Jackson Pickard had seen enough. He'd watched this highfalutin darky walking and talking in the Loose Noose Saloon carry on with that fine piece of white ass long enough. He stood up from his stool at the bar and pulled back on the darky's collar, getting his attention.
* * *
"You need to find yourself somewhere else to drink, boy," Pickard said. "I think this white lady's had enough of being pestered by you."
The darky put his hands on his hip, acting the part of an arrogant spook. "Well where do you suggest I go get a drink? I'm new here. But, to the best of my knowledge, this is the only saloon in town."
"I don't care if you drink from the trough outside. You're through drinking here."
The darky sighed. "This the part where I'm supposed to say I'll leave when I'm good and ready and make a fuss and create a ruckus. But I'd prefer to finish my milk," he pointed toward the glass on the table in front of him, "and continue my conversation with this lovely vessel, a shimmering example of beauty in this rough country."
Pickard gestured to the full saloon. "Then I think we got a problem, don't we, nigger?"
The darky sighed, acting hurt now. Pickard couldn't help thinking he was about to teach this darky a lesson in how to talk to white folks.
The last lesson he'd ever learn.
"See?" Lincoln Szaikowicz said. "You're waving your hands around, calling me all kinds of derogatory names and telling everyone in here what you're gonna do to me. Like I'm not standing right here. Like I don't hear you." Lincoln put a hand on his hip, fingering one of the Griswold & Gunnison pistols he carried. "Now," Lincoln said, "how would you react if I was saying those things about you? I suspect you'd take special offense."
* * *
Lincoln wasn't laying it out for Jackson Pickard so much as he was for all those who stood watching. He wanted to give everyone the same idea of what to tell the authorities when they finally got off their asses and walked into that Fort Smith saloon.
Pickard gave Lincoln a once over and looked around, seeing he had an audience now. "Well, seeing as you ain't nothing but a uppity nigger, I don't think anybody in here would give a damn if I shot you down like a dog."
"But I would give a damn." Lincoln let that racist remark wash over him, playing to crowd. "I'd give a damn because I'd be dead. And then mama would mourn my passing, and they'd have to go through all the trouble of arranging a funeral and buying flowers and so on. Not to mention the charges that would be brought up on you. You can see how that would be a great hassle for all involved. So how about you forget that you picked a fight with me, leave this fine establishment, and I'll forget all about your picking a fight with me over nothing."
"Look here, nigger with the fancy mouth." Pickard kept on with that word. "Talking to a fine-looking white lady ain't nothing in my book."
"The nice lady didn't seem to mind, did you?" Lincoln threw a look over in the woman's direction. The slightest hint of a smile crept around the edge of her lips. Lincoln gave her a big grin back. "See?" He turned to Pickard. "I didn't think so."
That was enough to incense Pickard. Lincoln, feeling it coming on, took a natural lean out of the way of the oncoming punch and kicked Jackson to the side.
"Now, don't do something else stupid." Lincoln watched Jackson put his hand on his pistol. "Like pointing that at me."
Pickard slowly came to his feet. "You ain't gonna shoot me," he said. "If you were, you'd have done it already."
"You mean when I put your ass on the ground a second ago? No, that was so these find folks can testify before the law and Saint Peter himself if they have to that I gave you not one but two," he gestured with two fingers, "opportunities to walk out of here without getting killed."
"So you, a nigger, is looking out for me, a white man?" Pickard pointed toward his chest, gesturing for the crowd.
"It's the damndest thing, I know, but there it is."
"I tell you what, uppity nigger. Seeing as you're doing me such a great favor, I'm gonna do you one."
"Yeah." Jackson Pickard drew his gun from its holster. "I'm gonna give you till the count of three to get yourself out of here." Pickard pulled the hammer back. "Come my three count, though, I'm gonna kill you where you stand."
"So that's the way you want to play it?"
"Yeah, it is."
Lincoln sighed and slowly shook his head. "Well, go on. Count."
Jackson's face turned ponderous. "You ain't gonna run? Ain't that all you slaves was good for? Running?"
"So you can shoot me in the back? Nah, I ain't gonna run. Go on and count."
"Even though I got a gun pulled on you, you ain't gonna run? You know I'll squeeze the trigger before you clear your holster."
Lincoln crossed his arms. He was annoyed now. "Are you gonna count or not? We don't have all day."
