Guns Against Temple
By Joel Jenkins
The heat in the court room was growing oppressive as Temple Houston began his closing arguments. He stood and glanced down at the sullen face of his client and realized that no matter how eloquent his speech, or how convincing the arguments he might give, Clyde Russell would soon be swinging by the neck from a hemp rope knotted with the thirteen coils of the hang man’s noose.
Mr. Russell’s former lawyer had realized that he was overmatched in court, and that the sympathies of the local townsfolk lay with the man who Clyde Russell had shot dead. The attorney abandoned his client only a day before trial, opting for greener pastures, and easier cases to defend. He knew that he had hitched his wagon to a dying horse, and didn’t want to stick around for the painful demise.
Temple Houston had stepped up to take the man’s case. He was attracted by the challenge, and he believed Clyde to be innocent of the charge of murder which had been laid against him.
Stepping up to the jury box, Temple’s long brown hair flowed behind him. His thigh-length Prince Albert coat flapped behind him, revealing the brocaded vest beneath, and the Spanish trousers, which were supported by a belt upon which hung double holsters filled with pearl-handled revolvers. He cut an odd and flamboyant figure in comparison to the conservatively dressed lawyer for the prosecution, and the utilitarian dress of the ranch owners who sprawled skeptically in their jury box chairs.
“Gentlemen of the jury,” began Temple, “my client is not a man of arms; he is not an accomplished gunfighter. He has never before used guns, coming, as he does, from a faraway state to settle amongst us, and become a substantial citizen.”
Several men of the jury shifted uncomfortably, their eyes beginning to glaze over. Before the trial had even commenced they had made up their minds that the defendant was guilty, and in their minds, all this talk was a waste of their time. Temple tried to wake them up.
“These are the facts in the case. This lately lamented cowboy, who was so unfortunately killed by my client, who was protecting his own life, had the reputation of being a gunfighter of more than ordinary ability. And that, gentlemen, is a dangerous reputation.”
The words were beginning to flow now. They came like honey, but lingered with undeniable force. Temple hoped that just maybe he might be able to crack the implacable veneer that the jury had raised around themselves.
“All other men fear such a man, and they have a right to fear him. It has been said of the deceased, that he could let another man start his draw; that he could even let the other man get his pistol out into his hand, and that he could even then, draw, shoot, and kill his adversary.
My client had heard these things and feared that gunfighter. I don’t blame him. And you don’t blame him for not waiting until that known killer could put a bullet through his heart”
The jury had now focused their attention on him, and Temple hoped that he still might get through to them. His eyes went from face to face, examining their reaction to his words. He found the two who seemed most resistant to his arguments and focused on them, looking into their eyes as he continued his speech- figuring that, maybe, if he could convince them of his client’s innocence, the others would fall into line.
“In Oklahoma and Texas there are men so accomplished in killing that they can place a gun in the hands of an inexperienced man and shoot him before he can raise the hammer and pull the trigger.”
He looked into the eyes of the two men he had chosen from the jury, and saw only bland apathy. He was not getting through to them, so it was time to pull out his ace in the hole.
“Let me give you a demonstration,” said Temple.
With movement so quick that it was difficult for the eye to follow, his hands slipped beneath the cloth of his Prince Albert coat, and when they emerged they each gripped the pearl handles of his six-shooters. Temple brought the scrolled four and three-quarter-inch barrels of the Peacemakers up until one pointed into the jury box, and the other toward the bench where the judge sat. Before the veniremen and the judge knew what was transpiring Temple began firing. The shots echoed in the close quarters of the court room, and among the observers, thick on the benches, women began to scream. Black puffs of smoke filled the room, and the judge dived beneath his table, while the jury scattered into the crowded courtroom, sweating sick fear, and searching for the nearest exit. One juror dove through an open window, and the others fought their way for the front door.
With a grin on his face, Temple Houston stood standing at the center of the courtroom, his guns returned to his holsters, and his hands upon his hips. The judge was the first one to regain his composure, and he rose from behind his table, blue veins throbbing in his forehead. “Mr Houston! It would seem that you have no respect whatever for this court.”
“Your Honor,” answered Temple calmly. “I meant no harm. My revolvers were loaded with blanks. It was merely a demonstration to impress the jurors with the speed that can be accomplished by a practiced gunfighter, and to show them what any normal man would do in the face of fear.”
As the jury eventually trickled back into the courtroom, wearing apprehensive expressions on their faces, Temple returned to the table at which his client sat, sweating his fate.
“Do you think your trick with the guns will win me my freedom?” asked Clyde.
Temple Houston shook his head and quietly responded. “There was nothing that I could do to win this case for you. They were going to find you guilty no matter what I said.”
Clyde furrowed his sun-darkened brow, and scratched at the uneven clots of dark hair that grew from his scalp. “I wish that I had never crossed paths with James Harris. I was lucky enough to survive one encounter with him, but he’s reaching up from the grave, and he sure enough is going to take me with him.
