Incident at Morgan's Crossing

by Jack Brislee

INCIDENT AT MORGAN'S CROSSING

By Jack Brislee

Where Spanish Peter came from, or how he got his name, no one could tell. Some folk said he was born in New Jersey, but I reckoned on Idaho, that state being flat and good potato growing country. When he and his gang first rode into Morgan's Crossing I thought they were encyclopaedia salesmen. Then they gut shot Randy Sommers just for looking at them, raped Mrs Mortimer who was on her way to buy a new hat, and rearranged the tins of beans in the general store so folks had to swivel them around to see what brand they was. After that they galloped around shooting their six guns in the air and making a number of erudite observations, such as "Yi ha!"

Miss Nightingale, our spinster one-room school teacher, told me she did not think they were in the encyclopaedia business, and she was educated. Her observation and Randy Sommers bleeding to death face down in the water trough revised my opinion, though Lord knows it was hard to discern a man's occupation in those days.

Some of us folk trooped off to see Sheriff Dawson to get his take on the situation, but he had missed all the commotion, having spent the morning under his desk working on a maintenance problem.

The next day Spanish Peter and his gang came back, and they repeated what they had done the first time, gut shooting, raping and messing with folks' shopping preferences. Then they came back again, and again and again and again, and each time the sheriff had a problem with his desk. Damned if that man weren't unlucky in his choice of furniture.

And now it seemed the town of Morgan's Crossing was in the grip of what some folk called a reign of terror, though the sheriff told us it was just a "non-tranquil situation". But what most folk agreed was that something had to be done and that the town needed some kind of outside help. They just hoped and prayed it might be forthcoming.

It was.

It came in the form of The Stranger.

But The Stranger had not come for Spanish Peter.

He had smaller fish to fry.

He was trail-dirty and saddle-sore and he rode slowly down Main Street to the Last Chance Saloon, and there he dismounted, casually throwing his reins over the hitching rail, the Wild West being in existence some time before the invention of the knot.

He patted his horse's head and mumbled some regrets about not being able to take him into the saloon, drinking laws being strict back then. The Stranger had been through a lot with that horse " the marriage, the break up, the therapy. It was a good horse but it had made some poor relationship choices.

I was playing piano at The Last Chance Saloon, the only drinking establishment at Morgan's Crossing. It was called The Last Chance because before you hit the toughest part of the Chisholm Trial it offered your last chance to get both a cold beer and syphilis. I was playing "The Moonlight Sonata" by Beethoven, a German with a good ear for music but apparently stone deaf. I figured if I hit a few wrong notes what the hell.

Lolly Molly was watching me with her moon eyes, which might have said "love", but I knew at 10am more likely said five ports. Dirty Gertie had a roving eye, but that wasn't doing her much good, the only thing that looked like a customer being that chicken-necked dirt-encrusted two-bit card sharp and local near-do-well Gabby MacIntyre, who was playing stud with One Eyed Jim, so called for reasons which will become obvious later. Both Gabby and Jim looked to be more interested in cards than in Gertie. Jim the Barkeep was there, but there were strict house rules about fraternising with the staff, so unless someone swung through those swing doors pretty soon it looked like a bleak morning shift for Dirty Gertie.

And just then someone did swing through those swing doors, that someone being The Stranger aforementioned. He pushed through those doors like they were nothing, but I gotta say if you have ever pushed through swing doors in a bar and found it hard going you got a problem building up a substantial quantity of respect.

The Stranger looked around and gave us the stare that you only get after long days on the trail. The sort of stare that says "I been on the trail and you ain't". I can't rightly see the use behind that stare but folks take note of it, and ponder some before they walk up to a man and start insulting his immediate kin.

He strode to the bar and nodded to Jim the Barkeep (not to be confused with One Eyed Jim who was playing stud with Gabby) and said, "Whisky."

Well I stopped playing the piano right then and there, and not because I have a problem with C sharp. I just hate clichs, and it seemed to me The Stranger had brought at least one of them to Morgan's Crossing. I prefer folks to leave their clichs outside with their horses, but I sure weren't going to say that to The Stranger, because everything about this character was hard and tough, and as a saloon piano player I inhabit the other end of the macho spectrum.

