Anyone who has read one of my Sam Jenkins mysteries will see the the connection to this short bit of sci-fi / steam punk foolishness.
A Sam Jenkins time travel / parallel universe story
Katherine and I stood in front of the hottest new attraction in the touristy town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. It looked like nothing more than a small Airstream trailer hooked to an F-250, but the blue and white sign attached to the silver siding read:
Pike McGavick’s Time Machine
See Your Past – Learn Your Future
Nashville – New York – Singapore
She handed me a ticket. “Happy Birthday, Sammy. Enjoy the trip.”
“Thanks. Should be quite an adventure.”
“Where are you going, back to the French and Indian War?”
“Not that far.”
She frowned. “Not to Vietnam again?”
“Hardly. I’ve heard my great, great grandfather had some trouble when he worked in New Mexico. Thought I’d stop by and see if I can lend a hand.”
“When was that?”
“You be careful.”
We kissed good-bye.
A shady-looking character in a plaid three-piece suit and trilby hat waved me closer. “Advanced ticket? Yes, sir. Right this way. And where are we going today?”
I told him.
“Yes, sir. Interesting choice.” He lifted a hinged panel on the trailer’s side, punched a few keys, and turned a few dials. “Remember now, in exactly four hours, be in the exact spot where you arrive. That’s the only way I can get you back. Understand?”
“I hear ya.”
McGavick held the door and ushered me into the trailer. Then he pointed to what looked like a well-worn recliner upholstered in brown corduroy. “Have a seat right here and you’ll be on your way.”
He flipped a switch. The chair began to vibrate and I felt a tingle all over. Then I found myself standing on a dirt road at the edge of an old desert town. The sign in front of me read:
Welcome to New Prospect, New Mexico.
Ronald B. Shields, Mayor
Samuel Jenkins, Marshal
I walked down the dusty street past houses and shops until I stood in front of Kate’s Broadway Saloon. A pair of swinging doors offered little resistance. Inside, a six-footer with broad shoulders stood with his back to the bar. He looked to be in his mid-fifties. The badge on his vest said Town Marshal. Gray hair showed beneath his white narrow-brimmed hat. He faced a table where three hard-cases sat.
The marshal said, “I could use a little help.”
Before anyone answered, a beautiful silver-haired woman descended the last three steps from the second floor. Everyone looked at her. She could have turned heads anywhere in the world. My eyes drew to her high cheek bones and low-cut dress.
“Hello, Sammy,” she said.
The marshal nodded. “Kate.”
The bartender poured her a drink from a crystal decanter. She smiled for the customers and took a sip.
I looked back at the table when one of the men spoke.
“Help with what?” He looked Italian and carried two double-action Colts, butts forward on a black leather gun belt.
The marshal took a deep breath before answering. “A convict named Butch Cavendish just got out of prison in Santa Fe. I hear he’s coming to kill me and sack the town. I need a few deputies.”
A large black man with a massive 8 gauge double-barreled shotgun across his lap drank from a coffee cup before speaking. “How much you paying?”
“Dollar a day,” the marshal said.
“How much time we talkin’ about?” The Italian spoke with a New York Accent.
“Should be over this afternoon,” the marshal said.
“So, uh, Marshal, that’s really a dollar for a half day?” the third man, a chubby Irish-looking guy said.
“Right, John. You’ll get a dollar for a half day if that’s all it takes.”
“But you figger they’ll be a gunfight?” the black man asked.
“How many men will this Cavendish bring?” the Italian asked.
“I guess a dozen, total.”
The black man spoke again. “Just us four against twelve?”
“I’ve got another deputy.”
The black man nodded. “Okay, five against twelve.”
“You can count me in, mate.” The barman spoke with a north-country English accent. He laid a sawed-off scattergun on the bar.
“Thanks, Reggie,” the marshal said.
Reggie nodded and dried a beer glass with a white towel.
“So, now that’s only two a’piece,” the Italian said with a smile.
The marshal nodded. “Not all that bad.”
“Uh, Marshal, any chance you could make that two dollars a day?” the Irishman asked. “I’ve got some expenses coming up and . . .”
The Marshal rolled his eyes. The Irishman always had money problems. “Okay, John, a minimum of two bucks.”
John Gallagher grinned sheepishly.
“You fellers in?” the marshal asked.
“Sure.” the black man said. “I got no place to go.”
“Yeah, me too,” the Italian added.
“Sam, can I speak to you?” the woman asked, and again sipped from her glass.
The marshal turned to the bar, only a foot from Kate. He rested his elbows on the polished top and his right boot on the brass rail. I stepped up next to him. So far no one seemed to notice me. I brushed aside a feeling of inferiority and listened to their conversation.
“Sam, you don’t have to do this. What do you owe this town?”
“Have to walk away and still be able to look in the mirror, Kate.”
She placed a hand on his forearm. “I could sell this place. We could go back to New York. We’d have plenty to live on. Get married, maybe. I’m still young enough to have children. What do you say, Sam?
“Tempting offer, but I need to finish this first.”
Kate showed signs of frustration. “How about San Francisco? You said you like that town.”
