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Walk Proud, Stand Tall
By Johnny D. Boggs
Dorchester PublishingCopyright © 2006 Johnny D. Boggs
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWell, Lin Garrett, you've come a long way. Stealing a horseless carriage to take some dude up to Mars Hill so you can buy crackers and a cup of coffee for supper.
A simple fact stopped him. Lin Garrett had no idea how to start the Chevrolet touring sedan parked at the depot-didn't even know it was a Chevrolet till the dude told him-let alone keep it going or stop it. He had hoped to find a jerky or mud wagon. Horses or mules, those he knew, but this black box with gold trim, decorated with red, white, and blue bunting and American flags-well, that was as foreign to him as the heavy-accented scientist and all his speechifying about the canals on Mars, spectrographs, and Percival Lowell.
"That's a fine-looking automobile," the dude said. "Bet it's a lot more comfortable on your backside than a saddle, too, eh, old-timer? How long have you had it? Can't be long, being a Classic Six. High-priced, too, for a taxicab. And all decked out for Lincoln's birthday. Or Washington's, maybe. That your idea, or the taxicab company's? No top, though, and cold as it is tonight ... you won't be charging me full fare for that inconvenience, I take it."
Lin Garrett grunted, about all this guy would let him get in. The man talked more than his pal Randolph Corbett, and Ol' Corb could fill volumes of absolutely nothing. Or maybe it was just Lin Garrett, never much for words. If fact, Holly Grant-no, she was Holly Mossman, now, had been for decades-had once told him: "Having a conversation with you, Lin, is like pulling teeth."
Impatient from the bite of the winter night, the dude gave Garrett an odd stare. Waiting for me to throw his luggage in the back, Garrett thought. Garrett glanced at the grip parked beside the man's Cordovan Congress shoes, the fanciest, blackest shoes he had ever seen, almost made Garrett ashamed of his fourteen-year-old, mud-stained boots.
His empty stomach knotted, making up his mind for him, and Garrett reached for the door, but hesitated. Stealing. He had hanged horse thieves himself. Of course, that had been in a different century. He wondered what sentence Arizona jurists pronounced on automobile thieves in this day and age. Not a rope, for sure, not with civilization's encroachment. Jail time, or the penitentiary. Prison, of course, had a few things in its favor. Three squares, a cot to sleep on, and not in that hell-hole down in Yuma, either, but the new pen they had opened a couple of years back in Florence. In prison, he might relive old days with pals, and enemies, men like Ollie Sinclair and Jude Kincaid, if they were still breathing. Only ... well ... it was still stealing. Garrett had never stolen anything in his life, excepting a few cows when he was sowing his oats, and in those days lots of honest men threw a wide loop, and a piece of peppermint candy back in Missouri when he was just a boy. His pa had left welts on his buttocks with a razor strop for that misdemeanor.
"Old man," the scientist said, no longer courteous. "It's twenty degrees out here. I'd like to get to the observatory before daylight. It's a perfect night for viewing, and Mister Lowell is expecting me."
Garrett swore underneath his breath, and jerked the bag. Pain shot up from deep in his back, his legs cramping, and he staggered, grimacing, steadying himself by grabbing the freezing metal of the Chevrolet's front door. The luggage wasn't heavy, especially for a man who had often carried forty-pound saddles without breaking a sweat, yet lifting it had hurt like blazes.
The dude just stared, and Garrett threw the suitcase into the back seat. It bounced off the leather and onto the floor, and the dude muttered more than a few complaints. Another mistake, throwing the grip like that. That had hurt even more, and he bent over, trying to catch his breath. He hated being old, hurting in places he never knew existed as a young man. When he looked up, the dude was staring toward the depot, probably hoping to find another hack to haul him over to Mars Hill.
Should have stayed on that train, Garrett thought.
Fact was, he wouldn't have jumped out of the boxcar had he known this was Flagstaff, would have kept riding west to California, but the other hobos didn't look friendly, and he figured it best not to push his luck with those tramps or some nightstick-wielding railroad dick.