“I don’t think so,” answered Temple. “You may spend a few more months behind bars, but I wager that you’ll soon be able to go back to your farm and be with your family.”
“How so? asked Clyde.
“We have grounds for a mistrial,” explained Temple. “It is unlawful for the jury to mix with the public during the hearing of a case. The next time this case comes to court, I’m going to know how every juror likes their eggs in the morning, and how hot they like their coffee. I’m going to know exactly what they need to hear to be convinced that you are innocent.
Two years later, the city of Enid in the Oklahoma Territories
The sun hung low in the sky, its yellow light streaming from the edge of the horizon, and Temple Houston, and Judge O.C. Wybrant rode in the thin strip of sunlight between the shadows of the saloons and hotels that lined the Enidâ€s main street. They kept their horses to the center of the road, more from sheer habit, than anything else. Men of the law often kept to the middle of the road, because the practice of their profession often resulted in the creation of bitter enemies. Revenge-minded individuals might lie in wait among the shadowed eaves of the warped boardwalks, and leap out to back shoot the unwary target of their hatred.
Such things were far from their minds, however. The air was still warm, leavened with a pleasant breeze that carried the scent of wildflowers from the white, gypsum-capped hills.
“So tell me,” asked Judge Wybrant raising a furry white eyebrow that resembled a geriatric caterpillar. “I’ve heard a rumor that you once bested Billy the Kid in a gun duel, any truth to that?”
Temple shrugged modestly. He temporarily dropped the reins, hooking them on the pommel of the saddle, while he moved the thick law book of Oklahoma Territory statutes into his left hand. Temple reached up and adjusted the rim of his white sombrero. “It more closely resembled a contest than a duel, and, truth be told, Billy called it quits before he even took his turn behind the gun.”
“A contest? I heard a tall tale that you center-shot a plug of blue star chewing tobacco when Bat Masterson tossed it into the air.”
“After Billy saw the shot he decided there was no point in dragging the contest out any further. Sometimes you just get lucky,” said Temple.
Judge Wybrant snorted. “I believe nothing of the kind, perhaps-”
His words were cut short as a shot rang out, echoing against the wooden alley off Main Street. The law book in Temple’s left hand quivered, as a bullet slammed into it. From the darkness of the alley by Webster’s Grocery came the slap of running footsteps against the hardpan streets.
Temple dropped the law book to the road, and spurred his horse forward, and into the alley past several water barrels that collected rainwater from the gutters of the grocery. Paint peeled from the wood siding, and refuse was stacked high in broken crates, but there was no sign of the fugitive who had fired a shot at him.
The lawyer’s eyes went to the roofs of the surrounding buildings, but they were empty. He doubted that the person who had fired the shot could have climbed a rain spout so quickly. The alley quickly came to an intersection, and a cursory survey revealed a confusion of old whiskey crates piled haphazardly behind the bar to his left, and a fenced courtyard behind the grocery. Up ahead the foul chemical scent of a tannery leaked out from beneath a bark door.
Temple began to urge his horse into the intersection, but then thought better of it. His would be assassin had any number of excellent places to hide, and to ride down the narrow alleys searching for him would be giving him yet one more chance at an ambush. He wheeled his spotted horse and found the judge dismounted beside his horse, and retrieving the 1,384 page law book that Temple had dropped.
Wybrant flipped through the pages and pried loose the still hot bullet that had lodged within its covers. â€It stopped at page 654,” said the judge. That’s one lucky book. If you hadn’t been carrying it, that bullet would be stuck in your intestines right now.”
“I believe in spreading my luck around,” answered Temple. “Perhaps you should hang on to that book for me.”
“Consider it done,” answered Judge Wybrant. “You happen to catch sight of the man who fired the shot?”
Temple shook his head. “I don’t even think he stuck around to see if he hit his target. The moment that he fired, he was fleeing out the back of the alley.”
“Anyone in particular who might be holding a grudge against you?”
“It could be any of several hundred people,” answered Temple. “You can’t be a successful lawyer without managing to offend a few folk.”
“Or a judge for that matter,” answered Wybrant with a grunt. “But I’m pretty sure that this bullet was intended for you.”
Temple and the judge parted ways a few blocks later, and Temple unsaddled his horse at Vernon’s Stables, the potent aroma of horse and hay in his nostrils. He left his steed in Frank Vernon’s trustworthy, but somewhat unsteady hands.
With trembling fingers Frank hung the reins on the wall. He spoke through a thick mat of snowy beard and mustache. “Don’t ever get old, Mr. Houston,” he said. “Your body betrays you.”
Temple examined the heavy crow’s feet around Mr. Vernon’s eyes, and watched the hands that were marked by liver spots.
