Authors: Robert J. Thomas
“No, not really,” replied Jess.
“We work for Manny Welch. He is one of the richest ranchers in Dodge City. He’s hiring if you two boys are interested in making some easy money,” said Heater.
“How much money is he paying?” asked Bodine.
“Depends on how good you are with a pistol. He starts you out at fifty dollars a month plus room and board and if you’re really good, like the two of us, you could make over a hundred dollars a month for doing pretty much nothing,” replied Heater.
“Hell, we’ve only been in town one day and we already made three hundred and fifty dollars,” replied Bodine. “Now, that’s what I call easy money.”
“How the hell did you make that much money in one day?” asked Jacob Miller who now entered the banter.
“Well, we are bounty hunters and today we took down two men who had a bounty on their heads,” replied Bodine.
Heater’s facial expression changed immediately after that comment. “What two men did you take down?” he asked.
“I believe their names were Herman Caldwell and Mack Ross,” replied Bodine. Jess said nothing as he kept a real close watch on Graham Heater. He noticed that both Heater and Miller stiffened at the comment Bodine just made.
“Herman Caldwell and Mack Ross were both good friends of ours and they both work for the same rancher we do and he ain’t going to be happy about you killing two of his best men,” replied Heater.
Jess finally interjected himself into the conversation. “Well, then he’s going to be twice as unhappy after he finds out we killed four of his best men,” said Jess.
“What in the hell are you getting at, Mister?” Heater asked.
“Well, unless the wanted posters are wrong, you’re Graham Heater and you’re Jacob Miller and the two of you are worth three hundred dollars together,” replied Jess.
“You keep talking like that and you got a real good chance of ending up out at the hanging tree,” said Jacob Miller.
“The only place we plan on hanging around is right here looking for more men like you,” replied Jess. “Now, are you two going to keep talking or are we going to get down to business?”
Heater and Miller spread out a few feet apart. Jess and Bodine did the same with Jess putting himself in line with Heater and Bodine lining himself up with Miller. They did the usual dance that came with gun fighting, looking into each other’s eyes looking for any telltale signs of fear or hesitation. They found neither in either of Jess’ or Bodine’s eyes. Jess did pick up a hint of fear in Miller’s eyes and he also noticed a man in the corner of the bar standing up and staring at Jess.
Heater and Miller went for their guns. Jess’ slug found heater in the chest before Heater cleared leather and Miller did get off a shot before Bodine’s slug found Miller’s chest. Miller’s shot just grazed Bodine’s left arm, which was a little too close for comfort, but that was the chance you always took when facing any man with a gun. Bodine was actually a half-second slower than Miller, but he shot straight, which usually made the difference between life and death. Jess knew Bodine was grazed, but he couldn’t be bothered with that right now. The man in the corner had stepped forward and drawn his gun and had it leveled at Jess when Jess fanned two slugs hitting the man in the chest before he could pull the trigger. The man fell backward and onto a table where four men had been drinking. He broke the table and one chair in the process along with putting a bullet in the ceiling. Jess holstered his pistol and drew both of his cut-down double-barreled shotguns and looked around at all the remaining men in the saloon. He could see by their faces that they wanted no part of those shotguns much less anything else. He finally put the shotguns away, took his pistol back out of his holster and replaced the spent cartridges and put it back in his holster, leaving his hammer strap off his pistol.
He walked over to Heater and Miller’s bodies to make sure they were dead. Then he walked back over to Bodine who had gotten a clean towel from Randy. He poured some cheap whiskey on the towel and was wiping up what little blood was seeping from the wound.
“How bad is it?” asked Jess.
“Not too bad. It just burned the flesh slightly. Didn’t even make a hole so it just needs cleaning and a proper bandage, but it can wait until tomorrow,” replied Bodine.
Sheriff Burleson came into the saloon with another man, both carrying double-barreled shotguns. “Damn it. You boys are surely going to make my job interesting.”
“It was a fair fight, Sheriff, just ask anyone in the saloon,” said Jess.
“I believe you. This one is Graham Heater and this one is Jacob Miller. I suppose you two are going to file a claim for the bounty money?”
“That’s why we’re here Sheriff, but we can wait until tomorrow.”
“Well, you boys made some good money today, but you also made a real serious enemy along with it.”
“Let me guess Sheriff,” replied Jess. “You must be talking about Manny Welch.”
“How’d you know that?”
“These two told us tonight that the first two we killed today worked for Manny Welch along with them. I figure that Manny Welch ain’t going to be happy to find out he lost four of his best men in one day,” said Jess.
“You’re damned right about that, and he’s got a real bad temper. I think you can count on meeting Manny Welch in the near future. I’ll put your claim in for you, but I can’t promise how long it’ll take for you to get the money,” replied Sheriff Burleson.
“It don’t matter how long it takes as long as we get it,” Jess said.
“Sheriff, could you check out that third man over there? Is he worth anything?” asked Bodine.
Sheriff Burleson walked over to the dead cowboy. “Naw, never seen him in town before. He was probably just trying to take you down for the reputation. I’ll check though, just in case.”
