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  1. 1. ONCE MORE WITH A .44 Ben Stillman #2 By Peter Brandvold
  2. 2. A Mean Pete Press Book March 2012 Berkley Edition 2000Cover Design by Mean Pete Himself
  3. 3. For my sister and brother-in-law, Stacey and Chuck, and for my nephews, Trey and Brunson, with love.
  4. 4. ONCE MORE WITH A .44
  5. 5. 1Jody Harmon cantered his buckboard between thefalse fronts of Clantick, Montana Territory, andpulled up before the Pepin/Baldwin Mercantile. Heturned to his wife, Crystal, who he had married twoyears ago but had known since they were both littletaller than the grass growing on the slopes of theTwo Bear Mountains. Blond and blue eyed, with a splash of frecklesacross the bridge of her slender nose, Crystal woreher hair loose about her shoulders. She was the mostbeautiful girl Jody had ever seen—not that hed seenthat many, having grown up on Montanas Hi-Line,never traveling farther south than Great Falls orfarther north than Medicine Hat, in the CanadianTerritories. Still, the former Crystal Johnson was a piece ofwork. Pretty as a speckled pup but tough and boyishin a feminine sort of way, she worked right alongsideJody on their ranch, as capable as any hand on the Hi-Line. The only thing she lacked was housecleaningskills—oh, Lordy, could she let the cabin go!—butshe made up for it in spades in cooking, wrangling,tanning, and all other areas of their lives. "What the hell are you looking at?" she asked Jody
  6. 6. now, with twinkling eyes and a mocking, impudent smile."You," Jody said with a grin. "I see that. Would you mind telling me why?" His smile thinned but his eyes remained sharp."Im crazy about you." Crystal poked the brim of her flat-brimmed hat upand inclined her head. "I think all that bouncin on theroads made you randy. You just better get your mindout of your pants and on your chores, Mr. Harmon,before I have to call the sheriff." "We could take a little break in that cottonwoodgrove down by the river," Jody said, his eyes turningplayfully lascivious."I do need to call the sheriff!" Jody slid closer to her on the seat, and put an armaround her shoulders. "Dont be hasty now, my littlehoneybunch. What I got in mind for you might justhave you howlin like a she-bitch for more." In spite of herself, Crystal snickered and made ahalfhearted attempt at wrestling out of his grasp."Jody .. . people can hear you...." "Well have us a little repeat of what we did overmornin coffee." Crystal squelched a squeal. "Oh, no, we wont!"She pulled back, trying to contain her giggling asJody nuzzled her neck. She tossed her eyes around tosee if anyone was watching and saw a stoop-shouldered man in a threadbare suitcoat and floppy-brimmed hat strolling hangdoggedly down theboardwalk. The walk was unmistakable. Crystals tone became serious. "Jody, stop. DarylBru-ners headed this way."
  7. 7. Jody continued nibbling her right ear. "Who?” "Daryl. Stop it now!" She pushed him away withboth hands. Jody sighed and turned to see the bigman come to a halt above them, on the mercantilesloading dock. He was carrying what appeared to be asmall suitcase. Daryl spread his girlishly wide, full lips with asim-pleminded grin. Thirty-three but with the mind ofa ten-year-old, Daryl Bruner was known as the townidiot. Story had it that when he was a kid he was hitin the head by chimney bricks when a tornado sweptthrough town. His uncle was a blacksmith and part-time drummer, and every Saturday Daryl followedhim around Clantick, pitching everything fromelixirs to pots and pans."Hi, Jody. Hi, Crystal. What are you two doin?" Jody glanced at Crystal, grinning. Crystal met theglance with a half-grin of her own, and returned hergaze to Daryl. "We just came to town to load upsupplies, Daryl. The larders getting a little emptythese days. What are you up to?" "Uncle Ebben an me, were goin door-to-doorwith some of the prettiest jewels I bet you ever seen.Wanna see?" Daryls head was tucked low in hisshoulders, and he regarded Crystal and Jody withutmost seriousness from below his bushy blackeyebrows. Crystal shifted position on the seat to glance at thesuitcase. "Yeah, what do you have? My birthdayscomin up soon, and Jody needs to be shoppin for apresent." Jody gave a grunt as Daryl lifted the suitcase in his
  8. 8. big arms, tripped the latches, and carefully openedthe lid with one hand while supporting the suitcasewith his other arm. "See?" he said, voice filled withgenuine awe.Crystal lifted her head to look at the cut-glass costume jewelry and cameos mounted oncardboard covered with black velvet. "Ooo, somefine-lookin stuff," Crystal cooed, hoping Darylwouldnt detect any falseness in her tone. "Howmuch?" Daryl touched each bauble with a thick finger ashe read off the prices scribbled on a small white cardpasted to the inside of the suitcases lid. "Fine-lookinstuff at a steep price," Jody lamented. Too bad I justhave cash enough to fill my supply list today." "Cheapskate!" Crystal said, wrinkling her brows athim playfully. "I tell you what I do have, though, Daryl," Jodysaid, fishing in his pocket for a coin. "I do have anickel you can lay down for a mug of beer... whenyoure through for the day, of course," he addedseriously. Daryls love for beer was famous throughout thecounty, and no one begrudged him that refuge. Aneminently gentle creature, hed never been known toharm anyone or anything; in fact, he befriendedevery stray dog and cat that wandered up to hisuncles blacksmith shop. To a grubliner a few yearsago, hed given the very shirt off his back. "Oh, gosh! Why—thank you, Jody!" he said,wasting no time in closing the suitcase, securing thelatches, and accepting the coin from Jodysoutstretched hand. "I... I thank you mighty kindly."
  9. 9. Bowing like a Chinaman, he tipped his hat toCrystal and continued down the boardwalk, the tornsole of his right shoe flapping as he walked. "Dont go spending that nickel till youre doneworking for your uncle," Jody called after themanchild. Daryl turned around and grinned and continued onhis way. Crystal said to Jody, "From the look on his faceyoud swear hed just made his biggest sale of theday." "Unless you knew him," Jody allowed, watchingDaryl step off the boardwalk and half run across thestreet, in front of a mule drawn dray stacked highwith milled lumber. "Well, I reckon I best get to it...unless you changed your mind about a little side tripdown to the river, that is." Crystal rolled her eyes and climbed down from thewagon. "Ill head over to the gun shop and pick up theammo were needing." "Meet me back here, then?" Crystal nodded. " Bout ten minutes." "Sounds good. You can help me load the flour."Jody smiled. "No, I thought Id have Mrs. Hall help me pick outa dress for the birthday bash I just know youre gonnaline up for me." Jody shook his head and headed for the door of themercantile. "You sure do get some crazy ideas inyour head, Crystal Harmon." He went on into the store and Crystal waited for asurrey to pass. She waved to the feather-hatted
  10. 10. woman driving it, then jogged across the street,holding her flat-brimmed hat on her head with onehand. She mounted the boardwalk and turned the corneraround the tonsorial parlor, heading down a sidestreet, where several shops had gone up in recentmonths. Some were so new you could still smell thepine resin in the wood.Two rough-looking cowboysmilling before a saloon gave her lascivious stares.She tried to ignore them, but the boldness of themens looks and the depraved way they curled theirlips at her was rather shocking. She hadnt seen themen around before, so she assumed they werenewcomers. The railroad and the great expanse ofprime grazing land in the area was attracting allkinds to Clantick and the Hi-Line. Crystal knew itwas progress, but she didnt like how rough the areawas becoming in the process. There were bar fightsand shootings nearly every night; and an angry mobhad hanged an Indian down by the river just lastmonth. Not only that, but a few months ago, thetelegrapher found the county sheriff dead in one ofhis own jail cells—murdered. This wasnt the town Crystal remembered fromher childhood, and she resented the way the hair nowpricked on the back of her neck as she made her waydown the boardwalk to the gun shop, the two strangecowboys staring after her. “That pretty little cowgirl can take me for a rideany day of the week," one of them muttered loudlyenough for her to hear. Crystal stiffened with anger and almost stopped
  11. 11. and turned around but decided against it. Lettingsuch men get to her was exactly what they wanted.They wanted her to turn around, so they couldhumiliate her further. Shed been through it before inrecent weeks, with just such men as these. Nothingshe could do or say could morally cow them; itwould only encourage them. She crossed the sidestreet, climbed the boardwalk,and turned intoHallums Gun Sales and Repair, the bell jingling overthe door as she did. Julius Hallum poked his head through the curtainleading to the back room. He was a medium-sizedgentleman with dark wavy hair parted on the side anda full, brown mustache. The leather apron he worewas soiled with grease and gun oil. "Well, good mornin to you, Crystal! What bringsMrs. Jody Harmon to town this fine Saturday?" "Hi, Mr. Hallum." Hallum frowned as he pushed through the curtainand set his fists on the glass-topped display case."Say, you dont look so good. Something wrong?" Crystal wasnt looking at him. Her eyes were onthe display case, but her brain was not registeringthe assortment of revolvers displayed there, on a bedof red velvet. "Oh, just some stupid hammerheadsdown the street. I just let em get to me is all." Hallum scowled, pursing his lips and nodding hishead. "Over at the Goliad?" Crystal nodded. "Yeah, that place has really been attracting troublelately," the gunsmith loudly lamented. "All therough-shods from miles around have settled in there,
  12. 12. just across the street from me. Its bad for business.Gets so that decent folks dont like to walk this wayto visit my store, so they do all their buyin at one ofthe mercantiles." "The towns growing," Crystal said, shrugging hershoulders and giving a sigh. "I guess its bound togrow bad as well as good." "Yeah, I guess it comes with the territory. If youask me, though, I think we need another sheriff intown." "Ralph Merchant isnt working out?" "Hah!" Hallum cried. "I hardly ever see the man,and not too many other people do, either. I think hespends most of his time hunting in the mountains.Those elk, they dont mouth off or shoot back, youknow." "Right," Crystal said, wagging her head. "Well, enough of my bellyaching. What can I doya for?" Crystal pointed at the boxes stacked on the shelvesbehind the counter. "Couple boxes of those thirty-thirties, and one of the forty-fours." "Comin right up," Hallum said, turning andwaving a hand around as he searched for the rightcaliber. Finding them, he plucked them from theirrespective stacks and set them on the counter with hiscustomary flourish. "Any twenty-twos?" "No, thanks." "Oil?" "Not today." "Well, Im grateful you braved this end of town forme, Crystal. I hope youll continue to do so ... in spite
  13. 13. of the bad element thats moved in. I need thebusiness." Crystal pursed her lips with a halfhearted smile."Well, as long as you keep your guns and ammocheaper than Mr. Hall, Ill keep doin business withyou, Mr. Hallum. Jody says Id walk an extra mile ina blizzard so I could save a penny off a spool othread." Hallum laughed. "Speaking of Jody, hows thatlittle Remington working out for him?" Before Crystal could answer, mens voices rose upthe street. Someone yelled out, whooping and yellingin what sounded like the taunting fashion of aschoolboy. Crystal turned and moved to the window, lookingup the street in the direction from which shed come.Several men had spilled out of the Goliad saloon andinto the street, spooking the horses tethered to thehitch rack. Julius Hallum walked out from behind the counterand joined Crystal at the window. "More trouble atthe Goliad," he said fatefully. "I reckon," Crystal said. Watching the men gatherin the street behind the skittering horses, Crystalfrowned and tipped her head for a better look. Shemoved to the door and opened it. "You best stay in here until the storm passes,Crystal," Hallum advised. Ignoring the man, Crystal stepped onto theboardwalk, letting the door rattle shut behind her.She stood there and appraised the situation on thestreet.
