a short story
by Angus Brownfield
Angus Brownfield on Shakespir
Copyright © 2016 by Angus Brownfield
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this Ebook.
Most everyone liked him, with the exception of those who wished the bothersome Indians and Mexicans would just disappear from Tombstone, it rightfully belonging to the white man. Quentin Davies was not furthering that wish by accepting Indians and Mexicans as clients in his law practice. They were nothing but thieves and drunkards, that bunch said, let ‘em rot in jail.
Quentin Davies was twenty-five when he arrived in Tombstone, but he looked much younger. Those inclined to josh the young man would ask when he was going to start shaving. Others just smiled when he waxed serious and lawyerly. It was, one said, like watching a stripling smoking a cheroot.
It was Deputy Marshal Morgan Earp who first hung the sobriquet, Squire, on the young lawyer, and it stuck. The occasion was a day young Davies wasn’t arguing before the judge, he was testifying in a murder trial as an eye witness. He had presented his testimony on questioning by the prosecutor, withstood the cross examination of the defense attorney, and had lingered at the back of the crowded courtroom—actually, the ground floor of the Crystal Palace Saloon—to hear the testimony of the arresting officer, Deputy Marshal Earp.
“I hold with what Squire Davies said. I found the decedent just as he described, face down in the middle of Fremont Street, his pistol still in its holster.”
Thereafter “Squire” was accepted by the population of the town, the businessmen and gamblers and drunkards and such, even though the lawyer not once used the title himself. In fact, it embarrassed him, it made him feel like the stripling smoking a cheroot or the youth not yet shaving. It just wasn’t dignified.
In point of fact, he worried constantly about being taken seriously. Bad enough he was so youngish, he had also become known as the lawyer who would defend Indians and Mexicans and take chickens and jerked venison and dried peppers in payment. Some were simply amused, others thought he was “betraying his race.”
One day he had walked into the Silver Queen Gentleman’s Salon and taken a seat when he was followed by a stranger who’d obviously been on the road. It was bad enough that he hadn’t bothered to remove as much dust as he could out in the street, he walked into the barber shop still wearing his Mexican spurs. Quentin had just picked up an old Police Gazette when the man passed him, shedding dust like a cockerel after a dust bath.
Quentin took an immediate dislike to the stranger, not just his bad manners, but the twin revolvers hanging from either hip. The man’s boots struck the pine floorboards with more than authority. He was demanding the attention of the men waiting for haircuts or shaves or facials. And he sure as shooting got it. As each boot struck the floor his roweled spurs dug into the wood and added a clang to the thump of boot heels. The waiting patrons followed the man with their eyes and those who’d been chewing the fat fell silent. ‘I dare you,’ his guns said. ‘Step aside,’ the wicked rowels warned.
Howard Farnsby, proprietor of the Silver Queen, was more sanguine. He said, “Pardon any delay, my good man. My associate is out to lunch. Soon as he returns things will move right along here.” He smiled a proprietary smile, scissors and comb poised.
“I’m here for a bath,” the stranger said, not returning Howard’s smile. Howard nodded to the curtained doorway at the back of the shop and the man continued through it, crossed gun belts creaking in counterpoint to his ringing spurs.
The patrons in the front of the shop exchanged looks but said nothing about the stranger. After his crossing the shop, conversation resumed, about the weather, about the latest chafing between the Earps and Sheriff Behan, the price of beef on the hoof. The faro dealer from the Tivoli Saloon drew his watch from his vest pocket, stared at it a moment, and announced he would come back later. Howard’s associate returned from lunch and stepped behind the second chair, calling out, “Next.” The bartender from the Fashion Saloon left Howard’s chair just after, giving the barber a silver dollar and refusing change. Smelling like a rose and neatly shaved and trimmed, he gestured with his head towards the back room and winked at Howard as he donned his hat and left.
Only one man remained between Quentin and a shave when a shriek escaped the back room, followed by the voice of the stranger, growling, “Come back here you heathen whore. I’ll pay you good money.”
Once again everything was quiet in the barber shop. Even the snip of the scissors and the scrape of the razor stopped. The patrons shared looks. Another shriek erupted, followed by the woman pleading, “No, no, no. Señor, no please.”