“If someone had their way,” responded Temple, “I wouldn’t have lived past today.”
Frank looked at Temple with an appraising eye. “You have a reputation as being a formidable lawyer, but I daresay that you’re going to need to be just as formidable with those pearl-handled hog legs that you carry around, because word has it that you’ve angered some dangerous men.”
“And who is that?” asked Temple
Frank shook his hoary head. “I don’t know exactly, but I’d suggest that you leave town by tomorrow, because if you’re still here by the next day there is going to be hell to pay.
“I can’t do that,” said Temple. “I’m defending a man accused of horse robbery. It will be another day, maybe two, before I have things wrapped up.”
“If you want to get home to see your wife and kids you’d better listen to me,” said Frank. “I may be old, but I’m not senile, and my hearing is still good. Bad things are coming for you, and a smart man would get out of the way.”
Temple handed the old man a dollar bill “I appreciate the warning,” said Temple. “I will keep my eyes open.”
As Temple departed Frank Vernon looked the crumpled bill in his hand and shook his head. He held enough money in his palm to cover the expenses of stabling the horse for the rest of the week. That meant that Temple was planning to stay in town. Still, Frank hadn’t expected the young lawyer to take his advice. If Temple was anything like his old man, then neither hell nor high water would keep him from his duty.
Dusk was setting in as Temple walked the six blocks to the Enid City Hotel. Rising three levels high, it was one of the more impressive structures of the growing cattle town. It was not the poshest establishment in town, but far from some of the cockroach infested flea farms that Temple had stayed in on his previous visit to Enid. This time, his client could afford to pay the bill for his defense, and Temple didn’t feel quite the need for thrift that he had upon his last trip.
The floorboards in the hotel’s small lobby were a bit uneven, being laid too green, and warping as they dried, but the place was kept clean, and the scent of cooking food wafting in from the kitchen in back, made for a pleasant environment.
A bald man with thick neck, and beefy limbs sat behind the counter, and he smiled crookedly as Temple approached. So, you planning to stay in town for a few more nights, Mr. Houston?” His voice was oddly high, and incongruous to the body from which it emitted.
“A few more days,” agreed Temple. “I’ll settle up on anything that I owe you before I leave.”
“Certainly,” said the bald owner. “Care for some dinner? My wife’s cooking up a fine batch of beef chili.”
“Would I!” exclaimed Temple. For some reason he found that he was ravenously hungry. He hadn’t realized how famished he had been until he had caught the scent of the food in his nostrils.
Three bowls of chili later, he headed up toward his room with a full stomach. He had rented a corner room on the third floor of the hotel, overlooking Main Street, and a side alley that cut by a small photo gallery. In the dim hall, Temple fumbled with the key, and finally slipped it into the lock.
He caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye, and his hand left the door knob and went to his gun, his long coat fluttering slightly as his hand withdrew the gun, the finger already putting pressure on the trigger.
A man emerged from the shadows of the stairwell, with his hands upraised, and his palms showing; the brown hue of his overcoat bleeding from the darkness.
“Easy, Mr. Houston,” said the man in a gravel baritone. As he came into range of the lantern light, the speaker’s pasty visage came into view. The man carried a scar across his left eye, and he smacked his paper-thin lips together, as if relishing the moment. “I have a word of warning for you.”
Temple carefully appraised the man, and then returned his gun to its holster. “Ole Betsy tends to get a little anxious when people sneak up from behind me,” said Temple, referring to his gun.
“I’m here to help you,” said the scarred man as he pushed the brim of his dark ten gallon hat upward. “There’s a man in town who wants you dead.”
“Is that so? Well I appreciate your effort, but your warning has come about an hour too late. I’m already aware that someone is town is anxious for my demise.”
“Yes, but do you know who he is, or where you might be able to find him?”
“No,” answered Temple. “I’m listening.”
“His name is Elton Harris.”
The name sounds familiar, but I can’t place it.”
The man smiled, spreading his thin lips to razor widths. “A client of yours killed his brother in a gunfight.”
“James Harris,” muttered Temple.
“Yes, and you got Clyde Russell off the hook for the shooting.”
“It was self-defense,” growled Temple. “So how is it that you know so much about all this?”
“Let’s just say that I’m an associate of Mr. Elton Harris, and that we no longer see eye to eye on a few things.”
“Is he alone?” asked Temple.
“At Wessler’s Hotel, room 2 on the third floor, but only tonight. Tomorrow, two hired gunfighters will be rolling into town on the stage to help him do his dirty work. If you pay Mr. Harris a visit tonight, you can save yourself a lot of trouble. These gunfighters aren’t going to come after you unless there’s someone alive to pay them.”
“Are these gunfighters anybody that I might know of?”
The man pulled out a pre-rolled cylinder of tobacco, and put the cigarette to his mouth. “Four Finger Pete, and Bosco ‘two-gun’ Thompson.”
