This story sort of falls into the "What If" genre.
As usual constructive comments, emails, and critiques are most welcome and appreciated.
Thank you for reading this tale and I hope you enjoy the story as much as I've enjoyed writing it.
"This town ain't big enough for the both of us, you varmint," one man yelled. "Ride out or go for your gun."
"I'm tired of your loud mouth," the second man's voice replied. "Reach you sidewinder."
At the electronic beep, both men drew and fired their pistols. The onlookers couldn't tell who was fastest but they could plainly see who was the most accurate. Tyler Gibson's shot hit dead center in the target down range. His opponent's shot missed the mark, hitting the ground several feet in front of the target. A chronograph measured the speed of the draw by determining which bullet passed through its field first but the most important thing was the accuracy.
The witnesses to the contest cheered and Tyler and his friend, Charley Jones, shook hands.
They were the final contestants in the three gun section of the cowboy action shooting contest. Each man wore clothes that told the world they were cowboys. Tyler and Charley competed with rifle, shotgun, and single action pistol through the four rounds of eliminations to face off in the championship. Tyler had won the rifle portion, Charley had won the shotgun portion so they had been tied going into the fast draw and shoot portion of the pistol competition.
"Thought I'd get you for sure this time," Charley said.
"You don't practice enough to beat me," Tyler answered.
Charley shrugged, "Maybe so, I've got a wife and family to take care of but you need to get a life Tyler. All you do is write those stories of yours; if you're not writing, you're riding horses, and if you're not doing either of those you're playing cowboy at one of these action shooting contests, and pretending to be a gun slinger."
"Marshal; I'm always a marshal, trying to make the old west safe for decent folk," Tyler said and then laughed. "Besides these reenactments of the shooting styles and weapons of the middle to late 19th century and the horseback riding help with the research for my work."
"Work? Work? What work? You don't get any money from your stories. Hell you give them away by just posting them on a few sites on line and free sites at that. It's like you were still a kid. No wonder you don't have a social life," Charley continued his criticism. "Who do you think you are, Wyatt Earp?" Charley laughed at his own wit. "Why don't you get a job like the rest of the adults? At least you'd meet people who live in the 21st century."
"You know why I don't work. I invested in a college friend's idea and we got lucky. I was a 30 percent share holder in the company and when he sold out my share set me up for life."
Charley playfully punched Tyler on the arm. "I can't understand how you can spend so much time on the computer writing your western stories. Hell, I've seen you so absorbed in your writing that you wouldn't know if a bomb went off right next to you. You could at least try to publish them and get paid."
Tyler did sometimes get so involved in the plot or the action scenes or developing his characters that he sort of zoned out. He'd be writing and glance at a clock and realize how late it was. Okay, I'll just finish this scene he'd say to himself and keep writing. When he next looked at the clock, three sometimes four hours, had gone by. I can't help it, Tyler thought. When the story is flowing it's hard to stop just because I'm hungry or because I need to sleep.
Charley was correct about Tyler's stories too. Tyler wrote stories, mostly westerns, and after editing and proof reading them he posted them on three different web sites. He didn't receive anything but the enjoyment of the writing for his efforts, although Tyler did like reading the comments readers made about his work. Family members and friends who read his work all urged him to at least try to get them published in magazines and many suggested he publish a book.
Tyler would smile and thank them for the compliments and for their suggestions but as he told several of his fans, "If I were to write for pay, it becomes a job instead of a hobby. I'd have schedules to keep and have to write at someone else's direction."
"Tell you what Charley," Tyler responded to his friend. "I'll meet you at the pizza joint Saturday evening at 7. Bring your wife, Missy, and I'll pop for the pizza and beer. Now please get off my case until Saturday."
Before Tyler could leave, several young women asked for his autograph. At 30 years old and 6' his slender strong looking body made him a stereotype of the handsome young cowboy. Tyler's blue eyes and a full head of dark, almost black, hair covered by a white Stetson completed the picture.
Charley Jones didn't look like the image most people had when they thought of an old west cowboy. He was only 5'6; instead of slim he was round at 200 pounds, and he had more scalp than he did hair. But Charley was Tyler's best friend. If need be he would fight for and with Tyler against all comers.