“I’d love to, but business is business.”
“Sam, you can be such an idiot.”
“But you love me anyway.”
“I do. So be careful.”
I followed the marshal and his three gunmen across the street to the jail. As we entered, a big, young-looking deputy got out of a chair from behind the only desk and stood.
“Junior,” the marshal said, “these men will be helping out with the Cavendish gang. You know John Gallagher. Gentlemen introduce yourselves. Junior will give you badges.”
The Italian made a face. “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges.”
Junior shrugged. “Okay, suit yase’f. What’s yer name?”
“Ralph,” the Italian said.
“Stanley,” the black man said.
Everyone shook hands.
“Uh, what do you think is gonna happen, Marshal?” Gallagher asked.
“I put Cavendish in jail years ago,” the marshal said. “When he got out, he sort of issued a challenge. Said he’d be here today.”
“Where you figger?” Stanley asked.
“East end of town. Back of Ollie Krupp’s livery stable, there’s a corral.”
“Sounds easy to find,” Ralph said.
“You can’t miss it. There’s a sign,” Sam said, “OK’s Corral.”
“What time, Marshal?” John asked.
“Junior, tell these gents my plan. I’m going across the street for a few boxes of ammo.”
I followed the marshal to Lambert’s General Store.
A pretty blonde woman greeted him. She wore her hair up in a twist. Her simple cotton dress showed off a figure any girl would be proud of.
The marshal told her about the expected trouble and asked for several boxes of rifle and pistol cartridges and shot shells. She stacked them on the counter. He dropped several bills next to the ammo.
“In case something happens, Betts. No sense putting this on my tab. The way this town runs, it might take you a month to get paid.”
She frowned, walked from behind the counter, and stood close to him.
“How much help have you got, darlin’?” she asked.
“Reggie said he’d help. John Gallagher signed up for two dollars. Two other drifters will be there. And there’s Junior.”
“So it’s six against twelve?”
“I hope Cavendish doesn’t feel outnumbered.”
She ignored his smile.
“Did you telegraph Sheriff Garrett?”
“Pat said he’s busy with those cattle wars. Can’t spare the men.”
“And what about your friend, Wyatt?”
“Wyatt?” He muffled a snort. “He’s in Alaska running a whorehouse and saloon. Ever since he took up with that Josie, he thinks of himself as a businessman.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Tell Doc Rappaport we may need him. And stop at the undertaker’s. Tell Earl Ogle he’ll probably have some business.”
She straightened his collars and closed a button on his vest. “You be careful, Sam Jenkins.”
She touched his cheek like she genuinely cared.
Back at the jailhouse, the marshal looked at his pocket watch and snapped the lid closed. “Ten to twelve,” he said. “No sense being late.”
“Junior, go tell Reggie to bring his shotgun.”
The kid nodded and took off at a trot.
“Okay, gentlemen,” he said. “It’s show time.”
We all stepped into the street. The mottled gray sky resembled the color of a dirty rag-wool horse blanket.
“Better to shoot on a cloudy day,” the marshal said.
“Can see your sights better,” Stanley said. “No glare.”
The marshal carried an old brass-framed Henry rifle, a long-barreled Colt in a hand-tooled holster, and another pistol tucked into his waistband. The deputy and the bartender appeared on our left. Six men and I stood in the center of the street.
I tapped the marshal on the shoulder. His head jerked in my direction.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“I thought you might want a little more help.”
“Ever do anything like this before?”
I grinned. “Once or twice. But I’ll need a gun.”
“Can only pay you two dollars.”
I nodded. “That’ll work.”
He pulled a big break-top Schofield from his waistband and handed it to me butt first.
“It’s a good gun. Fast to reload.” He dug out a fistful of .44 caliber cartridges from his vest pocket and handed them to me.
“Thanks.” I cracked open the action to check the load.
He grinned. “They’re all there.”
“Sam!” someone called from across the street.
We turned to see a short and pretty, dark-haired girl run toward us from the newspaper office. She wore a white blouse with leg o’ mutton sleeves and a long blue skirt. An oval cameo was pinned at her throat. She held a pad and pencil in her hand.
“Rachel, get back inside,” he said.
She was the third beauty I’d seen in New Prospect. I thought it might not be a bad place to live.
“Sam, please. Tell me what’s happening.”
“Not now, kiddo.”
“Damn it, Sam,” she said.
He turned to me. “Can you give her the story?”
“Sure,” I said. If I had more time, I’d take her to lunch.
“I’ve got to go,” he said.
“Be careful,” she said.
He winked. “You know I am.” Then to me he said, “Hurry up and meet me at the corral.”
Rachel looked at me for a long moment and tilted her head. “Don’t I know you?”
“Not yet,” I said.
I gave her all the information I knew and then jogged to the stable and turned right into an alley.
The six men stood outside the stable and corral fence next to two buckboards, their only source of cover. I took my place to the right of the marshal, the big Smith & Wesson hanging loosely at my side.
“Butch!” he called out. “Let’s get this over with.”
