Inside I stiffened up...that there phrase "walked the boards" might have been an accident, but from the smile
around his eyes it seemed to me there was something behind it.
Ten years," I admitted, "and we've had less trouble than most towns. The way I figure is to anticipate trouble
and take steps."
"Good idea. Jim Melette gathered his supplies. "What do you do when trouble comes that you can't avoid?"
When he said that I had a chill...for ten years that had been my mightmare, that trouble might come
that I couldn't sidetrack or outsmart, and I wasn't as young as I used to be.
"Don't ever worry about that," Lizzie said. "Ben McLane had killed fourteen outlaws before he came to Canyon
Gap. Many a time I"ve seen him toss a card in the air and shoot the spots out."
"That's shooting." Melette agreed. "I've only seen one man who could do that. Of course, I was just a youngster
then, must have been thirteen, fourteen years ago."
He picked up the rest of his supplies and walked out and I stood there looking at my hole card, and it
had suddenly became a mighty small deuce. After all these years, while things shaped up mighty fine I'd came to believe I
was set for life in Canyon Gap. The town liked me and I liked the town, and one way or another, I'd kept the peace. Now it
looked like the whole show was going to bust up right in my face.
Walking to the door, I watched Melette stow his stuf in his saddlebags and a sack he had tied behind his saddle.
Then he dusted off his hands and started across the street.
A man can only keep the peace by working at it, so I stepped out on the walk. "Melette!" He turned slowly
when I spoke his name. "I wouldn't go over there if I were you. There's trouble over there."
Figured first off he'd tell me to mind my own affairs, but instead he walked back to me, and then I was really
scared because I thought he'd have something personal to say, and one thing I did not want to do was talk about myself. Not
"All right, McLane, I won't," he said. "Will you tell me where Hanna Ross lives?"
He had called her Hanna, although her first name had not been mentioned inside, so my hunch was right. Trouble
was coming to Canyon Gap in the person of Jim Melette. He knew more than he was letting on. I pointed the way up the street
to her house.
"For a stranger." I said, "You seem to know a lot about folks. Why do you want to see Hanna Ross?"
He was steping into the saddle. "Why, Mac, I think I used to know her, so I sort've figured I'd stick around
for that pie supper and if Hanna Ross will go with me, I'll take her. You keep the peace, Mac!" And he trotted his horse off
toward Cottonwood Hill.
Standing there in the street I knew I was scared. For ten years nobody had come to Canyon Gap who knew me,
and I'd begun to believe no one ever would. The days of gun battles were about over, tapering off, anyway, and I'd begun to
feel that I had it made, as we used to say in the goldfields.
It seemed to me that I was going to get it from two directions unless I was very careful. Ginnie Bacon
had been flirtin' around Brad Nolan for the past several months trying to see what kind of trouble she could help him get
into. He was spoiling for a fight, and from the way she'd acted toward Jim Melette there in the store, it seemed like she
might try to get the two of them to go at it.
The other thing that had me worried was that I knew who'd been leaving all those tracks around Hanna Ross's
house...it was that crazy eyed Led Murry. I didn't know what that meant, but I was afraid. Nolan and Murry were some trouble
separately, but together they were downright dangerous.
Something like this had happened a time or two before, but I'd been able to break up the dangerous combinations
before they realized their strength.
Divde and rule, that was my motto, and I made it a point to know about people, and whenever I saw fellers
getting together who might cause trouble, I get a girl betwixt'em or jealousy about something else, and usually I'd managed
to split 'em up.
There's more ways to keep the peace than with a gun, and I'd proved it in Canyon Gap, where there hadn't been
a gunfight in ten years...and in the month before I took over there had been three. Not in all that time had I drawn a gun
on a man.
Cottonwood Hill was right up there in plain sight at the edge of town, and from town everybody could see who
came or went from the place, so Lizzie Porter saw Jim Melette ride through the gate up there, and she went right back in to
No need for me to read the playscript to know Ginnie would get mad...she had practicaly offered herself to
Melette for the pie supper and he had walked away and gone to see Hanna Ross.
Things were bunching up on me
Ten years it had been and I'm a man likes a quiet life. When I rode into this town on the stage and saw the
snow-capped mountains' round about, and the shaded streets and pine forests on the hills around, and that stream running right
through town, I decided this was the place to spend my declining years. The fact that they mistook me for a gunfighter and
offerd me the marshal's job had provided me with a living.
Now, between Hanna Ross, Ginnie Bacon, the Nolan outfit, and Jim Melette, I could see the whole ting blowing
up in my face. It was too late for me to hunt up a new town, and I liked this one. And I never had been able to put by much
in the way of money.
Worst of all, suppose Jim Melette told around town what he knew about me?
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE