3

Sitting at his usual table in the Providence Saloon, dapper Bet Thayer was in the middle of a game of solitaire when the first shot rang out, instantly followed by a second. He paused, taking a gold timepiece from his vest pocket and glancing at it, while listening to see if there would be any other shooting. Satisfied that it was over, Thayer nonchalantly resumed his game.
“Sounds like you lost your wager, Bet.”
Two days before Steele had arrived in town Thayer had given in to temptation and gone into the Pizen to place a bet on Steele lasting the week. The bartender at the Providence, Luther Grimes, had scoffed at that, telling the gambler that he’d made a fool’s bet.
“Someone made a try,” Bet acknowledged. “But I think I heard two different calibers, Lute. The second one was a .44 caliber, I believe. Steele always did favor a Colt Peacemaker.”
“I were working a claim up in the Dakotas,” a grizzled oldtimer at the bar commented. “We heard tell Steele had one of Hickok’s .36 Navies.”
“Heard that, too,” Grimes added from behind the bar. “If I had one of Wild Bill’s guns, I’d use it just for luck!”
“Those 1851 Navies were ancient even in Bill’s time,” Bet said. “They’d belong in a museum, right beside the dinosaurs and the pyramids.”
“Don’t know nothing about no dinnysaws, Bet,” Grimes replied. “But if you put a saddle on one I wager that Steele could ride it. From the stories about him, I’d say he’s all man-jack.”
“He is that, Lute,” Bet agreed as he began gathering up the cards. “If he is still residing among the living, that is.”
“He is.” Cullen Bryant had come in the door just as Bet was speaking. “Steele nailed Pike dead center—and the kid already had a gun in his hand!”
“That took some shooting!” Grimes whistled. “Lorenzo Pike was pretty good.”
Bet snorted. “Pike was not good enough to be a pimple on a gunfighter’s arse.”
“He warn’t good enough today, for sure,” Bryant agreed. He walked to the bar. “Pike waited out in the street and as soon as Steele walked out the door, he made his play.”
“Steele better watch his back, then,” Grimes said, setting a beer on the bar before Bryant. “Ace Dixon was Pike’s saddle partner. They worked together down on the Brazos.”
“Didn’t know that,” Bryant said. “I wouldn’t want to tangle with Ace.”
Grimes began stacking up glasses behind the bar, he half-turned his head toward the gambler. “What do you think about Ace, Bet?”
“An ace is usually the card to play,” Bet replied. “But this time he’ll have sixes to beat.”
Wiping beer foam from his mustache, Bryant nodded. “Steele did make short work of Pike.”
“Pike was a tinhorn,” Bet said, as he stood up. “My sister could’ve taken him six ways to Sunday.”
Bryant chuckled. “You can get away with saying a thing like that, Bet. I hear you’re mighty handy with the shooting irons yourself.”
“Ich bin das ich bin.”
“Heard palaver like that in Texas, ‘round Fredricksburg,” Bryant said. “What it mean, Bet?”
“It’s German,” Bet said. As he stood up and slipped his coat on, he explained, “It means ‘I am that I am’.”
“You going somewhere, Bet?” Grimes asked. “The boss will be in soon.”
“I believe I will get some fresh air before the evening’s festivities get under way, Lute,” Bet said as he finished off his drink. “I’m curious to see how the boys at the Pizen are taking this.”
“Mind if I tag along?” Bryant asked, pushing away from the bar. “I think I need to get some dinero down before the odds change.”
“Come on along, Cull,” Bet smiled. “There probably won’t be another shooting for at least an hour!”
The Pizen was doing brisk business, despite it being early afternoon. Several cowboys were bellied up to the bar, four of the eight tables were occupied and three men were trying their luck at faro.
Cole Farnum was at a table with Ace Dixon, Jed Wright and a drifting cowboy. Cole glanced up when Thayer and Bryant entered the saloon.