  14. 14. It appeared that two men, the very two men shedpassed earlier, one of whom had made the lewd com-ment, were trying to goad another man into a fight.Crystal couldnt see the other man clearly, becausethe two ruffians were in the way, backing the thirdman farther into the street. One of the two ruffs was carrying what appearedto be a suitcase. Studying it, Crystal saw that it wasthe same suitcase Daryl Bruner had been packing.
  15. 15. 2Crystals heart jerked and her stomach churned asshe stepped out into the street for a better look. Behind her she heard the door of the gun shopopen and out of the corner of her eye saw JuliusHallum step cautiously onto the boardwalk. Crystaltilted her head to look around the shoulder of one ofthe two men goading the third, and saw what shedfeared. The man the two ruffs were trying to push into afight was Daryl Bruner.Crystals face flushed with anger and her kneesshook. Daryl was backing away from one of the men,wringing his big hands together and staring at thecrowd of cowboys before him with fearful, hauntedeyes. "You wanna tell me one more time what youcalled me in there, retard!" yelled one of the ruffs, asmall, wiry man in a plaid flannel shirt and hat with afunneled brim. "I... I... didnt call you nothin," Daryl said, sosoftly that Crystal could barely hear him. "Yes, you did, you big stupid oaf! You called me ano-good cat-kicker—thats what you called me, youno-good, brainless wonder!" The small man grinnedat the bigger man beside him. "No, he didnt say that, Rafe," the bigger man said."He called you a lousy, no-good cat-kicker." Thebigger man turned to the smaller man, and Crystal
  16. 16. could see his grinning profile. One of the cowboys standing on the boardwalkpiped up. "An all cause ya kicked that mangy catthe bartender feeds!" "All right, Bruner, your time is up," the firebrandat the head of the pack said. "You got a pistol?" Grinding her teeth together, Crystal moved towardthe crowd and yelled, "Thats enough! Leave himalone!" Only a couple of men from the crowd turned theireyes to her. One said, "Stay out of this, miss,".andturned back to the show. The firebrand taunting Daryl turned to the mannext to him. "Billy, give the retard your gunbelt. Noones gonna say I shot an unarmed man." Crystal was still moving toward the crowd, makinga bee-line from the middle of the street. Glancingaround, she saw several businessmen standing in thedoorways. Half-consciously she expected their help,but none of them moved from their doorsteps.Crystal shuddered to think what would happen ifDaryl strapped on the gun-belt the big man wascarrying over to him. "Daryl, dont do it!" she yelled as she reached thecrowds perimeter and started pushing through, tryingto get to Daryl. One of the men in the crowd stepped in her way."You just butt out of this, little missy," he saidsharply. "This aint none of your affair. That bigretard just got smart with Rafe, an its time helearned his lesson." "It sounded to me like a pretty harmless insult,"
  17. 17. Crystal said."Yeah, thats how they start," the big man said. Hedjust delivered his gunbelt to Daryl and was returningto stand beside his friend, the smaller man calledRafe. Daryl stood alone in the middle of the street,holding the gunbelt as though it had suddenlymaterialized from thin air, as though it were a snakewrithing in his fist. "You go ahead and wrap that belt around yourwaist and buckle it," Rafe instructed. Crystal had never felt so angry. Her vision was be-ginning to swim and her knees felt weak."Goddamnit!" she suddenly shrieked. "Thatsenough] Daryl, just walk away!" She took a step toward the man in front of her andbrought her right boot up savagely, kicking the mansquarely in his unprotected crotch. The man let out ascream and doubled over, turning sideways andfalling to his knees. Crystal brushed past him. Shed taken two stepswhen the back of a big hand slammed into her face.She staggered backward, the sharp pain shootingthrough her nose and cheek, her eyes watering, andthen she fell back. She must have lost consciousness for at leastthirty seconds because she was only dimly aware offeet moving away from her, then a heavy silencefollowed by the sound of a single mans voice. Thevoice was low and quiet but sinister. Then a pistolshot rang out, like a big balloon popping. Crystalpushed herself onto her elbows. Her head swirled,
  18. 18. and she saw double."We best get the hell out of here," a man said. "Hey, it was a fair fight. He went for the gun,"another man said. "Yeah, but just the same, Rafe, I think we best getback to the ranch." Crystal heard the squeak of saddle leather as themen mounted their horses and spurred their mountsinto the street, heading out of town. She saw themout of the corner of her eye, felt the ground vibratewith the pounding hooves. Her attention was on thebody lying in the street. "Oh, Daryl," she whispered, and pushed herself toher knees, then her feet, feeling her bruised lipswelling and a sharp pain in her cheekbone, where theman had struck her. She made her way to the body and knelt down, agreat sadness washing over her, threatening to pullher back down. There was a blood spot the size ofher hand in the middle of Daryls chest, and in themiddle of the spot was a small, round hole whichseemed to be sucking in the shirt. The shirt soakedup most of the blood; the rest ran inside his coat andonto the ground. Tears welled out of Crystals eyes, and shelowered her head, taking the dead mans hand inhers."Crystal!" someone yelled from up the street. She lifted her head to see Jody through the veil oftears. He ran toward her with the rifle hed stowed inthe buckboard. He did not normally carry a sidearm,believing, like his father, the late Bill Harmon, that
  19. 19. guns were more apt to attract trouble than deflect it. "They killed Daryl!" Crystal cried, lips tremblingand tears running down her face. Jody was kneeling beside her now, his eyesdarkening, his face blanching, as he gazed down atthe body. "Who did—?" he started, his voicecatching. "Who in the hell would do such a thing?" "I dont know who it was. Ive never seen the manbefore. A cowboy, though. They were all cowboys." "All?" "There were several." "Jesus Christ," Jody hissed, standing and gratinghis teeth. He looked down the street where the dustfrom the fleeing horses was still settling. Drawn by the single gunshot from the mainsection of town, several people had come down theside street to stand around Jody and Crystal and theprone body of Daryl Bruner. "Someone go get the sheriff," Jody said to one ofthe men. "No need—Im here," came a gruff voice. Jodyturned and saw Sheriff Ralph Merchant push throughthe circle of onlookers, trailed by Julius Hallum, whohad apparently fetched him. Merchant was a rough-looking man with stringyhair falling out of his worn slouch hat. He was broad-shouldered and slim-hipped, but he boasted a paunchthat nearly turned his belt buckle upside down.Hailing from Kansas, hed been a cowboy most of hislife. When the rheumatism had kept him fromsleeping on the cold ground, he landed the sheriffsjob in the little berg of Big Sandy, twenty miles
  20. 20. south. Hed accepted the job as Clanticks sheriffthree years later, when the previous lawman, ChesterEarly, was found tied to a bunk in one of his own jailcells, with his throat cut. No one else had wanted thejob.The problem was Ralph Merchant was an easygoingcowboy, not a sheriff. He did not have the steelneeded to cool the boiling cauldron the once peacefulClantick was now becoming. Crystal told him the story of how Daryl had beenkilled, and Julius Hallum corroborated it. Ralph Mer-chant stepped away from the crowd, tipped back hissweat-stained hat with a sausage-sized finger, andgazed down the street, in the direction the cowboyshad fled. He had a perplexed, unconfident look onhis big, red face. His nose was swollen by years ofhard drinking. "Anybody know who they were or where theyrefrom?" he asked the crowd in general. No one said anything for several seconds. Then awoman in the crowd piped up. Crystal didntrecognize her but could tell by her dress that she wasa pleasure girl from the Goliad. "The one that shot Bruner theres name is Rafe. Herides for Norman Billingsley. So do most of theothers he was with. Dont tell him I said nothin,though. Hes an ornery son of a bitch, Rafe," Crystal found herself staring at the woman. Thewoman gave her a heated look and said in a pinched,sarcastic voice, "Pardon my French." Then she liftedher skirts, stepped onto the boardwalk, anddisappeared through the swinging doors of the
  21. 21. Goliad. "What are you going to do, Sheriff?" Jody askedMerchant. The potbellied man didnt say anything for severalseconds. Then he turned his neck sharply andinclined his head, as if to work out a charley horse,and said through a sigh, "Well, I guess I better go outand have me a talk with Mr. Billingsley." He looked at Jody. "Harmon, can you get theundertaker for young Bruner here?""Sure thing," Jody said. The sheriff turned and started back to the jail forhis horse, and Jody watched him go. The man was asbull-legged as they came. Jody turned to Crystal,who was staring down at Daryl. "They shot him right out here in the street.. .justcause he got after them for kicking a cat," she said."What happened to your face?""I tried to stop em," Crystal said thinly. "Come on, honey," Jody said to her gently, takingher by the arm and leading her toward the boardwalk."You sit down and wait for me here, while I go fetchDoc Evans and his hearse." "That Rafe better hang for what he did to Daryl,"Crystal said. "The sheriff will get him," Jody told her, andstarted away. Will he? Crystal wondered when Jody had left.She was sitting there alone on the boardwalk, staringat the body. The crowd had started to disperse. A fewmen who knew Daryls uncle stood shaking theirheads nearby. The saddle maker, Ivan Sanderson,
  22. 22. threw a rock at a dog that sniffed too close to Darylsbody. Crystal asked herself if Ralph Merchant could getthe job done ... or would Clantick just keep gettingmore and more wild, more and more savage andmean?She didnt like the answer she came up with.Something had to be done.
