'Edward Cornelius Denneker'

By Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, lovers in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, persuade a notorious gambler to leave town.

Note:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis.

Copyright:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author, and are wholly fictitious representations: the overall local geography may be questionable, too.

—O—

"What is it, Charlie? We got things ter do ter'day."

Sally hailing the Sheriff of Red Flume, Territory of Arizona, in her usual hearty manner as she and her sidekick, Henrietta Knappe, walked into his Main Street office on a sunny bright Tuesday morning.

"A passin' sir, or even a Mr, wouldn't go astray." Charles Donaldson striving to exude an air of injured dignity. "You both bein' duly elected Deputies, an' all. Anyway's, Denneker's in town so, go to it. Mind, if any gunplay breaks out I'm as like ter lock yer both up as accessories, as dam' all else."

"What?" From Sally, caught in a dense fog.

"Who's he?" From Henrietta, heading straight to the important point in the discussion.

"What? Ye both ain't never heerd o'Denneker? I'll be dam'med," Donaldson milking the situation for all it was worth. "where ye been all these years, in a convent or what?"

Henrietta, never having much in the way of patience at the best of times, gave the Sheriff a cold stare, raising one eyebrow significantly.

"Oh well," Donaldson taking the safe course. "he's a gambler, out'ta Tucson mostly, though he drifts aroun' now an' agin. He's got a repy-tation fer dealin' fair an' straight, meanwhiles bein' also mighty good—winnin' straight ninety times out'ta any hundred. He also packs a Derringer, a Colt forty-five, an' a Remington thirty-eight; mighty near enough fire-power t'down a chargin' elephant. So when argy'ments does break out they doesn't tend ter last long—the party o'the first part al'lus takin' the next train on the Heavenly Track, Pearly Gates first stop."

Henrietta and Sally exchanged glances.

"What yer want us t'do, Sheriff?" Henrietta shuffling where she stood, pretty much already knowing what his answer would be.

"He's over t'the Golden Pheasant, annoyin' the hell out'ta a long-term poker game as we speaks." Donaldson let his chair creak to its heart's content as he leaned back. "I don't like professional gamblers; they takin' citizens' hard-earned money without a thought o'the consy'kences. Right now he's as like as not ter win thet there poker game, walkin' away with hundreds, meb'be over a thousand, dollars. Thet there outcome rilin' me somethin' awful. So, as duly deputised depities, I hereby orders ye both ter go over there, beard the scum in his den, an' run him out'ta this here peaceable law-abidin' township jes' as fast as ye both finds convenient."

"Oh, thanks, Charlie."

"My pleasure, Sal."

"Nobody else available, ter do yer dirty work?" Henrietta being mean, as duty bound.

"Nope, Harry." Donaldson grinning widely. "An' you two bein' my best depities anyway, what've I got'ta lose?"

"Jeez."

"Grraah."

—O—

The 'Golden Pheasant' was one of those tweenies; that is, it held sway as a saloon of high quality, meanwhile having a first floor where private rooms were available for the wandering snake-oil salesman, farm accessory merchant, or simple traveler. There were no brazen girls in short skirts, no stage dancing or singing; in fact no entertainment of a live kind whatever—the customers being allowed to play faro, poker, whist, or other card-games to their heart's content, however.

At the moment, at a table beside one of the high windows looking out on Main Street, a poker game was in progress; it having been so since 11.00pm the previous night. There had been a break, around 3.00am. for refreshments and a short nap, but by 6.00am the game was up and running again. Colly Andrews, the Pheasant's owner, allowing of such because he knew a cut of the profits were coming his way at the games' end. Now it was 10.45am and the gamblers were just catching their second wind, Denneker dealing.

"Well, Frederick's, be ye in, or be ye out?"

"I'm in, there's twenty."

"An' ye, Thurston?"

"In,—twenty, too."

"Harperden?"

"Twenty."

"Uuh,—you, Collins?"

"I'm out, dam'mit."

"Been a fine time, a'playin' with ye, sir." Denneker all politeness, like an Eastern carpet-bagger. "Goodbye, sir; right, friends, here's my twenty, an' play re-commences."

Unbeknownst to the card-players Henrietta and Sally, both with their Deputy badges prominently displayed on their jacket lapels—they each wearing full mens' attire from shirts to blue cotton jeans and boots—had entered the wide long saloon room and drifted quietly over to stand by the table as play resumed.

"Hi'ya, Fredericks, ya got nuthin' better t'do than throw your money away, like this?" Sally coming out fighting from the first.

"Hey, Sal, gim'me a break." Fredericks' all the same looking some ashamed. "It's my own money, ain't it?"

"Yours, an' your wife's, anyway's." Henrietta stepping in with the killer punch. "How old's your third baby now? Six month? Fredericks, go home, an' feed yer family, fer God's sake. Have yer no shame, at all?"

Faced with what was in effect a fait accompli Fredericks looked even more ashamed, blushed around the heavy moustache he affected, glanced miserably at his fellow players, then took the right course.

"—er, got'ta go, pards, things ter attend to at home, y'knows. Mighty fine game, great pleasure playin' ye all—er, g'bye."

"Hold on." Henrietta grasped the man's arm as he turned from the table. "Figure this here's yours t'take with ya."

She leaned across the table, took fifty dollars from the pot in the centre then, towering over Denneker like a mountain about to create a huge landslide in his direction, she casually put a hand over the pile of dollar coins and notes in front of him and took another fifty from the total.