Jim though, being fully trained in bar keeping, ignored The Stranger's inexpert dialogue and, as he poured the whisky, said, "Hot outside?"

The Stranger said nothing, so those of us who might have been labouring under any misapprehension now knew for sure that he was one tough hombre.

But Gabby hadn't cottoned on so quick, him having his back facing The Stranger, and that being one of the hardest ways to judge a man's character. Gabby was the type of citizen that just had to know things, so on the pretext of wanting another drink, and succumbing to the demands of a shattered central nervous system, he walked to the bar and made a motion with his glass that Jim the Bar Keep correctly interpreted as a request for further refreshment.

As Jim poured the whisky Gabby turned to The Stranger and said, "New in town?"

"You ask a lot of questions," said The Stranger.

"I only asked one," Gabby replied.

"One too many," said The Stranger.

"Just trying to be friendly-like," said Gabby. But The Stranger said nothing and, having drained his whisky, made a gesture with his finger to which Jim the Bar Keep responded, drawing on years of experience in the hospitality industry.

Gabby slid away. I thought about playing Mozart's Symphony in F, but I was missing an orchestra and the sheet music only went to bar four. Lolly Molly was sliding off the table, leaving most of her face on the port-encrusted surface.

Then The Stranger started to open up. I've seen good men do this. Good men who have spent too long on the trail sometimes need to talk to a human being, horses having communication skills that don't encompass the full sweep of the American language.

"That man," he said to Jim the Bar Keep. "That man who was talking to me."

"Who, Gabby?" said Jim. He was good at identifying individuals in small crowds.

"Said he wanted to be friendly-like," said The Stranger.

"That's Gabby," said Jim.

"Is he one of them homeo-sexuals I heard about?" asked The Stranger.

"I don't rightly know what a homeo-sexual is, Stranger."

"It's a man who sleeps with another man."

"Besides the man he's already sleeping with?"

"No. Just one man."

"Well Gabby there sleeps on his own. And him being just one man, I guess he must be a homeo-sexual."

The stranger nodded. "Whisky," he said.

Just then Dirty Gertie walked past The Stranger, probably figuring that Lolly Molly, who in my book is way ahead on prettiness, weren't much competition, her being under the table with a serious quantity of vomit about her person and no appreciation of Mozart's Symphony in F, the first four bars of which I had just completed, alone, and without an orchestra.

"See anything you like?" asked Dirty Gertie, wiggling a pair of very large scaffolding-supported breasts in the stranger's face.

"As a matter of fact I do," said The Stranger.

Dirty Gertie smiled, revealing one top tooth of which she was very proud.

The Stranger made dewy eyes and said, "I wouldn't mind riding you all afternoon."

"What do you think I am?" asked Dirty Gertie.

"Sorry lady," said The Stranger. "But from the way you're dressed..."

"I'm a prostitute," said Dirty Gertie. "Livery stables down the road some."

With that she flounced off. I'll say something for Dirty Gertie. She carried herself like a lady.

The Stranger pointed to his empty whisky glass, and Jim the Barkeep obliged by pouring another whisky. Damned if that man didn't know how to interpret the gesticulations of his customers, regulars or not.

By now The Stranger had made us all uncomfortable and you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife, a fairly easy operation, if you think about it. We didn't know what The Stranger wanted in Morgan's Crossing. Nor did we know if he represented the forces of good or evil. His hat was sweat encrusted, and its original colour had faded some, and the jury was still out on whether or not the colour of a man's hat was the window to his soul.

So you can imagine our relief when Sheriff Dawson pushed his way through the swing doors and moseyed up to the bar like nothing untoward was happening. He represented law and stability and, in spite of his difficulties with the finer points of carpentry, we trusted him. Some folk were even considering auctioning off Miss Nightingale to raise money for a new suite of furniture for his office.

Sheriff Dawson posed a question that was more like a statement but that was allowable, him being a law man and all.

"I hear there's a stranger in town," he said.

