The Shadow of a Ruthless Criminal (Preview)

Prologue

By the spring of 1871, Abilene, Texas, was a thriving community of hardworking settlers who had to contend with the transient nature of the cattlemen and their yearly drives that brought trains of steer up from Texas along the Chisholm Trail. In March of that year, it was decided they needed law and order if they wanted to establish a township. Several barons who took to Abilene like flies to split milk, pooled resources to hire a lawman. They needed a City Marshal who stood up to the lawless and dealt swift justice. The city appraisers estimated over 700,000 longhorns came into town early that year. Most of the longhorn steer came off the Chisholm Trial on the connecting trail near the north end of Wichita.

The cattle drives often consisted of chuckwagons, horse wranglers, and ten cattlemen for every 2000 to 3000 head of cattle. Most of the trails leading north and west often had different drovers coming headlong into other cattle drives. The longhorns arrived each spring after averaging eight to ten miles daily. The cattle grazed and gained weight along the way. Straggling farmhands or laborers walked the busy trails looking for work along the way until they reached Abilene’s promised lands.

It took a whole town of rough and ready individuals to get the cattle organized and prepared for distribution to other parts of the territory. Where large herds of cattle went, so did the money. News traveled slower than most cattle drives, and sometimes eastbound travelers had tales of what happened further west. In comparison, the westbound wagon trains brought news about progress and changes in commerce and government.

By the time the Kansas Pacific railroad extended further west from Junction City, J.G. McCoy had already set the city limits of Abilene Township and built his castle-like prairie house of Drovers Cottage near what would eventually become the Great Western Stockyards.

The railroad ran east to west through the town.The majority of the community that helped establish the Texas townsite had called the main thoroughfare south of the railroad station, Texas Street. The intersection of Cedar and Texas Became a favorite pitch-point for hooligans and roustabouts that managed to hitch rides into town through the cattle drives or wagon trains. Sometimes people ran out of money or lost their way. The city grew out of beef commerce, but people brought all sorts of trouble, and arguments ended punctuated with bullets.

The railroad works built the depot. The station was fourteen feet by twelve feet,a wooden shack with a fortified four by six-foot passenger room. More building materials arrived by railcar. The town sprung from the mud and manure within a few short years. The established city council needed to make sense of the lawlessness crept into the city like a sickness.

When McCoy and the others started the city of Abilene, they turned the hinterlands into an agricultural paradise. They intended to parcel out the fertile lands to farmers instead of allowing vast cowhide seas to devour the prairie grasses and sully the watersheds. More like-minded businessmen seeped into the city, and travelers hitching rail car rides, and wagon trains eventually found work in Abilene. Skilled laborers were in high demand, and anyone with a hammer found themselves building a town from the ground up.
Shane and Henry’s real-estate offices on A Street began leasing buildings as fast as they grew. Ed Gaylord’s Twin Livery Stables became the place for ponies and green-broke horse-trading. Most of the buildings had resembling features and additions happened as soon as proprietors paid agents and bank lenders their greedy shares. It took very little time for the town to sprout from a few well-managed structures to a townsite of over twenty rambling wood-framed buildings. Most of the larger, two-level structures had ten to fifteen rooms each.

Once the city arrived, so did the rest of the misanthropes. They came for the brothels and dance halls, the gambling houses, and saloons. Abilene began gathering a reputation where blood, bullets, and beer flowed equally. The drovers came for the whores, and respectable men and women arrived for the high-traffic business opportunities. Before the spring of ’71, gunmen and gamblers took up more space than a lot of the people of commerce.

Nightlife meant someone died by gun or buck knife. Daytime business people went about their daily routine until sundown made them take shelter hoping the wood walls were thick enough to deflect random gunfire. When the town council decided to hire marshals for policing the city, it was City Councilman G. L. Brinkman who wired for the one man they thought had enough fortitude to stop the lawless bloodshed. Unfortunately, his reputation wasn’t much more pompous than the troublemakers who used their guns to settle their debts.

James Butler was a miserable drunkard. He had rotten teeth and bad breath. Yet, the man’s myth outshined his necessity as the City Marshal. He stood over six feet tall with a thick crop of hair the color of corn silk, and a brawny mustache. He had a cruel nature that came through whenever he faced off with opposition. He had an opinion about everything and believed his reputation meant more to the city council than his indiscretions when handling the lowlifes who came to face-off with the legendary man. James Butler wasn’t much on hygiene or kindness.

In April 1871, the mayor and city council members had more than they bargained when the town paid a whopping $150 monthly salary to the man better known as James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. Per the contract, Hickok received another $2 for every conviction from arrests. The problem with Hickok came with his inability to distinguish the difference between a gunfighter and a lawman.

They had hired a man who stuck men in hearts with knives or prided himself as a deadly marksman. Once a Union Scout during the Civil War, the frontier guide and duelist was nothing more than a miserable gambling drunk who made honest citizens leave a wide berth around the man who stank of booze and death.