Jackson smirked. "All right, you stupid nigger. One—"
Lincoln pulled his Griswold, thumbed the hammer and put one through Jackson's firing arm. He pulled with his left hand and put another through Jackson's shoulder before Jackson hit the ground. Lincoln made his way over to Jackson's body on the floor. He kicked at the man's boot and said, "You want to finish counting, or should I?"
Lincoln was brought in for questioning along with a wailing Jackson Pickard who kept going on about how Lincoln had tried to kill him while the doctor tried to get the man to sit still long enough to get the pistol rounds out of his arm.
* * *
The arresting marshal, a fella named Duane Peterson, came right at Lincoln, asking if Lincoln meant to kill Pickard.
"If I did, he'd be dead now, wouldn't he?" Lincoln said.
"I don't know," Peterson said. "You might have missed your mark."
"If we were talking about you hitting the clit-TOR-is on your old lady, then, yeah, maybe. But since we're talking about me with a pistol, you should know I can shoot the buzzing wings off a horsefly's ass at fifty paces."
Peterson leaned back in his chair, sizing up this black man with Confederate Army-issued pistols. "You know, I could see why most men would want to shoot you dead."
"Then you'll understand the need for me to be a better shot than most men."
"What brought you into that saloon today?"
"A white woman with knockers the size of your head and a rear end big enough to sit a whiskey bottle on top of."
Peterson smiled. "I know that woman. That's Eliza Dufresne. She's married to Elroy Dufresne. She tell you that?"
"You know something?" Lincoln put his hand to his chin. "I do recall she did. Then I told her about this one time my mama beat me with a switch for having a potty mouth. And then I told her about this cat I once saw roaming around the street. And then I told her about this really bad steak I ate in Clinton on the way out here."
"What's the hell that got to do with anything?"
"She said the same damn thing. So I told her. I thought we were having a conversation about shit that doesn't matter."
The marshal heard a laugh come from the other side of the room. It came out of a well-made old man with a groomed goatee matching the white tuft of hair on his head.
"Send him over to my office with your write-up when you're done, Duane," the old man said. "I believe me and that fella have business to discuss."
Lincoln waited until the man left and then pointed a thumb in the direction of the exit. "And who, pray tell, was that individual?"
Peterson chortled. "You don't know the Honorable Judge Isaac Charles Parker when you see him?"
"The Hanging Judge?"
Peterson made a face, feigning like he'd been wounded. "Best not call him that to his face."
"Why not? It's what is, ain't it?"
"And if I was to call you a nigger to your face like poor old Jackson Pickard back there?"
"I see your point. What do you think he wants with me?"
"I better not venture a guess."
"Oh, but you want to. So go on. Venture."
"Seeing as Jackson Pickard was a wanted outlaw, he probably just wants to say thank you."
Lincoln pointed across the room to Pickard who was being pushed into the only cell in the room. "That fella is an outlaw?"
"You amazed you gunned down an outlaw?"
"Just that you can be that stupid and still make a living on wanted poster."
"Hey." Pickard pushed his face against the cell bars, his arm in a sling. "I heard that."
"Well I'm glad to know you still got ears," Lincoln said over his shoulder. "They'll give me something else of yours to shoot at the next time we cross paths." Lincoln looked back at this marshal Peterson. "You still got my guns. When do I get my guns back? And somebody needs to check on my horse. He's a chestnut mustang. About seventeen hands tall and answers to Barak. Y'all might get him some oats, too. He ain't ate for a time now."
Peterson looked at Lincoln's gun belt lying next to him on the floor and then back at this black man with more gumption than ten men. "I'm sure your horse is fine."
"He might be. But I'd feel better if somebody checked on him. He's hitched up just outside the saloon. Now give me my guns."
"You'll get them back when Judge Parker says you can have the horse back. So I suggest you take a stroll over to the courthouse."
"Soon as I know my horse is all right."
Lincoln made sure his horse was OK, feeding it some oats he bought from the general store before deciding he probably should go talk with the judge. It'd crossed his mind to just leave without explanation or permission, but he couldn't think of a better way to make sure he was gunned down, hung or worse. So he took himself over to the courthouse.
* * *
He had been shown into the judge's chambers and told to sit down by a delectable white lady Lincoln assumed was his secretary. She told him the judge would be with him shortly, and it was true enough.
