Authors: Robert J. Thomas
Jess looked around the room and saw at least three men sitting at the tables who might be trouble as well as a few at the bar. Bodine nodded in the direction of Caldwell and Ross who were standing at the bar, already facing Jess and Bodine. Ross was the first to speak.
“Looks to me like you boys didn’t come in here for a friendly drink,” said Mack Ross, spitting on the floor.
“You’re a right smart person,” replied Jess. “Actually, we are looking for Mack Ross and Herman Caldwell and I’m guessing we found them. You look like Ross and that man next to you looks like Caldwell. Am I correct about that?” asked Jess.
“And why the hell do you think we should answer your question?” asked Herman Caldwell.
“Because we wouldn’t want to shoot the wrong men,” replied Jess, with that devious smile he seemed to be using more often.
“I don’t aim to get shot,” replied Caldwell. “You aim to get shot, Ross?” Caldwell asked his partner.
“Not today. I think the only ones who might get shot are these two idiots who came in here looking for us. I’ll tell you two boys this, if you leave right now, we’ll agree not to kill ya where you stand, but don’t take too long thinking about it ‘cause my partner here has an itchy trigger finger,” said Ross.
While Ross was talking, Jess looked-over the other three men at the tables to get a read on them. Two of them had their hands on the table, but one man had his hands under the table, and he had that look about him Jess had seen too often and he knew what it meant. He kept the man in his sight as he turned to look straight at Mack Ross.
“Obviously you are Mack Ross and you partner there is Herman Caldwell. Between the two of you, there is three hundred and fifty dollars in bounty money on your heads and we aim to collect it. The wanted posters said
dead or alive
and quite frankly, I always prefer dead so surrendering isn’t exactly an option for either of you.”
Ross, who had his elbows on the edge of the bar, now dropped his hands down at his side, his right hand next to his gun. “What makes you think we’d surrender in the first place?”
“I wasn’t thinking that at all. As a matter-of-fact, if you two men laid you guns on the bar and put your hands in the air, I’d shoot you just the same, so go ahead and go for them pistols whenever you get itchy,” replied Jess.
Mack Ross and Herman Caldwell both went for their guns. Bodine shot Caldwell straight in the chest. Jess shot Ross straight through the heart and a half a second later he fanned a second shot at the man at the table as the man brought his pistol above the table and was pointing it toward Jess. Bodine was surprised by Jess’s second shot.
“Damn it, I’m sorry Jess, I never saw that coming,” said John.
“I knew that one was trouble soon after we walked in here.”
“How the hell did you know?”
“Well, first of all, he had that look in his eyes and second, most men in a saloon who don’t want to get into the middle of a gunfight will keep their hands in plain sight as a sign that they are not going to get involved. That one there kept his hands below the table and he kept staring at me waiting for his chance to take a shot.”
“I guess I’ll have to be a little more observant,” replied Bodine.
“It might keep you alive long enough to collect the money we just made. I’m hoping that third one over there is worth something.” Jess and John looked around the room to see if they spotted any more threats, but most of the men went back to their usual banter. Sheriff Burleson and two deputies carrying shotguns walked into the saloon.
“Damn, you two don’t waste any time, do you?” asked Sheriff Burleson.
“No sense waiting, Sheriff. Can you check on that third man over there and let me know if he is worth anything?” Jess asked.
Burleson walked over to the third man who lay on the saloon floor. Burleson kicked the man over on his back to get a look at him. “Yep, this one is Randall Haney. He’s worth a hundred so it looks like you boys have been in town only a few hours and already made four hundred and fifty dollars. Not bad for a day’s work.”
“Yeah,” replied Jess, “and the day ain’t even over yet.” Burleson shot Jess a look, but he didn’t say anything. He simply sent for the undertaker to come and get the bodies. Jess and Bodine walked up to the bar and ordered some good whiskey. Some of the men were glancing at the two of them every once in a while, but no one made any move. They had a few drinks and Jess asked the barkeep, Logan Whipple, where the best place to eat was.
“Well, we serve pretty good food here and there are several places in town to get a good meal. Actually, I like the place around the corner called ‘Dottie’s Eats’. They serve some mighty fine grub and the best thing is that most of the gunslingers in town don’t eat there. Most of them eat in the saloons in town.”
Jess thanked him and threw a five dollar gold piece on the bar, which Logan Whipple picked up with a smile. “Do you want any change, Mister?”
“No, it’s all yours and thanks for the tip about the food.”
“You’re welcome, and thanks mister. You come back anytime, as long as you ain’t hunting me.”
“You have any bounty on your head?” Jess asked.
“Not me, no, I don’t even carry a gun. Only the double-barrel I keep under the bar and the extra one I keep behind that door going into the back.”
“Then, you have nothing to worry about,” replied Jess, as they walked out and headed down to Dottie’s Eats.
Jess and John walked into Dottie’s Eats and sat at a small table. The place was small, but clean and very quiet. There were mostly local townsfolk eating in the place and not one of the men in the place was wearing a gun, which meant that Logan Whipple had steered them to the right place. They had a nice meal and some hot coffee. There were no alcoholic beverages served on the premises, which explained why the gunslingers in town didn’t come into the establishment. Jess decided that this was where they were going to come for most of their meals while in Dodge City.