"This here, too. Now, go."

The other two players shuffled in their seats, waiting for the next act in the play, taking surreptitious glances in Denneker's direction as they did so.

"Right, boys; what'all's you lost over the course of this here game?" Sally stepping in with the next ploy in the new game in town. "Come on, ante-up, y'all."

"Two hundred an' twenty-five." From Thurston.

"Three hundred an' sixty." From Harperden.

"OK, boys, here's what happens—you all jes' lean, casual as yer likes, over the table, an' take back all'a what ye've lost, down ter the last red cent." Sally playing the big knock-off for all it was worth. "Don't take no thought o'Denneker, here; he ain't gon'na do anythin', 'cause if he so much as sneezes my partner here'll fill him so ful'la lead it'll take six men t'carry the resultin' corpse out'ta here an' across t'Doc Martin's mortuary. Go on, go ahead."

Two minutes later where there had previously been a thriving poker game only the table remained, with one person sitting in lonesome splendour thereat.

"Now, Denneker," Henrietta casually putting a heavy hand on the gambler's left shoulder. "There's some new rules we feels ye ough'ta be acquainted with, hereabouts in this township callin' itself Red Flume. First-off, we here are both duly elected Deputies, which means if we takes against ye, we can lawfully shoot yer—an' don't think we won't, 'cause, ye piece o'pigshit, we'll actilly take great pleasure in doin' so. Secondly—what's second, Sal?"

Sally, waiting for her prompt, took to the stage like a professional.

"Second's the fact that, from this mornin' on, poker, faro, whist, or any other card game whatsoever, is banned within the confines of Red Flume until future notice." Sally grinning like a coyote bumping into a deer round a blind corner. "Anyone participatin' in sich'll be fined five hundred dollars; anyone found fixin' or organising sich'll be fined a thousand dollars—an' any attempt ter slide out'ta payin' sich fines'll result in six month in the jug."

All during this diatribe the subject of these Draconian measures had remained quiet and immobile, staring at the remains of what had till recently been a fair-sized pot of money; but was now sadly depleted to only around $30 or so.

"Thirdly," Henrietta rejoining the fray, fresh as a daisy. "Red Flume don't like professional gamblers soaking its citizens; so, bearin' thet in mind, ye has two days ter vacate the premises, milieu, an' confines o'Red Flume entire, never ter return no'ways these twenty year or so. Got thet, sonny?"

Denneker, realising the tidal wave of invective had reached its natural conclusion, raised his left hand to readjust the rim of his hat; sighed softly then, very slowly, rose from his seated position to stand alongside his tormentors; he finally revealing himself as only an inch or so lower than Henrietta's imposing 6 foot 1 inches.

"Ye both has a mighty straightforward way o'statin' yer business, I got'ta give ye thet."

Sally, hands on hips revealing the two .38 Smith and Wesson revolvers in their waist-holsters, merely looked gently interested; Henrietta, with her own single .45 Colt on her right hip, seemed altogether disinterested in the conversation.

"Mighty well turned out, both o'ye." Denneker apparently for the first time becoming aware he was facing two serious opponents. "Figurin' ter use thet hardware in the near future, or what?"

Sally was up for this mild threat.

"Sonny, we've both met lots o' id'yeets o'your unnecessary calibre." She grinned in the man's face, no way put out. "As yer sees, we're both still here, but they isn't. What kind'a conclusion does yer take from thet moral tale?"

The pause which followed as Denneker, one supposes, went over his options, was as cold as the North Pole on a Winter's night. Then, looking mean as a rattler with a headache, he turned silently and made for the street door, never looking back as he went. There was a clatter as the two swing panels rocked back and forth, then silence in the long room.

"Well, thet went better than I expected." Sally sighing in relief. "Thought, fer sure, we was gon'na have t'resort t'fisticuffs."

"Ha, not now, seemingly; but later, who knows?" Henrietta hedging her bets like a gambler herself. "Come on, lets go tell Donaldson what the first act was all about; then we can go over t'the Red Checker' restaw-ran' an' get us some bacon an' beans."

"I'm with ye there, lover. You payin', or what?"

"Jeez."

—O—

The great thing about having both a reputation and a lengthy experience in facing-off, meeting, catching-up with, or generally coming into contact with rustlers, bank-robbers, thieves, discontents, and roughnecks of all sorts is it gives you, when threatened, an eighth sense; a sense of impending peril in the not distant future. Now, at 10 o'clock on a dark night along Fraimes Street Sally, Henrietta being back at their hotel room sorting some personal things out, suddenly became aware of a tingling on the back of her neck, accompanied by an icy flush as of cold water running down her spine.

Wholly cognisant of what this predicted she stopped merely walking along the empty street and instead began stalking, as if after a deer or bear. She stepped to the inner side of the covered sidewalk, taking advantage of the heavier shadow there; also placing her boots more carefully, quieting her pacing to near silence. At the same time she took stock of what was ahead as well as behind her on either side of the street. It being dark she disdained peering at the roofs as she went on, knowing any ambusher would stay near ground level for a quick getaway rather than be trapped up on a roof at night.

Fraimes Street was a connecting byway between Main and Acton, so saw little activity this late at night. Sally, convinced any threat did not lie to her rear, concentrated on what lay ahead. The street was relatively narrow, which meant a shot from the opposite side could easily reach her, but the shootist would be wholly visible whilst doing so. Frowning, Sally carried slowly on, before noticing the dark pool where a narrow lane divulged on the street some thirty yards ahead on the far side of the street from her; it being hardly more than a passage between opposing rows of houses.