Judge Parker appeared almost as soon as Lincoln sat down, but he didn't acknowledge Lincoln. He just took to his desk, started fretting over sheets of paper and a plate of food he'd brought in with him, never even raising an eye toward Lincoln.
Of course Lincoln knew better than to just get up and leave, even though it was lunchtime and Lincoln himself was starting to feel hunger pangs. Pissing off the hanging judge was still a good way to depart this earth before your time, and Lincoln knew that, too. But he couldn't help tapping his fingers on the stiff wood chair his ass was in and feeling like he was being punished for something.
The judge picked up a sheet of paper that was lying next to his desk. "Says here," the judge said through forkfuls of ham and eggs, "you had Jackson Pickard dead to rights."
When Lincoln didn't immediately answer, the judge finally raised his head.
"Oh, so you do see me," Lincoln said. "I was beginning to think I was blending in with the walls."
The judge shoved another forkful into his mouth and leaned back in his chair, chewing with a closed mouth and studying Lincoln for a moment. "You have an air about you. An air that makes me think you can handle yourself with bad men. Can you?"
"What I'm asking."
"I prefer it to be handled if you catch my meaning, Judge."
The judge didn't even smile at it, giving away nothing. "You gonna answer the question or keep acting like a mule's ass?"
Lincoln adjusted his hat, putting on his serious posture now. "I can handle most anyone wants to try me."
"Jean!" the judge said. Lincoln watched the petite little secretary who showed him in walk into the judge's chambers. "Jean, would you go get Marshal Upham for me?" The secretary nodded and left. The judge turned his attention back to Lincoln. "Your last name? Suh—SAKE-co-WICKS?"
The judge tried saying it again. Butchered it again.
"Close enough," Lincoln said.
"How do you get a name like that?"
"The same way I expect you got yours."
The judge frowned.
"My mama," Lincoln said. "She named me."
"Your mama? What's your mama like? She was strict bringing you up?"
"What's that got do with anything?"
"I could ask you the same thing, Judge."
The judge crossed his arms. "What about your daddy then?"
"I've got one—just like everybody else brought into this world."
"So was it your mama or your daddy who taught you these manners?"
"You want to talk about manners? How about it's bad manners to let a man pull on you and not shoot him. Speaking of which, when am I going to get my pistols back? I feel naked sitting here."
"Your first name, though. I know that one."
"My mama had an affinity for the President and took it out on me."
"So you were born during the war then. What are you? About twenty-five?"
Jean ushered a rather large white man into the room, sporting a silver star on his belt. "I see you brought me a live one," the man said. "And here Bass thought he was gonna have the franchise on being the only black marshal west of the Mississippi."
"Marshal D.P. Upham," Judge Parker said. "Meet your new deputy." The judge gestured at Lincoln. "Lincoln, uh—well hell you say it."
"Szaikowicz. And I don't see me being a deputy at all. I see you giving my guns back and me getting on my way."
"Well the way I see it," the judge said, "you need every opportunity to put your past to bed. And as long as you're my marshal, I aim to help you."
"What past? And I don't want to be a marshal. I want to be on my way."
"Well, that's nice thing about being the Federal Judge for the Western District of Arkansas. I don't have to give a goddamn about what you want. I can pretty well do as I please." The judge smiled on it.
"And here I was thinking slavery was over," Lincoln said.
"Oh? The chattel of human beings is over—in this country at least. But I'm afraid we are all slaves to the law, to right and wrong. We will always be slaves to God almighty—"
"And what if I refuse to be liberty's great arbiter of justice?" Lincoln said. "What if I just want to get a parcel out around Deep Fork River, plant pecan trees and just let someone else be a slave to right and wrong?"
"You gonna hang up those pistols when you get your pecan farm?"
"Not as long as there's a need for slaves to the law, no."
"You know anything about growing pecan trees?"
"You put seeds in the ground and throw water on 'em."
Lincoln readjusted himself in the seat, feeling a little flustered. "I'm a quick study."
"I'm counting on it. We got a barrelful of outstanding warrants, and Marshal Upham needs all the help I can get him to bring these thieves and murderers to justice." The judge pushed a stack of papers across his desk toward Lincoln. "Here are one hundred and warrants for fugitives from this court. But all you gotta do is bring me back one of them, and you can go water your pecan seeds."
