Name Is Charlie Day
It was a hot day
in Wickenburg, a day little different from any other in the
little town. Five men were sitting at a table in the shadowy
confines of Tom Robbins’s saloon. There was a weather-beaten,
wooden sign hanging outside, its painted letters faded by the
desert sun which claimed the place had a different name, but
to every one in the one-dog town, it was Tom Robbins’s saloon
and people went to the watering hole as much to see the jovial
Pennsylvanian as for the whiskey and cards. On this day, however,
Tom had business in Prescott and the establishment was left
in the care of his hired man and only those who came for the
whiskey were in attendance today.
The whiskey… and the cards.
“How about this?” inquired the
youngest of five men gathered about a scarred poker table.
He was a hard-looking youth with his skin baked brown by the
harsh sun and several days’ growth of stubble on his face.
The boy’s clothes told his comrades at the table his manner
of livelihood chaparrejas strapped over his pants, mule ears
with Texas spurs (already removed and resting in the center
of the table), a checkered shirt, worn canvas pants, and a
battered planter’s hat. He was a cowboy and could ill afford
the fifty dollars he had already lost, much less what was in
the present pot.
“Let me see that,” requested
the man sitting across from the cowboy. He was much darker
than even the tanned cowpoke, a shade born not of sun but heritage.
His features told the story the lean, knife-nosed face of
the breed, half-Navajo and half-Texan. Mixed blood had not
kept William Foster from prospering in the small community.
Indeed, he was highly respected by his fellow citizens and
known for his kindness and generosity. He set his watch and
its cigar cutter fob charm, which he had been absently toying
with throughout the last two hands, back into the pocket of
the rich scarlet vest he wore above his ruffled cotton shirt.
Foster brushed his long black hair under his own John B. Stetson,
its silver hat band winking at the cowboy in a stray beam of
sunlight that slithered down through the cracks in the saloon’s
ceiling. Foster smiled slowly.
“How much did you figure?”
“Just enough to keep me in the
game,” answered the youth, struggling to keep the enthusiasm
out of his voice. “That coin’s real gold. Came from California
when my Pa went there in ‘50. I figure it’s worth maybe a hundred
Foster rubbed his eyes and stretched
his neck, looking up at the ceiling as he did so. The old Rochester
brass hanging lamp was swaying slightly. Foster listened to
the faint traces of noise overhead. A cat racing about the
saloon’s roof chasing a lizard, he decided. His smile lessened
a bit and he looked back at the young cowboy. Foster nodded
and began to hand the coin back to the youth when a pale hand
closed upon his own. Patrick O’Dell, Wickenburg’s undertaker
and barber held the fat coin up to his face.
“Says here, right on the damn
coin ‘Fifty Dollars’,” snorted the long face beneath O’Dell’s
“But that was in ‘50! Gold’s
worth more now!” protested the cowboy.
“It says fifty dollars, fifty
dollars it is.”
“It won’t hurt anything to give
the boy a hundred for it,” interrupted Foster, staring at the
undertaker to his right.
“Fifty dollars is says, fifty
dollars it is. If this damn wool hat can’t afford to stay in
the game otherwise, that’s his business,” declared the black-garbed
vulture, his pale hand inching closer to the revolver resting
beside his cards as he glared at the cowpoke.
Foster wasn’t watching the undertaker,
however, for his eyes were focused upon the man who had just
appeared in the saloon’s doorway.
The figure was framed in the
harsh light of the afternoon sun, the day clung about him like
an angelic aura, but Foster doubted that this man hailed from
any holy place. As the tall man strode into the room, his jingle-bob
spurs ringing with each step, Foster saw the man’s hard features.
The man was dressed in black, a black faded by endless days
under the desert sun. His boots were nearly knee-high cavalry
issue, his pants tucked down into them. A tatty frock coat
draped about the stranger’s torso, as faded as the rest of
his garb. The one hint of color was the powdery blue vest and
its tarnished brass buttons.
The stranger’s face was hard
and angular, his nose sharp like a hawk’s. Cruel grey eyes
blinked at the card players from beneath the shadow cast by
the brim of his slouch hat. His wrinkled face cracked into
a grin as his eyes met those of Foster. The half-breed had
already noted the black-gloved hand resting upon the pearl
butt of the Colt .45 in the holster resting across the man’s
“You’re just in time, mister,” laughed
O’Dell. “We’re about to have an opening for the next hand.”
