Author's Note

This is a shorter story than my others, running to about 27 typed written pages.  The Lady With The Dark Glasses will make a little more sense to those who've read River Bend, but even if you haven't read that one, I think you'll enjoy this one.  I hope so.

Mark K. Lewis

The Lady With The Dark Glasses

           It was a little strange to see a woman riding alone into a town.  Several people had to take a second look to make sure it was a female simply because she was wearing a gray, flat-topped hat, pulled low over her brow, and apparently had all her hair piled under it.  It was hard to determine her age, but she was young.  The dark green coat and white blouse—which looked like a man’s shirt—also were a bit deceptive; they were loose and thus showed no form to her chest.  But the Kelly green riding skirt gave her away.  It was cut with a slight flair, with side pockets and a front flap opening.  No self-respecting man would be caught dead in one.  Brown boots completed her attire.  Almost.
           The strangest thing about this female, however, and the item that got the most notice, were the round, wire-rimmed dark glasses she wore.  Her eyes were completely hidden behind those opaque lenses.  True, it was a warm, sun-filled late morning in the town of Magic, but still, such glasses were extremely uncommon.  In fact, most people had never seen any before.  The Chinese had had reasonable facsimiles for centuries, as well as the Italians, but they were rare otherwise.  Not unknown, but…rare.
           As she directed her tall, black Appaloosa slowly down the dusty street, she didn’t seem to be looking at, or for, anyone in particular.  It was hard to tell because no one could see her eyes.  She did scan the town, but there was nothing unusual about Magic.  Typical false-fronted buildings—mostly unpainted—containing the usual variety of shops which served a ranching community of a few hundred souls in the rolling plains of the northern cattle country.  Nice place, nice people, totally non-descript and ordinary.  Except for one interesting fact.  Magic was a very rich town.  It didn’t show in appearance, but there was money here, and a lot of it.
           The rider stopped and didn’t even bother hitching her horse to the rail in front of the hotel, which was on the corner of Main and C Streets.  A couple of men walked by and gave her a once-over, but she ignored them and went into the building.  A faded blue and yellow carpet covered most of the floor.  The stairs were on the left, and a restaurant announced itself in the back right of the building.  The hotel was as non-descript as the rest of the town.
She walked up to the counter—and did not remove the dark glasses she wore.   “I’d like a room,” she said.  “Preferably in the back.  I’ll probably be here a few days, but I’m not sure.  I’ll pay for three, and if I need to stay longer, I’ll pay for more.”
           The desk clerk was female, and older, with her graying hair tied back in a bun, but she seemed sprightly enough.  She was wearing a name tag that read “Elaine.”  She stared at her customer with interest, but said nothing except, “Two dollars and fifty cents per day.  That includes breakfast in the restaurant and a fresh pitcher of water every morning.  Baths are extra and only at night.  We’ll change the bed sheets once a week if you stay that long.”  Noticing the young woman’s dusty clothes, she said, “We have laundry service as well, but that’s extra, too.  Would you please sign the register?”
           The visitor did so, and handed the woman $10.  “Make it four days so we won’t have to bother with the change.” 
           “All right.  Your room is number 8, up the stairs, last room on the left.”  Elaine handed her new lodger a key.  “The restaurant opens at 6 AM and closes at 9 PM.”
           “Convenient,” the young woman said.  She had not smiled the whole time.  “Where’s the livery?”
           “At the end of C Street, that way,” Elaine said, pointing.  “Only about three blocks.”  She was having a hard time keeping her eyes from looking at the register.  What is this strange woman’s name?  “Let me know if you need anything else.”
           Her visitor only nodded, stuck the key in a pocket, and headed back outside.  Elaine watched her.  The young woman easily mounted her horse and expertly maneuvered it back into the street and then in the direction of the town stables.  Elaine was mesmerized, and observed her till she disappeared from sight.  She never took off those glasses…Then, remembering her curiosity, she read the register.
           The woman had signed it, “Jane Smith.” 

           Jane took care of business at the livery in a short time.  The stable handler, an old cuss named Cooter, was lonely.  And curious.   Too curious. 
           “Where ye from?”
           “West,” Jane replied as she took her saddlebags and rifle from the back of the horse.
           “Just passin’ through?”
           “Where ye headed?”
           “Nowhere.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.”
           “Never heard of that place.  Planning on stayin’ in Magic awhile?”
           “A short a time as possible.”
           By this time, Cooter was scratching his chin, but he was also busy uncinching the horse and getting ready to stable him.  But he had one last question.  “Where’d ye get them specs?  Mighty peculiar, if you don’t mind me sayin’ so,” he asked her.
           “Found them on a dead horse in the middle of the desert.”  She handed him $5.  “Give him the best and if I owe you more when I leave, I’ll pay you.”
           “Yes’m,” Cooter said.  Jane walked off, saddlebags over her left shoulder, rifle in her right hand.  Cooter had seen all kinds in his 65 years, but this one might be the most bizarre yet.  He spoke to her horse.  “I’ll bet she ain’t married, is she…”  The horse didn’t answer.  But as Cooter watched her walk away, he said thoughtfully, “Awfully good-lookin’ woman, though.  Awfully good-lookin’…”

           Yes, she was, and Dale Conyers noticed it right off.  He was a young cowboy who figured himself pretty swift with the ladies.  So, he thought he’d make the acquaintance of this new, lovely visitor to Magic, and perhaps show her around some.  And get rewarded for it.  As she was walking down the boardwalk to the hotel, Dale came up to her, smiled, touched the brim of his hat, and said, “Those saddlebags look heavy.  I’ll be happy to carry them for you.”
           Jane looked at him—at least, he thought she did.  He couldn’t see her eyes behind the glasses.  But her head was turned in his direction.  “Sure,” she responded, and swung the saddlebags off her shoulder.  The bottom bag hit Dale in the shin and he winced, and then she dropped it on his foot, and he yelped and jumped back.
           “Woman, what have you got in those things?” he asked her as he reached down to rub his shin.
           This time Jane smiled, but it didn’t appear to be a friendly I’m-glad-to-meet-you smile.  “Gold,” she answered.  “Maybe I better carry them myself.”  And with that, she hoisted the bags back to her shoulder and walked away.

           Jane put her belongings in the hotel room.  She pulled a book from one of her saddlebags and went outside.  She saw a chair against the wall and sat down.  And she sat there…all afternoon.  The book was open, but if anyone had been real observant, they would have noticed that she rarely turned a page.  Was she reading the book?
           Who knows?  Nobody could see her eyes…
           She sat.  Some people walked by and glanced at her, but nobody said anything to her.  People across the street looked at her, then went on their way.  Folks thought it was a little peculiar—no, a lot peculiar, a woman wearing dark glasses sitting in a chair in front of the hotel.  Reading.  Apparently. 
           But if anyone had been real observant, they would have noticed that she rarely turned a page…

           About dusk, around six o’clock, Jane got up.  She walked down the street to the Magic Café.  She took a table in the back, facing the door, and ordered some chicken, mashed potatoes, and milk.  She ate.  She left the restaurant.  She went back to her hotel room. 
           Nobody saw her the rest of the night.

           The next morning, maybe 8 o’clock, Jane re-emerged from the hotel and walked down to the café again.  Still wearing the dark glasses.  The restaurant was almost full, and people stared at her when she came in, but the table she had eaten at the previous night was empty—almost as if it were her table and nobody dared to eat there.  After a plate of ham and eggs, she arose, walked down to the hotel, and up to her room.  A few minutes later she emerged…with a book in her hand.  She sat in the same chair as the day before in front of the hotel.
           And she sat…ostensibly reading the book.
           The close observer would have noticed that she rarely turned a page…

           People walked by…but nobody said anything.  Jane sat, said nothing to anyone, either, and…read her book…
           Except the close observer….

           By noon, she was the talk of the town.  As noted, Magic was a small place and everybody knew everybody.  And everything.  Thus, everybody knew when there was a stranger in town.  Normally, it didn’t matter too much, but this stranger…
           “She just sits there, reading that book…”
           “I’m not sure she’s even reading it…”
           “Why is she wearing those dark glasses?...”
           “Do you think she’s a female outlaw hidin’ her face so’s nobody’ll recognize her?…”
           “Naw, she’s not even wearing a gun…”
           “Dale Conyers says she’s got gold in her saddlebags, and he’s got a bruise on his shin to prove it…”
           “Did he see the gold?...”
           “Well, no, but he said those bags were sure heavy…”
           “Oh, Conyers wouldn’t know a bar of gold from a bar of soap…”
           “Well, she’s got something heavy in there…”
           “Lots of books?  Maybe she’s a schoolteacher…”
           “You’ve got to be kidding.  No schoolteacher ever looked like that
           “Why is she just sitting there?...”
           “Why don’t you go ask her?...”
           “Uh…why don’t you?...”
           “Well, because I don’t want to know…much…”
           By mid-afternoon, there was someone in town who did want to know.  Sheriff Camp Zane was…interested.  And not necessarily because Jane was such a lovely female.  You see, the Magic Town Bank was right across the street from the hotel—right where Jane could see what time the bank opened and closed, who entered, at what time, when they left, etc.  Somebody had suggested that she might be a female outlaw…
           Zane watched her from down the street, rubbing his jaw.  She doesn’t LOOK like an outlaw…  But he was a pretty good lawman and he knew that there did exist women bandits—Belle Starr and Pearl Hart being the most notorious, though not the only two, by any means.
           Sheriff Camp Zane had other problems on his mind and he didn’t need this headache, too.  But it was a headache that he was going to have to deal with regardless.
But he thought he’d wait another day…
           Maybe she’ll leave tomorrow morning…

           Jane Smith knew that the sheriff was watching her.  And she figured people were talking about her.
           She didn’t care, either way.
           And she didn’t leave the next morning.

