White Oaks, New Mexico
Clancy Cooper spits a long stream of tobacco juice into a nearby spittoon, cocking his eye at a dark-skinned man at the end of the bar. The man in the black suit and wide-brimmed hat glares back at the scruffy farmer with greasy, shoulder-length hair. Clancy runs his finger across his bushy mustache, nodding knowingly at the man.
“I tell you, Trey, that’s him.”
Hoping to avoid drawing attention to himself, Trey Akin, a baby-faced, thirty-two-year-old farmer, quickly glances at the man.
“Maybe it ain’t…”
“What do you mean, Trey? He’s over six feet tall, and dresses in black.”
“Come to a Cattleman’s Association meetin’ sometime. There’s a dozen high falutin suits that fit that dandy’s description. Why are you so interested in him?”
Clancy raises his voice. “Because I’m the fastest gun in the territory and everybody knows it!”
A group of storekeepers playing cards look up and snicker. The cowboys at a nearby table roll their eyes, cackling.
Kurt Beckman whistles. Rubbing his two-day growth of stubble, the sad-eyed bartender and owner of The No Scum Allowed Saloon says to a nearby cowboy, “He’s in his cups again. I hope Trey gets him outta here before he starts challengin’ everybody. That fella at the end of the bar don’t look amused.”
“Y’all hear me! I said I’m a bad man!” Clancy yells, stamping his foot against the plank floorboards.
Quicksilver Miller McGovern huffs, tapping his cigarette holder in a nearby ashtray. Feeding the pot, Quicksilver looks at his cards. “Toughest manure slinger west of Biloxi,” he retorts, his thick southern accent caressing each word.
Clancy gives the well-dressed gambler a dirty look. “You got somethin’ to say to me, four-flusher? If you wasn’t twice my age, I’d make ya eat those cards you’re hidin’ up your sleeve!”
Clancy reaches for a bottle of rye. Trey grabs it first.
“If you were really a fast gun, you’d’a been able to grab that bottle before me.”
Clancy belches. “Oh, you gangin’ up on me too, Trey? I thought you was my best friend?”
“You know I’m about the only friend you got in this town,” Trey replies. “And as your best friend, I think it’s time we head back to the farm.”
Clancy snatches the bottle from him. “I ain’t workin’ for you right now, am I?”
“Then lemme be. I got a right to let off steam.”
Looking at the man at the end of the bar, Clancy shouts, “I got that right, don’t I, dude?”
“Cool your heels, Cooper!” Kurt yells.
Wobbling, Clancy pretends to make a play for his gun. “Or what? Yeah, you first, Beckman. Then Devon Donovan. And then anybody else who wants to take on the fastest shooter since Clay Allison can line on up.”
The men in the crowded room grumble amongst themselves, shaking their heads.
“That leaves you, breed,” Clancy says to the dark-skinned man.
“Don’t get your dander up,” Trey cautions. “You don’t know the man.”
“You’re right. Me and Devon Donovan ain’t never met. But I do know a half-breed when I see one. I’m surprised you’d let his kind in here, Beckman.”
“Why? I let you in. And unlike you, he pays.”
“Ain’t no more than an animal. How ‘bout it, mutt? Wanna take on a shooter faster than Clay Allison?”
The man glances at Clancy, replying dryly, “Clay Allison died in July. You want to join him?”
Trey holds Clancy back before he can reach for his gun.
“Get him outta here, Trey,” Kurt says, “Or I’ll shoot him myself.”
Trey pushes Clancy toward his horse.
“You go from kitten to lion anytime you get so much as a whiff of liquor.”
“You know I got a good reason for settlin’ that breed’s hash. Them half Mexican half Navajo raiders burned our ranch, scalped my folks, and carried off my sister. It’s been twenty-five years, and I ain’t seen her since.”
“I wouldn’t try to get even by lock horns with the most dangerous man in the territory,” Trey warns.
“Yeah, must be drunker than I thought.”
The well-dressed man exits the saloon. Standing under the streetlight, he casually lights a cigar.
Clancy’s blood curdles. “Hey, you! Breed! Is that your wife callin’ you from the stable? He Haw! He Haw!”
The man drops his cigar, his hand moving into position next to his gun.
Laughing, the man draws his revolver, pointing it at Clancy, who fumbles and then drops his gun.