Tyler went home to his large house in New Braunfels, Texas. The building had been in his family for more than a hundred years. Originally it had been a two room cabin but each subsequent owner had enlarged the building by making additions. Tyler's contribution had been an unattached garage and a large deck on the back of the house. His home was now a rambling 4000 square foot ranch style building. Much too large for just me, Tyler thought. But, my ancestors would haunt me forever if I sold it. Besides it's paid for and my only costs are my normal living expenses.
All during the pizza and beer Saturday evening, Tyler had a story line bouncing around in his head. More than once Charley or Missy would say something like "Earth to Tyler, come in please". Each time he would give them an embarrassed smile and apologize. After desert and more conversation Tyler paid the check and everyone left for home.
Once back in his home office, in front of his computer, he started to put his ideas into a Word document. The story was going to be about the adventures and life of a young Texas Ranger. First he wrote a short outline touching on all the important parts he'd thought of. Then he began to write the story, fleshing out the characters and filling in between the points in the outline. Tyler glanced at the time shown on the bottom of the monitor and was surprised to see he'd been typing for almost three hours.
I'll just finish this last scene, he thought. It'll be a perfect spot for a story break and to start the next chapter. Around 3 AM, Tyler fell asleep in his chair in front of the computer. Shortly, his computer also went into its sleep mode; man and computer were dead to the world.
At 4:30 AM a sort of shimmering light wave flowed through the office. Tyler grunted as the light passed over him; he seemed to fade out of and back into focus but he didn't really wake up. Eventually the early morning sun shining through the window and into his eyes did wake him.
Tyler sat up straight in his chair and stretched. Guess I fell asleep, he said to himself. He looked at his monitor screen to see the time. "Where the hell is my computer?" Tyler said out loud.
All at once the room he was in sort of jumped out at him. In place of the monitor there was a journal with a pencil lying next to it. In place of his hand carved oak desk there was a sturdy table. He was sitting on a straight back wooden chair instead of the ergonomic spring loaded office chair that he normally sat on.
The room itself was smaller than his office and instead of the big picture window facing his desk there was a small normal size one. Tyler stood and noticed that the floor was made of wooden planks instead of the bamboo floor of his office. The planks were obviously hand hewed and there were a few spaces between some of them where they didn't exactly meet.
Tyler became dizzy and grabbed the edge of the table to steady himself. Where am I, what is this place? He questioned in his mind. Walking slowly to the window he looked out on a view that was entirely different than the one he was familiar with.
His home was on a carefully landscaped three acres, sitting on a small rise with natural country side surrounding it. Tyler went to the cabin's door, threw it opened, and stepped outside. As far as he could see, there were rolling hills that were dotted with junipers trees, cedars and scrub oaks. At the foot of the rise below the cabin two separate springs flowed into a pool at the base of a rock butte.
Tyler's mind was spinning. If I didn't know better I'd say this cabin is how my house began, he thought. It looks like some of those old pictures I have. He walked around the cabin and saw a small barn with a corral attached to it. In the corral was a big black horse that whinnied at him. There were two other buildings nearby.
"Where the hell am I?" Tyler shouted at the surrounding hills.
Tyler stood staring at the country side for several minutes. Off in the distance he saw a road that ran through the upper end of the valley in front of the cabin that disappeared as it wound around a high rock bluff. "If this is my place that road is The River Road and the Guadalupe River is just on the other side of that hill," he said. "And New Braunfels is that direction," he said pointing just to the left of the rock bluff. "But if this is my house, it's not in the present time; this is the way the place looked over a hundred years ago.
Turning back to the cabin he decided he'd better look around inside to see if he could get a clue as to what was going on. The room that he'd woken up in was a combination living and dining room with a kitchen against the far wall; there was one other room off to the side. The kitchen had a large table made out of split oak logs and a well used old fashion wood fired cook stove; there was a pot of warm coffee sitting over one of the covers.