Had he not been so boyish, Quentin might have got away with talking the stranger down from assaulting the bath attendant. But he couldn’t quite carry it off, and no one was especially surprised when the stranger yelled, “You get the fuck out of here, Nancy-boy, and find a place to hide, cause I’ll be in the street in five minutes, looking to call you out.”
His hatred of bullies getting the best of him, Quentin compounded the mistake of walking through the curtain. He said, “Only five minutes?”
Meanwhile, the bath attendant, a Mexican woman who had overseen the bath chamber since Quentin came to Tombstone, lifted her skirts and fled out the back door of the shop. She ran straight home. The stranger wasted no time taking his union suit down from a peg. Only then did it occur to Davies to forego his shave and visit the town marshal’s office, kitty-corner across Allen Street from the barbershop.
The marshal, Virgil Earp, was not there, but his brother, Wyatt, was. He greeted the lawyer by name and asked, cheerfully, if he had finally managed to win a case for a Paiute client, “Or maybe a Mex.”
Quentin, derby in hand, stood across the desk from the deputy and said, “Dammit, Earp, somebody’s got to defend them.” He was tired of the abuse aimed at him for some of the clients he took on, some of it good-natured joshing, some of it mean and threatening.
“I know, I know, Quentin, they’re human too. It’s just that you cain’t get a jury of six white men to side with one of ‘em, and there’s no such thing as a jury of Paiutes or Mexicans. —So, what can I do for you today?”
“I’ve had my life threatened, sir. I believe the blackguard threatening me is savage enough to make good his threat. I ask for your protection.”
The deputy smiled. “Lock you up, you mean?”
“I was thinking perhaps of locking him up.”
“Who is he?” Earp asked.
“I did not ascertain his name. He obviously just rode into town, he was covered with dust.”
“Any distinguishing characteristics besides dust, Squire?”
“He wears two side arms slung low; he also wears Mexican spurs and a cavalry slouch hat, the gray version.”
“Is he blond? Hump in his nose, like it’s been busted?”
“You know the man?”
The deputy said, “If it’s who I think it is, his name is Pete Wiltrop and he hails from Yuma or sometimes San Luis, if things grow too hot for him in Yuma County. Yeah, he’s a bad hombre, given to shooting folks with little provocation. Heard tell of him when I was riding shotgun on the stage.”
“Then arrest him.”
“Can’t,” Earp said. “Got no paper on him, and he ain’t done nothing uncivil in this jurisdiction—so far.” When he saw a flicker of alarm in the lawyer’s eyes he added, “You may not be as up on criminal law as civil, Squire, but in Arizona Territory what constitutes assault is more than a few hasty words.”
The lawyer said, “But you said yourself he’s liable to make good his threat.”
“Squire Davies, I cannot follow you around and wait for Wiltrop to draw down on you. I have things to do. I could disarm him, for he has broken that town ordinance concerning carrying firearms into a place of business, but then he’d really be aroused and I’d no doubt be forced to kill him.”
“Would you not be within your rights, Marshal?”
“He has friends among The Cowboys, and I’m deep entangled with that bunch already, so I’d prefer it if you would shoot the bastard yourself and spare me the pain.”
Quentin said, “I am not in the habit of shooting people. I do not even own a side arm, sir.”
The deputy kept his eye on the lawyer as he opened a desk drawer and extracted an Army Colt. He checked that it was loaded and extended the pistol, butt forward, to the lawyer. Davies looked at the weapon as if it were a coiled rattlesnake.
“Take it,” Earp said. “I’ll show you how to use it.”
The deputy rose from his chair, took down his frock coat from the coat rack and his hat from the shelf above and headed for the door. He stopped before stepping outside and said, “Tuck that thing in your belt, under your coat. It won’t go off. You’ve got to cock it before it fires. You ever use a Winchester?”
“I have indeed.”
“This pistol is chambered to take the same ammunition.” He stepped out of the office into the sunlight of a warm October day. “You will feel the kick more, it being lighter than a carbine.”
