Authors: Matt Chisholm
McAllister was twenty-three years old, he was six foot one inch in his sox, broad in the shoulder and slim in the hip. He was fancy-free, he was broke and he didn't give a damn. The gun he wore at his hip was an old cap-and-ball Remington converted to cartridge and had been given to him by his father some ten years before. It had a scarred cedar butt that was worn smooth by much handling.
He walked down the main street of Combville, Kansas, and looked for the likeliest saloon. The Longhorns caught his eye and appealed to him as a Texan. He'd know some of the boys in there. He went through the batwing doors like a small tornado and surveyed the scene-smoke and the smell of drink was heavy on the still air, the place was crowded and full of the noise of conversation. Some drank, some played cards, some did both. The bar ran the whole length of the place and was crowded. McAllister ran his eye along it until it stopped at a tall man with Irish railroader written all over him.
McAllister gave a pleased grunt, elbowed his way through the crowd until he stood behind the tall man. He tapped him on the shoulder, the Irishman turned, frowning. McAllister pulled him away from the bar and hit him. It was what might be called a playful blow with no real intent to do damage behind it. But it staggered the Irishman a dozen feet backward, sent him into a table and landed him with the table on its side on the floor. The card players who occupied it jumped to their feet with startled and indignant cries.
The Irishman picked himself up, he looked surprised and offended.
“What did you do that for?” he asked mildly.
“Because I feel good,” McAllister told him.
The Irishman wiped his nose with the back of his hand, walked slowly up to McAllister and hit him full in the face with a fist that looked as if it could fell a Kentucky mule. It lifted the big man from his feet and sent him into the awed spectators. Willing hands hurled him back into the arena and toward the waiting fists of the Irishman who hit him again, this time in the belly. McAllister doubled up and the Irishman hit him under the chin and knocked him head over heels back into the crowd. Generously, they returned him. He ran head down straight into
the Irishman, caught him in the belly, knocked the wind out of him and put him on his back. The building shook to its foundations.
The Irishman sat up.
“Jesus,” he said.
He climbed to his feet.
“By all the indications,” he remarked, “you want a fight.”
“I got one,” he said.
“You can say that again,” said the Celtic giant.
A man yelled: “Ten to one on Pat.” He was eagerly taken up. The place was bedlam. The barkeep reached for a bungstarter and yelled: “Take your fight outside.”
Two stalwarts appeared with blackjacks in their hands. One jerked his head toward the street and said: “Out.”
The Irishman looked at McAllister.
“Do I fight you or these two bastards?” he enquired courteously.
McAllister said: “You take the one on the left, Pat, I'll look after the other.”
The two bouncers advanced with purpose. McAllister and the Irishman went eagerly to meet them. Men yelled at the tops of their voices as fresh bets were taken. One of the bouncers raised his weapon to strike the Irishman over the head, Pat hit him in the belly, seized him around his neck and hurled him bodily at the bar. The bouncer hit the floor and appeared to be weeping. He got slowly to his feet, but he wasn't there long, for Pat hit him behind the ear and laid him on the planks on his face.
McAllister dodged a swinging blackjack, snapped a right into the bouncer's face, crossed a left to the heart, dropped almost to the floor, gripped the man by the ankles and somersaulted him. The bouncer raised his dust and blood flecked face from the floor and said: “My Gawd.” He got heavily to his feet and charged. McAllister sidestepped him, tripped him and sent him into the bar which, under this second assault, nearly collapsed. The wood cracked under the impact of the bouncer's head and sounded like a gunshot.
The barkeep brought a sawnoff shotgun into view and said: “Outside.”
A man pushed his way through the crowd, an ordinary-looking man in a storesuit and wearing a hard hat and a large black mustache. McAllister knew him. This was Art Malloy, town marshal, a man of some reputation, tough on Texas
cowhands who came up the trail to Kansas and raised hell, but fair. He allowed no firearms in town and jailed anybody seen on the streets with one on his hip. He kept the peace under difficult circumstances.
He wasn't particularly tough, he wasn't the fastest ever with a gun, but he had a lot of nerve. Men feared and respected him. He had been the law here for six months and he had the town tamed. He was an old friend of Rem McAllister's. He looked hard at Rem now, eyed Pat the Irishman and gazed without humor at the two bouncers.
“I'm taking you in, McAllister, and you Pat. Walk down to the jail with me,” he said.
Pat said: “Sure, Art, it was only fun.”
“Looks like it,” Art said, shortly. “Let's get going.”
They followed him out of the saloon. Without a word to them the marshal led the way across the street, angling through the dust toward his office. He unlocked the door, lit the lamp and opened the cell that filled one end of the building.
“Just get in there and cool off, boys,” he said amiably. They walked inside and he slammed the grill door after them. “I never knew there was anybody could take those two bouncers.” He chuckled a little. “Did you eat?”
“No,” said McAllister.
“No,” said Pat.
