The Battle Within A Young Gun
Written by Frank Charles aka
— Santa Fe
The cool weather made the trip to Santa Fe most enjoyable. Ann made plenty of sandwiches and picnic style dishes. Each time they would start out on the trail, Will and Ann would ride up ahead while Lucas and Sam lingered behind. Upon the third stop, Will and Ann were resting on a fallen log when something spooked the horses. They were not tied down and Flash trotted a few yards away from Spirit. Will did not like this and went over to settle the horses down. When Will got close to the horses he thought he may have seen something off in the brush and became fearful of a mountain lion or some such beast. He picked up a good sized rock and gave it a heave in the direction of the noise. This produced a groan and more movement in the brush. Will turned to grab a rifle from the holster on Ann’s horse as the scuffling became louder and seemed to run away. He motioned for Ann and they mounted up and got back on the trail. They didn’t notice anything further for the rest of the day.
That night, Ann thought she heard something and the horses made some noise. Will got up to see to the horses. This time, Spirit was loose but nothing else could be found. Lucas got up once he heard Will mulling around and they sat up for a spell as the fire still had a glow.
“This is bothering me Lucas. That’s twice today that our horses seemed spooked by something. At first I thought it was maybe a critter in the bushes, but I know I tied Spirit up real good before bedding down tonight. I can’t understand why he was loose just now.”
“You never know what could be going on in these parts. Time was that we kept a watch along this trail. Indians liked to cause trouble for one thing, and thieves were known to hide out this way.”
“Yah, I suspect it could be anything, but I’m going to sit up for a while.”
“I’m not sleeping well myself, I’ll keep you company. We should make town late tomorrow. We’ll have time to rest at the hotel. ‘I’ll feel better if we let anyone out there know that we’re paying attention.” Lucas got up and grabbed his rifle, giving it a flip around to make a little noise. In a slightly louder voice he said, “Now if anyone is out there they will know we mean business!”
“I like the way you think Lucas! That made some noise. If I were a mountain lion I’d be scared.”
“And if anyone’s dogging us, they’ll live to regret it!” Lucas kind of knew that if anyone was out there, it would have to be Jack. But it was also not a good idea to mention it out loud if he was listening. After an hour or so they went back to sleep and all was quiet.
For now, Jack was merely up to his old tricks. He wanted to pester them along the way. If he had managed to get a horse to run off, all the better, but Spirit was too smart to wander or be taken without a struggle. Earlier in the day he learned that Flash would wander but he also noticed that Will was paying close attention. The groan that Will heard after throwing the rock was Jack’s reaction to it hitting his right thigh. It ached some, but didn’t compare to his past injuries. He kept quiet in the brush nearby until he was sure it was safe to leave.
The next day brought more of the same. Will and Ann stopped ahead as usual and again the horses were bothered. Jack was getting better at sneaking around, but didn’t try anything risky either. With everyone on alert, there wasn’t much he could do. Will wouldn’t leave the horses near the brush any longer and Ann stayed close by his side whenever they stopped. He also decided to carry his pistol just in case. Lucas kept his eyes open and encouraged Sam to speed things up a bit so they would have some sunlight left when they got into Santa Fe.
When they arrived in town Sam was glad to see that his favorite place, The Palace Hotel and Saloon had not changed. Will and Ann took care of boarding the horses, registering at the hotel, and unloading the gear. Sam and Lucas went straight for the saloon. Right inside the door, on the wall, was a poster advertising a show featuring the glamorous singer, Emma Walters. A picture of a voluptuous blonde in a long flowing colorful dress adorned the central area of the announcement. It was to be at the Plaza Theater. Sam and Lucas took note then made their way to the bar for a drink.
“Well howdy there, if it ain’t Sam Bard!” came the familiar voice of Josh Colburn, bartender at the saloon.
“Been a long time Josh, good to see you’re still here!”
“Now where else would I have to go? And this man looks familiar too, I know the first name is Lucas, but the last name might take me a minute to think of.”
“I don’t make it into Santa Fe real often, but I have been in here before. Does this help you any?” Lucas held up his rifle and took off his hat.
A wide grin came over Josh’s face. “McCain! That’s it!”