“Where are we going?” the lawyer asked. He could not help looking across the street at the barber shop.
Earp smirked. “To church.”
They crossed behind a freight wagon dripping water from a barrel strapped to the tailgate and continued east on the south side of Allen Street. Tucked between the tailor’s shop and Dregon’s Emporium was a Methodist Church, or what had been a Methodist Church until a new pastor persuaded his flock to build a more capacious edifice farther away from the saloons and brothels. Although real estate was at a premium along Allen Street, no one had purchased the building. It’s shotgun layout did not admit many alternative uses, although there was talk of yet another theatre going into the space.
The hinges creaked as they entered. Some winged creature fluttered past them, to be lost in the shadows of the rafters. Light from the windows, only in the front and at the back of the sanctuary, showed a scene of dishevelment: pews gone to the new church, scrap lumber of unknown origin strewn where they had once been—along with dust and evidently mouse droppings, more smelled than seen. The center aisle was clear, and the lawyer followed the lawman to the steps of the sanctuary.
“I’ll get word to this Wiltrop that you are waiting for him here. He will bust through that door, guns drawn. By holding down the trigger he can fire his gun by fanning the hammer, and that is his trademark. He fans the hammer on one gun with the butt of the other until six bullets have been discharged. He then fans the loaded gun with the butt of the empty one and fires six more rapid shots. All the while he will be advancing on you, expecting that one of his bullets will hit something vital. Or, you will be so frightened by his ferocity you will cut and run.”
“How can I protect myself from such a fusillade, Marshal? You expect me to stand up here, without cover, and weather such a storm of bullets?”
“If he hits you with one of the first six shots it will be pure accident. You cannot fire that way with any accuracy at all, it is nothing but braggadocio. He would be better off aiming a pepper pot at you. But he is, I am told, a vain man and fancies hisself a thoroughgoing desperado, so of course he would not resort to a gun used by skulking gamblers and pimps.
“You, on the other hand, will take careful aim and put at least one .44 round into the center of his body, forestalling his coming in range to do you damage.”
“That’s a good theory, Earp. What if his first shot finds it’s mark?”
“I have been shot at with a good deal more deliberation than this Wiltrop employs, and I am in possession of all of my parts, unscathed. God or Fate or a bullet with your name on it will decide if it is your turn to die, not some half-baked gunfighter from Yuma.”
“Show me how to use this thing, if you please.”
The deputy ejected the shells, five in all, into his palm. “Grip the butt firmly and raise the weapon to eye level, arm extended. Put the ball of the front sight on the target and then put the ball in this here notch in the rear sight. Thumb the hammer all the way back.” Earp demonstrated. “You hear the four clicks? You won’t hear them when that fool cuts loose at you, but you’ll feel them.” “Tell your hands not to shake so. Here.” He passed the empty gun to Quentin.
“What shall I aim at?”
The deputy said, “Wait,” and strode down the aisle until he was in the center of the abandoned church. He turned and put his hand over his heart and said, “Aim for the back of my hand.”
Quentin cocked the gun, feeling the four clicks, put the jiggling bead of the front sight as close as he could to the deputy’s hand, and lined up the rear sight. He pulled the trigger. Thunk. It took less pressure than he supposed to bring the hammer down.
“Don’t flinch when you pull the trigger. Use just your finger. Do it again.”
Click click click click . . . thunk.
Click click click click . . . thunk.
“You’ll do right fine, Squire. Here, load the pistol, and keep telling your hands not to quake so. And remember, if the first bullet misses, fire again, and again, if necessary.”
The lawyer opened the loading port and inserted the five bullets. He let out an audible sigh. “If you ever need a lawyer, Wyatt, I’m at your service.”
The deputy grinned and said, “And that, sir, means you intend to stay alive.”
“With proper luck.”
“’Tain’t luck. You got sand, sir, and that is worth ten times luck. Another man might have mounted his horse and fled town and hated hisself. —Be sure to return the gun when you’re through with it. It’s municipal property.”
As the deputy turned to go the lawyer said, “Wait.”
Earp turned but said nothing.
“I feel as if I am about to execute a man.”