  23. 23. 3Ben Stillman sat in the jostling day coach as thetrain sped northeastward into the mid-afternoon of awarm June day. His wife, the former Fay Beaumont, nappedagainst the window, one long leg crossed over theother, her lovely black hair curling down from thepillow the conductor had provided. There were nosleeping cars available on the line up from Butte,where theyd switched trains, so theyd had to makedo with the stiff seats of the trains single day coach. Stillman didnt mind. Hed spent half his lifesleeping on the ground. He knew Fay didnt, either—she may have been born to a wealthy French rancher,but she could rough it as well as any drover; she sawit as an adventure, in fact—but Stillman always feltthe doting urge to make his beautiful wife of twoyears as comfortable as he possibly could. Thats why a frown furrowed his brow now as hestared fondly at the pretty woman in a deep burgundytraveling dress with matching wool vest, a featheredhat of the same color, and a beaded reticule resting inher lap. How would she fare on the Hi-Line? Somuch bad had happened to her there, before she andStillman were married. Would unhappy memories ofthat past life with the depraved Donovan Hobbs, herformer husband, haunt her? Also, Clantick, the little
  24. 24. town on the Hi-Line to which they were returningafter a two-year absence, was so remote and, as JodyHarmon had said in his letter imploring Stillman tocome, wild. Fay had always been a good sport. She saw life asan adventure, no matter where it took her. But shewas a curious, precocious young woman who neededlibraries, book stores, museums, and educatedconversation over afternoon tea or late-night brandy. Could she flourish in the wild, hell-for-leathertown that Clantick had apparently become? Couldshe grow, mentally and spiritually, in such a remoteplace as Montanas northern Hi-Line country? Couldshe—here was the question that really haunted him—find true satisfaction married to a career lawman likeBen Stillman? Stillman pondered the question and stared at hislovely wife, who slept with a slight smile on herwide, full lips. Her eyelids moved a little as shedreamed. Finally, antagonized by all his uncertainties aboutbringing Fay back to the Hi-Line, Stillman could nolonger sit still. He stood slowly, careful not to wakeher, and moved clumsily down the aisle, between therows of gambling cowboys, dozing drummers, andimmigrant farm families, grabbing the seat backs forbalance. " When he made the door, he steppedthrough it onto the vestibule, where the wind nearlycaught his ten-gallon hat. He grabbed it and snuggedit down tighter on his head, noticing that theconductor, Ted March, was leaning on the rail havinga smoke. March turned to him fumbling with the
  25. 25. brass buttons of his blue wool uniform, which hemust have undone to give his prominent belly abreather while he smoked. "At ease, Ted, at ease," Stillman cooed, standingunder the cars overhang to roll a cigarette. "Oh ... hi, Ben," the conductor said, relaxing witha sigh. "Thought maybe you were one o thosebusinessmen from back East. A man doesnt wannabe out of uniform when one of them comes out tocomplain about the rough ride or how behindschedule we are. Might complain to my superiorsabout my unkempt person and such." March shookhis head. "Aint it time youre gettin out o this racket?"Still-man asked him. "Hell, Ted, I knew you backwhen we were all huntin buffalo, and you were nospring chicken then.""I got too many goddamn mouths to feed." "You mean your kids havent grown up and lefthome?" Stillman asked. He licked the edge of thepaper and rolled the cigarette closed. The conductor took a drag off his own quirley."Yeah, I got all my own growed up, but now mysister and her brats have moved in with me and Ednain Helena. Her husband was a brakeman. He gotdrunk and fell off a vestibule. Reached out to grabthe rail and the train sucked him under. Cut him infour pieces. When they dragged him out and boxedhim up, he looked like a roast all sliced for Sundaydinner." March ran a thick, red hand down his gray-bearded face that reminded Stillman a little of
  26. 26. pictures of Rip Van Winkle. "So, anyway, we haveArlene and her three with us now, and the oldest aintbut eleven.""Damn the luck," Stillman said. "Damn the luck is right." March looked atStillman and squinted his eyes curiously. "Whatbrings you back this way? I heard you were workingfor Pinkerton out in Denver." "I was, but a month ago I got a letter from JodyHarmon up to Clantick. You probably dont knowJody, but hes Bill Harmons boy." "Milk River Bill? You dont say! Bill was killed,wasnt he—?" March stopped himself. Heremembered that Bill Harmon had been killed duringthat fuss up on the Hi-Line two years ago, the cattleand land war instigated by Fay Stillmans formerhusband, Donovan Hobbs. It was a sad story, and March wasnt sure Stillmanwanted to be reminded of it. "Yeah, Bill was killed two years ago," Stillmangroused, looking off at the rolling landscape, whichappeared washed out under the harsh afternoon light—pastures dotted with cattle, spring fields showinggreen with sprouting wheat and oats, and here andthere a gray cabin hunkered under cottonwoods neara creek and a windmill. Red-winged blackbirdsquarreled in the cattails along sloughs still swollenwith snowmelt. "Anyway," Stillman continued, "Jody wrote me aletter about a month ago. He wanted me to come upto Clantick and take the sheriffs job." "Yeah, I heard they lost another one—sheriff, I
  27. 27. mean," March said. "That towns become as wild asDodge City back when Texas cowboys were stillcoming in with their longhorns!""Thats what Jody said.""He wants you to clean up the town?" Stillman shrugged self-effacingly. "I guess so. Ithought about it for a while, then I wrote back andtold him Id give it a try. I just couldnt say no to theboy. He and Crystal—thats his wife—are likefamily to me. The kids I never had." "So you quit Pinkertons?" March raised hiseyebrow at this. Pinkertons was a highly respecteddetective agency, and anyone working for them—mostly ex-lawmen like Stillman—had a plush, well-paying job. "That wasnt so hard," Stillman said. He looked offagain. "I just didnt fit in there. They had me workina desk job on account of the bullet in my back, and Ijust never really got used to city life." The thought made him feel guilty, because heknew that Fay had taken well to Denver. Shed metquite a few people with her refined tastes andcivilized interests. And while shed supported him inhis decision to return to Clantick—shed evenencouraged him, knowing how hed disliked thePinkerton job—he felt like a heel for tearing heraway from civilization so he could go back to thewild and wooly frontier. "So its once more with a forty-four, eh, Ben?"March said, glancing at the Army Colt holsteredbutt-forward on Stillmans left hip. "I reckon so," Stillman warily allowed, wondering
  28. 28. if he still had it in him. He was forty-six years old,and the bullet hed taken in the back from a drunkwhore in Virginia City, when hed been a deputyU.S. marshal of Montana Territory, was still lodgedright where shed put it, hugging his spine. Thesurgeons hadnt dared go near it and risk puttingStillman in a wheelchair. March flicked his cigarette over the rail of thevestibule and offered Stillman his hand. "Well, goodluck to you, Ben." Before Stillman could shake his hand, an enormousexplosion sounded from somewhere ahead of thetrain. Stillman jerked a look over the roof of the caropposite and saw thick black smoke billowing in thedistance. Then, suddenly, the trains brakes were appliedwith a high-pitched, teeth-grinding shriek, andStillman and March were thrown forward into therear of the express car. March lost his hat and thewind grabbed it as he cursed, clutching his shoulder,which had taken the brunt of the impact. Stillman found himself on his butt, with his backagainst the door of the car hed been riding in. Hecould hear screaming and yelling from inside thetrain. As the train was still grinding to a slow, hard-fought halt, he heard what could only have been thepopping of guns coming from the area of theexplosion. He knew instantly that the train was under attackby robbers. He looked at March as the trainshuddered to a stop, and he recovered his balance."You all right, Ted?"
  29. 29. March was pulling himself to his feet. "What inSam Hill... !" "I think were being robbed," Stillman yelled back,above the popping of guns and the yelling ofpassengers, who were opening windows and stickingtheir heads out for a look. "Are you armed?" "Hell, no, Im not armed!" March respondedangrily. "We aint had a robbery in months, and gunsonly make the passengers jittery." "Then you better lay low," Stillman said. "Ill beright back."He had to make sure Fay was all right before he coulddo anything about the robbery. To that end, he wentback into the car and moved briskly down the aisle,telling everyone to remain seated and calm and to gettheir heads back inside unless they wanted themblown off. Stillman was relieved to see Fay, standing beforeher seat amid the agitated crowd. Her hair wasdisheveled and her face was pale with fear, browneyes dark with worry, but they brightened when shesaw him."Ben, what happened?" she said as he approached. "Were being held up," Stillman said, taking herinto his arms, relieved to find her well. "They musthave blown the tracks ahead of the train. Are you allright?""Im fine," she said. "What are we going to do?" "Im gonna head back up and see if I can doanything. Theyre probably in the express car. Youstay here and try to get everyone to calm down, willyou?"