           She had done the same thing the second afternoon she was in Magic.  About dusk, she had gone and had supper at the Magic Café, and then disappeared into her room for the night.  The next morning—the morning Sheriff Zane hoped she’d leave but didn’t—she had breakfast at the café, went to her room, got her book, and plopped back down in her chair in front of the hotel.  She had never removed the dark glasses.
           Maybe she was reading the book.  Except anyone who was observing her closely…
           Sheriff Camp Zane was one of those who was.  She hardly ever turns a page…
           He sighed.   I guess I better go find out…

           “Howdy, miss,” he said, coming up to Jane.
           She looked up at him.  Or at least her head turned towards him.  “Good morning, sheriff,” she replied, and cordially enough.
           “Do you…mind if I sit down?” Zane asked her.  There was another chair a few feet away.
           “Free country,” she replied, and looked back down at her book.
           He pulled up a chair next to her.  “Nice morning, isn’t it.”  And it was.  Not too hot, lots of sunshine.  But…
           “Not if you like clouds.”
           That answer kind of threw the sheriff.  “Well, I reckon that’s true.  Most folks seem to prefer the sunshine, though.  Get more done that way than when it’s raining.”
          “Well, I reckon that’s true.”  Jane was looking down at her book.  She actually turned a page.
           “What are you reading?” Zane asked her, sort of leaning over to look at the book in her hands.
           Jane closed the book and set it on the sidewalk beside her.  She…turned her head…towards the sheriff.  He was a ruddy faced man, probably 40, with brown hair and a brown mustache that had a little gray in it.  His blue eyes were clear and rather severe.  Jane answered him, “As you well know, Sheriff Zane, since you’ve been watching me ever since I arrived, I’m not reading anything.”
           That wasn’t what Zane was expecting, either.  “So you know my name.”
           “I hope I’m not the only one in this conversation who does.”
           “Oh, no, I…know my name quite well, thank you.  I just don’t remember us getting acquainted anywhere before.”
           “We’ve never met, Sheriff Zane, but I make it a point to know who the local law is.”
           “Oh?  And why is that?”
           Jane turned her head back toward the street.  “In case I need a public privy.  The lawmen always know where they are.”
           Zane gave her a perturbed look and tried again.  “Is your name really Jane Smith?”
           “Something wrong with my name?”
           “Well, no, it’s just...a little peculiar.”
           “I would think Jane Smith is one of the most common female names in the country.”
           Zane was getting a little exasperated.  “That’s not what I meant.”
           She looked back…in his direction.  “Then what did you mean, Sheriff Zane?”
           The lawman was tired of this shuffle.  “Miss Smith—if that’s your real name—what are you doing in Magic?  I think you realize, as the local sheriff, I’m pretty interested in new people who come through, especially when they distract the whole town—as you’re doing.  And especially when they sit across the street from the bank all day long.”
           Jane turned her head again.  “Yes, that is the bank over there, isn't it.  Creative place for one.  Main street, middle of town...”
           “Quit playing games with me, Miss Smith.”
           Her head…back in the sheriff’s direction.  “Sheriff Zane, is it a crime in this town to sit in front of the hotel with an open book in one’s lap?  If so, it’s a very strange law.  And it’s not my fault the bank is across the street.  Complain to the banker.  Tell him to move it if you don’t like me sitting across the street from it.”
           Zane looked away, more exasperated than ever.  He sighed.  “No, Miss Smith, it’s not a crime to sit here with an open book in your lap.”
           “Then I’ve broken no law?”
           “It’s not what you’ve done, Miss Smith, it’s what you might do that concerns me.”
           “And just what do you think I might do, sheriff?  Get lost on the way to the public privy?  That would be a crime.”  She turned her head back to the street.  “No, that would be a disaster.”
           He looked at her and didn’t bother responding to her sardonic remarks.  “The Cutler gang has been operating in this area for several months now, Miss Smith.  They haven’t hit our town yet, but, frankly, I expect them to.  I’ve wired the head of the territorial Rangers about it, but apparently he’s just blown me off.  Haven’t heard from him, or seen hide nor hair of any of his people.  Maybe you’re here as an advance scout for the Cutlers.  It wouldn’t be the first time a gang has used a woman for that purpose.”
           “When was the last time?”
           Zane was so peeved now he was about to pop.   “I don’t know, exactly, when the last time was—“
           “Can you give me one example?”
           “Oh, for crying out loud.”   The sheriff had had enough.  He stood up.  “I don’t know who you are, Jane Smith, but I’ll be keeping my eyes on you—“
           “You’ll have to stand in line among the male population of this town to do that, sheriff.”
           Not surprisingly, Zane was getting angry at this smart-mouthed female.  “How long are you going to be here, Miss Smith?”
           “Until I leave, Sheriff Zane.  Not a minute sooner and not a minute later.”
           “Try to make it sooner rather than later, please.”
           And Zane walked off.
           Jane’s…head…followed him as he crossed the street.  Then, she reached down, picked up her book, opened it, and started reading.
           At least, her head was pointed in that direction…

           “Who is she, sheriff?”  Bill Akers, a city councilman asked.  “She hasn’t been here two days and she’s got everybody spooked.”
           “I don’t know who she is, Bill,” the sheriff replied.  “Says her name is Jane Smith, but I don’t believe that.  I don’t have a wanted poster on her, or any woman matching her description.  Or any woman, period, for that matter.  She’s got the smartest mouth on her that I’ve ever heard.  I’d love to slap her teeth down her throat.”
           “Is she scouting for the Cutlers?”
           “That’s what I’m afraid of.  Dodge Cutler would use his own mother for a scout if he needed to.”  But he shook his head in doubt.  “But this woman…she seems awfully… independent?  Strong willed?  Uncontrollable?”  He shook his head again.  “I don’t know, Bill, but I find myself hoping she’s not working for the Cutlers.”  He stared thoughtfully in Jane Smith’s direction.  “Something tells me she’s more dangerous than any of them.”

           “Ye wanta play some checkers?  Shore oughta beat sittin’ there not readin’ that book.”
           By the next morning, there was only one person in town who wasn’t scared to death of Jane Smith.  He was a toothless old codger named Judd Sartain.  He’d been around since Noah built the ark and he was harmless.  All he wanted was a bottle, which he always seemed to carry with him.  But he never seemed to be drunk.  Nobody in Magic paid him the least bit of attention.
           Jane looked up at him—in his direction.  “Sure.  It will be the most exciting thing I’ve found in this town yet.”
           Judd chuckled and rolled a water barrel over, then pulled up the chair the sheriff had sat in.  From seemingly out of nowhere, he produced a warped, faded, stained checkerboard and a box of checkers.
           “I’ll take the black ‘uns,” he said, “since they’s one missin’.  I don’t rightly like red nohow.  Reminds me too much of Injuns.”
           “You don’t like Indians?” Jane asked, placing her checkers on the appropriate squares.
           “Well, some of ‘em is ok.”
           “The dead ones?”
           “Them kind shore don’t hurt nobody no more.”
           “Dead white men don’t, either.”
           Judd started to respond, but he didn’t quite know what to say to that, so he just let it pass.  “Nickel a game?” he asked, with a grin.
           “Dime,” Jane replied.
           Judd frowned.  That was a little higher than he wanted to go, but he shrugged.  If’n I can’t beat a woman, I ain’t got no business playin’ anyway.  “’K.  Dime it is.”
           So they started playing.  Judd talked a lot and asked Jane a lot of questions, but usually received an answer that told him basically nothing.  He got a little flustered, too, especially since he was losing almost every game.  “You don’t say much do ye, woman?”
           “I talk when I have to.”
           Judd grinned.  “Oooo-whee.  A woman that don’t talk much.  Will ye marry me?  I don’t rightly care if ye can cook and clean or not, just as long as ye know how to keep yere trap shut.”
           Even Jane smiled at that one.