“Yes sir, I’m the one who had a shoot out here about six years ago.”
“That’s right, one dead and two still in prison. We’ve had our share of these blessed events in our humble establishment. Well, drinks on the house boys, you are honored guests for life here!”
“Thank you Josh, I won’t drink ya dry, but watch out for Sam.”
“Oh, I’m ready for Sam, we keep a special brand of whiskey for discriminating guests.”
“Why thank you Josh, that’s a sweet aroma indeed!” Sam sipped it gently for a moment then put the rest down fast. “That’s just warming up, yeeeow what a feeling!”
“I like it when Sam gets warmed up. Might as well give us that bottle and we’ll rest our tired bones at a table.” Lucas said. “And if anyone named Masterson happens by, send him our way.”
“Josh chuckled and gave them the good news. “You’ll see Mister Masterson alright. They all come here after the show.”
“We saw the poster, we’ll have to attend that happy affair soon, but we need to relax and keep off our feet tonight.” Lucas sat down and took off his hat. “Has Bat done any fancy talking about target shooting?”
“I don’t make it a practice to listen in, but word has it that you are here for just such an event. Are ya really going to shoot holes in coins Mister McCain?”
“Good old Bat, ever the promoter. I suppose he said that loud and clear. Yes, Josh, that was part of our show in Yuma. That was the thing that the people liked best.”
“All I can do is ask, do you think I could get one of them coins, it would be such a great conversation piece here at the bar?”
“It would be my pleasure, consider it done. Let me see how the show is planned and I’ll make sure you’ll be seen getting one.”
“Oh, that would be great Mister McCain! I’ll keep it forever!”
“And call me Lucas from now on, will ya! I never could get used to formality.”
“You got it Lucas, you always have a place at this saloon. And you too Sam, we’re all family in here.”
“Thanks Josh, I always knew that. Even back when you were just a youngster, your Daddy and me always drank eye to eye.”
“Yes sir, Daddy always talked fondly of you. I’ll never forget those days. Say, let me get my glass, we’ll drink a toast!” Josh came back quickly with another fancy looking bottle. “This was Dad’s personal reserve, it’s aged well beyond its limit. Talk about smooth, I’ll wager that this whiskey is well over 30 years old.”
Sam’s eyes perked up as he watched the golden liquid decant. Josh passed each of them a fresh shot glass and they enjoyed a rare taste of perfection.
Lucas and Sam found plenty to talk about as the evening wore on. They exchanged stories with several men that came along to find a seat. The saloon was rather full and poker games were all around. Will and Ann joined them after dinner. Once their company left the table, they managed to keep it open until ten o’clock rolled around. That was when a familiar voice could be heard. The show was over and Bat and Emma made their usual entrance.
“I see we have some new faces in here tonight!” Bat yelled out as he looked over the room. “Looks like poker will have to wait my dear, McCain is waiting right over there.”
Bat secured his grip on Emma’s arm and walked her over to the table.
Lucas saw Bat and Emma coming and everyone stood up to greet them. The usual introductions took place until it came time for Bat to introduce Emma.
“Gentlemen and my Lady Ann, this is my wife Emma Walters” Bat stepped aside and tipped his derby. Emma curtsied and made eye contact all around. Bat pulled out a chair for her as everyone took their seats.
“I see Bat is very accurate with his descriptions, I am pleased to see that he has such wonderful friends!” Emma commented.
“Well, thank you Emma, we have all heard so much about you, you are so very beautiful. I can hardly wait to attend one of your performances.” Lucas tipped his hat.
Sam had to add his opinion. “Emma, you are a ray of sunshine in an otherwise stormy sea of whiskey soaked cowboys! Thank you for brightening our evening!”
“Why thank you boys, I’m used to compliments, but you guys can actually use three syllable words!”
“Everyone laughed and Emma proceeded to dominate the early conversation with the seasoned charm of the actress she was. Sam was very impressed and kept her talking for quite some time. Once the pleasantries were over, Bat motioned to Lucas and the two men went to the bar for a private conversation.
“That Emma sure is a pistol Bat, tell me, who found who?”
“Story goes that I couldn’t stop going to her shows, but the truth is, she worked on me just as much. I guess it helped that I owned part of the theater.”