He had leaped out when the locomotive had slowed, and a few minutes later had stumbled into the path of one Mr. Slipher, an Easterner who had come to study the planets using Mr. Lowell's observatory. Slipher didn't cotton to everything Professor Lowell espoused. For one, he didn't believe those alleged canals on Mars proved there had once been life on the red planet, wasn't even sure those canals existed, having never seen them himself, although he had savored Lowell's books and respected the man as a scientist and an astronomer, and certainly believed, as did Lowell, in Spencerian evolution. No, Mr. Slipher was more interested in the entire solar system, not just Mars, and using the Brashear spectrograph to observe spiral nebulae. Not only that, but Lowell's fascination with the theory of Planet X, a ninth planet, well, that intrigued Mr. Slipher, too.
It took Garrett all of about two minutes to decide that Mr. Slipher probably came from Mars, odd as that bird was.
Years ago, Garrett had met Percival Lowell, the Boston scientist who had built an observatory in Flagstaff back in 1894, to search for intelligent life on Mars using a twenty-four-inch Clark Telescope, whatever in blazes that was. Flagstaff had sure changed. So had Arizona. Criminy, so had the entire West. Folks piled off trains these days to see Grand Cañon National Monument. Forty years ago, even thirty, a body would have been hard pressed to find anything in this country other than Indians and sheepherders, and a journey to the massive hole in the ground carved by the Colorado River was one risky enterprise. Garrett wondered what the folks who had run that flag up a pine tree back in 1876 would think about this town-no, this city-now. There hadn't been a town on that Fourth of July, hadn't been anything except some Bostonians from the Arizona Colonization Company, Lin Garrett, Randolph Corbett, and Ollie Sinclair. The nearest town had been Prescott, and most of the Arizona Colonization Company quickly had given up on settling underneath the San Francisco Peaks and turned south for Prescott or went back East, defeated. Look at her now, though, Garrett thought. A railroad, newfangled taxicabs, brick buildings, hotels, lumber companies, and sprawling ranches barely spitting distance from the city limits, an observatory where scientists could spy on Mars, and omnibuses hauling tourists.
Flagstaff, Arizona Territory-no, a state, had been a state for almost a year now.
Then the slicker named Slipher had asked: "Did Percival Lowell send you?"
Garrett had shaken his head.
"Well, you drive a hack, correct? Of course, what else would you be doing at the depot after midnight? Didn't see you on the train. I mean, you can take me to Mars Hill. What's the charge? This is all the luggage I have. A dollar? Two?"
"Three dollars," Garrett had said, scarcely believing his lie.
"Three! What are you, some mercenary?"
"Tourists," Garrett had answered. "Driving the price of everything up in these parts."
"Three dollars! My word. Well, all right, my good man. I trust your hack is comfortable."
Comfortable? The metal door bit into Garrett's palm, but the cushioned leather seat did look pleasant enough, although he didn't like the smell, preferring leather and horseflesh over metal and oil. If he could just figure out how one got a Chevrolet to belch smoke and sputter to life. He had seen automobiles before, and recalled a fellow once turning a crank on the contraption. Not a Chevrolet Classic Six, though, but a Ford Model N. Garrett caught his breath and walked to the front of the sedan. Sure enough, a handle poked out of the metal between two circular headlamps. But did you just turn this thing-and, if so, which way-or did you first have to fiddle with the wheel, stick, and pedals up front?
Liars, his father had warned, always tripped up somewhere. Best thing for him to do would be tell Mr. Slipher that this was all some misunderstanding, a joke, and he most likely would find someone inside the depot to telephone a hack to cart him up to Mars Hill. Besides, newspaper ink-spillers would be overjoyed if they got wind of the story: Lin Garrett, former Coconino County sheriff, former Flagstaff and Prescott town marshal, legendary lawman, the man who captured Ollie Sinclair, the man who had killed the Yavapai Kid, arrested for stealing a horseless carriage.
If anyone remembered who Lin Garrett was.
He was seventy years old-seventy!-although he told most folks he had just turned sixty, and never had expected to reach fifty. He had lost about two inches in height and thirty pounds in weight, part of growing old. Only things to his name were the clothes and gear he wore, and a few cents in change, part of outliving one's time. The sleeves and collar of his coat were badly frayed, his underwear held together by a few threads and dirt, and his hat battered beyond recognition. His boots were well ventilated, too. He didn't even own a saddle. And he stank of boxcar straw and filth. It was a wonder the dude hadn't run away from him. Three bucks slicked off Mr. Slipher would mean a fortune. Food in his stomach. A new pair of socks. Then he'd hop another train, eastbound or west, Los Angeles or Kansas City, it did not matter to him. Not any more.
