"It was just like Ella said, Marshal. The kid tried to muscle in on that gentleman's negotiations with Myra and take her for his self." The old miner pointed at the lifeless body of a well-dressed dude. Well-dressed, but dead.
* * *
"Was the gent causing any mischief prior to the altercation that you know of?" Asked Marshal Maher.
"None that I could tell, sir. He'd been at that table over there playin' cards. No one at the table was complainin' and the kid wasn't even in the saloon at that time. He'd, the kid that is, just busted in here through the swingers and marched right up to the bar, grabbin' Myra's arm and sayin' he just got paid and 'let's go.' Those were his words, Marshal."
"Thank you . . . "
"Eichler, Oliver Eichler, sir."
"Thank you, Mr. Eichler. I'll let you know if I have any questions. Well, I do have one more question at this time. Why did the kid put a bullet in the prostitute? It sounds like he had quite a yearning for the gal."
"I guess cuz she didn't want to go with him. She gave him a good smack up side his right cheek. So, he shot her first and then that guy in the fancy threads."
Marshal Maher took his time scoping out the bloody scene. He'd seen his share of death during the Mexican war and during his twenty years as a lawman and this time it was no different. These kind of shootouts seem to always begin over a woman or over a poker hand. Thinking before someone grabbed for iron was rarely in the equation. "Ella, you got a minute? I just need to confirm what you told me before I have the caretaker and a couple of your customers haul these two for a quicklime bath and pine boxes."
"Of course, Mark. What is it you need confirming?"
"You said it was Barney Wiggins who did the shootin'. I just want to make sure you are positive before I go lookin' for him."
"That's right, Marshal." Ella's jaw clenched for just a moment. "I know that saddle tramp from his previous visits with Myra and I know his smell. How Myra put up with that little vermin is beyond me. He must have paid her well. Yes, Mark, it was Barney Wiggins that started the fracas before gunning down the dude and Myra."
"And you say the city slicker never once went for his sidearm?"
"Nope. All he did was try to tell that hot-headed Breton to back off and get his own whore. Then Myra slapped Barney and all hell broke loose."
"I appreciate your time, Ella." Marshal Maher turned to the caretaker. "Zachary, why don't you get a couple of these cowboys to help you get these bodies out of here. The territory will compensate you for their services. You only need two helpers, Zach, so don't try and do a shake on me." Mark Maher laughed and patted the caretaker on his shoulder.
"You got it, Marshal."
After a few more questions to a few townies and a visit to see Blake at the livery stable, Marshal Mark Maher grabbed some vittles (just in case he would take longer than planned), his bedroll and the double barreled shotgun from his office before mounting his Tennessee Walker to head out to Cold Springs. He was confident the kid would be on a southerly route to 'get a wiggle on' as they say and make his way to the Mexican border. Marshal Maher could make it to Cold Springs by nightfall if he pushed hard enough. The Marshal was not one of those camp-out-under-the-stars kind of guy. At least, not at his old age of forty-three years. Besides, he wanted to get this case down in the books so he could move on with the more pressing everyday monotonous duties of a territorial marshal.
The desert oasis of Cold Springs was inaptly named since there was no water for miles around 'cept what trickled out of the hamlet's one very deep well on the east side of town.
It was on the darker side of twilight when Marshal Mark Maher rode into town. Cold Springs had one fairly clean hotel, a semi-swank bar, a livery with a blacksmith shop and one rowdy saloon for misfits, cowhands, outlaws and the other general troublemaking sort. It was this later mentioned establishment that the marshal reined his horse. He took on long breath before gliding through the open doors.
The place was small but loud. No music other than the clattering of glasses and not much laughter. There was a lot of growling and jawing going on and boasting up one's character. The marshal did a quick check of his surroundings taking more care at focusing on who or what was lurking in the shadows. When he was satisfied at what he saw, he stared directly at the red-headed tall drink of water leaning against the bar. The marshal noted the youngster's piece was hanging dangerously low on his right hip.
"I wondered when you would catch up to me. I had no doubt you would; I just wasn't sure how much time was on my side before I had to go eye to eye with you." Barney Wiggins said calmly and frankly. He was not afraid to look the officer of the law in the eyes. The marshal had to give him that much. "I don't suppose you'd reconsider if I told you I could'a been a decent citizen of this territory if I hadn't been traded to the Comancheros by my step daddy when I was barely taller than a grasshopper?"
"Probably not." The lawman replied.
"It almost seems that you are performin' an injustice bringing me in." Barney Wiggins slowly slid his arm along the bar toward his whiskey glass. "How 'bout lettin' me skip over the territory border where I was headin' anyway and let me disappear, Marshal Maher? I ain't gonna ever retrace my steps and I won't stop until I am in the middle of Mexico. As my word is gold I will never come back this way."
He continued with a slight pitch change of desperation in his voice. "You know I ain't never been dealt a good hand most of my life. I was just doin' what I had to do to survive. I only did what was taught me, Maher . . . marshal . . . sir."
"I'm sure what you tell me is matter of fact." The marshal gave him a grim smile. "You know, Barney, we all carry the dirt and the smell of the trail we ride on in this life. And, that trail can be full of gopher holes to break a leg in; it can be overgrown with low branches to knock your head silly. Hell, that trail can be nothin' but slippery mud givin' you a fit of spills bruisin' up knees and elbows, boy." Maher eyed the bead of sweat stuck in the outlaw's red brow. "Now, you can blame your step daddy and you can curse the Comancheros that raised you. Hell, you can feel sorry you've had nothin' in your life worth the spit on your boots and saddle. You can do all that, Barney Wiggins, but, know this—weren't nobody but you who chose to ride that horse you reined in to town and weren't nobody but you who chose how to use that gun you're packin'. Murder is murder and you managed two murders before dinner, Barney."
Barney stared at the marshal for a moment. It looked like he was taking in all of what Marshal Maher had said and was chewing on it with intent to taste the full meaning the lawman's words. "The pretty-suited cad was a justified shooting over an altercation with that whore, sir." The accused hesitated for a moment. "Dammit, marshal, she started beating on me and yelling. I had no choice." Barney Wiggins then slapped the whiskey filled jigger at the marshal while going for his army-issue Remington.
Alas, Barney Wiggins was outmatched from the very beginning of the conversation. Marshal Maher drew his Colt Peacemaker before the jigger left the palm of young Wiggins' hand. Two bullets sparked from the barrel of marshal's revolver, one hitting Barney Wiggins' Adam's apple severing his windpipe and spinal cord and the other was true through the heart. The young outlaw was dead before he hit the saloon's well-worn wooden floor.