“It’s easy to see how you two fit together, we all love her. So tell me, what is going on for our little shooting demonstration?”
“We have most of the details worked out with the authorities. There is a great place not far from the Plaza to conduct our show. John Browning is on his way, he wants to see the show and meet with you. He should be here tomorrow. We have some publicity in the works, but no posters yet.”
“I heard some of the publicity when I first got here this evening. Josh knew all about it. He’s an old friend and Sam knew his father well. He can get the word out as good as anyone in Santa Fe.”
“Yes, I have been coming here on my trips for a long time, Josh and I go back a ways also. Small world isn’t it?”
“Sure is, speak of the devil!” Lucas looked up to see Josh standing right in front of them.
“Word’s out gentlemen, you have been seen by many and now that you are standing at my bar, I take it that I have permission to repeat anything I hear from now on!” Josh set down two fresh glasses and handed Bat and Lucas a cigar.
“I could no more keep you from repeating our conversations than I could be kept from winning money at your poker tables. Please use discretion but we do need your most valuable skills at passing along information.” Bat smiled at Josh as he lit his cigar.
“You have my word Bat, I would do anything for you or anyone else at your table. And to put a seal on it, I have something special for you two.” Josh reached back to his father’s bottle and one more glass. He poured three shots and they all drank a toast to Daddy Colburn.
“Say Josh, do you think we could ask you for a suitable supply of shot glasses for our practice and show? They were a hot item in Yuma, so we found the old ones very useful.” Bat asked.
“I think I can get some together for you and even order new ones. Maybe the other saloons would be happy to donate some. I know all of us dispose of the damaged and used ones. I’ve had others ask for them in the past.”
“That would sure be a great help. And we could use some empty whiskey bottles too.”
“No problem Bat, I would love to furnish you with all the targets you want!”
“Thanks Josh, we’ll be sure to mention you during the show, maybe you can help us put it on, if you want to.”
“Want to? Are you kidding, I’m there!”
“I have always been able to count on you Josh, we’re proud to have you as a partner.” Bat shook hands with Josh. “Anything else you can think of Lucas?”
“One more thing for now Bat. When and where do we practice?”
“There is a target range just outside of town, I’ve shot there often. We can start whenever you want, but let’s wait a day or so, you all need to settle in and get the road off of your minds. If there are no objections, I would like to have you all as special guests at tomorrow night’s show and then dinner is on me.”
“I can hardly turn that down Bat. Do you think Josh can join us?”
“Absolutely! Do you have a night off for us Josh?”
“Josh looked about for a moment, I can get away if you really want me to, but we all have to come back here after dinner so I can put the finishing touch on it.”
“I don’t see anything standing in the way for one great evening then, Josh, my good man, you are the most gracious host of any town I travel to. Thank you for your hospitality and generosity. It’s settled then, we meet here at six tomorrow evening and the show starts at seven thirty. Cheers my friends!” Bat nodded to Lucas and they thanked Josh as they walked back to the table. “Lucas, I want to meet with you earlier in the day if you don’t mind, we can work out some of the details then. Say about three?”
“I’d be happy to do that. There’s much to do in this city and I’m sure my companions can find something to keep themselves occupied.”
“Great, I just know that this is going to be the best of times Lucas, thank you for coming here. It means a lot to me. I may be popular and well known, but I don’t make as many close friends as you might think. I want you to know that you are much appreciated and I intend to follow through on everything we talk about.”
“I thank you for that, and the same goes for my part. You see that man with us, Sam. He is the best friend that I have. Before I met you, he was showing me the newspaper articles about you. He thinks the world of your reputation. Do you suppose that you can spend some time getting to know him, it would mean so much.”
“Why certainly, I can see that Sam is a very outgoing fellow, we should have no trouble becoming friends. I can see that Emma enjoys his banter. Ann is his daughter and Will’s fiancé, that all fits in so nice. I can see that Will is well on the way to becoming a great man.”
“I believe you’re right, he sure had a good time with you in Yuma. He’s had much to learn in a short time, his life is changing fast.”