The music stopped because I stopped playing and everyone turned to the sheriff to see who he was going to identify as the stranger. He nodded to me, so I was I the clear. Then to Jim the Barkeep, then Gabby and One Eyed Jim, whose name I'll explain later. Then he nodded to Lolly Molly, who didn't acknowledge his nod, her being comatose; and he would have nodded to Dirty Gertie, but she had left and was negotiating prices with Slim, who you don't know, but is the assistant manager of the livery stable and was known to saddle up stout women when short a horse or two.

"I ain't seen you around," the sheriff said to The Stranger. Damn that man could get straight to the point.

"I ain't been around," said The Stranger, sprouting the sort of line we'd all love to come up with if only we had the wit and the time to study on it.

"What are you doing in Morgan's Crossing, son?" the sheriff asked. Strange choice of words, I thought, The Stranger looking like he was somewhere in his early thirties, face trail-cracked to shit none the less. I learned later he was thirty-two. The sheriff I knew was forty-two, because he told me once, marvelling at his longevity.

I would have used the expression, "sidewinder" rather than "son", and figured The Stranger on past form might consider telling the sheriff to mind his own business. I thought about playing the last nine bars of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" to diffuse the situation, but The Stranger had mellowed some, probably due to the whisky and the friendly atmosphere that hung like a limpid fog in The Last Chance Saloon.

"I'm looking for a man," he said.

"You're in luck," said the sheriff. "I hear Gabby's turning queer."

At the sound of his name Gabby turned and gave a thumbs up sign, while One Eyed Jim re-arranged Gabby's cards, unfortunately giving Gabby a winning hand and ending Jim's dreams of riches.

The Stranger turned a stone face to the sheriff, and composed his features to express a demeanour shot through with hard core heterosexuality.

"You've got me wrong, sheriff," he said. "I've got a list as long as my arm of women I've pleasured."

With that he drew out a list, and I'm here to say it was about an arm's length. I thought about playing something romantic but Lolly Molly was re-vomiting in her sleep, so I chose a piece by Bach, using my head for the low chords.

"You mean to say you've satisfied all these fillies?" asked the sheriff.

"Some of them was human," said The Stranger.

The sheriff was impressed. "Seems to me, son, you've got something we need in the west. The ability to keep our female folk happy and provide an antidote to the towel rail shortage."

"Not interested, Sheriff," said the Stranger, and he pointed to his empty whisky glass with such vehemence, that should Jim the Bar Keep's training have slipped his mind completely it would have come back to him like a stick of dynamite attached to a boomerang.

"You say you're looking for a man, but you ain't looking for one to bugger?"

The Stranger nodded.

"I guess you're not just looking for any man," he said.

The Stranger gave him the thousand yard stare, shortened to seven yards by the five whiskies. "I'm looking for The Kid," he said.

"Never heard of him," said the sheriff. Then, drawing on Profiling 101, a subject in which he had excelled at the Dodge City Academy for Lawmen and Shorthand Typists, said, "He sounds kind of young."

"He's wanted in five states," said the Stranger. "Murder, arson, bank robbery and rape. He once terrorised Kansas City with a split infinitive."

"Why do they call him The Kid?" asked the sheriff.

The Stranger assumed the expression of a man who knows things that other men need a lifetime of contemplation to discover. "On account of his age," he said.

"Do you have a reckoning of what that age might be?"

"Some folks say he's a two year old, but I'm not so sure. You look at what he's done and the mayhem he's caused, I'm thinking at least two-and-a-half."

"Sounds like quite a handful."

"Keeps a six gun in his diaper. Likes to breast feed after killing a man. Knows how to blend into a crowd. You take a room of a hundred two-year-olds with six guns in their diapers you'd never pick him."

"Looks like you got your work cut out, Stranger."

"I don't mind telling you I'm up against it on this one. He has a brilliant mind. Harvard trained, spent time as a Wall Street lawyer before he stumbled onto debt defeasance as a bond trader, built railroads in the west and east into the sea, but his first love is dentistry."

"How do you plan to take him down?"

"That's my business, but between you and me I have no idea."

"What's the reward?"

"Twenty-five dollars cash in easy instalments over seventy years. Plus a rocking horse and a travelling cot."