Lincoln took a look at the warrant on top. "That one says Jackson Pickard. Count that as the one I brought back. We square now?"
"Well, I'll be damned," Upham said. "He can read, too. Bass can't even read."
"No," the judge said. "We are not square. You get no credit for time served on this deal."
Lincoln didn't mind showing he was anger now. "Let's assume I didn't take care of this warrant. What happens then?"
"Then I think I can get Mr. Pickard to press charges, if that's what you want. I'm sure not everybody in that saloon thought what you did was self-defense. Then you can take up how you feel about this arrangement with the noose." The judge plopped a marshal's star down on top of the warrants. "You can start as soon as you get your rear end out of that chair. Keep track of your expenses, and you'll be reimbursed."
"What if I take your warrant and make a run for it?" Lincoln said. "What then?"
"What happens then is," Upham said, "you go from a man paid to catch fugitives from the law to being a fugitive from the law. Which means I'll hunt you down like a dog myself, and let the judge introduce you to that noose he was just talking about."
The judge said, "You can take the deal. You can help your United States government create a more perfect society, and I will help you pick out a parcel perfect for growing pecans down around Okmulgee myself." The judge brought his hands together in a steeple. "Or you can take a murder charge and swing."
Lincoln looked across the desk at the judge and then at Marshal Upham. "Shit."
"Wise choice, deputy," the judge said.
Upham walked Lincoln out of the judge's chambers and back across the street to where the deputies did their business while talking Lincoln through the fugitive he was commissioned to bring back to Fort Smith.
* * *
"He's a horse thief who just now graduated to murder," Upham said.
"Graduated?" Lincoln said. He stalked up the steps to the marshals' office and stopped there.
Upham waited until he'd climbed the steps and drew level with Lincoln. "I could give you the particulars, but that part doesn't much concern you."
"Then why don't you tell me what does concern me." Lincoln showing some flex, wanting to get going just as soon as possible.
"In a hurry to go gallivanting off into Indian Territory, are you? You can venture as far as Fort Sill with that badge on your chest. But once you cross into Indian Territory? Past the dead line? You're taking your life into your own hands. There ain't too much respect for the law out there. And while I personally don't care what kind of shape an outlaw is in when he gets here, the judge does. So make sure your prisoner can walk and talk if at all possible. You get to take along one posse man—every deputy out on the hunt has to take at least one."
"Well, I'm not gonna be a deputy that long. I'll be fine by myself."
Upham set his jaw. "I don't care who you take with you, but you have to take somebody with you. It's Marshal Service regulations."
"And if I don't take a posse man, what are you gonna do? Fire me?"
Upham just glared at Lincoln in response.
"Didn't think so. Now, you gonna give me any money to tide me over till I bring back this supposed bad man?"
"Like the judge said, you'll get reimbursed for your expenses—keep your receipts—and you'll get your bounty when the judge says I can give it to you."
"So that's a no." Lincoln walked into the marshal's office and found Peterson holding his guns out for him.
"I see you got drafted." Peterson said it with a smirk as Lincoln strapped on his gun belt.
"Blackmailed is more like it." Lincoln shot a look to Upham and watched the corners of Upham's mouth curling into a smile.
"They give you the bit about taking it up with noose?"
Lincoln glared at Upham.
"Well, who you going after first?" Peterson said.
Lincoln looked at the warrant and read aloud. "Randall Caldwell."
Randall Caldwell was deep into Marilyn Humphries, pumping and sweating, when her husband, Grantham Humphries, burst through the hotel bedroom door with a pistol trained on Randall and Marilyn,
* * *
"I told you I was gonna catch you with this nigger boy," Grantham said. "And now that I have, ain't a law man in the territory gonna stop a lead piece of justice bearing down on the both of you."
Randall pulled up, pulled out and threw up his hands. "Hey now. I had no idea she was married to you."
Grantham looked disappointed. "I hadn't even told you she's my wife yet."
Randall winced. "But I had no idea you'd be coming home right now. That part really is true."
The truth he was willing to acknowledge anyway. Randall had been diddling this woman off and on for a couple months now—pretty much whenever he was in Van Buren County. She'd mentioned her husband was "the jealous kind" once or twice, but what did that mean to Randall? If a husband wasn't the jealous kind, what kind of husband was he?
"Now honey," Marilyn said to Grantham. "This ain't what it looks like."