  30. 30. Fays eyes filled with worry. "Ben, you cant go upthere!" "Im just going to see if theres anything I can do. Iwont try anything stupid—I know Im outgunned."Stillman kissed her lips, staring into her eyes. "Ill beback.""Ben, please ..." Hed just started back down the aisle when thedoor to the vestibule opened and two rough-lookinghombres entered wearing burlap hoods with the eyesand mouths cut out. One man wielded a sawed-off,double-barreled shotgun. The other held a revolver. Awoman screamed, but the rest of the passengers inthe car fell silent. Stillman cast a look at the rear of the car and sawanother man, dressed like the first two, enter withanother shotgun. He stood there like a sentinel, thebutt of the shotgun on his hip. "All right, everybody just sit down and keep yourmouths shut," shouted the man with the pistol. "Any-body gets any funny ideas about being a hero, forgetabout it unless you wanna go out in a hail of lead!Just hand over all your money and jewelry when mybuddy comes by with his sack, and well be on ourway. Anybody holdin out on us gets a bullet in theeye. Understood?" The man with the shotgun moved down the aisle,shotgun in one hand, the open bag in the other. "Allright, stop thinkin about it now, and cough it up.Every bit of it! Hurry up, lets go. We aint got allday!" Men fumbled for their wallets and women opened
  31. 31. their purses and dumped them into the bag as the manapproached their seats yelling, keeping the fear up,threatening to kill anyone who decided to hold ontoGrandmas wedding ring or their prized pocketwatch. If he so much as thought anyone was holdingback something valuable, hed shoot first and askquestions later. Meanwhile, a baby cried and an old woman some-where behind Stillman whimpered into herhandkerchief. Stillman sat in his seat beside Fay, about three-quarters of the way down the aisle, and consideredhis options. He could attempt a shot at the man withthe bag. If he hit him and killed him, he could thenshoot the man at the front of the car, who stood, pistolin hand, watching the passengers, making sure noone tried to play hero. The only problem with Stillmans plan was that ifhe didnt kill each man with his first two shots,passengers were liable to get killed. If he sat tight andlet the robbers go about their business, chances wereno one would die. It was true that some people here were probablylosing their life savings—some were no doubtfarmers heading west to start a new life, every centthey owned nestled deep in the pockets of theirhomespun pants— but it was better than losing theirlives. Besides, a posse could be rounded up later, andthere was always the possibility the bandits would becaught and the loot recovered. But it wasnt going to go as smoothly as Stillmanhad hoped. The man with the shotgun had stopped
  32. 32. before a feeble old man who was apparentlyunwilling to part with his watch. "Come on, hand it over, Gramps!" the man withthe shotgun shouted."No ... I... cant," the old man returned. "Grampa, please," begged the little girl sittingbeside him. "If you dont hand it over, Pops, Im gonna shootthis girl in her pretty little head!"This had gone far enough. Stillman stood casually, almost as though he wereabout to stretch. "Hey," the masked man behind him said, soundingmore irritated than spooked. Thats what Stillman had wanted. Before the manleveled the shotgun, Stillman deliberately drew hisColt Army, extended his arm toward the rear of thecar, aimed quickly but carefully, and shot the manthrough the forehead. The two men toward the headof the car were slow to react, their attention havingbeen on the old man with the watch. Stillman turned the Colt on the man with the bagand fired just as the man dropped the loot and waslowering the shotguns barrel to his left hand forsupport. Still-mans Colt barked and spit flames. Theman flew backward into a drummers lap, a holethrough his blue flannel shirt spouting blood. Both men were dead in less than a second afterStillman had stood. The third man, with the pistol, came running downthe aisle. "Why you lousy goddamn—!" Stillman cuthis sentence off with a .44 slug through the shoulder
  33. 33. of the mans shooting arm. The man fired his pistol, but the bullet chunkedthrough the floor. The man dropped to a knee,screaming and cursing and ripping off his mask. Helooked to his right and grabbed the girl sitting there,jerking her in front of him before Stillman couldsqueeze off another shot. The man held the girl withhis wounded right arm. With his left hand, he broughta wide-bladed butcher knife to her throat. "Drop it, asshole!" the man shrieked, spittleflecking off his lips, eyes wide and crazy, hair atangled mess around his head. "Im gonna carve upthis girl like a Thanksgivin turkey!" "You dont wanna do that," Stillman said, movingslowly up the aisle toward them. The girls mother was screaming, and the fatherwas holding her back as she fought to lunge for herdaughter. The car was buzzing with fervent groansand gasps. "You drop that gun right now, or I swear Ill cuther!" the outlaw intoned. Calming himself with steady, even breaths,Stillman swallowed and shook his head. "I cant letyou do that, friend. Now, let the girl go." "Im gonna cut her!" the man yelled through ahideous laugh. Just before the blades pointed tip broke throughthe tender skin of the girls neck, Stillman sighteddown the Colts barrel and fired. The man fell like acarcass cut from a rope. The girl lunged for herparents, screaming. Stillman moved forward, grabbed the knife out of
  34. 34. the outlaws hand, and saw that his bullet had gonecleanly through the mans right eye, killing himinstantly. Stillman was about to run up the aisle when hesaw Ted March enter looking pale but pleased."Now, that was some shootin!" the conductor said,and whistled. "Are there any more bandits?" Stillman asked ur-gently. March shook his head. There were two more onhorses, but they hightailed it when they heard theshootin. I dont think they had much stomach for afight." He chuckled. Stillman turned. Several of the passengers weremilling about the car to get a look at the dead banditsand to thank Stillman for his help. An old womangrabbed him around the neck and kissed his cheek. Stillman headed back toward his seat, where Faywas standing, looking at him with relief plain in herlovely features. She shook her head slowly and trieda smile as he approached. The ex-marshal took his young wife gently in hisarms, kissed her forehead, and held her to his chest. "Well, Mrs. Stillman," he said with a sigh,"welcome back to Montana."
  35. 35. 4Bob Andrews and E. L. "Scratch" Lawson gallopedtheir horses southeast from the railroad bed, traverseda thin cottonwood copse, and descended the deepgash of Big Sandy Creek, glancing over theirshoulders to see if any of their brethren werefollowing them. It was too much to hope for, they both knew.Theyd deduced from the yelling and gunfire that allthree men aboard the train had gone down in a holyhail of lead. Thats why they hadnt hung around tobe next. Instead theyd released the horses of theircompaneros, and lit a shuck. When their mounts had ascended the oppositebank, choosing a game trail that took the steep gradeat an angle, Bob Andrews halted his and slipped outof the saddle. He handed his reins to Scratch. "Im gonna take alook and see whats what." He dug in his saddlebagsfor his spyglass. Scratch was so riled, his big slab of sun- and wind-burned face was swollen up like hed been snakebit.His big, bushy black mustache was wet with sweat."There aint nobody followin us. Those boys aredead—I know it. Otherwise, they woulda come a-runnin! Whoever was back there in that passengercar... shit!""Yeah, Ill say shit," Bob Andrews said, voice fairly
  36. 36. quaking with emotion. His brother, Howard, hadbeen one of the men in the passenger car when all theshooting had occurred. "Wait till Pa hears aboutthis." He didnt know what made him feel worse—thedeath of his little brother, Howard, or the prospect ofwhat his father would do to him and Scratch when hefound out Howie was dead and that Bob and Scratchhad hightailed it out of there without so much asflinging a single slug. The eyepiece snugged up against his face, he sweptslowly right to left, bringing up the train bed, the cot-tonwoods beneath it, the dry slough cluttered withcattails, and the open stretch of wheat grass betweenthe slough and the ravine. The train was still therewhere theyd left it, idling on the tracks under the bigblue bowl of prairie sky. Four men were out inspecting the damaged rails.Training the spyglass on them, Bob recognized theengineer, the fireman, and the conductor. The otherman Bob recognized as the one hed seen through thewindow-of the passenger car, shooting at Howard,Lefty, and Clem—a broad-shouldered, slim-waistedhombre in a crisp, cream, ten-gallon Stetson and abig mustache flecked with gray. Bob held the glass on the man for a long time,feeling anger burn up through the bile in his stomach.Who was that son of a bitch, anyway? Why in helldid he have to pick today to ride the train? Bob then aimed the spyglass north, toward the littlevillage of Box Elder—the scattered shacks of whichwere just over the horizon. Bob thought maybe one
  37. 37. or two of the others, if theyd managed to leave thetrain alive, might have headed that way. But therewas nothing more out there than gently undulatingswells of blond prairie grass interrupted here andthere by a lone cottonwood or a box elder. Thewindmill of the Gustach ranch rose up in the west,only the idle blades visible above the sod. Apparently, Scratch had see the men outinspecting the damaged rails. "I say we ride backthere and give them the what-for, thats what I say,"he said through clenched teeth. Bob looked at him with contempt. "You sure arebrave now! Where the hell were you ten minutesago? All I saw was your back, galloping away!" "Well... goddamnit... all that shootin ... it riledme... I couldnt think straight. I didnt mean to run." "Maybe you didnt mean to, but run you sure ashell did!""Well, so did you, Bob!" "Only cause I seen you runnin, by god! I figuredyou mustve seen someone else comin around theother side of the train or something, with ashotgun.... What was I supposed to do, stay there andtake on that bastard by my lonesome?" Scratch acquired the air of a chastised child. "Itwas an honest mistake. Hell, I never robbed a trainbefore.""Neither did I.""Leave me alone, Bob." "Yeah, wait till Pa hears about this. Then well seewho leaves you alone." Bob Andrews brought the eyepiece back up and
  38. 38. focused the glass on the train, sitting there with blacksmoke curling from the big funnel-shapedsmokestack and sun winking off its fittings andwindows. He slid it northward, to where the fourmen were inspecting the rails. One stood off from theothers. Bob isolated the man, fine-tuning the spyglass. Itwas the big hombre whod killed his brother and hisfriends. The man was holding something up to hisface. What the hell? Bob tried to quell his breathingand steady his hands on the spyglass. Finally he sawthat the man was holding his own spyglass up to hiseye, and was aiming it this way! Bob swallowed, wanting to run. He kept thespyglass on the man. The man took his left hand offthe glass and held it up, waving. Bob couldnt seefrom this distance, but something told him the manwas grinning, as well. "What is it?" Scratch asked him, seeing thefearful, blanched look on Bobs narrow face. "Nothin, " Bob groused, bringing the glass down,reducing it, and scrambling to his feet. "Lets get thehell out of here." They mounted quickly and rode due east along thecreek, then turned around Little Jim Butte in the TwoBear Mountains, and angled south through pineforests and draws teaming with aspens and freshetsbubbling from rocky springs. There were squattercabins here and there, and when they were five milesas the crow flies from the stalled train, Bob hadgotten enough pluck back to take a shot at a farm boycultivating a potato field in Horse Head Hollow.
