Bear creek, p.1
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       Bear Creek, p.1

           Dan Arnold
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Bear Creek
Sage Country

  Book One

  Bear Creek


  By Dan Arnold

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are a work of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance or reference to any actual locales, events or persons, living or dead is entirely fictional.

  COPYRIGHT © 2011



  Cover design by Dan Arnold

  Photo credit © Dan Arnold

  Sage Country

  Book One

  Bear Creek

  By Dan Arnold

  I shot him as he was getting off his horse.

  I’d just had breakfast with Tom and Becky at the Bon Ton and was walking out the door. I barely noticed a man at the hitching rail, just starting to step off his big bay horse. I wouldn’t have paid any attention to him except his body language changed the minute he saw me. When I turned my head to look at him, he was reaching for his gun.

  All in a flash I realized he was Ed Rawlins and we were firing at each other.


  Bear Creek, Colorado was a fairly peaceful town considering how fast it was growing. What with it having its own railway depot, and it being a cross roads for the region and all, we had a lot of people passing through. Some were hoping to find a spot to settle down, others came for other reasons. Everyone brought their troubles with them.

  As town Marshal in Bear Creek, I enjoyed a relatively easy life. I had my own room at the Marshal’s office, free meals at the Bon Ton (paid for by the city of Bear Creek) and a fair bit of leisure time. This way of life was a far cry from my days breaking horses, herding cattle, and doing any hard or dirty job that came to hand. In my younger days I had traveled far and suffered more than my share of hardship.

  I had become pretty fond of Bear Creek, and the folks there had come to respect me and accept me as part of the community. We all got along pretty well.

  How I got to be the town Marshall, and what happened after, started with a runaway horse.

  I’d come there that day just passing through, on my way from Texas to Wyoming. I’d taken the Union Pacific train from Fort Worth to Kansas City, then on to Denver. I changed trains again in Denver, catching the train north to Cheyenne. Bear Creek was one of the stops along the way.

  I stepped down off the train that evening with no idea it would be a long time before I left this town again. I just wanted to stretch my legs and breathe some cool, high country air while the passengers and freight were loading. I was thinking back to the first time I’d been through this part of the country.

  As a very young man, right after the War Between the States, I’d made a couple of cattle drives through this area. I’d helped push herds of wild cattle to Wyoming from Texas, with Yellow Horse and Charlie Goodnight. I never saw this town back in those days.

  I was standing there on the railroad station platform, half day dreaming, remembering that time, back in 1869 when I’d tried to…

  My memories were cut short, as I became aware of a ruckus in a livestock car.

  Suddenly all hell broke loose.

  Actually it wasn’t all hell, not at first. It was just one horse.

  A railroad hand had just led the saddled bay gelding up the ramp into a livestock car when the horse spooked. It crashed around in there, got turned around and came flying back down the ramp with the railroad hand limping and stumbling behind it. “Loose horse,” he yelled, as he realized he was hurt and couldn’t hope to catch it. The big bay had taken off at a full gallop, charging up the dirt street toward the main part of the town.

  I took off right behind it, and so did another man.

  The horse was fully saddled, and dragging his bridle reins as he ran. When he got to the main street with all the lights and activity, he slowed to a nervous walk.

  The main street of Bear Creek was noisy on that Friday night. There was music playing in a couple of saloons, horses and buggies were tied to various hitching posts, and people were moving about. There was loud talk and even louder laughter.

  When the horse pulled up, walking forward unsure where to run. I slowed to a walk myself, as I didn’t want to scare him further. When I looked over at the other man, I could tell he had the same thought. We were easing up on the bay horse from both sides when another man stepped out in front of him and caught hold of his bridle reins, just as smooth and natural as could be. He put his face right up to the horse’s muzzle as though he were going to kiss him.

  “Gimme my horse you half breed son of a bitch,” the other man who had come up from the depot hissed.

  He was furious and had a gun pointed at the young man holding the horse. The young man seemed hurt by the other man’s cruel taunt. Clearly he was only trying to help. He stepped back from the horse and calmly held the reins out toward the man with the gun.

  The man thumbed back the hammer of his gun.

  “Whoa now,” I said. “There’s no need for trouble here.’

  The man with the gun took the reins from the kid while still holding the gun on him. “You made a bad mistake, boy,” he said, and shot him right in the chest. The sudden roar of the gun was startling. The young man collapsed as if all the air had been let out of him.

  The gunman whirled on me, catching me flat footed and completely shocked.

  “Mister, you really ought to mind your own damn business,” he spat.

  He was trying to keep his gun leveled on me, but the horse was having none of it and was trying to get away from him. People were coming towards us, drawn by the gunshot. He holstered his gun and focused on trying to get his horse under control, holding the reins with both hands. For a moment there, I’d been certain he was going to shoot me. If I had reached for my gun, it could have gone either way.

  A man hurried through the growing knot of people. I could see the star on his chest, and he was moving with a purpose. He looked down and saw the boy on the ground gasping and choking, his shirt nearly soaked through with blood.

  “You men stand right there,” the lawman said. He was now holding his own gun, pointed in our general direction.

  “Somebody go and get Doc Johnson, now!” he barked, never taking his eyes off the two of us.

  “What the hell happened here?’ he asked.

  Before I could say a word, the man who now held his horse more calmly said, “Bastard redskin tried to steal my horse.”

  I was dumbfounded!

  “Who are you?” The lawman asked him.

  “Why, I’m Ed Rawlins,” the gunman replied, as if he expected everyone within earshot to already know who he was.

  “And you are…? The lawman asked, looking at me.

  “My name is Sage, John Everett Sage”

  “Well gentlemen,” he said, “I’m Jack Watson, the town marshal here in Bear Creek. You boys will have to come with me so we can get this thing sorted out.”

  A younger man came running up. He was carrying a double barreled twelve gauge shotgun. He was also wearing a badge.

  “This is my deputy, Tom Smith.” The marshal said. “Tom, you keep these boys under your gun.”

  When the deputy cocked that sawed off twelve gauge, everyone near us stepped back.

  “Now then, Mr. Rawlins, I’ll have your pistol…real slow like, with just your left hand,” the marshal said, with a smile on his face. His gun was steady in his hand.

  Rawlins stared at him cold and hard but didn’t move at all. He was still holding the bridle reins with both hands.

  I heard the train whistle blow.

  After a moment Rawlins sighed, twisted his neck a little and released the reins with his left hand, slowly moving it down to the gun on his right hip. He eased it up out of the holster
and with the barrel pointed at the ground, very slowly handed it to the marshal. The marshal held it down at his side.

  “Somebody take this horse to the livery stable.” He said.