Hickok was a two-fisted shooter and a double-fisted drinker. Booze and bullets never got along. Once Hickok started down the path of drink, it typically ended with gunshots. While he took Abilene funds as a sworn marshal, Hickok preferred the saloons over the marshal’s office.

Hickok used the palatial Alamo Saloon as his office. Sometimes, young men came to challenge Hickok, others came to buy him drinks and let him spin yarns. It wasn’t long after Mayor McCoy and the others realized G. L. Brinkman’s publicity stunt would eventually bankrupt the town or force finer citizens to leave the city because Hickok wasn’t worth the money or the discontent.

His second in command, a gentle giant of a man named Tom “Bear River” Smith had experience as a commander in the Union Army before he took to policing the township. While Hickok used his reputation to settle scores, it was the other deputy marshals who worked as real lawmen of the community.

Following the record summer of death and cattle herds, the city council wanted to end their contract with Hickok. Grazing lands became scarce. Many of the settlers objected to the pasturing of cattle herds, choosing agriculture McCoy had initially promised. But no one had the backbone to face the towering curmudgeon.

It was Tom Smith and Arthur Rogers, who wanted a significant change in the city. For that to happen, they needed to get rid of Hickok. It wasn’t up to them.

“Hey Art,” Smith called after rapping on the door to a small room where they had a cot for overnight shifts.

Art Rogers preferred sleeping in the bunkhouse of the marshal’s office during the weekends because the place had a better potbelly stove than his drafty room at the hotel.

“What can I do for you, Tom?” Rogers sat up in his long johns. He turned up the lantern and saw the concern on his friend’s face.

“We got some trouble down by Bull’s Head.”

“Right,” Rogers said with a nod and stood. Smith waited in the hallway while Rogers put on his dungarees and shirt. He wore the marshal badge on the wool coat to make it easier for people to see in winter.

December ’71 came with heavy wind and snowdrifts. It didn’t stop the anarchy and chaos that hung in the streets as heavy as coal smoke in the cold. Rogers saw it was a little after midnight before he pushed the black deluxe derby on his head and followed his friend outside.

The crisp winter frost made the wood plank walkways slick.

“You want to wake the others?” Rogers asked.

“No, I think the three of us can take care of it,” Smith said.

Rogers knew he included Hickok as part of the trio. Roger said nothing about the inclusion. He was a deputy marshal. Smith was Hickok’s second in command, and when he needed a level head to help deal with troublesome cattlemen, Smith went to Rogers.

“Did you happen to talk to the council about your idea?” Rogers asked as they wandered through the windblown snow along the boardwalk. “I think we could get a lot of people on board with it.”

Smith wanted to make radical changes in Abilene. He wanted business owners to ban firearms from their properties. Smith suggested proprietors could dictate a ‘no weapon’ rule in their buildings. Mainly, the rules applied in saloons, whorehouses, and gambling dens. Most gunfights orbited around cash, liquor, and women of ill repute. Smith knew he couldn’t implement changes in trading money for flesh, favors, or booze, but a disarmed gunfighter saved a lot of bullets.

“I don’t think the council plans to meet again until after January,” he said.

Smith was taller than Rogers and most people by almost a foot. He even towered over Hickok, who stood over six feet. He was a titan with a kind heart and a level head. He knew solving arguments with guns wasn’t the way civilized people worked out their problems. The further away from metropolitan centers, the more robust the land and the people roaming it. Everyone had a pistol in ’71. Some people had two. Rogers carried a sidearm but kept it under his coat. He knew how to shoot, but preferred conversations over killing people.

He was a former Union soldier who saw the beginning of the war stationed outside Manassas, Virginia, and stood firm for the North during the battle of Bull Run. He took a bullet in the hip for the Union, and the campaign proved a victory for the Confederates. Rogers had lived and healed enough to ride in the Cavalry Corps with the Army of the Potomac.

Smith had marched through the blood-soaked fields at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and never talked about it. It was in his eyes. He saw more than most men should when it came to war. Once a soldier, always a soldier: that was Smith’s philosophy, and marshaling for Abilene made sense to him. The mayor liked Smith, and Rogers knew the council wanted to replace their warmonger with someone who used his mouth instead of twin pistols.

When they reached the corner, Smith, and Rogers heard the shouting.

“That sounds like Coe,” Smith said. There was a street argument outside the saloon. Smith pointed to Coe among the others surrounding him.

Phillip Coe was a former confederate soldier turned professional gambler. He and his business partner, Ben Thompson, came up from Texas and built the Bull’s Head Saloon as a competitive enterprise against the Alamo Saloon. Coe and Thompson weren’t the most reputable of men, and if Hickok had to wander down Texas Street from the Alamo to sort out their patrons, Smith and Rogers knew someone would end up dead.

