Published on Friday, June 13, 2014
Hell's in Session
By Edward McDermott
In the summer of 1869, the cattle herds came north from Texas to Abilene, the end of the trail. At that time, no more lawless town existed. The Topeka Commonwealth paper declared, "At this writing Hell is now in session in Abilene."
Matt Brewer had brought a herd in, with fifteen curly-haired, wild Texas cowboys. After three months on the trail, without a break, even for Sunday, no bed, roof or chair for three months, the men hungered for some wild times.
Brewer didn't begrudge the men a chance to 'howl at the moon'. He paid them off, wished them well and settled back. A soak in a hot tub for an hour was all he wanted. After that he would have a fresh shave and buy some new boots.
He'd barely filled the tub with hot water, when his ramrod, Jim Parker, knocked on the door. "Young Jeff Davis is in trouble."
"Damn it. How can a youngster get into trouble so fast? Will it wait?"
"Not if I read things right. If'n it was just his money, I wouldn't have bothered you, but most likely he'll be dead before morning. Them damned jayhawkers will kill him after they've taken his money."
Brewer looked at the tub and cursed himself for a fool. Young Jeff Davis was barely seventeen and small for his age. He'd missed the war and felt cheated because Lee had surrendered before he could prove himself. He wanted to prove he was a man so he tackled anything and everything, no matter how hard or dangerous. The others, the older ones, had seen too much and only wanted a little peace, a ranch and a wife.
Yet, the Texans were brothers of the trail. When you rode with a man for three months, crossing rivers, fighting Comanches and backing down jayhawkers trying to cut your herd, he became more your brother than any flesh and blood relative.
"In the Saloon, the one they call the Alamo, on Cedar Street. He's drunk and he's gambling," Parker replied.
"Parker. Round up the boys. Get every single one of them. Put the drunks down on Mud Creek, holding horses for all of us. Have the rest pack up their roles and mosey down to the Alamo, in two's and threes. I want them around, leaning on the walls. I'll be the one to sound 'Charge' or 'Recall'".
Parker smiled. Brewer had used bugle calls all the way from Texas and the men understood the talk. He nodded and left. Sighing once more, Brewer finished dressing. Hat, shirt, pants and boots. He cinched his hand gun around his waist, a Dance and Parker ball-and-cap pistol. "Damn, I paid fifty cents for that tub."
If Davis was drunk and playing poker, the problem would be with the gambler and his cohorts. In a corner of the room stood a pot-bellied stove, unneeded in the warm fall weather. Brewer walked over to it. On the top, he saw the cooking lid, a round piece of iron that just fit into his hat. Brewer smiled.
The Alamo was the most elaborate saloon in town. It had a forty-foot frontage on Cedar Street, with doors at either end. Along one wall stood a bar with polished brass fixtures. Back of the bar was a large mirror. On the walls the owner had hung imitations of Renaissance paintings. The topic was always a woman, with little or no clothes. Between the bar and the doors, gambling tables of every sort covered the floor. An orchestra played popular ballads to which cowboys might sing along. The music, the sound of the gambling, laughter and conversation all mixed into a constant hum that filled the bar and spilled out into the night.
Brewer stepped inside from Cedar Street and surveyed the den of sin, his hat in hand. His eyes took in the gambling tables. The chuck-a-lot cage rattled the dice. The roulette wheel clattered. He slowly walked back and forth, mouth open, putting on the wide-eyed innocent look of a simpleton. He spotted Davis at a table with three other men, too drunk to hold his cards.
Brewer slowly turned. He saw Parker beside the bar. A quick glance showed at least ten other riders leaning against one wall or another. His forces. Now, who else was ready for trouble?
On the second floor mezzanine, a couple of men sat in comfortable chairs, express guns on their laps. Brewer motioned to Parker, who nodded. Seconds later two Texas riders wandered up the stairs to watch those watchers.
"Time for trouble," Brewer said to himself. He put on a smile and wandered over to Davis. Young Jeff has spent some of his money on a new outfit from head to toe. Brewer could see the stack in front of him. There wasn't much left.
"I don't think this boy can even see the cards you're dealing him. How can he play them?" Brewer asked the table.
"Why we play them for him," the dealer said.
"And how's his luck been?'
"I think it's about to change."
"It's none of your business, Texan," the gambler replied, continuing to deal the cards.
"Sir," Brewer said, in a calm, strong voice, "You are a liar and a thief."