“After hearing his story, I was impressed with his honesty and true concern for you Lucas. The time Will and I spent together was very special. I guess we both can get a bit of fatherly experience by being there for him. You are doing a great thing by giving him a hand up in the world. We need so many more men like him, ones that know to appreciate the finer points about freedom and the law.”
“You’re so right Bat. The first time I saw Will I knew he wasn’t as bad as he tried to make us think he was. I had to use some reverse psychology on him and even put him in his place. But I think it was my son Mark that affected him the most. That and meeting a nice girl like Ann of course.”
“Yes, yes, nice girls have a way of spoiling us, don’t they!” Bat removed his derby as they approached the table and took their seats. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a deck of cards. “Okay people, may I suggest we play a few warm up hands of poker before I take my chances with the wolves in this establishment?”
Sam perked up. “Do you mean that I can play cards with the Bat Masterson!”
“Sam, it is my pleasure indeed, but you better keep your eyes on one William Fulton if you intend to have any money left over!”
“I keep my eyes on him plenty, but we never have played poker, pretty sharp are ya boy! Well, none of ya have run up against old Sudden Sam, so watch out! I was raised by a pack of wolves!”
The poker game was a great idea. Bat kept it going between Sam, Will, and Lucas while Ann and Emma talked of horses and the life of an actress. They eventually sat by themselves and let a few more cowboys join the poker game. It was very interesting for Ann to talk with Emma. She was intrigued by the style in her speech and the outgoing nature that must have been developed over her years of performing. As much as Ann was a performer at the equestrian events, she still needed to learn a few things about dealing with the public. Emma found out that Ann sang in the church choir and suggested that they could practice singing together. That is where Emma got started as a singer and it was quite refreshing for her to get to know someone from a church instead of a theater.
Meanwhile, Jack was busy putting his plan into action. He went into the saloon in order to observe his targets. After a brief time to make sure they would be there a while, he went into the hotel, where he saw Will and Ann earlier. He waited and found an opportunity to look at the register to see what rooms they were in. He took his time and went upstairs to break into Will and Lucas’ room. Once inside, he went through their luggage and sprawled it all over the floor and the beds. There wasn’t much to steal, it was mostly clothes. Ann had the nicer things of Will’s in her luggage and things like guns and ammunition were still in a strong box on the wagon. Lucas was in the habit of not leaving valuables alone in the room whenever he stayed in a hotel. He almost always kept his rifle with him. Finally, Jack settled on taking a black pair of gloves from Lucas, the ones he liked to wear when shooting. He took a fancy to a pair of boots at the side of Will’s bed, so he loaded one of the suitcases with those items and a few shirts and pants to make it look good if anyone saw him with it. He did his best to make it seem as if drifters had done the dirty work, leaving the door open, and making his way out the back of the building. He went unseen into the brush where he had tied up his horse and rode off to camp for the night.
When he stopped at a suitable spot, he took out the boots and tried them on. They were a bit small, but very nice. Lucas had them made for Will in North Fork not long before Christmas. Jack was not as tall as Lucas, but the shirts would fit. Lucas had very large hands and the gloves were way oversized for Jack. He decided to bury the suitcase near a tree and maybe retrieve it later. All he really cared was to rattle the travelers and somehow spoil their fun before the show. He decided to ride on to avoid being found near the site.
When the evening came to a close and everyone left the saloon, the break in had already been discovered by an employee of the hotel. The marshal was about to go find them to deliver the news, but it was not necessary. Ann was the most shocked and immediately told the men about her fear that it was Jack. She told them about how her friends had been watching him and that he was seen buying the large amount of ammunition. Will was not pleased by this, but he understood her apprehensions. They would have a longer talk later. Everyone agreed that this was a good possibility because of the earlier horse troubles and no other room had been broken into. A quick inventory of the belongings and a description of Jack was all they could give to the marshal. The next thing was an examination of the back of the hotel. Footsteps leading into the brush told the marshal that he would be sending a tracker out for a late night ride. The marshal advised them to change rooms and that no record should be logged into the register.