After dinner, they went back to their rooms and took a little nap. Then, they headed down to a different saloon in town. The saloon had a big sign over the top of the swinging doors. The saloon was called The Hanging Tree Saloon. Jess and John walked in and went to the far corner of the bar. Jess had his back to the wall as usual. The barkeep and owner walked over to them.
“Welcome gents, what can I get you?”
“We’ll both take some good brandy if you have it,” replied Jess.
“I sure do. A lot of the richer cattle ranchers frequent my establishment and they won’t drink that cheap shit most cowboys drink. I keep a good selection of fine brandy, scotch, bourbon and whiskey. Two fine brandies, coming right up.”
The barkeep reached below the bar and retrieved a nice bottle of brandy and two glasses and filled them. “Thank you, barkeep, what might your name be?” asked Jess.
“Name’s Randy Hunt and I actually own this place. I work most nights myself to keep the costs down. I make some good money on the sale of alcohol, but those damned cowboys do so much damage, I have to keep replacing chairs and tables all the time and windows too. That’s why I keep the good stuff under the bar and the cheap stuff behind me. I had the front of the bar reinforced with heavy wood so that the bullets that fly all too often can’t get to them,” replied Randy.
“I noticed the sign over the door,” said Jess. “It seems like a strange name for a saloon.”
“Not really if you know the history of this place. I gave it that name ‘cause there have been more cowboys that started out raising hell in here and ended their night being hung out at the hanging tree just outside the east end of town. That’s how the place got its name. It used to be called Randy’s Saloon the first year that I was in business.”
“Well, I guess that does explain it,” replied Jess.
“Let me know when you want a refill. I have to keep the bottle down below ‘cause I never know when someone will come in and start throwing lead,” said Randy.
Jess and Bodine looked the place over. There were over a dozen men in the bar and more men were strolling in as time went on. By nightfall, the place was pretty busy and Randy had to send for his other barkeep, Wallis Munger, to help out. A few fistfights broke out, but they didn’t last long. Jess always wondered why men would engage in the seemingly senseless practice of beating each other with fists and chairs and anything else they could pick up. He thought it was an absolute waste of time. Sometimes men would break their hands and fingers during the fistfight and then they would not be able to handle themselves if they were challenged to a gunfight. Jess wasn’t going to get into any fistfights and take the chance of anything happening to his hands. He’d rather just shoot the man first. Randy had two big men who worked the saloon to break up fights and throw the cowboys out once they were too drunk to control themselves. Jess was amused at his surroundings. He smiled at Bodine.
“I can see why they call this town one of the wickedest towns in the west. There ain’t any shortage of drunken and stupid men hanging around here,” said Jess, trying to holler over the noise, which had steadily gotten louder with each drink.
“Yeah, but I ain’t really spotted anyone who looks like a gunslinger or someone who might have a bounty on their head,” replied Bodine.
“Me neither. Most of these men look to be just ranch hands and cowboys out to raise some hell.”
Just as Jess finished saying that, he immediately noticed two men walking into the saloon and walk up to the bar. He immediately figured them for gunslingers. Bodine noticed it also and he took the wanted poster out of his back pocket and looked them over again. He put the posters back in his pocket and leaned over to Jess.
“Our night might have just changed, Jess, I’m pretty sure that those two are Graham Heater and Jacob Miller. Between the two of them, they are worth three hundred dollars. The one who’s wearing double six-guns is Heater and the other one is Miller. Remember what Sheriff Burleson said about Heater.”
“I remember. He said he was the worst of the lot. I’ll tell you what, I’ll take Heater and you take Miller when this goes down.”
“I ain’t going to argue the point, especially after watching you work that pistol like you do,” replied Bodine. “So, how do you want to handle it?”
“I say we simply wait a little bit. My guess is they will eventually notice us and that might just start some conversation. If not, I will.”
“I’ll just holler out that I’ll pay anyone five dollars if they know who Graham Heater or Jacob Miller is. They’ll hear it and that will surely start something,” said Jess.
Jess didn’t have to offer the five dollars for the information, Graham Heater always looked a room over after he came in and he saw Jess at the end of the bar. He noticed the shotgun sticking up over his right shoulder. He had heard of Jess’ reputation, but he had never met him yet. Heater was quick with a pistol and he had been making a name for himself, which had gotten him a job working for one of the rich ranchers in Dodge City. He started waving the other cowboys away from the bar and while a few of them started to complain, they shut up and moved away as soon as they noticed who it was. That eventually left Jess and Bodine at the one end and Graham Heater at the other end and there was not one other person left at the bar. The noise level dropped dramatically because everyone, but the drunkest cowboy in the place knew something was going on and it usually ended up with lead flying.
Heater, who had been standing to the left of Jacob Miller, moved around to the right side of Miller, which put him a few feet closer to Jess and Bodine. “You boys in town looking for work or looking for trouble, ‘cause you can find both here?” asked Graham Heater.
“We sure ain’t looking for jobs since we already have one,” replied Jess.
“Are you working for one of the other ranchers in town?”