  A man stepped forward, took the reins from Rawlins and led the horse away.

  The marshal spoke to me.

  “I’ll have you to hand your gun to my deputy there, same way…real slow.”

  It was a testimony to the man’s powers of observation. I wear my .45, in a cross draw holster on my left hip, where it isn’t immediately obvious, being covered by my suit coat.

  The marshal was still holding his Colt, now leveled at me, just as steady as ever.

  I did; I handed over my gun, with my left hand, slow and easy, just the way he asked me to.

  A man came and knelt over the boy who had become still. I figured he was the doctor. He got busy trying to save what was left of the young fella’s life.

  As we were walking farther into town, on our way toward the Marshal’s office, I heard the train leave the station.


  The center of town was a big square. I was reminded of the old Spanish plaza majors often seen in larger cities. I wondered if Bear Creek had started out as a Spanish settlement.

  There was a brand spanking new, two story brick courthouse occupying the middle of the square, surrounded by grass and trees. There was colorful bunting hanging from the windows and a little bandstand or gazebo at the top of some stairs, raising it high above one corner of the square. Everything I had seen so far spoke of growth and prosperity.

  The Marshal’s office was built entirely of granite blocks, with a big porch on the front. It was set in the middle of the block on the north side of the square. Unlike most of the other buildings around the square, the Marshal’s office sat alone and did not share any walls with any other building.

  Inside the front door was one large room with a black pot-bellied stove, a desk, a gun rack on one wall, a safe, and two doors, one at the back and one on the other wall. We went through the door at the back of the office, into the jail. There were six cells, three on each side with two bunks in each cell. There was another door at the back of the jail. I figured it led out to an alley and the privy.

  Marshal Watson and his deputy locked us up in separate cells, side by side. None of the other cells were occupied.

  The marshal stood facing us in the open space between the rows of cells. He crossed his arms and looked up at the ceiling.

  “OK,” he said, “let’s go over this again.”

  “I told you, that redskin stole my horse” Rawlins yelled.

  “Mr. Rawlins, I heard you the first time. Now you just be quiet for a minute. I want to hear from this other fella.” He looked at me, and so did Rawlins.

  Rawlins glared at me. “I told you once already, mister; you really ought to mind your own damn business”

  Marshal Watson uncrossed his arms and pointed at Rawlins. “That’s enough out of you. You open your mouth again, and I’ll come in there and shut you up myself.”

  He turned to me.

  “What did you say your name is?

  “John Everett Sage”

  “Mr. Sage, what brings you to Bear Creek?”

  “The train from Denver,” I said, dryly.

  Rawlins snorted at that.

  The marshal looked down at the floor for a moment and when he looked back up at me, I could see he was not amused.

  “Where are you from and why are you here in Bear Creek?”

  I felt kind of bad about my first answer.

  “Marshal, I’m on my way to Cheyenne. I came in on the train that just left. I don’t know Mr. Rawlins over there at all.”

  “I didn’t ask you that. Let’s try this again. Where are you from and why are you here, in Bear Creek?”

  “Yes, sir, I understand. The last few years, I’ve been living and working in Texas. I’m on my way to Wyoming to see my folks. I don’t have any business in Bear Creek.”

  That last part came out wrong.

  It made Marshal Watson smile, though.

  ”Why are you here in town, then?”

  So, I told him the whole story about the loose horse. When I got to the part where Rawlins pulled his gun, Rawlins took a step toward me, grasping the bars of his cell with both hands.

  “He shot the boy for no reason,” I said, looking Rawlins in the eye.

  “Will you testify to that?” The marshal asked.

  “Yes, sir, I will.”

  “You are one dead son of a bitch.” Rawlins said.

  The marshal shook his head.

  “No sir, Mr. Rawlins. If the boy dies, when the jury gets done with you, you’ll be the one hanging from the gallows. That boy is well liked in this town. One way or another, I’m personally going to see you pay for what you’ve done.”

  He unlocked my cell and indicated I should follow him back into his office.

  “You’re both dead men!” Rawlins yelled from behind us.

  We just ignored him.

  The deputy, Tom Smith, was sitting on the edge of the desk.

  “Tom, go see the Doc and check on Willy,” Marshal Watson said.

  Tom nodded and left, as the Marshal stepped behind his desk.

  He motioned for me to have a seat in the chair in front of the desk. Tom left, and we both sat down. The Marshal rested his hat on the desk top.

  “What were you doing down in Texas?” He asked.

  He put on a pair of glasses and opened a desk drawer. He took out some “wanted” posters.

  “I was a Texas Ranger. They wanted to make me a Captain, but I would’ve had to re-locate down to the border lands. I’ve been there and don’t care to go back. I decided to take some time off and find my family, up north.”

  He looked up and nodded.

  “I figured you for some kind of lawman. You don’t look like a drifter or a business type.”

  He took my Colt out of another drawer in the desk and handed it to me.

  “Well, I’m sorry you got mixed up in this,” he said. “Generally, we don’t have people carrying guns in town, so shootings don’t happen often. Since you’re a peace officer, I’ll let you have your weapon.”

  “Thank you. I must say this town appears to be booming. That’s an impressive courthouse you’ve just built.”

  “Rawlins’ trial will be the first one we have in our new county courthouse. Tomorrow is Founders Day for the town and we’re going to dedicate the building.”

  “That explains why there are so many people on the streets. If you don’t mind me saying so, you look under staffed.”

  He nodded again.

  “Tom and I can handle most of the routine stuff, drunks and petty crime, or at least we used to be able to,” he sighed. “We have enough problems with the locals, but there are scores of people passing through. We need at least two more deputies. This town has grown so fast; it’s getting away from us.”

  He narrowed his eyes at me.

  “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in a job?”

  I held up my hands and shook my head.

  “No, sir, I’m just passing through, on my way to Wyoming.”

  “Well that’s going to be a problem for you. You’ve missed your train, and you’ll have to miss a few more,” he said.

  “Why’s that? I figured I’d just catch the next train to Cheyenne. I’ll come back for the trial.”

  He shook his head.

  “You’re the only witness to the shooting. I can’t have you leave the state. Something could go wrong, and that fella would go free,” he said, jerking his head toward the jail. “No sir. I won’t let that happen.”

  “Are you planning to lock me up?”

  “No, I’m asking you to stay. We’ll arraign him before Judge Tucker, on Monday. The trial will be scheduled as soon as we can get him an attorney and gather a jury. The city and county will stand your expenses.”

  That brought to mind a question.

Don’t you have a County Sheriff?

  He sighed again.