A pair of stable doors swung open and a dozen men walked from the building into the corral. In the center stood a thin man, wearing a clean black suit and derby.
“Good ta see ya ag’in, Jinkins.” He wasted no time brushing aside his coat and reaching for a nickel-plated revolver.
Jenkins brought the Henry up to his shoulder and fired a round into the man’s gut. Cavendish sunk to his knees and the marshal added a second hole in his forehead.
Stanley’s 8 gauge barked twice and took out a pair of saddle-tramps standing too close together.
I snapped up my gun and aimed at a grubby-looking specimen with a drooping mustache and long curly sideburns. The noise of the shotgun blasts caused me to flinch as I squeezed off a shot. It hit my man in the right hip and I followed up with another round to his chest.
John Gallagher crouched next to me, rapidly firing a lever-action rifle. Ralph fired his Colts simultaneously. Men in the corral began to fall dead, others scattered and ran for cover.
Stanley’s shotgun sent another hail of pellets at one man and took him and half a wall down.
After reloading, I looked to my left. A fat Mexican with a Winchester aimed it at the marshal. I fired two quick shots. Both hit him square. He dropped the carbine and fell forward, scattering dust. Jenkins nodded at me.
I fired my next four rounds, ejected the six empties, and reloaded quickly by feel, my eyes darting from side to side. There was a lull in the gunfire.
“You three hiding in the barn,” the marshal yelled, “Cavendish is dead. This ain’t worth dying for. Toss out your guns and surrender.”
A long moment passed.
“Sorry, Marshal,” someone said. “We give up and you’ll only hang us.”
Three men burst from the barn firing their handguns. Two shotguns bellowed to my left. The marshal fired his rifle as fast as a Gatling gun until empty and dropped it on the ground. The spent cartridges bounced on the dirt near me. I emptied my gun at the three men. Gallagher’s rifle dry-fired twice, telling me he was empty, too.
Ralph ripped off another twelve rounds and from next to him came a scream. “Gat-dag! I’m hit.” Junior slumped to the ground clutching his knee.
After Jenkins fired a final round from his revolver, all the outlaws lay dead in the corral.
Ralph, Stanley, and Gallagher ran to check the bodies. The marshal holstered his Colt while I dropped another six rounds into the Smith.
Reggie was tying a red bandana around Junior’s knee as a small man with curly gray hair carrying a medical bag knelt down next to the wounded deputy. A moment later, Bettye Lambert nudged the bartender out of the way and helped the doctor.
Kate stood in the alley waiting for Sam to join her. An undertaker wearing a top hat joined the three men checking the corpses.
Rachel the reporter stood nearby still holding her notebook. I walked over.
“I guess you’ll get a big story out of this,” I said.
“I’m not sure I know what to say. Is anyone else hurt?”
She used a lace-edged hankie to dab a spot of blood on my cheek.
“I think Junior is it. Looks like the doctor has things under control.”
She looked upset. “The noise was deafening.”
“Firefights tend to get that way.”
“There were a dozen of them,” she said, “and only seven of you. Magnificent.”
“That’s got a ring to it. Play around with those words for a title.”
“I have to go.” I pointed my finger at her and let my thumb fall like the hammer of a gun. “See ya, doll-face.”
Her smile got bigger.
A few feet away, I knelt next to Junior. “How’s he doing?” I asked.
“He’s lost some blood,” Bettye said.
The doctor looked at me. “Aha, another gunfighter heard from. He’ll be alright. He’ll limp, but he’ll live. You two are friends?”
“We’ve just met.”
“That was some fancy shootin’ you done there, mister,” the kid said.
I shrugged modestly. “They call you Junior. What’s your real name?”
“Ever’one jest calls me Junior.”
“Everybody’s got a name,” I said.
“His name’s Chester,” Bettye said.
“A deputy with a limp named Chester,” I said. “Son of a gun.”
I looked at my watch. Almost time to head home.
“Excuse me, folks. I should speak to the marshal before I leave. Chester, take care of yourself.”
I walked twenty feet to the corner of the livery stable and joined Sam and Kate.
“You two make a nice couple,” I said.
“I saw you kill that Mex,” Sam said.
I shrugged again. Sometimes I’m so modest I could throw up.
“He had me in his sights. Thank you.”
“And I thank you, too,” Kate added.
“Yes, ma’am. Be good to him. He looks old enough to retire. Probably needs a woman’s advice. ”
The marshal laughed. “Yeah, some day.”
“Well,” I said. “It’s about time for me to go. Nice meeting you all.”
“You have a horse?” he asked.
“Just down the street. I’m meeting someone.”
He nodded. “Thanks again. Stop by the jail later and get your two bucks.”
“So, sweetie, how was your adventure?” my Kate asked as we stood near Pike McGavick’s Airstream.
“You have to tell me all about it.”
“Let’s go order dinner and have a drink. I’ll tell you over a cocktail.”
“Looks like there’s blood on your cheek. How did you get cut?”
She looked closely. “You have a splinter. Hold still.”
Kate used her nails to pull a sliver of buckboard from my cheek.
“Ouch,” I said.