"Oh, it ain't?" Grantham saying it with an air of amused sarcasm. "Please then, tell me exactly what this is if it ain't what it looks like?"
"Well." Marilyn started looking around the room.
Grantham could tell she was looking for a worthwhile explanation to present itself to her woman's brain. And Grantham was prepared to give her all the time in the world. He wanted to hear this.
"Well," Marilyn started again. "I don't think I'm gonna be able to come up with a lie you'll believe just now. So I'm just gonna skip to the end part."
She pulled a Philadelphia Derringer from underneath her pillow and pumped twenty grains of black powder into her husband's chest.
Grantham didn't fall, not immediately. He lowered his pistol and fingered at the small wound in his chest with his free hand and looked at it for a moment. Then he raised his head and said, "I'm still alive! Hallelujah!"
Marilyn pushed passed Randall and reached for his gun belt. She came back with his Colt Army pistol, pulled back on the hammer and fired twice—once to clear the empty chamber and once more into Grantham's chest. She repeated the effort twice more and watched her husband fall over in a great heap, the toes of his boots pointing toward the bedroom ceiling.
Randall, still stark naked, backed into the corner of the bedroom and stared in disbelief at the dead husband laying just a few feet from him. He took in the porcelain-skinned redhead sitting in bed with the covers pulled up over her nipples protruding like .45 casings through the sheets.
"You better run, Randall," Marilyn said, "what with you shooting my husband and all."
"What? No! You shot him. I was just standing here."
"Honey." Marilyn pouted at him, feigning being hurt. "That ain't how the story goes. In this story, I'm just a frightened white woman recovering from watching her Sheriff husband gunned down in cold blood after you, the bad man and killer negro Randall Caldwell, had your Biblical way with me."
"But that ain't how it happened." Randall was pleading with her now. "I didn't know your husband was the Sheriff, and I didn't know you were gonna shoot him."
"Since I like you, baby, I'm going to give you a two minute head start. Then I'm going to scream and point in the direction you fled." Marilyn cocked the Colt's hammer and pointed it at him. "If you act fast, you'll still have time to get dressed."
Randall saw he didn't have much choice. He threw on his clothes, boots and hat and pointed at the gun belt. His remaining gun was still in the chair where he'd thrown all his things. "I can take that with me?"
"Sure," Marilyn said. "You're gonna need it." She blew him a kiss, and Randall made for the door muttering angry profanities about life being a bitch and her whorehouse name was Karma.
Randall made it down from the second floor. He didn't think anything of jumping onto the Sheriff's horse—not then. To Randall, a man who made his bones as an outlaw stealing horses, a horse was just a horse. They were stupid, hammerhead ornery sons of bitches that cost too much to keep and were only good for as long as they could carry you. So he didn't think twice about straddling the Appaloosa and putting it into a swift gallop out of Van Buren County.
* * *
If he didn't let the horse sit back and rode it to near death, he'd be able to make it back to Miller's town before dark, he decided. He had been riding for nearly an hour when he remembered the saddlebags—the saddlebags with the Miller Gang's last score sitting right underneath that chair in the hotel bedroom where he was poking the Sheriff's wife.
Maybe if he wasn't so flustered or struck by the thought, he wouldn't have brought the horse to such a breakneck stop. And maybe if he hadn't brought the horse to such a breakneck stop, the horse wouldn't have been spooked by that rattlesnake raising up and bearing its fangs in the horse's direction. And maybe if the horse hadn't have been spooked by that rattlesnake, it wouldn't have reared up in such a fit and fury that it wouldn't have thrown Randall clear off its back. And then maybe, just maybe, if the horse hadn't thrown Randall off his back, he wouldn't have had to watch the horse sprint toward the west and leave him stranded just west of the Illinois River somewhere between Eufaula and Webbers Falls. As it was, though, Randall was left to try to make the trek toward Miller's town in his boots while trying to steer clear of whatever lawmen he knew must be looking for him.
At first, it didn't seem so bad. Being left out in the wild with just his gun and his wits about him, he thought he would be fine. After all, he was near fresh water and could drink from the river whenever he felt a thirst hit him. But there's no sustenance in water, just survival. The reality of that began to hit Randall around the time the moon became bright enough to illuminate night.