A shot echoes through the empty street. The man falls forward.
Clancy turns to look at a wide-eyed Trey. Trey’s gun is still smoking.
Picking up Clancy’s gun, Trey quickly hands him his own weapon.
“What are you doin’?”
“You know I can’t be questioned about this,” Trey replies.
A group of men led by Kurt and Quicksilver bursts out onto the street.
Kurt looks down at the body.
“Criminy! Cooper outdrew Devon Donovan!”
“Three cheers to the man who rid us of the devil!” Quicksilver says holding up his glass.
The men in the saloon cheer as Clancy downs another shot of whiskey.
His hand shaking, Trey puts his shot back on the bar, scanning the room.
“Don’t be such an odd stick,” Clancy says.
“Lately I’ve felt like somebody’s been watchin’ me. Then this happens. You know the fix this puts me in?”
“That was twelve years ago,” Clancy says, bowing to the crowd like a conquering hero.
“…I’d have to tell Maria everything…”
“You were righteous in killin’ Doyle Donovan twelve years ago. He shot your father, laid hands on your mama, and stole your horses. You tracked him down and gave him what he deserved. Nobody knows who done it.”
“But what happened tonight with his brother could shine a light on me.”
“Nobody’s gonna know about this either. I sure as heck ain’t gonna tell nobody I didn’t shoot Devon Donovan.”
Kurt places an expensive bottle of whiskey in front of Clancy. “On the house.”
Trey’s hand shakes as he lifts his shot glass.
“I figured it’d be Cooper who’d have the shakes,” Kurt comments. “I never knew you had it in you.”
“I was a sharpshooter in the army.”
Pulling Clancy close, Trey whispers, “I was the sharpshooter. You was the cook’s swamper. Don’t let this muddle your head, Clancy. Your mouth is cashin’ checks your gun hand can’t deliver.”
Clancy snorts. Lifting the bottle of whiskey, he guzzles half of it. He notices a man at a back table in a black three-piece suit with silky blonde hair and probing grey eyes studying him.
Reaching in his jacket pocket, the man pulls out a cigar, lighting it.
“Another scallywag,” Clancy surmises.
“Buy him a drink. I ain’t in the mood for murderin’ nobody else.”
“I hear you only kill Donovans,” Clancy says, moving toward the back table.
“Who might you be mister?”
The man blows several smoke rings in Clancy’s direction. “I’ve come to pay my respects to the man who killed Devon Donovan. But you’re mighty tipsy for a hero.”
What’s it to you?”
“Nothing. But if I’d just killed the fastest gun in New Mexico, I wouldn’t dull my wits by getting blind drunk. I might need to stay sharp in order to face Devon’s brothers when they come looking for me.”
“Well, Ernesto?” Mayor Lindell Robillard asks.
Twenty-year-old Ernesto Calderon, White Oak’s 5’ 6’” Mexican deputy, looks pensively at the crowd.
“If what you say is true, settlin’ this will be for show.”
“You mean a formality.”
“Si, formality. But I need your gun, Cooper.”
“You ain’t takin’ my gun, amigo. I’m a hard man now. I can’t walk around nekkid.”
The rotund mayor laughs until his thick belly and double-chin jiggle. “Let him keep his gun, deputy. He’s earned the right to wear it.”
“He’s lucky I don’t put him in jail for murder. Marshall Murnah would.”
“That’s ‘cause that peckerwood hates me,” Clancy says. “I thought you and me was amigos.”
“That’s got nothin’ to do with it. I’m followin’ the law.”
“Listen, Ernesto. I’m the Mayor, and lest you forget, a lawyer, and I say the shooting was legal. I did your people a favor by giving you your job. Don’t make me take it away. Besides, you can’t put Cooper in jail with Wild Wolf. He’s murdering scum.”
“Right now, I don’t see no difference between them.”
Clancy spits a stream of tobacco juice onto Ernesto’s fancy red boots.
“You want my gun, amigo, come and get it... Dag gone natives think they own the town.”
Maria Akin laughs to herself as she tosses feed to the chickens, wondering when her usually attentive husband will get up.
She absentmindedly looks down the dusty dirt road that leads to their farm. A fancy-dressed blonde-haired man smoking a cigar sits on his horse watching her.
