Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Welcoming Committee

 When the dust settled, Sam tugged his scarf down, shaking out the red-brown sand it had collected.  “O’Shaughnessy!” he roared, and then he saw the man waiting on the gravel at the foot of the ladder.
“What do you want, Sam Clemens, you bloody son of a bitch, you?” O’Shaughnessy roared back, stomping up out the stairwell, but when he saw Sam frozen, staring down at the ground, he shut up.  From ten feet away, Sam could smell the liquor on the Irishman.
“Good morning,” Sam called to the stranger.  “Can I help you?”
The man wasn’t tall, but he was stocky and he gave the impression of physical power.  His hair and beard were long and streaked with gray, and his body, the body of the horse he rode and the body of the packhorse he led all bristled with guns and knives.  He wore buckskins and furs and so did the animals.  Sam peeled away his goggles for a more unobstructed view of this genuine western curiosity.
“You’re headed into Deseret!” the man growled.
O’Shaughnessy crept across the deck, avian head low, and pulled out a gun.  Sam glanced, not meaning to, and noticed that the pistol was unfamiliar and odd-looking, with a big metal bulb on the end of its muzzle and another where the cylinder should be.  Did it shoot gas? Sam wondered.  Where did O’Shaughnessy get such a thing?
Sam took another sip of coffee out of habit and then spat the red mud out onto the deck.  “Dammit!” he cursed, and poured the rest out to avoid repeating the mistake.  “Is that some business of yours, mister?”
“Will it make you feel better about my intentions if I let your friend get the drop on me?” the mountain man called.  “Hell, if I’d wanted you dead, you gotta figger, I’d a killed you in the night.”
“I suppose I should count my lucky stars you’re such a good neighbor, then,” Sam countered, but he nodded to O’Shaughnessy and the Irishman stood upright and showed his head.  He kept the strange gun at his side, though, Sam noticed, and therefore out of sight.
“You aren’t a Pinkerton, are you?” O’Shaughnessy asked.
“No!” The grizzled stranger barked a noise that might have been a laugh.  “I’m a Deseret Marshal, though, if you’re looking for a lawman.  Name’s Rockwell.”
“Mostly, Mr. Rockwell,” the Irishman said, smirking at Sam, “it’s the lawmen that come looking for me.”
Idiot didn’t know when to shut his mouth.  “What can we do for you, Mr. Rockwell?” Sam asked.
The mountain man hawked up a gob of phlegm and spat it into the dust settling around his horse’s hocks.  “You can turn this pretty little steam-truck of yours around and go home,” he said gruffly.  “It ain’t safe for you in the Kingdom.”
Sam ruminated on this communication for several long moments, but couldn’t figure out what the fellow was up to.  “This is a strange way to deliver a threat, sir,” he finally called.  “We outnumber you and we have the higher ground.”
“That’s ’cause it ain’t a threat,” Rockwell objected.  “I’m just stating a fact.  I’m telling you that I am the law in the Great Salt Lake City, and I can’t guarantee your safety.”
Sam scratched his head, a gesture that turned into a vigorous brushing off of dust.  “Well, Mr. Rockwell,” he finally said.  “We haven’t broken any laws of the Kingdom of Deseret, nor do we intend to.  We have lawful business there, official business even, and as far as I can see, there’s no reason we can’t carry it out.  Your dark intimations are very dramatic, and I think you yourself would cut a fine buccaneerish figure on the stage, but I have things to do, and I estimate that the curtain is about to close upon our conversation here.”
“You ain’t listening to me!” Rockwell snapped, and swung down from his horse.  He reached for the Jim Smiley’s ladder, but as his hand grasped the first rung, O’Shaughnessy tsk, tsked at him, and Sam looked over to see his associate aiming the bulb-gun at the mountaineer.
“We’ll stay better friends, Mr. Deseret Marshal,” the Irishman smiled, “if you stay off our fookin’ vessel.”
Rockwell spat again, stared at both men like a hungry hawk, and then swung back into the saddle.  “When you’re lying on the red rock,” he bellowed at them, “holding your guts in your hands and weeping out the last seconds of your lives, you remember this!  You wanna call for your mama in that moment, you can.  You wanna call for Jesus, go right ahead.  Just don’t waste your damn time calling for Orrin Porter Rockwell!”
            With a snort of indignation, Rockwell turned his horse’s head and trotted towards Fort Bridger’s westward-facing maw.
“Bloody hell, I hate these people already,” O’Shaughnessy griped, holstering his fancy gun.  The holster, Sam thought, reminded him of the ones he had seen tied to the Pinkertons’ hips.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Sam disagreed, watching Rockwell turn north off the road into the sagebrush and scrub grass.  “I kind of like a place that sends out a welcoming committee.”

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