  39. 39. The boy dropped the plow, and he and the horsebroke and ran in opposite directions, the kidscreaming at the cabin sitting back in the woods, "Itsthem! Its them! Its the Andrews gang!" Bob whooped. "You crazy sumbitch!" "Go diddle yourself, Scratch!" A half hour later they came out on the ridge over-looking the Andrews ranch, if you could call it aranch. It was as much an outlaw hideout as a ten-cowstock operation, working out of an unpainted, woodframe shack with a tin roof. To the left of the cabinsat a barn abutted on both sides by lean-to sheds andflanked by broken wheels and seats and other wagonparts. The weeds around the barn grew as high as amans waist. There were a few rusted implements buried in theweeds around the windmill and water trough, andthere were three horses in the peeled log corral. Therewas no outhouse. Dillon Andrews, the patriarch ofthe Andrews ranch, did not believe in buildingshelters over shit holes, when it was just as easy toshit over a deadfall log in the woods. If you had toshit badly enough, youd shit in the rain, with orwithout a roof over your head, or use a slops pailinside. The old man was wrestling and cursing a wagonjack in the yard when he heard the horses in thecorral whinny. He looked up from the jack withwhich he was trying to peel the axle of a dilapidatedhay wagon off the hard-packed yard. He aimed hishawkish face with its deep-set mud-brown eyes at his
  40. 40. son and E. L. "Scratch" Lawson riding down theridge, through the brightly colored carpet of balsamroot and shooting star. Bob Andrews was more scared now than hed beenback at the train. He wondered if it might have mademore sense to tussle with that rough whod killed hisbrother than to return home to explain the situation tohis father, who was eyeing him now from the yard,fists on his hips, his characteristically vile gazetempered only by dark curiosity. He knew somethinghad gone wrong; otherwise, Bob and Scratch and theother three would be riding back together. "What the hell happened?" the old man barked asBob and Scratch approached on their hang-headedgeldings. Even the horses looked cowed andapprehensive around the old man. "Trouble, Pa." "What kinda trouble?" "Howie and the others ... they didnt make it." The old mans face swelled and turned red. He wasblinking as though the light was in his eyes, but it wasbehind him. "Wh—what the hell happened?" he saiddarkly. Bob turned to Scratch, who looked down at hissaddle horn, working his lips together, cringingagainst the inevitable onslaught of the old mansawful wrath. Bob turned back to his father. "There was a shoot-out. They back-shot em ridinaway, the cowardly devils. We turned to return firebut there was just too many of em—had to be five,six, maybe seven openin up on us with rifles." "Five, six, or seven, you say?" Dillon Andrews
  41. 41. said, inclining his head and acquiring a skepticalstare. "You scouted that run for the last two weeks,said it looked easy." Bob shook his head and glanced again at Scratchfor help, who offered none. "I know, Pa, but this timesome of those passengers was totin scatterguns andsuch." "I thought you said rifles." "Them, too." The old man studied the two young men warily.Then, as the death of his youngest boy took hold, heturned away to look at the sandstone ridge poking upeast of the ranch, its slopes furry with choke- andjuneberry and a smattering of wildflowers. The cabin door opened and a young blond womanappeared—or girl rather. All of seventeen, she waswearing a white dress with puffy sleeves and twobands of white lace down around the skirt. Therewas a red ribbon stuck in her hair, above her left ear.She had a hesitant look on her pale, round face, thetwo blue eyes peering reluctantly at Bob and Scratch. Bob knew Evelyn, the whore Howie had broughtback from Helena to cook and clean and satisfyHowies masculine desires, had gussied herself up forHowies return with the loot. Only there wasnt anyloot, and there wasnt any Howie. "What happened?" Evelyn said, standing on thesingle plank step below the cabin door. "Howies dead," Bob told her with a sigh. The girl swallowed and folded her arms across herbosom. She looked pleadingly at Bob for several sec-onds. Tears welled in her eyes. Then she turned,
  42. 42. fumbled with the doorknob, and disappeared insidethe cabin. "Unsaddle your horses," the old man said tightly,still staring off at the rock formation. His face wasdangerously expressionless. Bob shuttled an ominous look to Scratch, who re-turned it. Silently they dismounted and led theirhorses into the barn.Theyd unsaddled the animals, shelved the saddles,and were filling the troughs with oats when Bobheard something and turned to the open doorway.His father was standing there, silhouetted against thedaylight. He was holding a long blacksnake. "Come here," he snapped. Scratch peered darkly at Bob from over his horsesback, then turned to walk around behind the gelding.Both horses were munching oats contentedly,swishing their tails. That and flies buzzing aroundthe walls were the only sounds. Bob met Scratch atthe rear of his horse, the mens eyes lockingsignificantly before turning to the old man standingin the doorway holding the blacksnake straight downat his side, the long leather whip curling in the dust. "Now I wanna know what happened, and I wannahear the truth this time.""I told you, Pa—" The old mans hand rose in a blur. The blacksnakecurled through the air, catching Bob across theshoulders, tearing his shirt. "Ouch, Pa!" The horses whinnied and reared against the ropessecuring them in their stalls. The blacksnake careened through the air again,
  43. 43. striking Scratch with a sharp crack. Scratch fell backwith a yelp, losing his hat and rolling on the hay- andmanure-packed floor of the barn. The horseswhinnied and kicked the wood partitions. Swallowswheeled from the rafters and fled through the cracksin the log walls."You two ran, didnt you? Didnt you?" The blacksnake ripped into Bob again, turninghim around and sprawling into a four-by-four roofjoist from which bridles and halters hung. "No, Pa! Imean—hell, this hombre in the train, he just startedshootin—and before we knew it, all three of emwere down. We didnt know what else to do—" "So you broke and ran!" Crack! "No, Pa—I didnt! It was Scratch!" The snake whistled in the air and cracked againstScratchs back, laying open the mans shirt andundershirt to a bloody strip of skin. "So ya both ran!" "I didnt mean to run, Uncle Dillon—I swear! Myhorse spooked, and then all of a sudden I was runninaway and couldnt get him stopped ... so I just keptgoin!""You ran and left my boy and your friends to die!" Bob turned away when he saw the whip comingtoward him again. As it cracked across his back, theold man yelled, "You left your little brother to die onthat train!" For the next five minutes, the blacksnake crackedinto each of the bloody, cowering men in turn, oneafter the other. The horses screamed and kicked theirstalls, churning powdery dust and hay. The young
  44. 44. men moaned and groaned and begged the old man tostop. But he wouldnt stop until neither Bob nor Scratchwas able to respond to the whipping; they laysemiconscious in bloody, tattered heaps about thehard-packed floor of the bam. The old man calmly and deliberately hung theblack-snake on a joist, then picked up a bucket andwent to the tank at the base of the windmill. Hereturned a moment later, throwing half the water onBob, the other half on Scratch. Both men groanedand stirred, sobbing like children. "Listen to me now!" the old man roared at Bob."You find whoever it was who killed your brother,and you make him pay. Do you hear me?" Bob groaned. Scratch was trying feebly to pullhimself to his feet, using the roof joist for support. Hishands were bloody, as was his back, beneath the tornstrips of his shirt. "Do you hear me? Leave in the morning and dontcome home until hes dead. One man, you say—huh!" The old man snorted and shook his head withcontempt. Bob spat blood and pushed himself to his knees."I... I hear ya, Pa. Well get him, Pa. I... I swear wewill."Later that night, Bob and Scratch were lying on cotsin the barn, sharing a bottle of busthead Bob had hidout there, away from the old man whose weaknessfor whiskey was notorious. Earlier, Evelyn had comeout from the house with a basin of water, rags, and
  45. 45. an old sheet torn into strips for bandages to doctortheir wounds. Now they tossed the bottle back and forth,recorking it after each slug. The two empty cotsnearby were a ghastly, additional admonition of theircowardice, for they were where Lefty and Clem hadslept. Howie had slept with Evelyn and the old manin the house. Neither man said anything. They lay there in thelantern light, slugging whiskey and growing more andmore morose ... and angry at the son of a bitch whohad gotten them into trouble. They were going to get him, whoever he was. Itwas the only way theyd be able to look themselvesin the mirror again, not to mention face the old man.He was the meanest, most crotchety, evil, hard-hearted bastard either of them had ever known. Still,they wanted nothing more than to please him, and tothat end would strive as they had always striven,against the odds, and despite the futility of theirefforts. No one—not even Howie, the old mansfavorite—had ever totally pleased Dillon Andrews. The barn door scraped open. Both men tightenedand stared anxiously at the entrance. They did notwant any more run-ins with the old man. Especiallyafter hed been drinking, which, since it was nearlynine oclock, hed been doing for the past five hours.Sitting in his chair, staring, and drinking."Boys." It was Evelyn. Both men sighed. Bob swallowed the whiskeyhed suspended in his mouth when hed heard thedoor, and watched the girl enter the lantern light. She
  46. 46. still wore the white dress shed been wearing forHowie, as well as the ribbon. Her face was puffyfrom crying. She was holding what appeared to be awadded up towel. "Mr. Andrews didnt want me bringin you nothinto eat, but I managed to squirrel away a few biscuitsafter supper. The old man has drunk himself uptighter than an old clock, so I managed to slip away.Here you go. Dig in. It may be all youll have for awhile. He said no breakfast, neither." “I aint hungry," Bob said. "You have to eat something, Mr. Bob." She always called him Mr. Bob for some reason.She liked to play with words. Scratch was "Atch,"Howie was "Mowie," Lefty was "Mr. Right," andClem was "My Darling Clementine," which hadpissed Clem off to no end. "Hello, My DarlingClementine," shed say, and Howie would howl.Dillon Andrews had been her "Little Cutie Pie" onlyonce. Now he was, without exception, Mr. Andrews—to his face, anyway. "I told you I dont want nothing," Bob said, takingone of the biscuits and throwing it against the wall. Itstruck with a thump and hit the floor."Ill take one," Scratch said meekly. He took one of the biscuits from the towel Evelynheld out to him, and bit into it. "You sure can make abiscuit, Miss Evy," Scratch said. "Thanks, Atch," the girl said with a note ofsadness in her voice. She sat down on the foot ofScratchs cot and looked mournfully at Bob."I cant believe hes dead, Mr. Bob."
