Friday, July 5, 2013

Sweetwater #1: The Medicine Show

                                                                       I
Marshal Cooper Smith stepped out onto the boardwalk in front of Della's Café. He'd justfinished his favorite breakfast of hot cakes, warm syrup and coffee and figured only one thing could make it better.

He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the fixings, rolled a quirley and stuck it between his lips. He pulled a match from the opposite pocket of his shirt, struck it against the side of the building and lit the quirley.

What could be better, he thought. He took a long drag of the cigarette, stepped off the boardwalk and started across the street. He noticed a merchant's wagon coming down the street as he stepped up on the boardwalk in front of his office.

The reins of the two horses pulling the wagon were threaded between the fingers of a skinny, middle-aged man, a derby hat sitting at an angle on his head. Beside him on thewagon seat  was the prettiest young woman Cooper had ever seen. Her golden hair seemed alive as the curls in her hair bounced to the rumblings of the wagon.
                           
The Marshal stood at the edge of the boardwalk as the driver pulled back on the reins and halted the colorfully painted wagon in front of him that proclaimed DOCTOR MCDERMOTT'S MAGIC ELIXIR on its side.

"Good morning, Marshal,” said the driver, noticing the badge pinned to Cooper’s vest. “Thaddeus McDermott at your service."

He tipped his derby hat revealing the balding head under it. “And this is my daughter, Annie,” he added, gesturing to the young woman beside him.

"Welcome to Sweetwater, Mister McDermott," replied Cooper. He looked over at Annie and tipped his hat. " Miss McDermott."

"Please, Marshal, don't be so formal, you may call me, Annie," she replied with a big smile.

"Looks like a right nice little town you have here," said McDermott.

"And we aim to keep it that way," interrupted a raspy voice from behind Cooper.

"And we ain't gonna let some snake oil salesman come in upsettin' things around here either,” added Cooper’s deputy, Otis Fuller, leaning against the jamb of the office door.

"Snake oil salesman, indeed," objected McDermott.

Looking back at his deputy, Cooper jerked his thumb toward the office and Otis disappeared inside.

"You folks will have to excuse my deputy, his manners ain't the best. He just needs to warm up to you is all," he said.

"Apology accepted, Marshal,” replied McDermott. “Now, can you direct us to one of your establishments where we can get a room and clean up a bit?"

"The Sweetwater Hotel is just down the street and the big white house at the end of the street is Sadie's Rooming House. Both will serve your purpose, but Sadie's rooms include home cooked meals, cooked by Sadie herself."

"Sadie's will do just fine, don’t you think, my dear?” said McDermott looking over at Annie.  “It's been awhile since we’ve had a home cooked meal.”

“Whatever you think, father,” replied Annie. Thaddeus McDermott looked back at Cooper.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Marshal, I'm sure we'll be seeing you again," he said and flicked the reins, setting the wagon in motion.

Cooper touched his fingers to hat, getting a smile from Annie in return as the wagon headed for Sadie's Rooming House.

"What was that all about?" Cooper asked his Deputy when he walked into the office.

 Otis Fuller sat on a bench at the far side of the office holding a mug of coffee. "That stuff don't work them snake oil salesmen sell, Coop."

The Marshal sat on the edge of his desk. "That ain't for us to say, Otis. So, until they break the law, I want you to treat ‘em like anyone else that comes to Sweetwater."

"Okay, Coop, you're the Marshal." Otis shrugged his shoulders and took a sip of his coffee.
                                                                  * * * *
McDermott stopped the wagon beside Sadie's Rooming House. He climbed down from the wagon seat, helped Annie to the ground and, together, they stepped up on the porch.

McDermott knocked on the door and waited a few moments until a slender, salt and pepper haired woman opened the door.

McDermott removed his derby. "Good morning, Madam, the Marshal told us you have rooms for rent."

"I do," said Sadie standing in the doorway, her fists on her hips.

"My daughter and I have just arrived in your town from a long trip and would like to rent a couple of your rooms.”
.
Sadie looked from McDermott to Annie, then opened the door the rest of the way.

