Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Dan Bogue sat quietly in the corner, sipping his whisky, and could see all of the saloon, as well as the comings and goings. It was early evening and beginning to fill with the usual flow of cattle drovers, soiled doves and locals. Bogue finished his drink and was about to rise to leave when a man entered. He wasn’t the usual sort who frequented the saloon: his clothes were too well cut, his bearing superior to that of the average drunken cowboy. Bogue knew immediately that this man had come looking for him.
His hand slipped to the ornately engraved Colt in its holster. The well-dressed man crossed the floor quickly. Bogue glared at him as he approached, all the while searching for any signs of aggression or danger. As the man drew closer, Bogue noticed that the man was older than he first thought, maybe in his sixties. Even though his clothes were well made and refined in appearance, his face bore the signs of a life well lived. He stood directly across the table from Bogue, his broad frame dominating his line of vision. “Dan Bogue?” he asked, his voice a deep bass.
“Maybe,” Bogue replied. “Depends who’s asking.”
This brought a smile to the other man’s lips. “Name’s Maxwell,” he replied. “Bat Maxwell. And I know that you are Dan Bogue.”
Bogue eyed him. There was a spare stool at the other side of the table and he used his boot to shove it out. “I think you’d better sit down, Bat.”
Maxwell lowered himself onto the stool.
A waitress drifted over and Maxwell barked gruffly at her for a whisky. The two men sat in silence until the drink arrived, sizing each other up. Maxwell downed his drink in one swig and beckoned for another. “You want one?” he asked Bogue.
“My throat’s burned enough already,” Bogue replied.
Maxwell smirked. “I hear you’re a feller who can find people,” he said, peering across the table.
“For a price, of course.”
Bogue nodded. “Depends on the person and depends on the price.”
“This feller doesn’t want to be found,” Maxwell said.
“They rarely do. What kind of a feller are we talking about? Anyone I might know?”
Maxwell drained the rest of his whisky. “Charlie Weston.”
Bogue lowered his glass, slowly, trying to hide his surprise. “Charlie Weston?” he asked, just to make sure he had heard correctly.
Maxwell nodded.
“Are you sure?”
Maxwell nodded again.
“It’s going to cost you, that’s all I’m going to say.”
“Do you know him?” Maxwell looked directly at Bogue.
“Know Charlie Weston? Of course I know of him.”
“No,” Maxwell interrupted. “I asked, do you know him?”
This time Bogue paused before replying and met Maxwell’s glare dead on. At last, weighing his words carefully, he said, “Yes, I know him.”
“Can you do it?” Maxwell said. “I need to know now if I’m wasting my time. I know you’re both…”
“…outlaws,” Bogue finished the sentence for him.
“That doesn’t mean we’re brothers,” Bogue said. “How much are we talking about?”
Maxwell held his gaze. “You’re really willing to do this?”
Bogue nodded.
“Without even asking me why I want him killed?”
“You have the money, I’ll pull the trigger.”
“Fine. Two thousand dollars.”
Bogue fought to hide his shock.
“I’ve heard that you’re the best,” Maxwell said, “that’s why I’ve made you such a generous offer. It’s a lot of money, but if you want the best you have to pay for it, that’s what I believe.”
“I get half the money now, and the other half after the job’s done.”
“That’s what I thought you might say.” From inside his coat Maxwell pulled out a leather satchel and passed it across the table.
Bogue opened it and looked inside. The satchel was stuffed full of dollars.
“You can count it, if you want,” Maxwell offered.
“No need. Where can I get you?”
“My ranch is about five miles out of town. Anyone will tell you where it is.” Maxwell rose from the table and extended his hand toward Bogue. “Good doing business with you.”
Bogue rose also and felt his hand almost crushed in Maxwell’s grip.
He watched Maxwell’s back as he walked toward the door, all the while keeping one hand on his gun and the other on the leather satchel of money.
Bogue had one more drink after Maxwell left. The offer was a good one. Two thousand dollars was the most he’d ever been offered to kill a man. He could probably give up his gun if he succeeded in tracking down and killing Charlie Weston. But that was a big “if.” Charlie Weston was a killer, just like him, and if Weston didn’t want to be found, then things could get complicated.