Rogers saw the man with the saber before Smith. He stood a few feet from Coe and Thompson. He swung the sword at anyone who got close to him. The man successfully sliced several falling snowflakes. There were a lot of saloon patrons lining the boardwalk outside. The limited light after midnight on a brisk Monday night in November made it challenging to distinguish any familiar faces.

Many of the cattlemen had left for the winter, while the railroad hands, carpenters, and farmers wintered over to wait for another spring season. Rogers scanned the crowd for Hickok. The man hadn’t made an appearance yet.

Coe and the sword-swinging stranger argued, spitting curses at each other. Rogers saw Thompson standing far enough away from the saber-wielder for him to approach.

“What’s going on with him, Ben?” Rogers asked.

“Phil caught him tucking cards up his sleeve. He got the saber from the wall mounts. We got him outside, but Phil wants what’s owed to him.” Ben Thompson used his gun as much as a pen when it came to business dealing. He had a shadowy reputation in Texas, and Rogers didn’t much like the man. “I offered to step in, but Phil wanted to make an example of him.”

“You can’t kill a man for cheating at cards,” Rogers said.

“You can’t, Art, but Phil can,” Thompson said.

The wind sliced through the alleyways and crawled down the neckline of Roger’s coat. The snow swirled and came down a little harder. By morning, the city would have a few feet of snow. Rogers just wanted a warm cot and a thick blanket. Saber swinging swindlers weren’t worth his time and energy in the middle of the night.

Hickok’s reputation as a lawman in Abilene helped stop a lot of gun-toters looking for belt notches. Rogers moved away from Thompson and stepped closer to Smith.

“How do you want to handle this?” Rogers asked. He ignored the threats Coe made pointing the Colt at the gambler.

“Hey, what did I miss?” Mike Williams asked. He ran up to Rogers and Smith. A fellow lawman from Kansas City, Williams was due to leave on the afternoon coach.

“I thought you went back home,” Rogers said. Williams followed some cattle rustlers into the territory early last week. He was young and had a lot of energy. He looked up to Rogers and Smith, and modeled his lawman crafts after them and not Hickok.

“I met a girl,” he said. Rogers saw his friend’s grin in the lantern light.

“There are girls in Kansas City,” Smith said. He listened to the conversation between Rogers and Williams but kept his eyes on Coe and the amateur swordsman.

“Not like this one,” Williams said. “Why aren’t you stepping in to stop him?”

Rogers made a face. “You know he’s got a saber, right?”

“Yeah, but ain’t that Confederate steel? I thought those sabers were flimsy.

Rogers winced and looked at Williams. “Young man, that kind of comment can get you shot around here.”
“Coe, holster that piece,” Smith shouted. He stepped closer to where the gambler stood in shirt sleeves and bracers. The gambler looked sweaty even in the cold. He was outnumbered and without a gun. Smith pointed at the card player. “What’s your name, son?”

“That’s Red Messer,” Thompson said.

“He owes me a lot of money, Tom. I mean to get it from him.”

“He’s not going anywhere, Phil,” Smith reasoned. “Everyone knows him. He’s coming to the lockup. We can sort it out there. You can have whatever he’s got in his pockets.”

“I won that money fair and square,” Messer said. His voice quivered from fear and cold. His double-fisted grip on the saber had white knuckles, and the cold steel blade trembled in the falling snow.

“Were you cheating at cards, son?” Smith asked. He was a reasonable man and understood how to deescalate the situation.

“I—I didn’t do it,” he said.

“You had cards in your sleeve, boy!” Coe wasn’t as good a shot as his business associate. But Thompson stayed out of it. No one stood behind Messer. Even at that range, Coe’s aim might go wide.

“I know, I’m sorry,” he said. There was a hurt in his voice that everyone watching heard as Messer trembled in the dark. “I didn’t need the cards. I had a better hand than you. I won that fair and square.”

“Look, Red, we can sort this out,” Smith said. He stepped closer, and without provocation, Messer swung the saber. It missed Smith by a horsehair.

“Son, you better put down that saber before you do something you will regret the rest of your—”

“What the hell’s going on here?” The voice boomed from the blowing snow. Hickok had a pistol in each hand as he turned the corner. In the moment of long seconds, too many terrible things happened at once.
Coe’s Colt discharged. He missed Messer and Smith. Later, Rogers thought he felt the heated path of that lead slug as it buzzed angrily by him. He moved to get out the way. Hickok, far from sober as he had tried to claim following the incident, took the shot as a challenge to his position as marshal. He shot back. A bullet sailed by Messer. Smith clambered to get out of the way. The bullet smashed the support beam near Coe’s head.

Coe shot back. Smith stood between Coe and Hickok, and the second and third bullet from Hickok’s ’51 Colts barked in response to Coe’s shooting at him. Spectators ran. Thompson and a few others dove back into the saloon door.