His roguish smile sends a shiver through her. Letting out a puff of smoke, he rides off.
Trey shambles out to the trough, sticking his head in it.
“You never could handle your liquor,” Maria says. “Is the hero still asleep?”
“Dead to the world.”
“I’ve never understood why you keep such a shiftless drunkard around.”
“We’ve knowed each other since we was boys. We took him in when his family was killed, and his sister was kidnapped. Before I met you, he saw me through some hard times,” Trey says.
“Turns out he was good for somethin’, even if it was killin’ another man.”
“Supposin’ it was me. Supposin’ I done somethin’ like that?”
Maria strokes his wet hair. “That’s the difference between you and that no account. You wouldn’t just murder someone because he insulted you. Is it true there’s a five-thousand-dollar reward in Arizona that Clancy can collect for killin’ Donovan?”
“I think he spent most of it last night.”
Maria gives him a broad grin, showing her dimples. “Guess he’ll be movin’ on. After all this time we’ll finally get to have a real marriage. I can turn his room into that sewin’ room I’ve always wanted.”
“How ‘bout we celebrate then? Let’s make plans for a second honeymoon.”
“You mean it?”
“Sure. We’ll decide where to go soon as I check the beeves in the north pasture. Shouldn’t take me more than an hour.”
Maria shakes Clancy. “Wake up, hero.”
Clancy grunts, holding his throbbing head.
“Leave me alone. I ain’t your farm hand no more. I’m the new Clay Allison.”
“Well then, stop actin’ like the old Clancy Cooper. It’s three in the afternoon. I need you to mind the farm while I look for Trey. He said he was gonna check the cattle in the north pasture. That was seven hours ago.”
Maria counts the cows, pleased they’re all accounted for.
Circling the field, she spots Trey laying in the grass near a tree.
“Nappin’ again?” she says aloud. “Like I said Trey, you can’t handle your liquor.”
Maria screams when she sees the bullet hole in his temple.
Searching for a spent shell casing in the grass, Ernesto picks up a half-smoked cigar, tossing it aside.
Maria’s voice is a high-pitched, frenzied squeak. “SUICIDE? We were talkin’ about takin’ a second honeymoon this mornin’!”
“He shot himself in the temple. The gun’s next to his right hand.”
“Sorry for your loss,” Mayor Robillard says to Clancy.
Clancy continues to drink at a furious pace.
“It don’t make sense,” Kurt says. Trey had a beautiful wife, a farm turnin’ a profit.”
“…Thanks to my sweat,” Clancy grumbles. “I think he got jealous.”
“Of what? The forty bucks a month he was payin’ you to shovel cow dung?” Quicksilver jibes.
“My name’s in the papers. I’m gonna get as much money as he’s earned in ten years for killin’ Donovan.”
Ernesto enters through the saloon’s batwing doors.
“Speakin’ of which…,” Clancy says. “You put the papers in for my money?”
“That’s what I come to tell you. It’s a bit tricky. See, Devon Donovan ain’t wanted here in New Mexico, but he was wanted in Arizona…”
“All kinds of folk have to sign off in both states, includin’ Marshall Murnah. He should be back day after tomorrow. But we got a bigger problem. I got a telegram from the deputy in Russellville. He said the Donovan brothers are there tearin’ up the town. They’ve been braggin’ that they’re gonna avenge Devon’s death.”
“They’re comin’ here?” Mayor Robillard exclaims. “Well, Ernesto sure can’t fight them by himself.”
Ernesto looks at Clancy. “Glad I let you keep your gun. Well, amigo?”
“Oh, no. I’m through killin’.”
“You went from hero back to zero mighty quick,” Mayor Robillard says. “You’re the reason those rattlesnakes are coming.”
“I’ll be long gone before they get here. My leavin’ll save both me and the town.”
“They’ll chase you to China if they have to,” Kurt says. “Besides, you run now, and you won’t get your money.”
Clancy looks at the blonde-haired man, who is sitting alone, smoking a cigar, and reading a newspaper.
“Those fancy pearl-handled guns of yours just for show?”
“You don’t need my help. You’re the new Clay Allison. I’m sure when you tell the Donovan brothers who you are they’ll run away screaming.”
“I can ask the Marshall in Silver Town for help,” Ernesto says. “I’m sure he’ll send a few men.”