Randall knew he must not be that far from Miller's town, but he dreaded walking into it empty-handed. There's no telling what Miller would do—or have any of his boys do—to Randall if he showed himself there without one red cent from a bank job Miller had been planning for weeks. Knowing the things Miller had done to folks who just looked at him crossways gave Randall the willies. And it wasn't like Randall could go running to the Indian agents or the marshals. They'd want him for themselves.
No, he decided. Even if he were to make it there tonight—which was a real big if—it was probably best to wait until he had some kind of plan, some kind of ironclad explanation, for coming back on foot with just his pistol and a story. He picked out a tree with good shade to lean up against and shut his eyes for a small nap to stave off his hunger and clear his head.
But, like all great naps, Randall's lasted for a little longer than he'd wanted or expected.
When he woke up, light was shining through the treetops. Randall squinted and squirmed. He found a blanket had been tossed over him and was able to make out the hazy image of a stranger tending to a small campfire just a few paces away. He scrambled on the ground, looking for and finally locating his pistol on his belt and then stood up quickly.
The stranger seems to be at peace with the whole situation, glancing at Randall while Randall looked around trying to make sense of it.
"You're welcome," the stranger said.
"For the blanket. You're welcome to the blanket."
"That mean I'm supposed to thank you? I'm supposed to thank you for covering me with a blanket that could be very well covered in disease?"
The stranger gave Randall a quizzical look. "That'd be mighty stupid of me, now wouldn't it? Cover a man in a diseased blanket who could help me? That'd be damn stupid."
Randall was cautious. Help with what?"
"Help me find a wanted fugitive. His name is Randall Caldwell. He's a black fella and about my height from what I been told. I was led to believe he was spotted riding a spotted black Appaloosa through here late yesterday."
"And you think that's me."
"I don't know. You haven't told me your name, friend."
"I could say the same to you, marshal."
The stranger smiled. "Did the star on my chest give it away?"
"Wait. You ain't Bass Reeves, are you?"
"I guess I'm the other black deputy marshal."
"Damn. You know I always wanted to meet Bass Reeves? What's he like?"
"I wouldn't know. I've never met the man."
"But you're a marshal? For Hanging Judge Parker?"
"I am. But I just started."
"Yesterday as a matter of fact."
"And they put you on to catching this fella Randall Caldwell to pop your cherry?"
"They must not like you then."
"'Cause, what I heard? About the Randall Caldwell? He's the biggest colored man you ever seen or heard about."
"Is that right?"
"Sure is. He's about seven feet tall, three hundred pounds and got a handshake that could make a stone bleed."
"Is he a fast draw, though?"
"Shit. Does a hobbyhorse have wooden pecker? I heard he gunned down five men at once with one pistol."
"Sounds like one tough son of a bitch."
"The toughest son of a bitch in Indian Territory." Randall sucked on his teeth. "Course that's just what I heard."
"Course it is." Lincoln played with his hat and then let the whimsy wash from his face. "But you wouldn't know anything about where I could find this tough son of a bitch Randall Caldwell now, would you?"
"I wish I could help you, marshal . . . What'd you say your name was?"
"I didn't. It's Lincoln. My name's Lincoln Szaikowicz."
"Kind of name is SUH-what?"
"You can just call me Lincoln, Mister—"
"Winston," Caldwell said. "Millard Winston."
"Ain't that funny?" Lincoln said.
"We're both named after Presidents. What are the odds two negroes would be named after Presidents of the United States? About the same chance as two white men meeting each other named Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass, huh?"
"Probably about as slim as my finding Randall Caldwell in these woods." Lincoln held the man's gaze and then broke off. "Well, I guess I can eat while I figure out what to do next. You can have some too if you want. It's just coffee and bacon, but it's better than nothing."
Lincoln turned back to the campfire, and Randall watched him for a moment. He thought about it, weighing how much this man, this marshal, actually knew about him before thinking there was no harm in eating with him. Randall was starving something awful anyway. Lincoln scooped out some bacon and put it in a little tin plate for Randall. Randall signaled his thanks and wolfed it down in a few bites. Without saying anything about it, Lincoln gave Randall a couple more strips and sipped his coffee.
"So," Randall said, dusting his hands, "what'd they say Randall Caldwell done this time?"
Lincoln took out the warrant and handed to Caldwell. Caldwell just stared at it and then narrowed his eyes at Lincoln. "You trying to be funny, marshal?" He wasn't asking so much as he was telling.
