“Well, how many times am I gonna be hitting my gun with a rock?”
“Probably never, but if you drop something on the hammer when it’s in your holster, you will have a nice groove down your leg for the rest of your life, which might not be very long. A shot like that just right and you’d bleed out in a minute, or get gangrene, or lose the use of that leg due to a shattered knee, or just plain have an ugly scar on a weak leg.” He handed the pistol back to Daniel, who slipped it back in its home on his hip. “All them options are not too healthy. A working man cannot afford to carry a round under the hammer. Once you get in the battle, the first time you reload you fill them all. If you know the battle is coming, you load them all. Got it?”
“Yes, sir. None of them options sound good to me. Don’t want the battle either.” He drew and shot a large rattlesnake coming out from a hole under the rock right next to Tor. “There’s supper.”
Tor jumped and landed about six feet away from where he started. “You eat snake?”
“Nope. Hear it’s good though.”
“I don’t eat snake,” he said as he continued to watch the reptile writhe in the dust making mud with its blood. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Get us a fire going.”
“Yup. You the eatin’est feller I ever rode with.”
“How do you think I keep my manly figure.”
Tor went hunting.
Daniel went fishing as soon as the fire was burning well.
The fish were not biting and Tor was not back after an hour. Dan had heard no shot and was beginning to wonder what was happening in the woods when the shot finally came. It sounded surprisingly close.
He gathered more wood and set the coffee to boiling as he waited. The fishing line got checked a time or two. Still no Tor. Dan strapped on the Bixby gun and saddled his horse. Just as he swung into the saddle, “Hey, you wanna come over there with that horse and help be bring this in.”
It was Tor.
Dan rode his horse across the stream and up to where Tor was coming out of the woods dragging a young doe, all nicely gutted and beheaded, toward camp. Dan pulled it up on the horses withers and gave Tor a hand climbing on behind him, turned the horse for camp and crossed the stream. As he was crossing the rock he had tied his fishing line to came off the large rock he had set it on.
He had a bite.
An hour later they were eating venison steaks in the dark and rigging a rack to make jerky on. The fish got away.
The coffee pot was empty nest to the embers of the fire when they rolled into the bedrolls for a night’s sleep. Each was full to the brim and content.
Two days later, the two of them rode into Golden. Tor wanted to stop and see an old saddle partner and Dan was just going to find someplace with a couple of books for sale. Didn’t make a difference what they were, he just wanted to unwind a bit in something other than the Bible. It had taken him a full day to make that decision.
Tor pointed in the direction of the hotel, “Meetcha there in a couple of hours. Two beds please. You roll and toss so bad I’ll end up on the floor. There’s a gunsmith down the block a bit that might be able to do something about the slickness of them grips on your Colt. Try him.” He rode away before Daniel could say anything.
Daniel was dazzled. He’d seen big cities before, but never had he seen a town with the hustle and bustle of this one. He had to guide his horse around wagons and people walking in the middle of the street. A wagon loaded with beer from the Coors brewery almost killed a man after the wagon driver took his eyes off the street to look at a dance hall gal on the balcony of a saloon. The man turned and saw the lead horses when they were about two feet from straddling him.
Dan eased up the street looking for the sign advertising a hotel in the midst of all the other signs. Seems like every building had three or more businesses or products to sell they thought worthy of having its own sign. “I ain’t seen this many signs since St. Louis, but St. Louis never had this many folks running around like chickens with their heads cut off.”
“Hey, quit star gazing and get outta the road, young feller,” came from his right. A pedestrian was held up by Daniel’s slow rubber necking of all there was to see.
“Sorry, old timer, I’ll push a little here now. How far’s it to the hotel?”
“Two buildings down. Only sign is on the winder, but ya cain’t miss’er a bit. Bright green paint around them winders.”
“Thank ya kindly, sir.”
“Now get outta my way.”
Daniel moved the horse with a gentle gig of the spurs he’d found in the saddle bag. Tor said they were cavalry spurs, short and stubby, and also reckoned that Bixby had been cavalry once upon a time “Cuz he rode so straight up and down like he had a ram rod for a back bone.” Sure enough there was the green trim on a pair of fair sized windows. One said HOTEL and the other said SALOON in large gold and black letters.
He had to sidle in between the hitching rail and the plank sidewalk in order to tie off the gelding he had named, Solomon. Not that the horse was wise, just that it sounded like a good Christian horse name. The horse would never have a thousand wives, but being a gelding it wouldn’t matter.
He swung down gingerly; his backside still wasn’t used to all the riding, pulling his Winchester out of its case as he did. After doing a couple of deep squats, he entered the hotel and walked to the desk. “Need a room with two beds or two rooms with one bed.”