“You’re about to have two,” corrected
the stranger, in a voice as cold as the graves dug by O’Dell.
His eyes never left Foster.
“What’s this about?” Foster
asked, licking his lips nervously. He was careful to keep his
hands away from the gun sitting on the table.
“I think you know,” hissed the
stranger, digging into the inside pocket of his coat with his
left hand. It reappeared seconds later with a tattered sheet
of paper which he threw contemptuously onto the table. Eli
Mortense, the fat merchant sitting on Foster’s right picked
up the paper and unfolded it, revealing the crude drawing of
a man’s face.
“You’ve got the wrong man, mister,” said
Mortense, handing the wanted poster back to the bounty hunter. “This
here isn’t Charlie Day, the feller yer lookin’ for. This here
is Bill Foster, owns the bath house just down the street. He
ain’t no renegade.”
“That’s right,” put in the undertaker. “I’ve
known William Foster for nigh ten years now and I can say that
he’s as honest and straight a man as God ever saw fit to put
on this earth. Why, the very idea he could be responsible for
what Charlie Day’s done is preposterous.”
“I got people down in Tombstone
that will identify this man as Charlie Day,” said the bounty
hunter in a voice as chill as an Arctic wind. “Now, you can
either sit in a saddle or be draped over one, but you’re riding
with me to Tombstone. It’s your call, breed.” The gloved fingers
tensed about the pearl grips as Foster’s eyes narrowed.
“I can’t convince you that you
are in error?” Foster asked. The bounty hunter remained as
still as a statue. Foster slowly rose from the card table,
motioning for Eli Mortense to replace his gun to its holster
while he kept his own arms raised in the air to either side.
“I hope you have enough to pay
for a burying, mister,” gloated O’Dell. “Might be nice to have
a name for the grave, come to think of it. Bill Foster here
might not look it, and he certainly don’t like to brag about
the matter none, but he’s one of the fastest guns in the whole
Foster began to walk toward
the door of the saloon. “Watch my hand, kid. I’ll be back in
a few minutes. Make sure that old vulture doesn’t look at my
cards while I’m gone.”
Foster pushed open the bat-wing
doors, stepping out into the street, the bounty hunter prowling
after him. The black-garbed killer crossed the street in front
of his prey, stopping only when he had positioned himself in
such a way that William Foster stood between him and the saloon.
“Might be nice to know who I’m
about to kill,” stated Foster, pulling the brim of his hat
a bit lower. “That is, unless you’ve reconsidered.”
“Name’s Welsh, Harv Welsh, and
I haven’t.” The bounty hunter pointed at the onlooking figures
behind Foster. “You, in the bowler, count it.”
O’Dell began the slow countdown
from ten. The two combatants stared at each other, a look of
resignation upon Foster’s face, a snarl of defiance and contempt
curling Welsh’s lip, revealing the yellow teeth beneath. As
the count continued, Welsh took his eyes from those of Foster,
looking instead above and beyond the breed.
“Three… two… one!”
Almost as one, three shots rang
out through the dusty streets of Wickenburg. The first tore
through the black back of a scarlet vest, tearing through flesh,
bone and lung, exploding in a reddish black mist as it left
the body and buried itself in the street between the two combatants.
Foster’s gun arm jerked upwards
as the bullet struck him in the back, ruining the aim which
would have put a piece of lead in his opponent’s heart. The
round passed along the bounty hunter’s left forearm, grazing
The final shot was that of Welsh’s
pistol, speeding from a revolver that had been drawn a tenth
of a second slower than Foster’s own. The bullet slammed into
Foster’s body, ripping through his vitals as it passed out
his side and buried itself in the front facing of the cobbler’s
shop next to the saloon. Bubbly, bloody froth dribbled down
Foster’s chin as he fell face-first into the dusty street.
Silence held the street as the
echoes of gunfire drifted away. A brass-plated Yellowboy rifle
fell into the street in front of the saloon, followed moments
later by a man who lowered himself from the saloon’s awning.
He dropped the last few feet to land beside his discarded rifle.