“Come to change your bet?” Farnum asked sarcastically.
“I am quite content with my wager,” Bet Thayer grinned. “I heard about that commotion earlier. It would appear as if Mr. Steele has lost nothing to Father Time.”
“He got lucky,” Ace Dixon snapped. “Nobody’s lucky forever.”
“Perhaps, Dixon,” Bet acknowledged. “Though, the way I heard it, Lorenzo Pike was waiting for Steele—gun in hand—and he still came off second best.”
Farnum leaned back in his chair and began rolling a smoke. “Pike was too anxious; he missed his first shot.”
“That is why Bat Masterson always said a man needed ‘deliberate haste’ when in a gunfight,” Bet said. “If you miss your first shot, it usually ends up being your last.”
Using his thumb to strike a wooden match, Farnum lit his cigarette. Looking over the flame, he said, “I seem to recall you and Steele being friendly back in Tombstone.” Farnum blew the match out. “You ain’t planning to back his play, are you, Thayer?”
“I seem to attract enough trouble without seeking more.” The gambler replied slyly, “Also, I recall that unfortunate occurrence in Pie Town.”
“See that you keep it in mind, Bet,” Farnum suggested. “I’d hate to have any misunderstanding arise between us.”
“As would I, Cole.”
Thayer and Bryant moved to the bar and ordered a couple of beers.
Ace Dixon watched them before turning his eyes to Farnum. “You make it sound like he’s good with a gun.”
“He is, Ace.”
Dixon took a swallow of beer, keeping his eyes on Thayer. “He don’t stack up to much.”
Farnum chuckled. “Now, where have I heard that before? Oh, yeah, that was the last thing Pike said when he left here. Don’t try him, Ace. Bet Thayer is greased lightning—and a dead shot.”
Ace snorted, “Hell, Cole, he’s just a gambler.”
“So was Doc Holliday.”
“He’s got his back to me,” Dixon said in a low voice. “I could plug him right now.”
“I doubt it, Ace.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Two reasons, Ace. One, Bet’s watching you in the mirror behind the bar.”
Dixon glanced over and realized Farnum was right. He was a little green around the gills when he spoke, “What’s the second reason, Cole?”
“I’d kill you if you tried to backshoot someone in my presence,” Farnum said. “One thing I can’t abide, Ace, is a coward.”
Dixon’s jaw dropped and he was shaking, he dared not make a retort.
Cole Farnum got up from the table and went down the narrow hallway to the left of the bar; one side was used as a storeroom and the other was Seth Gratton’s office.
Gratton was from New York City, where he had been mixed up with the Dead Rabbits street gang. He had started as a numbers runner at ten, became a strikebreaker when he was fifteen and by twenty-one controlled his own ward on the waterfront. He was big for his age and most thought him older than he was. He had made it higher and faster than most who came before him. He used intimidation, force and fear to get what he wanted. Gratton wasn’t one to just sit back and order murder and beatings done, he happily participated.
If he had one endearing quality it was his love for his mother. She took in washing to help the family survive after her husband ran off with another woman, leaving them destitute. A washerwoman didn’t earn much, so Edith Gratton often had “boarders” for overnight stays. One of the boarders was a man named O’Bannion, who introduced young Seth Gratton to the shady world of the street gangs. Seth ran numbers for the Dead Rabbits and began bringing home a few coins every week. He supplemented his income with burglaries and muggings. If his mother knew where his income was coming from, she never let on. Often, her son’s contribution to the family meant the difference between eating stale bread and going hungry.
Seth had a younger brother, but he didn’t really display any emotion toward his sibling. Niles Gratton was five years younger than his brother, and always seemed to be sickly. Secretly, Seth often wished his brother died, leaving one less mouth to feed.
Ma Gratton worked hard, but malnourishment, lack of medical care and her own frailty did her in. Seth was fourteen then. His criminal activity earned enough for the rent, but few luxuries. He taught his brother the art of breaking and entering and they worked as a team for a couple of years, until Niles was caught and sent to a prison work farm.
