The mule didn’t seem to be well, even more loathe to move than usual, and off his feed. We hadn’t been trekking for three full days, when he up and died, right there in the middle of the trail. There were streams along the way so we had water in plenty, but we were already getting short on food. After three weeks more of travel, we were out of the mountains and well into the foothills, and had been out of food for two days. We expected to be able to hunt small animals, or even snakes, but unaccountably they seemed to have migrated or something. There just wasn’t a one to be seen.
At long last we staggered into Morgan’s Town, filthy, starving and weak. It was just after sundown on a Friday night, and the saloon seemed to be doing a roaring business. And I do mean roaring! Not just the usual high spirits, but what sounded like the start of a small war.
“Hmmm...,” Zeke’s voice was raspy from thirst and lack of use. “Wonder what’s happening? Doesn’t sound like the usual high jinks.”
I stopped and listened for a minute, then said “Let’s go see. We might be able to cage a bite to eat. I’d be happy with some water and stale bread!”
We move along, and dropped out gear on the porch, then cautiously pushed the door open, and I peeked in. Everyone was standing and yelling, tables and chairs were overturned. I beckoned to Zeke and we slipped in, moving along the wall a bit. Some of the boys were waving guns, and suddenly one went off. That seemed to be a signal, because there was a fusillade of shots. I pulled my gun and joined in, shooting up to the ceiling, motioning to Zeke to join in.
In the middle of the uproar, the doors swung open and the Sheriff, his deputies and several other armed men walked in. “All right, boys!” the sheriff shouted, “Parties over. Everyone, sit down, put your guns on the tables, and your hands on your heads.”
Most of them did as ordered, and soon quiet reigned. Zeke and I sat down, put our guns down, and our hands on our heads, and waited. That was when the Sheriff’s Deputy saw the body, against the wall over in the corner.
“Sheriff, Ed Stanley is dead, shot through the chest,” he called.
“Oh, is he?” Sheriff Sam said. “Well, we certainly have enough witnesses - and suspects.” He frowned around at everyone. “So who’s going to talk first? Don’t be shy, boys, you’ll talk eventually.”
That started them, and it all came out in a flood, at first. Then he stopped them and had them tell their stories, one at a time. Most of them hadn’t used their guns, so he told them to scram. What they did tell him was that Big Bart and his boys had walked in, shot Ed, and then shot around at random, making sure no one would follow, and left. The uproar had been an argument, some wanting to head out after Bart, others saying they should call the Sheriff.
“Ok, we’ll get a posse together later and go after Bart. But first, we’ll check all the guns. The owners of those that have been fired will be locked up. You all know gunfire in this town is against the law. Bob,” he turned to his second deputy, “start checking the guns. Rafe,” he looked over his shoulder at a man who had come in with him. “Go get Doc, tell him we have a murder victim here.”
They each went about the duty assigned, and about a dozen guns were soon piled on the bar, ours included. Zeke leaned over and whispered “Jeb, why did you start shooting? Now the Sheriff has our guns!”
I looked at him. “Zeke, use your head. What do we need more than anything right now?”
“Well,” he said, “I could use a good meal, a good wash, and a good bed in a warm place.”
“Right!” I grinned at him. He stared at me for a minute, and then a grin grew in his beard, and he nodded.
“All right, you boys who decided on a shooting spree tonight, line up here.” he pointed to the floor in front of him. I motioned to Zeke, and we joined the line. There weren’t enough handcuffs, but no one seemed inclined to argue, and we were marched out, surrounded by several of the armed citizens who had come in with the Sheriff.
Off we went to the jail house, where our names were taken, and the charges listed. Someone muttered that Zeke and me should be charged with polluting the air with our stink, so the deputy in charge took the two of us out where there was a shower rigged up. We had a good scrub down
and he gave us clean pants and shirts.
Soon we were all settled, two to a cell, Zeke and me together, feeling much more civilized and comfortable. I looked at him and said softly “Well, have I provided all that you said you wanted?” He chuckled and nodded. Then he looked thoughtful.
“But Jed,” he said slowly, we are charged with shooting in town. We’ll likely be locked up for I don’t know how long.”
I nodded back, grinning. “That’s part of the plan, friend. Where else do we have to go? Where can we live, without money?”
Just then the jailer came along, shouting “Chow time!’ He was followed by a nice looking middle aged woman pushing a wheeled table thing, with bowls, mugs and spoons on the lower shelf, and a big pot of something that smelled heavenly, three loaves of fresh, crusty bread, and a big urn of coffee on the top shelf. They went from cell to cell, opening each and handing out mugs, bowls and spoons. They filled each mug and bowl, added a couple of pieces of the crusty bread for each man as they went. Zeke and me were waiting anxiously, and thanked them whole heartedly when we were served. As we settled down on the bunks to eat, I looked at Zeke, and winked.
“One thing for sure,” I told him. “There is always hot chow at the hoosegow.” Everyone looked at us as if they thought we were loco, because we both howled with laughter.