The shooter was dressed identically to the bounty hunter who
called himself Harvey Welsh. The two black-garbed men smiled
at one another.
“That’s money in the bank,” snorted
the rifleman, kicking Foster’s lifeless legs. Welsh laughed
in response as he rolled up his shirt sleeve to inspect the
scratch Foster’s wild shot had caused.
“You back-shot him! You damn
dirty bushwackers!” a voice accused from the boardwalk. Welsh
drew his gun and leveled it at the protesting O’Dell. The other
bounty hunter coolly levered another round into the Yellowboy’s
“That ain’t so, not at all.
Bob here, he was just up there to make sure things were fair.
To keep old Charlie Day from drawin’ just a tad bit early,
as he’s got a reputation for doing. ‘sides, if Charlie had
fought fair, he’d still be dead.” Welsh daubed at his wounded
forearm with a handkerchief as he spoke, passing his gun into
his left hand.
“If Bill Foster hadn’t been
playing square, it would be your body lying there in the dirt,
your’n and this back-shooting partner, too!” O’Dell walked
toward the bounty hunters. The killer Welsh had called Bob
advanced to meet the undertaker, his face a cold, expressionless
mask. When he closed with the irate man, the bounty hunter
drew his rifle back and savagely buried the butt in the mortician’s
gut. O’Dell let out a loud gasp and fell to his knees.
“You better mind your mouth!” snarled
Bob, slapping the undertaker’s hat into the street and spitting
on the exposed head of stringy grey hair through his tobacco-stained
“He’s right, digger,” chimed
Welsh, returning his .45 to its holster. “You should be a might
more polite. After all, if we have to shoot you, who will there
be in this one-horse town to bury your carcass?”
A Yellowboy rifle kept the onlookers
fixed on the boardwalk as Harvey Welsh brought a brown and
white draft horse to where Foster’s body lay. With a slow searching
gaze, Welsh took in his surroundings before setting to the
task at hand. Perhaps he searched for the humiliated undertaker,
who had crawled away to the sanctuary of his funeral parlor/barber
shop. Or, perhaps, he merely wished to assure himself that
everyone in the street was sufficiently menaced by the threat
of his partner’s rifle.
With a heave and a groan, Welsh
lifted Foster’s body and draped it over the back of the draft
horse. This done, the bounty hunter removed a length of rope
from his own steed’s saddlebags and proceeded to lash the dead
man’s wrists to his boots beneath the animal’s belly to ensure
the corpse did not slip from the beast’s back. When he had
finished securing the body, Welsh mounted his own tan Morgan.
His partner pulled away from the boardwalk, placing his rifle
in the saddle scabbard of a grey and speckled mustang. Bob
then slid into the fork seat saddle upon his horse’s back and
the two bounty killers, their gory quarry in tow, slowly rode
out of the dusty town of Wickenburg.
Two men huddled beneath the
rocky shelf, attempting to shield themselves and the small
fire set before them from the howling sandstorm which had overtaken
them shortly after dusk. Fully exposed to the biting, sand-laden
gale, their three horses neighed and snorted in discomfort.
The gory thing whose limbs hung about one of the horse’s sides
“Damn, I wish this crap would
knock off. Like God hisself was stirrin’ up the sand,” complained
the sandy-haired Robert Grimsley, reaching for the iron coffee
pot boiling over at the edge of the small fire.
A black-gloved hand toyed nervously
with the metal cigar cutter fob charm which hung from a gold
pocket watch. Welsh sighed, replacing the item in his pocket. “That
light we saw just before the storm set in must’ve been Tucson.
We should be able to reach town before sun-up. Be a few more
days before payday, allowing the marshal in Tombstone has the
money ready. Not every day somebody brings in a valuable carcass
like that of Charlie Day. Can’t expect him to have five thousand
just lying around all the time.”
Welsh was more talkative tonight
than he had been on the rest of the long, hot journey south
from Wickenburg to the yet distant Tombstone. The bounty hunter
had a reason for violating his normal taciturnity; he was nervous.
The sound of his own voice, the diversion of conversation,
even with so thick a companion as the ignorant Grimsley, these
were preferable to waiting out the sandstorm and then riding
on through the night, listening for the bone-chilling sound
which he half fancied that he heard a quarter of an hour past.