  “We just had the election. He gets sworn in tomorrow. We just formed Alta Vista County. There used to be just one giant county up here, but it has recently been reorganized into three separate counties, and we haven’t had a county sheriff till now. Ten years ago, there wasn’t even a town Marshal here.”

  “Well, now that you have a county sheriff, it will help get you more man power,” I said.

  “Sure. Eventually, but it’s a political thing. Both the guys who ran for the position are local big wigs, with no law enforcement experience at all. The guy who won the election is named Clay Atwater. He owns the freight line”

  I nodded. I’d heard of Atwater Freight.

  “All my gear was on the train. All I have is the clothes on my back,” I said.

  “Mr. Sage, I promise we’ll make you as comfortable as possible. I wish you’d take the job as a deputy.”

  I thought about it for a second. I figured I didn’t really have a choice. I wasn’t expected at any particular time, and I couldn’t let a murderer go free. I would have to stay for the trial. I might as well get paid for staying around.

  “I tell you what, Marshal. I’ll think it over. Call me John,” I said.

  “Call me Jack” he said, standing up.

  I stood up as he reached across the desk to shake my hand.

  We talked for a while about Bear Creek, how fast it had grown, how prosperous the town was, and how the county commissioners would be raising and spending revenue.

  “We’ve even got a fire brigade with a building and a brand new pump wagon and team.”

  He reckoned there were more than a couple of thousand people in the county. Most of them lived in or near Bear Creek. There were three or four outlying towns in the county and any number of farms and ranches. Bear Creek was the center of commerce.

  I told him about the first time I’d come through this part of the country, driving cattle to Wyoming.

  “It’s a wonder to me, a community this big could have grown out of nearly nothing, in just a couple of decades,” I noted.

  “Well, it took a lot of hard work by men of vision. We’re real proud of the town. Now that Colorado is a state and Bear Creek is the county seat of Alta Vista County, I guess the sky’s the limit.”


  Tom came back and informed us Willy Walker had died.

  “He was a good kid. I’ve known him all his life. His mother was Ute, and his father helped start this town. Both his parents died in a fire, last year. Willy worked at the livery. He was real good with horses. This is the first murder we’ve had.”

  Jack shook his head.

  “Sure, we have our share of drunks, some fights and shootings in the saloons, some domestic issues, even a couple of killings, but Rawlins shot down an unarmed boy in cold blood. What kind of man can do a thing like that?”

  Just then, a man came hurrying in off the street. He was wearing a suit with tails and he had on a silk, “stove pipe” top hat.

  “Is it true? I just heard somebody killed Willy!” He cried, wringing his hands.

  “Yes, sir, I’m afraid so.” Jack confirmed, as he stood up.

  The man looked at me.

  “Bob, this is John Sage. He was a witness to the shooting. John, this is Bob Larkin, our Mayor.” Jack said.

  We shook hands.

  “Well, I guess that explains the hat,” I said.

  Later on, as Tom was taking me to the hotel, he told me why he figured the Mayor was so upset.

  “He sees having a cold blooded murder, on the eve of the festivities, as a black eye for the town. Its bad enough Willy is dead. Having all these dignitaries coming into town tomorrow, and then talking about the murder, all over the state, it sure worries him. ”

  When we got to the hotel, we learned there were no rooms available.

  “Every room is booked or occupied; most of them have three or four people in them,” the clerk said. “Even the Governor is coming here tomorrow, though I hear he’s staying with the Courtney’s, out at the Bar C.”

  “Of course,” Tom said. “I wasn’t thinking. What with all the festivities, even the boarding house is full. Every bed in this town is spoken for, one way or another.”

  “I can sleep in a cell at the jail,” I offered.

  “No sir. I wouldn’t ask you to do that. It wouldn’t be right…for a whole bunch of reasons.”

  We had just stepped out of the hotel, when he turned and said;

  “Listen, if you wouldn’t mind, I can put you up at my house. I can offer you a place to wash up, and my wife made a peach pie today. Let’s go there.”

  I tried to bow out, not wanting to inconvenience his family, or get into an awkward situation, but he insisted it would be no trouble.

  Tom’s house was a few blocks northwest of the square. As we walked down the hill, we passed a number of homes of various design. Some appeared to have been here for years. Others were clearly newly built. We passed a very nice, whitewashed church with stained glass windows, a tall steeple and enough room on the grounds to park several buggies. The church and grounds occupied a whole block.

  The deputy lived at the very end of a street, a fair distance from the square. It was a tidy, whitewashed single story house, with a wrought iron fence around it. It had a big porch on the front with rose bushes on both sides of the steps. There were lamps lit inside. The whole effect was cozy and I found it pretty inviting.

  I heard a good sized creek running, back behind the house somewhere. The smell of cottonwood trees was heavy in the night air. Tom told me the creek was called Bear Creek, from which the town had derived its name.

  Tom’s wife Becky met us at the door. She was as cute as a button. Her strawberry blonde hair was pulled back in a single long braid, with a big bow tied around it. She was wearing a blue gingham dress that matched her eyes. She got busy getting us peach pie and coffee, as Tom explained the situation.

  “Mr Sage, if you don’t mind staying with us, we can make you reasonably comfortable in my sewing room. Now don’t you try to say no, I won’t hear of it!” Becky said, planting her fists on her hips.

  I could tell she meant it. So that, settled that.

  Tom had to leave to get back on the street, until the town started to settle down for the night. I offered to go with him, but Becky insisted I stay and keep her company, until he returned from his duties.

  As we sat and talked, I learned she was Jack Watson’s daughter. Her mother died a few years back, leaving Jack and her alone in the house. When Tom finally figured out that he was in love with Becky, and she with him, Jack had given them the house as a wedding present and moved himself into the Marshal’s office.

  “One or the other of them always stayed at the jail overnight anyway. This worked out nicely for Tom and me.”

  She showed me the “sewing room,” and sure enough it had one of those new-fangled sewing machines, bolts of fabric, a big table with paper patterns, scraps of gingham, spools of thread, scissors, and so on. There was also a frilly looking bed, with bolts of cloth piled on top of it.

  “This was my room before we got married. We hope it will be the baby’s room, eventually. For now, it will be your room.”

  We went back out into the front room (she called it the “parlor”) and spent a pleasant couple of hours talking, until Tom came home.

  Later, when I was settled into the sewing room, I reflected on the events of the day. I thought about what kind of man Rawlins was. I thought about what kind of man I was.

  I wondered what it would be like to be married and own a home. I’d tried it once, a very long time ago.

  It hadn’t worked out.

  Other than that one failed attempt, I’d lived virtually my whole life traveling from town to town. Everything I owned could pretty much travel with me on horseback.

  At this point, I didn’t even own a horse.

  Some people enjoy freedom. Other peopl
e enjoy belonging to someplace or someone. I didn’t owe anyone anything, and I sure had my freedom.

  Then again, if Rawlins had killed me on the street corner, it would be a long time till anyone who cared about me even learned I was dead.

  I had no legacy.

  If I died that night, it would be as though I had never lived at all.


  I got up early, lit the fire in the cook stove and had coffee on by the time Becky came bustling into the kitchen that Saturday morning. I asked Tom and Becky to let me buy them breakfast if there was a place in town that served it. They tried to talk me out of it, and Becky was horrified I would even suggest such a thing. Tom said there were three restaurants in Bear Creek, if you counted the Cantina as one of them. Only the Bon Ton served breakfast. It was where Jack got his meals when he wasn’t with Tom and Becky. It was right next to the hotel. There were also three saloons in town but only the Palace and the Cantina served any real food, and that was only in the evenings. Tom told me the Palace Saloon was the best restaurant in Colorado.

  I talked them into it, and we walked up the hill to the café.

  There was a two sided sign hanging above the door. On both sides, in fancy script, it said, “Le Bon Ton Café.” Under that, it said “Henri Levesque, Proprietor.”

  I didn’t know it that day, but having breakfast at the Bon Ton on Saturday morning with Tom and Becky, was going to become a fairly common occurrence.

  After breakfast we went to the Marshal’s office.

  “Gonna be a big day in Bear Creek,” Jack said. “We’ve got horse racing, pie eating contests, there’ll be speeches from the Governor, the Mayor and the newly elected Sheriff. There’ll be a big parade, with a marching band. We’ll honor the civil war vets and some of the old timers that settled this area. It’ll be a big Whoop ti doo,” he grinned. “Hell, we’ve even got a carnival.”

  My ears pricked up at that.

  “What kind of carnival?” I asked.

  “Oh, well, you know…all the usual stuff, jugglers and acrobats, knife throwers, games, fortune tellers, and dancing girls flashing their legs.” He shrugged.

  Becky blushed when he said that.

  “Where is this carnival?” I asked.

  “They’re set up right outside town, on the east side. Some of them will be performing in the parade.”

  “Jack, there’s too much going on. There’s no way you and Tom can cover all of this by yourselves.” I said.

  Jack leaned back in his chair.

  “Well, I have six guys with the Fire Brigade in their red shirts and helmets, to help keep things in order at the parade. Tom will have to stay here with the prisoner. I’ll be busy with the activities on the square and everything else. The big problems probably won’t come until tonight, when all the drinking and celebrating gets out of hand.”

  He looked at me.

  “You sure you don’t want a job?”

  I really didn’t want a job. I needed to find my family. It was bad enough I had to stay for the trial of Ed Rawlins. Committing to help protect the community of Bear Creek wasn’t something I wanted to do. Then again, I saw a need and I knew the work.

  I sighed. “Jack, I’ll put on the badge, but just to help out until things settle down.”

  Tom and Jack looked at each other and grinned.

  Jack reached into his vest pocket and tossed me a badge.

  “I cleared it with the Mayor last night,” he said. “I also sent a telegram to Cheyenne. Your gear will be coming in this afternoon on the 12:10 to Denver.”

  “Tom if you’ll hold down the fort here, I need to take John to meet some people. Then I have to get to the depot to meet the Governor’s train.”

  Becky kissed Tom goodbye and left with her dad and me.

  The streets were crowded as we made our way over to the courthouse. Most of the women wore the latest fashions with hats and parasols. Most of the men were in suits and children were running around playing tag. We climbed up the wide granite steps at the front of the building, the tiny crystals in the granite flashing like diamond chips, in the sparklingly clear morning sunlight. Once inside, Jack took us through a polished oak door, with opaque glass, into one of the offices. The Mayor was there with two other men.

  Jack made the introductions.

  “John, you know Mayor Larkin.”

  We shook hands.

  “Judge Tucker, this is John Everett Sage, lately of the Texas Rangers. Today he’s working for us.”

  When he added that last part, he was looking directly at the third man, to whom I had not yet been introduced. That man was the biggest man in the room. He would have been the biggest man in most any room, most anywhere.

  I shook hands with the judge and turned to the big man.

  “John, this is Clay Atwater, our new County Sheriff.”

  “Pleasure,” he said shaking my hand.

  His grip was firm, maybe just a little too firm, but then he was clearly a powerful brute of a man.

  “You all know my daughter, Becky,” Jack said.

  Becky smiled and gave a little mock curtsy.

  “Gentlemen…” She started to say something else.

  “I guess we better get over to the station,” Atwater interrupted, rudely.

  “Oh, the train isn’t due for nearly an hour. I think we have time to have a look around this new building. Would you folks like a tour?” Judge Tucker offered.

  “Yes, please,” Becky said. “This building is huge!”

  “Fine,” Atwater said. “You go ahead and do that. I’ll be at the Station.”

  He pulled his hat on and walked out of the office leaving the door open.

  “I guess he’s as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” Mayor Larkin said. “It’s a big day for him, he has to give a speech and he’s being sworn into office by the Governor himself.”

  Jack and I looked at each other.

  Judge Tucker took us upstairs to the courtroom which occupied the entire top floor. He showed us his chambers behind the bench. It was a small office, richly appointed with lots of polished oak in evidence. He was especially proud of the narrow, secret stairwell that would allow him to come and go from his chambers, without having to go through the courtroom or the hallways.

  He took us down those hidden stairs, all the way to the basement. It wasn’t really a basement, as it was only about half underground and had narrow windows just above ground level.

  This space was the Alta Vista County Jail. There were eight big cells with four bunks in each. The narrow windows had bars set into the walls on the inside. On the outside, steel shutters could be opened to allow light and air in, or closed to keep out bad weather.

  He showed us the County Sheriff’s office, right next to another set of stairs that went up to a door in the side of the building that could be barred from the inside. This was the place where prisoners would come and go, in and out of the jail.

  At the end of the basement were a couple of rooms with three bunk beds in each. These were for sheriff’s deputies to sleep in and for the occasional jurors, when a trial lasted more than a day or there weren’t enough rooms available at the hotel.

  He took us up another flight of stairs at the end of the building, which brought us back to the main floor.

  Later, at the train station, the judge and the Mayor excused themselves and went over to join the Sheriff, up on the railroad platform.

  There was a band assembled there at the depot, and a huge crowd of people. Bunting was decorating every surface in sight and was prominent on several wagons. I noted the fire brigade in their yellow painted helmets and red shirts, with their fancy pump wagon and team of matching grey horses. There were a number of older men in the familiar uniforms of Blue and Gray, with the flags of North and South. Some uniforms still fit, some didn’t. Former officers were mounted on horses; the rest were all on foot. I was hoping they all knew the war was over. Children raced around a juggler walki
ng around on stilts.