He put his hand on the crank.
The dude was still staring toward the depot, dimly lit by gas lamps, when Garrett pulled himself to his feet. "I ain't spitting on my life," he announced, but Mr. Slipher didn't move, didn't even blink.
At that moment, he heard them, saw the dude's face registering fear, and Garrett spun. Three men, about as pleasant-looking as the tramps in that boxcar, one holding a razor, another a broken piece of two-by-four. The third kept both hands in the pockets of his coat. All bearded, with eyes reflecting whiskey, violence, their breath frosty. For a brief moment, Garrett thought this trio might be protecting the Chevrolet, maybe one of them even owned it, but that had been a stupid notion. These ruffians, bundled up like old buffaloes, had about as much business in a Classic Six as did Lin Garrett.
Flagstaff hadn't changed that much after all, Garrett reconsidered. It had always been a bit woolly, attracting as many ne'er-do-wells as tourists and astronomers. People could get killed as easily in 1913 as they had back in 1883, for nothing more than a little hard money, a woman, or some senseless argument.
"What's in the suitcase, amigo?" the stick carrier said with a black-toothed grin.
"You and grandpa shouldn't be out this time of night." The smallest man let his razor flash. "Don't soil yourself, boy."
The third man said nothing.
Garrett stepped in front of Mr. Slipher.
"Grandpa," the first man said, "you gonna play the hero? It'll just get you hurt, or kilt."
"You call the tune," Garrett said, and pushed back his coat.
The shell belt and holster had been made for him by a saddle maker named Ghormley up in southwestern Colorado. Both belt and holster were older than any of the three thugs. Worn, comfortable, with a nice patina to the leather after all the years, the belt even had a money pouch, although Garrett hadn't carried enough cash or coin worth hiding in months, years. He had paid Ghormley a month's wages for the rig-Ol' Corb had accused Garrett of squandering-but he sure had gotten his money's worth. The revolver was even older, an Army Colt he had carried during the rebellion-"Your six-shooter is antiquated," a newspaper editor up in Cheyenne had informed him once, and that had been back in 1885-although he had made the concession of converting the cap-and-ball .44 to chamber brass cartridges. Garrett's right hand rested on the walnut grip, his thumb on the hammer.
"Look, Riggs," the razor man said with a snicker, "this codger thinks he's that Bronco Billy Anderson gyp from them flickers. Feature that."
Garrett knew of Bronco Billy Anderson, although he had never dropped a nickel to see one of those moving-picture shows. A few years back, he had gotten a letter from something called the Selig Polyscope Company about making a moving picture based on Garrett's life. Bronco Billy himself would play Marshal Lincoln Garrett, the toughest hombre in Arizona Territory. Garrett had tossed the letter away, unanswered.
He kept his eyes trained on the man with his hands hidden. This one was the one to watch. The other two were blow-hards, cowards.
"Uh ... gentlemen ... there's no need ..." Mr. Slipher began.
"Shut up," Garrett snapped. He had been wanting to tell the dude that for a spell.
The wind picked up, colder now, or maybe it was just Garrett's imagination. The three hardcases lost their smiles. The one with the two-by-four shuffled his feet. Razor glanced at Hidden Hands. Too cold for a Mexican standoff, Garrett decided.
Patience had passed him by. Garrett spoke evenly: "I'm filling my hand, and, once I do, I'll be killing. Skedaddle, or commence to fighting."
He didn't wait, either, palming the Colt, thumbing back the hammer, never taking his eyes off the man he assumed was Riggs, the tallest of the three. Riggs was stepping back-jerking a tiny Smith & Wesson from the right pocket-while his comrades turned tail and fled into the darkness. A horn blasted-so loud, it startled both Riggs and Garrett-had to be the dude, laying on that automobile's horn.
Annoying ... deafening.
Garrett leveled the Colt, squeezed the trigger, would have hit Riggs dead-center, but something smashed the back of his head-a fourth man? Maybe the Chevrolet's legitimate owner, or even Mr. Slipher?-and Garrett felt himself tumbling into the void. He heard one gunshot above the blaring, let his Colt slip from his fingers, and glimpsed the depot's warped pine planks rushing up to greet him.
Excerpted from Walk Proud, Stand Tall by Johnny D. Boggs Copyright © 2006 by Johnny D. Boggs. Excerpted by permission.
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