After that there was no one that loved Seth Gratton, and nobody he loved. One night, after leaving a tavern, Seth was approaching by a stumbling drunk looking for a handout. It was his father!
Pulling the old man into an alley, Seth hissed, “This is for Ma.” He beat his father to death with his bare hands.
He was like an animal, interested only in his own immediate gratification; it wasn’t long before he decided he should be running Tammany Hall. But, in his arrogance, he had also become careless. Gratton made a play for a woman that belonged to a high-ranking Tammany captain, and his brazen attempt earned him a severe beating from thugs who jumped him one night as he took a shortcut through an alley in his own ward.
In his rage, Gratton went bezerk; he knew the beating was intended as a warning, but he wouldn’t let it go. He paid the Tammany official’s lady friend an unexpected visit and administered a savage beating to her. With her eyes blackened, her nose broken and her lips swollen and bleeding, she admitted that she had set him up. He slit her throat and left her lying in a pool of her own blood.
But he knew his time in New York was up. A few nights later, with a gang of toughs hot on his heels, he hopped aboard a west-bound train.
“What is it, Cole?”
“I had a talk with Thayer, that gambler over at the Providence, and he’ll stay out of it.”
“Interesting,” Gratton nodded. “He’ll stay out of what exactly?”
Farnum pushed his hat back on his head. “Any trouble we have with Steele. He won’t back Steele’s play.”
“I see.” Gratton said. Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, he looked up. “What made you think Thayer might get involved?”
“Him and Steele were close a few years back. The story is that Steele pulled Thayer out of some kind of jam in Tombstone.”
“And you warned him off?”
“Sure thing,” Farnum said, clearly proud of himself. “I read him from the book and he looked plumb scared.”
“Good work, Cole.” Gratton fished a twenty dollar gold piece from his vest pocket and flipped it to the gunman. “Have yourself a good time, Cole.”
“Thanks,” Farnum grinned. “I’ll let the wolf howl tonight.”
“Damn you,” Gratton thought as the office door closed behind Farnum. “You don’t have the sense God gave a jaybird!”
Though he had never spoken to Bet Thayer, Gratton had seen him on the street and the gambler didn’t size up like a man that would scare easy. In fact, warning him off was likely to have the opposite effect. And Gratton knew about being warned off. Thayer would react the same way he had, only the gambler would use a gun.
The solution was obvious to Seth Gratton; Thayer had to be eliminated before he got a chance to throw in with the new marshal. But how? Bet Thayer was said to be very fast with a gun. He had Farnum, but Gratton wanted him close by in case he had to handle Steele quickly. Pike had been good with a gun, but not as good as he thought.
Then Gratton thought of Ace Dixon.
Gratton took a walk into the bar; the place was packed, as usual. Catching the bartender’s eye, Gratton motioned him over the end of the bar.
“Ace around, Skinny?”
“He went out, probably getting himself a woman,” Skinny Munroe suggested. “There’s that new gal over to Miss Clara’s place.”
Gratton was only half listening. His eyes narrowed and, following Gratton’s gaze, Skinny saw the new marshal crossing the room toward them.
Steele halted a few paces away from Gratton while keeping the bartender in view. “I understand Pike worked for you?”
“He did sporadic errands, Marshal. I wouldn’t say he worked for me though.”
“Was that one of his errands today?”
“I had nothing to do with that, Steele. I don’t pay for assassinations—”
Steele took a step back and turned to face the bartender. “That’s far enough, fat man! Bring your hands up where I can see them—and they better be empty!”
“Don’t be a fool, Skinny,” Gratton commanded. “Get over here where the marshal can keep an eye on you.”
Reluctantly, Skinny moved away from the bar.
“If I find out you sent Pike after me, I’ll be back, Gratton.”

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