Coe ratcheted another round into the cylinder, and instead of trying to end the firefight, he shot at Hickok. They were too far apart to see each other. They had both been drinking before they started shooting.

Messer cowered with the saber in his shaky grip. Rogers lay in the snow watching the whole world fall apart. It felt like forever to him. Hickok took two more shots. Both cap and ball rounds caught targets. He thumbed hammers and took two more shots. Coe didn’t return fire.

Rogers lifted his head from the snow bank. He wiped his face with numb fingers. He saw Smith moving to stand up. Somehow, the young man stood between two gunfighters and survived the bullet exchange.

Rogers saw Smith reach for Messer. The young man, shell-shocked and bewildered, felt Smith’s hand on his shoulder. When Messer turned, he swung the Confederate saber. Despite William’s claims about a faulty blade, it had a honed edge, and the object that dropped into the snow near Rogers as he tried to stand up had the sad and surprised face of his friend, Deputy Tom ‘Bear River’ Smith. He wasn’t the only fatality that night in the first week of November.

Chapter One

Rogers faced Mayor J.G. McCoy and other city council members. G.L. Brinkman sat beside the mayor looking sheepish because everyone had blamed him behind closed doors. While it was Hickok who did the damage, it was Brinkman who released the hired gunman on the community. In the days following the murders, there was more than one person who had to answer for the crimes.

S.A. Burroughs was a barrel of a man with a crooked nose that looked as though it had been broken more than once. He had a bushy mustache and muttonchops that covered much of his round cheeks. He smoked a pipe, and the tobacco smoke filled the community hall with silver vapors that smelled like Indian pipeweed.

Samuel Carpenter and W.H. Eicholtz had a private exchange in their respective seats. It wasn’t for Rogers or the other councilmen. Rogers saw C.H. Lebold leaning against the wall by the council room door like hired security. He wasn’t part of the Abilene City Council, but the Texan held a lot of property around the territory. His business, along with many others, had to deal with the aftermath of the events earlier in the week.

Rogers sat in a wooden chair as if a defendant in the center of the chamber. He didn’t know what they waited for, but he had a lot more patience than the others. When the door opened, Rogers saw Dr. Lucius Boudinot walk by Lebold without acknowledging him. He took his seat in the group.

“Phil Coe just died,” Dr. Boudinot said. It wasn’t a shock. The man took two bullets from Hickok’s guns. Coe had lingered in delirious pain for days following the incident.

None of the councilmen gave it much concern. Ben Thompson managed to get a quit-claim deed from his dying partner’s handwriting. He took ownership of the Bull’s Head Saloon. Rogers knew Thompson planned to expand, more girls, more gambling. Coe was the hotheaded partner that caused more problems than Thompson wanted. With Coe out of the way, Thompson had bigger ideas.

“This is unprecedented,” Brinkman said. “We should seek the governor’s approval to have Mr. Hickok hanged for what he’s done.”

“It’s your damned fault that menace came here in the first place,” Burroughs said. He gripped the pipe in his teeth and growled his words. “We should fit your neck with a rope next to that bastard drunk.”

“That isn’t the answer,” Rogers said.

Carpenter and Eicholtz stopped whispering together and stared at him. The others remained quiet. Rogers stared at his black, felt derby on his knee. The others stared at him. Rogers looked up at the mayor.

“Hanging Hickok will only bring down this city. You can’t hold him accountable because he wasn’t there until later. He didn’t shoot first. Coe shot first. No jury’s going to convict Hickok of murder.”

“The deputy from Kansas City—” McCoy started.

“Mike Williams,” Rogers said.

“Yes, Deputy, thank you.” McCoy started again, “Mr. William’s father is a magistrate. He received his boy’s coffin this week. We have nothing to give that man to make peace. I’m worried someone else will come here looking to settle this matter.”

“Hickok has a lot of men looking to settle with him,” Rogers said.

“And you let that bastard into this town,” Eicholtz said. He stared at Brinkman with intensity.

“We’re all responsible for Hickok and this mess. We’ve lost a good man, and Kansas City lost a good deputy,” Mayor McCoy said. “All we can do now is hope this will not turn poisonous.”

“I think it’s a little late for that,” Carpenter said. “Why are we dancing around this? How come no one’s saying it? Hickok’s got to go. He’s no good to us here. He shot and killed two men. Smith lost his head to a Confederate saber, and we’re facing another year when this story turns into another fable.”

“What do you think, Deputy Rogers? Do we have your support if we disarm Hickok?” McCoy asked.

