Brite stepped up on the porch in front of the sheriff's office in Washington and saw a big good-looking kid
staring at him with a big crazy grin. It surprised him so much he bumped into the kid's partner, another big
guy, older, with a scraggly beard. They both wore guns slung low, gunfighter style.
* * *
"Hey watch it!" The older guy grunted in some guttural Tex-Missouri accent, his hand straying towards his gun.
"You better watch it Muley," the big kid laughed, still grinning ear to ear. "This here's Claude Brite."
Muley paused his reach for his gun and glanced out the corner of his eye at the kid.
"Now who the hell is Claude Brite and why the hell should I care?" He glanced at Brite then back to the kid.
"Hey, ain't your name Brite? Who is this, your old man?"
"Well he's pretty old and worn out but he's not my dad. This is my brother Claude."
Muley apparently feared the kid as he took a step back.
"Hell Bo, I didn't know he was kin. I wouldn't shoot your kin."
"You wouldn't shoot Claude in any situation. I've seen you both draw—you'd be dead before you cleared
leather. 'Course, he's retired and respectable now."
Muley eyed Claude and gulped. "He that fast?"
"Fastest I ever saw—next to me."
It was in a seedy bar in Kansas City, Missouri, just after the war, the last time Claude had seen Bo. What
with the end of the war and the Missouri Pacific railroad hitting town, things were hopping. A little too
hot for the temperance league and do-gooders. The authorities were just itching to throw rowdies in jail
and had already collected quite a few.
* * *
Claude hadn't talked to Bo yet but had heard he was in town causing trouble. Now he had shot some cowpoke
in a fast draw duel and they were coming for him.
Claude found Bo drinking with his buddies.
"Bo." he said. Bo turned slightly.
"Well if it isn't the war hero. What the hell do you want Claude?"
"You need to get out of town. The police are coming."
"That piece of crap went for his gun first. I got witnesses. And ain't no two-bit sheriff scaring me off."
"This is the city police, probably a bunch of them. And it don't matter what you did or didn't do, they're
looking for examples." Claude had not seen him in five years and in truth barely recognized him. He'd filled
out to a big man but still with that boyish face.
Bo eyed him. He had been drinking, Claude could tell he was very drunk.
"Who is they, Claude. You and your friends? You all respectable now? As I remember you raised some hell and
killed a few before the war."
"That was all I knew back then, Bo. Gun fighting and drinking is no way to live."
Bo turned all the way toward him. "You run off on ma and me and do your killing for Sherman and the blue-bellies
and now you're the big hero giving advice. I come back and I'm nothing."
"You joined Quantrill, Bo. People remember the raids and the killings, especially Lawrence."
"'Round here people are of two minds about that."
"Like hell they are. Even the Confederates were disgusted."
Bo pushed away from the bar. "What you and Sherman did in Georgia was no Sunday picnic." In a flash, he went for
his gun. Being so close, Claude knocked the gun from his hand with his left and clipped him on the chin with a
short right. Bo sagged and Claude caught him.
"Christ." Claude thought. "If he wasn't drunk he would have shot me easy. He is fast."
Bo's friends took him away and Claude had not seen him until this day.
The sheriff of Washington, Lars Wilson, had his feet up on his desk, leaning back in his chair, ever-present
sprig of cinnamon dangling from his mouth. He kept a jar of them on his desk.
* * *
"Swede." Claude said.
Wilson didn't look at Claude, speaking slowly. "Those two vagrants on the porch are going to be trouble."
"I spoke with them."
"Claim they are working for Mr. Watson as laborers." He looked at Claude for the first time. "Kind of
heavily armed for laborers."
Swede was a tall lean man, decent with a gun, who tried to avoid trouble—up to a point. While tactful,
he could be brutally honest if the situation called for it.
"Rumor has it they're trying to scare Douglas off his land, though I don't know why Watson would want it."
Swede said. In the checkerboard pattern of railroad and private land along the new intercontinental railroad,
Douglas owned a stretch east of Reno in Lockwood, just to the north of Washington on the Truckee.
"I heard Watson wants a right-of-way for a spur to Virginia City."
Lars scratched his head. "The V&T already goes there." Of course, they both knew Douglas would never deal with
the railroads, he was retired and happy with his spread on the river. More importantly, his wife had run off
with a fancy railroad man.
"Probably feels he's given enough to the railroads already." Lars said. "Why can't we all just get along?"