Grimsley slowly sipped his cup
of coffee, looking at the draft horse and the burden on its
back. The flying particles of sand made the scene appear as
though he were looking through a screen of gauze. Grimsley
smiled and chuckled in contentment.
“That Charlie Day weren’t shit!
Did you see me burn a bullet through that varmint’s heart?
Hah, damn mongrel breed didn’t know what hit him!”
“If he had, you’d be dead!” snapped
Welsh. “As it was, if you’d been any slower they’d be plantin’ me
in that two-bit town.”
“Ain’t no reason to get riled,
Harv. I’m just sayin’ that we done a good job and that ol’ Charlie
Day weren’t half so good as we been hearin’ tell of.”
Bob Grimsley continued to apologize
to his partner, but the elder bounty killer was no longer listening.
This time Welsh was certain that he’d heard a sound above the
wailing sandstorm, and his ears were wholly devoted to ferreting
out the noise when it was raised again from the wind’s cacophony.
“Hey, Harv, that was a question,” cursed
Grimsley, placing a hand on Welsh’s shoulder. “I said what
are you going to do with your half of the money? Ain’t you
“Be quiet,” ordered Welsh, raising
his hand and dropping it quickly for emphasis. Presently, above
the wail of the sandstorm and from the impenetrable blackness
beyond the firelight came a series of three short yap-barks.
Sweat broke out on Welsh’s brow and the bounty hunter rose
and retrieved his rifle from its scabbard.
“That? That’s what’s got you
spooked? That’s some coyote, that’s all. Probably lookin’ for
some coyote bitch to liven up his night!” snorted Grimsley,
smiling at Welsh and thinking how foolish the older man was
to react with such fear to the yell of a prairie wolf. The
smile soon died.
“That ain’t no coyote, you jackass!
Think! Ain’t no coyote would go out in this!” Welsh stabbed
the barrel of his rifle at the swirling sands. “Only people
are so poor sensed as to travel in this kind of weather.”
Grimsley’s eyes opened wide
in horror as the meaning of his partner’s words dawned within
his skull. “Apaches,” he exhaled in a horrified whisper, stumbling
to his feet and scrambling to his horse. He turned his head
rapidly from side to side, staring fearfully into the darkness
all around him, expecting an arrow to pierce his breast at
any moment. He clumsily removed his Yellowboy from its scabbard
and raced back to join Welsh.
“I was just a yonker when Cochise
was on the warpath, but I can remember it just like it was
yesterday. Saw my pa’s body when it was light again. He’d gone
to let the fort know that we was trapped in the mine by Apaches.
They only wanted horses, that’s why they didn’t come into the
mine for us. But my pa, he must’a stumbled onto them.” Welsh
shuddered before continuing, his eyes glazing over with the
misty haze of haunted nostalgia.
“They cut off his eyelids, an’ then
they cut a hole in his belly an’ pulled out his guts. Tied
him down an’ let the coyotes gnaw on his vitals. He didn’t
scream none. He couldn’t. They cut his tongue off too.”
Grimsley’s body trembled uncontrollably
as he listened to the gory recollections of his companion.
He began to imagine a host of painted savages just beyond the
firelight calling to one another with the voices of coyotes,
fingering gleaming knives and nocking stone-tipped arrows to
bows of wood and gut. Any moment, they would scream their war
cries and attack. They wouldn’t kill them either. No, the Apaches
would not kill them for a long time.
Any moment, they would scream…
“Hello to camp!” came a voice
from the darkness, a harsh raspy voice, but the voice of a
white man just the same. “I been caught in the storm, can I
share your fire?”
“Git the hell in here! They’s
Apaches out there an’ we need all the guns we can git!” shrieked
Grimsley hysterically. Welsh leveled his rifle at the approaching
voice, sweat trickling down his cheeks.
A man soon entered the firelight,
leading a black Friesian by the reins, its magnificent mane
combed to drape over its neck like the fringe of a lavish tapestry.
An old artillery-man’s saddle rested on the stallion’s back,
a grey bedroll behind it and a multitude of sacks, canteens
and other odds-and-ends hanging from the saddle itself, rendering
the horse’s steps a rattling din of metal and leather slapping
the sides of the saddle.