Rogers knew it came down to him. He was next in line with the deputies. It wasn’t a succession of appointments like the military. Some people had more sway than others. No one had questioned Tom Smith’s place as second in command behind Marshal Hickok. It was Smith who managed the arrests. It was Smith who had kept Hickok from killing more people through arrests. Smith had had a plan that seemed to make sense to Rogers. It wasn’t something he had brought up to the council. It was time to bring his dead friend’s idea to light. Rogers knew the board needed to make a decision. The weight of circumstances made the situation desperate. Rogers wasn’t looking for miracles. It took the city to make it work.

“We need an ordinance against carrying firearms in the city limits,” Rogers said. He closed his eyes and waited because the councilmen, including Lebold, began shouting obscenities at him.

“Hold.” McCoy used his authoritative voice and the council gavel to replenish orders. Once the others sputtered to stops, McCoy looked at Rogers. “What did you have in mind, Deputy Rogers?”

“It’s nothing too hard to follow. Tom and I talked about this for a while. We get behind all the businesses, from the hotel to the barkeepers, we let them handle the gun provisions. We post the announcements on bulletin boards, in every brothel, and at the railway station. We let people know that Abilene is an upstanding community, and we’re not interested in insolence and disregard for common laws.”

“What happens when the cattlemen get here and don’t want to give up their guns?” Lebold asked.

“It’s the law, Mr. Lebold. They have to follow the law.”

“You’ll have blood in the streets. No cattleman is giving up their gun without a fight.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Lebold, I was under the impression we’re looking to expand our agriculture base. Cattle are moving into Wichita. We’re just another part of that trail.”

“You’ll end this city,” Lebold said. He pointed at Rogers, who remained patient and seated in the wooden chair. “That man is looking to turn this place into a ghost town. I appreciate that you lost your friend. But taking guns away ain’t the answer.”

“Mr. Lebold, you’re not a member of this council,” McCoy said. “If you’re interested in selling your holdings in Abilene, we can address that later. Right now, we’re looking to make changes that suit our community.”

“You can be replaced, McCoy, don’t forget how you got your seat on the council. I am a member of the board of appraisers.”

“I think, Mr. Lebold,” Dr. Boudinot said, “You should probably leave the chambers. It would be in your best interest.”

Befuddledand cussing, Lebold slammed the door behind him when he left the chambers. The layers of silver pipe smoke swirled with the changing air currents.

“How do we enforce an ordinance that takes guns out of a hard working man’s hands?” Burroughs asked. “How do we expect Abilene citizens to take this seriously?”

“It will come at a cost. We’ll need to have proprietors onboard,” Rogers said. “It will come with consequences.”

“You’re talking about shooting more men in the streets.”

“I’m talking about building a jail. Using the city ordinance to work in your favor,” Rogers said. “People come to Abilene; they need to follow the law. We need city ordinances and not a man with a reputation to police our streets.”

“Are you willing to take up arms against someone who refuses to relinquish their weapons, Deputy?” Carpenter asked.

“If it comes to that,” Rogers said. “I think you find people more accommodating than Lebold. This is what Tom wanted. This is his answer to washing the blood off the street.” He used that stark image to stand up. He held the derby in his hand and faced the councilmen. “You want to build a community here. We’re still dealing with rabble-rousers. I will have a conversation with Marshal Hickok. I don’t think you need to worry about anything else happening.”

Rogers pressed the derby to his head. He turned on his heels and left the city council chambers. In the anteroom, Rogers collected his wool coat. He saw Lebold loitering nearby. Before Rogers slipped out of the council offices, Lebold blocked his path.

“You think you’re the arbiter, Rogers?” Lebold asked. “You’re going to die with your boots on.”

“Are you threatening me, Lebold?” Rogers tapped the marshal badge on his wool coat. “You got one of these? I don’t know why you’re bothered by a simple ordinance. I’d think a man like you would see this as an opportunity to cash in on something that means people need places to keep their guns. You can rent lockboxes. You can hire guards in your establishment. But one thing’s for sure, Mr. Lebold, if you ever threaten a deputy marshal again, there will be consequences.” It took minimal effort to shoulder by the conniving businessman.

***

It wasn’t hard to find a man who had a target on his back. J.B. Hickok had a room above the Alamo Saloon. He hadn’t left the place in the days following his gunfire exchange. The saloonkeeper gave Rogers a slight nod as he walked through the front door. When Rogers didn’t see Hickok at his regular card table, the saloonkeeper tilted his chin to the ceiling.

Rogers walked through the saloon with suspicious eyes following him. He climbed the groaning staircase to the second-floor landing and made his way down the narrow hallway. A few soft faces looked out at him from wedge doorways. Hickok had a room at the end of the hall, away from the saloon floor. When guns discharged in saloons, sometimes bullets went through the ceiling. Hickok wasn’t a fool; he wasn’t interested in getting shot without seeing it coming. A room out of the way ensured that anyone taking a shot at him came from the front, not the back.

Rogers rapped his knuckles on the door.

“Come,” a gruff voice called from inside.

