THE OTHER GUNFIGHT - CHAPTER THREE
I SAT FOR JUST a moment, taking another shot of whiskey, before following Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil out of the saloon, saddle bags thrown over one shoulder. At first, I couldn’t see where the three brothers had gone, but quickly found them standing in the middle of the street talking to a man who leaned on an ornate walking stick.
This new addition looked as if he’d just crawled out of bed and thrown his clothes on in haste. He dressed as the other three – black coat and pants over a white shirt and string tie – he just looked a bit more disheveled.
I edged closer.
“This isn’t your fight, Doc,” Wyatt was saying.
“That’s a hell of a thing for you to say to me, Wyatt,” the fourth man returned.
John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday.
The four were together. Now all that was left to do was let it all happen.
The whole town was buzzing with activity. The people of Tombstone knew that a fight was coming and they’d all come out to watch, which shouldn’t hinder me in the least. I had a good idea where to find the man I was looking for, and when I should be there.
I watched as a fifth man approached the four. I don’t recall the fella’s name, but this would be when the Earps and Holliday would learn that the cowboys had moved away from the O.K. Corral, and now loitered in the empty lot next to Fly’s Boarding house over on Fremont Street. This is where the gunfight would actually happen, not at the O.K. Corral as legend tells it.
But really, The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral sounds more exciting and rolls off the tongue better than The Gunfight in the Empty Lot Next to Fly’s Boarding House on Fremont Street.
I left the horse in front of Hafford’s and headed out on foot, walking west on Allen, moving fast, but not fast enough that I’d stand out. I turned right onto Third, then right again on Fremont.
The Earps and Holliday would use Fourth and approach from the south side of Fremont.
I’d arrived before them, however, and could see the cowboys hanging out next to Fly’s. A small crowd had gathered on the street. Not many people, not yet. Most of the town would be out here by the time all was said and done, but for now it was just a handful of the more curious townsfolk who’d been hearing the rumors of a fight all morning.
I ignored them all and entered the dress shop across the street. I didn’t have an exact location for the guy I was looking for, but that’s where I’d be. It was directly across from where the gunfight was about to occur, and it had a second floor.
The shop was empty. I didn’t question it. Whoever ran the place may be one of the few out there in the street now. Didn’t matter. What mattered was getting upstairs.
I took a moment to pull the gun belts and pistols from my saddle bags. I strapped them on and moved into the back of the store, both pistols drawn, cocked, and ready to fire. I found a door in the back that opened to a set of stairs leading up. I took the steps quietly. As I came to the top of the staircase I could see into a small room full of dressmaker dummies, bolts of cloth, and other various sundries.
More importantly, I saw him.
His back was to me, but I could see that he dressed like one of the locals, though local he was not. He stood looking out a window at the other end of the room. The window was open and would look down upon the empty lot next to Fly’s. A gentle breeze eased through the room from the open window, causing the dresses and cloth to flap lazily in the wind.
The man at the window held a Spencer rifle. He had it pointing at something below outside.
I had to handle this carefully. Back in my youth, before the men from the Phoenix Initiative had come to see me, I’d have done something reckless. I would’ve charged up the stairs, guns blazing, hollerin’ for joy at the top of my lungs. I was an idiot back then. Still am, honestly, but I’ve learned a thing or two about restraint since then.
So, rather than hootin’ and hollerin’ and making more noise than a Chinese New Year’s parade, I simply eased into the room, pistols at the ready, and then spoke:
“Bob,” I said, my voice as soft as a rabbit’s back.
I had a whole speech prepared. Nothing much, just who I was with and how I was taking him in. You know, all the official stuff.
But he never gave me the chance. The moment his name left my lips he’d spun to face me, the rifle pointed at my head.
“Don’t,” I said, both pistols aimed at his most sensitive areas. I took a step closer, reducing the gap between us.
“Why not? You aren’t going to kill me.”
“You’re one of them Phoenix guys. You can’t kill me. Not here. Not in this when.”
“Strictly speaking, Bob, that ain’t necessarily true. Sure, the people I work for don’t like us killing folks who are out of time. In fact, they downright frown on it. And yet, we’re encouraged to fix the time stream by any means necessary. That means up to and including ending the life of some desperate loser who thinks coming back will cure their woes. That would be you, Bob.”
“Now,” I continued. “Do the smart thing for once. Drop the rifle and come with me. No fuss. Otherwise I drop you where you stand.” I took another two steps toward him.
Bob only laughed.
“I got you too,” he said. “You think you’re faster than me?”
“I know I am.”
“You’re pretty cocky for a little guy.”
Little guy. That hurt. This fella was practically begging to be shot in the face.
“Look, Bob. It’s obvious that you didn’t do much research before coming back here. If you did then you’d know that what you have there is a Spencer rifle.”
“I know that.”
“Did you know that you have to thumb back the hammer before you can fire it?”
While the Spencer rifle was a lever action, meaning it had a lever below the trigger that you had to cock to expel the spent cartridge and feed a new one into the tube. But you also had to manually cock the hammer as well. Bob looked from me, to the rifle, and then back to me. Then he pulled the trigger. Or tried to anyway.
“Give it up, Bob,” I said. “This was a damn fool thing for you to do. You know that? I mean, killing Wyatt Earp? What were you thinking?”
“Wyatt Earp ruined my life.”
“And how do you figure that?” I was just trying to stall for time at this point.
“My great grandfather is down there,” he said, gesturing out the window behind him with a jerk of his head. “Billy Claiborne.”
“Add a few more greats and yeah.”
“Okay, so then what,” I said. “Wyatt shoots him or something?”
I’d already known the answer to my question.
“No, he does not,” I said. “Billy Claiborne, for all his guff and bluster, runs from the fight without firing a shot.”
“The Earps had them outnumbered.”
“Now that ain’t true neither,” I said. “It was the three Earp brothers with Doc Holliday on the one side and your Great Grandfather, Ike Clanton, his brother Billy, and Frank and Tom McLaury on the other. That’s four against five to my math.”
“He shouldn’t have run,” Bob said. “His reputation wasn’t worth spit after that.”
“Come on, Bob. Billy Claiborne’s reputation wasn’t worth much before that, either.”
“It was hard being a Claiborne after that,” Bob said. “Each of us, right on up the line, had nothing but bad luck all our lives.”
“And you attribute all of that to Billy Claiborne running from the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?”
“That’s where it started,” Bob said.
I was about to retort when someone down below us, out in the empty lot, began to shout.
“Throw your hands up!” It was Virgil Earp. “I want your guns!”
This is what I’d been waiting for.
“Hold on!” Virgil shouted once again. “I didn’t want this!”
Then the shooting began.
I smiled. Bob cocked an eyebrow in my direction.
I opened fire.
But I missed.
To be continued . . .
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