           About mid-afternoon, they were still going at it.  Jane was $1.50 ahead so far, and Judd suspected that the few games he did win were solely by her grace.  School must have been out because a young teenaged boy came and stood on the street near the edge of the sidewalk.  He was looking at Jane.
           Judd growled at him.  “Git on home, Lance.  We don’t need yore help none.”
           Lance ignored Judd, like everybody else in town.  He spoke to Jane.  “Are you really an outlaw, ma’am?  They’s some in town who say you are.”
           Jane smiled, still looking at the checkerboard—or in that direction.  “There’s some out of town who might say that, too.”
           Lance wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, so he responded, “Well, if you’re an outlaw, how come you aren’t wearing a gun?”
           “How do you know I’m not?  I may have one under my hat.”
           The boy wasn’t buying that.  He looked at Jane skeptically.  “Nobody wears a gun under their hat.  You can’t draw a gun from there.”  Then he got excited.  “I’ll bet if Allie Summer or one of the Rangers was here, you’d skip town in a hurry.  I saw Allie Summer draw one time, and he was the fastest—“
           Judd was getting perturbed; he had just crowned a third king for Jane.  “Boy, hush yore mouth.  You ain’t never seen Allie Summer in yore life.  He ain’t been through here and you ain’t never left town.”
           “I have so, you ugly old fart.  Pa and I went to Rapid City onct and Allie Summer was there.  He gunned down two outlaws so fast nobody even seen him draw.”
           “Saw,” Jan corrected.
           “Huh?” Lance replied, not understanding.
           “’Saw him draw,’ not ‘seen’.”
           “Hmph,” the boy responded.  “You’re as bad as my momma.”  Then, “I’ll bet you’d leave town if Allie Summer came, wouldn’t you, outlaw?”
           Jane was amused.  “Probably.  I hear he’s ugly and mean.”
           “Yeah, he is.  Almost as ugly and mean as that old goat you’re playin’ checkers with.”  He looked closely at Jane.  “You’re awfully pretty, ma’am, to be an outlaw.”
           “Thank you.”
           “Why do you wear them dark glasses?  Everybody wants to know and I want to be the one who tells ‘em.”
           Jane made a triple back-jump that wiped out the rest of Judd’s checkers.  He grunted in disgust as she replied to Lance, “Well, Lance, you go tell everybody that if I didn’t wear these glasses my eyeballs would fall out.”
           Lance’s eyes got big for a second, then he gave her an annoyed look.  “You’re just funnin’ me.  Your eyeballs wouldn’t fall out.”
           “They wouldn’t?”
           “No, of course not.”
           “They did the last time I took my glasses off.”
           Right then, a lady appeared who apparently was the boy’s mother.  She gave him a sharp swat on the behind and said, “Lance Lawrence, you get home this instance.  What did I tell you about talking to people…like them?”   And she gave Judd and Jane a snooty look, grabbed her son’s hand, and led him off.
           “Aw, mom, we never get no outlaws or anybody interesting in town…….”  That’s all Jane heard.
           After a few moments, Judd muttered, “Sorry, Miss Jane.  I ain’t too popular around here.”
           She actually smiled at him…in his direction.  “Then I’m hanging around exactly who I want to hang around with, because I don’t want any company.”
           And Judd grinned.  “Good.  Me, neither.  What’s that I owe ye now?  $1.30?”
           Jane laughed.  “$1.60, you old cheat.  No wonder you don’t have any friends.”
         “Ok.  $1.60.  I’m just lettin’ you win, you know that don’t ye, ‘cause I’m such a gentleman.”
           “I don’t know about the letting me win part, but you are the only gentleman I’ve met in this town so far.”
           And Judd’s chest puffed out at that one.

           They continued playing checkers.  When it got close to dinnertime, they had some more guests.  Dale Conyers, the man who had wanted to carry Jane’s saddlebags when she first arrived in Magic, and a couple of other cowboys saw Judd and Jane from across the street.
           “Look at that,” Dale said.  He was slightly inebriated.  “Old Judd’s playin’ checkers with that new whore in town.”
           One of his buddies, Giff Charles, wasn’t too bright.  “How do you know she’s a whore, Dale?”
           Dale gave him a disgusted look.  “Why else would she be hiding her face behind those glasses?”  That didn’t make sense to Giff, but he figured Dale knew what he was talking about.  “Let’s go, boys.”  And he headed towards Judd and Jane.
           “Where we goin’?” Giff asked the other man, Jeff Naver.
           “I think he wants to hit up that woman again.”  Apparently “hitting up on women” was one of Dale’s favorite pastimes.  So Giff and Jeff followed Dale.
           Having crossed the street, Dale put a foot on the boardwalk, leaned against his leg, cocked his hat back on his head, and smiled.  “Howdy, again, ma’am.  You’re sure lookin’ fine this evening.”
           Jane didn’t look…in his direction.  “Thank you,” is all she said.
           “You’re welcome.  Can’t you find anything better to do than play checkers with that worthless old drunk?  Come with me and I’ll show you what a real good time is.”
           Jane moved a checker.  Judd chortled with glee and made a double jump, to which his playing partner responded with a triple jump.  Still not looking up, Jane responded to Dale, “No and no.”
           “Well, I’m mighty disappointed, ma’am,” Dale said.  “This town has got lots of things to see and I’d like to show them to you.  I’m a real nice fellow once you get to know me.”
           Jane didn’t bother answering.
           Dale was persistent.  “Can I ask you a question?”
           Jane replied, “I don’t know, can you?”  Judd snickered.  He caught it whether Dale did or not.
           “Why do you wear those dark glasses?”
           “The sun hurts my eyes.”
           “The sun isn’t out right now.”
           “The moon hurts my eyes.”
           “The moon isn’t shining, either.”
          She glanced at him.  “Your face hurts my eyes.”  Judd hooted.  Giff laughed and Jeff smiled.  Dale gave his friends a nasty look.  He was losing big, he knew it, and he didn’t like it.
           “Jest ignore ‘im, Jane,” Judd said.  “He’s always lookin’ fer trouble.  He’ll go away in few minutes if you pay him no mind.”
           “I don’t remember talking to you, old timer,” Dale said.  “Watch your tongue or I’m liable to cut it out of your throat.”
           Judd wasn’t intimidated.  “Wasn’t talkin’ to you, neither, Dale.  And I doubt this here lady wants to talk to you, either.”
           Dale snorted.  “Are you sure she’s a lady?  No lady I know would hang around a drunken bum.”
           “Oh, but she is a lady, Dale, not that you’ve ever seen one in the kind o’ places you go.  But I reckon her bein’ a lady an’ all is why she won’t pay no ‘ttention to you.”
           Neither Judd nor Jane had looked at Dale.  They continued to calmly play their game as if there had been no interruption, or if they were simply having a nice conversation with a congenial visitor.  Dale was getting flustered.  Giff and Jeff were behind him several feet, just watching.
           “Maybe I ought to give you a good whippin’, Sartain.  That might sober you up some and help you keep your tongue in your mouth where it belongs.”  He started to move forward.
           “Just stay where you are, Dale,” Jane said, still with her head towards the board.  “I don’t really think you want anybody to get hurt.  Especially yourself.”
           Dale snorted at that one.  “Oh, the little lady thinks she’s tough, does she?  Well, maybe after I teach Sartain a good lesson, I’ll just turn you over my knee and teach you one, too.”  And he mounted the sidewalk.  Judd glanced at Jane. 
           “Don’t, Dale,” Jane said.  She had looked at the cowboy only the one time, and that very briefly, and she didn’t seem the least bit afraid of his threat.
           Something in her voice stopped him.  He was a little uncertain now.  “And just what are going go to do, lady, if I grab this old sot and work him over some?”
           He found out.  Before he even saw her move, Dale was staring face-to-face with Jane Smith.  And she had a knife at his throat.  “Maybe I’ll check and see how much blood you’ve got in your body.  And whether it’s red or yellow.”
           Dale swallowed.  He was looking into those dark glasses now with the tip of a very sharp blade pricking his skin.  It wouldn’t take much effort for that knife to be deep in his throat.  Those dark glasses were…frightening.  There were just…staring at him, and there was no movement from Jane otherwise.  She was obviously waiting on Dale.
           “Lord, I ain’t never seed any livin’ thang move that fast,” Giff said from behind Dale, with a hefty measure of awe in his voice.
           Jeff was impressed, too, but he was also somewhat amused.  “Come on, Dale, I want to see you turn her over your knee, like you said you would.  Or maybe your blood is yellow.” 
 “Shut up, Jeff,” Dale said, but he was still looking into those sightless glasses.  He was trying to see the eyes behind them but he couldn’t.  And the knife hadn’t moved.  He didn’t have much choice.  “Now…now, listen, lady.  I’m just havin’ a little fun, that’s all.  I wasn’t really going to hurt Judd.  He knows that.”
           Judd snorted.  “No, I didn’t know that.  You shore had me fooled.  Maybe you better whup that little lady first.”  He grinned.
           “Go have your ‘fun’ somewhere else, Dale,” Jane said.  “I don’t like having my checker game interrupted by a loud-mouthed pile of horse manure.”
           “What did she call him?” Giff said to Jeff.
           Jeff was still being entertained by the whole thing.  “I think she called him a loud-mouthed pile of horse manure.”
           Giff laughed.  “I think that’s funny.  A loud-mouthed pile of horse manure.  I gotta remember that one.”
           Dale didn’t see anything funny about it.  He had his hands raised and out to his side.  “All right, we’ll go.  You don’t need to get so huffy about it.  But I’m not sure you and I are finished yet, woman.”  He backed slowly away and almost slipped and fell when he backed off the sidewalk.  More laughing from his buddies and a grin from Judd.
           Jane just turned and sat back down in her chair.  But she had a parting word for Dale.  “You better hope we are finished, buddy.  Next time I might not be in such a happy mood.”  Then she looked over at the cowboy.  “And if you so much as blow your nose in the direction of Judd Sartain, I’ll slice you into more pieces of cheese than an army of rats could eat in a month.”  She went back to the checker game. 
           Giff and Jeff had stopped laughing and were looking at Jane thoughtfully.  Dale was angry, humiliated, and embarrassed, but he had enough sense about him to realize that he’d better leave this one alone. 
           “Come on, Dale,” Jeff said, taking him by the arm.  “I don’t think she wants to talk to you anymore.”
           Dale scowled, but let his friend lead him away.  Judd glanced at Jane as she took another of his checkers.  “That was pretty slick, ma’am, even if I do say so myself.  I would have had to hurt him if’n you hadn’t cut in.”
           Jane looked…in Judd’s direction.  Not quite as quickly as her, but still faster than most men, a knife appeared in the old man’s hand.  He smiled.
           Jane smiled back…