There was a dense scent of alcohol sweat and piss that poured into the hallway when Rogers opened the door. He saw Hickok sitting in a fabric-covered chair. The man sat with his back to the wall, facing the door. The nickel-plated, ivory-handled Colt in his grip was a reflex to the gunslinger. His shoulders slumped in tepid relaxation when Hickok saw Roger’s face.

“Howdy, Deputy,” Hickok said. He talked to most people the same way. He was unpleasant when it came to marshaling, and he had a prickly disposition, but the man spoke to everyone with conviction.

“Bill, I don’t know if someone told you, Coe died.” It needed addressing. Hickok respected Rogers insofar as they shared a profession. He was a reticent man, and no one ever said Hickok had sympathy for anyone he shot.

The man nodded. There was a look on his face that suggested he wanted to say something. His jaw moved under the bushy mustache, but whatever Hickok thought, he kept it to himself.

“I’m leaving town soon,” he said. It made sense. Hickok knew the tarnished marshal badge had more shine outside Abilene. “I like this town. I like some of the folks. But I wore out my welcome long before I plugged Phil and Mike Williams.”

Rogers knew better than to say anything. He stood in the doorway with the stink between them and a piss-filled cuspidor near his boots.

“Bill Cody sent a telegram earlier this year. He wants me to ride with him and Texas Jack. They’re shooting redskins in Idaho and Oregon. I might head up to Dakota Territory.” There was a whiskey bottle half gone at his elbow. Hickok left the Colt in his lap and reached for the container.

Rogers found it difficult watching the man finish off the leftover liquor. After he drained the bottle, Hickok coughed.

“Well, you’ll land on your feet,” Rogers said.

“You’re a good man, Art. I feel like I missed my chance getting to know you,” he said.

It surprised Rogers to hear the backend compliment, but he didn’t show it. While his mustache wasn’t as thick or bushy has Hickok’s, it was enough to help keep his face placid.

“You think I should send Mike’s folks my condolences?” Hickok asked.

“I can’t say for sure,” he said. Rogers knew if he got a telegram from the man who killed his son, it wouldn’t go over well. It wasn’t a decision he had to make. Rogers didn’t have children or a wife. In his view, the life of a City Marshal or deputy wasn’t something to share with a family. He saw too many friends die in the line of what they thought was a worthy cause. “You take care of yourself, James.”

“Thank you, Art.”

Rogers closed the door. His boots scuffled over warped floorboards.

***

By December 1871, J.B. Hickok quietly left the Texas settlement for parts unknown. The city council adopted Tom “Bear River” Smith’s ordinance to disarm citizens inside respected establishments. They promoted Art Rogers to City Marshal. Rogers hired a man named Richard Bandar as his lead deputy. He kept the man close to groom him as his replacement. Rogers had other plans. He took up a gun and a badge for his friend Smith. It wasn’t a career he wanted forever. Lawmen never lasted very long.

Chapter Two

Nothing was ever as easy as it started. Rogers took up the mantle as Abilene City Marshal, and the council agreed to have proprietors handling the ordinance clauses about firearms. Most cattlemen were looking to get out of the cold and warm up with whiskey by January of 1872, and they begrudgingly handed over their pistols if they carried them.

As months passed, more people arrived, hoping for a piece of expansion and the promise of business ventures unmarred by corrupt officials and lawlessness.

Since the mayor and other council members had wives, once they heard about the sweeping changes in the city, they demanded additional provisions that set about removing the vexatious problems when it came to the prostitutes in the town. Texas Street had a reputation that stretched across the cattle trails. Lonely men on horseback came to Abilene for the ambiance, and the welcoming arms of the female vultures drifted through the town like flotsam. Disgruntled wives of prominent community leaders used their womanly wiles to sway their god-fearing husbands to enact restricting laws that moved women of ill repute away from the schoolhouse at the end of Texas Street.

Eventually, the community leaders’ wives and the former deacon’s widow, a Mrs. Dora Smith, formed a coalition that swayed their husbands to lean heavily against any unmarried women from forming friendly intentions toward husbands or drifting eligible men. Most prominent women typically didn’t speak openly about the turn of events. No one wanted to consider their husbands facing a difficult choice between late-night liaisons and migrating the brothels further southeast, away from the epicenter of town commerce. The wives and Widow Smith had a lot of influence on their husbands’ daily lives.

“How do you think we should handle this?” Richard Bandar asked Rogers when they stood outside Old Man Jones Saloon on North Second Street. It was after ten on a blustery night in the early spring of ‘72.
They waited to enter the place because the drunkard waving the pistol wasn’t interested in following city ordinances. The Abilene Chronicle posted the new bylaws. It attracted a lot of curiosity seekers, even in the dead of winter. Notabilities and a sprinkling of rich men began taking a keener look at the property around the city. Rogers knew as the readership grew, as people thought they had opportunities to live west of Fort Worth and east of El Paso, well-dressed brokers began trickling through town.

