THE OTHER GUNFIGHT - PART ONE
I tried to ignore the smell of horse dung as I rode down the hard packed dirt road the people of Tombstone, Arizona had named Allen. But despite the breeze, the stench was hard to avoid. The air was thick with it. It clung to everything like a swarm of ants on a sugar cube and I began to taste it with each breath. Even my horse – who by happenstance was also named Allen – wrinkled his nose in disgust at the reek that lingered in the air around us.
I stopped Allen at the nearest saloon, Hafford’s, hoping the taste of whiskey might make up for the stink of horse crap. I left Allen untied at the hitching rail. Allen didn’t need to be tied up; he loved me too much to go running off.
Tombstone was supposed to be booming, and it certainly seemed to be, but as I strode into the saloon, I found that it was all but empty, apart from me and the barkeep. The barkeep was too busy wiping down the top of the bar with a white rag to pay much attention to my entrance.
“How do?” I said to the barkeep, touching the brim of my hat as I cozied up to the bar.
I didn’t need to worry about him recognizing me. I’d aged a bit, and grown a beard. Besides, once I’d died they’d stopped writing about me.
“What’ll it be?” the barkeep said.
He was an older gentleman, gray and stooped. What little hair he had left on his head had gathered mostly around the ears, leaving the sun to bounce gentle beams of light from off of his bald pate. The rest had long since migrated to find a new home among his eyebrows and mustache, which left his face just a nose and chin that stuck out through a forest of gray.
“Whisky,” I said, slapping three large coins down onto the worn but clean bar top. “The good stuff, not the watered down piss you give your regulars.”
I’d never been in this particular saloon before in my life, but I’ve been in plenty, and if there’s one thing I know it’s that everyone one of them keeps two types of whisky behind the bar. The whisky they’ve watered down and the whisky that they have not. The former they serve to the endless mob of regulars who come in each night – miners, cow hands, teamsters, and such. The latter they keep on hand for those who were willing to pay a little extra for a bit of the real thing.
Folks like me.
He gave me what I figured was meant to be a hard glare – though I couldn’t rightly tell through the eyebrows – and set aside the white rag long enough to bang a shot glass down in front of me. He filled the glass with whisky from an old, dusty bottle and went back to wiping down the bar.
I tilted back my head and threw the whisky down my throat in one quick gulp, grimacing in sick satisfaction as it burned all the way down my gullet.
“That’s some mighty fine whisky,” I said. “I’ll take the bottle,” I slid a couple of folded bills across the bar top. “And some information.”
“What kind of information’re you looking for?” the bartender said, setting the bottle down in front of me.
I snatched the bottle and pulled out the cork with an audible squeak and pop.
“I’m looking for a man,” I said. There was no reason to lie. “Goes by the name of Billy Clanton.”
“He’s one of them cowboys,” he said, spitting out the last word like an insult. “What business you got with him?”
“My business is my own.”
“Well he ain’t here,” the bartender said. “And today might not be a good day to go looking for him either.”
“He comes in here though?” I said.
“Sure. From time to time.”
“I got nowhere to be for now,” I said. I pulled my pocket watched and checked the time. I had less than thirty minutes. “I’ll wait.”
“Suit yourself,” he said. Then he went back to wiping down the bar top.
I took the glass and the bottle and found a table near the back. I took a seat and was pouring myself another glass when a man walked into the saloon. He was dressed in black and had a kind of presence about him that made you sit up and take notice.
He wore a gun on his hip. It wasn’t uncommon to see a man go about heeled, but Tombstone had rule about carrying firearms within city limits. I knew this little fact because I saw the sign as I rode in, and like the law abiding fella that I am, I went straight to the local constabulary to hand over my guns. Not all of them, mind you. I had a little something special nestled in the small of my back. Like I said, I’m a law abiding fella, but I also had a job to do.
The big fella in black however, he wore his gun in plain sight. And I didn’t see a badge on his chest.
I knew who he was the moment he walked through the door. Even if I hadn’t recognized him, I’d been briefed in full.
The man gave me a long and considering look. I nodded to him, and he nodded right back. He dismissed me and pulled out a chair at the nearest table. He didn't sit right away. He placed the gun on the table, the heavy revolver making a low clunking sound as connected with the wood. Then he sat, his pistol within easy reach.
“Your usual, Wyatt?” the bartender asked.
“Mm,” was the man’s only reply.
The man, Wyatt, sat to the side of the table and kicked his booted feet up onto a chair across from him and looked out into the street beyond the double batwing doors.
The bartender bustled around the bar with a coffee in a delicate cup and saucer and placed them on the table next to the pistol.
“Thanks, Clem,” Wyatt said. “How about one of them cigars?” He pronounced it ‘see-gars’.
“Sure Wyatt,” the bartended said, and fetched him one.
“Is there gonna be a fight, Wyatt?” Clem asked.
“I'm afraid there must be,” Wyatt said, and then lit his cigar with a wooden match.
Clem took a step away, hesitated for a moment, then turned back to Wyatt who puffed stoically away.
“Do you need any help?”
“No thanks, Clem,” Wyatt said with a slight smile.
I tried not to smile.
Of course there was going to be a fight. They’d be talking about it for the next century and a half. But that wasn’t why I was here.
A fight was going to happen, sure enough. People were going to die.
My job was to make sure that the the right people died.
To be continued . . .