“I’ve heard of them, weren’t they involved in a shootout in Kansas last month?”
“They killed three men between them. Four Finger Pete is about the fastest gunfighter I’ve ever seen, and Two-gun can hit a silver dollar from twenty paces, once with each gun.”
“And who are you?” asked Temple.
“It ain’t important who I am.” The stranger lit up his cigarette, sucking at the glowing embers of tobacco, and blowing out a plume of gray smoke. “I’m just hoping that you’ll take care of Mr. Elton Harris, so that I don’t have to do the job myself. Cause if you don’t do something, you’re not going to see another sunset.”
The stranger turned and disappeared into the pitch shadows of the stairway, the stairs creaking as he departed.
Without opening his door, Temple removed the key and turned toward the stair himself. His plans for the evening had changed.
He wasn’t about to rush over to Wessler’s Hotel and charge into room two in order to confront Mr. Elton Harris. After all, he was a man of the law, and if things could be resolved by using the proper channels, then that was the course that he would take.
When Temple reached the dark streets of Enid, a slender moon was slowly rising in the sky, spreading its silvery light across the roofs of the city. The stranger was no where to be seen, so Temple turned his steps toward the Crawfish Saloon. A crudely painted fish adorned the sign that hung over the establishment’s door, and it creaked as it swung in the night breeze.
Though the evening was young, boisterous laughs and shouts filtered from within the tavern, and bright light spilled through dusty panes onto the uneven boardwalk. Someone with more nerve than skill began to pound on a piano, and the discordant notes rose to a chorus of boos.
Temple stepped through the slatted double doors of the saloon, and peered into the smoky interior. It took him only a few moments to locate Sheriff Jake Darryl chatting up a lovely bar maid with golden tresses that curled around her shoulders. Temple had encountered the Sheriff several times during his visits to the courthouse, and though not actually well acquainted, they were on a first name basis.
Slipping past a half-dozen burly cow hands, who raised their beer steins in a boisterous toast, Temple found his way to the Sheriff’s side. Jake Darryl was not a handsome man, but he had filled the position of Sheriff for several months now, and by all accounts the amount of crime had decreased since he had taken over. He wasn’t shy about drawing his guns, or about deputizing local rough-necks to help him enforce the peace.
Jake pulled at a scraggly mustache, and he displayed a mouthful of rotting teeth, that rose above an ungainly wad of chewing tobacco that was stuffed into his lower lip. “How’s about you and me getting together later tonight, Shelly?”
Shelly forced a smile. “I’m working late, Sheriff, don’t wait up for me.”
“Excuse me, Jake,” interjected Temple. Shelly gratefully slipped away, and the young lawyer now had the Sheriff’s undivided attention. “I’ve got a rather pressing matter that needs your attention.”
“What is it that brings you down to the Crawfish, Temple? You getting a taste of the night life while you’re in town?”
“In a manner of speaking,” answered the lawyer. â€Someone took a shot at me this afternoon while I was riding down the street with Judge Wybrant. The bullet probably would have killed me if my law book hadn’t stopped it.”
“Really?” said Sheriff Darryl. “Did you get a look at the man who done the shooting?”
“No, but I had a fellow show up at my hotel tonight - a man with a scar over his left eye. He claims that a man staying at the Wessler perpetrated the crime.”
“I haven’t seen this fellow with the scarred eye. Did he say who he was?”
“I’m afraid not,” said Temple, “but he claims that two gunmen are coming into town tomorrow to help this Mr. Harris finish his botched job. If you could come with me, and put the fear of God into this fellow, maybe drive him out of town until I can finish my case up, I would appreciate your assistance.”
“I appreciate your dilemma, Temple, but I’m afraid there’s not a whole lot that I can do about it.” Jake sent an ill-aimed jet of tobacco juice in the general direction of a brass spittoon, but only succeeded in sluicing brown liquid on the floor of the Crawfish.
“A crime has been committed. It’s your duty to enforce the law, Jake.”
“No offense to your fine reputation,” said the sheriff, “I certainly believe you, but all we’ve got to go on is the word of some drifter who showed up and told you some tall tale. That’s certainly not enough for me to go arrest this Harris fellow that you’re talking about.”
“Maybe not,” agreed Temple, “but it is certainly a lead that demands to be followed. If Elton Harris knows that the Sheriff is onto his game, then maybe he’ll hesitate before he sends gunmen after me.”
Sheriff Darryl shrugged. “I’m sorry, Temple. I really wish there was something that I could do for you. Now if you personally want to go pay this fellow a visit, I’m certainly not going to stand in your way. You have a reputation as a man who can take care of his self. Just make sure that if you shoot this fellow, it is done in self defense.”
Something seemed peculiar about Sheriff Darrylâ€s reticence. Word was that in the past weeks the sheriff had little compunction about beating the sense out of anyone he even suspected of a crime, but now he was refusing to follow up what might possibly be the solution to a crime committed earlier that day. Temple decided to back off, and reconsider the facts, before he pressed the sheriff any further.
“I’ll think on it,” said Temple. He found his way to the bar, and perched himself on a stool. The bartender was a grisly looking man who had fought for the Union during the war, and gained a half dozen bayonet scars on both forearms. Temple laid a five dollar bill on the counter, and with a sly grin, George scooped it up and tucked it into his apron pocket.
“You plan on drinking a lot tonight?” asked George. “Because five dollars worth of alcohol will float you to the Mississippi.”
“Bring me a shot of whiskey. You can keep the rest of the money if you can provide me with some information.”
“I’m a font of information,” replied George. “But keep your voice down, Shelly loves to gossip.”
Pretending to be hurt by the comment, Shelly pouted and turned her shapely body away from the bar, on her way to deliver a tray of beers to various patrons of the Crawfish.
Temple leaned toward George. “I’m wondering if you might have any knowledge of a pasty-faced fellow with a scar that crosses his left eye.”
George chewed on his lower lip. “I’ve seen just such a fellow in this very establishment this evening.”
Temple waited through George’s dramatic pause, hoping that the bartender might yet have some further information to divulge. He wasn’t disappointed.
“His name is Simon Bist, otherwise known as Shotgun Simons. I don’t know anything about why he might be in town, other than he’s doing some business with Sheriff Darryl.”
This bit of fact froze Temple on his barstool. “Are you certain? He claims that he’s never seen the man.”
“I’m certain,” answered George. “I’m not sure what sort of business it was, but not more than two hours, Shotgun handed our sheriff quite a wad of cash. He thought he was being discreet, but -” He raised his massive palms in an outstretched gesture that indicated inevitability. “Some people may think that I’m nothing but a senile old war veteran, but I know what goes on in my own saloon.”
Temple grimaced as he downed his whiskey. “I appreciate your help, George. You may have saved my life.”
“Glad I could be of service, even if for a Texan like yourself.”
Temple pushed himself away from the bar, and made his way past the clatter of the piano, through the swinging slatted doors, and into the stillness of the night. The crickets in the grasslands sent up a chirping chorus to the narrow moon, and Temple plainly turned his path toward the Wessler Hotel.
A half block away he caught up with an older fellow slowly strolling in the same direction. By the scent of the man, Temple could tell that he was deep into his bottle, and the threadbare shirt that he wore told the lawyer that the man was down on his luck.
“Would you like to make five dollars?” asked Temple.
The drunk’s bleary eyes lit up, and he scratched at the hollows of his stubbled cheeks. “Who do I have to kill?” he slurred.
“Not a soul,” answered Temple. Before the man could ask too many questions, the lawyer whipped off his Prince Albert coat and fitted the itinerant with its long dark folds. He plucked the white fedora from his head and placed it on the crown of the drunk’s matted gray locks. Temple pressed five dollars into the man’s hand.
“Just keep on walking in the same direction,” said Temple.
The drunk might have asked more questions, but he saw the twin pearl handled revolvers that rode the lawyer’s hips, and he decided not to press his luck. He turned and began staggering in the direction of the Wessler.
Temple smiled as he sank into the shadows of the nearby alley, concealing himself in their enfolding embrace. He waited in the darkness, and soon he heard the clap of feet on the boardwalk. With eyes fixed straight ahead, Sheriff Darryl walked right past the alley, one hand hovering near his gun.
For a moment panic flashed through Temple. Had he misread the situation? Was the Sheriff planning to gun him down from behind? He didn’t want the blood of an innocent man on his conscious, any more than he wanted to be shot to death by a gang of gunslingers hired by Elton Harris.
Creeping from the clinging tenebre of the alley, Temple watched as the sheriff followed the drunk, apparently never doubting that he was pursuing Temple Houston. The style of dress was unmistakable. No other man in all of the Oklahoma territories dressed like the young lawyer.
By the way that Sheriff Darryl hung back, Temple was relieved to see that the lawman was only following the drunk, not planning to shoot him down. It was apparent to Temple that some elaborate plot had been hatched to lead him into a trap at the Wessler hotel.
Shotgun Simons had shown up to lay the bait, pretending to be disgruntled with Elton Harris. His enemies knew that he was a lawyer, not a loose-cannon gunfighter, and they had figured that Temple’s first move would be to visit the local constabulary to recruit some help. Shotgun Simons had prepared for this eventuality by buying the loyalty of Sheriff Darryl.
In retrospect, Sherrif Darryl’s reluctance to help seemed like an obvious ploy to send Temple in the direction of the Wessler. In fact, he had even suggested that Temple pay Elton Harris a visit! It was clear to Temple that there was an ambush being laid at the Wessler, and that he was meant to be the unfortunate guest of honor.