“I’d like to go to bed and get some sleep,” Rogers said. He rubbed the whiskers on his face and pushed at the mustache. Out of the other deputy marshals, Richard was the one man he counted on most.

“We can let Victor sort him out,” Richard said. Victor was an enormous Russian fur trader turned saloonkeeper. He worked for the Old Man Jones and wasn’t opposed to sorting out anyone who didn’t follow the establishment’s rules. Unfortunately, Victor had a reputation where a fur club he once used to crack seal skulls also had a similar effect on the occasional drunkard. When it came to the latest lawbreaker, the cowhand had wandered into the saloon already fueled on spirits and spouting about his right to carry the gun.

As the drunk brandished the weapon, Rogers knew he had to get the gun away from him before flashing the pistol turned into firing a gun. Rogers had a headache. The elected county officers wanted curbed lawlessness, but maintaining law and order didn’t come easy. It was sometimes exhausting work. Even with four deputies, Rogers felt stretched too far to keep up a substantial pace.

“Victor will kill the guy if we don’t do something,” Rogers said.

“After you, Marshal.”

Rogers snickered. He liked Richard’s attitude. He hired even-tempered men for deputies. Richard experienced what life was like before when Hickok thought settling debts and arguments with guns fared better for the community. With the infamous Hickok behind them and new laws enacted, Rogers had to lead by example.

He was a fair man. He carried a Colt Open Top ’71, a hand-me-down from his friend, Bear River Smith. The late man’s gun had a straight shot. It slipped from the holster like a butter churn handle. Rogers kept the pistol oiled and ready, but rarely did he have to use it to keep the peace.

“Do you know who he is?” Rogers asked. He heard the young man screaming obscenities and waving the gun from outside the saloon. Other patrons slipped through the barroom doors carrying tankards waiting for the marshals to step in and take care of business.

“I think his friends call him, ‘Big Hank,” Richard said. There was a hint of irony in his voice. The young man looked as thin as a willow reed and half as long.

“You gonna stand there all night, Marshal, or are you gonna take care of that business?” It was one of the barflies who spent long days working the stable yards and longer nights complaining about it in the saloon. He had an empty tin tankard and glared at Rogers.

Rogers sighed and stepped on the wooden planks leading to the doorway. Men moved away from the windows. They sidestepped from around the entrance. Victor stood like a mighty Russian oak tree on the other side of the sturdy wood bar with the iron speed rails. He had a look for Rogers that suggested a cracked skull with the proper instrument would take care of the squirrely young man.

“Big Hank,” Rogers said.

When the cowhand turned, his boot kicked over a spittoon. The contents spilled over the stained floorboards.

“You need to follow the ordinance like everyone else,” Rogers said.

“Why, why you want to take away my rights to carry this here gun?”

“You can carry your gun, Hank. You just can’t carry it in Abilene.”

“You got a gun.” He pointed using the pistol as an exclamation point. “I see it right there.”

Rogers wasn’t interested in gunfighting. Duelists left town shortly after the city passed the ordinances, and Hickok wasn’t marshaling the city. The holster was impossible to miss. It had the same impact as the marshal badge that Rogers pointed at with his gun hand.

“This is why I carry the gun, Hank. It’s the same reason I’m telling you this one and only time to give up the gun. You’ll get it back when you walk out of Jones’ Saloon,” Rogers said, acutely aware that several townsfolk watched the conflict. It was the kind of confrontation that typically lasted as long as the drunk kept standing, or they ran out of steam. Rogers didn’t want to wait around for Big Hank to either get foolhardy enough to take a shot or just unload the pistol.

Hank laughed, hearing Rogers’ statement about firearms, he swung the gun in an arc, passing the barrel by Rogers and pointing it as the collection of patrons backed into a corner.

“You all think this is right? They can’t take away our guns. It’s in that Declaration we all know about.” He spun in a circle.

Hank had them momentarily hostage. They weren’t as brave as the others who managed to slip outside but stayed around hoping to see someone get shot.

The pistol wasn’t cocked. It took an effort to press back the hammer on the Colt. The Army issue pistol had gobs of muck in its edges. Its wooden grip had as many stains on it as Hank’s fist. Rogers focused on the gun in Hank’s hand. He wasn’t planning to intervene. When Hank’s thumb moved from the grip to the hammer, Rogers closed the distance between him and Hank.

Hank turned away from the bar, right-handed with the pistol. It wasn’t until he faced the crowd in the corner that Rogers had had enough of his insolence. The moment Hank’s thumb moved to cock the .44, he caught the lanky young man’s arm.

Compromised by the twist in his hips, the gun pointed toward the group in the corner almost directly behind Hank. It was the right time to disarm him. Rogers pulled the Colt from his holster, spun the gun, so the grip faced Hank, and walloped him in the forehead.