Bogue left the saloon. His first objective was to try and find some information that could help him track down Weston. With his insides warmed by the whisky, he strolled along the boardwalk bordering Main Street. He kept under the awnings of the buildings. Being a hired gunman meant he had his enemies and staying in the shadows was always the safest course of action. It was impossible to tell when a relative of someone he’d killed would try and even up the score and restore some family pride.
He entered another saloon; a run-down, dingy establishment. Up on the raised stage danced two women, trying their best to attract the attention of customers who were steadily getting more and more drunk. Two men on a piano and a fiddle provided music and a feller swayed erratically around the floor, out of time with the tune. That feller was Chris McGraw.
Bogue grabbed McGraw by both shoulders and manouvered him toward a free table. A waitress came over but he waved her away. “Hey, I want a whisky!” McGraw whined as he tried to catch the skirt of the waitress as she flounced off. “In a minute,” Bogue barked. “After you answer a few questions.”
McGraw’s eyes were bloodshot and he smelled of stale sweat and smoke yet, Bogue knew, this drunk was just the man he needed to talk to if he were to have any chance of collecting the second half of his bounty. McGraw spent his whole life drinking his way up and down the trails and knew every saloon and every personality that frequented them. He was generally regarded by all and sundry as a harmless drunkard; to be tolerated like a stray dog. But McGraw heard everything and remembered almost everything, despite his drinking. He was a long time acquaintance of Bogue’s and his pocket provided the money for a lot of McGraw’s liquor. In return for a little information, of course.
“What you doing here, Bogue? You’re a long way from home. Business? This a social call or are you here to kill me?”
“Just some information,” Bogue replied.
“I don’t want your blood money,” McGraw spat. He got up to leave but fell to the floor, too drunk to walk.
Bogue picked him up and placed him back on his stool. “I know,” Bogue said. “But you need money and I need to hear what you know about Charlie Weston.”
McGraw cocked an eyebrow as best he could. “Charlie Weston?” he slurred. “You thinking of asking him to be your partner?” He smiled ruefully at his own joke. “Or you just trying to take out your competition?”
“Something like that,” Bogue muttered. He dropped some notes on the table and this time called the waitress over. “Two whiskies,” he told her and when they arrived he passed them both to McGraw, who drank them eagerly in case Bogue changed his mind and took them off of him.
“You must want this guy badly,” McGraw said, his voice hoarse from the harsh burn of the whisky. He eyed the notes on the table. Bogue still had his hand on them, both to make sure they weren’t snatched and also to make sure that McGraw’s drunken eyes couldn’t miss them.
“All yours if you tell me what I want to know. We both know the routine and, to tell the truth, I don’t have much time so let’s make this quick.”
McGraw knew he was only delaying the inevitable, that he was only barely hanging onto his last sliver of pride before giving up what he knew. “Fine,” he said. “Last I heard he was up in Baxter Springs. Bank job.”
“Same old Weston,” Bogue muttered.
“Nope,” McGraw replied, “not this time. Something happened, I heard. Shortly after the bank job, he shows up in Lawrence and shoots up a couple of men.”
“Where?” Bogue asked.
“In a saloon. The Kansas Belle, something like that.”
“Anything else?”
“Don’t think so. Hadn’t heard about him for a long time before that.”
Bogue nodded. He didn’t know why Weston had suddenly resurfaced. Maybe he was broke? Maybe he liked the taste of stealing and shooting too much to give it up? It was in some people’s blood. A fact he knew from personal experience. He rose to leave but stopped to ask one final question of McGraw. “You know anything about a Bat Maxwell?”
“Bat Maxwell? I know the name. He owns a lot of land around here. And cattle, too. His sons run most of it for him and he just collects the money. I’ve met his two sons, all right. Josiah and Robert. Didn’t like them much, Josiah especially. Sneaky. You’d want to be careful if you’re involved with Bat Maxwell. That much I do know. The only law he believes in is one that you carry in your holster. That’s about it, I’m afraid.”
Baxter Springs, Bogue thought as he left the saloon. I haven’t been there in a long time.

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