Temple wondered whether it was just Shotgun Simons and Elton Harris who were planning to do the shooting, or if Shotgun’s tales of Kansas City gunfighters were true. At the minimum, it was plain to Temple that there were at least two men who were hell-bent on killing him. They weren’t going to be easily discouraged, and Temple couldn’t rely on the law to help him out. This time he was going to have to handle things himself.
He slipped out onto the boardwalk, staying to the dark corners and posts as he watched Sheriff Darryl cross the street as they neared the Wessler. Ahead, the drunk made a detour before the looming hotel, and went inside the Lusty Lady Tavern to imbibe some of his new found wealth.
The sheriff produced a key from his pocket, and let himself into the tailor’s shop across the street from the Wessler Hotel. Through the thick window panes, Temple could see the glimmer of a match, and the burning ember of a wick as an oil lantern was lit. The lantern was quickly shuttered, so that only a bit of light leaked out around the edges.
Temple came to a stop while he pondered the meaning of the sheriff’s action, then he finally hit upon the solution. The lantern was meant to be a signal. Room two of the Wessler’s third floor had a window pane that looked across Main Street, and gave plain view of the tailorâ€s shop. The sheriff had agreed to be the signal man. He was waiting for the disguised drunk to emerge from the Lusty Lady, and head into the Wessler. Perhaps the sheriff thought that Temple was fortifying himself with some liquid courage, but, from the appearances of the man he had lent his coat and hat, and the amount of money that he had in his pocket now, Temple doubted that the man would emerging for days.
Realizing that his life wouldn’t be worth a plugged nickel if he left Elton Harris to roam free, his eyes went to the dark roofs of Enid, and Temple hatched a plan. The Wessler Hotel, the Lusty Lady and a leather goods store were conjoined, all part of the same building and the same facade. Temple circled around behind this block of buildings, and climbed into precarious position on the lip of a water barrel. He grabbed hold of a drain pipe, and worked his way to the moonlit roof of the shop. The roofs were flat, but built at a slight incline so that water would drain from the surface, but not so steep that packed snows couldn’t be shoveled away during a particularly bad winter.
The leather goods shop and the Lusty Lady were built one story high, and the extra two stories of the Wessler loomed above Temple as he scrambled low across the rooftop. Fortunately for Temple, the roofs were built with a low wall, about two feet in height, encompassing the edge. This allowed Temple to stay out of sight as he crossed over the noisy denizens within the Lusty Lady, and reached the abutting gray walls of the Wessler. The scent of the tar-sealed roofs were in his nostrils, and he removed the pitch-smeared gloves from his small hands, for fear that they might hinder his speed when he needed it most.
In some professions small hands might have been an impediment, but for a lawyer it didn’t matter much. For a gunfighter his small hands were a benefit. They were exceedingly nimble, and his forefingers were able to easily slide beneath the trigger guard, when making a fast draw. Gunfighters with larger hands had more difficulty making the draw. Many were forced to saw the trigger guard from their gun altogether, in order to provide easy and fast access to the trigger.
Temple reached up and took hold of the long lead drain pipe. It was fastened to the Wessler’s walls with periodic brackets nailed into the fir siding. The piping was on the far side of the building, away from the view of the tailor’s shop, and Temple hung several stories up in the air as he hoisted himself toward the third floor roof. The night air was taking on a chill, but his efforts warmed him, and by the time he rolled onto the roof he was perspiring.
The lawyer had visited clients at the Wessler before to prepare cases, and he was familiar with the layout of the building. The third floor had a long hall that ran the entire length of the building. On each side of that hall was a window - one that overlooked Main Street, and one that overlooked the narrow alley behind. Along each side of the hall were three rooms, with a stairwell that emerged on the south side.
Before taking any further action Temple tried to imagine how, if he were in his enemies’ position, he would lay a trap in the hotel. To avoid attention, he figured that his foes would probably wait until he had reached the third floor to spring the trap. Probably they had a man hiding in the lobby area somewhere. When he entered, the man would trail him up to the third floor.
Sheriff Darryl was prepared to raise a lantern in the window of the tailor’s shop as a signal to anyone on the third floor that Temple was coming. That meant that there would be at least one man within room two that was standing at the window, and maybe another who was standing in the hall to make the ambush.
Temple knew that in order to have any chance, whatsoever, against the ambush that had been laid for him, he had to turn the well-laid plan of his would-be assassins on its ear. Testing each step to be sure that the tarred timbers of the roof would not groan beneath his weight, Temple came to the edge of the building that was nearest the alley. He eased over the wall at the roof’s edge until his entire waist was hanging over the night-shrouded alley three stories below. From this vantage point he could see the four-paned window that was set in the wall about four feet below him. A glimmer of lamp light seeped through the warped panes, and Temple saw a bulky form pass in front of the window, the black barrel of a shotgun catching the feeble rays.
