Chapter 1

Shit! I am getting tired of this nonsense real damned fast. Sure it puts food on the table and a roof over my head, but this business has settled into a real rut! As usual, here I am in the middle of the street of some nameless Western town at high noon about to fight a duel as the standin for the hero of another movie I can't remember the title of.

The whole operation has become such a cliché that I can't remember whether I am a sheriff, a marshal, a Ranger, or a vigilante. Not that it makes any difference. My face will never show up on the screen, I'll only be photographed from the back. I'll bet I have the most photographed ass in Hollywood! I'm the ideal size and shape to be a substitute for the hero. I'm an even six feet tall, so my height can easily be adjusted to match the regular actor with special boots. I have broad shoulders, narrow waist and hips, and am pretty much standard beyond that.

The fact that I have blue eyes and brown hair makes no difference. My "regular" facial features keep me from being a star, though I do get some parts as the side kick. If I was a little "prettier," I might be a Western movie star, but no luck so far.

The one thing I have going for me is my ability to draw a pistol faster than anyone else in the business. "If you need a fast gun, hire Craig McCallister for the part." My agent uses that as a mantra, I think. I can work from the thigh, the belt, or from the shoulder holster with either hand, though I prefer the shoulder holster. No good reason—it's just more comfortable that way.

Anyway, here I stand waiting for the signal from the director. Hell, this is a big deal in my acting career—I actually have some dialog, and I can sound so much like the star that I don't even need to be dubbed. That's worth a little extra cash. I'm fresh from the makeup trailer, so I don't even have a sweat worked up, yet. The director likes that because it suggests that I am cool and calm as I meet the villain in the climactic scene.

OK, the sun is just right and everything is ready. The director has his hand raised to signal us to begin the action, and then all hell breaks loose! There is a tremendous BOOM! All of the lights seem to flash to twenty times their normal brightness, and I am knocked to the ground.

The shock of the explosion, or whatever it was, was enough to knock me out for a moment. The next thing I know is that I am lying on my back in the middle of that damned dirt street and the place stinks of horse shit. That's something new. That's a little more realism than the set decorators usually go for.

When I look around, though, I'm in for a big shock. This ain't the same town that we were using for a movie set! For one thing—it's a lot bigger. It's full of people all dressed in costume. There is traffic on the street, all of it horses or mules or oxen. Dammit, no wonder I smell horse shit, I'm lying right next to a pile of it. I hope I didn't get any on me or my clothes.

At that moment, I hear a yell of exasperation, and I look up to see that I am in the way of an ox-drawn wagon. "Why did ya decide ta sleep off yer drunk in the middle of the street? Git out of the way, ya damned stupid galoot!"

Considering the size of the ox that's staring me in the face, I decided to follow the advice I had just received and move out of the way. I struggled to my feet and staggered to the wooden sidewalk where I plopped my ass down and tried to figure out what was going on. I sat on the sidewalk with my feet in the gutter and rested my head in my hands.

I was there for a couple of minutes when I hear a woman's voice ask, "Are ya all right, Mister? Ifen ya are sick, there is a doctor right down the street."

I was surprised, so it took a moment for me to react properly. I guess I was still acting in character, because I stood up to face the woman and tipped my hat. "No, Ma'am, I'm not sick. I was just resting for a minute. Thank you kindly for your concern."

"Ya are welcome, but do not rest here. Come on inta the saloon where it's cooler an' ya kin buy us both a beer."

Now that was an invitation that sounded like it had merit—a lot of merit! I followed the woman into the saloon, and we walked up to the bar. "Two beers, George. One fer my friend an' one fer me."

The bartender set two large, overflowing glasses down on the bar in front of us and said, "That comes ta eight cents, Mister."

I was stunned for a moment at the price, and I dug in my pocket for some change. I pulled out a quarter and said, "Sorry, that's the smallest I have."

The bartender picked up the quarter and looked at it kind of funny. "Hey, Mister. Is this real money. I ain't never seen nothin' it like afore."

"Sure, it's just a quarter. You now, 25 cents."

"It sure does look weird, but I will take yer word fer it ... Here is your change."

I turned back to the woman I was with and raised my beer. "Cheers." The woman smiled and said, "Well, now, that is right nice of ya. What is yer name, Honey? Mine is Amy."

"How do you do, Amy? It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Craig McCallister."

