The wind blew hard in Crawford, Arizona this summer afternoon in 1863. A tumbleweed crossed the street between two cowboys who eyed each other firmly. Mary stared at the cowboy to her left from the railing in front of the general store.
He was a tall man dressed all in black. His hat sat crooked on his head, blocking the sunlight from his eyes. The man’s suit looked pressed and clean and his boots appeared to be new and expensive.
His right hand hovered over a bright silver revolver holstered low on his hip. If Mary had a nickel, she would have bet it that the revolver was a Colt, considered the finest handgun ever made.
Old man Gifford stood next to Mary at the handrail, watching the two cowboys.
“I hate when these gunslingers come to town and make a spectacle of themselves.” He spoke to himself.
Wow, a real gunslinger. Mary looked at the man in black again.
She wasn’t sure if she should smile or not. A gunslinger! They were fascinating, even famous, but we also knew them to be deadly. She hoped he wouldn’t notice her staring at him. In all her sixteen years, Mary had never seen such a still and quiet, confident man. He looked dangerous.
Mr. Gifford threw his cigarette on the ground, “Poor Charlie, he was a good kid.” With a look of pure disgust on his face, he turned and walked back into the general store.
Mary stood there in her pretty white dress with the cool blue apron her mother had made for her. Her ma tied her hair up atop her head with a pink ribbon. She felt she looked right pretty.
Her Pa had let her ride along on his weekly trip into town to get supplies. The old, rickety wagon, pulled by the old unsteady horse, had slowly carried them from their small farm. They lived a few miles north of Crawford. They had made this trip countless times since her Pa started letting her go to town with him some six years ago. It was always fun. There was always something going on in town. Mary loved the break from the tedious hours on the farm.
Mary didn’t know what conflict was between these two cowboys, but she was fairly sure what was about to happen. She looked over at the other cowboy, Charlie Miller. He stood there all dusty and dirty. He must have come into town riding with his Pa bringing cattle in to sell. His old jeans and chaps hung from his skinny frame. His tethered shirt was as dirty as the rest of him. He wasn’t, but maybe twenty-two. He had spoken with Mary a time or two when they had seen each other in town. Seemed like a nice young man.
Mary saw Charlie’s hand shaking, hovering over the old revolver in his pants belt in front of his belly. His blue eyes squinted against the dust carried with the wind, and he was sweating. It’s not that hot. Why is he sweating? What in the world has brought these two unlikely foes to meet in the street like this? Mary rested her elbows on the railing and clasped her hands.
An old tan hound dog meandered up the street, coming up behind the man in black.
What is Buford doing? Silly old hound dog. Mary watched the old dog moseying along. If Buford belonged to anyone, most people in town didn’t know who. He was friendly enough. Sometimes when they had come to town, her Pa had given him a piece of beef jerky, and the old dog’s tail would wag and wag.
Mary saw that Charlie had noticed old Buford, too. He likely wondered, same as her, what the old dog was doing, wandering up behind the man in black. Charlie looked at the dog and with no conscious effort, his hand slipped lower toward his belt.
Boom! Boom! Two loud and horrible blasts rang out like thunder on the stormiest night. Mary jumped from the sound. Charlie’s eyes grew wide with fear and pain as two slugs tore into his chest. He called out a terrifying yell. His body twisted and his knees buckled. His eyes were closed when his finger squeezed the trigger.
Boom! Another thunderous blast. Mary gasped, watching Charlie fall. She never saw him actually hit the ground. Something distracted her, looking down, watching her cool blue apron turn a deep red. Then, all Mary saw was darkness.