He moved closer to Claude. He was an inch taller. Up close you could see his thinness was the tough kind,
like a stick of jerky, in contrast to Claude's solid build. He strode to the window and peered out. "I told
those two I want no trouble in my town."
"Two problems, Swede."
"First, Douglas's ranch is out of your jurisdiction." Washington was a small town, really just a wide spot
in a canyon. It had sprung up overnight around a small mine which already looked to be played out. "That's
the county and Ray Harris." Harris had been good twenty years ago, now he had gone to fat and mostly donned
his guns for the Fourth of July parade in Virginia City. Anything serious he left to his young deputies.
"Second, the young tough is very good and very dangerous. Name's Bo Brite. Good with a gun. Rode with
Quantrill in Missouri and Texas."
"That was a nasty business. 'Course, it all was." He eyed Claude. "Brite. That's your last name."
"Yeah," Claude said softly. "He's my brother."
Lars let that sink in. "I hear Watson is over at the hotel. What do you say we pay him a visit?"
Claude occasionally backed up Lars. "Gunna deputize me?"
"Nope. Just want a witness. Watson's always bending the law on something. Probably got a lawyer with him."
Claude had ridden into town earlier with Mary, his horse tied to the wagon. She sold beef, mutton and
vegetables to the hotel diner and a couple places in Reno. Mary had red hair and dark eyes Claude could
easily fall into. He was always a little nervous around her even though they had been seeing each other
for 2 years. It was one of those blustery spring days when the wind still blew cold. Here in the canyons
of the Virginia Range, winter was stubborn and patches of snow still hid in a few crevasses.
* * *
"Reminds me of Dublin," she said, "cold and windy but warm when it stops blowing."
"You ever think of going back?"
She was a child when her family had emigrated.
"To visit, Claude, yes. But I've got my life here now. Ties." She stared at him like she did sometimes
and, like always, he cleared his throat and changed the subject.
"How's the ranch?" he managed to say, although he knew perfectly well how it was. The small ranch was in
Spanish Springs, just northeast of Reno. Her mom had bought it when they came to the U.S. Now her mom was
gone and Mary ran it with a couple of hands.
Now Mary changed the subject. "I had the dream again. That horrible man killing my father." Her dad had been a
lawyer for coal miners. He was gunned down by a killer hired by the mine owners. Just a child, she had
witnessed it. "I'm having it a lot lately. I'll never forget that face." She had told him no charges were ever
brought, the man had disappeared.
"Men like that always meet bad ends, Mary," he said. She didn't respond.
Claude and Lars left the office. Bo and Muley were gone. Washington had just the one Main Street, which ran
off the Lockwood-Virginia City road, and the one hotel, which sat at the end. Behind that was hillside, the
mine and mine buildings. The hotel was 2 stories, of wood with a stone foundation. The town boasted 3 saloons,
although no one was about this time of day, miners were working. The mine was slowing and half the businesses
were empty. Most transactions took place in Virginia City, maybe 10 miles to the south or Reno, about the same
distance to the west.
* * *
They were on the sidewalk a block from the hotel when the first shot threw up splinters next to Claude's head.
He and Lars ducked behind a horse rail, not much cover.
"The alley across the street," Lars whispered. Claude saw a barrel emerge then a hint of a figure. They both
fired at the same time.
They climbed the stairs of the hotel.
* * *
"What's the plan, Lars?"
"The usual. No trouble. Just everybody get along."
"Maybe find out what Watson really wants."
In the hallway, Bo lounged like a big rangy kid in a chair outside Watson's door. Bo wasn't a kid anymore,
but he always would be to Claude.
"Two senior citizens here to see Mr. Watson," Bo laughed. He stood.
"That's right son," Lars said, "and to tell you about your friend."
"You called him Muley." Claude said.
"What did that idiot do now? Watson canned him. Can't stop drinking or getting in trouble."
"He won't be getting in trouble anymore. He's dead. Tried to bushwhack me and Claude."
Bo swore. "That fool."
"You and Watson didn't know anything about his actions?" Lars bored in like a bulldog when he got down to business.
"Last I saw him, maybe an hour ago, Watson fired him. The boss has big plans, he wouldn't go for anything stupid
like that. Muley probably thought he could get back in the boss's good graces. Hell, Mr. Watson probably would
have shot him if you didn't."