“Very good, sir. Let me see what we have.” He turned to look at a bunch of cubbies behind him. “Aah yes, sir. We have two rooms side by side, each with one bed, both on the third floor facing the avenue. Will that do, sir.”
“Yeah. How much?”
“Fifty cents each. Dinner will be served in the Dining Room,” he pointed to a door behind Daniel, “In about an hour. Of course, they always have something to eat 24 hours each day. There is also the Saloon to your right,” again he pointed, “Serving the finest of liquors, beers, wines, and just plain everyday good whiskey. One of our local miners has a still and a local brewery makes the finest beer in the territory.”
Daniel plunked a ten dollar gold piece on the counter and said, “May I start an account and sign for meals and drinks?”
“Yes sir, you certainly may. Sign the ledger please and use the same signature on your tabs.” He turned and pulled two keys from adjoining slots, flipped a tab to red like most of the other rooms, and set the keys on the ledger as Daniel signed, ‘Daniel Fount, Denver.’
“Could you tell me where the best livery and gunsmith might be?”
“Why yes, sir. The livery is down the alley on the right side of the hotel,” he pointed, “And the gunsmith is across the street and uphill about a quarter mile. Can’t miss him, he has a large six shooter for a sign hanging way out from and above the rest of the signs on this street. Old German fella that I have only met once, but the best of reputations I assure you.”
“I recognize your gun, but you weren’t the man wearing it last time is saw it.”
“He lost in the game of life.”
“Oh, very good. Sir. He was not a very savory individual. Thank you for winning in the game of life.” He smiled and turned to the lady that had just walked in.
Daniel heard, “Who is that terrible man? He killed a man in the saloon the last time I was here,” from the lady.
As he walked to the gunsmith, he got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, he would be wise to change the grips altogether rather than just have them reworked. Tor was coming down the street, saw him, and pulled over to the plank sidewalk where he said, “You wanna double up?”
They finished at the gunsmith with Daniel carrying a loaner and Tor guiding the horse to the hotel where Daniel picked up his horse and they rode to the livery up the alley.
“Ya seen one livery stable, you have seen them all,” Tor said.
“And smelled them all,” Daniel added.
Two days later they left town before the sun came up and the crowds hit the streets. His old saddle partner was no longer in Golden.
It was Sunday. The bells were ringing on at least three churches somewhere in the town. Daniel felt a pull, but he was not ready yet for the questions that would come inside the walls of a friendly church. Tor offered to go with him if that was the hold up and Daniel just turned his horse to the street all the wagons had been coming into town on during their brief stay.
Within an hour the sun was up, they were off the road and on a thin trail leading into the high country, and up ahead was a smoldering fire. They spread out without saying a word as they approached the smoke. No one was there.
A breeze picked up as they looked around. Nothing. A jumble of prints in the dirt told them nothing. At least four different horses had been over this site time and time again. Tor got down and started probing the ground with a stick he grabbed. Daniel watched with his newly adorned six shooter held in position with his elbow locked into his side. No one had to tell him something had happened here.
Tor finally tossed the stick, “No new graves.”
“How do you know?”
“The top inch or so is disturbed by the prints here, but after that inch or so the ground is rock hard. If there was a grave the dirt would be loose and the stick would have gone in deep from the pressure I put on it. Why don’t you dump your canteen on this fire so’s it don’t get away, fill up from the stream, and we’ll just mosey on our way. While you’re doin’ that, I’ll just take me a ride up towards them trees and see what I can see.”
Daniel did as he asked while he looked around in the direction the horses had gone. All there was in that direction was a heavily forested area leading to the base of the biggest mountain around. The whole scene seemed strange to him as the water gurgled out of the canteen he watched Tor moving at a quick trot in that direction. When the gurglying quit, he rode down to the water and was just about off the horse when he saw him.
The man was sitting with his legs in the water next to a rock on the far side of the creek, still as the stone itself. A gun lay in his lap and the front of his shirt was bright red.
Daniel looked up to see Tor jerk his horse around and ride like the devil was after him toward the camp site. Out of the trees came three riders and as soon as Daniel saw them they opened fire. Daniel started to mount and then realized if he got in a good position he could cover Tor and the old man next to the rock. The rock looked like a good place to hunker down.
He crossed the creek and turned Solomon loose to fend for himself, squatted behind the rock, and then pulled the wounded man in with him. He laid the Winchester across the top of the rock, lined up the sights, and squeezed the trigger. The center of the three riders took a tumble. Tor kept coming straight across the campsite and on through the water until he jumped off his horse, rifle in hand, and took up a spot thirty feet or so downstream from Daniel.
“You okay?” Danile asked.
“Yeah, not a scratch