“I'll have something sent over from the cafÃ© later,” the marshal told them. He went back to his desk and started on some paper work. The two prisoners sat on the cots provided; the Irishman built a smoke and lit up, McAllister filled his pipe and fired it. When they had smoked, they lay on the cots and dozed. An hour passed before a deputy marshal came in and Malloy sent him over to the cafÃ© to get the prisoners their supper. The deputy grumbled a little and went. When he came back with a loaded tray, the marshal sent him out onto the street again and brought the tray over to the cell. He slid it under the grilled door and said: “On the town, boys. Eat hearty. Can you pay your fine, Rem?”
“Don't have a cent,” McAllister told him.
The marshal thought about that.
“How much is it?” Pat asked.
“Five dollars flat charge.”
“I'll pay it.”
McAllister said: “Thanks.”
“Mighty civil of you,” said the marshal.
The street door opened and two men walked in. The marshal turned. McAllister yelled: “Look out,” for he had seen the bandannas over the lower part of their faces and the levelled shotgun. He flung himself down to the floor, glimpsing Malloy also going down, his right hand pulling the Colt gun from its sheath.
The shotgun roared, making a deafening noise in the confined space. The place was full of black smoke. The marshal was hurled back against the bars. The gun roared again. It seemed that pellets flew all around McAllister.
One of the men shouted: “He's dead. Light a shuck.”
They turned and ran out onto the street.
McAllister was on his feet, half-stunned by the noise of the shooting.
“Art,” he said.
The marshal raised a torn and bloodstained face.
“Help me, Rem,” he whispered.
McAllister knelt down, reached through the bars and felt the keys in the man's pocket. He took them out and awkwardly unlocked the door. He and the Irishman stepped out. Now that Pat had a good look at the marshal, he gasped in horror. It seemed that the buckshot had torn open the whole of the man's front. Together, they lifted him and placed him on one of the cots in the cell.
McAllister asked: “Is there a doctor in town?”
“Sure, I'll get him.”
The Irishman turned and ran out of the building. McAllister got to work on Malloy. He ripped open his torn and bloody shirt, pulled down the pants' top. The damage the shotgun had done was terrible. He had never seen such an injury in his life before and didn't know where to begin; the whole belly and the chest were lacerated and bleeding. The right arm seemed to have been torn open. He got Malloy's jacket off, removed the marshal's necktie and tied it around the upper arm as a tourniquet He tore his own bandanna from around his neck and tried to stop the body wounds. It was like trying to stop a flood. He doubted Malloy could live before the doctor got there.
The marshal opened his eyes.
“I'm a goner, Rem.”
“We'll fix you up, Art,” McAllister told him.
“They made a sieve of me.”
“Holiest lawman I ever saw.”
A man came in from the street on the run. It was the deputy
marshal. He came and looked down at Malloy, aghast.
“You do this?” he demanded of McAllister.
“Yeah,” the big man snarled, “that's why I'm still here. You got any clean rag?”
The man said: “A shirt do?”
“Anything, but make it quick.”
The man went into a rear room and came back a moment later with a clean white shirt. McAllister tore it up and made pads of it, telling the deputy to help him plug the wounds. Several men came from the street and wanted to know what the shooting was. They came to the door of the cell and gaped at the wounded man, attracted to blood like flies. McAllister roared for them to get the hell out of there. They seemed reluctant to go and wanted to know who he thought he was. With the use of some choice language and the threat of his fists, they went. He returned to Malloy.
“Who did it?” he asked.
Malloy said: “Could have been anybody of a dozen. I have plenty of enemies.”
He closed his eyes.
They worked away at the bleeding and finally Pat returned with the doctor, a pale-faced man in a dark suit. He put his bag on the cot, took a look at Malloy, straightened up and said: “I can't do anything here. This man's dead.”
The deputy made a strangled noise. McAllister gave him a glance and saw the man was overcome with emotion. The doctor picked up his bag.
“There's nothing I can do,” he said again. “This is a bad day for this town. Art Malloy was a good man. He held the lid on this inferno.”
A short fat man walked into the office and said: “What in God's name's going on here?”
The doctor said: “Somebody killed Art Malloy.”
The fat man looked as if he were going to faint.
“Who's this?” McAllister demanded.
The doctor said: “This is the mayor.”
Homer T. Touch. McAllister knew of him - a fancy dresser, a man with interest in the cattlepens in town and a lover of fine horses which he liked to race. He now had a small handkerchief out and was wiping his face.
“Who did it?” he demanded and was told that nobody knew. This was terrible; the killers must be hunted down and brought to justice at once. What would the town do without Malloy?
For six months he had kept the peace in a wide-open town. Who could replace him?
“Carson,” he said to the deputy, “you must take over meanwhile. You'll never replace Art, but you'll have to do your best. I'll see that you have adequate assistance.”
The deputy gulped and looked flustered.
McAllister said: “If the deputy's job's open, I'll take it.”
They all turned and stared at him.