"I happen to have two available,” she said.  “It'll be a dollar a day for each of the rooms, payable in advance. It includes breakfast and supper and a bath if you care to take one.”

McDermott reached into his pants pocket, retrieving a well used leather change purse. He fished two dollar bills from it and handed them to Sadie.

"Breakfast is at 6 am and supper is at 5 pm. If you miss either you have to fend for yourself,” said Sadie, stuffing the bills down the front of her dress.
 
She produced two keys from her apron pocket. "The rooms are at the head of the stairs across the hall from each other. If you need anything else, let me know."

She handed a key to McDermott and one to Annie. "Enjoy your stay.
"
"Thank you, Madam," replied McDermott, bowing slightly at the waist.                

Sadie watched the two new arrivals disappear up the stairs, then turned, going back to the kitchen.
                                                                 * * * *
Two duster clad men stepped from the saloon onto the boardwalk. Their eyes followed the wagon as it left the Marshal's Office and pulled in beside the rooming house.

"They sure took their sweet time about gettin' here," said Case Harden, as he and Grady Barker stepped off the boardwalk into the street. Spurs jangled when they stepped up on the porch of Sadie's Rooming House and knocked on the door.

"Sorry, I don't have any rooms available," said Sadie when she opened the door.

"We're here to see a couple of friends of ours, a fella in a derby hat and a girl," said Case Harden.

"I don't want any trouble here, I run a respectable place."

"Ain't gonna be any trouble as long as you mind your own business," said Harden, pushing past Sadie into the room. "Now where are they?"

"Two rooms at the top of the stairs."

The two men trudged slowly up the staircase.

"I'll call the Marshal at the first sign of trouble," warned Sadie.

Annie stood in the open doorway of her room when Harden and Barker reached the top of the stairs. She stepped aside to allow them to enter the room, then closed the door behind them.

"Welcome, gentlemen, it's good to see you again," said Thaddeus McDermott, sitting on the sofa near the window.

"You took your sweet time getting here," said Case Harden.

McDermott took a long draw on the cigar clamped between his teeth, blew a large smoke ring and watched it float toward the ceiling.

"We wanted to give you plenty of time to look the place over," he replied.

"What did you find out?" asked Annie.

"Two people work in the Wells Fargo office," said Harden. "The depot agent and the freight handler. When the last wagon leaves, the freight handler cleans things up and goes home. The agent usually stays doin' paperwork. When he's done, he always leaves through the back door. We could be in and out before anyone suspects."

"Can you be ready tomorrow?" asked Annie.

"We're ready now," replied Harden.

"Tomorrow  will be soon enough," said Annie.
                                                                    II
Standing outside the Marshal's Office, Otis Fuller watched Case Harden and Grady Barker walk down the street and disappear into Sadie's Rooming House. Leaning against the building smoking a quirley, he watched the two dustered hardcases re-emerge from Sadie's ten minutes later and stride down the street to the Four Aces Saloon. He flicked his quirley into the street and stepped off the boardwalk.

"Sorry, boys, I cain't serve you no liquor before noon," Otis heard Pete Ackley, the bartender, tell Harden and Barker when he pushed through the batwings.

“This is a saloon, ain’t it?” replied Harden.

“Coffee and breakfast is the best I can do before noon, boss’s orders,” said Ackley, stacking the glass he’d been wiping onto the shelf behind him.

"We'll have coffee then," said Harden when he spotted the Deputy come through the batwings. The two gunmen took their coffee to an empty table.

"Coffee, Otis?" Ackley asked when the Deputy walked up to the bar.

"Yeah, sure," replied Otis..  Ackley set a mug on the bar and filled it with coffee.

Otis took a sip of the steaming liquid and set the mug back on the bar.

"What can you tell me about them two, Pete?" he asked , nodding toward the two gunmen.

Pete Ackley shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, I don't know, Otis. They showed up here ‘bout five, six days ago. Never caused no trouble, but, they always sat at a table near the door or a window, like they was waitin' or lookin' for somebody."