Lars stared intently at Bo for a long second. "Tell Watson we're here."
Watson had dark black hair which hung down and plastered to his forehead, along with a doughy white face. A soft face,
Claude thought, for a rough man. He was standing by the window in the big room, a paper in his hand and a displeased
look on his face. A stranger sat in a chair to his left. Bo went up to him, whispered something, then left.
"So that was the shooting I heard. I'm sorry, sheriff. Muley was an imbecile. I fired him."
"So, you know nothing of his actions?" Swede was still a little riled.
"Come on sheriff, if I was going to kill you it wouldn't be in broad daylight in the middle of town." He laughed, a
short bark. "Muley was stupider than I thought."
Claude couldn't help staring at the stranger. He had short black hair and strange black eyes but the oddest thing was
his face. It was almost a skull, drawn skin, sharp bones, and a death's head grin. Claude couldn't help but shudder.
The stranger stared back at him.
Swede spoke, his voice back now to the relaxed familiar tone. "I'll get to the point, Mr. Watson, I know you're a busy
man." Lars looked and spoke like a hayseed much of the time but could be very proper if needed.
Watson nodded impatiently. "Go on."
"Rumor has it you and your men are pressuring Mr. Douglas to sell you his land or give you a right-of-way for a
railroad spur to Virginia City."
"I have no problem with someone trying to do a business deal. But anything outside the law, I get concerned."
"Outside the law, sheriff?" Watson laughed that short unpleasant laugh again. "Such as?"
"Threats of physical violence. Extortion. Intimidation."
"Would I do that sheriff?"
"You have in the past. In Virginia City and Carson City."
"You are sheriff of Washington, sir, an insignificant blight in the mountains. Everyone knows the mine isn't paying
out. This town will be gone in a few years."
Swede ignored that. "Another question. There is the existing road, right outside, from Lockwood through Lousetown to
VC. Seems a railroad could go there."
"Which it will, sheriff, but I still need a right-of-way. And it crosses Douglas's land, I need an easement. But my point
is, sheriff, you have no jurisdiction in this matter. Douglas's place is in Storey county and Sheriff Harris handles that.
You are sheriff of a nowhere town with no pull at all."
Swede said icily, "I know the police chiefs in Virginia City and Reno and most of the officers, as well as the Nevada
"I'll keep that in mind sheriff. Anything else?"
"Keep everything on the up and up here in Washington. Keep your hired thugs out of town. If you want to talk to Mr. Douglas
or relay him a message, he is a friend and I'd be glad to help."
Claude spoke. "I have a question."
"Claude Brite. Quite a reputation you have. Your brother Bo speaks highly of you. Says you were good—when you were
younger." Again, a short laugh. "Even O'Malley here has heard of you."
With a start, Claude realized the stranger had risen, fast and smooth like a snake uncoiling. With difficulty, he focused
back on Watson.
"Why a spur from Lockwood? The V&T already goes to Virginia City."
"Through Carson City yes, from the Central Pacific in Reno over 40 miles. Lockwood to Virginia City, maybe 15 miles. Time
is money." Watson gave a long look at the paper he was holding. "Douglas's latest refusal of my offer." He brightened, a
little too fast for Claude. "Tell you what, I'm meeting with Douglas tonight at 7 at his place in Lockwood. Why don't you
two joint us." His pale watery eyes peered at them.
Claude looked at Swede who gave an okay shrug. "I'll be there."
"Me too," said Swede.
"Good. One big happy family." And Watson barked the short laugh again. And O'Malley kept grinning like the grim reaper.
As they walked back to the sheriff's office Claude thought of Mary. Her wagon wasn't at the hotel, meaning she had
finished the delivery and was headed for Reno. In the office, Swede handed him some papers and motioned to his desk.
* * *
"What is this for?"
"You get to write your version of Muley's demise. For the coroner. I get to do it too. Part of the joy of being sheriff."
Claude moaned, he hated paper work. It must have taken an hour. Then he went to the mine owner's office about a job they
had guarding ore shipments. A few days a week. Perfect for a retired man. That's what Bo had called him. Retired and
respectable. Guess that was right. He had a small pension from the army and savings and that seemed to be enough. He
had wandered after the war and ended up in the Comstock, picking up odd jobs here and there. But he wasn't a gunslinger
anymore. Then he met Mary.