Over the front door, supported by wooden pegs driven into the wall was a rifle. Tyler took it down and saw it was a Winchester 73 Carbine, chambered in .44-40.
"Well that makes the year at least 1873," Tyler said and then smiled for the first time since he woke up in this strange place. "Guess I've picked up the habit of talking to myself. Anyway, I have one just like it back at my place." He worked the lever action just enough to see that the rifle was loaded. On the stock, near the cheek rest, was a long gouge in the wood.
"This is my rifle," he said in surprise. "Great Grandpa Torrey fell down one winter when he was hunting turkeys. The rifle hit a rock and marked the stock. Grandpa told that story several times and each time he would laugh at how mad his Grandpa Torrey was that he put that blemish on his rifle. It's been in the family for a long time. I got it from my Dad, who got it from his dad, all the way back to Grandpa Torrey."
Laughing as he put the Winchester back on its pegs he said, "Several times I thought about having the stock refinished but then I'd think about Dad's story and decided to leave the Winchester the way I inherited it. It made me feel closer to my family."
Tyler walked into the second room. Against the wall on the left was a large bed. There was a corn shuck mattress supported by ropes running between the side rails. The wall directly opposite the door had a window that looked out across a valley on the north side of the rise. Beneath the window was a heavy five drawer dresser. Sitting on the dresser was a framed, old style photograph.
"That's Grandpa and Grandma Torrey. I've got the same picture in my den. Hell, maybe this is the same picture." Tyler thought for a few seconds. "They were, I mean are, my great, great, great, great grandparents on my mother's side. Grandpa is the one that settled this place." Tyler took the picture over to the window so he could see it better. "Dad always said Grandpa and I could have been brothers. Sometimes Mom would bring out the old family albums and show me pictures of the family all the way back to Grandpa Torrey and point out the resemblance."
Tyler set the picture back and pulled open the dresser draws. In the top dresser draw he found a gun belt, a holster and a Colt Frontier Single Action pistol chambered in the same .44-40 as the Winchester. The wear marks on the holster and gun showed they were working tools and not just for show.
In the other drawers he found a few pairs of whip cord work pants, two pair of denim overalls, and three shirts. The clothes looked to be his size or close to it. Under the work pants he found a leather drawstring bag that held 30 Double Eagle gold coins. There was a wardrobe in the corner that held a Sunday go to meeting coat, two shirts with button on collars, and a fancy pair of almost new boots. There was also an almost brand new Stetson; dark brown in color and almost identical to the one Tyler wore in his contests. He tried the hat on and found it was a good fit.
"Think I'll ride over past that bluff and see if I'm where I think I am." Tyler thought about changing clothes but he was still wearing his action shooting costume and sporting the borrowed Stetson he would fit right in with the west in the 1870's. He did however take a couple of the Double Eagles with him. "If I'm where I think I am money from the 21st century probably won't be accepted here. That $600 in Double Eagles is more than a year's wages if I am in the 1870's, so I should be okay for a while."
He went to the corral and saddled the big black horse. On the underside of one of the stirrups, the name Midnight had been burned into the leather. "Guess your name is Midnight," Tyler said to the big horse as he saddled him. The horse nodded his head up and down as if to agree.
The saddle fit him well and after walking Midnight around the corral to get it settled, Tyler put the animal into a trot and in less than 10 minutes he rounded the bluff. From the crest of the rise he could see that the road was well traveled and led southeast just a bubble off due south.
"Might as well see if New Braunfels is over there. It used to be about ten miles to town, should take about two hours riding easy to get there on horseback." He put Midnight onto the road and let the horse have its head. The big black shook his head and picked up the pace; soon they were running at a ground eating lope. "In my truck it's a 15 minuet drive."
As Tyler rode he thought about the things he'd seen and discovered. "If I really am back in the 1870's, I've got no idea how I got here or why. If I'm not back in the 1870's, I still have no idea where I am. First thing to do is to make sure it's New Braunfels I'm riding to. Next I need to nail down the date." His stomach growled and he added, "Maybe I'd better get something to eat too."