“Thanks Sheriff,” said Jess.
“Well, you ain’t going to get any welcome from me. You boys are causing a lot of work for me and Manny Welch will be filling my ears with a lot of bitching after this.”
“Sorry Sheriff, but we did come and tell you our intentions right away so you’d know,” replied Jess.
“Yeah, but that ain’t gonna make the bitching I’m going to hear any less,” replied Burleson.
Jess walked over to Randy Hunt and threw a twenty dollar gold piece on the bar. Randy picked it up.
“Randy,” said Jess, “you keep that. It’ll pay for the damage. You’re going to need a new table and another chair.”
“Thanks Mister, most people don’t pay for the damage so I really appreciate it,” said Randy.
“Well, I ain’t most people,” replied Jess, as he and Bodine headed out of the saloon and to their rooms to retire for the night, a little richer than they were at the beginning of their day.
John Bodine was sitting on the front porch of the hotel when Jess walked out and sat down in the rocking chair next to him. They sat there in silence for a few minutes enjoying the quiet of the morning and watched the town slowly start to come alive, one person at a time.
“John, I’m starving and I’m ready for a really big breakfast.”
“You are reading my mind, Jess. I’ve been waiting here for you so we could stick together,” replied Bodine.
“It’s probably a good idea if we stick close to each other while we’re here,” replied Jess.
They walked down to the little café they had eaten at yesterday and ordered a huge breakfast. They were washing it down with another cup of hot coffee when John noticed a man riding into town. That’s not what really got his attention; it was the eight men riding behind him. They didn’t look to be the friendly type and he was right. They were all hired guns and their leader was Manny Welch and he didn’t look too happy as he reined up in front of the sheriff’s office. He didn’t get off his horse. He hollered into the sheriff’s office.
“Sheriff Burleson, get your ass out here right now, I need to speak with you,” demanded Manny.
John Bodine looked at Jess who was still stuffing a biscuit into his mouth, the butter dripping off it and onto his almost empty plate. “Jess, if I were a betting man, I’d say that man over at the sheriff’s office in none other than that rich rancher Manny Welch.”
Jess took a look at the men all in a line in front of the sheriff’s office, waiting for Sheriff Burleson to come out. “I’ll bet you’re right about that. Let’s go over there and get it over with. No sense in letting the sheriff take all the abuse for what we did,” said Jess, as he threw a few dollars on the table and put his hat on and stood up. They started walking toward the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff, looking a little sheepish, finally opened the door and came out on the boardwalk by himself. “Good morning, Mr. Welch, how are you doing today sir?” the sheriff asked.
“You know damn well how I’m doing today. I lost four of my best men yesterday and I want to know the sons-of-bitches responsible for it,” demanded Welch.
The sheriff noticed Jess and Bodine walking straight toward Manny and his men. “I guess you can ask them yourself, ‘cause they’re behind you walking this way.”
Manny Welch and his eight men all turned their horses around in unison as if it was something they had practiced for the effect; however, it had no effect on Jess, although John was somewhat nervous. Manny Welch moved his horse a little forward as if to let the two men know that he was the man in charge.
Jess looked over the eight men with Manny Welch and they were tough looking men and all of them carried Winchester rifles across their laps. Jess and Bodine removed their hammer straps as soon as they left the café.
“I guess you must be Manny Welch,” said Jess smiling at him.
“It’s Mr. Welch to you. Are you two the ones responsible for killing four of my best men yesterday?”
“Well, if their last names were Heater, Miller, Caldwell and Ross, then yes, we killed them. They all had a legal bounty on their heads and we’re going to file a claim for the money with the sheriff’s office today, Manny,” replied Jess, nonchalantly.
“I told you to address me as Mr. Welch. Now who the hell are you two?”
“I’m Jess Williams and this is my partner, John Bodine,
The fact that Jess refused to address him the way he insisted got under Welch’s skin, which was exactly Jess’ intent.
“Well, then you have a problem because these here eight men have orders to plug you right where you stand.”
All eight men started to bring their Winchester rifles up and point them at Jess and Bodine when Jess slicked his pistol out in a blur and had it cocked and pointed straight at Manny Welch’s head. “You’d better tell your men to put those rifles down right now,
” said Jess, looking as relaxed as a man taking a leisurely hot bath.
Seeing the blurring speed at which Jess had drawn his pistol, made Manny very uncomfortable. The fact that he was looking down the barrel of a pistol aimed at his head didn’t help much either. One of the men to his left said—“what the…” he never finished what he was going to say. Manny Welch waved his hand that gave his men the unspoken order to lower their rifles.
Manny glared at Jess. “You might be pretty fast with that fancy pistol you have, but you can’t possibly think you can kill all eight of my men before you end up in a pool of blood in the street,” said Welch.
Jess looked over the eight men again and they were all gunslingers for sure. He looked back at Manny Welch and smiled at him, which only pissed Manny Welch off a little more. “Well,
, I have to agree with you about that. I figure between me and John here, we’d get at least four or five of your men before going down in a hail of bullets, but you seemed to have overlooked one little flaw in your plan,” replied Jess.