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Authors: George G. Gilman

The Quiet Gun - Edge Series 1

BOOK: The Quiet Gun - Edge Series 1
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1

1 • THE QUIET GUN

by

George G. Gilman

Terry Harknett

Spring Acre

Springhead Road

Uplyme

Lyme Regis

Dorset DT7 3RS

01297-445380

___________________________________________________________________

An EDGE Western --• --75,000 Words

2

For

JANE

Working again.

It sure takes

us back!

3

CHAPTER • 1

_________________________________________________________________________

THE MAN called Edge snarled: ‘You must be off your stupid head, you know that,
feller?’ Then less forcefully as he pressed the fingertips of both hands to his temples, he growled: ‘I sure wish this goddamn thudding was a long way off from my head.’

From somewhere close by in the pitch blackness a voice as disgruntled as his own complained: ‘Quit talking to yourself, tinhorn. People that talk to themselves give me the spooks.’

Edge eased open his eyes and as the darkness was alleviated by the unmoving pale yellow glow of a steadily burning kerosene lamp positioned some distance away he was relieved to discover the pain in his head was not made worse by the low level of light. About to snap an ill-tempered response to the man who had butted in on the talk with himself, he realised the nagging ache inside his skull surely meant he was in trouble. And he figured he better try to remember what kind of jam he was in before he aroused further resentment in the easily irritated stranger. So he closed his eyes and allowed his newly awakened consciousness to drift back into the recent past. He had reached this Territory of Arizona town of Dalton Springs, a hundred miles north of the border with Mexico, as the hot afternoon faded through rapidly cooling twilight into a bright, half-moonlit night. Driving a tarp covered freight wagon heavily laden with farm implements.

Had come by this teamster’s job by replying to a want-ad. in a Tucson newspaper which led to a meeting in a Dorado Street cantina with the shipper of the goods. The deal he was offered paid fifty dollars to drive the flatbed wagon with a two horse team down a hundred miles of trail between Tucson and Dalton Springs. A good road, he was told, along which there ought to be no problems so long as he checked the wagon regularly and attended to the needs of the animals.

4

The money – twenty-five bucks in advance and the second half to be collected from the man who would take delivery – had seemed like fair pay for the job. And, truth to tell, flat broke the way he was after his latest business venture went to the wall, Edge would have been prepared to do the work for less.

The wagon and team were in good shape when he picked them up from an out-oftown farm and, general wear and tear taken into consideration, they stayed that way over the three days the trip took on the trail that twisted and turned, rose and fell and sometimes ran straight and flat for a while through rugged, virtually uninhabited country. The kind of south western terrain that could have hidden a hundred dangers every day and night: but if they were there they did not bother Edge.

Dalton Springs turned out to be a small community comprised of not much more than a single street that stretched for about a half mile from north to south with a couple of shorter side streets angled off to the east and one to the west. It was quiet in the fast gathering dusk and the appetising smells of cooking meat mingling with wood-smoke suggested that behind many of the lamp lit windows meals were almost done or were already on the table: the people of Dalton Springs too intent upon filling their bellies to be interested in the low-on-its-springs creaking wagon with a trailweary driver holding the reins loosely as it trundled slowly in off the north trail and rolled by the cemetery into town.

Edge heard the unobtrusive sounds of contented horses resting in the livery stable to the left. Then his attention was drawn to a point further down the street on the opposite side, where a man led a saddled piebald out from an alley beside the stage line depot. He was about fifty, tall and thick set with an unkempt black beard: clad in work soiled dungarees and misshapen Stetson. When he was clear of the moon shadowed mouth of the alley he held up a hand to signal Edge should stop and as the wagon halted he greeted flatly:

‘Howdy?’

‘Evening, feller.’

‘You’re right on time. How did it go?’

‘I didn’t know I had a schedule to keep. It was no sweat.’

5

Edge’s brief smile showed his teeth apparently very white against the dark hue of his unshaven face, his complexion stained by a half Mexican heritage and a lifetime of exposure to the elements. This smile failed to soften the steely glint in his narrowed eyes that were the dominant feature of his lean face, despite being mere slits beneath heavily hooded lids. The nose was almost hawk-like between high cheekbones and the jaw line was firm, the mouth broad and thin lipped. His hair, like the growth of bristles over his lower face, was mostly black except where the advance of his years beyond fifty had added streaks of dark grey. It was neatly trimmed.

He was three inches over six feet in height and his close to two hundred pounds of weight was evenly distributed upon a rangy frame: just a little excess thickening his middle. He had dressed for the trip in a grey suit and shirt, black bootlace tie, Stetson and shoes: the outfit tonight filmed by trail dust. Ever since he drove to within sight of Dalton Springs, his gun belt with a Frontier Colt in the holster had been stowed with most of the rest of his worldly goods in the carpetbag that rode on the seat beside him. The bearded man did not respond in kind to the token smile, continued to peer up at Edge with the same hard eyed gaze as when he spoke the terse greeting and asked the question. Now put another.

‘I reckon Ezra Franklinn would have told you to ask me something, mister?’