  Clearly, this was where the parade would start. It also ensured a large and colorful crowd would be on hand to greet the Governor. We heard the train whistle blow, and the crowd cheered as the train rounded a bend.

  When the band started playing, I excused myself and took the distraction as an opportunity to head back into town.


  This was my first chance to really walk around in the town. When we’d been up on the second floor of the courthouse, I’d been able to see the general layout of the town was four square, with the streets running north/south and east/west.

  Line Street came in from the west, ran by the square on the north side, crossed Main Street and ended a few blocks later at the railroad depot. The parade would come from the depot, west on Line Street to the square. The dignitaries would leave the parade at the courthouse, to dedicate the building, swear in the new County Sheriff and make their speeches. The parade would turn south on Jackson Street, to go around the square and then head back east on Omaha Street, ending at the freight yard.

  I figured the parade wouldn’t get started for at least a half hour, what with the Governor being greeted and then getting the parade lined out. Already the whole parade route was lined with people. The street corners were blocked with barrels and bunting to keep traffic away from the square.

  I wanted a shave, but the barbershop on the corner of Main Street and Line was closed.

  I stopped and looked around, realizing this was the corner where Rawlins had killed Willy Walker. It looked cleaner, safer and happier, on this festive morning. All sorts of finely dressed people were talking and laughing. Most or all of them, were unaware a young man had spilled out his life’s blood into the dirt at the edge of this very boardwalk, just hours before.

  I walked south on Main Street, observing all the buildings in this block were built of brick. The First National Bank was in the middle of the block. The Hotel was on the North side and the Bon Ton was right on the corner. On past the bank, on the south corner, was a dry goods store. I turned the corner and headed east, back toward the tracks. I passed a hardware store, and directly across the street, the doctor’s office, with his residence on the second floor. Next, I came to one of the three saloons, this one called the Ox Bow. It was clapboard, painted bright yellow, with a big porch out front. There were several people on the porch and on the board walk in front of it, waiting for the parade. The crowd here was a little different from the folks all around the square and at the depot. The people here were dressed for work. They were just taking a break from doing the things they had to do, to watch the parade when it passed their way.

  The folks on the square, at the depot and along the main parade route, were making a day of it, all decked out in their finest.

  I’d seen it before. It seems odd how just a couple of hundred yards, or turning a corner, can change the very nature of a community.

  Even though it was just past nine O’clock in the morning, the Ox Bow was open for business. I went inside.


  The place was half dark and smelled of stale beer, sweat and tobacco smoke. There were only a few men sitting at tables, and no one was standing or sitting at the big bar that ran the whole length of the back wall. I figured once the parade was over, business would probably pick up.

  Behind the bar, a bartender was polishing glasses and trying not to stare at my badge, as I walked up to him.

  “What’ll it be?” He mumbled, not meeting my eyes.

  I smiled my friendliest smile.

  “Nice place you’ve got here,” I said.

  “Uh huh,” he nodded.

  He looked like any one of a hundred bartenders I had seen. He was of medium build with a bushy mustache, a fairly clean white apron, and he had thin, dark hair, which he had slicked down over the top of his head with some kind of hair grease.

  I tried again.

  “My name is John Sage…” I started.

  “I know who you are,” he said flatly.

  I was wondering how the word about a new deputy could possibly have gotten around town, so fast. Maybe he knew about Rawlins and the shooting.

  A man seated at one of the tables stood up and started across the room toward us.

  “Hold on there, Bob,” the bartender said.

  I turned to meet the man. He was built like the proverbial brick outhouse, about two hundred and fifty pounds of solid muscle. He had a handgun in a holster, pulled high up on his hip. On him it looked like a toy.

  He was looking me over pretty good.

  “Hmmm, you must be new,” he said. “I know the big dog; Marshal Watson and his puppy, Smith. But you, I don’t know.”

  The other men who had been seated at the same table, stood up.

  “Now wait a minute, Bob. Don’t start any trouble here,” the bartender said. “He’s a heller with a gun,” he glanced my way, indicating me. “In Tascosa, I saw him shoot three men down, as easy as counting to three. He’s a Texas Ranger”

  “Well that don’t mean squat to me,” Bob growled, looking at the bartender.

  He turned back to me.

  “Is that right?” He sneered. “You a gun hand?”

  “No, I’m not a gunman, or a Texas Ranger. Here in Bear Creek, I’m just a deputy marshal,” I said, pointing at my badge.

  The other men sat back down.

  “Huh!” he snorted. “That don’t carry no weight. My boss is the new County Sheriff.”

  “I met Mr. Atwater this morning!” I beamed. “He seems like a real nice fellow. You remind me of him”

  He turned his back on me and went back to his table.

  “We’ll see about that,” he growled.

  I looked over at the bartender. He was as white as his apron.

  I rapped my knuckles on the bar.

  “Y’all have a nice day,” I said.

  I walked out through the swinging doors.

  Outside the Ox Bow, I looked down the street toward the railroad tracks. There was a lumber yard on one side of the street and a brick yard on the other. Down a ways, was a wagon yard for the freight line and on the other side of the street, right by the tracks, was the freight yard and a warehouse. I headed that way. As I did, I heard the band at the depot strike up a march. I figured the parade was getting started.

  Ever since walking by the corner where Rawlins had killed the boy, I’d been thinking about Rawlins and his big bay gelding. I decided to cut across the freight yard and go back past the depot to the livestock pens. Then I would come back into town on Line Street, past the livery stable and the blacksmith’s shop.

  As I was cutting through the freight yard, I noticed two men who looked like they were guarding the warehouse. Either that or those shotguns were handy for scaring away pigeons.

  My timing was good; the last wagon in the parade was just leaving the station. There were several women standing on the wagon. The sides of the wagon had signs promoting women’s suffrage, and there were several women and children marching along behind it. Some of them were holding up signs, demanding a woman’s right to vote.

  If that happened, the next thing you knew, women would be serving on juries, too. I’d read in some newspaper, in Wyoming, women were already allowed to serve as jurors.

  How was that working out?” I thought.

  As I followed along behind the parade, I checked out the livestock yard.

  Several horses were in one of the livestock pens, and a bunch of cattle were in another, but the big bay gelding was not to be seen. I wandered down to the livery stable. There was an office at the front of the barn, and there was a man standing there, watching the Suffragettes go by. He saw me coming down the boardwalk and smiled.

  “Howdy,” he called. “Don’t you just love a parade?”