Tyler topped a rise and below him was a town. Most of the buildings were one story and lined a wide street. At the end of what he thought of as Main Street, there was the only two story building in town. He slowed his horse to a walk as he came to the outskirts. There was a fairly large sign beside the road. It read:
New Braunfels Texas
Mind Your Manners
Dooley Thomas: Town Marshal
He let out a whoop which almost spooked the Midnight. One mystery had been solved; Tyler knew where he was. Now it was a matter of figuring out exactly "when" he was.
Tyler had read the history of New Braunfels growing up. Marshal Dooley Thomas was a legend in that part of Texas. Thomas was a no nonsense type of lawman and he followed his own creed. The one overriding rule he had was "Do no harm".
If you robbed a store or stole horses and cattle you were doing someone harm and you would answer to Dooley Thomas for it. If you got drunk and shot up the saloon or got into a fight, you were doing harm and you would answer to Dooley Thomas. Thomas said many times that his rule covered all the laws that were written down.
Must be Sunday morning, Tyler thought as he rode down Main Street. Looks like most of the stores are closed. The only places open are "Rosita's Café" and the "Rock Bottom Saloon".
He saw several people standing in front of the church at the end of Main Street. There were men gathered in small groups talking. The women were busy setting up what looked to be a pot luck type midday meal. Covered plates, pots and baskets were being set out on tables in the shade of the nearby large oak trees
Tyler watched a 'herd' of children running and playing around the buggies, buckboards, and farm wagons. Every now and then one of the women would call out to the children and for a few seconds they would settle down. As soon as the woman turned her back the children continued playing. In my time the vehicles would be cars and trucks, he thought.
"Wonder if the saloon has anything to do with the 'Rock Bottom Brewery' back home," he asked aloud. "Food first and then maybe a beer. A saloon should be a good place to gather some information."
They were a few people in Rosita's café. A cowhand or two, two old men, and a man sitting at a table against the back wall. He had a pistol in a tied down holster on his right hip and what looked like a double barrel 10 gauge coach gun on the table next to his food. The man also wore a star pinned to his vest.
"That's got to be Dooley Thomas," Tyler muttered.
Marshal Thomas watched as Tyler sat at a table next to one of the front windows. The Marshal's eyes showed an interest in the new arrival.
Tyler didn't want to stare so he watched the Marshal out of the corner of his eye. He saw Thomas talking to the two older men sitting near the Marshal.
A middle aged woman brought coffee to Tyler. "Coffe?" At Tyler's nod she poured him a cup. "What would you like stranger? Got flapjacks and a ham steak on special this mornin."
"That sounds good ma'am." When the waitress walked away Marshal Thomas stood, said goodbye to the two old men, picked up the scatter gun and walked over to Tyler's table.
"Howdy. I'm Marshal Dooley Thomas. Mind if I sit down?"
Tyler shook his head and motioned to a chair. He'd watched Thomas walk toward him and was surprised that he wasn't a bigger man. According to the stories and the legend, Thomas was a ferocious fighter and had never been bested.
Thomas was 5'9 with a stocky, strong looking body. If he'd been a woman his walk would have been called graceful. As it was he looked like a big cat, coiled and ready to attack. Dooley's face and hands were tanned and weathered. It's his eyes that tell the story, Tyler thought as the Marshal sat down. Those eyes belong to a man that has faced every threat that came his way and lived to tell about it. Wouldn't like to go up against him, even in one of our action shooting contests, Tyler finished his thought.
"What's your name stranger?"
"Oh, sorry Marshal. I'm Tyler Gibson."
"You gonna be in town long or are you just passing through?" Marshal Thomas smiled as he asked the questions. "Don't mean to be prying into your business Mr. Gibson but I like to know who's coming and going my town."
"Not a problem Marshal."
"Excuse me," Thomas said. "I don't understand."
"Oh, I mean I understand," Tyler explained. I'm going to have to watch my words and phrases, Tyler thought. The language is still English but the way we talk has changed in the last 100 years.
Dooley smiled. "You talk different Mr. Gibson. Where you from?"
"I just arrived from back East. Tennessee to be exact."
"You plan on staying a while?"