"Maybe they was and I think that somebody they was waitin' for finally showed up,” replied Otis.

He took a big drink of his coffee and pushed the mug toward Pete Ackley. "I think I'll have me a little chat with them two."

Case Harden and Grady Barker tried to ignore Otis Fuller as the Deputy approached their table.

"Howdy, boys," greeted Otis, pulling out an empty chair from the table. Putting his foot on the seat, he leaned forward, resting his arms on his knee.

"Mornin', depity," said Harden.

"Depity," replied Barker.

"Enjoyin' your stay in Sweetwater, are ya?" asked Otis.

Both men nodded their heads.

"Yes sir," said Barker.

"Right nice town you have here," added Harden.

"Gonna be stayin' long?"

"Jest driftin' through, depity," said Harden.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“He’p yourself,” said Harden, motioning toward the chair Otis had his foot on.
 
Removing his foot, Otis sat down and looked at Barker, then at Harden.

"I hope you two ain't plannin' nothin unlawful,” he said, “‘cause you see, boys, when we extend our hospitality and someone does somethin' ill-legal, Marshal Smith and I take it sorta personal like. You catch my drift?"

Looking into Grady Barker's eyes, Otis smiled, causing Barker to look down into his mug of coffee. Looking over at Harden, he smiled again, rose from the chair and pushed it back under the table.

"You boys have a nice day now, hear?" said Otis.

Touching his fingers to his hat, he winked at the two gunmen. He turned toward the bar and waved at Pete Ackley as he left the saloon.

"He knows, Case," whispered Barker after the deputy left the saloon.

"How does he know, Grady, huh? You tell me that. You let him spook you. Drink up, let's get outta here."


Pouring coffee into a tin cup, Cooper Smith looked up when Otis Fuller strode through the office door.

"Where you been?" he asked his Deputy.

Otis removed a tin cup from a peg on a wall rack behind the stove and held it up to the spout of the coffee pot.

"Plantin' seeds," he replied with a smile.

                                                                           III
Sitting with his chair tilted back and his feet on the railing, Otis Fuller finger pushed his hat up from his eyes with a finger to watch Thaddeus McDermott drive his medicine wagon up the street from Sadie's Rooming House.

It rumbled past him and stopped in front of the hotel, giving him a ringside seat for the show.  After a couple of minutes, the back of the wagon was lowered, extending two legs that made a makeshift stage for Thaddeus McDermott to peddle his wares. Annie moved two tables onto the stage when McDermott secured it.

Cooper Smith stepped from his office onto the boardwalk, eyeing the slow gathering crowd around the medicine wagon. He sat down in a chair next to Otis and put his feet up on the railing.

"You got a ringside seat," said Cooper.

"Yeah, and in just a minute, I'm goin' down to the bank so I can give McDermott my hard earned money like everyone else is gonna do," replied Otis.

Cooper Smith looked at his Deputy and chuckled.


Waiting for the crowd to grow, McDermott produced a deck of cards. He shuffled the cards, cut the deck with one hand, fanned them and reshuffled the deck again. He pointed at a young girl standing with her mother near the stage.

"My dear, would you like to assist me?" he said, beckoning to the girl.

Smiling, the young girl's mother nodded at her and the girl walked up the narrow set of steps onto the stage.

"Have we ever met before?" asked McDermott.

"No sir," she replied, shaking her head.

McDermott fanned the cards and held them face down in front of the girl. "Pick a card, my dear, and show it to the people, but don't let me see it."

After a moment, she slid a card from the pack and turned to the growing crowd holding up the two of diamonds.

"Now, my dear, return the card to the deck," said McDermott. The girl slid the two of diamonds back into the pack.

McDermott cut the cards and made one shuffle and held the cards face down in front of the girl again.

"I'm going to go through the pack and you tell me when to stop anytime you want."

The girl answered McDermott by nodding her head. He started to transfer the cards, one at a time, from his left hand to his right.

"Stop."