For a moment Temple saw the profile of the man, and could see the shadowed-scar that crossed his left eye. Shotgun Simons was laying wait in the hall for him. Temple hesitated to shoot a man in the back, but he knew that if he had walked into the ambush, Shotgun Simons would have felt no such compunctions. Temple drew his Peacemaker, Old Betsy, from his right holster, and aimed at a downward angle, in through the window at Shotgun Simons.
Maybe it was the creak of the ceiling, or maybe some sixth sense, but Shotgun Simons turned suddenly to look at the window, and he saw Temple Houston leaning out above. Instinctively, Shotgun Simons jerked his shotgun into firing position, the barrel crashing through the glass window in a tangle of wood frame, and glittering shards.
Temple fired four times, each bullet punching through the chaos, and striking Simons in the head, shoulder and chest. Simons pasty face leaked crimson, and his eyes rolled into his head as he pitched backward, pulling the trigger of his shotgun. Buckshot ripped into the ceiling, and dark dust filtered down from above.
Cursing himself for the hesitation that had almost cost him his life, Temple pulled back to the roof. There was no time for delay now, and with the adrenaline flowing thick through his veins, Temple flipped around and lowered himself over the edge of the building. For a moment his feet hung free, and finally they found precarious perch on the ledge of the shattered window, jagged glass crunching beneath his boots. He lowered himself into a crouch, finally releasing his hold on the roof above. From his bent position in the window frame, he leaped into the dusty hall, standing astride the still twitching body of Shotgun Simons.
Footsteps pounded up the stairwell, which emerged twenty feet down the hall and to his right. As Temple began his draw Two-Gun Thompson leaped into the hallway, the black-ribbed barrels of a Schofield Smith and Wesson .45 jutting from each fist, and the sound of gunshots echoed in the confines of the hall, black smoke billowing into the air.
Temple’s guns leaped from their leather, and even as the lawyer heard the whine of bullets pass by his ear, he put three pieces of lead into Two-Gun Thompson’s heart. The impacts knocked Two-Gun out of mid-air leap, and a blank expression crossed his surly face as slammed to the ground with a ruptured aorta.
Now Temple felt that discretion might be the better part of valor, and he stepped back up into the window frame, the thick black clouds of gunsmoke hanging so thick in the air that the further end of the hall was no longer visible. He stood up to full length, grabbing hold the roof top edge, and pulling himself upward. Even as he withdrew from the window frame, he heard a door slam open in the hall below, and guns pounded as they sent a barrage of lead smacking into the wooden walls, and whistling out through the spot where Temple had been sitting an instant before.
Temple swung the cylinder of his .45 open and dumped six empty cartridges onto the tar. He slipped six more cartridges from the loops on his belt, and rapidly replaced the ones that he had used. With one gun completely full, and counting on the gunfire to conceal any noise of his movement, Temple ran low across the rooftop making for the corner under which room number two rested. Without hesitating to consider the rashness of his plan, he once again swung over the side, kicking in the window of the room, as he dropped onto the wooden sill. For a moment he teetered on the sill, and almost lurched backward and fell to the rutted tracks of Main Street, but he reached out in time to halt his backward momentum, his left hand closing on a piece of window frame studded with crystalline shards of glass.
He hissed as the glass cut into his palm, and crimson began to flow, but immediately slipped into the hotel room, and landed heavily on the hardwood floor. The room was thick with the stale scent of cigar and cigarette smoke, and a tray of smoldering butts lay on the table alongside a dozen empty liquor bottles. To his right a polished cherry wood bureau, with a large mirror, held a cup of warm water, a razor knife protruding, and a mixture of whiskers and foam floating at the top. An unmade bed filled the room to Temple’s left, and black gunpowder smoke drifted in from the open door of the room, settling in snake-like patterns.
Half-shaven and shirtless, Four-Fingered Pete burst back into the room, empty cartridges scattering before his footfalls, and foam flecking from his chin. His gun belt hung at his waist, and he and Temple reached for their weapon at the same time.
It was speed against speed. Both men were famed for their lightening quickness, but this time it was Temple Houston who cleared the leather of his holster first. They both fired, one after the other.
Temple’s bullet smacked dully into Four-Fingered Pete’s forehead, and Pete’s shot went awry, tugging at Temple’s pant leg before it buried itself in the wall. Pete sagged to the floor, his gun falling from his lifeless grip, leaving Elton Harris standing alone at the doorway, above the corpse of his henchman.
Elton quickly dropped his revolver and raised his hands over his head. His round face blanched with fear. “Don’t kill me, please!” pleaded Elton. “I’ll pay you anything you ask! Turn me over to the sheriff, anything, but don’t kill me.”