She rucked the bottom of her loose jacket back, exposing her holstered Smith and Wesson .38's, meanwhile carrying on her forward march, now with both eyes firmly fixed on this bushwhacker's prime position. Another ten yards along she saw the faintest flicker of movement in the dark at the edge of the alley. Moving on, as if unsuspecting of the trap, she nevertheless swept the area with the keenness of an eagle after its prey.

Suddenly there was a definite movement, moonlight gleaming faintly on metal; but before the attacker could fire-off his weapon Sally had stepped out to the edge of the sidewalk, whipped both revolvers out and up, and let fly with a fusillade of shots.

Bang-Bang-Bang

Bang-Bang

Bang-Bang—Bang-Bang

Bang

Bang—Bang

In the dark quiet of the late night the sound echoed from buildings all round, sounding like the Knell of Doom extended indefinitely. Sally saw some of her shots ricocheting from the wood sides of the building on the edge of the alley, but more missed this barricade; there was a muffled ejaculation, some low groans, then a form parted from the safety of the alley's darkness and fell sprawling on the dusty street, limbs writhing in agony.

Sally paused to glance up and down the street; also to see if the shooter was accompanied by some partner who might well still be in a position to take a shot at her—she being in no hurry whatever to approach the injured person who had attempted to gun her down.

Time passed and no further movement or sound came from the dark shadows where the alley exit stood. Moving cautiously, quietly, and slowly, Sally paced forward on her side of the street, still keeping to the inside where the darkest shadow lay for her protection. Finally she was level with the alley on the opposite side of the street; the form of the man who had attempted to ambush her now lying still, as if a pile of old clothes had been left hugger-mugger in the dirt. She could see some distance down the alley now, and noted no movement there. Taking another glance both ways before making her move Sally darted across the street with the swiftness of a startled deer, fetching up tight against the wooden side of the near building. She allowed another couple of minutes to pass before stepping, again very cautiously, towards the alley exit and the body. A pause to examine the body as well as she could, still from several feet away, a quick glance round the corner of the building along the alley, and another glance down the street, finally convincing her the danger was over, for the time being, anyway. Just as she stepped forward to bend over her inert victim she glanced up, hearing running footsteps and loud voices from the direction of Main Street as official help came to her succor.

—O—

"Jee-sus Chr-st, Sal, are ye alright?"

Henrietta, hearing the gunfire in the hotel room she shared with her partner, had run into the street promiscuously, taking a somewhat wild guess as to the direction the sound had come from. Sadly she took the wrong side-street, missing the aftermath of the gunfight entirely, only finally coming on the group of miscellaneous people, including her lover, as they returned to Sheriff Donaldson's office.

"Yeah, I'm fine; the b-st-rd didn't have time t'get off a shot, thank Chr-st."

"On the other hand ye did pretty well, thet way's, Sal." Donaldson grunting as he sat in his chair behind the low desk. "Take a pew, the both o'ye; Barker tells me from his quick examination ye seem t'have put down a mighty fine spread o'fire, young 'un. Four hit the left building corner, four went wild t'the right, hitting the opposite building, an' four, we must presume till Doc Masters gives us his official report, did fer the intended assassin."

"Dead, is he? Was it—?"

"As mutton, Harry." Donaldson nodding solemnly. "Took a quick glance at him, myself, an' no, it weren't Denneker; I recognised the rat straight off—one Pat O'Hagan, a low-down thief an' dead-beat o' no known worth whatever."

"Deader than ever, now." Sally putting in her two-cents worth. "Say, Charlie, ya still got thet bottle o'Red Eye ya keeps in thet ammo drawer over there? Not thet I'm askin', but I wouldn't mind bein' offered a noseful, jes' fer friendship's sake, y'know."

Suiting the action to the request Donaldson rose, stepped over to the far side of the office where the large piece of furniture housing a variety of rifles, shotguns, pistols and other odds and ends stood. Opening the top drawer under the rack of weaponry he produced the needed bottle, along with three glasses and, within two more minutes, all concerned felt much happier, relaxed, and at one with the world as it presently stood.

"Why'd he want ter pepper Sal, here?" Henrietta letting her thoughts settle on the important point encompassing them all. "I mean, what connection did he have with her?"

"We may know more when Barker finishes takin' the remains over ter the Doc's." Donaldson shrugged as he replaced his empty glass on the desk. "He'll have taken note o'the possessions the victim had on him; might get a clue thetaway's, meb'be."

Just as the sheriff finished speaking the office door opened to reveal the person in question; Ronald Barker, Donaldson's long-standing full-time Deputy, was in his late 20's, relatively short but active and with a clear sharp eye and friendly nature. He carried in his hand a loose cotton bag clearly holding a variety of items; this he deposited on the Sheriff's desk as he came forward.

"Want a slug, Ron? We all here already havin' indulged our grosser natur's ye may as well jine the pack. Here ye be; don't knock it back in one, ye bein' a youngster, an' all."

Having given the Deputy the shortest possible moment to refresh himself Henrietta could contain her curiosity no longer.

"What'd ye find, Ron? Did the dead-beat have anythin' on him o'interest?"

In reply Barker dove a hand into the depths of the bag, spreading the items revealed out on the desk-top as he fished them back into the lantern-light of the office.