  When I got closer and he saw my badge and gun, he raised his eyebrows.

  “Howdy,” I said. “I’m John Sage.”

  As we shook hands, he told me his name was Alexander Granvi
lle Dorchester, the third!

  “You can call me ‘Al’,” he said.

  It turned out he owned the livery stable and had been Willy’s boss. More than that, he had probably been Willy’s closest friend. His eyes welled with tears, when I told him I’d been a witness to the killing.

  “Willy started working here when he was just thirteen. I had him cleaning stalls, feeding the horses and so on. I saw he was really good with the horses, and it wasn’t long until I found out he was also a really good rider. By the time he was fifteen, I had him starting some colts for me. He didn’t snub em down and buck em out. He knew how to gentle em. The year he turned sixteen, his parents were killed in a fire. Willy moved into a room at the back of the barn, and he basically managed the stable, ever since. We were making money. I have an eye for good horseflesh. I would buyt the young horses cheap, and Willy would do the breaking and training. He did a damned good job of it, too. We’ve been able to sell horses for three times what I paid for em.”

  I asked about the big bay gelding.

  “I have him inside, in a stall,” he said. “Come on in.”

  Every stall was full of people’s saddle horses, being boarded for the festive weekend.

  The bay horse was calm and quiet in the stall, as I looked him over. He had a −C brand on his hip.

  “Mr. Dorchester, did Willy break this horse?”

  He shook his head.

  “No, I have some horses Willie started, but this isn’t one of em. Please, like I said, call me Al.”

  “OK, Al, have you ever seen this horse before?”

  “Not this particular horse, but I see the brand all the time.”

  “Why is that?”

  “The Bar C brand is the Courtney ranch. The Bar C is the biggest ranch in these parts. They ship cattle and horses all over the country. Mr. Courtney had the biggest and fanciest wagon in the parade just now. Hell, the Governor, the Mayor and all the big wigs, were riding with him on that wagon. Didn’t you see the big Bar C brand painted on the side?”

  I’d seen all that, including the gruff giant, with the gold County Sheriff’s star, sitting right next to the mayor.

  Mr. Alexander Granville Dorchester, III, took me to a corral behind the barn and showed me some of the horses Willy had trained. I liked them all, but I especially liked a big line-back dun gelding.

  Al told me the dun was Willy’s own horse, which he had been riding for about three years.


  When I arrived back at the square, the official activities had started at the courthouse. There were dignitaries sitting on chairs up in the gazebo. The band was assembled directly under them. Now I understood the purpose of the raised gazebo. It was both a platform for giving speeches and a covered bandstand.

  The Mayor was standing, in the middle of giving a speech.

  “…and these streets will be bricked by the end of the year!” He shouted.

  The band struck up “The Bear Comes over the Mountain.”

  “We’re looking into having the town wired for the new electric lights. Why in no time at all, Bear Creek will be as big as Denver!”

  From directly under his feet, the band blasted away again.

  “And speaking of Denver…without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you, the man who has the vision to lead us into the next decade, should I suggest the next century? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the Governor of the great state of Colorado, the right honorable J. Huxley McGee!”

  Again, the band gave it all they had. The crowd was cheering.

  The Governor stood and shook the Mayors hand then put his arm around the Mayor’s shoulder, smiling and waving at the crowd. They froze like that as a photographer held up his flash pan.


  You’ve probably seen that photograph. I think it was printed in every newspaper in the country.

  The Governor started speaking, and I found Jack at the west end of the courthouse, standing at the top of the stairs, with a small group of people. Becky was nowhere to be seen.

  Since we were in public, I decided to be a bit formal.

  “Marshal, I’ve been patrolling on the west side of town. If it’s alright with you, I’ll continue on to other areas, until it’s time to get my gear from the station.”

  He nodded.

  “That’s a good idea, John. Get to know your way around town. I’ve got this covered. Check back with me in a couple of hours.”

  He glanced over at the gazebo and the Governor. He winked, indicating he might have to be there listening to speeches for that long.

  Because the town of Bear Creek was built on the top of a hill above the creek, the highest point in town was the courthouse. As I worked my way across the street and through the crowd of people listening to the Governor’s speech, I was amazed at how clearly I could hear him.

  “…and today I am happy to announce …The city of Bear Creek, has been chosen as the location for the new college!”

  I was on the south side of the square now, and all the buildings on this side were also brick. On the corner opposite from the barbershop was another bank. This one was the Farmer’s Bank and Trust. I’ve always found a town that has more than one bank tends to be a pretty healthy place. It means there are enough people and enough businesses to support two banks. With more available money in circulation, more business can thrive.

  Right next to the bank, on the other side of a narrow alley, directly in the middle of the block, was another saloon.

  The elaborate sign above the double swinging doors said simply, “The Palace.” It was open for business, so I went inside.

  I think I was grinning as I walked in. As dark and shabby as the Ox Bow was, the Palace was just the opposite. The open doorway and all the windows let in quite a bit of light. That light was reflected by the giant mirrors behind the beautiful bar, which ran for about seventy five feet down the north side of the building. That light, was also reflected by all the polished brass and gilded fixtures. The bar itself was magnificent. It was a hand carved and lacquered marvel. The entire top of the bar was marble. The brick walls had been plastered over and painted to match the color of the marble. Every table, chair and wood surface was carved and lacquered like the bar. Even the wood floor was polished oak. At each window, damask drapes hung from ceiling to floor.

  The ceiling looked to be twenty feet above the floor and was paneled in decorative tin. Hanging from it were beautiful chandeliers. I couldn’t see a single bullet hole in the ceiling. Some saloons I’ve been in, leak like a sieve when it rains.

  At the very back of the building was a stage.

  Most startling of all were the well- dressed ladies sitting at the table with some of the gentlemen. In many towns I’d worked, ladies would not dare enter a saloon. Oh, there might be women inside, but they probably weren’t ladies.

  Every little thing about this place spoke of style and sophistication. It really was both a restaurant and a saloon.

  I was self-conscious because my suit was rumpled and dirty from days of traveling. My shirt could no longer really be called white, and I hadn’t shaved since I was in Denver.

  “Howdy, sir” called the bartender.

  I realized I’d been standing and gawking. I walked over to the bar.

  “You must be a new deputy. I don’t think you’ve been in here before.” He said.

  This bartender had a waxed handlebar mustache, and his hair was slicked down over the top of his head, with some kind of grease. His apron was as white as the snow on the mountain tops.

  “No, I’m new in town.” I replied.

  “Well, then, welcome to Bear Creek, and welcome to the Palace, Mr…?”

  “Thanks. My name is John, John Everett Sage.”

