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A Deadly Reputation MAG
Zedadiah Trenton had been sitting in a saloon enjoying his drink. He had cast anoccasional glance at the dancers on the elevated stage, but he had been moreinterested in the expensive contents of his shot glass. Trenton sat facing awayfrom the door, which had been propped open to welcome those on the boardwalks andmuddy streets of the Rocky Mountain boom town. Silver miners rambled down fromthe high peaks to enjoy the get-rich-quick attitude of those in the saloons inJackson.
The whole saloon had fallen quiet, ears and eyes searching forthe source of the interruption. The pianist, the dancers, the drunks, had turnedto see Sheriff Bobby Starr who, accompanied by a posse, had barged through theopen door. Sheriff Starr prodded Trenton in the back with the muzzle of hisrifle. "I'm not going to tell you twice, Trenton. Put your hands up and faceme, real slow. You know why I'm here."
Part of the noise wasrestored as all in the bar turned to whisper gossip to those near them. This wasZed Trenton, the vicious killer they had read about in the newspaper! He hadkilled five men down in Texas. Oh, he'd killed 10 men in Kansas. That wasnothing; it was rumored he'd killed 20 mounted members of the cavalry in a gunbattle once.
Trenton finished his drink and set his glass on the table.Slowly, he stretched his hands upward and then turned. He had to raise his voiceto be heard over the increasingly panicked voices. "Your men shot first, Ihad to protect myself."
As Starr handcuffed Trenton, the posse movedinto place around them.
"You're gonna swing at the end of a rope comeSaturday," he promised Trenton.
Business in the saloon was returningto normal. Trenton, starting to lose his cool, began to speak. He knew better,but he wouldn't stand for this.
"You calling me a liar?" heasked.
There was an audible gasp in the room, and then everything fellsilent. Starr turned bright red. Thrusting his rifle to a deputy, he unlockedTrenton's handcuffs. Grabbing Trenton by the arm, Starr yanked himoutside.
* * *
Mayor Merewether Jacky andSheriff Bobby Starr had been relieved to hear that Trenton had come to town. Theyknew that, as a mining town, Jackson wouldn't survive much longer. They had bigplans for Jackson, and Trenton was their key.
Jackson was located in themidst of some rugged mountains, at the end of a long trail. It came as nosurprise that not a single famous gunslinger had found his way up there; mostnotable gunmen wanted to be in a place where news of shoot-outs traveled quickly,adding to their fame.
Jacky and Starr needed to find a recognizablevillain, and soon, if they were going to make a name for themselves and grab theattentions of the press and a watchful nation.
When word came that Trentonhad come to town, they immediately started to sort out the particulars of theirplan.
Cloud had been considered the fastest gun west of the Mississippi.The eastern press had become infatuated with him, the newspapers running storiesabout him almost every week. Storybooks in which he was the main character soldby the thousands. There was not a person in America who was not familiar with thename of Graham Cloud.
Unbeknownst to most of his admirers, Cloud, at somepoint in his career, had become extremely hot-headed. So, when a lowly ranch handhad unwittingly taken the bar stool next to him, he resolved to kill him. He wentfor his gun, but the ranch hand shot Cloud dead.
Trenton had killed Cloudin self-defense, everybody saw that, but the newspapers had wasted no timeturning Trenton into a celebrity. Soon the whole of America opened their papersto read about the ranch hand who had made a fool of the legendary Graham Cloud.Cloud had drawn first, but Trenton's gun was the first to clear theholster.
Amateur gunslingers swamped Trenton, hoping to make a name forthemselves, but he wanted no part of it. In an attempt to escape unwantedgunfights, Zed headed up the long, winding trail to Jackson.
And now,Jacky and Starr's plot seemed to be working beautifully. They had sent a dispatchof deputies to arrest Trenton, but, as they anticipated, the confrontation hadresulted in a shoot-out. The only drawback, Jacky and Starr noticed, was thatTrenton had not killed anyone. Instead, he had injured three men, not woundingany of them seriously. A letter, including an anonymously supplied sum of money,sent to the wounded men's physician had fixed that.
"Two Dead, OneInjured, Crazed Killer on the Loose" was what the people of Jackson read inthe tiny local newspaper. They would have driven Trenton out, but they didn'tknow what he looked like. So, Trenton laid low, looking for an opportunity toescape back down the trail that would take him out of harm's way.
* * *
Starr and Trenton stepped out into the thin mountain air, pausingfor a moment on the boardwalk. As he thought about his situation, Starr liked itmore and more. What better way to attract fame than a showdown, with the sheriffleft standing as triumphant defender of law-abiding citizens. This might evenmake him recognized nationally - the sheriff who killed Zed Trenton.
Theystepped into the deep mud of the street and took up their positions facing eachother at opposite ends. Trenton nodded to Starr, giving the first draw to thesheriff.
There was, what seemed, a prolonged pause. Each was sizing up theother. Then Starr drew. This one felt good to Starr. His gun was almost levelwhen he saw a flash come from the muzzle of the carefully aimed, pearl-handledColt in Trenton's grip.