"I can see why you're interested."

"Taking down the Kid is the only thing that matters to me."

"What if I was to tell you about another man that's wanted dead or alive? There's a five hundred dollar reward. I'd split it with you fifty-fifty."

"What would be my share?"

"Fifty dollars, less my commission and introduction fee. You'd be living in clover for the rest of your life, particularly if you die young."

"A man would be a fool to pass up an offer like that."

"What I'm asking you, Stranger, is are you that type of fool?"

The Stranger looked hard at the sheriff. "You got me interested," he said.

The sheriff looked hard at The Stranger. "His name is Spanish Peter," he said.

"Dirty face and smelly feeta," said Jim the Barkeep.

The Stranger pointed to his empty glass and Jim filled it to the brim. He then handed The Stranger a small brochure that covered the finer points of the early identification of alcoholism.

I began to play a Spanish song to get The Stranger in the mood. I knew how important this moment could be, so I accompanied the chords with the haunting lyrics,

"Ah, la, la, la.

Si, si, senora.

My sister Belinda

She pissed out the window

All over my new sombrero."

I like to think that my piano playing and singing had some affect on The Stranger, and that of a positive nature. He began to nod his head at the proposition of facing down Spanish Peter, he of the dirty face and smelly feeta.

"Let's mosey on over to my office," said the sheriff, "and I'll make you a deputy and a ham sandwich. You're not Jewish, are you?"

"No," said The Stranger, "but I once met a Hindu saddle preacher."

The sheriff and The Stranger moseyed on out of the bar, The Stranger staggering somewhat under the weight of the undertaking to which he was committed. I took time out to lift Golly Molly's head to stop her drowning in her own vomit.

We folk in The Last Chance Saloon knew The Stranger was a man of few words. What the sheriff found out, through advanced interrogation techniques, was that he was also a dab hand at gun slinging. As he pinned a deputy's badge onto The Stranger' deputy chest (the only badge not shot through with 45 slugs or Apache arrows) the sheriff asked, "Are you a quick draw?"

"Once sketched the whole Rocky Mountains in three minutes," The Stranger replied.

"Damn that's fast." The sheriff was impressed, but needed more information.

"Did you colour in the sketch?" he asked.

The stranger nodded.

"Water colour or oils?" asked the sheriff.

"Oils," said The Stranger.

"Numbers or no numbers?" asked the sheriff.

"No numbers," said The Stranger.

"Realistic or impressionistic?" asked the sheriff.

"So real I found an injun hiding behind one of the ochre coloured rocks. Had to shoot him before I coloured in his bow and arrow."

"Put a hole in the painting?"

"Ruined my chances of a gallery hanging."

"Seems to me, stranger, you've known true misfortune in your life."

"It's misfortune that keeps me going. That and a pure nihilistic philosophy."

"I sure am glad you drifted into Morgan's Crossing, Stranger. You seem to be the type of fellah who has the knack of cheering up folk."

The Stranger whipped his gun out of his holster, aimed at the sheriff's pencil mug and squeezed off a round. "I like to make folks happy," he said. The sheriff studied on his assortment of lead pencils, a number of which had disintegrated and would take some time to repair.

That evening the sheriff called a meeting of all the male townsfolk, and they stumbled into the Last Chance Saloon and took their seats, ready to hear from the new deputy about the way he was planing to take down Spanish Peter, he of the dirty face and smelly feeta. Before the meeting started Dirty Gertie pleasured the Mayor and Harry the Haberdasher, and Lolly Molly looked like she was ready to earn some money, but she declined the advance of Gabby out of loyalty to me and alcoholic paralysis.

Then The Stranger started in to talk to the townsfolk, and when he did they all straightened up and looked like a bit of character had oozed into their spinal columns. "Men," he said. "We're going to take down Spanish Peter."

"How?" asked One Eyed Jim, his good eye focused on The Stranger and his bad eye still focused on the thorn bush he should have pruned in the winter of '78.

"You'll never find him," said Gabby. "Spanish Peter is a master of disguise."

The Stranger looked to the sheriff, who had evidently brushed over this small detail. It was an important piece of information and helped explain just how hard it would be to take down the man with the dirty face and smelly feeta.