           The fun wasn’t over for the evening.  It was a Friday.  A few minutes after the incident with Dale, the checker game broke up with Judd owing Jane $2.70.  She went to the café to eat, and he went home.  After her dinner, it was dark and Jane headed back to the hotel.  She was intercepted by a man—dark suit, white shirt, dark hat, dark hair, dark mustache—a gambler from head to toe.  Jane looked at him…or…in his direction….
           “I’ve seen you playing checkers,” he said to her, without preamble.  “Would you like to be involved in a real game?”
           Jane knew what he was suggesting, of course.  “I don’t have much money.”
           “We’ll keep the stakes low.”
           She made a “why not?” motion.  “When and where?”
           “8 o’clock.  Double Nickel Saloon.  That way, two blocks.”  He pointed.
           “I’ll be there if I don’t get a better offer.”
           The gambler smiled, a rattlesnake smile.  “I hope you don’t.”  He touched the brim of his hat, his eyes still on Jane’s glasses, and then walked away.
           Jane watched him a moment, then went back to her hotel room.

           She entered the Double Nickel at precisely 8 o’clock.  There was a momentary silence, but only that brief moment.  She got a lot of looks, of course, but everyone in town knew who she was. 
           “Kinda surprised to see her here,” one fellow at the bar murmured to the man next to him.
           “I think Davies invited her to a poker game.”
           “That might be interesting.  I wonder if she’s as slick with cards as she is with that knife o’ hers.”
           The news about Jane’s confrontation with Dale Conyers had spread through town like a wild fire.  Most people were glad to hear of it because Dale wasn’t too popular.  But it only raised more questions about the lady with the dark glasses.
           “I wonder who she is,” the first fellow said, staring at Jane thoughtfully.
           “I wonder if we’ll ever find out,” was the response he got, to which he grunted an agreement.
           Jane walked directly over to the table where Dick Davies, the gambler, was sitting.  The gambler saw her and smiled his rattlesnake smile of welcome. 
           “Ah, the lady did come after all.  Welcome, Miss Smith.  This should be an entertaining night.  I’m usually surrounded by three ugly men when I play, and tonight I have the blessed fortune to gaze upon beauty such as I have not seen in awhile.  You do wish to join us, don’t you?”
           Jane simply nodded.
 There were three other men playing, but Davies looked at the man directly across from him and said, “You were just leaving, weren’t you, Snyder?”
           Snyder took the hint.  “Yeah.  Yeah, I was, Mr. Davies.  Pleasure playin’ with you.”  He stood, made a motion of farewell to Jane, and went over to the bar.
           “Please sit,” Davies said to Jane, motioning to the now empty chair.  She sat down.  “Bret,” Davies said to a man standing by, “we have a new player.  Let’s have a new deck of cards.”
           Bret produced one.  Davies, still smiling, put the unwrapped, unopened box of cards in front of Jane.  “I’ll give you the privilege of opening them, Miss Smith—it is Miss, isn’t it?—and you can even have the first deal.”
           “What’s the game?” Jane asked.  “And the stakes?”
           “Five card draw.  You said you wanted low stakes, and that’s fine.  Say, a dollar ante, and $50 raise limit?”
           That wasn’t necessarily low, but Jane agreed to it.  She pulled a small stack of bills from her pocket, tossed $1 into the middle of the table, and opened the deck of cards.  She tossed the two jokers onto the floor, then bent the cards in one hand.  They appeared to slip, and, like a covey of quail, when flying and fluttering in all directions.
           She smiled.  Of course, nobody could see if it reached her eyes or not.  “Oops.  Clumsy of me.”
           Davies appeared momentarily perturbed, but he quickly returned to his smiling self.  “Well, it’s a new deck and very slick.”
           “Yeah.  I guess so,” Jane responded, and she let the men at the table pick up the cards.
           They were all collected…handed to Jane…
           And the game was on. 
           Dick Davies was a professional gambler.  Jane Smith was crackerjack smart.  It was obvious from the get-go that she wasn’t a professional, but she seemed to have this uncanny knack for knowing when to do just what.  She probably won less than 25% of the pots, but as any gambler will tell you, it’s not how many pots you win, it when you win them.  Oh, you can play for all the small pots and have a good night that way.  But you’ve also got to have nearly all the good hands to do that.  And that’s not generally going to happen with four players around the table.
           Nobody could read Jane’s eyes, of course, and there was absolutely no pattern to her play.  Sometimes she would draw one, two, three, or no cards.  Sometimes she’d play the hand where she drew none, sometimes she would fold it.  And do the same with every other draw she made.  It was simply impossible to tell, from the number of cards she took, or didn’t take, what she held in her hand.  And that frustrated Dick Davies who made his living by reading the patterns of other players.
           But if somebody had two pair, and bet high on it, Jane would drop down three of a kind.  If a player had a straight, she’d have a flush.  Once Davies thought he really had her; he had four kings, a monstrous hand.  Jane stayed in after drawing two cards.  The gambler bet high and even asked her, “Would you like to raise the limit?  Just for this hand?”  He could have been bluffing, or he might have been testing her.
           Jane seemed indifferent.  “Sure, why not?” 
           The other two players dropped out quickly and the pot ended up being over $500 when Davies made the final call.  He had a smile of triumph when he showed his powerful hand and got some “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd of spectators who had gathered around to watch this fascinating poker game.  His smile turned to horror when Jane displayed a straight flush.
           “You drew two cards to get that?” he asked, as she raked in the cash.
           Jane just smiled, and from that moment on, Davies was convinced she was cheating.  Nobody is as lucky as she’s been tonight…
           The other two players weren’t very good, but they seemed to win enough pots to be able to stay in the game.  Davies was winning the most, but Jane was close behind him, and most of the pots she won came at his expense.  And he didn’t like that at all. 

           Things got really interesting right after midnight.  There were about 30 people around the table watching, some of them standing on chairs so that they could see.  Everyone was curious to see this strange woman and her curious poker habits.  And they especially liked seeing her win pots from Dick Davies.  He had never been able to win a big pot from her.  It was frustrating him more and more as the night went on.
           He thought he finally had her, though, in the second hand after midnight.  He held four aces.  Jane had drawn two cards, and while Davies was convinced now that she had been cheating all night—though he couldn’t figure out how—he watched her extremely closely and her hands never left the table or touched any part of her body.  And she hadn’t been the dealer for this hand.  She would have to have been awfully lucky to draw something stronger than four aces. 
           The other two players dropped out.  The pot went to the limit and Davies raised beyond it.  If Jane noticed—which surely she did—she didn’t say anything.  She simply raised him $50.  Davies raised her $100 and she raised him $100.  They had put no limit on the number of raises in a hand, so the two players kept on until the pot exceeded $1,000.  One could have heard the proverbial pin drop in that saloon.  The audience was mesmerized and many of them were probably holding their breath—at least as long as they could.
           Finally, it looked like Jane had bet nearly all of the money she had, so Davies simply called her, and then smiled when he showed his hand—four pretty aces.  “Can you beat that, sweetheart?” he said with a triumphant sneer.
           Jane leaned over and looked at his hand; it would take a straight flush to beat him, and since she had drawn two cards, the odds were astronomically against her.
           But sometimes a player is just…lucky.  But then, Jane wouldn’t have bet like she did without a pretty pat hand…
           There was, however, a more serious problem.  “Well, well,” she said as she started to show her hand.  “Isn’t this interesting?”  She laid the cards on the table.
           Not only did she have a straight flush—she had a royal flush.  Which meant, of course, ace high.
           Which meant, of course, there were five aces on the table. 
           Interesting, indeed.