“If he comes through that door, Squire, he’s aiming to kill you. But he don’t have to come through the door. His choice.”
Earp’s opening the door sent a bright splash of sunlight up the church aisle, almost touching the lawyer’s lace-ups. As the door closed the lawyer blinked at the following gloom. He will open the door and sudden brightness will make me blink too. He will be a dark figure with light behind him . . . make it hard to see his features.
Good or bad? Not seeing features.
His palm sweated. He switched the gun to his left hand, noting the weight of it for the first time. He rubbed his palm on his trousers to dry it and quickly returned the gun to his right hand. Must stay ready. How long until he gets here? Wish I could practice more but I cannot.
When he comes in I will be hard to see too. Will he start shooting in the doorway? One step in? two? If I aim right away will he be too far away to hit? Do I wait till he gets where Earp stood when I aimed at his hand? He didn’t tell me. It is second nature to a marshal, fully unnatural for me. Oh God let this be over soon or I will die of my heart galloping at twice its normal.
What was that sound?
He turned to see if he had missed a back entrance. There was a vestry off the sanctuary. Did it have its own door? Never been in a vestry. Alley behind the church—is there? Shall I look?
Just then the front door burst open so quickly the hinges had no time to squeak. The desperado seemed smaller than he appeared swaggering through the barber shop. Smaller target bigger revolvers.
The thunder of the shots was so loud it shocked the lawyer, who stood goggle-eyed before remembering what he was supposed to do. By then the shooter was as close as the deputy had been when he put his hand over his heart. The smoke around him made him a hazy target.
Click click click click. Instead of a thunk there was an astonishing thwack! and the gun jumped. The lawyer brought the barrel back down to fire again but there was no need. The horrific banging had stopped. The shooter took one more step when his knees gave out and he fell face down in the aisle.
Oh God forgive me I have killed a man.
Squire Davies dropped the Army Colt, which was too civilized a tool to misbehave and shoot him in the foot. He immediately stooped and picked it up again, his hands shaking now far worse than before he pulled the trigger.
Oh God I have killed a man.
He had to think of what to do about the body in front of him but nothing came to mind because his mind was as hazy as the gun smoke drifting into the rafters.
News spread of the exchange in the desanctified church and for a while the boyish lawyer enjoyed a certain notoriety which seemed to influence decisions in favor of his clients. But the event was soon overshadowed by a much more violent one involving the Earps and the Cowboys, leaving three dead and two wounded.
It was not long before the silver mines flooded and Tombstone, deprived of its prosperity, dried up. Wanderlust and pecuniary necessity sent Squire Davies west as far as he could go, then north as far as he could go, along the way marrying a woman who had similar ideas about the meanings of home and family. Years later, after he had been a judge up in the Alaska Territory and retired from the bench and returned to California, his grandson, Rory, begged him to tell once again how the famous Wyatt Earp had saved his life.
“I told you before, he didn’t save my life, he just gave me the means to save it my own self. And of course I am deeply grateful, but the best thing he did that day was to remind me I had sand.”
“Sand? What’s sand, Grandpa?”
“It’s the will to live, Rory. The will to live like a true human.”
“Do I have sand, Grandpa?”
“Have you ever backed down from a bully?”
“Nope. I don’t know any bullies.”
“A boy cannot grow up without crossing paths with at least one bully, it is a law of nature. If you stare him down in spite of fear in your heart, you have sand.”
“If I ever run into a bully, I’ll remember you and the gunslinger from Yuma.”
“And sand—that is what I want to be remembered for.”
Quentin Davies, a boyish lawyer, is considered by some of his fellow citizens in Tombstone to be a lovable pain in the neck. Others find him simply a pain in the neck. He defends Mexicans and Indians, and his detractors fear he will put foolish ideas about rights in the heads of these nuisances. One day he intervenes in a sexual assault on the Mexican woman who runs the bath house behind the barbershop and the randy customer, a gunslinger from Yuma, vows to kill him. The Deputy Marshal on duty that day, Wyatt Earp, will not arrest the gunslinger but shows the lawyer how, if he has a mind to, to defend himself.