The sheriff looked at his feet and shuffled while Lolly Molly snored and Gabby chimed in to provide some background information.

"Spanish Peter once disguised himself as a railroad locomotive and pulled four carriages of folk two hundred miles into the desert. Then he stopped, waited for his boiler to cool down, and walked away like nothing had happened."

The townsfolk nodded. They knew what was coming next.

"Them folks was stranded in the desert for forty days and forty nights. Some went mad with thirst and drained the blood of the young 'uns just to keep alive. Then the hunger set in and they began eating each other until there was just one man left standing, and that man was Dan Dunstan. He was a thin man before the incident, but very fat thereafter. He walked the quarter mile to the nearest railroad station and reported on the tragedy. Then he moved back east and took up duck farming. The incident played on his mind and to the end of his days he wore his trousers back to front as a mark of respect."

The townsfolk nodded. They knew the story well. Trouble was, now that The Stranger was acquainted with it would he stay and fight, or would he slink away? He had every right to leave, the full measure of the problem not having been completely presented until this moment.

The Stranger's eyes drifted to the bar room door, and it looked like he was fixing to go when the sheriff turned to him and said, "The whole town is relying on you, Stranger."

The Stranger nodded and made his face look hard and serious. "I have a plan," he said.

Right then I started playing "Chopsticks", a tune I find goes well with serious planning.

"We gotta lure Spanish Peter into town at a time of our choosing," said The Stranger. "Then with all the good folks on the various roof tops with Winchester rifles in their hands, we shoot the shit out of him."

"Just the shit?" asked Gabby. "That would take some mighty fine shooting."

"And is it fair?" asked Reverent Parmenter, the town preacher. "Could we not give him time for redemption? Perhaps a short period in a place where he could reflect on his sins?"

"You mean throw his ass in jail?" asked One Eyed Jim, who was particularly quick on the uptake.

The reverent sadly shook his head. "Spanish Peter don't go nowhere without his ass. We'll have to jail all of him."

Then The Stranger spoke, and a hush fell on the crowd, and what he said made sense and caused the townsfolk to nod their heads in agreement.

"I'm as much anti-violence as the next man," he said, "but I vote we shoot him down like a dog and watch his blood mingle with the street dirt as he writhes and gasps in agony."

The reverent smiled at The Stranger. "Now there's a plan," he said.

The trick The Stranger came up with to lure Spanish Peter into town was a simple one. He had Mr Simpson, the bank manager, spread a rumour that his bank safe would be open between the hours of 11 o'clock and 11.30 on a certain Friday. Routine maintenance, he said. He then gave an interview to the local paper, where he was quoted as saying: "I just sure hope and pray no bad guys ride into town on that day. The bank's wide open for robbing and I understand some ladies will be waiting outside if anyone feels like a raping."

The paper was duly published, but the townsfolk, worried that Spanish Peter might not get a copy, set up a news stand way out on the high plain, where outlaws were known to drift and competition from rival publishers was limited. Bobby Joe, the newsboy, spent all day on the sierra, yelling out "Extra! Extra! Read all about it. Local bank open for robbing and women of all shapes and sizes available for raping."

When he came back into town the folks quizzed him. "Did Spanish Peter buy a paper?" they asked.

Bobby Joe pondered the question. "I don't rightly know," he said, "Spanish Peter being a master of disguise and all. But a coil of fencing wire bought the late edition, and that might have been Spanish Peter, although the wire was quite clean, unlike Spanish Peter who is known to have hygiene issues in both the face and feet departments."

The townsfolk studied on that answer for a while and the sheriff cuffed Bobby Joe about the ears for no reason. But The Stranger looked like he knew what had happened. "He's coming," he said.

As we rolled towards that certain Friday the town took on an air of anticipation. Folks began living their lives as if their last days was coming. Golly Molly admitted she had a drinking problem and switched from port to whisky. Dirty Gertie proposed to Slim, the assistant livery stable manager and he said yes, so long as she gave up prostitution. Dirty Gertie agreed, but accidentally pleasured the Mayor on her way back to the Last Chance Saloon, thereby putting an end to Slim's dreams of matrimonial bliss. I proposed to Golly Molly, and she said yes, but the sheriff said it didn't count, Golly Molly being technically dead at the time.