"I swear, Craig, I never met a more polite man. Would ya like ta come ta my room fer a little sportin'?" As she said that, Amy raised her skirt and I saw that she was naked under it! Her pussy hair was a jumbled mass of white crust, so I had no doubt what she was offering.

"I'm sorry, Amy, but I cannot manage any of that right now. However, I'll pay your usual rate for the answers to some questions."

"That is a crazy proposition, but I could use the money. Sure, come on." Amy led me up some stairs to a tiny room. We went in, and there was nothing there for furniture but a bed covered by a filthy mattress. Amy gestured for me to sit down, and I hesitated a moment, but I figured that I had been lying on my back in the street in horse shit, an the mattress couldn't be any worse.

I sat down, and told Amy that my real problem was that I had lost most of my memory, but I was too embarrassed to admit it. However, she had been so kind to me that I was sure that I could trust her. Therefore, the first thing I needed to know was what was the year and what was the season.

She said that it was early spring of 1867. She went on to say that this was Santa Fe, NMT (New Mexico Territory). She also told me that my paper money was no good; she didn't believe me when I said that it was real. People would take gold, silver, or copper coins or gold dust and nuggets, but that was all. I had about $2 in change, but I would be dead if people tumbled to the fact that it was steel just covered with a thin veneer of silver. I had to have a source of "real" money very damned soon or I was going to starve.

We talked for about 20 minutes, and I gave Amy a quarter for her time. I got the hell out of there before she recognized that the money was not really silver.

I needed a job real damn quick, but I thought that I needed bullets even quicker. All of my bullets were only blanks and were filled with mostly talcum powder to simulate the smoke from black powder. My guns were modern replicas of the Starr DA in .44 caliber. I hoped like hell to find bullets that would work in my gun. I also had four extra cylinders in a special bandolier that had been part of my costume.

I didn't know where else to look, so I stopped into the first general store I came to. Maybe I could get a job as a clerk. Damned if a holdup wasn't in progress! I don't know what came over me, since I am not normally foolishly brave, but the clerk was a woman, and she was obviously scared to death.

The crook didn't notice me, he was too intent on the woman that he was threatening with a knife. Rape was written all over the situation, so I slipped up behind the thug and stuck a gun muzzle in his back. For those that don't know, even a blank can kill at this range. The thug felt the muzzle stuffed up tight against the small of his back, and he sure as hell should have known better.

Nevertheless, he tried to escape by twisting around, but I kept the gun in place as I pulled the trigger. Maybe he thought he had some time because he did not hear me cock the gun by pulling back the hammer. The Starr DA was call "DA" because it was double-action. That is, it would cock and fire just with a trigger pull—it did not need a separate cocking action.

Anyway, automatically, and without really thinking about what I was doing, I pulled the trigger and fired that blank into his kidney. With yhe current state of medicine, he was dead, his body just didn't know it, yet. He continued to turn, and I jammed the muzzle into his belly and fired twice. That was all it took, and he dropped his knife, but not before cutting a long line down my forearm.

The thug fell on the floor and didn't bleed as much as my arm did. The woman gasped when she saw the amount of blood that was running from my arm. With considerable presence of mind, she grabbed a reasonably clean cloth and pressed it to my arm to stop the flow of blood. The pressure bandage worked, and we both calmed down a little. She tore up a section of cloth from a bolt and tied up my arm in several places to keep the pressure bandage in place.

Hardly had she finished with the bandage when a man rushed into the store. I was relieved to see that he was wearing a deputy marshal's badge. "Helen, Honey, are you all right? I heard the shots and came running."

"Yes, Tom, I am fine, thanks to this gentleman who saved me. I was being threatened by a man with a bowie knife, but this hero did not hesitate to come to my aid. He shot the man three times at point blank range and killed him on the spot. You do need to fetch the undertaker."

"OK, Helen, I will be right back. You, Sir, please wait until I return with the undertaker."

I nodded assent and leaned against the counter. My adrenalin high was running down, and I was feeling the drop. Helen said, "Would you like for me to search the dead man for you, since you are wounded?"

Man, would I! Helen checked his pockets and his moneybelt. She put the moneybelt and some loose change on the counter along with his gun, gunbelt, and bowie knife. She said, "This is all yours, of course."