"Thought I would. I've never been here before and I'd like to look around the country." Technically it's true, Tyler thought. I didn't live back in this time so I've never been here before.
"Got somewheres to stay? The Grand Hotel is a decent place. It's not really grand but it's clean. Course it'll get a mite costly if you're gonna be here long. Mrs. Draper runs a boarding house; it's down at the end of the street. Not fancy but the rooms are clean and she serves a real good supper."
"I'm staying at a ranch a little north west of here, about ten miles outside of town."
"That'd be the Torrey place? The T2S?"
"Yes sir." Tyler knew that Grandpa Torrey's place was called Torrey Two Spring ranch, named for the two springs that flowed from a rock bluff and that the brand was T2S. In fact back in his own time Tyler still paid the small yearly fee to have the ranch name and brand registered with the state of Texas.
"Last I heard Jackson Torrey went to Dallas for a spell; left last week he did. After his wife, Molly, died of the fever last year, he said he was gonna burn the place to the ground and let the devil have it. How'd you get him to let you stay out there?"
Now Tyler was able to pin point this time frame better. He knew from the family stories that in the summer of 1878, Grandpa Torrey had gone to get his daughter, Stella, to help him run the place after Grandma Molly had passed away. Stella was a headstrong young woman and had moved to Dallas; more to spite her father than for any other reason.
Stella Torrey came back to the ranch and met a young cowboy name Joshua Gibson in town one day. They had a whirlwind romance and got married soon afterward. When Grandpa Torrey died he left the ranch to his daughter and her husband. That's how the Gibson's became involved with the Torrey ranch.
Dooley was waiting for an answer while Tyler thought about his family's history.
"Jack Torrey and I have some history Marshal. Have for a lot of years." About 140 years to be exact, he said to himself.
Thomas looked hard at the young man sitting across from him. He didn't know the man or anything about him but for some reason he trusted him. Dooley stood to leave.
"Well, welcome to New Braunfels Mr. Gibson. If you need anything, my office is right across from the saloon." He laughed and said, "I don't have so far to go when trouble starts. And anytime you mix whiskey and cowboys there's sure to be trouble. Come see me sometime and we'll talk some more."
Marshal Thomas stood, nodded, and left the café. As he stepped into the street he gripped the shotgun in his right hand, holding it like a pistol; ready for any trouble that might come his way.
"Not a man I'd like to tangle with," Tyler said in a low voice. "I think the legend is right, he's a hard man."
After finishing his breakfast, Tyler paid his bill with a Double Eagle. The woman complained about him not having a smaller denomination coin. Tyler felt a little guilty as he left but now he had some smaller coins and folding money to use.
Tyler walked down the wooden boardwalk to the saloon. It had the classic swinging doors seen on TV and in movies from back in his time. He did notice that there were tall wide doors against the inside walls that could be closed if the weather was bad.
The Rock Bottom saloon was like walking onto a movie set. There was a long wooden, hand carved bar against the wall opposite the doors. Behind the bar there were whiskey bottles lining the shelf in front of a very large mirror. The bartender wore his hair slicked back; he had large bushy sideburns and a handlebar moustache. His shirt had a button on collar with a string tie and garters holding his sleeves up out of his way.
"What'll it be stranger?" The bartender asked. He was wiping the already clean bar top like bartenders throughout history had done.
"I'd like a beer and a shot."
"I'm Ernie Simpson; part owner of The Rock Bottom." Ernie drew a glass of beer, used a wide wooden squeegee to remove the excess foam and sat the beer in front of Tyler. Using one of the bottles sitting in front of the mirror, Simpson filled a large heavy glass with whiskey and slid it three feet over to Tyler.
Simpson looked to be between 40 and 50 years old. He was several pounds overweight with a florid complexion and a big red nose. He's no stranger to whiskey, Tyler thought.
"First beer is on the house Mister; the whiskey's six bits."
"Thank you Mr. Simpson," Tyler said picking up the glass of whiskey. "My name's Tyler Gibson."