           If the room had been quiet before, it was now an absolute cemetery.  Every eye in the saloon was trained on that table, looking at those five aces.  And then, slowly, those eyes began to shift, first to Dick Davies, and then to Jane Smith.  And those two were staring at each other.  Well, in Jane’s case, she was staring in Davies’ direction…
           The gambler spoke first.  His voice was low and menacing.  “I knew it.  I’ve known for a long time that you were cheating, woman.  This proves it.”
           “Does it?” Jane answered calmly.
           “Yes, it does,” Davies replied forcefully.  And then, he pulled out his gun and pointed it right at Jane’s face.  There was a collective gasp from the others in the saloon.  “And I want my money back.  All of it.  Which means every dime you’ve got.”
           “And if I don’t give it to you?  Are you going to shoot me down in cold blood?”
           Davies sneered.  “What do you think, boys?  Reckon I’d be prosecuted for shooting a thief, someone who has been stealing from me all night long?”
           There was some head scratching.  Normally, even though they didn’t like him, these men would have been on Davies’ side against a cheater.  No, he probably wouldn’t get in trouble for killing a cheat.  But…
           “I don’t know, Dick.  She’s a woman…”
           “A thief is a thief, regardless of the birth certificate,” Davies replied.
           Jane had simply been sitting there, watching and listening.  Her hands were under the table.  “I’d like to say a couple of things,” she said.
           “You’d better say your prayers, woman,” the gambler said, cocking his pistol.  “Either that, or that you’ll give me my money back.”
           As if not hearing him, Jane said, “First, I’ve not admitting to cheating.  And I won’t admit it because I haven’t cheated all night long.  Mr. Davies, why don’t you show us what you’ve got in your inside coat pocket?  The one you’ve been pulling cheroots out of all evening.”
           Davies, who had been chain smoking the little cigars, got a very nasty expression on his face.
           “Secondly,” Jane said, “I’ve got derringers in both hands under this table.  One pointed right at your gut, Davies, and the other…a little of south of that.  If I so much as see your finger tighten on that trigger, you’ll be howling and tweeting at the same time.  You’ll either be dead…or dead.”
           Davies was gritting his teeth, he was so angry.
           “You’re bluffing.”
           Jane smiled.  “You want to bet on it?”
           Davies’ ire was so great now that his hand was shaking; he might have missed Jane if he fired.  The solution was found when a brave soul said, “Let’s see what you’ve got in your coat pocket, Davies.  Then we’ll know who’s been cheating.”
           The gambler cursed, then rose out of his chair, pushed men aside, and left the building in a rush.
           The men in the saloon watched him, then all heads turned back to Jane.  “I reckon that answers the question, don’t it, ma’am.”
           “I reckon it does,” Jane said, standing up.  She did a quick money count.  “This is what I came in with,” she told the other men who had been playing..  “You boys can divide the rest of it.”
           “But that’s not right.  You won that money, fair and square,” one of them said.
           Jane smiled.  “Did I?  Maybe I did cheat a little bit.  The money’s yours.”
           “I don’t believe for a minute that you cheated, miss.”
           “Thank you,” Jane replied.  And the men parted like the Red Sea as she walked towards the door and left the saloon.

           Everybody in the saloon was staring at the door through which Jane had just existed.  “Who is that woman?” somebody asked.  “I ain’t never seen nobody, male, female, or neuter, who’s that cool.  I was getting cold just standin’ close to her.”
           “Yeah, she could freeze hell, all right.”
           “Sure was glad to see her put Davies in his place, though.  That feller is a cheatin’ sidewinder if’n there ever was one.”
           “Always knew he cheated, but never could figure out how he done it.  I reckon that woman spotted it right off.”
           “The cheroots.  Who’da thunk he was pulling cards out of his tobacco pocket?”
           “Reckon that woman was cheatin’, too?  She kinda hinted she mighta been.”
           “Nah, I don’t think she was.  But if’n she was, she’s mighty good at it.”
           “Yeah, better’n Davies.”
           “I wonder if them two will ever meet again.”
           “I don’t know, but I wouldn’t bet against the woman if they did…”

           Dick Davies had never been so utterly humiliated in all his life.  He had been exposed for the cheat that he was—and nobody had ever caught him at it before.  Now, he’d have to leave Magic, which hadn’t been in his plans because, as noted earlier in this tale, there was a lot of money in that town and he wanted his share of it.  But, he could never show his face in that saloon again.  Or any other saloon in town, for that matter.  He’d have to ride before sunup.
           And it was all that woman’s fault.
           So he had one thing left to do before quitting Magic for good.
           Revenge…final and complete…

          He waited in a dark alley not far from the Double Nickel.  It was in the direction of the hotel, so he figured Jane would pass that way.  And he was right.
           It being a Friday night—early Saturday now—the town was still loud and boisterous.  The Double Nickel had been quiet during the spellbinding poker game, but the rest of the town had been as noisy as ever.  So Davies figured nobody would hear the little derringer he would use to kill Jane Smith.
           From the alley, he peeked around the corner of a building and saw her coming.  He melted back into the darkness.  Davies had enough pride not to dry gulch anyone, and he fancied himself enough of a gentleman to especially not do it to a woman.  So when Jane stepped down from the boardwalk and came even to where he was standing, Davies spoke.
           “Little lady, I think you owe me.  Don’t you?”
           Jane turned towards him.  “I wondered where you’d be.  I figured it would either be this alley or the next one.  Close enough to the town noise.”
           Davies, who had his derringer aimed at Jane, raised an eyebrow.  “You were expecting me?”
           “Of course.  Davies, you’re a cheat, a fraud, a thief, a liar, a scumbag, a partridge in a pear tree, so why wouldn’t you be a murderer, too?  You’re holding a losing hand now, too, mister, so fold before you lose it all.”
           Davies’ anger soared again.  “Woman, you’ve paid your ticket to hell, but I’d like to know one thing before I put you out of my misery.”
           “What’s that?”
           “Who are you?  ‘Jane Smith’ is as fake as I’ve ever heard, and I always like to know the names of the people I kill.”
           Instead of immediately responding, Jane simply reached up…and took off her glasses.  She put them a front shirt pocket.  “Does that answer your question?”
           There was enough light streaming in from the street for Davies to see.  He froze, because he saw the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen in his life.  “Oh, my God,” he muttered.
           Those were the last words he ever spoke.  Two derringers, sounding like one, sent two bullets—straight into Dick Davies’ eyes.  He only hissed and sighed as he slowly toppled to the ground, dead.
           Jane shoved the derringers back up her sleeves and then put her glasses back on.  She walked over to Davies, who had fallen onto his back.  She reached down and pulled an Ace of Spades from his inside coat pocket. 
Dropping it onto his chest, Jane Smith turned and walked to her hotel room.

           She was sitting in her chair in front of the hotel the next morning “reading” her book when Sheriff Camp Zane walked up.  He stood over her.
           Without preamble, he said, “Somebody shot and killed Dick Davies last night.”
           “Dick who?”
           “Don’t be coy with me, Miss Smith.  I’m in no mood for your smart mouth this morning.  You know who Dick Davies is--was.  You played poker with him last night.”
           Jane looked up at the sheriff—in his direction.  Then back down.  “Sit down, Sheriff Zane.  Looking up will give me a crick in the neck.”
           Zane gave her a disgusted look but pulled up the chair nearby.  “Now,” Jane said.  “Tell me what happened.  I’m dying to know.”      
           “I just told you.  Somebody killed Dick Davies last night.”
           “And that bothers you?”
           “Yes, Miss Smith, it bothers me very much.  Davies may not have been the salt of the earth, but I do not tolerate murder in my town.”
           “How do you know it was murder?”
           “He was shot twice…once in each eye.  Oh, and he had an Ace of Spades lying on his chest when he was found.”
           “That makes it murder?”
           “Miss Smith, it’s my understanding that you and Dick Davies had a very serious disagreement last night in the saloon.”
           “Yes, we did.  But we solved it.”
           “Oh?  How?”
           “He left the saloon.”
           “I see.  And you left shortly afterwards.  Is it possible that he was waiting in the alley for you to come by and you shot him?”
           Jane shrugged.  “That’s possible, I suppose.  It’s also possible that he was waiting in the alley for somebody else and they shot him.  In fact, Sheriff Zane, it’s possible that he was waiting in the alley for you and that you shot him.”
           Zane ignored that last comment.  “But you are the only one who had a disagreement with Davies last night.”
           Jane looked at sheriff—in his direction--with a “get real” expression on her face.  “I’m sure Davies had no other enemies in this world,” she said sarcastically.  “But I have a question for you, Sheriff Zane.”
           “When you found Davies’ body, did he have a gun in his hand?”
           A pause.  “Yes.”
           “Then please explain to me how you know it was murder and not self-defense.  Especially if, as you say, Davies was the one waiting in the alley to ambush somebody.”
           Zane had been had and he knew it.  But he also knew he’d never really had a case to begin with.  It was worth a try to see what he could shake out of this woman.  But the best answer he could give was, “The gun could have been placed in his hand by…his murderer.”
           Once again, Jane cast a disbelieving look towards the sheriff.  Then she looked back down at her book as if the conversation was about over.  “You’re a better lawman than that, Sheriff Zane.  You have no proof that I, or anyone else, murdered Dick Davies.  And from what I could tell, the world is better off without him.  Go clean up your street and get on with policing your town.  And be thankful that Dick Davies won’t be causing you any more problems.”
           Zane stood up, an angry expression on his face.  “When are you going to quit causing me problems, Miss Smith, by leaving Magic?”
           Jane looked up at him again.  “Sheriff Zane, I have caused you absolutely no problems—zero—that you or the people of this town haven’t brought upon you.  I haven’t come close to committing a crime in this burg and yet you’ve got ants in your pants just because I’m sitting here reading a book or playing checkers.  I’m not going anywhere until I get good and ready to, and I’ll be the one who decides that.  Now, is there any part of that you don’t understand?  I’ll explain it again, if necessary.”
           Zane’s face was as red as a beat.  “I know you’re the one who killed Dick Davies last night, Miss Smith.  A lawman knows.  I doubt I’ll ever be able to prove it, and it might have been, and probably was, self-defense.  But I’m still watching you, very closely.  And if you’re still here when the Cutler gang shows up, I’m going to throw you in jail with them, I don’t care if I’ve got any evidence or not.  I know that’s why you’re here.  As a front for them.”  He paused, and looked at Jane, his face hard.  “A lawman knows.    
           He turned and walked away.  Jane watched him for a few moments, then made a face, and looked back down at her book.  “He’s almost intelligent,” she muttered to herself.    