"This here Colt point thirty-two, ma'am." He cataloguing each item as he placed it on the desk. "Fully loaded, but no shots fired. A pack o'dirty oily cards; a rag probably used as a handkerchief; a letter from someone called Molly Stubbins, over t'Phoenix, dated two month since, apparently simply personal; an' a roll of dollar notes amountin' ter fifty in all."

"Ah-ha, dirty goin's-on at the crossin'." Henrietta waxing some over-lyrical through excitement, just past fear, and anger at missing shooting the b-st-rd herself. "Smacks clear of bloody Denneker, if'n ye asks me."

"Would I be playin' my cards too out in the open if'n I said anythin'd smack o'Denneker t'ye both, present circumstances bein' what they undoubtedly is?" Donaldson coming it the cracker-barrel philosopher, with some reason.

Sally had, up to this point, been sitting back on her chair sipping the whisky in her glass; now she leant forward, rejoining the conversation to some effect.

"This O'Hagan character's a good-fer-nuthin' loser, who could hardly tie his bootlaces without help." She sounding some put-out about the whole late scenario. "He sneaks through the shadows, intendin' ter shoot me like a raccoon, when he probably hasn't any real experience with firearms at all. And, to boot, he's swannin' along, the whiles, with a fifty dollar wad in his pocket, burnin' a hole in his filthy breeches? Nah, I don't see any other answer but someone put him up to this past ambush. And thet there someone we don't need ter look far ter figure their identity."

"G-d'd-m Denneker."

"Who's ter say, Harry?" Donaldson coming it the lawyer on this point. "Perhaps same seems clear as daylight ter all us here, presently; but what the Courts'll want is evidence—cold hard evidence. You got same, Sal, Harry, Ron?"

A quiet pause settled on the office, as everyone searched their memories for some fact, even of the slightest, that would answer their problem.

"F-ck it." Henrietta coming up against a brick wall in her lucubrations.

"There ye be." Donaldson shaking his head despondently. "We knows he's probably responsible; he probable knows we know same; but there ain't the least dam' thing we can do, not havin' anythin' tyin' him t'O'Hagan, straight-out."

"So, what d'we do, Sheriff?" Sally raising her eyebrows in a significant manner at the man across the desk from her.

"We stays put till t'morrow mornin'; then I , accompanied by your brave selves, goes ter beard Denneker in his nasty den an' informs same thet, Rules, Laws, or plain Good Manners notwithstandin', we means ter see his g-d'd-m butt hightailin' it out'ta Red Flume a'fore the sun reaches noon."

Another pause resounded through the office while the two women considered this policy.

"Works fer me, Charlie." Sally finally nodding her approval. "Always allowin' thet, if he so much as looks at me with scorn, contempt, or any other dispoliteness, I got free range ter make him in'ta a colander via my thirty-eights?"

"Well—"

"I backs my partner wholesale an' without any chance o'refunds, whatever, Charlie." Henrietta reaching over to grasp the hand of her paramour which providentially didn't, at the moment, hold a whisky glass. "What Sal does, I backs without hesitation, all ways, whichever—an' thet's dam' true."

"Uu-urrgh." Donaldson accepting his defeat yet again from the wily women.

—O—

Dawn broke, the next morning, at its usual unseemly hour, wholly unconsidered by the citizens of Red Flume who were never early risers. In fact it was pushing 9.00am before the trio of law officers, comprising Sheriff Donaldson, Henrietta, and Sally, hove up at the main entrance to the Clark Hotel on Simister Street.

"So, this's where the scumbag resides, eh?"

The Hotel was two-storey's high, a wide exterior roofed balcony itself serving as roof to the sidewalk beneath giving residents the option of sitting out in the fresh air, if and when required. Inside the wide lobby all was quiet, the only inmate being the clerk behind the counter on the left side.

"Hopkins, is he here?"

"He? er, thet'd be—"

"Come, come, Hopkins, don't dally with me." Donaldson becoming crotchety straight-off. "Is he?"

"Yeah, up in room thirty-nine." The clerk, a youngish forty something, looking more than a little frightened. "Ye ain't gon'na—"

"If we does, young 'un, it'll all be strictly above board an' accordin' t'Hoyle; so jes' crouch down below yer counter, an' hope fer peacable times ter come's my advice. You ready, gals?"

"Rarin' fer it, Charlie." Sally, still mindful of her close call the evening before.

"Loaded my forty-five with dum-dums; jes', y'know, ter let him enjoy the experience o'dyin' in agony all the more—me bein' in thet there state o'mind, an' all." Henrietta, harbouring dire desires against the man responsible for her partner's near death experience.

"Jee-sus." From the clerk, who immediately disappeared below his counter, as requested.

"Am I butting-in, or are ye all visitin' me?"

At the head of the stair leading to the upper storey Denneker stood in solitary grandeur, like a British Duke in his country seat.

"So, ye're here?"

"The fact appears to answer for itself, ma'am." Denneker giving Henrietta a cool look, as if she were nothing more than the hotel's under-skivvy.

"Denneker, ya bum—"

"Denneker, O'Hagan's dead; send a dead-beat drunkard t'face-off an experienced shootist an' what can ye expec'." Donaldson cutting-off Sally in hopes of averting a straight gunfight there and then. "What we're here fer is ter understand jes' what part ye yersel' played in said attempted assassination. Well?"