‘You got a name, feller?’

The man spat to the side and nodded. ‘That’ll do. Drayton. Frederick M. Drayton.’

Edge set the brake lever to hold the blocks against the wheel rims, picked up the carpetbag and swung a little stiffly down to the street. ‘You’ve got some money for me?’

Drayton delved a gnarled hand into the deep front pocket of his dungarees, drew out some bills, carefully counted them and gave all the cash to Edge. Then he moved to the rear of the wagon and hitched the reins of the piebald to a tailgate fixing. Because of the efficient way in which the transaction had been completed – just as smoothly as everything else about the job he had now finished – Edge did not trouble to recheck the money before he stowed it in a hip pocket: where, along with the balance that remained of what Franklinn gave him in Tucson, it formed a satisfying bulge. 6

Without further talk or even another look at Edge, Drayton clambered up on to the seat, shifted the brake lever, took up the reins and set the wagon moving: steered it into a turn on to the side street that ran westward.

The diminishing clatter of the wagon’s wheels and the clop of the team’s hooves on the hard packed ground were the only sounds in the otherwise silent evening as Edge headed for the two story, stone built, timber porch fronted Lucky Break Saloon, midway down the street on the western side, diagonally across from the law office and jailhouse. Slatted batwing doors gave on to a dimly lit, stale smelling, ill furnished barroom that was about seventy-five feet from front to back and half as much again across. Light was provided by two kerosene lamps hung from the ceiling. The brass bases and glass chimneys of the lamps had not been cleaned in a very long time, the smell was a rancid mixture of greasy food cooked hours ago, liquor spilled over a period of many weeks and tobacco smoke that had permeated into every nook and cranny of the place since it was built.

The furniture consisted of a half dozen scarred tables encircled by varying numbers of mismatched chairs, a scattering of tarnished spittoons and the pitted bar counter with shelving behind which stretched three-quarters of the way along the rear wall. As Edge slowly zigzagged between the unoccupied tables he figured another reason why the saloon smelled so bad was the middle-aged, fleshy faced, flabby bodied and bald headed man wearing a plaid shirt and leather apron who eyed him bleakly from in back of the counter.

But, he acknowledged to himself, after three days on the trail with no opportunity to properly wash up, he probably smelled a little high himself. The fat man nodded an unenthusiastic greeting and accompanied this with an expression that seen in the dim light could have been either a smile or a scowl. Edge said: ‘How’re you doing?’

‘Lousy. What can I get you?’ The tone of voice as the bartender lifted his elbows off the counter and straightened to his full height of close to six and a half feet confirmed the expression on the over fleshed face was a scowl.

‘Beer,’ Edge told the giant of a man who was clearly not in the mood for conversation.

7

‘Sure.’

The glass he took off a shelf behind him was not sparklingly clean and the beer he splashed into it from a pump at the centre of the counter looked muddy. But at least he filled the glass to the brim and Edge reserved judgment until he had tasted the brew that maybe was not so bad as it looked.

‘Three cents,’ the sullen faced man demanded as he set down the glass. Edge paid, took a sip at the beer while the bartender’s back was toward him as he put the coins in a cash drawer beneath the lowest shelf on the rear wall. Found it like no other beer he had ever tasted, but not undrinkable. In fact, he decided as he took another sip, it was not so sour as some beer he had been served in cleaner glasses in plusher places that the Lucky Break.

‘You like it?’

Edge had been about to turn away and take his drink to a table: as content as the bartender seemed to be to confine the exchange to bare essentials. ‘You’ve had some complaints, feller?’

The big man shrugged his meaty shoulders. ‘I make it myself out back of here. Folks say it takes some getting used to. But them who drink it regular soon get used to it.’

‘I figure this is the only saloon in Dalton Springs?’

‘Yeah, right.’ He shrugged again. ‘I get your drift. So the folks around here have to get to like my beer. Or else drink hard liquor all the time. Or go thirsty.’

Edge now did move from the counter and went to sit at a table near a side wall. From where he could contribute to an exchange with the big man without need to shout, but each was able to remain silently withdrawn into his own thoughts if that was the way he wanted it to be.

Edge certainly did not feel like talk for talk’s sake and was content when, after he had sat down, stowed his carpetbag under the table and taken a couple more sips of the strange tasting beer, the bartender rested his elbows again and gazed vacantly at the batwings: maybe resuming the relaxed stance and idle occupation that had engaged him for a long time before his sole customer showed up.

8

And Edge began to indulge himself in the agreeable diversion of considering what he should do now he was relatively wealthy in relation to his situation three days ago. And possessed a degree of freedom of action that had been lacking during the three months he ran a barber shop in Tucson.

At first impression, he reflected, Dalton Springs had looked to be a nice enough small community until he stepped inside this malodorous saloon with its surly owner and strange beer. Maybe he could live here in town for a time while he looked around for a suitable job or business opportunity hereabouts.

Otherwise, should he move on? Buy himself a horse and ride out to someplace else?

BOOK: The Quiet Gun - Edge Series 1
5.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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