  47. 47. "Well, he is, and thats that." "The old mans real broken up. Hes even cryin inthere. I never seen him cry before. Its scary. Givesme the shivers to see a man like that cry." "Yeah, the golden boy is dead." "He scares me. I aint ashamed to tell you that." Bob chuffed a mirthless laugh. "Hell, he scaresme, too." Scratch reached for another biscuit, and Evelynhanded him the whole towel. "I dont know what Im gonna do with myselfnow," Evelyn said, looking down at her hands. "You best go back to where ya came from, Ireckon." "I was wonderin where you boys was goin." "How the hell should we know? I reckon weregoing after the sumbitch who shot the golden boyand Lefty and your Darling Clementine." "Can I go with?" Bob looked at her. She wasnt a bad-looking girl,and hed often listened outside the cabin when sheand the golden boy were going at it, after the old manhad drunk himself into a stupor. Bob thought hewouldnt mind having some of that himself, onlyHowie hadnt been the sharing type. Bob had neverlain with a woman who looked even remotely asgood as Evelyn. He felt a sudden interest stirring hisloins. He glanced at Scratch, devouring a biscuit. "Idont know, Atch. What do you think?" Scratch shrugged, swallowing with some effort.The biscuits had dried out. "Hell, I dont know
  48. 48. nothin." He was still tending the psychologicalwounds of the beating. "Ill do your cookin and cleanin for ya. Just like Ido here," the girl said. Bob pushed himself up on his cot, rested his headagainst the log wall. A thin, carnal smile grew on hisface. "What else will you do for me?" The girl looked at her hands again. "Well, I reckonIll do whatever you want, Mr. Bob ..." "You do for me what you did for the golden boy?" She looked up, tipped her head, and arched aneyebrow. "Well... wed have to see about that, nowwouldnt we? A girl doesnt just—" "A girl just does if she dont want to stay anddiddle the old man." "Why, youre blackmailin me, Mr. Bob!" "Yes, I am." Bob grinned broadly. "Show me yourtitties." Evelyn looked at him sharply, cheeksblushing. "Thats crude ... and not in front of Atch!" "Turn over, Atch." "Oh, come on, now, you two ..." “Turn over, goddamnit, or Ill go tell the old manyou been stealin his liquor!" "Oh, shit... all right." Scratch turned on his side,away from Bob. Evelyn got up slowly and walked over to thelantern. "Leave it on," Bob said, "and get out of thatdress." She turned to him. "You promise youll take mewith you?"
  49. 49. "You get out of that dress, and give me what youbeen givin the golden boy, and its a definitepossibility." She stood there for a while, whetting Bobsinterest. Then slowly, with the air of a girl who hadpracticed such an operation more than a few times inthe past, she slid the dress down her shoulders,revealing the firm, white globes of her young breasts. Bobs eyes grew wantonly dark and sleepy. Hepatted the cot beside him, and Evelyn walked slowlytoward him, smiling faintly, coquettishly. Bob swallowed as she sat down, ran the back ofhis knuckles down her bare arm. "So this is what thegolden boy was gettin."Then he grabbed her hair and pulled her down.
  50. 50. 5Earlier that evening, after the tracks had beenrepaired— a nearly three-hour endeavor involvingStillman, the trains brakeman, engineer, and a two-man railroad crew hailed from Box Elder—the trainwound around the last curve into Clantick, sparksmushrooming from the smokestack and the whistlesignaling its approach. "Well, Im glad that uneventful little jaunt is overwith," Fay said dryly as she and Stillman jounced tothe trains clattering rhythm, leaning back against thegreen velvet cushions. Stillman glanced out the window. Dark clouds,their bellies crimson with the suns dying rays,compressed the evening glow to a thin bar over thewestern pastures relieved here and there by hills andchalky buttes. He sighed fatefully, thinking back tothe robbery hed foiled. "Jody wasnt kidding whenhe said the place was getting wild." Fay lifted one of her perfect eyebrows. "Anysecond thoughts?" "A few," Stillman admitted, smoothing hismustache. He turned his clear blue eyes to his wife."But on account of you, not me." The train was slowing now, and the otherpassengers rose to gather their bags from theoverhead compartments. Their faces still appearedstricken from the bout with the bandits, and their
  51. 51. voices betrayed their relief at the approach ofcivilization—or what passed for civilization out here. Fay clutched his wrist. "Ben, you are the only manI have ever loved. Youre the only man I will everlove. If anything happened to you, I dont know whatI would do. But you have to do whatever it is thatmakes you Ben Stillnian, the man I love." Shesmiled ironically, and shrugged, suppressing a sigh."And for now I guess that is becoming sheriff ofClantick, Montana Territory." "I feel like a heel, taking you out of Denver justwhen you were getting to know so many interestingpeople." "My darling, I couldnt be truly happy in Denver,knowing you werent satisfied with your job.Besides, this is my home, remember? I wasbeginning to miss my horseback rides in the TwoBears." The train shuddered to a stop, and Stillmangripped the seat before him. "Fay," he said to hiswife, with love in his eyes, "they really did break themold when they made you." "Youd better hope so," Fay said with her huskylaugh, her English edged a little with the Frenchshed spoken at her familys ranch near theYellowstone River until she was twelve years old. Stillman had met her there, nine years ago, whenas a deputy U.S. marshal, hed gone to Miles City tohelp the local sheriff with a vigilante problem.Despite the fifteen-year gap in their ages, theydpromptly fallen in love. Stillman asked Fays father,the indomitable, wealthy Alexander Beaumont, for
  52. 52. Fays hand in marriage. Beaumont granted it, butlater changed his mind, privately imploring Stillmannot .to go through with the ceremony. Stillman was obviously a career lawman, andwhat kind of a life could such a man offerBeaumonts beautiful, precocious daughter, whodbeen raised on classical French literature and thefinest blooded horses in the West? Stillman had written Fay a letter explaining thathis job had called him away and that hed not beback to the Yellowstone River country ... that themarriage was off. He saw her again seven years later, after a bulletin his back had made him retire his badge. She wasmarried to the British heir, Donovan Hobbs, aruthless, murdering cattle baron who owned a ranchnear Clantick. Stillman was on the Hi-Line,unofficially investigating the death of his old hide-hunting friend, Bill Harmon, Jody Harmons father.He wound up foiling Hobbss rustling operation,killing the man, and marrying Fay at last. Now here they were again, where it all hadstarted ... the second time. "Shall we?" Stillman said, standing and offeringhis hand to the exquisitely lovely woman. When the aisle had cleared, Stillman retrievedFays carpetbag, his war bag, and the worn leathersheath containing his Henry rifle from the overheadcompartment. Fay took the carpetbag, and Stillmanfollowed her down the aisle and onto the carsplatform. The kerosene lamps outside the station house were
  53. 53. lit and attracting moths; the dusk had settled inearnest, blurring edges and drawing shadows outfrom the roof over the station house platform.Looking around, Stillman saw Jody Harmonsearching the cars. Stillman was about to call to him when he sawCrystal walking down the line of cars, studying thewindows and glancing at the disembarkingpassengers. From this distance, you could havemistaken her for a cowpoke, in her denim jeans,cowhide vest, and flat-brimmed hat. Many cowboyshad started growing their hair nearly as long as hers.But there was no mistaking the womanly curvesunder the garb, or the lovely lines of her fine-boned,Nordic face. Suddenly she saw Stillman and waved. "Mr. Still-man!" she called. Then to Jody, "Theyre downhere!" Jody turned and, seeing Stillman, hurried down theline of cars. Crystal wrapped her arms around thelawmans neck and hitched her chin over his bigshoulder. "Its so good to see you again, Mr. Stillman! Im soglad you came!" She pushed away and looked at himwith concerned appraisal. "Are you all right? Weheard there was trouble ..." Stillman shook his head. "Im fine. And its goodto see you, too, Crystal." Hed known her for only afew months two years ago, but shed become like adaughter to him. Crystal slipped from his arms into Fays, and Jodystepped up, holding out his hand. "Nice to see you
  54. 54. again, Mr. Stillman," he said with a shy smile. "Sorryabout your welcoming party, but I told you in myletter it was getting pretty woolly around here." "You did at that, son," Stillman said, disregardingthe boys hand and engulfing the lad in his arms. He could tell by the width of the boys shouldersthat hed put on muscle since Stillman had last seenhim. Jody had been seventeen then, just a boy, thoughhis fathers murder had made him grow up fast. Nowhe stood only an inch or two shorter than Stillmanssix-feet-one, and had filled out quite a bit. Pushing the boy back and holding him at armslength for inspection, Stillman saw that the kid hadbecome a handsome man, with dark, half-Indianfeatures, blue-green eyes, and a solid jaw beneath ablack, round-brimmed hat boasting a snakeskin band.His mother had been a full-blooded Cree. "Youve turned into quite the man," Stillman saidadmiringly. "Your father would be right proud." "Thank you, Mr. Stillman. Id like to think so." "Bet on it." Jody tipped his hat brim at Fay. "Pleased to seeyou again, Mrs. Stillman." "The pleasures mine, Jody," Fay said, giving theboy a heartfelt hug. "Howve you been?" "Well, with all that land you gave us, we couldnthave done much better," Jody said. "Donovan Hobbs gave you that land. He owed itto you for all the trouble he caused around here.After burning your ranch ..." "I rebuilt the headquarters, then split up the range
  55. 55. and doled out parcels to all the other ranchers herustled cattle from," Jody told her, feeling a littleguilty. She and Mr. Stillman could probably use thatland now, to build a house and maybe even run a fewbeeves on. Jody knew that Fays father had diedpenniless, having lost his fortune to several badwinters in the Yellowstone River country. Fay hadinherited nothing. She nodded knowingly. "I had a feeling you mightdo that" "The rest we turned back to open range, so wecould all graze our beef on it. Seemed like the fairestthing to do." "I agree." Reading the doubt in Jodys eyes, Fayadded sincerely, "Ben and I wouldnt have it anyother way, Jody. Theres more to life than land andmoney." Fays brown eyes widened, and the lightsfrom the lamps danced in them prettily. "Oh, my god," Crystal breathed. Stiliman glanced around. The conductor, TedMarch, and a porter were hauling one of the deadbandits off the train on a stretcher. March looked atStiliman. "Well lay them out in the back room of thestation house, Ben." "Sounds good, Ted. Tell the coroner I want toknow when theyve been identified." "Will do." To Jody, Stiliman said, "You said in your lastcable that the city council was meeting tonight." “Theyre waiting for you over at the Boston, Mr.Still-man. Ive arranged for your luggage to behauled over by dray."