"What can I say, Sheriff? The whole tragedy's a shock to me." Denneker playing the innocent worthy for all it would stand, and then some. "I'm shocked at the state of this here township, allowin' of shootists of the calibre of Miss Nichols here, t'roam the streets lookin' fer victims every which way. Ain't ye got any control o'this town at all, Sheriff?"

This shot hit home, Donaldson never liking criticism of his wholly straight attitude to his job.

"Miss Nichols, an' Miss Knappe here, are both duly appointed Deputies." He parted his lips preparatory to sneering coldly. "Miss Nichols was within her rights ter shoot the sun'na'va b-tch, tryin' ter plug her from the shadows.—"

"Pity it weren't you, Denneker." Sally losing her patience altogether. "But no, you bein' the coward everyone in town knows yer t'be, o'course ye'd send a drunk no-good loser ter do yer dirty work—ye bein' far too scared yersel'. Come on down, right now; let's stand in the street, here, an' see what the outcome'll be, face t'face, man ter woman? Or are ye too much of a coward ter take the invite?"

For an appreciable period of time, indeed stretching out to such a length it came close to becoming an epoch in its own right, Denneker stood contemplating the group in the lobby below. Then, still slowly, he turned to retrace his steps to his room, ignoring Sally's offer.

"Denneker. Listen up, there."

Donaldson, when he so wished, had an authoritarian tone that could stop a railroad train in its tracks; the gambler halted, back still to his visitors but plainly listening all the same.

"This's how things is goin' down this mornin', Denneker." Donaldson more relaxed now the time had arrived to deliver the message and instructions he had come to convey. "Your time here in Red Flume has reached its nadir, gambler man; the only reason I ain't runnin' ye in right now, fer attempted murder, is 'cause of the lack o'hard evidence; but what I can do, without warrant an' wholly on my own cognisance as Sheriff of these here parts, is run ye out'ta town as a person ill-suited ter the wholesome upright an' moral tone o'the community. This prognostication I hereby delivers ter ye. Ya got till midday ter up stakes an' head out—whether Yellow Dog way, Tucson, or Phoenix, no-one gives a dam'; only, at one minute past midday, I an' my associates here will be standin' outside this here establishment ready ter fill ya ful'la holes if'n ye so much as spits in the street a'fore saddlin' up an' ridin' out. You got me, Denneker?"

There was another short pause after Donaldson had finished; then Denneker, without saying a word in reply, walked away along the upper corridor out of sight of those below.

"Well, thet told the piece o'sh-t." Sally sounding much more pleased with the world around her.

"Reckon ya gave him a sound tellin'-off there, lady—an' you, Charlie." Henrietta reaching out to rest her hand on her partner's shoulder.

"Hu-um, better look ter yer pieces, is my advice." Donaldson taking the rational view of the near future. "He, bein' the mean-minded sneakin' side-winder he is, has probably got some cards up his greasy sleeve yet, a'ways."

"Uum."

"Hmmm."

—O—

The trouble with it already being well past 9.00am, and a deadline set unalterably for midday, is that all clocks and watches started ticking much more loudly and faster than either Henrietta, Sally, or Donaldson had thought possible.

"How far off's High Noon?" Sally putting this query out as they walked back along Main Street to Donaldson's office.

"Less'n three hour—in fac', about two hours forty minutes, goin' by my half hunter—dam' it's ticking dam' fast, meb'be something wrong in its innards."

"Never gone wrong a'fore, Harry." Sally scotching this feeble excuse at birth. "Reckon we're all gettin' jes' a mite nervous, what with one thing an' another. You been in amongst much close gunplay a'fore, Charlie?"

"Three." Donaldson pursed his lips as he recalled each to mind. "First, I got scraped by a bullet on my arm, but my Depity took the rascal out with a shotgun loaded with sixteen bore pellets an' some assorted scrap iron—God, what a mess, took my mind clean off my own discomfort fer the rest o'the day. Second, we missed each other promiscus', an' final resorted t'fisticuffs, in which I came out top man. Third, by this time havin' practiced somethin' awful with my piece aforehand, I got my man square in the face—went down like a poleaxed steer; though, by rights, I was aimin' at his dam' waist-belt. Thet brings my history of gunplay up ter date, leddies. How's about ye two? Here, leddies takin' precedence, step in my office as ye go, me bein' the gentleman I is."

Once settled on the hard chairs in his office Henrietta and Sally contemplated their old friend quietly, before launching out on their own individual histories of gunplay.

"I've shot several rustlers an' gunmen, an' downright dead-beats over the years," Henrietta stroked her chin with a long finger as she mused on her personal memories. "but, stand-off's in the street, meb'be only the one, if'n ye're thinkin' along classical lines, anyhow."

"Tom Cindry?" Sally already knowing some details of this incident.

"Cindry? Ye were the one who downed that dam' miserable swine? Well, I never knew." Donaldson impressed as all get-out.

"Yep, thet was me, right enough." Henrietta looked as if she might blush, before recalling she never indulged in such. "Y'remember he was a tall slim hard kind'a guy. Cold as ice from head ter toe—shoot a baby in its cradle as like as not jes' 'cause its mother looked at him the wrong way, passin' in the street."

"Heerd he was cracked as a ice lake in the Spring." Donaldson nodding in acknowledgement.

