapproval from her family because of their difference in age, but when it became obvious that John and Viola were madly in love with each other, their marriage was inevitable.
In the years since, they had worked side by side to establish Slaughter Ranch in the sage-covered San Bernardino Valley, and it was one of the most prosperous spreads in the territory. Viola loved the ranch so much she had been unwilling to move to Tombstone with Slaughter when he was elected sheriff, but she visited often.
The two of them sat in the hotel dining room, drinking coffee. The young, fair-haired deputy, who happened to be Viola's younger brother Stonewall Jackson Howell, came into the room, looked around, spotted the couple, and weaved his way around the tables toward them.
"Got the buggy put up, Sheriff," Stonewall reported as he took off his hat and held it in front of him. Despite the fact that Slaughter was his brother-in-law, Stonewall always treated him with respect. Slaughter was also his boss, and Stonewall wasn't likely to forget that.
"I appreciate it," Slaughter said. "And I appreciate you going out to the ranch to fetch Viola in, too. Such errands don't really fall within the scope of your duties as a deputy, after all."
"Shoot, I don't mind." Stonewall grinned. "It was a pretty day. I was glad for the excuse to get out of town." His expression sobered as he continued. "Heard that I missed another dustup in the Top-Notch, though."
"Morris Upton's place?" Viola asked with a frown. "He's been causing trouble for you ever since he came to Tombstone, hasn't he? You didn't tell me about the problem today, John."
Slaughter waved a hand. "There was nothing to tell, really. Just a bunch of cowboys beating on each other. I reasoned with them."
Stonewall said, "Reasoned with 'em by bendin' your shotgun barrels over a few heads, the way I hear it."
"Idle gossip always makes events sound more sensational than they really were," Slaughter snapped.
"Sure, Sheriff," Stonewall said. "Reckon I best get back over to the courthouse and see if Burt's got anything for me to do."
"That would be a good idea," Slaughter said dryly. "Your sister is staying for several days, so you won't have to take her back to the ranch for a while."
Stonewall put his hat on. "So long, Viola." He turned and left the dining room.
Viola sipped her coffee, then carefully placed the cup on its saucer. "Really, John, I don't know why you waste Stonewall's time sending him out to the ranch for me like that. I'm perfectly capable of coming into town on my own. I'd bring some of the hands with me like we did today, just in case of trouble."
"I know that. But I also know you're capable of getting it into your head that you could slap a saddle on a horse and ride all that way on your own."
"I'd be perfectly fine if I did. Or have you forgotten how well I can shoot?"
Slaughter wasn't likely to forget that. He had seen plenty of evidence of her gun-handling skills in the past.
"I know you can take care of yourself," he said gruffly, "but this part of the territory is still too wild for a woman to be traipsing around by herself, even one as competent as you, my dear. There are still renegade Apaches up in the mountains and gangs of rustlers roaming around, not to mention road agents who would be on the lookout for such a tempting target as yourself. No, I'll feel much better about your visits if you continue letting Stonewall or me fetch you whenever you want to come to town."
"What if he's gone sometime and you need all your deputies here?"
"I'll just have to make do."
"There's no point in arguing with you, is there?"
Slaughter smiled. "On this issue, very little."
They put that aside and talked for a while about what was going on at the ranch. So far, they hadn't been blessed with any children of their own, and he suspected that they wouldn't be.
However, they had taken in numerous foster children — white, Mexican, and Indian — and that meant the big adobe ranch house usually rang with laughter and young voices. Slaughter missed that pleasant hullabaloo as much as anything else about ranch life when he was in town.
Well ... almost as much as anything else, he mused as he looked across the table at his young wife.
He was about to suggest that they adjourn to his suite upstairs when he heard a commotion out in the street. Someone rode past the hotel shouting something, but he couldn't make out what it was.
Viola heard the racket, too. "Do you need to go see what that's about?"
"If it's trouble that I need to tend to, someone will come looking for me." He decided that it might be wise to postpone his plans for a few minutes, just in case.
Sure enough, less than ten minutes had gone by when Burt Alvord appeared in the arched entrance to the dining room.
Only twenty years old, which made him a few years younger than Stonewall, Burt was nevertheless Slaughter's chief deputy because of his tracking ability and his utter fearlessness in the face of danger. He was already half bald and wore a neatly trimmed mustache, which made him look older than he really was.
Slaughter could tell from the concerned expression on Burt's face that the deputy was looking for him. He stood up and picked up his hat from the table. "I'll see you later, my dear."
Viola got to her feet as well. "If you think I'm going to let you run off without finding out what this is about, Texas John, you'd better think again."
Slaughter didn't want to take the time to argue with her, so he just crossed the dining room with her in tow. "Is it safe out there, Burt?"
"Oh, yeah. There's no trouble, Sheriff, just some big news I thought you ought to know about."
"Then by all means, let's go hear the news."
Slaughter took Viola's arm, and they followed Burt out of the hotel. A large crowd had gathered down the street in front of the assay office.
In recent years that office hadn't gotten as much work as it once had, back in the boomtown days of the Earps and the Clantons, roughly half a decade earlier. The silver deposits in the mountain ranges around Tombstone had begun to play out. If all the mines ever shut down, Tombstone could well wind up a ghost town, although there were enough ranches in the area that it might hang on to existence as a supply center for those spreads.
At the moment, some of the old excitement seemed to be back. Many of the townspeople and some cowboys who happened to be in the settlement listened avidly as a man unknown to Slaughter stood on the boardwalk in front of the assay office talking. "It's one of the biggest veins I've ever seen, I tell you. High-grade silver ore, too, enough of it to make everybody in this corner of Arizona rich!"
Excerpted from Texas John Slaughter by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2014 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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