The Arizona and Western stage hustled along the dry road, trailing a fine plume of white dust. The stage was ten minutes late and the driver was urging the horses on. Up ahead was a bend in the road and the stage slowed as it entered the bend and when it came out of the turn there stood a man waving down the stage.
The driver pulled the reigns in and slowed the stage and then stopped it just a few feet before the man standing by himself. The man was tall and built well. He wore denim jeans and a blue shirt and a wide brown hat. On his hip was a pair of Colts. He didn't have a saddle, just himself.
"Glad you came by", the man yelled up to the driver. "I've been waiting here most of the morning. Say, you got any water?"
"Back of the boot", the driver said. "And hurry up. We're running late."
The man walked to the back of the coach and filled his canteen from the water bag. Then he took a long drink as he walked around the stage, opened the door and climbed up inside.
No sooner than he had closed and secured the door the stage surged off, the man falling back onto the plush velvet seat.
On board, in the seat facing the newcomer was Marshal Cody Justus, traveling without his badge. He took a long, careful look at the new passenger, for he was certain he had seen him somewhere. "My name's Cody Justus", he said, looking across at the man who sat between a young woman and an older man.
"I'm Coy Jeffers", the man replied, giving Cody a cool look. "My horse took lame a day ago. Had to shoot him. Walked all night and some this morning to catch this stage."
"You didn't bring your saddle?", Cody asked, rolling and lighting a cigarette.
"No", replied Coy. "It was too heavy to carry so far. Might go back and get it tomorrow though."
Cody exhaled a thing stream of cigarette smoke out the window. He turned and looked back at Coy. "Where you coming from?"
"That's my business", Coy snapped in a surly tone.
"Just curious", said Cody, tossing the remnants of his cigarette out the window. "Not many towns in this part of the country. A man would need a reason to be out in this no man's land."
Now the two other passengers sitting next to Coy looked at him with some apprehension; then they moved to sit next to Cody. Coy shrugged his shoulders and pulled his hat down over his eyes and pretended to sleep.
"Wake up!", Cody said, pushing a boot against the man.
Coy opened his eyes and looked at Cody, giving him a hard, mean stare.
Cody took out his big .44, cocked the hammer and pointed it at Coy. "Give me your pistol. Butt first", he instructed.
"You ain't got no cause to take my gun!", Coy snapped.
"Hand it to me butt first or I'll shoot you where you sit", Cody said calmly in a firm voice.
Coy looked angry, but took out his pistol and handed it to Cody who threw it out the window. "Now what the hell Marshal. What'd you do that for?"
"Now give me the pea shooter in your vest pocket, butt first", Cody said, pointing his deadly .44 right at Coy's heart.
Coy handed a small Derringer to Cody who also tossed it out the window. He then holstered his pistol and went out through the open window and up onto the driver's seat.
Elson Patterson, the driver, looked surprised as Cody swung onto the seat next to him. "Might be trouble up ahead", Cody said as he bent down and took up the .50 caliber rifle the driver kept by his feet.
"What kind of trouble?", Elson asked.
"I think we're going to be robbed", Cody replied, turning to look backwards behind the stage. But the vast openness was vacant of any riders.
Cody turned and looked ahead. "Isn't Legend Falls our next stop?"
"Yeah, about another three miles."
"Well, let's be on the alert", Cody said, leaning forward, looking out ahead.
The stage continued on the road which was flat and smooth. The sky was bright blue and the sun a great fiery disc as it splayed the land with shimmering heat. And then the road made a gradual right turn and coming out of the turn was Legend Falls, a small silver smelting town so named because the Piute River ran through the center of town and ended by cascading down a sheer rock cliff where it spilled out into Lake Legend.
Up ahead Cody could see the stage office and across the street the jail and next to the jail the tavern. There was a hotel and a livery stable and the smelter where silver ore was melted down and poured into bars and next to the smelter the large military barracks.
The 1St Cavalry was based here, to protect the silver which was sent onto the Denver Mint where it was stored. There had never been a robbery in Legend Falls and Cody wondered if and when the stage would be robbed. His guess was that the robbery would take place outside Legend Falls, after horses had been changed and passengers given a noon meal.
And so it was that an hour later, as the stage once again trundled down the white dusty road, there appeared three men on horseback racing towards the stage from an access road. Cody took up the rifle, aimed carefully, and killed the lead horseman. Then he fired at the trailing horseman and knocked him off his horse onto the dusty road. Now the lone horseman pulled up, unsure, and Cody took out his pistol and shot the man squarely in the chest and watched as he flew backwards off his horse onto the dusty road.
The driver kept the stage going as Cody reloaded the rifle and his pistol, while the coach swayed from side to side. He had just finished loading his pistol when out of the corner of his eye he saw the right side stage door open and Coy trying to climb up next to Cody. But Cody turned and pointed his pistol at Coy's chest and the man leapt backwards off the coach. Cody turned and looked back, pistol at the ready but they were already out of range.
"Well, you was right about being robbed", the driver called out to Cody.
"Yeah. Now all we need is an Indian attack to make our day", Cody said, sarcastically.
Later that afternoon, just as the sun began to set, the stage arrived in Coral Junction, so named because of the color of large boulders which were strewn about the land. It was a small village and there were only sixty residents who made their living operating a rock quarry. There was a small hotel, a café next to the hotel, a hardware store, livery stable, a general store and post office and a small jail where the village constable had an office.
Cody walked to the jail. Opened the door and pushed inside. Behind a large wooden desk a man was sleeping, his head down in his folded arms. It was dim inside the room and very warm from a wood burning stove. Cody walked up the desk and shook the sleeping man who came awake with a jolt. "What? Oh! Jeez, walking in here and waking me like that", the man said, leaning back, rubbing his eyes. He looked to about sixty and his round face was lined with white whiskers. "Well, now that you woke me up, what n tarnation you want?", asked the man, pushing back, standing up, revealing that he was very tall and heavily built.