"You ain't wrong there, Charlie." Henrietta tightening her lips in something only approximately close to a smile. "Anyway's we met in Counter Avenue, Tucson, some seven year since. It'd been arranged, so the whole street was empty, only the two o' us. 'Mighty pretty,' sez he, meaning ter be jes' as mean an' sassy as he felt necessary. 'How's about we calls this here confrontation off, goes ter drinkin' in the Green Fandango, then takes a room fer the night, t'gether; me bein' mighty worked up thet-away, lady.' 'Haul yer piece, ye sun'na'va b-tch,' sez I. He takes me at my word, our pistols rent the quiet air o'Tucson like fire-crackers on the Fourth o' July, an' when the dust an' smoke cleared there he lay, no longer alive, courtesy o' eight o' the ten bullets I got off at him."

"Mighty fine shootin'." Donaldson even more impressed than before.

"Oh, he talked loud, but had a dam' awful aim, none o' his came anywhere close ter me, thank Chr-st."

"An' you, Sal?"

Sally had been smiling broadly at this story of her lover's prowess; now she shrugged her shoulders, settling more comfortably,.

"Lem'me see, gunfights?" She carried on smiling so cheerily Henrietta looked at her intently, having a suspicion of what was coming. "Well, meb'be I should list 'em all in their indeevidual categories? There's those where only one opponent an' I took umbrage at each other; say, five, or six times. There's them as two or three bad men decided to face me; oh, four, five times. Then there's those times a whole passel o' morons together took it on their shoulders t'send me t'the Happy Huntin' Grounds by special invite; oh, another five, six o' they stand-offs."

"Sal?"

"Yeah, lover?"

"Sal?"

"What? I heerd ye the first time."

"Sal?"

"Jee-sus, woman, say yer piece a'fore I loses my temper; most o' which is already lost, anyways. What?"

"Ye remember thet time, three month since, when we was discussin' jes' this sort'a thing?" Henrietta surveying her protégé with a sad mien. "When I told ye there was a difference a'tween tellin' people the truth, tellin' 'em a quiet story whose details might not rest on very solid foundations, an' straight-out lying through yer teeth, like a Yankee carpet-bagger? Yer doin' it now, leddy, jes' fer yer information."

Sally sat back on her chair, glared daggers at the woman she loved most in all the world, then sighed deeply.

"OK, OK, cain't a gal get off a few good 'uns, jes' amongst friends, by way o' friendly conversation, anymore?" She glanced at Donaldson with an air of injured innocence. "How many shoot-outs've I bin in, ye asks?"

"Thet there bein' the point under discussion, yeah." Donaldson clearly having trouble suppressing a smile on his own account; he having heard lies of every shade and tone in his career.

"Well, ter tell the honest truth thet account o' trouble an' tribulation amounts, up ter the present moment, t'exactly none whatever—I liking ter knock my prey down at a distance, ye see—the same bein' much more healthy in the long run."

This confession taking the breath away from her two listeners Sally had all the time she needed to regain a semblance of her usual feisty attitude.

"What? Did ye think I was out ter put mysel' up as a rival ter Calamity Jane, or Belle Starr, or what?" She made a rude noise between her lips. "All I've ever wanted is ter live a quiet peaceable life, without ornery critturs gettin' in my face. Is thet too much of a ambition, or what?"

"Jee-sus, jes' under two hours, now." Henrietta consulting her silver watch again. "So, what's the line-up presently, Charlie? Us two professionals, an' this here young amateur. What're our chances against Denneker now, I wonders?"

"Harry?"

"Yeah, dearest?"

"Harry?"

"Oh, God! What, lover? An' don't look at me like thet, it makin' me some anxious."

"So it dam' well should, leddy." Sally obviously having now lost all remaining grip on her temperament entirely. "You've seen me shoot numberless dirt-bags a'fore; Charlie, ye've been present when I've sent multitudes—alright, three or four,—no-good losers ter the next level o' existence. You both know how good I is with my Smith an' Wessons, as well as my Sharps. Gim'me a break."

Henrietta looked at Donaldson, who returned the compliment in kind, before facing Sally once more.

"OK, youngster, you're in; but only on probation, ye unner'stan's."

"Har, id'yeets, the both o' ye." Sally, miffed as anything.

—O—

"Was it quite a good idee, ter give Denneker al'la this time ter figure out some devious way out'ta this here up-comin' confrontation?" Sally musing on this problem as the four upholders of the law tramped along Main Street, heading once again for Simister Street. "I mean, behind our backs he might'a corralled an army o'other dead-beats an' roustabouts behind him?"

"Bit late t'think on thet subjec', considerin' he's a'waitin' us round this here next corner." Henrietta taking the harsh but logical tone about this. "Got your pistols ship-shape, everyone?"

Donaldson led the way along the wide street; he carrying a carbine as well as his famous Savage single-fire six-shot. Beside him Ronald Barker, looking mighty nervous but ready for the coming fray, held a long-barreled Winchester as well as a Forehand short-barreled 5-shot revolver. Henrietta, forsaking her usual Henry rifle, was armed with a pair of Colt .45's; while Sally had her two Smith and Wesson .38's in her waist holsters.

"What's the plan, Charlie?" Sally always wanting to be clear on this topic before engaging in any activity requiring forethought and preparations.

"I'm thinkin' Ron can go over t'the far sidewalk, an' keep up with us as we goes." Donaldson having thought this all out beforehand. "You two leddies can mosey along the right-hand sidewalk when we rounds in'ta Simister; while I takes station out in the middle o'the street. Thet coverin' every angle, I supposes."