McDermott turned his right hand over showing the girl the bottom card. Her eyes widened and a big smile crossed her face.

"Is that your card, my dear?"

"Yes," she replied, nodding her head emphatically.

"Show everyone."

The young girl took the card from the deck, holding up the two of diamonds for the crowd to see. The revealed card brought applause and laughter from the crowd.

McDermott gave the pack of cards to the girl and took a shiny dollar from his vest pocket, holding it up in his left hand to the crowd.

He placed it in his right hand and closed his fist. He raised his right fist and opened it revealing an empty palm, bringing a buzz from the crowd. With his left hand, he reached behind the girl's right ear and produced the shiny dollar, bringing more cheers and applause from the crowd.

"For your able assistance, my dear," said McDermott, handing the dollar to the girl.

"That's why they call them tricks," said Otis, getting a chuckle from Cooper as the smiling girl left the stage and returned to her mother's side.

Otis caught movement from the corner of his eye and looked over to see Case Harden and Grady Barker, without their dusters, blend in at the back of the crowd.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," started McDermott, holding up a brown bottle.  "Let me introduce you to Doctor McDermott's Magic Elixir. It will cure arthritis, rheumatism, gout, stomach ache and back ache."

Otis watched the two gunmen weave their way to the front of the crowd.

"For the tidy sum of one dollar, you will have the cure for all your troubles. One brown bottle will take care of all your needs."

Case Harden held a dollar bill over his head. "I'll take a bottle."

"Me too," said Grady Barker, holding a dollar bill up to Annie, who gave them each a brown bottle of the elixir.

Amid a forward surge of the crowd waving money, Harden and Barker sought an avenue of escape. Stepping forward and moving along the side of the wagon, the two gunmen met at the back of the crowd. They th handed their brown bottles to two thankful men and walked toward the saloon and their waiting horses.

Otis rose from his chair and watched the two gunmen ride around the corner of the Wells Fargo office.

"I'll be right back," he said to Cooper and stepped off the boardwalk.

He hurried across the street and stepped up on the boardwalk, making his way toward the Wells Fargo office. He stepped down between the freight office and the hardware store and sidestepped to the back alley.  He eased around the corner of the building and stopped at the open back door of the Wells Fargo office. Drawing his Colt, he stepped through the open door.

 He tiptoed around the crates in the back room and peeked through the partially open office door. Sitting against the wall, gagged and bound, was Abe Shipley, the freight agent, watching Case Harden and Grady Barker fill canvas Wells Fargo bags with money from the open safe.

His hunch had been right. McDermott, Annie, Harden and Barker were all working together. The medicine show was just a distraction and a cover.

"Okay, let's get out of here," Harden said to Barker, throwing the tied moneybags over his shoulder.

Otis slid through the open door and leveled his cocked Colt at the two outlaws.

“Sorry, boys, I can’t let you do that.”

 Harden fired a quick shot at Otis and dove for the protection of the nearby desk. Otis slid back through the door.

"I told you he knew," said Barker from the protection of the open safe door.

"Give it up, boys, nobody needs to get hurt. Throw down your guns," shouted Otis.

"We ain't givin' nothin' up," yelled Harden and fired another shot at Otis.

"What're we gonna do, Case?" asked Barker.

"We're getting' out of this. When I say, throw some lead in that door." 

Harden reloaded his gun and looked over at Barker.

"Now."
 
A hailstorm of gunfire splintered the door hiding the Deputy. Case Harden bolted from the desk followed by Grady Barker from behind the safe door.

As Barker ran by, Abe Shipley stuck out his bound legs sending the outlaw sprawling across the floor, losing the grip on his gun. Looking up, Barker saw Harden dive through the window of the Wells Fargo office.

As he reached for his gun, a booted foot pinned it to the floor.  Barker looked up into the barrel of Otis Fuller's cocked Colt and dropped his head to the floor.

"You alright, Abe?" Otis asked the Wells Fargo agent.

Receiving a muffled answer and a nod of the head from Abe, Otis looked down at his prisoner.

