APRIL, 1887 -
"Whoa, Smoke," Daniel Thorn said, pulling gently on the reigns. He gazed out on the land before him. This part of Arizona wasn't all sandy desert, but there still wasn't much. A mud hole of a river snaked across the rocky sand, dotted with a few shrubs and gnarled trees on the banks. Mountains and smooth buttes were visible on the horizon in the orange morning sun. And a mile down the creek was a town, as dusty and rugged as the Mojave Desert. It wasn't a big town, but it was larger than some of the ghosted boom towns Thorn had seen before. It looked unremarkable, all in all. But there was something to interest Daniel: a job. Thorn spurred his gray-haired mare onward.
The swing doors of Gaver's Cantina creaked open and in walked a tall man with a gray hat. The bar, the largest in town, was sparsely populated, not unusual for being early as it was. Only Jim Dillard sat at the counter, a glass of cheap whiskey in his hand. Tom Gaver sat behind the counter cleaning glasses. The tall man's spurs clinked against the roughshod wooden floor as he walked. He pulled up a stool to Jim's right. Jim hardly noticed, concerned mostly with his drink. "Water," the man said hoarsely. Tom nodded and went to a barrel. Jim turned.
"Ain't seen you before," Jim said as friendly as he could.
The man nodded. "First time here." Jim looked him over. The butt of a pistol was visible on his right side, and what looked like a shotgun was slung in a pouch on his back. Tom placed a glass of brown water before him. The man picked it up with a gloved hand and tossed it back like a shot.
Jim raised his glass to his lips. "And what brings you to Purgatory, Mister..."
"Thorn," he rasped. "Dan Thorn. And I'm here for you."
Jim paused and lowered his glass. "'Scuse me?"
Thorn turned. "You Jim Dillard, right?" Jim gave a short nod. There was no sense in denying it; the man clearly knew who he was. "You're wanted in Texas for murder. I'm gonna bring you in."
Jim's eyes narrowed. "Now hold on," he said, trying to stay calm. "Maybe we can work somethin' out. I got plenty o' money here."
Thorn shook his head. "Your bounty's higher anything you got. Fact, you'd be dead right now if you wasn't worth more alive than not."
Jim opened his mouth to reply, but was cut short by the sound of the door opening again. Four men entered, laughing among themselves. One of the spotted Jim, pointed to him, and the four headed over. One of them, a broad-shouldered rough with a long moustache, leaned on Jim's chair. "Mornin', Jim," the man said loudly, flashing a yellowed smile. He took Jim's whiskey and tossed it back, slamming the empty glass on the counter. "What's new?"
Jim gave a relieved sigh. "Isaac, am I glad to see you," he said, letting out a laugh. "This dude here says he's gonna take me back to Texas."
Isaac Wheeler's thick eyebrows shot up. "Is that right? Who is this guy, anyway?"
"Says his name's Dan Thorn." Tom Gaver watched them carefully, standing at the other end of the counter.
Isaac leaned over toward Thorn. "So," his lips turned in a cruel lopsided grin, "You wanna bring my friend Jim here back to Texas? Why's that?"
Thorn didn't bother to turn to face him. "He killed three men in Amarillo. Governor wants him back for a hangin'."
Wheeler leaned back, his expression shifting to a caracitured confusion. "Three men? Why he just killed two Chinee and a Mexican. Ain't right callin' 'em men." His comrades chuckled.
Thorn didn't. He turned and faced Wheeler. "I don't much care for the legalities of it," he said. "But I do intended to bring Jim Dillard in."
Jim shifted uncomfortably in his seat, sweat condensing on his brow. Wheeler took a step back, a low laugh coming from his throat. "Well I have a problem with that, Mr. Thorn," he said lightly. "Jim here's a friend o' mine. The thought of him away from Purgatory - well, it brings a tear to my eye." His cronies laughed again. Thorn's hand slowly reached for his iron. Wheeler's, however, already had it drawn. He cocked back the hammer on the Colt. "So I suggest you drop the matter."
"N-now hold on, boys," a voice stammered. Tom Gaver stepped cautiously toward them, his hands held piously in the air. "I don't want no trouble in my bar."
Wheeler snorted, his grin widening. "Oh, ain't gonna be no trouble, Mr. Gaver. Unless Dan Thorn here makes some."
"Well, now, way I sees it, trouble's a two way street," Tom said shakily. "An' I know you and your boys seem to find trouble right frequently. Now my cook Josephus has a Winchester rifle trained on your head right now, an' I gotta tell ya," he said with a chuckle, "he a d**ned good shot, too. Ain't that right, Joe?"
From the kitchen window behind the counter, a black man stood with rifle aimed squarely at Isaac Wheeler. "Oh, yessuh, they teach you to shoot real good in the Army," he said evenly.
"Well that's right, Joe was in the Army," Tom nodded. "S-so why don't we just put up them irons and keep trouble outta my bar?"
Wheeler froze, his eyes moving from Tom to Joe to Thorn. Jim felt a jab in his side. Thorn's own Smith & Wesson was pressed against his ribs. Thorn's gaze stayed on Wheeler. "I thought you said I was worth more alive than dead," Jim whispered hoarsely.
"Not by much," Thorn replied, staring unblinkingly at Wheeler. Slowly, the aggressor lowered his pistol. Dan slowly pulled his gun out of Dillard's side, and Josephus dropped the rifle from his trained eye, though it was still pointed in their direction.
Wheeler snorted. "Like I said, Tom, no trouble." He jerked his head toward the door. "C'mon, boys, we gotta better things to do." His cronies, along with Jim, sauntered toward the door. Wheeler followed behind them, but stopped in the doorway. "Oh, and Thorn?" he said. "You better get your hide outta this town." With that, he exited.
Dan sighed. He turned to Tom. "Thanks," he said simply.
Tom eyed him. "Everybody gets one," he muttered. He nodded to Joe, who lowered the rifle and disappeared back into the recesses of the kitchen.
Dan Thorn finished off the rest of his water. Maybe Purgatory had more in store than he thought.
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