The Stranger instructed us townsfolk in straight shooting and achieved some fair results. Then he showed us how to hide ourselves on rooftops so that nothing was showing except our rifle barrels, which stuck out but might be mistaken for fishing rods if Spanish Peter didn't look too close. Gabby fell off a roof while practicing marksmanship and broke his neck, it being scrawny and all. One Eyed Jim knelt beside him while Gabby slid into delirium and began mumbling in Serbo-Croat, him coming from a long line of French dissenters. The reverent gave him a nice service when he died, but with his head twisted at a right angle from the neck break we had to add a small alcove to the coffin. One of Jerry Seymour's dogs licked Gabby's dead face during Psalm 23, a nice gesture we all thought.

The next day being the Friday of the open bank safe I started in with "The Blue Danube" by Strauss, hoping the townsfolk would see the resemblance between that mighty river and Morgan's Creek where Gabby used to urinate. Then I positioned myself on a rooftop and aimed my Winchester into the street the way The Stranger had taught.

And then came the surprise that no one expected, least of all The Stranger, though to my way of thinking he should have been happy with it. Spanish Peter came riding into town with eight members of his gang, all dirt-cracked and trail-sore and looking for trouble. But it was who was riding beside Spanish Peter was the thing that had the quality of coincidence about it, although Lord knows outlaws have a way of finding each other. For there, astride a high stepping frisky palomino, naked but for a diaper and a six gun was none other than The Kid, easily identified because he was not in a room full of diaper-wearing gun-toting two year olds.

The Kid slipped off his horse and got right down to business, raping the half dozen ladies that were waiting outside the bank and gut shooting Mr Simpson, the manager, when he came out to complain about the noise. Spanish Peter watched the whole thing from atop his horse, occasionally adding helpful comments like, "Si, si, amigo!"

With the raping and shooting finished Spanish Peter and his gang got off their horses and moseyed into the bank, the Kid following, doing up his diaper with Elastoplast. So far none of us townsfolk had shot nobody, The Stranger having instructed us to shoot when the gang members came out of the bank laden down and distracted, not when they were going into the bank, hands free and trigger fingers itchy. We had been told to stay hidden where we were, only giving our positions away when the shooting started. So you can imagine our surprise when The Stranger, instead of staying hidden behind some water barrels, (which would have ejected magnificent jet streams of water if caught in the cross fire), calmly walked into the middle of the street and faced the bank.

"Hey Kid," he yelled. "I'm calling you out."

The sheriff peeped his head around the corner of a clap board men's apparel shop and hissed, "Stranger. Don't forget the plan."

"Things have changed, Sheriff," said the Stranger. "The Kid is riding with Spanish Peter, and I've sworn to get The Kid."

"But you also swore you would kill Spanish Peter," said the sheriff.

"You just don't understand the West," said the Stranger. "When a man vows to kill a two year old, he sticks to his vow."

There was some shooting and yelling coming from within the bank, and we learned later that the Kid, Spanish Peter, and his gang had killed all the bank staff. Neither the sheriff nor The Stranger had seen that one coming, and they shared a good laugh over their naivety.

When the laughter finished The Stranger was all business, standing in the middle of the dirt street checking his six gun and making sure the cylinder spun right. Them outlaws came staggering out of the bank under the weight of all their loot, and stopped cold when they saw The Stranger standing on his own.

"I've come for you, Kid," said The Stranger. "And I'm going to take you down right here on this street."

"As in a gun fight?" asked the kid, his Harvard training kicking in. He wore that nasty smirk you often see on two year olds.

"That's right," said The Stranger. "Now move away from your buddies, get into the street and face me like a man."

"This ain't a fair fight," said The Kid.

The Stranger snarled. "Why not?"

"My diaper's full of shit. The barrel of my Colt Peacemaker is stuck some. It's going to slow down my draw."

The Stranger was a fair man. He looked from The Kid to the previously raped womenfolk who were lazing around the side walk in various states of undress. "Any of you ladies know how to change a diaper?" he asked.