The deputy sent out to track didn’t have to work very hard to follow the path to where Jack had buried the suitcase. Jack was a sloppy thief and left plenty of tracks. He found the obvious spot where the objects were buried and left them there to be picked up upon his return. It was more important to stay on the trail. After half an hour he came to a creek and there were no more obvious tracks to follow. It was too much to expect to find anything further this late at night, so he rode back, picked up the suitcase and reported to the marshal. They decided to ride out again later the next day. One useful thing the tracker found, near the creek in the mud, was a bent tack in one of the four hoof prints from Jack’s horse. It left a very recognizable fault mark for them to follow.
The next morning, Lucas and Will were glad to get their belongings back. Lucas was very fond of his worn in gloves and was upset at the prospect of having to find new ones before the show. They thanked the marshal and offered to ride out and track with them, but the lawman refused, saying it would only lead to trouble. If Jack were the one and he saw them coming near, it might cause him to shoot his way out. And tracking was best done by only a few who can go unseen and unknown. This made sense and Lucas wanted to get on to his business with Bat anyhow. Once the marshal and the deputy took off, Lucas and Will got ready to head out with Sam and Ann for a late morning walk about town and a meal. As they sat down to eat Will had to voice his problem with Ann.
“Ann, I want you to promise me that you will not withhold another thing from any of us from now on!”
“I’m sorry Will, it has been a very trying thing to deal with and I thought you might get upset and try something to get back at Jack.”
“Get back at Jack! It seems he’s the one who thinks he’s getting back at someone. He sure has it in for me, or is it you?”
Sam didn’t like where this was going and had to break it up. “Now listen here Will, Ann is a big girl. She understands the situation. She was only trying to protect you. You know she’s had trouble with Jack in the past, in fact ever since her early school days.”
“Alright, alright, I’m sorry. I don’t want to be mean, but I do insist that I know what is going on. This can become a very serious problem. Is there anything else I should know?”
“Yes there is. I haven’t told you about an early incident that occurred when Jack got too pushy with me on a date a long time ago. He thought I was going to give in to him and I told him no. He kept on and started to grab at me.” Ann looked down and began to cry.
“Oh Ann, I’m so sorry, if I had only known. You know I care more about you than anything in this world. You can tell me anything.” Will reached over and touched her shoulder.
“Okay then, if you really want to know, I punched him in the eye and kicked him right where it counts! He had to live that down for a very long time. It was a few days before he could walk proper and his black eye was impossible to hide. Everyone at school knew that I did it. I don’t think he ever got over the embarrassment. His father made him go to school as punishment. Ever since then, he has always been a thorn in my side. I’m so sorry Will, I should have told you. Please forgive me.”
“Now I understand. I recall you telling him on the night of that first dance that he knew what would happen if he made you mad. I don’t blame you. I guess I should have known there was something worse about it back then. I forgive you. I’m sorry I got mad, you too Sam. This is a horrible thing.”
“Alright Will, you don’t have to worry about me, you have a right to know and I am as concerned for you as if you are my son. Jack has no chance to do anyone harm if we stick together.”
“That’s right Will. We all have a stake in this, and right now, we don’t really know Jack has done anything. So let’s just give the marshal a chance to do his job.”
“I have no interest in risking my freedom to deal with Jack, but if he does try anything to harm any of us, I may not be able to help myself. Knowing all this doesn’t change anything. He is still a jerk and a threat to my family. Remember what I said about anyone coming near my family Lucas?”
“Yes I do. We see eye to eye on that, all of us do. And I feel it’s my obligation to inform Bat about this. Any objections?”
“No. Bat deserves to know. I’ve told him some about this back in Yuma. We can’t afford to leave him out of this now.” Will sat back and let out a huge sigh.
“Very well, I meet with Bat in a couple of hours, I’ll tell him then. Do you guys feel safe on your own until I’m finished talking with him? You can do some shopping or you can come with me, it’s your choice.”
“I think we can walk about town safely. We can meet you at the saloon after an hour or so, sooner if we feel uneasy.” Sam looked over to Will. “Are you alright son?”
“Yes sir, but I am going to insist that you wear your gun. I can’t be seen with one in this town for sure.”
“I intend to for now on. If you want, I’ll get you a Derringer.” Sam looked towards Ann. “Maybe you should keep one in your purse young lady!”
“I won’t argue Dad. I’ve done enough already. Let’s go gun shopping.”