           Judd showed up a few minutes later.  “Checkers?”
           “Sure, why not?  This book is awfully boring.”
           “How do ye know?  Ye ain’t got past the first page yet.”
           “Oh, shut up, you old goat,” Jane replied with a smile, and Judd snickered.
           They started playing.  Judd spoke up casually, “I hear ye put Dick Davies six feet under last night.”
           “Well, somebody did.  Do you think the world will miss him?”
           “Lordy, no.  Somebody shoulda done it a long time ago.  He was a rotten, cheatin’ sidewinder if’n there ever was one.  Zane gonna toss ye in the hoosegow?”
           “Not without any proof, he’s not.”
           “He’s really not a bad feller.  He’s just gettin’ some heat from some of the town money about you sittin’ here in them dark glasses.  Bank president’s a fat slob with a wife who’s a fatter slob than he is, but she’s got her nose into ever’ social activity in town, and if she don’t like somebody, she lets her hubby know about it and he translates that to the sheriff.  You’ve gotten under her skin.”  He grinned.  “I know she wishes she looked like you, too.”
           Jane made a checker jump.  “I won’t look like this forever.  In 20 years, I might look like her without the money.”  She turned her face in Judd’s direction and smiled.  “Or worse yet, in 40 years, I might look like you.”
           Judd harrumphed.  “Shoot yerself if ye do.”  Jane laughed.

           Betsy Langer was the fat slob bank president’s wife Judd had been talking about.  Her husband hadn’t gotten her the satisfaction she wanted, so she went directly to sheriff Camp Zane herself.
           “When are you going to run that woman out of town?”  That woman was the way she always referred to Jane.
           “Mrs. Langer, I can’t do that unless she breaks the law.  And she hasn’t done anything wrong.”
           “What do you mean?  She killed a man last night.  She should be in prison.  Why don’t you do your job?  You know that there is an election coming up soon, and if you won’t do your duty, then the citizens of Magic will elect a sheriff who will.”
           Zane was trying to remain patient.  He couldn’t stand this woman, but then, nobody else in town could, either.  And that included her husband, who everybody—but his wife—knew was having an affair with the fat slob schoolteacher.  The sheriff responded, “I don’t know, for sure, that she killed him.  There were no eyewitnesses.  And even if she did, more than likely it was self-defense.  Just be a little patient, Mrs. Langer.  She’ll leave before long.  It’s just one of the trials the Lord puts us through in life.”
           Betsy Langer figured herself to be a strong, church-going Christian woman, so Zane thought he’d try to appeal to that side of her nature.  Didn’t work.  “The Good Book says, ‘The Lord helps those who help themselves.’  And I expect you to do your duty and get that woman out of town.  Today, if not sooner.”  And with that, she turned with righteous piety and left his office.
           Well, the Good Book doesn’t say “the Lord helps those who help themselves”; Algernon Sydney was apparently the source of that quote, but Zane didn’t know that and it wouldn’t have done any good if he had known it.  How do you reason with the unreasonable?  The threat about him losing his job in the next election was no idle one.  Malcolm Langer was probably the richest man in Magic and had bought more than one sheriff.  He had supported Zane in the previous election, but the sheriff tried to be fair to all and not be the tool of the banker.  But when Betsy Langer wanted something….
           When is…that woman…going to leave?  Surely she won’t stay much longer…
           As it turned out, Jane Smith was to be the least of Sheriff Camp Zane’s problems that day.

           Dodge Cutler was the oldest brother, and thus the acknowledged leader of a band of cutthroats known simply as the Cutler gang.  It was all family—three brothers and two cousins.  The brothers were all born in Kansas, and so they had the names Dodge, Abilene, and Ellsworth.  The two cousins were born in Texas and called Concho and Pecos.  They’d been outlaws for quite a number of years, but no court could pin a crime on them that would stick.  Witnesses had a way of disappearing before they could testify.  That was a well-known fact and one of the reasons why they had never been to prison.  No witnesses, no evidence, no conviction. 
           They operated within about a 700 mile radius of Magic, give or take a few miles either way.  For some reason, they had never hit Magic, but the two brothers, especially Abilene, were getting antsy to do so.
           “Dodge, there’s a lot of money in that town,” Abilene said to him.  “I’ll bet that bank is overflowing with cash.  We could wipe that place out and spend the rest of our lives in Paris.”
           Concho grunted.  Paris.  Who wants to go to Paris?  I wanna go to Texas.”
           “Nobody’s keepin’ you from it, Concho.”
           “I’d like to go to Paris,” Ellsworth said.  “I hear they got the prettiest women in the world over there.  And all that French wine….Mm-mm.  Yeah, if’n that bank’s got enough dough to let us live high on the hog in Paris, I say let’s get after it.”
           Dodge had been thinking about Magic, too.  Things had been kind of slim for the Cutler gang the last few months and so a big hit would be nice.  “Yeah, I think it’s time we paid Magic a visit.”
           They had been doing a few small jobs within shouting distance of Magic.  Sheriff Camp Zane had heard about it.  He figured it was only a matter of time—a short time—before the Cutlers descended upon his town.  He had wired Captain W. T. McConnell, head of the territorial rangers, but had gotten no answer.  He was more than a little disgruntled about the lack of response.  “Why doesn’t McConnell send someone—anyone?” he murmured to himself.  "Riley or Dunston, maybe Scotsworth.  They’re good men and would be a big help.  Who I’d really like to have, though, is Allie Summer, but I’m sure McConnell’s got better things for him to do than come out here to the backside of nowhere.  I hear he’s got eyes that would scare the feathers off an eagle.”  The sheriff sighed.  He knew he was no match for the Cutler gang.  And he knew nobody else in town was, either.
           What am I going to do when they show up?...
           He was going to find out very soon.  In fact, that very day…

           Somebody saw them a couple of miles from town.  And hightailed it into Magic.
           “Sheriff, I just saw the Cutler boys and they’re headed this way.”
           Zane sighed.  “How far out?”
           “Fifteen minutes.”
           “Thanks, Reed.”
           “What are you going to do, Sheriff?”
           “I’m going to do my job, Reed, that’s what you folks pay me to do.”  And I’m liable to get killed doing it. 
           “Reckon we ought to tell folks they’re coming?  I mean, you don’t want anybody to get hurt do you?”
           While Zane was thinking on it, the question was answered for him.  Somebody else came riding into town, shouting, “The Cutlers are on their way!  The Cutlers are coming!  Be here any time now!”
          That created mass panic.  There were screams and shouts and people running every direction.  Mothers picked up their children and ran down the nearest side street.  Stores began to close immediately and window shutters were pulled down.  Within three minutes there wasn’t a living soul in sight.  A scrawny dog trotted down the street, tail between its legs, whimpering.  The wind picked up a bit, coming from the east—the same direction as the Cutlers—as if it, too, were hastening a retreat.
           From his office window on Main Street, Sheriff Camp Zane watched the scurrying to and fro by the people of Magic.  He had never really expected any help from the townsfolk, but he had hoped.  A hope that ended in vain.
           With another sigh, he walked over to the gun case, unlocked it, and took out a double-barreled shotgun.  He checked to make sure it was loaded.  From inside his desk drawer, he pulled out several cartridges and stuck them in a pocket.  The Colt on his hip was loaded and ready as well. 
           He left his office and went out to meet his fate.
           For the umpteenth time, he wondered why the town fathers of Magic wouldn’t provide him a deputy.  Well, that would only mean two of us getting killed, I reckon…

           Jane and Judd were playing checkers when the news of the pending arrival of the Cutler gang reached Magic.  Silently, Jane watched the reactions of the people.   Judd looked at her.
           “Miss Jane, I reckon those folks have got a pretty good plan, scatterin’ like they are.  Them Cutlers is almighty mean, and maybe the best plan is jest to let ‘em come, take what they want, and maybe they’ll leave without hurtin’ nobody.”
           Jane made a face.  “Well, they sure aren’t going to hurt anybody if they can’t find anybody.”  She looked back at the checkerboard and made a move.
           “Well, what I meant was,” Judd said, “maybe we ought to, uh, let the storm pass, too.  Especially you.”  He shook his head.  “I’m a-feared what them boys might do to a good-lookin’ woman.”
           Jane nodded and pushed her chair back.  “I’m going to go upstairs to my room, Judd.  You go on to wherever you feel is safe.”
           Judd figured that Jane intended to hide out in her room.  He didn’t especially think that would be the safest place, but he didn’t figure he could talk her out of it, either.  Besides, he wanted to be out of sight, too, when the Cutlers arrived.  So, he responded, “Ok.  I’ll see you when they’re gone.”
           Jane just nodded again and went into the hotel.