Mrs Holden, being the matronly type and a person not to hold a grudge, volunteered. She took The Kid round the back of the Last Chance Saloon so he wouldn't be embarrassed, and she did a pretty good job, The Kid coming back later with a clean diaper and two new pieces of Elastoplast.

While The Kid was away Spanish Peter made the mistake that was to cost him his life. We all make mistakes but fatal ones are hard to shrug off. "Think you're fast, do you Stranger?" he challenged.

The Stranger lifted his six gun very slowly and deliberately, aimed it at Spanish Peter and shot him between the eyes.

"No," he said.

"I didn't see that one coming," said Spanish Peter just before he fell. He hit the dirt face down. He was stone cold dead.

The outlaws exchanged glances. "Now we gotta elect a new leader," said the dirtiest and fattest, who to my mind was the best candidate.

"But we never done this before," complained another. "I mean, how do we run the election? First past the post? Preferential voting? Electoral college?"

Just as they were pondering on this important question the townsfolk, and me included, emboldened by the death of Spanish Peter, opened up on the outlaws. We shot them all dead as they were still debating the rules of the new election, and I'm here to say when the blue haze of gun smoke drifted away there weren't one single outlaw left standing, and the town was just about rid of its menace, though in my opinion it had declined somewhat as a centre of democratic debate.

Just then The Kid sauntered around the corner proudly wearing his clean diaper and followed with matronly affection by Mrs Holden. The Kid surveyed the dead outlaws and said, with wisdom beyond his years, "So that's what the noise was all about." He was standing thirty yards from The Stranger, just about the ideal distance for gun play, so The Stranger came to the point. "Are you ready, Kid?" he asked.

The Kid nodded. His hand hovered above his six gun.

The Stranger hooded his eyes. Everyone knows a gunslinger's eyes flash just before he draws, so The Stranger was using extraordinary muscle control to shade his pupils.

The Kid made his move.

His hand went to his six gun.

But The Stranger was quicker.

Bang! Bang!

The Stranger shot off the Kid's Elastoplast, and the Kid's diaper dropped down to his ankles.

Acute embarrassment followed. Mrs Holden, forgetting that she had just changed the Kid's diaper, averted her eyes. The Kid went bright red and started to run to the rear of The Last Chance Saloon in an effort to hide his shame. But The Stranger was too good. He shot the Kid through the back of the head, and that no good two bit outlaw hit the dust hard, blood and brain matter spilling all over the street.

"OK folks," said the sheriff. "Nothing to see here. Just go about your business."

He shepherded the townsfolk into the Last Chance Saloon, and I began playing Beethoven's Fifth to lighten the atmosphere. Looking through the window I saw the sheriff and The Stranger talking some. Then The Stranger mounted his horse and rode away.

Times have changed at Morgan's Crossing. We now got electric lights and running water, and next year we've been promised sarcasm and innuendo. We never saw The Stranger again, but when we folk are gathered in small groups we make a point of not talking about him. I proposed to Lolly Molly again and she accepted me, but died on her way to the church. I threw myself into piano practice to cover my grief, and ended up playing triangle with a Salvation Army pick up band.

Dirty Gertie became an accountant, the sheriff, rich on the reward money, invested in global stock market crashes, One Eyed Jim shot the reverent for no reason, Jim the Barkeep became a professional tennis player and the mayor made a fortune in crab apple futures.

I often think of The Stranger, The Kid and Spanish Peter. Sometimes, when a cold wind is blowing across the prairie and the moon is high, I think I see a ghost-like creature on a horse wandering lost across the landscape. But then I look again and see it's just my old eyes playing tricks on me.

I think I learned a lot from the Incident at Morgan's Crossing. I learned how a man can drift into town determined to kill one man and end up killing two. I learned how folks, good folks, can shoot down people while they are debating the finer points of democracy. And I learned that life has more twists and turns in it than there are notes on a triangle. I am a better man for having this knowledge. Now, as old age creeps up on me, I feel a certain contentment, just sitting here, looking out on the high plain, thinking about the Old West and urinating in my underwear.

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