Gunslinger
Chapter 7

Copyright© 2006 by R. Michael Lowe aka The Scot. All rights reserved

The entire saloon was in an uproar. Things got even crazier when Bart turned his pistol toward the man who had tried to hold his sleeve.

Bart hollered, “Sheriff, arrest this man for attempted murder.”

Confused, the Sheriff asked, “What did Andrew do?”

“He tried to hold my right sleeve when Colin went for his gun. It would’ve slowed me down enough to allow O’Brian to win the draw and shoot me, but I used my left hand to draw my other gun instead.”

The man screamed, “He’s lying. I’ve done no such thing.”

Jerry, the bartender interjected. “I didn’t realize what he was doing, but I saw him make a strange movement while Colin was drawing. Now that I think about it, Andrew was standing beside this table every time Colin killed someone. He must’ve been involved in all of them.”

“Hang him!” someone screamed.

Sheriff Jackson responded, “He’ll get a fair trial. Then, we’ll hang him.” Bart shook his head and chuckled at the Sheriff’s idea of justice.

“Gentleman!” Bart shouted. “There’s more here than the shooting. An hour ago I informed the Sheriff these men were cheating. Now, I can’t do anything about past losses, but anyone who lost money today needs to tell the Sheriff how much you lost. If he and your bartender agree it’s reasonably accurate, I’ll see you get your money back.” Everyone, including the Sheriff, was stunned at this announcement. While the others couldn’t believe their ears, Bart was pleased. He knew it wasn’t only the right thing to do, it’d also quickly make him a respected and honored part of their community.

One of the men at the bar asked, “Can you show us how they were cheating?”

Bart replied, “They were actually cheating in several ways. The most important one was O’Brian’s partner was using his ring to mark the cards. They were also using each other to increase the pot size. When I first came in here I saw this man fold several times when he held the winning hand. It puzzled me until I realized they were playing as partners, expecting to split their winnings. Finally, on this last hand they tried to stack the deck, but I had a way to counter that.”

One of the men asked skeptically, “Are you sure they were marking the deck?”

Bart picked up the other cards from the table and held them face down in his hand.

Looking at the back of the top card, he said, “Queen of clubs,” and turned over the queen of clubs.

On the next card, he said, “Eight of spades”, and turned over the eight of spades.

“Do I need to keep going?” he asked.

“No,” replied the man, “but remind me not to ever play with you.”

“Sir, I enjoy the game, but the only time you’ll ever see me play for more than a few dollars is to take down scum like this. Now, I need to head to the hotel and freshen up for dinner. I suspect Bonnie will be a nervous wreck until she knows I’m okay.”

Another man asked, “Is she now your woman?”

“Not by my design or intention. She’s a nice person who gave me water when I was thirsty, and let me rest my leg when I was tired. What we have is a situation where financially I help her, and she helps me. Beyond that she’s free to chose whomever she wishes. I’ve hired Zeke Randall as our foreman, and part of his job will be to protect her while I’m gone. ‘Protect’ means to see no one hurts her or makes advances she doesn’t want. It doesn’t mean she’s my property.” Before any more questions could be asked Bart used his cane to move cautiously outside the saloon. Zeke followed right behind.

While they headed up the street toward the hotel Zeke said, “I’m right glad I didn’t draw on you at Bonnie’s house. I’ve never seen someone so fast, especially with their left hand.”

“Zeke, do you know what’s funny?”

“What?”

“Using a gun is about the only thing I can do with my left hand.”

“That is strange.”

“I agree. Now, how did everything go?”

“Very well. We even bought a small herd of horses. Bonnie got some new clothes, and I’ve never seen her so excited.”

Bart nodded and asked, “And how about Zeke Randall?”

“Mister Simpson, I ain’t ever felt this good. It’s like something I was born to do. Does that make sense to you?”

“Zeke, it makes good sense, and, by the way, please call me Bart. You’re older than I am.”

“Can’t do that ‘cause you’re the Bossman, and besides, I ‘spect you too much. Just wouldn’t be right.”

Bart smiled and said, “Okay. I’ll accept your reasons. Now, before we talk to Bonnie, what’s the fastest way to get to Chicago. I need to take care of some business fairly urgently, but I’ll be coming back.”

“Don’t rightly know, but the Sheriff will, or can find out. We do have a telegraph office here.”

“How close are we to a railroad?”

“Chillicothe is almost a four day ride. Huntington is less than a day’s ride, but the railroad there heads southwest.”

“Bart!” came a scream from the distance. Looking up Bart saw a vision of beauty wearing a blue dress and matching blue bows in her hair. She was running out of the hotel and straight toward them. From five feet away the young woman launched herself into his arms.

With a grin Zeke remarked, “Well, in the saloon you said she was free to choose her man. I think she’s chosen.”

Holding Bonnie in his arms Bart asked Zeke, “Are you alright with that choice?”

“Boss, I’ll always love her, but I could never be the man she needs. I’m satisfied in my role as foreman and protector.”

Picking up on what Zeke said, Bonnie asked, “You love me?”

“Since the first time I laid eyes on you. But you deserve better than me. I’ll be happy just being close by and seeing you happy.”

Still hugging Bart she reached around to Zeke and pull him close to the other side to gave him a small kiss on his cheek.

“Zeke,” she said, “If you stop being a bully and learn how to treat a woman like Bart does the women in the area will be beating a path to your door.”