"No," Lincoln said. "Just thought you'd like to read it for yourself there, Millard. Not too many negroes know their history—talking presidents and famous negroes and all. I just assumed you were educated one."
"You still being funny."
"You telling me you can't read, Millard?"
Randall thrust the warrant back at Lincoln.
"That your way of telling me you want me to read it?"
Randall just glared at Lincoln.
"OK." Lincoln straightened out the paper. "Says here that Randall Caldwell is a fugitive from the law. Says here he was convicted of three counts of robbery, fourteen counts of horse theft and is wanted for murder." Lincoln folded up the paper and put it back into his shirt pocket. "Know what Judge Parker gives you for just one count of horse theft in the Western District?"
"Why don't you tell me?" Randall said.
"Well he don't give you a medal, that's for sure. I can understand why a fella would light out just as soon as he was good and able with the kind of punishment Judge Parker is known for doling out waiting on him. Hell, he'd probably have a good mind to take it right on into Indian Territory and keep riding as far as one of those ill-gotten steeds he made off with would take him. But that's only what I would do—a regular fella. Now this Randall Caldwell, being as tall as a timber and twice as thick like you say, he might be willing to take on the law with just his six-shooter."
"Ain't no man, not even Randall Caldwell, can beat the noose."
"Yeah, that's true. Maybe Randall came around to that kind of thinking, and that's why he decided to make a break for it. Only thing I can't figure, though, is the girl."
"She ain't a girl exactly. She's a grown woman with all nice parts is what she is. Until I saw her for myself, with that great flowing red hair of hers and milky skin, I couldn't come to understand why Randal Caldwell would be so stupid as to stop off with another man's woman after being seen making a getaway from a bank just one county over? Hell, with cash the bank manager said he and his posse made off with, sounds to me like he could've had himself a whorehouse full of women if he was so inclined.
"But he stopped for one woman, and that might be his undoing. She's the one who alerted the Marshal Service to his whereabouts after he shot the poor woman's husband. A lawman named Humphries in Van Buren? Shot him down like a dog the way the woman told it. Said he used a Colt Army to do the job—one of two he kept on his gun belt. Then, this fella Randall Caldwell, he stole the dead man's horse and lit out of town."
"Is that right?"
"Sure is—if you believe the woman." Lincoln fretted over what was left of his bacon and drained the rest of his coffee down to the grounds before picking back up. "And most folks are inclined to. But the curious thing? Along with the bullets the doc pulled out this man Humphries from the Colt Army was small hole just above his heart where a bullet went through. Looked like the kind of powder pellet that comes out of a pocket pistol. And I don't know of any grown man that carries a pocket pistol, especially if he's got a couple Colt Army pistols on his hips. Anyway, it wasn't my call. I just go find who they tell me to find."
"All you can do is your piece," Randall said.
"The one thing I don't think the woman was, well, let's say exaggerating about was her description of this outlaw Randall Caldwell because hers fit the same one been associated with the man since the Marshal Service has had a file on him." Lincoln set his tin cup down and glared at Randall. "And I'll be damned if don't describe a man that looks . . . just . . . like . . . you."
Randall drew his pistol at that, and trained it on Lincoln's chest.
"Now, Millard." Lincoln was still cool while he said it, not reaching for either of his pistols, but he held Randal in his eyes. "Why would you do something like that?"
"If you go for your guns, I will shoot you where you sit." Randall stood up and cocked back the hammer on his Colt Army. "Now, slowly, take your gun belt off and toss it to me."
"You know, a fella once a gave me to the count of three to draw on him. I'm going to give you the same courtesy. But I'll warn you. If I get to three and you ain't pulled your pistol before I pull mine, I'm gonna shoot you. One."
"If you go for your gun, you'll be dead before your pistol leaves the holster."
"You ain't got to die out here, Marshal. Don't be stupid. I'm not lying to you. I will gun you down and leave you here for the critters to have."
Randall pulled the trigger.
The gun made a clicking noise. The chamber was empty. While Randall cocked and clicked through every chamber in his pistol, Lincoln casually pulled back his coat and methodically removed his pistol. "Now, you said I'd be dead before my pistol left the holster." He pointed it straight at Randall's chest, cocked back the hammer and smiled. "You lied to me, Randall."