  “What’ll it be, Mr. Sage.? The first drink is on the house.” He smiled cheerily, spreading his arms wide.

  I could see in the mirror the people at the tables were looking our way, with some curiosity.

p; “Could I get a cup of coffee?

  “You surely can, and I’ll join you. We also have tea, fresh lemonade, cold beer, or just about anything you can imagine.”

  “Just the coffee, thanks…Did you say cold beer?”

  “I did. Would you rather have beer?”

  No, I was just wondering how it could be cold.”

  “Oh, we keep the barrels and bottles on ice. The ice house is right behind this building. It’s handy to both the Palace and the grocery store, next door. Would you like cream with your coffee?”

  When I left the Palace, the speeches were over, the new Sheriff of Alta Vista County had been sworn in and the Courthouse of the County Seat was open for the public to tour.

  I walked north past the grocery store, with rows of fresh produce on display out front, under a bright green and white striped awning. I turned the corner and headed south. Sure enough, the first and only commercial building on the south side of the street was the icehouse. It took up most of the back part of this block. Between it and the back side of the grocery store and saloon was an alley that was wide enough for delivery wagons.

  I had noted earlier, there were pipes running down into rain barrels from the roofs of nearly every building in town. These barrels were readily available if they needed to be used to fight fire.

  From where I was standing, I could look down the hill at several blocks of homes. The nearest, were beautiful two story houses, many built of stone and brick. They had a variety of fancy gingerbread decorations with rambling porches, fenced yards, flower beds and trees. They all had carriage houses behind them. I guessed this was where the rich folks lived.

  I heard a train whistle blow, reminding me it was time to go back to the railroad depot to get my things.

  When I got to the platform, the train was still in the station. The clerk at the depot informed me my gear had been shipped as freight, so I would have to go to the freight office to get it.

  As I headed north to the freight office, the train whistle blew, and a few minutes later it chugged off for Denver.

  At the freight office, the clerk looked over his manifest and said, “Yes, sir, Mr. Sage, we have your things right here. That’ll be one dollar. Sign here, please.”

  “A whole dollar!” I exclaimed. “That’s a lot of money just to send it back here from Cheyenne.”

  “Well, if you don’t want your baggage, we can just sell it or dispose of it in some other way.” He said crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair.

  “No, no, I want it. Thank you.”

  I slapped a shiny silver dollar down on the counter, and grudgingly signed the manifest. The clerk took me through a door into a big empty room, and there, piled on the floor, were my saddle and saddle bags, my rifle in the scabbard and my valise.

  “I can’t carry all this into town.” I said.

  “Well, we can send it to the hotel or wherever you want it delivered.”

  “Is there an extra charge for that?’

  “Yes, ordinarily there would be, but seeing as how you’re a Deputy Marshal, we’ll just chock it off as a professional courtesy. Where do you want it sent?”

  I had him send my saddle and rifle to Al, at the livery stable. I picked up my saddle bags and valise and carried them back into the freight office.

  “If I wanted to go to Cheyenne, and ship my saddle horse on the same train, how would I do that? I asked.

  “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “You just go to the depot, buy your ticket and pay the shipping fee, right there. They’ll have somebody go to the livery stable and get your horse, when the train comes in.”

  “What if it was a last minute thing? You know- like if I just barely got to the station in time to catch the train, and I had my horse with me.”

  “No problem, as long as there’s room in a livestock car…and you pay the shipping fee.”

  I went back to the railroad depot with my saddle bags slung over my shoulder and my valise in my hand.

  “Hello, again” said the clerk. “How can I help you, Deputy?”

  “Can you tell me how many passengers boarded the train for Cheyenne, yesterday evening?”

  He got out his manifest and looked it over. As he was doing so, he mused;

  “Yesterday there weren’t many departures at all. We had people coming in for the festivities, but not many leaving, only two, in fact. Well, one really. You know the guy they say shot Willy? He never got on the train to Cheyenne.”

  “Yeah, about that guy…did he pay to have his horse shipped?”

  “No, sir, he didn’t. He didn’t pay for his ticket either.”

  “Well, that’s odd. I saw his horse being loaded on the train.”

  “Oh, you probably did, but I hear that horse off loaded himself.” He grinned.

  “I don’t understand how he could have his horse loaded on the train, without buying a ticket or paying the shipping fee.”

  ”That’s because he just had the whole thing put on the ledger.”

  “Pardon me…what ledger?”

  “The Bar C keeps an account with us, the freight company does too; because they both do so much business with the railroad, we keep account ledgers for them. Anyone who works for either the Bar C or the freight company can just add something on the account.”


  I went straight to the Marshal’s office. When I arrived, I found Jack sitting at his desk.

  “I sent Tom out to get some lunch for himself and our prisoner,” he said.

  “What about you?”

  “Oh, you might say I’ve eaten. I had to judge the chili cook off!”

  I laughed. Then I remembered what I wanted to ask him.

  “Jack, when you brought Rawlins and me in, you asked me where I was from and what I was doing here in Bear Creek. Did you ever ask Rawlins those questions?”

  “Yes, I did, after you and Tom left. I asked him a lot of questions, not that it did me any good. I won’t bother telling you what he told me I should do to myself.”

  I told him what I had learned at the railroad depot.

  “That is interesting. I don’t see how it has any bearing on the murder of Willy Walker, though.”

  “Rawlins put his train ticket and the shipping of his horse, on the Bar C account. His horse carries the Bar C brand. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, Jack, but it might be interesting to ask Mr. Courtney if he knows Rawlins.”

  “I can do that,” Jack said. “I’ll see him again at some point, later this afternoon. There is another thing that’s interesting. When we were at the courthouse this morning, a local attorney, named Frank Perkins, came to me and informed me he would be the defense counsel for Rawlins. He wanted to bail him out of jail. I told him he would have to wait till after the arraignment.”

  “Hmmmmm…that is interesting. We need to find out who this guy Rawlins is.”

  There doesn’t seem to be any paper on him. If he’s wanted, I haven’t seen a poster.

  “I need to ask a favor,” I said.

  “What is it?”

  “I haven’t had a change of clothes, a bath or a shave in days. Could I maybe take an hour or so, to go and get cleaned up?”

  “You bet, take all the time you need. Go to the hotel, and tell them what you need, and have them charge it to the city. Check in with me later. You’ll have to find me though, this afternoon I’ll be out and around.”

  At the hotel, the clerk told me one of the guests had checked out, and there was now a room available. I was able to get a room upstairs that looked out at the courthouse. The use of a bath tub and hot water was arranged, and in short order, I was clean and shaved. I had my suit and hat given a good brushing while I was bathing, and with the addition of a clean shirt, I felt like a new man.