  56. 56. "What in the hell is the Boston?" Stiliman said, in-credulous. Jody smiled. "The Boston is the best hotel in town.Chinese rugs, crystal chandeliers, and everything!" "I believe those are Ori-ental rugs," Crystalwhimsically corrected. "Thats where you and Mrs. Stiliman will bestaying until you can find permanent lodgings," Jodysaid to Stillman. The council members are waitingthere to brief you on the situation around here." Stillman glanced guiltily at Fay, then furled his eye-brows at Jody. "I dont know if I can afford any hotelcalled the Boston." "Its all been taken care of by the council, Mr. Still-man," Jody said, relieving Fay of her carpetbag andleading the group around the station house, toward thestreet and the two-seater buggy waiting by the hitchingpost, a pair of black fillies in the traces. "The councilmen worked out a deal with the gentle-man who runs the place. Hes an old fan of yours, itturns out Kept up with your career in the newspapers.Hes giving the council your room for a third his goingrate in return for your permission to call it the Ben Still-man room forever after." "Im flattered, but I hardly—" "Nonsense, Mr. Stillman," Jody interrupted, settingthe carpetbag in the buggy. He turned back to Stillman,reaching for the rifle sheath. "Dont you know yourestill famous around here?" Not for long, Stillman thought. Pretty soon Im goingto be about as popular as gout.
  57. 57. 6On his way to the Boston in the sleek, black surreyprovided by the hotel, Stillman saw that Clantick haddoubled in size in the two years since his last visit.Both sides of First Street, and about three or fourcross streets, were lined with many of the log andrickety frame buildings Stillman remembered. Butthere were at least a dozen two- and three-story brickstructures, as well. He counted no less than seven saloons andgambling parlors and three of what Stillmans veteraneye detected as houses of ill repute—all nestledtogether down a side street. The shingles suspendedover the street on posts declared one simply"Almas." Another was called "Serenas First AvenuePleasure Palace." The third shingle read simply"Rooms By the Hour." Even at the end of the day, the dusty streets werechoked with ranch wagons, drays, and spring buggieswith long whips jostling up from their holders. TwiceJody had to halt the two matched fillies pulling thebuggy, and wait for the traffic to disperse. Many of the men on the street were obviously busi-nessmen, dressed as they were in bowler hats andbroadcloth suits. Many of the women were obviously"respectable," wearing conservative hats and longgowns reaching, even now in summer, from theircameo-bedecked throats to their high-topped, lace-up
  58. 58. shoes. But most of the women on the street werecavorting outside the saloons in skimpy leg- andcleavage-revealing party dresses. And most of themen on the street were range-wom, dust-coveredcowboys, who had probably trailed a herd up fromTexas or Oklahoma or been uprooted by grangersplows from the Dakotas or other Territorial lands,like the Cherokee Strip and the Big Pasture. There were others—clerks, gamblers, drummers,clodhoppers, Indians, Chinese, children of all shapes,sizes, and colors, a few professional men, as well assoldiers from nearby Fort Assiniboine—making onebig, frothy concoction of a frontier town, not at allunlike Dodge City and Abilene in their heydays. Justa little farther north, a little farther off the beatenpath, a little farther from the reach of the bignewspapers. Stillman saw the danger in it, but he had to admitthis colorful, chaotic mob stirred him, awakenedsomething within him that had lain dormant foryears. Clantick reminded him of the old days back inMilestown and Glendive, when he and the Westwere young. Hed soon have another badge pinned to his chest,just like old times ... "Greetings, Mr. Stillman," said a stiff-looking,middle-aged gent at the entrance to the dining roomof the Boston Hotel. "I am Bernard McFadden,president of the Stockmans Bank and Trust, andchairman of the Clantick City Council." Stillman appraised the mans tall, lanky frame,
  59. 59. taking in the tailored broadcloth suit and the finestsilk shirt money could buy—west of the Mississippi,anyway. "Mr. McFadden took over the bank after Mr.Anderson died," Jody told Stillman. Crystal had shown Fay up to her room, where shewanted to freshen up after the long rail journey fromDenver. "A pleasure to meet you, sir," Stillman said,shaking the bankers hand. "Come in and meet the other council members,"McFadden said, turning to the big, linen- and silver-bedecked dining room. Along the windows to the right, a half dozen mensat around a large, circular table where Stillmancould tell from the remaining butter dishes andrumpled and stained tablecloth that a meal hadrecently been devoured. Four of the men were stillworking on dessert— German chocolate cake and icecream, it appeared. All were drinking coffee out ofsilver pots and bone china. "Im afraid when we heard you ran into troubledown the line, we decided to go ahead and eatwithout you," McFadden explained. "Wouldve senta posse, but the cable said youd taken care of the ...the ... situation." Stillman approached the table, holding his hat inhis hands, feeling a little cowed by this passel ofboosters giving him the twice-over, most of whomwere dressed similarly to McFadden. Well clothed,well fed, well groomed, and not one appearing underthirty years of age. The town had indeed changed in
  60. 60. two years. Stillman had expected to find at least onecowboy or granger among the citys powers-that-be. "Well, sometimes we get lucky and sometimes wedont," Stillman said with a sigh, taking the chairMcFadden indicated. Jody sat next to him. "Jodys already eaten, but Ill order you a plate,Mr. Stillman." Stillman waved the offer. "Ill eat later with mywife. You gentleman go ahead with your dessert. Illpartake of the coffee, however. Looks good andsmells even better." "I believe its from Africa," McFadden said,turning Stillmans cup right-side-up and pouring therich, aromatic brew. McFadden went around the table, introducingStillman to the county judge and all the councilmen,including the owner of a freighting company, alawyer, a barber, a Lutheran minister, and a co-owner of the Pepin/Baldwin Mercantile. Leroy Pepinpulled a half-smoked stogey from his mouth andasked, "How many bandits were there, Mr.Stillman?" "Five as far as I could tell. I took care of the threeon the train, but there were two outside holding thehorses. They got away. Ill go after them tomorrow,after Im sworn in and everythings official." "You dispatched all those men yourself?"McFadden asked Stillman with an arched eyebrow. "Didnt have a choice," Stillman said. "They werestarting to get rough with the passengers. I saw an op-portunity and took it." "Didnt I tell you he was the right man for the
  61. 61. job?" Jody said to the table in general. Hisexpression belied the relief he felt. His initial impulse to convince the Clantick CityCouncil to offer Stillman the sheriffs job had laterbeen tempered with doubt. Stillman had solved therustling problem two years ago, and had killedDonovan Hobbs in a gun battle. But could the forty-six-year-old lawman clean up the whole, burgeoningtown of Clantick, with all its contesting factions? Theincident on the train gave Jody the answer hed beensearching for. McFadden worried a toothpick between hisnarrow lips. "Yes ... well, I certainly hope you gavethem an opportunity to surrender, Mr. Stillman. Wedo indeed need law and order around here, but whatwe do not need is the kind of roughshod justicetheyve been seeing down around Virginia City oflate." Stillman looked at the man, his face flushingbeneath his tan. "Are you suggesting I might havemurdered those men, Mr. McFadden?" Oscar Peterson, the Lutheran minister—a baldlittle man with a bushy, gray, upswept mustache—raised a placating hand. "I dont think thats whatBernard means at all, Mr. Stillman. Were just a littlewary—thats all— of bringing in someone who maycompound our problems. Its happened before, inother towns on the Hi-Line. The council brings in aman who becomes more of a problem than the onehe was brought in to solve." "Oh, hogwater, Oscar!" piped up the owner of themercantile, Leroy Pepin. "Its not like were bringing
  62. 62. in some West Texas gunslick to form firing squadsand bring marshal law to Dodge. You knowStillmans record as well as the rest of us. Hes arespected lawman, for heavens sake. Would yourather hire another Ralph Merchant, and all he doesis hunt in the mountains and carouse in theroadhouses?" "Merchant is not here to defend himself," theminister admonished Pepin."No, hes not. And the reason hes not is someonemurdered him." Pepin pounded the table foremphasis. "And that person is still at large!" "Pepins right—its time we got tough," EdgarTempe, the barber, cut in. "Its gotten so bad outthere, I cant let my wife and daughter walk over toPepins mercantile for a spool of thread at high noon!"He turned to Jody. "Lad, tell Mr. Stillman about ourfriend, Daryl Bruner, gunned down in the street by anunruly lot of drunken drovers!" "I mentioned it in my letter to you, Mr. Stillman,"Jody said, and went on to tell Stillman the wholestory. When he was through, his voice was tight andhis eyes were hard. "Crystal saw it all?" Stillman asked when theyoung man was finished. "The whole thing—and got her face smacked toboot!" "And you know for certain the killers name andwho he works for?" "Rafe Paul. Hes ramrod for Norman Billingsley.Bil-lingsley runs cattle on about ten thousand acresnorth of the Milk."