           She came back out about two minutes later and stared at a ghost town.  Shaking her head in what appeared to be disgust, she stood outside the hotel and leaned against a supporting post.  She crossed her arms over her chest…and waited.
           In a few minutes, she heard some horses riding in from the east.  They didn’t appear to be in a big hurry, and as she looked in that direction, she saw five men, their horses in a slow trot.  They were looking around, as people are wont to do when they ride into a new town.
           “Ain’t nobody here, Dodge,” Abilene said.  “Maybe the place is a ghost town, about to dry up and blow away.”  He laughed.
           “No, this place has got people,” Dodge replied.  “They just didn’t send out the welcome wagon to greet us.”  Then he spotted Jane leaning against the post at the top of the stairs that led to the hotel.  “Well, well, what do we have here?”
           He led his horse over to where Jane stood and the other men followed him.  She considered them for a few moments, just as they were doing her.  Dodge appeared to be the oldest, but probably wasn’t 30 yet.  He had curly black hair that twirled out from under his brown hat.  Not a bad looking-man, medium height and build.  But there was danger in his blue eyes.
           The other four men were of varying sizes and shapes.  Abilene was tall and lean, Ellsworth about Dodge’s size, but a little heavier, and the two Texans were both slender and pale—which Jane thought was strange, given their outdoor profession.  They were both blonde headed, though.  All five men were examining Jane—and with obvious relish.
           Dodge leaned on his saddle horn and pushed his hat back on his head.  “Howdy, ma’am.  Are you the welcoming committee?  Or maybe the sacrificial lamb?”  He chuckled and the other men laughed as well.
           Jane smiled.  Not a friendly smile.  “Maybe,” is all she said.
 Not quite sure what that meant, Dodge asked, “Where is everybody?  Is there a picnic outside of town?  The place seems kind of deserted.”
           Before Jane could answer, Concho spoke up.  “Hey, boss, there’s the bank right across the street.”
           Dodge gave him an annoyed look.  “I saw the bank, Concho.  I know where it is.”
           “Well, I just wanted to make sure…”
           Dodge turned back to Jane.  She spoke.  “That’s the bank, all right.  Only one in town.  You boys wanting to make a deposit?”
           “No, more like a withdrawal,” Dodge replied, grinning.  And he got some more chuckles from his men.
           “Folks around here might not like the kind of withdrawal you have in mind.”
           “Do you think they’ll do anything about it?”
           Jane shrugged.  “Don’t know.  I’m just passing through.  I don’t have any money in there.  Sheriff might object, but I don’t know if anybody else would.”
           Dodge narrowed his eyes at her.  The woman didn’t seem to be too intimidated or afraid of them.  But the glasses were what he found of immediate curiosity.  “Why do you wear those dark glasses?  Can’t rightly say I’ve ever seen anything like them.”
           “Well, they protect my eyes.”
           “From the sun?”
           “That.  And anything else I don’t especially want to see.  Snakes, buzzards, lizards, other nauseating vermin that bother me.”
           Dodge had a hunch he knew what she meant.  “Are they protecting your eyes right now?”
           “Yeah, they are.  But not well enough.”
           He sneered at her.  Ellsworth spoke up.  “Is she talkin’ about us, Dodge?”
           His older brother didn’t answer.  He was still trying to figure Jane out.  “Who are you, lady?  I assume you know who we are.”
           “I know who you are.  And I’m supposed to tell you that there are some rats on the other side of town waiting for you.  More of your kinfolk, I think.”
           “You got a sassy mouth, woman.  If me and the boys had a mind to come down there and…get better acquainted with you…what would you do?”
           Jane smiled.  Not her friendly smile.  “You’re welcome to try.”
           He snorted.  “Do you think you could stop us?”
           She was still smiling.  “You’re welcome to try,” she repeated.
           “Let’s go get her, cousin,” Pecos, one of the Texans, said.  “There’s nothin’ I hate worse than a smart-aleck woman.  She needs to learn her place.”
           But Dodge was studying Jane very closely.  He was somewhat amazed; she showed absolutely no fear at all, and that didn’t compute to him.  “No, not yet, Pecos.  You’re right, she needs a lesson in manners, but later, not now.”   He said to Jane, “We’ll be in town awhile, and we’ll look you up.”  He grinned wickedly.  “Might be fun.”
           Still smiling, Jane replied, “Might be.”  And with a wave and another set of up-and-down looks at Jane, the men rode off deeper into town. 
           “It might be fun if I was another rat,” Jane muttered under her breath.  She looked at her pocket watch and had an irritated expression on her face.
           She was still standing there five minutes later when another man, dark blonde hair, blue eyes, rode up.  Still irritated, Jane said, “It’s about time you got here.”
           He was a little annoyed at her attitude.  “I can’t drop everything and run every time you get your tail in a crack.”
           “I’m not in a crack,” she replied.  “I just thought you might like to join in the fun.”
           “Are they here yet?”
           “Arrived about 10 minutes before you did.”
           “Well, that was good timing, wasn’t it.  How many of them are there?”
           “Tough looking bunch?”
           “I wouldn’t underestimate them.”
           “Where’d they go?”
           Jane pointed.  “That way.”
           “What about the law in this town?”
           “Good man, but this one is way over his head.”
           “Any help from the hoi polloi?”
           “Not a bit.”
           The man nodded and turned his horse.  “I’ll be around.”
           “Don’t forget to load your gun,” Jane called after him.  She saw him smile and he waved. 
           She shook her head, but smiled herself.  She hadn’t been especially worried before, but she admitted to herself that she felt a whole lot better now.

           Sheriff Camp Zane was standing outside his office, just waiting.  He saw the five Cutler men as they rode slowly towards the center of town.  He walked out into the middle of the street, holding the shotgun in both hands.  Dodge and his men saw him, and about 50 yards shy, hitched their horses to a rail and started walking towards the sheriff.
           About 20 feet away from Zane, the Cutler men stopped.  “Howdy, sheriff,” Dodge said.  His hands were hooked on his gunbelt.  He had a reputation for being lightning quick and deadly with his pistol.  “Nice town you got here.  No people or nothin’.”  The others laughed.
           “Cutler, I’ll give you a chance to ride on out of here right now,” Zane said.  “I wouldn’t normally do that with a gang of thugs, but I’m in a good mood today, so you boys pack up and head out, and we’ll call it even.  You can go be somebody else’s problem.”
           “Now, wait a minute, sheriff.  We just got here.  We’d like to patronize some of your fine merchants with a bit of our hard earned money.  You don’t want to deprive your businessmen of customers, would you?”
           As if on cue, Pecos hollered out, “Oooo-doggies!  Dodge, you ought to come see this fine saddle this feller’s got for sale.”  He was standing in front of a leather goods store.  “He wants 50 bucks for it, though.  Awful proud of it.  Maybe I can convince him to give it to me for free.”  He laughed and his brother did, too.
           “Get your men and get out of here, Cutler,” Zane said.  “Before I arrest all of you.”
           “And what would you be arresting us for, sheriff?”
          “You’re wanted in every territory from here to Mexico and from California to New York, too, I imagine.”
           “Now, sheriff, you know we’ve never been convicted of anything.  Besides,” and here he walked up closer to Zane, “do you really think you could arrest all of us?  Or, any of us for that matter?”
           Pecos wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation out in the street.  “I think I’ll go inside here and see what else this guy’s got for sale.  You want to join me, Concho?”
           “In a minute, Pecos.  I want to watch this lawmen eat some dust.”
           “Suit yourself,” Pecos rejoined, and, finding the door locked, he forced it and went inside.
           Zane cast a glance in Pecos’s direction.  “That’s breaking and entering, Cutler.  That’s a crime.”
           Cutler gave the sheriff a fake smile, and then a half bow, extending his hand towards the leather shop, “inviting” Zane to walk in that direction.  “Then why don’t you go arrest him?”
           The sheriff really didn’t have much of a clue as to what to do, but he said, “I think I’ll do just that.  That will be one down, and before the day is over, I imagine the rest of you will be in jail, too.”
           He headed towards the leather store, but before he’d gotten near the sidewalk, Cutler’s other three men had him surrounded, standing about 10 feet from him.  Dodge Cutler himself hadn’t moved and was about 20 feet away again.
           “I don’t think my boys want you putting Pecos in jail, sheriff.  And I know they don’t want to go themselves.  Tell you what.  You get on back in your office and stay there for, say, three hours, and then we’ll be gone from your town.  How does that sound?  Just three hours.”
           “You’ll have the bank and every other store in town robbed by then, Cutler.”
           “Probably.  But you’ll be alive, something not likely to happen if you try to stop us.”
           Zane started to lower the shotgun towards Dodge, but quick as a flash, he had three pistols pointing at him.  “Might be a good idea if you keep that shooter aimed at the birds, sheriff.”  Then, with a smug expression on his face, he said, “I’m going to be real, real nice to you, sheriff, since this is our first visit to your wonderful town.  I’m going to have my boys tie you up in your office and blindfold you.  That way you won’t see anything we do.  You do know what happens to people who see what we do, don’t you, sheriff?”
           Yes, the sheriff knew.  As noted earlier, eye-witnesses to the doings of the Cutlers didn’t usually live long enough to tell anyone what they’d seen.
           “I can’t let you do that, Dodge,” Zane replied, his voice strained.
           “So you’d rather die?”
           “I’d rather die defending my town than live with the shame of letting you ransack it under my nose.”
           “Tsk, tsk,” Cutler said.  “Such stupid bravado, lawman.  But have it your way.”  And he pulled his gun and aimed it at the sheriff…
           Then a voice.  “Sheriff, can you tell me where the public privy is?  I can’t find one anywhere.”
           Everybody turned towards the voice.  Jane Smith was standing—rather, leaning—against a support post across the street.
           Zane’s face went hard, but something strange struck him, too.  She just saved my life…at least for the moment…  He spoke to Cutler.  “Did your lady do a good job scouting the town out for you, Cutler?  She’s been nothing but a pain the whole time she’s been here.”
           Dodge Cutler looked from Jane to Zane.  An eyebrow went up.  “My lady?  Never saw her before today, sheriff.”  He looked back at Jane.  “But you can certainly be my lady if you want to, honey.  As soon as I take care of some business here, you and I will go down the street and have a good time.  Ok?”
           “Hmm, I don’t know.”  She started walking towards the group.  “What do you think, Rob?”
           And right then, Pecos came flying backwards out of the leather goods store with a shout.  He landed flat on his back right at the feet of his brother.  The Cutlers were dumbfounded, and stared at the Texan, who was lying unconscious on the ground.  The man who had ridden in after the Cutlers and talked to Jane walked out of the store.  “Well, it’s your choice, Allie, but you never struck me as the kind who liked to roll around in pig slop.”
           Zane and the Cutlers looked slowly, back and forth, from the man who had tossed Pecos out of the leather shop to the woman who had stopped her approach about 20 feet away.  “What did you call her?” Dodge Cutler asked, in a tense voice, to the man.
           “Get those ugly glasses off, woman, would you?” the man at the shop said.
           And Jane Smith removed her glasses.
           Everybody stared at her.  Well, except the man at the leather store.
           “Uh oh,” Abilene Cutler said.  “Boss, we got problems.”
           The eyes behind those glasses were known by every outlaw and lawman in the territory.  Dodge looked at the woman carefully.  “Are you really Allie Summer?  I’d heard she was a woman, but I didn’t believe it.  But then…those eyes…”
           Sheriff Zane’s peepers were as big as saucers.  “You’re Allie Summer?”
           “You can call me Jane.”
           “And who are you?” Dodge asked the man at the leather store.
           “Rob Conners.”
           “Oh, my mother’s grave….” Ellsworth muttered.
           Cutler’s men were seriously unnerved now, but they still had four guns pointed at the sheriff.  “Don’t let ‘em get to you, boys,” Dodge said.  “We’ve still got the sheriff surrounded.  We’ve got four guns and they’ve only got two.  And I don’t even see a gun on the woman over here.”
           Quicker than he could blink, he saw one in Allie’s hand.  Aimed at his heart.
           And then, another voice spoke.  “Actually, they got three guns.”
           All eyes—including Allie’s and Rob’s—followed the voice.  From the roof of the building beside the leather goods store, Judd Sartain was pointing a rifle, rock steady in his hands, at Dodge Cutler.  “And just who are you?” Dodge asked him.
           “Major Judd Sartain, 4th North Carolina Rifles.  Shiloh, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg…and a few others.  Never missed a Yankee that I aimed at, and I don’t aim to miss the one I’m aimin’ at right now, neither.”
           Dodge Cutler was becoming a little desperate.  It was now he and his men who were surrounded.  “We’ve still got your sheriff,” he repeated.  It was all he could think of because it was the only card he had.
           And it wasn’t much of one anymore.  Nobody had noticed, during all the introductions, that Sheriff Zane had lowered, cocked, and pointed his shotgun—at Dodge Cutler.  He spoke.  “Let’s make that four guns, shall we?  Yeah, maybe I’m in the middle of all this, Cutler.  But both barrels of a shotgun unloaded into a fellow don’t leave a whole lot for the dogs to lick up.”
           Cutler’s face turned ugly.  He spoke to Allie.  “We’ll take some of you with us, Ranger.”
           “Do you really want to go that bad, Cutler?” she asked him.
           He looked into her eyes—and froze.  And shivered.  And melted.  “All right, all right,” he said.  “We’ll ride out of here.  Just let us get on our horses and we’ll go.  You can have your town, sheriff, and we’ll leave you alone.”
           “No deals, Cutler,” Allie replied.  “No deals.”  She looked at Conners for a moment, and he nodded.
           And a split second later, it was all over.
           Four shots, sounding like one, echoed down the streets of the town of Magic.  Four men cried out and arched their backs, trigger fingers immobile, their life force rapidly draining away.  Abilene fell, then Ellsworth, then the Texan, Concho.  The last to hit the ground was Dodge Cutler himself.  His last vision was of…ice. 
           A vision he took with him to hell.
           The eyes of Allie Summer.