"What about bush-whackers?" Henrietta taking note of likely scenarios and outcomes.

"Waal, jes' keep yer eyes peeled at all times. Go careful, go slow, an' if anyone makes a wrong move, let 'em have it." Donaldson showing he had been in more situations of this nature than he had possibly earlier owned to. "Everybody with any sense should be off the street, anyway; so whoever ye do mark they, more'n likely, has dubious plans about us all."

The quartet slowed to an eventual halt as the corner of Main Street and Simister came up on their left. Donaldson stopped, glanced at his companions, then gave out final instructions.

"What we-all wants is fer this ter come t'a happy conclusion—Denneker salutin' us as he rides off in'ta the sunset, a broken man morally speakin' but still in one piece, never t'return." The Sheriff turned to spit in the dust at his feet. "How's so-ever, thet ain't likely ter be the case. Ron, ye stay on this, left, side; Harry, Sal, head on over t'the far sidewalk; I'll jes' mosey along the middle o'the street here, like as if I owned the place—which ain't thet far from the truth. OK, let's go. An' remember, if any shootin' starts, from any direction, thet's the signal ter open up unreservedly, most particularly on Denneker, whatever he may be doin'. Got thet? OK, here we is; best o'luck."

As they headed down Simister Street it became instantly apparent that news of the impending confrontation had circulated widely; no-one was visible on the sidewalks on either hand; a Sunday-like hush lay over the whole area, and no buggy traffic rattled over the dusty dirt surface of the thoroughfare from end to end. Outside the front of the Clark Hotel a single horse stood tied to the rail there. The four law-makers kept on their way, striding slowly but purposefully, keeping an eye on every corner, nook, or doorway as they came up to each. Then things began to take off.

"Hi, Rogers? Ye out fer a constitutinal, or what?" Ron shouting this as he stopped in his tracks to observe someone leaning against the corner of a small alley on his side. "I knows ye, man—Simon Rogers, ye fool. D'ye think thet there child's toy yer holdin' down by yer side' has any chance against my Forehand Bulldog? Go on, ye id-yeet, skip town, while ye still can."

Donaldson, Henrietta, and Sally had all paused, hands on the butts of their own weapon's; but the shadowy form of Ron's interlocutor stood up from his slouch against the wall, hesitated a few seconds, finally dropped the weapon he had been holding so surreptitiously in the dust at his boots then turned, trotting off down the alley as if a full posse was on his trail.

"One gone home, Sheriff." Ron reporting the good news to everyone, as the four started walking forward again.

A few seconds later it was Sally's turn.

"Hey, you up on the roof, there—I see's ye." Suiting her words to action she had already drawn both her revolvers and pointed them high as she and Henrietta came to a section of the sidewalk without an over-arching sloping roof, so allowing sight of the roofline of the encroaching building ahead on their right. "I sees ye; thet plank partition ye're usin' as cover won't stop my thirty-eights. Ye might get-off one shot, but I'll empty both barrels, ye b-st-rd. Well, what's it ter be?"

A short silence ensued as the second bush-whacker debated whether to live or die; finally, he made his mind up. There was a clatter as his weapon fell two storeys to the sidewalk, then everyone saw the dark form of the man as he rose to his feet and beat a hasty retreat towards the back of the building's roof where, no doubt, a stair or ladder would allow him to complete his retreat from battle.

Another few yards along the street the four came to a halt again, this time as Donaldson himself regarded something to his right; he stopping in the middle of the deserted street and pulling his mighty Savage revolver to point it at his prey.

"Hey, ye aimin' ter sit on thet there barrel all day, or what?" Donaldson's voice was calm and full of authority. "Say, ain't ye Reg Tilley? Yeah, ye is, by dam'. An' is thet a bloody rifle ye're tryin' t'hide by yer right hand? It dam' well is, by God. Well, Reg, what'll it be? Ye can die in the dust here fer, what's Denneker paid ye, twenty dollars or so? Or ye can drop yer piece, siddle along the street, saddle up, an' high-tail it out'ta Red Flume ferever. Ye got till I counts ter fifteen in my head, startin' now,—one–two—"

Another pause, another weapon clattering in the dust, another proto-bushwhacker realising the effort wasn't worth the pay, and he too was gone.

Seconds later Donaldson in the street, Ron on the far sidewalk, and Henrietta and Sally hauled up in front of the main entrance to Clarks Hotel, its door closed as if permanently shut to customers.

"See any sign o'activitee, leddies?" Donaldson shouting this request from out in the street.

The women took another few steps to stand close to the entrance, looking through the glass tops inset in the frame of the double-door.

"Nah—no, wait a minute—yeah, someone's come down the stair an' headin' fer us." Henrietta touched her partner's side with her elbow. "Haul off a piece, an' let's see what's in the wind."

She and Sally stepped off the sidewalk, moving over to join Donaldson in the centre of the empty street; while Ron, staying on the far sidewalk, came up until the door on the far side was even with his position. Another pause made its invisible way along the street, creating little whirls of dust as it went, then the hotel door opened and a form appeared, standing in the entrance examining the view.

"Waal, so much fer salaried workers." Denneker seemed wholly at ease, though he ostentatiously now wore two revolvers at his slim waist. "Once on a day, ye paid a man, an' received fair reward an' service fer yer outlay; now, it seems, people looks on a fair return fer a fair wage as merely o'no account whatever. Waal, Sheriff, I've played my cards, an' am out some eighty dollars as a result—what're ye an' yer minions contemplatin' doin' now, I'd like ter know?"