"My name is Cody Justus. I'm a U.S. marshal. I need some information."
"U.S. marshal, huh", the man replied, shrugging his shoulders. "Ain't seen one of you round here in a long time. My name's Lathe Zenter. Say, you want a cup of coffee?", he asked cheerfully and without waiting for an answer walked over to the stove and poured two cups, handing one to Cody.
"The stage was robbed", said Cody. "And a passenger on the stage was in on it. I think he might be from here."
"Look here marshal", Lathe said, sipping from his coffee. "This here is a little village. Life's real slow here. Nothing exciting ever happens. Well, once we had a fire but that was five or six years ago. My point is who from here could be a stage coach robber?"
"He goes by the name Coy Jeffers", Cody said, sipping coffee.
"Ain't nobody here with that name. No Jeffers at all."
"He's a big fellow, About forty years old", Cody told Lathe.
"Well shucks marshal, that ain't much of a description. That sounds like half the men in Arizona", Lathe said, putting down his coffee. "Hungry? Come on, I'll treat you to a real nice dinner over at the café."
Meanwhile, Coy Jeffers had hooked up with his partner Sam Denison. Together they were riding slowly down the dusty road. "That marshal owes me", Jeffers said. "And I'm gonna find him and kill him."
"You think he's up ahead?", asked Sam.
"That's my guess. Probably in that little village. What's its name?"
"Coral Junction", replied Sam. "But there's nothing there. Just a dusty little place. Ain't even got a decent saloon."
"Well, the stage stops there overnight. That's where he'll be, all right. And we're gonna get there and kill that bastard."
"What about the sheriff?"
"That old coot!", Coy scoffed. "Why he just a doddering old man."
And so it came to pass that the sun went down and the night grew dark and cold as a hundred thousand stars lit the black sky. The moon was out but it was distant and weak. Long night shadows fell across the road and the sleepy little village and as each hour passed the air grew colder until it was almost freezing.
Out on the road, under the cold night air, Coy and his partner were close to freezing, for they were not dressed for the cold nights in that part of Arizona. Then the wind picked up and made them colder.
"We gotta stop and make a fire!", Sam said. "I'm about froze to death."
Reluctantly, Coy agreed. It was too cold to go on and so they stopped and unsaddled and gathered scrub wood and made a fire and put blankets on their horses. And all the while the wind blew and the night became colder as the two men huddled by the fire.
"Wish we had some bacon and coffee", Sam said, scooting closer to the fire.
"Well, we ain't got them", Coy said, angrily, for he had not wanted to stop and he was cold and hungry. "And we ain't gonna stay here long. Another two, maybe three hours. That's all", he said, sullenly.
While the two men were warming themselves by the fire, Cody was tossing a few more pieces of wood into the stove in his hotel room, basking in its cozy warmth, glad to be inside. He had spent too many cold nights outside and was not eager to spend another night shivering by a campfire.
As Cody prepared for bed, he took the one chair in the room and put it up against the door knob for extra security. Then he crawled into bed, put his pistol by his side, drew up the covers and went to sleep.
In the morning the dawn was cold and gray and a wind was blowing, making it even colder. Coy and his partner rode into town tired, hungry and cold. There were down to their last five dollars and decided to blow it on an enormous breakfast at the café. Over coffee, Coy staked out his plan: "First we rob the bank. Don't look like they have much security, so it should be quick and easy. Then we go over to the jail and kill that son of a bitch marshal", he said, vehemently.
"It might not be than easy", Sam said, finishing the last of a biscuit. "What about the sheriff?"
"He's just an old guy. Just a part time sheriff. He won't give us any trouble."
"Well, maybe we should kill the marshal first."
"We rob the bank first. Get the money in hand. Then we go for the marshal", Coy said firmly.
"OK. You're the boss."
"Let's go", said Coy, pushing his chair back, standing.
It was raining hard when Coy and his partner left the café and headed for the bank. And the wind was up and it was cold and low grey clouds swirled down close to the ground as Coy walked up to the entrance of the bank, drew his revolver and pushed open the door. Much to his surprise a bank guard was sitting on a high stool with a shotgun and the guard saw Coy with his gun drawn and fired both barrels. The shot swept out from the shotgun and crashed into Coy who took most of the shot in his shoulder. He yelled out in pain, pointed his revolver and shot the guard cleanly through the heart. Then he shot the bank teller behind his cage and leapt over the counter and went for the open vault. His partner was right behind them and they filled a gunny sack with stacks of cash and hurried from the bank out into the rain.
It was their bad luck that the sheriff and the marshal had heard the gunfire coming from the bank and were out in the street, guns drawn. Cody fired his .44 at Coy, striking him in the center of his chest. Coy turned slowly around, looking up into the rainy sky in disbelief and then fell over into the wet muddy street. The sheriff was shooting at the other man who was running down the street towards the stage office where he jumped up onto the stage that sat waiting outside and took up the reigns and started off.
Cody ran for his horse, leapt into the saddle and took off after the stage. His horse was fresh and he chased after the stage, coming up behind; he leapt from his horse onto the rear boot and climbed up onto the roof, pistol drawn. The robber looked back from his seat and was reaching for his gun when Cody took careful aim and shot him high in the right shoulder. The man dropped the reigns and slumped down on the seat as Cody climbed down onto the seat, picked up the reigns and brought the stage to a halt.
About fifteen minutes later Cody led the stage back into town and handed the robber over to the sheriff.