Slade was right where Gunther had left him, still in the street, concentrating on his duty. The Marshall finished his chaw and traded up to a cigar, chewing on it as he squinted through his half-closed eyelids under the blinding high noon sunlight.
“I’ve recruited a special deputy,” Gunther said.
Doc put his hand out. Slade shook it. “Obliged,” was the most gratitude the stoic was able to muster.
“A distinct honor to meet you, Marshall,” Doc said. “Doctor Elias T. Faraday, M.D. by way of Boston, Massachusetts though I assure you I’m no relation to the Chestnut Hill Faradays, lousy beggars…”
“He’ll chew your ear off and spit it out if you let him,” Gunther warned.
The three men stood in a row, watching and waiting, waiting and watching. Had you, the noble reader, been facing them, you’d of seen Slade in the middle, Gunther on the left, and Doc on the right.
“‘Fraid there weren’t any other volunteers,” Gunther said. “Bunch of pansies.”
Slade chewed on his cigar. A few moments passed.
“Miss Bonnie sends her regards,” Gunther said.
“Oh?” was Slade’s response.
“Oh that perked you up, huh?” Gunther asked.
More cigar chewing.
“My mistake,” Gunther said. “Since you don’t care I’ll spare you the details.”
“What?” Slade asked.
“Well,” Gunther said. “I don’t recall her exact words but she left me with a general impression that if you buy the farm today she’ll be broken up about it.”
The end of Slade’s cigar glowed red with an inhale. Smoke billowed out of his mouth in an exhale.
“Yeah?” Slade asked.
“Yup,” Gunther said. “Gal even offered to come back you up. I turned her down, of course, a gun fight being no place for a lady and all.”
“Right,” Slade said.
The side of Slade’s mouth not chomping on the cigar curled up in a virtually unheard of smile, then quickly disappeared.
“I saw that,” Gunther said.
Doc pulled out the bottle of snake oil he was carrying in his suit coat pocket and waved it in front of Slade’s face.
“Marshall,” Doc said. “I couldn’t help but notice you speak in the manner of a man with a sore throat. One sip of my Miracle Cure-All will…”
Gunther pushed Doc’s hand away. “Trust me,” the old man said to Slade. “There’s still a taste in my mouth like I licked a gopher’s rear end.”
Slade paid no attention to any of it. Nothing was going to distract him from the impending showdown.
“Suit yourselves, gentlemen,” Doc said as he took a gulp. “More for me.”
The church bell rang twelve times. Noon.
“You two should walk away,” Slade said through gritted teeth. He said most of his words through gritted teeth. That’s just what tough guys do.
Gunther put his hand on his boss’ shoulder. “Son,” he said. “I’ve lived my life. Had my Mavis. Had my younguns. Explored all over this country. Anything else I do is just extra cream in the butter churn if you ask me. Don’t worry about me none, I’m with you till the end.”
Slade grunted. Gunther knew that meant, “Thank you.”
Doc ruined the moment by clapping loudly. “Bravo, sir, bravo! Finer words were never spoken. To that sentiment, allow me to add that I too have traveled through many a town in this new world. I’ve seen many a hamlet torn asunder by fiendish bullies and you, Marshall Slade, are the first man I’ve seen brave enough to fight for all that is good and just in the world. You move me so that I simply must be a part of your stand.”
Another grunt from Slade. Even Gunther was impressed.
“Maybe there’s more to you than I thought, Doc.”
“Plus, I’ll be able to sell even more bottles of my Miracle Cure-All once the distinguished members of the press spread tales of our glorious victory across the continent,” Doc said.
“And you ruined it,” Gunther replied.
Clip clops. Loud yelling. Hoots and hollers. Guns being fired in the air. Thirty some odd Buchanan Boys rode their horses through town. Leading up the pack?
None other than the notorious Smelly Jack Buchanan himself.