Cole was a good sheriff, maybe a mite too lenient at times, but
when the chips were down, the town of Barberry fully appreciated
his prowess with guns and fists.
But they didn’t know there was a tragedy in his past that
would affect his actions – until a local boy was kidnapped
while Cole was supposed to be guarding him. And the only
one who could deliver the ransom was Cole himself.
As the gunsmoke began to clear it revealed the three
dead men sprawled in the dirt of Front Street, thin
ribbons of blood trickling into the slush of the gutter.
Adam Cole still remained in the half-crouch he had
assumed when the gunfight had become inevitable.
‘Damn fools. They could still be alive. Jailbait, but
No one was close enough to hear his muttered
remark. He commenced to reload his Colt. The townsfolk
began to appear from their hurried choices of
cover when the bullets started to fly; they had huddled
in doorways, behind awning posts and rainwater butts,
under parked buckboards, some even lying prone in
the street itself, having dropped there hurriedly at the
Dusting down their clothes, all of them stared at the
lean sheriff as if they had never seen him before.
hree violent bank robbers in their tracks barely resembled
the quiet-spoken, non-violent lawman the town
council had hired a couple of months ago. He had
been popular because he had good manners, raised, or
at least touched his hat to the ladies in passing on, the
street, settled many an argument by quiet counselling,
or just once or twice with his fists. But those times had
been few and far between, though once he took on
three drunken trail rowdies passing through and ready
to hooraw the town. They tried to blind-side him but all
three needed attention from Doc Partridge before quitting
town, with Cole riding shotgun out as far as the
Folk had wondered about his gun: a used-looking
Colt in oiled leather. No one had seen him even brush
his hand against the butt and a few worriedly – and
quietly – remarked that they wondered how he would
react if he had to use it.
Now they knew.
The men he had taken on and who now lay dead in
the town’s main street had been seasoned outlaws,
ready and willing to shoot their way out of trouble.
They had been led by Louisiana Dann, notorious for his
gunplay and violence.
They came running out of the bank, clutching their
booty – and stopped dead when they found the lone
figure of the sheriff standing there, casually hipshot,
hands hanging down at is sides.
‘Stop right there, boys, and you’ll see sunrise tomorrow.’
Startled, they had looked around for this lone
lawman’s back-up – he surely would have five or six
deputies planted somewhere. . . ?
There was no sign of even one.
Good enough for Dann. Playing to the staring,
nervous townsfolk, he spoke to Cole: ‘You’re the one
ain’t gonna see the sunrise!’
People scattered before all the words were spoken
and the guns came up blazing.
There was a brief volley of scattered shots and, later,
several witnesses maintained that Cole only fired three
times – and Louisiana Dann and his pards lay dead in
the dust, the stolen moneybags crumpled under their
And now the dissipating gunsmoke revealed the
whole scene and fast-talking townsfolk crowded
‘He got all three!’
‘Never seen him draw!’
‘They had him surrounded – the poor bastards!’
‘They never stood a chance!’
Cole was jostled, patted on the back, several men
insisted on shaking his hand.
‘Someone get a door and take ’em down to the
undertaker’s.’ Cole spoke tersely, obviously uncomfortable
with all this attention. ‘And get that money back in
the bank! Every damn cent!’
‘I’m taking care of that, Cole. My clerks will see it’s
Linus Charlton, the town banker, looked sallow, face
drawn, although his figure was corpulent enough and
normally his face had a florid, pudden-look. He was
trying to light a long thin cigar, his hands shaking, the
match flame burning his fingers. Cole snapped a vesta
on his thumbnail and held it for Charlton.
‘Easy, banker. It’s all over. Anyone hurt inside?’
‘Uh – two clerks, I think. Yes, Ernie Hall and Benton
Ness. One female clerk fainted.’
‘They need a doctor?’
‘Ernie will. They split his scalp and knocked him
cold.’ Just then Doctor Partridge appeared, hurrying
up with satchel in hand, and the banker directed him
inside. Then he looked back at Cole; the cigar seemed
to have calmed him some but he had an almost angry
look on his face.’By God, I – we never expected to see
anything like this, Cole!’
‘What you hired me for.’
‘Yes – and thank God we did hire you. Just three
shots and that gang is ready for Boot Hill! How come
you never told us how good you were when the committee
‘They asked if I was fast with a gun and I said I’d been
fast enough so far.’ His deep voice held hardly any
interest. He jerked his head at Charlton and walked to
the law office on the opposite side of the street, the
crowd opening out to let him pass.
He was seated at his desk, rolling a cigarette when
the banker puffed in, half-smoked cigar down at his
side. He dropped into a chair.
‘I think this calls for a drink.’
The sheriff fired up and swung the chair around,
bending to open a drawer in the desk. He set a whiskey
bottle and two shot glasses on the paper-cluttered top
and poured two drinks, filling each glass to the brim.
The banker spilled a lot of his before tossing it down.
Cole sipped about half, savouring the taste.
‘You seem a bit . . . put out, Cole. Look, don’t worry
about Dann and his friends. They were scum. They’d
killed a lot of people over the years. They’re better off
‘Would seem that way.’
Charlton frowned. ‘This . . . bother you? Hell, man,
your reputation will sky-rocket! You’ll be known all over
the county, maybe the whole damn state, as the fastest
gun ever to come—’ He stopped abruptly at the look
on Cole’s face. ‘Is that what’s bothering you? Word’ll
get out about your gunspeed and. . . .’
Cole savagely crushed out his barely smoked cigarette
in the old coffee-can lid, grey-blue eyes pinched
down and cold.
‘That’s exactly what bothers me, banker! Every
goddamn rowdie from here to hell – and back – will
show up and want to try my speed!’
‘Well, I doubt any of ’em’ll be faster than you! Why,
the way you got that Colt out . . . My God! This has
happened to you before, hasn’t it?’ Cole stared bleakly.
‘But I don’t recall the name. . . .’
‘Different from the one I’m using now. You wouldn’t
know it if you heard it.’ The sheriff shook his head
sharply. ‘Damn! I should’ve known better, should
never’ve taken this job. But I was broke and you offered
good pay and – and this is a quiet town! Out of the way
of the cattle trails, stage-run once a week, a few drunks
NEXT RIO BONITO BY CALEB RAND