  While it was nice the city was standing my expenses, it wasn’t that much of a necessity. I had somewhat more than two thousand dollars in paper money tucked into my gun belt.

  I was planning to give some of it to my folks,
when I saw them. I was hoping that was going to happen sooner rather than later.

  When I went back down to the hotel lobby, I asked the clerk if they had recorded in the registry, at any time recently, a guest named Ed Rawlins. He looked through the book; they had no such name.

  The lobby of the hotel had a number of people in it, and the streets were still crowded around the square. People were visiting the courthouse, kids were playing games and vendors were selling everything from handicrafts to harness. The air was filled with the sounds of light banter and laughter, and the smells of cooking food.

  I was starving. As I wandered past several food vendors, I found a Mexican vender.

  “Quisiera el carne asado a la parilla en una tortilla, por favor.”

  “Si senor, y que mas?” he replied.

  “Nada mas, gracias.”

  He handed me my lunch, and I handed him a dime. I took a bite, worth every penny!

  I wanted some cold beer to wash it down, and I knew where to go to get it, but I decided against it. Instead,I headed over to the Marshal’s office.

  I found Tom in the Marshal’s office. He told me Jack was at the horse races, over on the other side of the tracks.

  “Have you been over there?” He asked.

  “No, I’ve only been to the depot and the freight office, on that side of town. I haven’t had occasion to cross the tracks.”

  “Well then, let me tell you a little bit about the layout of the town and why Bear Creek is such a boom town. West of here, if you go down Line Street, the road follows the creek up into the mountains. You’ll find a couple of towns up there. The first one, North Fork, is a wide open, hell on wheels source of entertainment for the miners. Higher up, is Flapjack City, a smaller mining town, with nearly a hundred miners. Everything either of those towns needs to survive comes from, or through, Bear Creek.”

  “…and is handled by the Atwater Freight Company,” I interrupted him.

  He nodded.

  “The mines ship the ore through Bear Creek, and the miner’s payroll comes from the First National Bank of Bear Creek,” he added.

  I nodded my understanding.

  “North and south of town is mostly farmland and ranches, irrigated by the various smaller creeks. There’s a tremendous amount of produce, hay and even fruit, grown in this county. We could grow anything you can imagine, if the growing season was longer. We ship produce all over the region.”

  “…and it’s all handled by the Atwater Freight Company?” I raised my eyebrows by way of a question.

  He nodded again.

  “East of town, going down, out onto the plains, there are several farms and ranches along Bear Creek. The Bar C is out there, and a couple of small towns.

  On the east side of town, just on the other side of the tracks is where most of the laborers live. There’s also a Mexican community. That’s where the Cantina is. Good food and good people over there. The old Spanish mission is now the Catholic Church. There wouldn’t be a town of Bear Creek, if the old mission hadn’t been here.”

  “But,” he held up his finger, “that side of town is where most of the trouble happens, or comes from. The Spanish speaking folks stay pretty much to themselves, and we don’t have much trouble with them, but there is a rough crowd over there on the other side of the tracks.

  If you take Omaha Street east, out past the freight depot, then on across the tracks, you’ll go through there, to get to the rodeo grounds, where the horse races are. Omaha Street is called that because it continues on east as a heavily used freight road. You can go from Bear Creek, across the plains into Nebraska, Kansas, or wherever. That road was part of the Santa Fe Trail”

  “The Goodnight/Loving Trail also went by here. Bear Creek really is a cross roads.” I mused. “From what you’ve said, it seems like this is the area center for mining, farming, ranching, shipping, banking and other service businesses.”

  He nodded and grinned.

  “Well then,” I said, as I opened the door. “I’m off to the races.”

  I didn’t have any trouble finding the race track. It was only about a half mile on the other side of the railroad tracks. The race track went around the rodeo grounds, and the people could watch most of the racing from the stands. A little farther along the road, on a bend of the creek, I could see where the carnival was set up. There was a bridge across the creek at that point. I was amused by the fact that, down in Texas, this “creek” would have been called a river.

  There was a pretty good crowd of people at the rodeo grounds. Rather prominent was a huge wagon, with bunting, an awning over the top, and a big Bar C brand painted on the side.

  That’s where I found Jack, and he introduced me to several people, William Courtney, his wife Annabelle, his lovely daughter Lacey and the Governor, among others.

  “Marshal, I checked in with Tom, he told me you were over here. What would you like me to do?” I asked him.

  “I need you to go over to the carnival and show the badge, just to keep everybody honest”

  “Yes sir, I’ll head on over there, right now.”

  From the moment I’d heard there was a carnival at Bear Creek, this was just what I had been hoping I would get the chance to do.

  When I had first seen the carnival, even from a distance, I had recognized the tents and wagons. I had seen this carnival before.

  There were horses, buggies, carts and wagons of various kinds, parked in the shade under the cottonwoods along the creek, where local people had tied them up while they went inside to spend their money. On the other side of the creek, just past the bridge, there was an encampment of the carnival people, with their wagons in a circle. I headed for the carnival entrance.

  The area had been roped off, to guide people to the entrance gate. I went to the front gate, where the ticket salesman seeing my badge, waived me through.

  There were various tents and partitioned booths lining both sides of a wide aisle. In some of the tents there were people performing acrobatics, pretty girls dancing, knife throwing, tight rope walking, and the like. Some of the booths had games of skill or chance. There was a juggler walking through the crowd and the man on stilts was selling balloons. Pretty much everything here was designed to provide entertainment while separating people from their money. I wandered around for a little while, just letting people see that the law was represented.

  Eventually I came to a fortune teller’s tent. I read the sign “Madame Cleopatra, Sooth Sayer and Palm Reader; have your fortune told for twenty five cents.”

  I ducked inside.

  There was a woman in a colorful dress, with a white, peasant style blouse. She was laying out the ever popular Tarot cards. She had her dark hair pulled back and tied with a bright silk scarf. Her back was turned as I entered. I had pulled my hat down over my eyes before I came in, and I ducked my head as she started to turn toward me, so when she turned to look at me, we couldn’t see each other’s faces.

  “Hello mother,” I said, spreading my arms and looking up.

  She was still beautiful after all those years. Her dark eyes sparkled, as she broke into a smile, but the woman who stood before me wasn’t my mother!

  “Hello, John.” Katya said.


  I was completely overwhelmed by the memories of our years together, of our years apart, of my time spent searching for her, and of all the changes that come with the experience of this life. I was at first, speechless, then simply at a loss for words. My mind whirled and when at last I spoke, I was only able to say four words.

  “Where is our son?”
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