Turned out the mine had slowed so much they no longer needed anyone. When he got back to the sheriff's office the sun was
setting, casting long shadows. They rode down the canyon towards the Truckee River and Lockwood.
"Maybe this is all legitimate, Claude. But Watson always seems like he's up to no good."
About 3 and a half miles later the canyon opened to the larger Truckee River canyon and they could see Douglas's place
on the left, on a small bluff above the river. Claude always like it here, the river winding through cottonwoods, sagebrush,
with piñon pine above that as the Virginia Range rose. Across the canyon, the Pah Rah range rose steeply as well.
As they neared the house Claude pulled up short. Mary's outfit was tied up at the rail.
Claude and Lars were both on edge as Bo opened the door. Bo didn't look happy.
* * *
"Hey Claude," he said in a low voice.
They pushed past him into the house. Claude took it all in, Mary across the room with a strange look on her
face. Douglas—obviously mad—standing by Watson, to her right. O'Malley to her left.
"Mary, are you alright?" Claude asked as he moved to her. She was staring at O'Malley. Claude spun to face
Watson. "What's going on here?"
"Blame the sheriff, Mr. Brite." Watson said. "All that talk of the Attorney General and crime." His coal-black
eyes in that white face were a little crazy. "I had Bo ask Mary to join us. You have given me no other choice."
Lars remained by the door with a neutral look on his face. Claude knew that look well, if you were a bad guy
that look should scare you, if you had any common sense. Watson was apparently beyond that.
Watson spoke in a smug voice. "Douglas here is just getting ready to grant me right-of-way. You and the sheriff
will witness the deed." He smiled a pasty-faced smile. "Or else."
"You in on this Bo?" Claude asked.
Bo looked really looked uncomfortable. "We don't want to hurt anyone Claude. Just give him what he wants."
Mary still stared at O'Malley and started trembling. "It's him," she whispered. "The man who killed my father. It's him."
O'Malley, suddenly intent, leaned forward eagerly. "You haven't lost your brogue girl." He added something else
Claude didn't understand.
"It's Irish, Claude," she said, her voice firm now. "He said 'you stink of the Dublin tenements.'"
Watson laughed that short bark of his. "You know each other? It's old family homecoming here at the Douglas ranch.
The Brite brothers and Irish reunion."
"So, you ran off to America when they chased you out of Ireland." she said in a voice Claude had never heard before,
calm but cold. She stared at O'Malley and he looked away.
"Enough of this." Watson spit out. "Mr. Douglas will sign the right-of-way—I've persuaded him it's in his and
his daughter's best interest." Another short laugh while Douglas had an infuriated but hopeless look on his face.
"And Mary, Mary will die here and now if you and the sheriff do not sign as witnesses to the deed."
"Hold on a minute," Bo spoke. "I didn't sign up for cold blooded murder. Especially a woman."
Claude saw the whole room—Bo looking very conflicted, Watson haughty, O'Malley eager like a snake about to strike,
Lars strangely quit.
"I knew you'd be trouble Bo, it's your brother, isn't it? The brother who never showed you any respect. Remember what I
told you about my brother? He never showed me respect either until I forced him to. Now is the time to grow up and deal with him."
Bo laughed, unexpected and short. "I reckon you're right, Mr. Watson, 'bout growing up. But it ain't the way you imagine it."
Watson flicked a glance at O'Malley and all hell broke loose.
Claude was fast, but O'Malley and Bo drew in a blur which beat him. Claude shot once at O'Malley but the man had already moved.
There were several shots including Swede's old Navy Colt, then blackness washed over him.
* * *
He woke to Mr. Douglas and Swede's concerned faces. Swede was bleeding.
"He took her." Swede said tonelessly.
"The stranger. O'Malley. He grabbed Mary and dragged her out of here."
Claude sat up and his head swam. He felt his forehead. There was a gash that was bleeding. "Damn close." he muttered.
"Didn't have to come to this." Lars said. "Why can't we all just get along?"
A few feet away Bo lay with blood covering his shirt. Watson was sprawled on the floor, unmoving. Claude went to Bo's
side and knelt. "Bo." he said.
Bo's eyes were fluttering then steady. "I got him, Claude. O'Malley. Him and Watson too, he was drawing on you." He
coughed up blood. "Jesus, O'Malley got me too. He was the fastest I ever seen. Next to me."
"You're the fastest I've seen, Bo." Bo smiled. It was true. "You saved my life."