The gambler's hand stopped. The other men at the table went silent. Brewer took a step forward, close to the table, crowding the gambler. "Now you can return the boy's money to him, every penny and I'll take him home. If you prefer, one of these men can lend you a pistol and we can settle this like gentlemen outside. Otherwise, I'll strip you down to your drawers and throw you into the horse trough."
As he spoke, Brewer wondered where the hold-out gun was. In his boot? Up his sleeve? In his inside pocket? Brewer's hat was still in his hand, just above his waist, partially covering the Park and Dancer, which sat in a cross draw holster. Did the gambler think he was unarmed or wearing a left handed gun?
The gambler finished dealing the cards and set the deck down. He turned to look up at Brewer and began to speak as he pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket.
'In the handkerchief,' Brewer thought and pushed his hat forward. The derringer fired but the iron plate stopped the lead bullet. Nothing kept Brewer's hand from smashing the gambler in the face with his hat and three pounds of iron. His right hand drew his pistol, cocked it and pointed it at the other men around the table.
"I guess I should have realized you were also a sneak gun coward as well," Brewer continued in a loud voice. The gunshot had caught the room's attention. Only the clatter of the chuck-a-lot box and the chattering of the ball in the roulette table continued.
"Texan. You're causing trouble," a voice said from the other end of the room.
"Are you a friend of this thieving coward, who's probably a cheat at cards as well? Parker, sound off." Brewer whistled 'To Arms'."
"Parker here," Parker shouted, his pistol in his hand, leaning on the bar, casually pointing it at the bar keepers.
The rest of the boys sounded off, their guns at ready. In the mezzanine, two startled guards found no need for their scatter guns.
"I will repeat," Brewer shouted. "Is there anyone who counts this thieving, back shooting, coward his friend and will stand with him?" He paused. "I thought not."
The gambler began to stir. Brewer kicked him in the belly and turned to the others. "Gentlemen. I paid this boy off this morning. Three months on the trail and ten head. That worked out to four hundred and forty dollars. Now I'd say he spent a hundred on these new clothes, so I expect to take him away with three hundred and forty dollars."
"What? We had nothing to do with this," one man blustered.
"You were sitting at the table." Brewer's pistol made a point with its silence.
"Mason, come here. Take the money for Davis and get him out of here."
"We finished, Captain?" Parker asked.
"One thing left," Brewer replied. He holstered his gun, reached down and pulled the gambler to his feet. Using only his hand, he slapped the man, forehand and backhand. Hands grown hard and strong from work smashed the gambler senseless. He grasped the fancy shirt with ruffles and tore it open from neck to waist. He spun the gambler around and jerked the shirt and coat down from his back and off him entirely.
Two cards spun to the floor from the gambler's holdout device.
"That damned son of a bitch," the second man at the table said. "A card cheat."
Brewer didn't bother to listen. The man could have been the gambler's partner, his shill, for all he knew. Instead, he smashed a fist into the gambler's back knocking him to the floor. He reached down and pulled the gambler's boots off. An Arkansas pig sticker was in a special sheath in one. Last, he pulled the gamblers suspenders down and tore off his pants.
"Parker," Brewer said. "Burn these."
Brewer picked up the gambler and half dragged the staggering man out the front door of the saloon and threw him into the horse trough.
"Isn't that a bit rough?" one bystander asked.
Parker chuckled. "Rough is burning the town down. Didn't Bloody Bill Anderson teach you jayhawkers anything?"
"Gentlemen," Brewer said. "If any of you would like satisfaction with guns, knives or fists, I'm ready to accommodate you? No? In that case I will bid you a good evening."
He whistled 'Taps' and stepped into the night. He watched as his riders slipped out of the Alamo and into the street. Ten minutes later the entire company was at Mud Creek, on their horses and riding back to Texas.
"Damn," Brewer said.
"What is it, Captain?" Parker asked.
"I paid fifty cents for a tub of hot water and soap and towels and I never even dipped my toes in."
"I wouldn't worry, Captain," Parker replied. "Without the cows we should be back in Texas in less than a month."
Born in Toronto, Edward has pursued a professional career during the day, while taking writing courses, joining writer's groups, and writing at night. When not writing, he spends his time sailing and fencing, and working as a movie extra. Currently, Edward is sailing his sailboat off the Florida Coast. Perhaps in the Bahamas. You can read more of his work at his website.