Hot Damn! I had some money! I counted what he had, and it was a total of $87.63. That was a hell of a lot of money in 1867, so my day of facing destitution was over. On top of that good fortune, his gun was a .44 that used the same cartridges that mine did. I managed to pick up 27 cartridges from the dead man, so I was now able to protect myself with more than good luck and bluff.

It was tough to do with my wounded arm, fortunately my left, but I was able to swap the blanks in my gun for the live cartridges that I picked up from the dead man. My guns had a modification that was not originally standard on the Starr DA; namely, it had slots milled into the cylinder so that the hammer could rest safely fully down without there being any danger from an accidental firing due to a dropped pistol. Therefore, I was able to load all six chambers of a cylinder. When my left arm was in full operation, I could change cylinders in 10-15 seconds, so I was confident that I was in pretty good shape.

Tom came back with the undertaker and made the necessary arrangements. He thanked me profusely for protecting his wife, so I told him it was a pleasure. Helen was the daughter of the store owner, and she worked there to have something to do while Tom was on duty. Anyway, when my arm stopped bleeding and we found that the cut was purely superficial, she washed the cut for me with some horse lineament that was mostly alcohol and rebandaged it. She also presented me with a new shirt in appreciation for what I had done.

As I was going out the door, Tom said, "Ya should stop by the courthouse an' check the wanted posters. That galoot may have a reward out on him. Ifen he does, I will give ya a receipt soz ya kin collect the reward."

That was good advice, so I got directions to the courthouse and went to see what I could find. The clerk at the courthouse must have been bored to death, because he was very helpful. He had posters with photos or sketches that we looked at, but we ignored the posters with just written descriptions. Aha! I hit the jackpot! Well, sort of. Yes, the guy I killed was on a poster, but he was only good for $10. Well, I guess we can't all be instant millionaires, but that was a decent yield for a wild guess by Tom.

I picked up a set of posters, the ones with pictures, and went around to the jail to try to find Tom. He was due in from his duty shift in about 20 minutes, so I just waited for him. While I was waiting, I went through the posters trying to memorize each picture. Of course, I couldn't do that, but I had at least looked long and hard at each picture. That would have to do for starters.

Tom came in, and I got my receipt from him. It was too late in the day to go back to the courthouse, so that would have to wait until tomorrow. I got directions to a decent restaurant and went for supper. After supper, I took a hotel room and went to bed. Until I finally went to sleep, I fought bedbugs and tried to figure some way to get back to my own time. Both projects were a dismal failure!

The next morning, I figured to head east. I couldn't see that the high value crooks were going to hang around a city, so I had better be prepared to search for them out in the boondocks. Believe me, NMT in 1867 had plenty of boondocks! According to what advice I could get at the marshal's office and from the courthouse clerk, my best bet was to stop at every saloon and question the bartender. Undoubtedly, the local bartender knew everything important that was going on in the vicinity, probably before the marshal did. I was advised not to say that I was a bounty hunter, but just ask questions like I was interested in hearing all the local gossip. That sounded like good advice, so that was what I planned to do.

I had enough money to buy a used Henry rifle that still had some life left in it. It was a nominal .44 caliber, but it was rimfire, so I still had to carry two different kinds of ammunition with me. Oh, well, that was not a burden at the moment.

I also bought a horse and tack. Fortunately, I had learned to ride as part of my acting job, so I was ahead of the game in that respect. I bought from Helen's store a bedroll, a rain slicker, a coffee pot and cup, and a frying pan. I hoped never to use any of those items, but I did want to be prepared if the subject came up. I never was much at cooking, but I did buy some coffee, bacon, sugar, and salt. I stocked up on jerky and figured to live off that if I really had to.

I stopped by the courthouse before leaving town to pick up my $10 reward. The clerk gave me a gold coin, an Eagle, and I thanked him. I decided to stop by a bank and get the Eagle broken into smaller change before I left town. I didn't want to get stuck with having to pay too much for something because the seller couldn't make change.

I took the main road to Las Vegas, NMT. My plan was to swing through Texas to pick up some posters from there before going into the part of Oklahoma that was currently known as "Neutral Territory," and was known as the "Panhandle" up in the 21st Century. That area was reputed to be full of crooks too hot to show their faces in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, or NMT. Maybe I could be lucky, there.


Characters:

Craig McCallister—hero, narrator

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Historical / Violent /