The sheriff hit the ground. A dark moment passedbefore those nearby swarmed to see if their lawman had survived. In theconfusion, nobody noticed Trenton slip away.
"Beautiful!" Jackymumbled under his breath. He faced the window of his office, which provided awide view of the street below. Behind him were members of Starr's posse, hats inhand, having hurried to Jacky's office with the news of Starr's death.
Hewas trying to give them the appearance of grief. Jacky stepped closer to thewindow. His affected mumble disguised his inner emotions. "Simplybeautiful!"
Jacky worked hard to put on a face that looked sad. Heturned and faced the posse. "Yes, thank you." His eyes watered as hepretended to fight tears. He paused to gain composure. "You may leavenow."
After all footsteps had receded, two other men entered Jacky'soffice. All pretenses were dropped. "How you want us to print this,boss?"
Jacky looked at the two men who made up the entire newspapercrew. He sat and motioned for them to do the same. "First of all, maketomorrow a day of mourning. Print a lengthy article about Starr. Make him a hero.Good ol' Bobby. Find a photograph. Print that at the top. Make it big. Fill thepaper with stories of how wonderful Starr was. Make tomorrow's paper a memorialfor Starr. Lastly, after all this, make a call for deputies. Tell them I intendto hunt Trenton down. Make Trenton evil, like the devil himself."
Thetwo men were taking mental notes. "Alright, we'll have the first draft readyfor your review this evening," they promised.
When his office wasempty, Jacky congratulated himself. This was, to him, an ideal outcome. Hesmiled. Everyone in the town had loved Bobby Star, which primed him for death.When they had plotted together, Jacky had thought of how to use Starr, but thisunexpected occurrence had made things incredibly simple for Jacky. All he neededto do was to rouse the emotions of those who follow him. As a town, they wouldfind Trenton and seek justice. This justice, Jacky thought, could be found at theend of a rope. What more gripping for an infatuated nation, what more compellinga story, than a town working, led by their mayor, to catch the killer of theirbeloved sheriff - especially if that killer was the man who had killed GrahamCloud. Jacky would address the town tomorrow about needing special deputies tofind Trenton.
The next morning the hitching rail in front of the mayor'soffice was shaking under the strain of a long line of saddled horses. Men checkedweapons and put their gear in order. Called together by Jacky's authoritativevoice, they directed their attention to the boardwalk command post.
"Men," Jacky pronounced, "this is a day of justice. A daythat will go down in history. You all know what's at stake. Bobby Star was ourfriend and defender. Who will defend his honor?"
A cry from the mobtold Jacky that they were angry, focused and ready. "Mount up! There's dutyto perform this day," he commanded. Horses jostled as reins were gathered upand determined men swung into their saddles. They mingled in a cloud of dustwaiting for the order to move out.
And then ...
Coming up thestreet, a man - young, confident, even surly in manner - rode toward the crowd.No one in town knew his name, but everyone knew his kind - a saddle-tramp with agun and an ego, seeking a name. Apparently, word of Trenton's secret retreat hadgotten out. Jackson would now be overrun by such trash.
As the riderreined up at the gathering of horsemen, he proclaimed, "Who wants to buy mea brew? I just shot me a gunslinger!"
"What?" exclaimedseveral in the crowd. "What do you mean?" "Who are you?""Who'd you shoot?" The young man pushed his hat back on the crown ofhis head and laughed. Throwing his leg over the pummel, he slid to the mud,squared the revolver in his holster, and stood waiting for the crowd to quietdown.
"My name is Hollister. Frank Hollister. Remember it. I justshot Zed Trenton in a fair fight. He drew first. I dumped his body in the PrattRiver. He should be halfway to Cheyenne by now."
Jacky jumped off theboardwalk, taking charge. "That is ridiculous, young man. Trenton is the onewho killed Graham Cloud. He just shot our sheriff down in cold blood. You mean totell us you outdrew Trenton? You say you dumped his body? It is not going to gowell for you to come here telling such tall tales."
Hollisterturned on Jacky and glared. The crowd hushed, and Jacky felt fear creeping intohis throat. With his eyes riveted on Jacky, Hollister sneered, "Could anyone of you identify his gun?"
The alert and watchful eyes of theposse studied this boyish newcomer. They all remembered that shiny white gunwhich had moved faster than anything they had seen.
From his holster, helifted his gun and turned the butt outward, plainly revealing the very gun whichhad claimed Starr's life the day before.
"I'll buy you thatbeer!" came a voice from the posse. Murmurs of doubt turned to laughter ofrelief; nobody had really wanted to face the gunfighter named Trenton. As thecrowd moved to the saloon door, Jacky stood in disbelief. His plan had collapsedso quickly that the man of words was speechless. Alone and unknown, he stood inthe mud.
* * *
His horse moved methodically downthe trail. Don Wilkins, as he would now be called, smiled as his right handrested on his hip where his gun had been so obediently his servant. Now he wasfree. He had pleasant thoughts about the farm he would homestead in California,and sympathetic thoughts for a young man who was given the weighty gift of areputation.