I cornered Mr. Pepper when he came out of the town hall and sent him off with Chester. Then I stopped by the Dodge House where Shiloh was staying and saw the hare that he and the kid had caught and skinned. I asked Shiloh if the kid could stay at the hotel for the night, things being what they were. Shiloh said sure, but when I asked him if he’d be interested in becoming a temporary deputy, he shook his head. I couldn’t blame him. I didn’t feel much like carrying a badge right now, myself.
I went over to the Texas Trail. I try not to eat in the same place two nights in a row – don’t want to give the townspeople the impression I was soft on any one place. But I wasn’t really interested in what the townspeople thought of me at the moment. And the Texas Trail was where I wanted to be. I ordered a beer and leaned up against the bar, staring out the open doorway at the bright, piercing sunlight.
“Eh? Oh, hello Kitty.”
She was wearing a yellow dress. It fit rather tight in some places, and it suited her fine. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “Bad liquor or a busted stake?”
“Oh, neither, neither,” I said. “How are you?”
“Eager,” she said. “But you probably noticed that before.” She laughed, giving me my first smile of the day. “Seriously, though, what’s wrong?”
“Plenty,” I said. “The townsmen have all gotten it in their heads that I’m too rough with the cowboys. They want me to back off enforcing the law here in town.”
“Well, Matt, I don’t know you that well, but that sounds like something you’ll have a hard time doing.”
“You know me better than you think. And on top of things, one of the bloodiest little range wars you ever saw is about to break.”
“Out at Cottonwood pond,” she said. “I heard about it.”
“Did you hear, too, that I’m backing the wrong side?”
Kitty put a hand on my shoulder. “Here, pull a stool up to the bar. Sam, a drink for Mr. Dillon.”
Sam, his arm in a plaster cast and a sling, started to pour me a whiskey. I waved him off.
“No, Sam,” I said. “Thanks anyway.”
Sam shrugged as if it made no difference to him, but left the whiskey on the bar next to me.
“I can’t stay, Kitty,” I said. “I’ve got to try and round up some deputies. And try is about as far as I’m gonna get. Whole town’ll be siding with the Texas cowboys against Howard. And against me,” I added. This was shaping up to be a real lousy week.
Kitty took the stool she’d dragged over for me and sat on it herself. She looked at me, and again I felt that connection. “Maybe you oughtta switch sides, Matt.”
I leaned back against the bar, facing the door. “Oh, sure, sure, I know I ought to,” I said. “But I can’t. If I started making my own rules it’d be the end of law and order in Dodge. I just can’t do it, Kitty. Much as I’d like to.”
Kitty’s forehead creased for a moment, and the skin around her eyes crinkled. Then she shrugged. “Well – not for me to say. You’re the one who has to decide…”
Chester came in through the door. “Mr. Dillon?”
“Yeah, Chester? What’d you find out?”
I already knew by the sag of his shoulders. “Mr. Pepper down at the railroad depot checked clear through to Topeka. They can’t get enough cattle-cars to load that herd outta here ‘til the day after tomorrow,” he said.
I turned and downed the whiskey Sam had left for me. “Well, that’s that,” I said. “It was an outside chance, anyway. I thought we might load ‘em up fast, Kitty, and run ‘em up to Walnut Creek. It’s still got a little water in it.”
Chester bellied up to the bar and Sam poured him a beer.
“Matt,” said Kitty, “there’s something wrong with a law that upholds a lowdown scheme like this.”
“What Howard’s doing is legal,” I said. “I gotta find a legal way to stop him.”
Kitty laughed. “I bet a lawyer could find a way of some kind. Too bad this town doesn’t have one.”
I snorted. “Heaven forbid.”
The door opened and a burly man with an ill-kept beard came through it. He had eyes that looked too small, too recessed in his pudgy face, to actually see anything. He had the look of a brute who liked doing brute work. Seeing me, he came over and loomed over Kitty and Chester, facing me.
“Marshal Dillon?” he said.
“Yeah, what is it?”
“My name’s Fenton. I’m range boss fer -”
“Yeah,” I said, “I know. You work for Ike Howard. I saw you out there today.” I wanted to add something, but it didn’t suit a peace officer. “Well, what’s on your mind, Fenton?”
“Well – Mr. Howard figures you oughtta be arrangin’ to protect his property.”
“Tell Howard I’ll be there in plenty of time. Jackson gave me his word he’d lay off until nine tonight,” I said.
Fenton made an ugly face. It might have been a smile. “His word? Sure. But Mr. Howard figures it’d be a good idea for you to deputize his riders –“
“Fenton,” I said, “get out.”
Fenton took a step back. “Now wait a second, Marshal –“
I came up off the bar and walked at him. “Go on, get out! When I want Howard’s advice, I’ll ask for it. Now go tell him that.”
“Well, yeah, but…”
“Go on! Get out. Move!” I watched him leave, and then listened to the sounds of conversation start up again softly around me. “Deputize his riders,” I muttered as I went back to the bar. “Sure, he’d like that.”
“Well, it just may come to that, Mr. Dillon,” said Chester. “I couldn’t get anybody else.”
I felt my jaw clenching. “You know, I ought to just throw this badge away, for all the good it does me. Green and Howe would be happy enough, and I’d could go out there and help Jackson cut that fence!”
Kitty laid a hand on my arm. “Matt, I still think what you oughtta do –“
“I know, I know, I oughtta get a lawyer. Well, Kitty, the only lawyer Dodge City ever saw was that young fella from Boston who died here last month on his way to –”
Kitty looked at me, sitting there with my mouth hanging open. “What is it, Matt?”
“Chester,” I said, “what happened to those books of his?”
“That lawyer fella’s?” he asked. “Well, nobody ever claimed ‘em. There’re still in the back of the jail there, somewhere.”
“It’s a long shot, but –” I snapped my finger and laughed. “Kitty, you’re wonderful.” I reached out, took hold of her shoulders, and kissed her once on the cheek.
She put her hand up and touched her cheek with a vaguely shocked smile. “Matt!” she said.
But I was already headed for the door. “Come on, Chester,” I said. “Let’s find those books.”