Bo tried to say something else but passed out.
Claude stood. "Take care of Bo. I'm going after Mary."
"I'll come with you." Lars said, but Claude saw he was barely standing.
"Stay here and do what you can do."
A trail of blood led to the hitching rail. O'Malley's, he hoped. No one in sight. Not that one could see far, it
was dark. Where would he go? Trying to escape, but why take Mary? That would only ensure he would be followed.
The blood was bright red and frothy. The wound was in the chest and bad. He was probably dying and knew it.
Claude hoped he wanted Mary as a shield or bargaining chip, and not a last chance to go out with a killing.
Frantically he searched the narrow river valley below, but couldn't see much. He mounted and trotted to the
road. South towards Washington it was empty. He knelt and made out blood droplets leading to the river. He
moved that direction.
* * *
She had been in a daze since she saw him—her father's killer. It had been 10 years but she would never
forget that skull face and that snake-hiss voice. "Too bad you came home early, girl." he had whispered when
she found her father dead. He stared at her but then looked away. She was sure he would have killed her but
just then the housemaids could be heard in the kitchen and O'Malley just disappeared.
* * *
Later, they found out O'Malley was a hit man employed by the coal mine owners. He was wanted in other killings.
The women, mostly prostitutes, were killed in gristly fashion with a knife. His picture was in the papers for
a while but he was never seen again. And now they had dismounted and he held a gun on her.
"I'm not from a Dublin tenement, O'Malley. We had a nice house in Howth. But you should remember, you were there."
O'Malley had grabbed her as she knelt next to Claude—he was alive, the bullet grazing his skull—put
her on his horse in front of him and rode down to the Truckee by the train tracks. But he was breathing raggedly
and blood ran freely from a wound in his chest down his shirt. He stared at her strangely.
"Thomas McCarthy. A lawyer for the coal miners. You killed him in March 1860."
He looked away, shook his head, and staggered. She thought he might go down.
"I cut girls like you." he gasped and pulled a long knife.
"Not girls like me, O'Malley. Poor lost girls from the tenements. You couldn't look a good girl in the eyes."
A whistle sounded, the Central Pacific headed out of Reno towards parts east. The searchlight hit them, flashing in and out.
Claude saw figures in the throbbing train light ahead. Light then dark, again and again. He raced towards them.
He saw a knife flash again and again. "Mary!" he yelled, and fear like cold ice shot through him. He jumped off
his horse and grabbed Mary's arm, which held the knife. "Mary. Stop, Mary." He held her close. "O'Malley's dead."
* * *
Swede recovered, his left arm in a sling for a while. Douglas seemed okay, with just another reason to hate the
railroads. Watson was dead, Bo had shot him between the eyes. Turns out he had bad money troubles, something to
do with the Credit Moblier scandal, and had several wild schemes to raise cash.
* * *
Claude rode out to Washington on a fine spring day. The weather had warmed. Washington was empty. Not as everyone
at work, but everyone gone.
* * *
"Where is everyone?" he asked Swede, who was chewing a sprig of cinnamon.
"The mine closed. Hell, everyone knew it was coming. The company wants me to stay here a couple weeks while they
remove some equipment."
"What you gunna do after that?"
"Colorado. Leadville area. The company needs a sheriff in a small town."
They were standing on the porch. Lars eyed Claude's horse and saddle bags. "You going somewhere?"
"This is the longest I've spent in one place since I was a kid, Swede. Time to move on, I reckon."
Swede eyed him speculatively. "You're a smart man, Claude, but sometimes . . . " He
paused and sighed. "You spoke to Mary?"
"On my way out there after this."
Lars smiled and laughed. Claude was a little perplexed. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing, my friend, nothing at all."
Claude rode to Mary's place. She was out front by the barn with a loaded wagon, standing still, watching him approach.
"Going somewhere, Claude?" She stared at his outfit strapped to the horse, then back to him. She was doing it again,
looking at him that way.
"I've been thinking, Mary. I can't stay here, in this area. I need to be moving on."
She still stared and he began to sweat. Did anyone ever have a look like that?
"Claude Brite. Just where do you have to go? Nowhere. Your life is here. Your brother is buried here." She stepped
up close to his horse. "And I'm here."
She had a point. "Bring your stuff in the house. You can ride in to Reno with me. We can stop at the courthouse."