It was as quick as a lightning strike and just as powerful. Hank screeched in agony as blood erupted from his forehead. Rogers knew a good blow to the head was a great way to disarm someone and hopefully knock some sense in them. He didn’t anticipate the fount of blood pouring over Hank’s face and splashing his boots. He holstered the pistol again and went to help keep Hank from falling on his face.

The young man’s knees wobbled, but the pistol clattered to the floor.

“Get that,” Rogers said. He pointed at the gun under the chair.

Richard quickly retrieved the gun. Hank teetered, momentarily stunned, his knees finally gave out, and he sank to the floor. Rogers gestured for the bar rag near Victor’s elbow. He tossed it to the marshal.

“Need some help getting on your feet, Hank?” Rogers pressed the towel into Hank’s empty right hand. He helped the drunkard push it to his forehead. Before Hank could answer, Rogers hooked his grip around Hank’s elbow and hauled him on his feet again.

“What happened?” Hank asked.

“You got hit in the head by the Constitution, Hank. It was sore; you called it the Declaration.”

Richard snickered and moved to Hank’s left side. The lawmen moved through the doorway back into the street. People lost interest quickly when no one got shot. It was a lot of noise without crescendo. Rogers and Richard carried the staggering Hank across the muddy thoroughfare.

“Sometimes, I think people want blood in the streets like before,” Rogers said.

“People like having the law on their side,” Richard said. “Sometimes, they just want a little action too.”

“I’m not interested in keeping Hickok’s legacy alive here, Rich. People forget too quickly about how hard it was here.”

“Well, at least they built us a jail,” Richard said. They supported Hank between them rounding the corner. Hank drifted in and out of consciousness.

“Yeah, I’m not complaining,” Rogers said. “But it gets old, Rich. This isn’t something I’m interested in doing for too long.”

“What are you saying?” Richard glanced at Rogers with worry etched on his young face.

At twenty-eight, Richard Bandar had sideburns that matched the burnt umber tint of his parted and oiled medium-length hair. He kept his chin and upper lip free of facial hair. Richard got an education in Texas, working with the rangers and relocating Indians. Shortly before Hickok’s fall from grace, Richard had reached Abilene and barely worn the deputy marshal badge a year before Marshal Smith’s death. He took to promotion with Roger’s guidance and quickly wanted to carry the noble tradition of the City Marshal service.

Rogers’ liked Richard’s willingness to put in the extra hours. He appreciated the young man’s earnest understanding that wearing a badge wasn’t about status; it was a choice in life. It wasn’t for everyone. Most lawmen didn’t live long enough to appreciate what their hard work accomplished. Rogers didn’t want to see Richard following Hickok or Smith’s demise. But Rogers wanted to live out the rest of his days without worry that some idiot with a gun wanted to play quick draw with a city marshal from Abilene.
“Get Len and Gary down to the jail to watch Big Hank,” Rogers said. Before Richard stepped away from Hank, Rogers added, “Fetch Doc Boudinot too. We need him to take a look at that wound.”

He escorted the bleeding cowhand through the doorway. The newly erected jail had two beds and a bucket for filth. One thing Rogers demanded of anyone staying overnight behind the new steel bars: they had to clean up any waste they made inside the jail cell.

The moment Rogers guided Hank through the open jail door, the young man staggered to the piss bucket and vomited. Rogers closed the door and shook his head. There must be a better life than playing marshal in a town full of ungrateful people.


“The Shadow of a Ruthless Criminal” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When Arthur Rogers gave up his badge, he didn’t expect to hold a gun in his hand ever again. He’s tired of fighting criminals and wants nothing more than to settle down and live a quiet life, in a safer town. His plans for a new beginning take an unexpected turn though, when the train he’s expecting is stopped by a gang who is holding a woman hostage. Leaving a woman helpless is not even an option for him and he immediately rushes to the scene. He knows this gang is not afraid to hurt anyone that gets in their way and can’t help but fear for the woman’s life. Art won’t stop until he rescues her and makes sure that every last one of them is dead… However, sometimes it takes more than bullets to put a man down…

Using his excellent detective skills, Art discovers where McKenzie, the missing woman, is being held. Quick on his feet and without second thought, he embarks on a tricky rescue mission. Danger quickly spirals out of control, and Art manages to heroically save McKenzie by putting his life at risk. When he sees her teaching the next day, he’s completely awestruck by her bravery after this traumatic event. His world turns upside down though, after witnessing a suspicious encounter between her and one of the gang members…What could possibly be the reason behind this questionable meeting?

An electric chemistry between Art and McKenzie will be developed but lies and deceit might get in the way…As a lifetime adventure brings them closer, outside forces try to tear them apart. Art’s desperate need to capture all gang members will make him question his very values. Will reality prove him wrong before he loses what he’s craving the most?

“The Shadow of a Ruthless Criminal” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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