Brian Garfield



Ten minutes before the train arrived, a rider, cutting it fine, skewed his horse to a halt in piercing lemon sunlight at the crossroads store at Mountain View Junction. He could see the approaching Espee train straining up the long grade from Benson, where the Tombstone road made connections with the Southern Pacific. From this high point on the desert the weather-beaten plain dropped away in all directions except southwest, where brush-studded foothills staircased up toward the barren, dry range of mountains.

The rider had taken three hours to get here from Tucson; his horse was covered with a caked foam of lather and dust, evidence of hurry.

He dismounted, tossed one rein over the trading post’s hitch rail, and loosened the single-rig cinch before he climbed three splintered steps to the porch. By that time the storekeeper had come to the door-a squat Mexican tradesman with too much belly and the cheekbones of a Yaqui.

The storekeeper said, “Bad to ride out a horse like that. Might get him windbroke.”

“I got to meet that train, Miguel. They gonna stop here to take on water?”

“Always do,” said Miguel. “It’s a thirsty grade up to here from Benson. How you been, Kelly? Ain’t seen you since that fuckup down to the OK Corral-when was that, before Christmas?”

“October. You got any cold beer?”

“No. I got a lot of warm beer. Where’m I gonna get ice this time of year?”

“I was just asking,” Kelly said, but he did not turn to go inside. The train was within three miles, throwing back a rich plume of smoke. He could hear the rumble, or perhaps he was feeling it with his feet.

Miguel grunted and moved inside momentarily, walking with the slow care of a fat man who knows enough to conserve his sweat on a hot spring Arizona day. Kelly picked at his flannel shirt, pulling it away from the places where it stuck to him, turning his face advantageously into the tepid breeze, watching the train out of the corners of his eyes. He was a freckled, skinny man with a big Adam’s apple, a bowler hat on his head, and a Wells Fargo badge sagging from his shirt. He was thinking it was a damn stupid-ass thing to do, riding that hard in this heat just to bring word to the Earps on the train. He didn’t care much one way or the other about the Earps. But two of them-Wyatt and Virgil-had worked for Wells Fargo, and the dispatcher had reckoned Wells Fargo owed the Earps fair warning. Which meant somebody had to reach them before the train got to Tucson. Kelly wasn’t brimming with enthusiasm; it wasn’t as if the Earps were still working for Wells Fargo. That had been a while ago; since then, the Earps had had other things to do. Like running the whorehouse district in Tombstone, for instance. All the Earps, particularly Wyatt, were very big on whorehouses and gambling concessions, and of course politics, since one went hand in hand with the other.

Kelly took a wadded plaid handkerchief out of his hip pocket, removed his bowler hat, and wiped his face and ears and the back of his neck. Only late spring-what was summer going to be like?

Maybe reading his mind, the storekeeper spoke behind him, startling him: “Hot enough for you?”

Kelly turned. Miguel stood in the doorway shade, a clay mug in either fist. The fat brown hand proffered one of them; Kelly crossed the porch with two strides, took the mug, and swallowed half the beer from it. With foam on his lips he said, “You were right. Beer’s warm.”

“Ain’t no place south of the Mogollon that ain’t hot.”

“Why do any of us stay in this miserable country?”

“Beats shit out of me,” said Miguel.

Kelly squinted westward. The sun would be setting in a half hour or so; night would bring some relief. It occurred to him he hadn’t stopped to pick up his jacket. It would be a cool ride back to Tucson. Of course he could ride the train, but then he’d just have to come back later for the horse.

The train was a quarter mile down the tracks, slowing. Miguel said, “Funeral party’s on that train, you know. The whole Earp gang.”

“I know. What car they in?”

“Probably the express-they’re carrying the casket.”

“Sure.” Kelly handed the empty mug to him and walked out to the edge of the porch. The high-stacked woodburning locomotive chuffed and clattered; he winced against the piercing steel shriek of wheel brakes; the engine slid past and rumbled expertly to a halt right under the long spigot of the high wooden water tank.

Kelly dropped off the porch and dogtrot-ted back past the eight freight cars to the express. The sliding door stood part-way open against the heat; a pretty young man in a dandy black suit stood in the opening, his face cindered. Kelly didn’t recognize him but there was a faint clannish resemblance to Wyatt and Virgil Earp in the high, handsome features and the dark-blond hair. One of the Eastern Earp brothers, maybe-God knew how many brothers there were altogether.

Kelly stopped, smelling his own sweat, and said, “I got an important message for Wyatt.”

“Yeah? Who’re you?”

“Kelly, Wells Fargo. He’s seen me around.”

Someone inside spoke a muffled question; the young man in the doorway turned his head and spoke inside: “Wells Fargo fellow name of Kelly says he’s got a message for you.”

After a moment the youth stepped back into shadows and the doorway filled with a new shape, older and bigger. Kelly recognized right away the tawny mustache, the illuminated gray-blue eyes, the jut jaw and wide shoulders.

“You ride all the way down here from Tucson?” Wyatt Earp was dressed in black.


“I assume it’s important, then. Hell of a hot day for riding. On a horse or a train.”

“Yeah, I guess,” said Kelly, resenting the way he felt so grimy and uncomfortable in Earp’s presence. He puts his pants on the same way I do. But there was no denying the presence. What the Mexicans called machismo. Son of a bitch or not, Wyatt Earp was man-sized.

“All right, Kelly,” Earp said mildly, “you said you had a message for me.”

The lapse startled Kelly; when he swallowed, his big Adam’s apple slid up and down. “About Frank Stillwell. The one you said killed your brother Morgan.”

Earp’s face hardened. “What about him?”

“Stillwell says he wasn’t even in Tombstone that night. Says he had nothing to do with it.”

“And you rode all the way down here to tell me that?”

“No. I rode all the way down here because my boss told me to get word to you that Stillwell’s waiting for you.”

Earp’s jaw clicked. “Where?”

“Tucson. In the railroad yards where this train stops to couple on the cross-country coaches. Stillwells got a rifle and two handguns and he’s been talking around town how he wants to see you tell him to his face that he bushwhacked your brother.”

“I’ll tell him,” Wyatt Earp murmured. “If that’s what he wants to hear, that’s what I’ll tell him.”

Earp wasn’t smiling. As far as Kelly could see, he wasn’t armed. There were no bulges in the tailored black suit. Earp pulled one side of the coat back to dip his fingers into the side-belly pocket of his buttoned black vest; he took out something that glittered and tossed it down. Kelly almost missed his catch. It threw him off balance but he caught it.

Wyatt Earp said, “Thanks for letting me know, Kelly.”

The woodburner engine hooted and Kelly heard the big driving wheels start to scrape. There was a series of loud bangs as the betweeh-car couplings stretched. The express car started up with a jerk but Wyatt Earp kept his stance, balanced and easy, not using his hands, The train pulled forward and Kelly stood in the noise, looking down at the object in his palm. It was a twenty-dollar gold piece.

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