The man who led the animal was
tall, over six feet, but with a wiry build. We wore a blue
great coat over his clothing, a cavalry-man’s garment with
a caplet which draped over his shoulders to reach very nearly
to his wrists, the coat itself hanging down to just past his
knees. Knee-high, square-toed boots covered the man’s feet,
a black slouch hat topped his head, only steel-grey eyes peering
from beneath its brim, the rest of the man’s face protected
from the storm by a red kerchief. The man slowly walked toward
the rifle-brandishing bounty hunters.
“Apaches you say?” he asked
“Yeah, we been hearin’ ‘em yappin’ an’ hollerin’ all
night!” swore the bounty killer emphatically.
“I figure they won’t attack
until the storm lets up. But when they do, I figure we’ve had
it,” confessed Welsh.
“Maybe they won’t attack at
all,” offered the stranger. “Maybe they won’t have to…”
Like lightning unchained, a
double-action Starr .44 rose from beneath the blue wool of
the great coat. Two bullets flew from the pistol’s barrel as
the bounty men turned to face their attacker. The first struck
Grimsley in the nose, spattering blood and brain against the
rocks behind him. The bounty hunter fell on his back, his body
twitching like a headless snake.
The second round burrowed into
Welsh’s belly, burying itself in the bounty hunter’s spine.
The gunman screamed and threw his rifle from him in a spasm
of pain. He collapsed in a heap beside his dead companion.
Welsh’s gloved hands clutched at the ruin of his belly, dark,
nearly black blood seeping through his fingers.
“I want to thank you for being
so damn hospitable. I never dreamed that you’d just go and
invite me into your camp and shoot you, like you done. You
fellas are damn obliging.” The stranger pulled down his kerchief
and helped himself to a cup of coffee, turning his back on
the wounded, moaning bounty hunter.
Welsh forced himself to pull
his hand from his belly, the blood-soaked extremity slid down
the man’s leg to the holster strapped against his thigh. Breathing
heavily, Welsh drew the heavy pistol and started to raise it
towards the figure framed in the firelight.
A shot rang out. Welsh’s gun
flew into the night along with a black-clothed finger. The
bounty hunter grasped his mangled hand and shrieked in pain.
The man sitting at the fire replaced his own revolver to its
holster and walked to the wounded hunter.
“You should have kept moaning.
I might not have noticed what you were up to,” the stranger
taunted, pausing over the gory wreck of Bob Grimsley to throw
the dead man’s rifle and pistol into the darkness. Then he
looked at the squirming body of Harvey Welsh. The stranger
stooped down and tore the gold pocket watch from the bounty
hunter’s vest. Removing the cigar cutter fob charm, he threw
the watch back at the dying man.
“I was selling guns to the Chiricahuas
up in the Dragoons when I heard about it. Two bounty killers
bushwacking Bill Foster in Wickenburg claiming he was the notorious
half-breed renegade Charlie Day. That riled me, riled me a
lot.” The blue-coated figure took up the reins of the draft
horse and led it to where his own Friesian stood.
“You see, Bill Foster was my
brother. He was a man more even tempered than me, never hurt
nobody. He just did what he could to live his own life decently,
same as most people. But you didn’t care about that, did you?
You just saw a piece of meat that was worth five thousand dollars.
I don’t think you’ll collect that money now. Do you?” The knife-nosed,
red-skinned man mounted his steed and took the reins of the
draft horse in hand.
“Like I say, I got riled. I
lit out at once to try an’ catch up to the back-shootin’ cowards
who killed my brother. Took along some Chiricahuas too. They’re
always spoilin’ for a fight. Seems some cowboys took one of
their women a few weeks ago, so they’re in a real nasty mood.
But they won’t be around, like you said, until the storm lets
up. If God’s real nice, maybe you’ll be dead before that happens.”
The breed’s horse slowly walked
to the edge of the firelight. The man on the steed’s back drew
the kerchief back over his face. “You should have been more
careful. Everybody told you my brother wasn’t who you were
lookin’ for. You see, my name in Charlie Day.”
The words were still echoing
in Welsh’s ears even after the man who spoke them was gone
and the yapping coyotes came nearer…