  63. 63. For the first time the county judge, CharlesHumperdink, spoke up, raising a long, wrinkled hand."We must remember what Norman Billingsley hasdone for Clan-tick in the year and a half hes beenhere." Humperdink wore a charcoal suit, waistcoat,and a black foulard cravat. His face was like a slab ofred beef that had been scarred by a sharp knife. Itwas a startling contrast to his silver beard, which lenta grandfatherly touch. "His men shoot up the town every Saturday night,Judge," Jody pointed out, respectfully. The judge raised his hand again. "And a few of themore reckless have spent time in jail for it. I hastento add that the Saturday-night hoorahing is notlimited to Normans men." He turned his eyes toLeroy Pepin. "But Id bet those men, includingNorman himself, account for at least fifty percent ofall the business you do over at the mercantile—isntthat right, Leroy? Please correct me if Im wrong." "I just dont like what hes done to the town,Judge," Pepin said mildly. The judge snorted mirthlessly. "Without men likeNorman, we wouldnt have a town." There was a pause as most of the mencontemplated their coffee cups. Stillman looked atthe judge, whose eyes met McFaddens, at the otherend of the table. There seemed to be two factionshere—the county judge and the banker on one side,and the rest of the city council on the other. Curious. Stillman cleared his throat and said to Jody,"Tomorrow Ill write out a warrant and pick up thisRafe Paul for questioning." He glanced at the judge,
  64. 64. gauging the mans reaction. "Im sure the judge willsign it, since there seems to be legal grounds forsuspicion of murder." The judge stared at him expressionless, slowlyturning a butter knife in two gnarled fingers. That might be easier said than done, Stillman,"Oscar Peterson warned. "Billingsley might not beany more willing to turn Paul over to you than Paulwould be willing to go. And he has at least twelvemen working for him. Most or all are knowngunmen. Like Jody said, they come into town everySaturday night and shoot up at least one saloon,sometimes two." The lawyer, Dwight Utley, turned to Stillman."Which brings us to the topic of hiring a deputy." "Ive got a man on the way," Stillman said."Should be on the train tomorrow. A good man.Youll like him." "Well... good," McFadden said, looking aroundfor concurrence. The others nodded, as well. The freighter, Kendall St. John, swallowed a slugof coffee and said, "Youve got your work cut out foryou, Mr. Stillman. Youve got Billingsleys crew toworry about, those damn train bandits, and the troubleall these damn drifters keep bringin to town—cuttinup pleasure girls and breaking into the homes of ourcitizens." "Wanted men use the Hi-Linc for a refuge,"Peterson said darkly, shaking his bald head. "And I guess you heard us mention RalphMerchant," Utley interjected. "His body was foundhanging from a cottonwood tree in a creek bottom a
  65. 65. month ago—two days after hed gone out to theBilHngsley ranch to arrest Rafe Paul—whichBilHngsley had talked him out of doing, by the way." Bernard McFadden sighed with disgust and tossedhis napkin on his dessert plate, where his cake andmelted ice cream remained, untouched. "We dontknow hed gone out to the BilHngsley ranch, Mr.Utley. No one knows that for sure." "He told his lady friend he was going hunting withsome of Billingsleys men, and—" "Hearsay," the judge intervened. The attorney scowled. He turned back to Stillman.The sheriff who preceded Merchant was murdered,as well. Tied to a cot in one of his own cells, andstabbed." Stillman sipped his coffee, his eyes acquiring agrave cast. "I see." Peterson said, "I want you to understand, Mr. Still-man, that we are in a critical situation here. IfClantick is going to continue to grow, then we musthave law and order. Otherwise, the town will die, andwe all might as well go back where we came from.But our wanting to have the town cleaned up is notan excuse for gun-play." Stillman set his cup down and cast the preacher adirect look. "Ill tell you this, Mr. Peterson. Ive been alawman off and on for twenty years, and if Ivelearned one thing, its that you dont kowtow tocriminals. You dont show weakness. And you makeno exceptions to the rules youve spelled out loud andclear for all to hear. If you do, you might as well painta target on your back and turn around ... and give
  66. 66. your town back to the devil. "Now, Im going to lay out a set of rules for the sa-loons and the whorehouses to follow by way ofquieting down the business district. And Ill bringthose two train bandits to justice, just as Ill bring inthis Rafe Whats-His-Name—if I have to bring inthis Billingsley character tied to the same horse." Heturned to the judge. "Im sure youll back me up,Judge, because thats the law." He sat back in hischair and alternated a study between the judge andMcFadden. When he spoke, his voice was slow andeven. "Take it, or send me back on the train." Silence. The council members studied each otherweightily. Finally, McFadden sighed, flushing a little, andturned to Stillman with a stiff smile. "Well—welcome to Clan-tick, Sheriff." He shook Stillmanshand. "Oscar, shall we swear the new sheriff in?" The swearing in took only a minute. McFadden of-fered Stillman the sheriffs badge. Stillman pinnedthe star on his shirt and turned to Jody. "Well, youngman, shall we go find our women and take a littletour of the town?" As he and Jody turned to leave, McFadden calledfrom the table. "Oh, Mr. Stillman ... whos thisdeputy youre bringing in?" Stillman stopped and turned around. "Names Mc-Mannigle. Leon McMannigle." Jody stopped and turned to Stillman abruptly, hiseyes glazed with surprise. Ignoring him, Stillman smiled at McFadden. "A
  67. 67. good man, McMannigle. Youll like him."
  68. 68. 7Stillman woke at the first smear of dawn in the skybeyond his open window, through which he couldhear the singing of birds and little else. The townwas still asleep. He lay there with Fay curled upnaked against him, deep in slumber, and stared at theceiling. Today would be his first day behind a badge sincehed retired as deputy U.S. marshal five years ago,and he was hesitant. He knew he still had the rightinstincts for the job—his quick, precise shooting onthe train had told him that—and he and Fay haddecided together that his injured back should not pinhim to a rocker for the rest of his days. He needed todo what he did best, catch criminals and keep thepeace, or he might as well be dead. But what would happen to Fay if anything shouldgo wrong? It was his primary worry, and it led to onemore. Would such worry make him hesitate when thechips were down, cloud his focus, cause him to thinkrather than react, and get him killed? The West was no place for a lovely woman alone,even one with as much sand as AlexanderBeaumonts precocious daughter. She could maybeopen a clothing store or a cafe, but first shed needcapital, and God knows ...Fay stirred. She turned her head on the pillow, arumpled mass of black hair washing over her face.
  69. 69. She swept it away with her hand. "What time is it?"she said in a sleep-husky voice. Stillman picked his watch off the bedside table andopened it. "Five.""Awake already?" Stillman shrugged. He glanced at her and smiled.He lifted a hand and ran his fingers thoughtfullythrough her hair. Fay knew he was troubled, and she suspected shewas the cause. Hed never been both married and alawman before now. She knew he loved her, but shealso knew that love for a frontier lawman was anunwieldy sort of thing, sort of like trying to run a racewith irons on your ankles. She meant to make it as easy for him as possible,which meant talking about it only when he initiatedthe conversation. Men were different from women inthat way; women dealt with problems by talkingthem out, dragging the monster out from under thebed, so to speak, and giving it a good whack on thehead. Men tended their problems in silence, by naturereluctant to trouble those they loved. Sometimes itwas best to leave them to their silence or to distractthem subtly, with good food, say, or with love... Fay reached up and put her hand on his big,handsome face, brushing his mustache with herthumb. "Lets make love," she said. He formed an expression of mock horror. "Mrs.Stillman, its five oclock in the morning!" "Maybe this will change your mind," she said,flinging off the covers with a single sweep of herarm. She lay deliciously revealed on her side, resting
  70. 70. her head in her hand, regarding him with a duskysmile. Stillmans expression grew serious as he ran hiseyes from the tresses of hair spilling across hershoulders and slender back, down the grade of hercurving spine to the womanly upthrust of her splendidbuttocks. Her willowy thighs and coltish legs, right toher china-white feet, were long and slender as therest of her, perfect. Bringing his gaze back slowlythe way it had come, he took a detour across hershoulder to her breasts. The full, milky-white orbsbrushed the sheets, the nipples coming erect underthe passion of his gaze. Her voice, just above a whisper: "Do you likewhat you see, Mr. Stillman?" "I know Ive said it before, but Ill say it again," hebreathed. "They really did break the mold after theypoured you!" Smiling up at him, Fay slid her eyes down hisbroad, muscular chest, across the hard, knotted sinewbelts of his taut belly, and down to his full, elongatedhardness, bobbing slightly as it throbbed. She took itin her hand and worked on it gently at first, then morefirmly, until finally she stopped and climbed on top ofhim, straddling him, her long hair falling downaround her face and pooling on his chest. He groaned with pleasure as she worked, liftingher hands and running them through the thick salt-and-pepper hair that brushed his neck, pressing herankles tightly to his calves—grinding into him,warding off his demons, riding into bliss ... It was six-fifteen before Stillman finally gave Fay a