The three continued into the hotel, and Bart was surprised to see how nice it was for such a small town that’s off the beaten path. It became even better when he learned it not only had a nice restaurant, but it also had hot baths. It even had someone who could clean the dust off his clothes. Needless to say, he felt much better when the three of them entered the restaurant a short time later.

Bonnie looked across the table and into Bart’s blue eyes. She could feel her heart turn to putty when she realized how quickly she was falling for him. What was more important in her mind, it had nothing to do with his financial position. “Bart, Zeke told me what was supposed to happen at the saloon. I heard the shots, and I almost fainted I was so frightened. Now, I learn you’ve set me free again, not only from Colin, but to choose the man that’s special to me. The man I want to marry and give children. I know I’m not supposed to be the one to say these things, but I’ve chosen you, if you’ll have me.”

“Mademoiselle, it’ll require some changes in my long-term plans, but I’d be honored to be that man. How does the name B B Ranch sound to you?”

“Good, but I like the name Bonnie Simpson even better.”

“Then we’ll work on making that change when I return.”

“Return?”

“Yes. Unfortunately, I must meet my father in Chicago in a few days. I’ll break the news to him, as well as begin the arrangements for our future.”

“Can I go with you?”

“Not that I don’t want you to meet him, but I don’t think it should be this trip. Besides, I’ve an abundance of things that need to be done here, and, for the moment, I only have you and Zeke to carry them out.”

“Like what?” she asked.

“Tomorrow morning I’m going to put ten thousand dollars in a bank account that will be for the ranch and it will be for you to use.”

The approaching Sheriff overhead Bart’s statement, and interjected, “It’ll be much more than that. Colin’s partner had more than twenty-five thousand dollars on him in a money belt and in his boot. There was also more than five thousand plus the deeds in the pot. I took out a hundred to give to Lamar’s wife, but the town has decided the rest is yours.”

“That will definitely be a good start for what I intend to do. By the way Cecil, do you know where Colin’s partner was staying?”

“In Missus Benson’s rooming house. Why?”

“We should probably clear out his room for her. I suspect we’ll find even more there.”

“It sounds like you knew this man.”

“We never met, but when I finally saw his face I knew who, and what, he was. I buried his last victim.”

“Son, you’re full of surprises. Do you know if the man had any relatives?”

“None we’d ever find. Besides all the money he had was stolen from my associate.”

“Then I’ll head to Missus Benson’s, now. I’ll have his effects brought to you to dispose of as you see fit.”

“That’s good, Sheriff, but go over his room carefully. He may have hidden things behind or beneath some boards. I know my associate was carrying more than a hundred thousand in gold and greenbacks.”

After the Sheriff left Bart turned his attention back to his stunned dinner partners, and said, “Zeke, you’ll also need to buy things, and my future wife will provide the money. I want us to buy up all the land we can, but I don’t want to force anyone off their place unless they were just deadbeats. That means the families will work for us, and we’ll need to improve their homes and see they are cared for. We also need to hire people to work in the new saw mills we’ll build, as well as to build fences, homes, barns, and to watch out for our stock.”

“How much land do you hope to buy?”

“Zeke, my family has twenty sections in Canada. Though the land up there is better, the growing season is much shorter than here, and the winters are long and bitter. I think we can make a strong economic impact in this area.”

Stunned, Zeke said, “Twenty sections? Can we get that much land and can we manage it?”

“Zeke, we don’t have to get that much land, and I doubt it’s available, but I was using that as an example of how big it could be. The first thing we need to do is to quickly and quietly buy the available land. This will keep speculators from inflating the price. The second thing is we do it with integrity and compassion. I want to build something special here, but I also want to help people, not hurt them. Am I being clear?”

“Yes, Sir. Treat them like I’d like Miss Bonnie or my sister to be treated.”

“That’s right. Also realize you’re with us at the beginning. If we three do this right you’ll eventually be more wealthy than you can imagine.”

Squeezing Zeke’s hand Bonnie added, “And that wealth will be more than money. It’ll bring you friendship, respect, a good wife and peace of mind.”

“Miss Bonnie. I like the sound of that.”

Bonnie turned to Bart, “What do we need to do while you’re gone?”

“Zeke, you need to immediately hire some men to act as roving patrols. You also need to secure Colin’s property and make sure there’s nothing there to steal. What kind of shape is his place in?”

“Probably better than most around here.”

“Then get it fixed up and remove all of Colin’s personal belongings. Give them to any family he has or to those in need who can use them. After having it thoroughly cleaned move Bonnie in there until we can design and build a place of our own.”

“And what am I to do?” asked Bonnie.

“Look beautiful.”

“Bart, I’m serious. If I’m to be your wife, then I’ll also be your partner.”

“I know, but I like to jerk your chain every once in a while.”

“Jerk my chain?”

“Tease you.”

“Okay, I can live with that.”

“Good. Now, what I really want you to do is talk to the widows. Let’s take care of them first, and help them understand we’re not trying to steal their land. What I propose is we pay off their back taxes and mortgages, as well as giving them some money. Also tell those who want to stay and work for us they’ll receive a regular income, a place to live, and a garden to grow vegetables.”

Bonnie looked lovingly into Bart’s blue eyes and said, “I think that’s fair, and a lot better than most are expecting to happen to their homes. How much money should we give them?”

“I think we should give them a hundred dollars a quarter section above paying off their debts. For those who want to leave, we can give them two hundred, since we won’t have to provide homes for them. Does that seem right to you?”

Bonnie replied, “Definitely. Right now a hundred dollars is more money than they can even imagine.”

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