           The first to react was Judd Sartain.  “Dad blame it, woman, I didn’t even get a chance to shoot.  You and Conners got ‘em all.  Hey, there’s still one down there on the groun’ unconscious.  Can I have him?”  He meant Pecos, whose life had been spared because he had been unconscious.  Judd was grinning, though, so everybody knew he was joking.
          Sheriff Camp Zane was still standing in the same place, now surrounded by four dead bodies.  He was a bit dumbfounded himself.  He looked from Allie to Rob Conners.  “Needless to say, I’m glad you two showed up.”  Then, to Allie.  “I never knew…why didn’t you tell me?”
           “Sheriff, I’m sorry, but if it had gotten around that I was in Magic, or even headed this way, the Cutlers would never have come.  Captain McConnell got your wire and sent me when he knew Dodge and his thugs were in the area.  But we had to do it on the sly, and I had to wear those glasses because my mother cursed me with these eyes.”  Eyes that were the color of ice.  And they had indeed frozen many an outlaw.  Allie was actually half Cheyenne and half Scandinavian.  All of her features, except her eyes, she had gotten from her Cheyenne father—especially her long, straight, silky black hair.  The Norwegian/Native American combination produced an astoundingly beautiful woman—and one as quick as a rattler, as silent and invisible in the forest as a panther, and as wily as a fox.  Most people who had heard of her, but hadn’t met her, believed she was a man—or didn’t believe she was a woman.  But her eyes had a longer reputation than Allie herself.  ”If you see eyes that would freeze hell, then get ready to go there…” was the motto that was beginning to make the rounds among the miscreants in the territory.
           Zane shook his head, mainly in wonder.  “And I thought McConnell was just ignoring me.”
           “No.  We’ve wanted these guys for a long time.  We’re glad you wired, so we knew where they were.”
           The sheriff looked at Rob Conners.  “I’ve heard of you.  Best gun in the territory.  Are you working for the Rangers now?”
           “No.  Allie gets lonely so she wires me occasionally to come keep her company and bail her out.”
           Allie grunted at that one.  “It makes him feel good to feel wanted.  Nobody else would have the….”  And I won’t repeat what she called Conners.
           Judd had joined the group now, grinning from ear to ear.  “That was the most fun I’ve had since the war, even though you didn’t save one for me.  Still, it was nice to do somethin’ other than play checkers.”
           “Well, we appreciate your help, Judd,” Sheriff Zane said.  “You certainly made things easier by adding your gun to the mix.”
           “Major Sartain, huh?” Allie said.  Then, with a smile, “You knew who I was all along, didn’t you.”
           “Yeah.  No momma would ever name their son ‘Allie,’ so Allie Summer had to be female.  Besides, I seen you over to Culver City onct.  You blowed away Tank McAdams.  Slicker’n snot.”  He looked at Zane.  “McAdams was pointin’ a gun at her and hers still in her holster.  But he never got a shot away.”  He looked at Rob Conners.  “Are you that fast?  I hear ye are.”
           Allie looked at Rob and they smiled at each other.  “Well, I’ll tell you this, old timer,” Allie said.  “I’ll never test him.”
           The people of Magic were starting to come out of the woodworks now.  Pecos Cutler had woken up and was staggering to his feet.  “You can have this one, sheriff,” Allie said.  “We don’t want him.  He’s defanged now, without Dodge and the rest of them.”
           “Well, I’ll hold him till the judge gets here next week.  Bryer’ll give him a nice room, for a long time, at the expense of the taxpayers.  In the territorial prison.”
           Pecos had regained enough of his senses to object.  “Why?  I ain’t done nothin’.  You can’t hold me.”
           Zane smiled.  “Oh, yes, I can.”
           “What fer?”
           “Breaking and entering.”  Allie laughed.
           There wasn’t much more to say or do.  The sheriff took control of the local matters as the town came back to life, buzzing over what had happened.  Rob and Allie headed towards the hotel—he, to get a room for the night, she, to stay for one more.  On their way, a teenaged boy came running up to Allie.
           “Are you really Allie Summer?  I knew it the whole time, but I didn’t want to tell nobody, since you was using a fake name an’ all.”
           “’Were’ using, Lance, not ‘was’.”  And she smiled again.
           “Oh, ok, ok.  What difference does it make so long as people can understand me?”  Then he held out a piece of paper and a pencil.  “Can I have your autograph?  I mean, if you don’t mind.”
          Allie made a face at Rob, who was having trouble not laughing.  “Well, I guess so,” she said, and signed the paper.  “Do you want his, too?” she said, motioning to Rob.
           “Nah, he’s nobody important.  Now, if Rob Conners ever comes through town, I’m gonna get his autograph.  I seen Conners draw one time over at Pine Mountain.  Boy, he’s fast.  I don’t think he’s as fast as you, though, Allie…”
           Allie Summer and Rob Conners were smiling at each other.  “Well, I’ll tell you this, young man,” Rob said.  “He’ll never test her.”

The End

Allie will be back, folks.  Whether she brings Rob Conners with her again, I don't know yet.  It's up to her.  I'm certainly not going to argue with her.

For those of you who have not read any other of my stories, Allie Summer first appeared in River Bend, which is a sequel to Whitewater.  Rob Conners was in both, and they are also in Return to River Bend.

Mark Lewis