Temple knew that if he let Elton live the man would probably come after him again. Next time, of course, he would just hire the killers and stay clear of the action, but he would still be a constant threat. However, Temple couldn’t bring himself to shoot an unarmed man, and he knew that he would have difficulty defending himself against a charge of murder if the man he killed was not holding a gun. Turning Elton over to the sheriff might not be much of an option either, considering that Sheriff Darryl was paid off and participating in the ambush. When Sheriff Darryl arrived, he might just decide to shoot or arrest Temple, instead of hauling Elton off to jail.
The young lawyer spotted a .41 caliber Colt model sideways-loading derringer resting on a wood side table which rested near the door, and not far from Elton Harris’ hand, and decided to lay bait for Elton.
“Very well,” said Temple, “but let me make it clear to you that if I ever see you again, I will shoot on sight.”
Temple whirled his Peacemaker and dropped it back into his sheath with the gun handle pointing forward. The gun rocked slightly in its swivel holster. The lawyer turned around and faced away from Elton Harris. “I’m giving you to the count of ten to get out of this hotel. If I turn around and see that you’re still here, I’m going to shoot you down like the dog that you are.”
For a moment Elton hesitated. He looked at Temple Houston’s broad, tar-stained back, and thought how easy it would be to grab the nearby derringer, and shoot the lawyer in the back. On the other hand, he could ride free from Eldin, and hire other gunfighters once he was safely away.
Ultimately, the lure of revenge was stronger. Now was his opportunity to shoot down the man who had got his brother’s killer off Scot free. Already, Elton had shot down Clyde Russell as he was coming out of the feed store in his hometown. But the flame of revenge was not so easily extinguished. Now Elton figured he could finish the job, by killing the lawyer whom he considered nearly as guilty as the man who had actually pulled the trigger. Elton snatched up the derringer.
“Die!” he snarled.
But before the words could pass his lips, and before the gun could be raised into position to fire, three shots bellowed and rang against the wooden walls of the hotel room. Out of the corner of his eye Temple had watched Elton go for the nearby derringer as reflected by Four-Fingered Pete’s shaving mirror. In an instant he swiveled the holster of his gun backward, and pulled the trigger three times.
Elton staggered. The gun dropped from his grip as he stared at the crimson pattern shot into his chest. He fell against the door frame and slid to the floor, where he tried to speak, but no words would come. Finally his head fell limp and sank to his shoulder.
Temple heard footfalls on the stairs. He stepped into the smoky hall and waited for Sheriff Darryl. A moment later the law officer arrived, a shocked look fell upon his face as he surveyed the bloody deaths that Temple had wrought with his pearl handled guns
“I see you took my advice,” said Sheriff Darryl, “but I said visit him, not shoot him. I can’t condone all this killing. I’m going to have to arrest you.”
“That’s a surprise to hear that you don’t condone this killing, considering that you helped bait the trap to lead me here.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Sheriff Darryl, a queer expression growing on his face.
“The trap might have succeeded in killing me, if you had seen me coming and had been able to warn the others with your lantern from the tailor’s shop.”
“You can’t prove nothing,” said Sheriff Darryl, who quickly gave up the pretense of not understanding what Temple was talking about.
“But I can,” answered Temple. “I can produce a witness who overheard a conversation between you and Shotgun Simons; the very same conversation where money changed hands.”
“Who?” questioned the sheriff angrily.
“Now why would I want to tell you who? I think I have an excellent understanding of how you work, now. If I tell you who my witness is, then my witness might end up dead or missing.”
Sheriff Darryl’s hand fidgeted at his side.
“You’d be a fool to go for your gun,” said Temple. “You’ve seen what I can do. You want to be my fifth victim this evening?”
“You can’t shoot a sheriff,” said Darryl. “They’d hang you.”
“You forget that I have a witness that will corroborate the facts of your corruption.”
“Don’t you worry about the finer details of law,” said Temple. “I’m offering you a way out.”
Hope leaped into Sheriff Darryl’s eyes. “What’s that?”
“This never happened. You clean up the mess - it’s partly of your own making- and you see that my name isn’t mentioned in conjunction with it. If you try to pull anything fast, then I talk to my witness, and I see that you’re brought up on charges of bribery and corruption.”
A few minutes later, Temple left the Wessler Hotel. The chill night air swept away the scent of death, and calmed his taut nerves. He would have loved to bury Sheriff Darryl in a mountain of evidence that would keep him in jail for the rest of his life, but the fact was he didn’t have that much to go on. Sure, George, had seen some money change hands, but he hadn’t overheard a single word of the conversation between Darryl and Shotgun Simons. Temple had been bluffing, something a good lawyer learns how to do very well. Sheriff Darryl, without knowing it, had been the one who had Temple in a corner. If Temple had killed the sheriff, George’s testimony wouldn’t have been enough to get him off the hook.
Temple stopped by the Crawfish for another drink. Until tonight, he mused, he had never fully appreciated the dangers of becoming a successful attorney.