Donaldson stayed where he was, as Henrietta took some paces off to his right, Sally doing the same on his other side; so the three now stood some distance apart from each other—and, as a result, giving Denneker a wide angle of fire he couldn't possibly cover entire in one sweep; not with four opponents only some twenty yards away.

"Ye're in a spot, I allows thet fer sure." Donaldson's tone still calm and controlled. "Curiously no-one, up ter this here point, ain't done nuthin' thet can be said ter break the law. Yer three bushwhackers has up an' abandoned ship entire, without leavin' forwardin' addresses of any deescription. What I'm sayin, Denneker, is ye're on yer own—no-one left but yersel'. How d'ya mean ter play the ensuin' two minutes, then?"

For answer Denneker quietly strode to the edge of the sidewalk, where he stood still as a statue again, contemplating the four wide-spread opponents across the street from him.

"Denneker," Henrietta now entering the conversation. "Ye can see clear how we' here is armed. We got rifles, carbines, an' pistols o'every dam' variety made. An' there's four o'us, t'your one. There's only one outcome gon'na be the result o'gunplay here—you lyin' dead in the dust right here, right now."

Denneker, while listening, had raised his hand slowly to his hat, tipping the rim further upwards above his eyes as he watched Henrietta with no discernible expression; Sally taking this opportunity to slide into the discussion.

"Two routes, Denneker," She shrugged comfortably, pulling the sides of her short jacket back to reveal her revolvers. "One, ye gets astride yer mount, there, an' brushes the dust o'Red Flume off yer shoulders fer all time ter come; or, ye pulls yer weapon, an' we all goes ter fightin', some pugnacious—there bein' only one viable result ter thet there policy. Take yer pick, Denneker; we all's here, all four o'us, is easy on the matter."

On the far side of the street, all by himself, Ron gently jiggled the stock of his rifle as he held it in his right hand, ready for any action. Henrietta's left hand hovered over her pistol, she always choosing to draw that one first in any gunfight. Donaldson still kept his powerful Savage revolver ready; even though it was famously a single-fire weapon he had so much experience with it he could fire off all its six shots in something under four seconds. Sally, being well-known as a dead-shot with her own pistols, just kept her hands and fingers resting gently on her wide leather waist-belt, ready for anything—she having the reputation of being faster, in action, than a striking rattlesnake.

Then the tension broke.

Denneker, walking with an idle grace and swagger as if he were still King of the Town, turned to his mount, untied the reins, slipped up into the saddle with a smooth elegance, then turned its head and rode, still quietly and slowly, out along Simister Street in the direction of the trail to Yellow Dog. All four law-makers stood watching till he was out of sight before coming together in a still wordless group in the dust of the now wholly empty street.

"Let's head back t'the Office—it's all over, folks." Donaldson saying this with a gentle sigh, echoed by his friends.

—O—

"Well, thet went down better'n I ever hoped." Sally, sitting on a chair in Donaldson's office, cradling a glass of whisky in her left hand, looked at her companions with a small grin. "Could'a been worse, I expec's."

"Could'a been a dam' sight worse." Henrietta, similarly placed as her partner, took a deep gulp of her own drink. "Three bushwhackers, all accounted fer without bloodshed; thet's somethin' I ain't never seen a'fore."

"Yep," Donaldson, sitting behind his desk imbibing with his friends, nodded almost sleepily. "Thet was a good round-up o'thet stray rustler, Ron; ye did good ter scare him out'ta his intended course."

"Yeah, think it might'a had some effect on the other two, as well." Sally looking to her paramour as she spoke. "They both heard it, an' saw the outcome, so probably thought discretion on their part in the long run was also the better part o',—o', what the hell's thet word, agin'—?"

"Valor, leddy, valor." Henrietta jumping in to save her partner at the breach, not for the first time.

"Valor, yeah, valor—I knew thet, so I did. Anyways," Sally's mind coming round to work on a subject close to her heart. "What about the reward? How much is it, an' how're we gon'na split it? Only askin'?"

Henrietta sighed sorrowfully, well knowing her lover's mind and how it operated; when it could be said to be doing so in any meaningful manner at all, anyway. Ron kept a discreet Deputy Sheriff's silence, while Donaldson, on top of his game, had the answer at his fingertips.

"Sal,—ye want a refill, by the way? Ye meb'be needin' same." He pouring a solid slug of the amber liquid into Sally's glass before resuming. "What it boils down to is—we here is all employed by the Town, as its duly appointed servants ter see thet law an' order is kept fresh on the table an' on the streets o'this here community, wholesale an' with no strings attached.—"

"Charlie, what the hell're ye tryin' ter tell us?" Sally's famed lack of patience coming to the fore in all its whisky-stoked glory.

"Put shortly," Donaldson shrugging his wide shoulders firmly where he sat. "we get paid monthly by the community; no downright crimes have taken place; an' no-one's thereby had any reward notices published under their names. Simply, ye've got yer usual Depities' salary comin' ter ye at the end o'the month, an' not a dam' red cent more. Get used ter it, is all."

Yet another pause whimpered its short existence away in the tight confines of the small office before Sally could muster the moral strength to reply—but eventually she did.

"F-ck it, all fer nuthin'."

The End

—O—

Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.