"You're under arrest, mister."


The second gunshot caught Cooper Smith's attention. Listening intently, he heard the barrage of gunfire.

"That came from the Wells Fargo office," said the man standing next to Cooper.

As he ran down the street, Cooper saw Case Harden crash through the window of the Wells Fargo office. Harden fired a wild shot at the Marshal before turning to run for the horses.

Cooper's return shot on the run hit Harden in the leg, knocking him down. From one knee, Harden fired at the Marshal again. Cooper stopped and fired twice, the second shot hitting Harden in the chest.  The outlaw fell, unmoving, into the street.

"Otis," shouted Cooper, walking toward the downed outlaw.

"We're good, stop McDermott and the girl," shouted Otis through the shattered window.

At the sound of the gunshots, McDermott lost his captive audience when they followed  Cooper Smith down the street.

"My dear, I think we've worn out our welcome," said McDermott when Harden came crashing through the window. With Annie scrambling to the front seat, he jumped down from the wagon and raised the tailgate.

"Leavin' us so soon?" asked Ira Harkin, as McDermott climbed into the wagon seat. The big blacksmith stood in front of the wagon.

"Yes, I just remembered someplace we were supposed to be. So if you'll step aside, we'll be on our way."

"I think the Marshal might want to talk to you two," replied Ira, seeing Cooper Smith hurrying back down the street.

"Get out of the way, mister," shouted Annie, pulling a Colt from under the seat.

"Heeyah!" yelled McDermott as he slapped the reins when Ira stepped aside.

Before the horses could bolt forward, Harkin grabbed the harness of the nearest horse. Ducking down in front of the horse, he barely eluded Annie's shot.

"Drop the gun, Miss McDermott," orderd Cooper, coming up on the opposite side of the wagon. Annie dropped the Colt into the street.

"You alright, Ira?"

The blacksmith came up from the cover of the horse. "I'm okay, Marshal."

Cooper waggled his Colt at McDermott and Annie. "Both of you climb down."

Cooper stopped them at the back of the wagon.

"Open it up," he said to McDermott.

"Watch ‘em, Ira," said Cooper, handing his Colt to the big blacksmith. The lawman climbed up into the back of the wagon, opening boxes and crates and looking in drawers.

"Looking for anything special, Marshal?" asked McDermott.

Cooper lifted the lid of a large trunk and smiled. He pulled out four empty moneybags.

"I found it, you two are under arrest."

"But, Marshal, I don't know where those came from," said McDermott.

"We'll let the judge decide that. Ira, take 'em away."

The blacksmith waggled the Colt at the two prisoners. "Move it."

They met Otis at the door to the Marshal's Office.

"Got two more for ya, Otis," said Ira.

Cooper Smith walked into the office as Otis hung the cell keys on a peg next to the cell block door.  He threw the moneybags on the desk, sat down and wrote a message he would telegraph to Wells Fargo telling them of the arrests.

Otis sat in the chair opposite Cooper. After a couple of minutes, the Marshal looked up at his Deputy.

"Ain't cha got somethin' to say?" asked Otis.

"About what?"

"About them." Otis jerked his thumb toward the jail cell.

"Yeah, the judge won't be here ‘til next week and bein' you're the Deputy, you gotta watch ‘em. So get comfortable."

Rising from his chair, Cooper Smith walked toward the door.

"But, Coop, you know my lumbago always kicks up when I have to sit too long," pleaded Otis.

The Marshal strode out the door and returned a couple of minutes later carrying a crate. He set it on the desk and lifted the lid. He removed a brown bottle of McDermott's elixir and placed it in front of Otis.

"Guaranteed to kill or cure," said Cooper.

"SNAKE OIL."

Otis Fuller was still yelling when Cooper Smith stepped off the boardwalk.

                                                           The End

2 comments:

  1. This sounds like it will shape up to be a fun read. Good westerns are hard to come by.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Barbara. Glad you enjoyed it! #2 in the Series, The Hangman, is posted too, if you haven't read it already.

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