“Do it,” Mayor Robillard replies. “And let Wild Wolf out of jail.”
The men look at one another in astonishment.
“Are you forgettin’ he massacred the entire Weir family?” Kurt asks. “He’s off his nut. He ate their hearts! He believes his sole purpose on earth is to kill white people.”
“That cannibal won’t help you,” Clancy adds.
“Cowards don’t have a say,” Mayor Robillard replies. “Wild Wolf is a brilliant strategist. Tell him that if he helps us, it’ll keep him from the hangman’s noose. I can arrange it so he serves five years, then he can go back to his people.”
“They’re the ones who turned him in,” Ernesto notes.
Exasperated, Kurt shouts, “That’s only a year for each murder!”
“Just tell him. He knows how to ambush his enemies.”
“Last time I talked to him we were his enemies,” Ernesto replies.
Wild Wolf’s keen obsidian eyes search the quiet street, checking the windows and rooftops.
“The men will follow your plan,” Ernesto says.
Wild Wolf pulls at the chains binding his hands and ankles.
“Don’t,” Ernesto cautions, drawing his weapon.
“The white man’s lap dog barks like a warrior,” Wild Wolf says. “Would you bark so loud without your gun?”
“Why’d you kill the Weirs?”
“They refused to leave our sacred ground. They said they would stay there forever. I made it so they could.”
At 6’ 6” the heavily muscled Apache medicine man’s broad chest is festooned with amulets and necklaces. His turquoise headband and many rings gleam against the sun, adding to his proud and dangerous appearance.
“You killed three children. Isn’t that an unforgivable sin for a holy man?”
“Children grow into men and women who fight against the Apache.”
“The whites outnumber my people and the Apache. It’s pointless to fight against them.”
“Not if I succeed.”
Mayor Robillard lowers his binoculars. “Yep. Four riders. The Donovans are coming!”
The riders thunder into town. Wild Wolf stands alone in front of them, holding a war lance.
“Where is everyone?” the first rider asks.
Wild Wolf hurls the lance at the rider. The lance strikes him in the center of his chest, knocking him out of his saddle. The other men are riddled in a crossfire of bullets fired from the windows and roofs of the nearby buildings.
Kurt fires a shotgun blast from the doorway of No Scum Allowed Saloon, nearly tearing off the head of one of the men. The two other men slowly slide from their saddles, falling to the ground.
Marshall Cass Murnah looks around the saloon, so angry that his stocky frame shakes. The other men look away.
The grey-haired Marshall’s haunting eyes pop wide with anger. “You didn’t ask them who they were before you slaughtered them?”
“We could see they was armed,” Kurt answers submissively.
“And we heard the Donovans were in Russellville,” Mayor Robillard adds.
“They still are. You chuckleheads killed the four men sent to help you,” Marshal Murah growls.
Marshall Murnah turns his anger on Ernesto. “And you let Wild Wolf out of your sight. Now he’s on the loose again. And on top of that, you thought Trey Akin committed suicide?”
“The gun was next to his right hand,” Ernesto offers.
Marshal Murnah plucks the badge from Ernesto’s chest, throwing it across the room.
“Trey was lefthanded! Everybody in this town is going to jail when I get this mess sorted out!”
A heavily inebriated Clancy shambles toward Marshal Murah, holding a bottle of rye. “’Scuse me, Cass, but where’s my money?”
Marshall Murnah knocks the bottle out of his hand.
“And here’s the flannel mouth responsible for this train wreck. I can’t charge you with murder, Clancy, because nobody’s sure who drew first. But the man you shot wasn’t Devon Donovan.”
“But I was waitin’ for my money so I could leave town.”
“Well, you’re gettin’ a heap of nothin’. I’d burn the breeze if I were you. From what I hear, the very much alive Devon Donovan isn’t pleased you’ve been braggin’ you killed him.”
Clancy runs through the saloon’s swinging doors, racing up the street toward the livery stable.
The blonde-haired man sitting near Marshal Murnah laughs out loud.
“You think this is funny, stranger?”
“He’s been laughin’ at us the whole time,” Kurt notes.
“Really? Who are you mister, and what’s your business in White Oaks?”
Reaching into his jacket pocket, the man pulls out a cigar. He lights it, blowing several smoke rings.
“I’m Devon Donovan, and you know why I’m here.”