This isn't a shot glass, Tyler thought as he picked up the whiskey. There's more like three shots in there. He drank about half of the whiskey and quickly followed it with a long drink of beer. Tyler almost spit the beer out; he wasn't used to his beer being warm. This whiskey isn't exactly Gentleman Jack either. He took another drink from his beer.
"You here on business Mr. Gibson?"
"More like pleasure Mr. Simpson. Thought I'd look around the country. I'm staying out at the Torrey place."
"Ernie's good enough Mr. Gibson. You call me Mister and I feel like a dude from the big city."
"You can call me Tyler. Mr. Gibson is my father." He picked up the mug of beer and looked around. The saloon was a large rectangular shaped room. Tyler could see a "money wheel" at one end. People made bets as to which number would stop under a flexible finger type peg on one side of the wheel. The operator would spin the wheel and if it stopped on your number you won; winners were few and far between. There was also a Faro game and a craps table. Faro was a dying game in his time, but Tyler recognized the craps table. From the looks of it the table hadn't changed since the early days.
The middle and other end of the long room had several tables with chairs sitting at them. The tables were round and the chairs were wooden 'Captain' type chairs. Tyler had to smile. Just like in the movies, he thought. He turned back facing the bar and took another sip of the whiskey.
"Not very busy today," he remarked.
"No sir. Never is on Sunday; at least not until sundown. Most of my customers are over to the big midday meal at the church." Ernie laughed and added, "By sundown the men have done all the chores their wife's wanted done and they can slip away for a spell."
"Yep, you have to take care of the 'honey do' list," Tyler replied.
"The what list?" Ernie asked.
Tyler realized he'd used a term from his time that wasn't known in the 1870's. "I mean your wife says 'Honey do this or Honey do that'. It's a term used back in Tennessee by some people."
"Oh, I understand," Ernie said and laughed. "Honey do list eh. Wait till the boys hear about that."
"Let me buy you a whiskey Ernie," Tyler offered, trying to cover his slip in language.
"Give me that," Ernie said and took the whiskey glass out of Tyler's hand. "If you're gonna be a gentleman about it we should drink the good stuff."
He opened a cabinet door under the mirror and took out a bottle. "This is my private stock," Ernie said with a grin. He poured two glasses of the amber fluid and slid one to Tyler. "To your health Tyler," he toasted.
Tyler took s tentative sip, smiled and took a bigger drink. "Now that's more like it Ernie."
"Yeah, the other's fine for the regular customers, but a gentleman like yourself deserves the good stuff," Ernie said as he laughed. "Especially since you're buying a drink for me."
Tyler finished his whiskey and beer. "I'll see you again Ernie," he said and started to leave the saloon.
"It tends to get a mite chilly at night this time of the year," Ernie said and held out the half full bottle of his private stock to Tyler. "Best take this with you to fight off the cold."
Tyler nodded his thanks and left the saloon. He talked to himself as he walked toward where he had tied up Midnight. "Be too easy to turn into a drunk. Better get back to the cabin and try to figure this out."
Dooley Thomas waved to him as Tyler rode out of town. On the ride "home", Tyler looked around finding the changed landmarks. Back at the cabin he unsaddled Midnight, and rubbed him down. "It's got to be late June from the hot, humid weather. Look how lathered up you are from that easy ride," he said to the horse. Tyler fed Midnight and made sure he had extra water.
He returned to the cabin and pulled a rocking chair outside on the small covered porch. "As I see it, I'm at exactly the same place as I was Saturday night. The room I woke up in corresponds to my office back then, maybe I mean up there; anyway in the future. The cabin is situated on the same rise that my house stands on."
There was a pump at the kitchen sink but Tyler got up and walked to the well at the side of the cabin. He dropped a bucket down into the well and used the windlass to pull it back up. There was a large dipper hanging on the cover over the well. He took a dipper full and walked back to the rocking chair.
"There's just something special about fresh drawn water. Don't need to start hitting Ernie's whiskey; I'll drink myself into a stupor." He drank from the dipper and leaned back in the chair. "I know where I am, I know when I am but what I don't know is how I got here. Last thing I remember was working on my story about 3 AM. I felt queasy sometime while I was sleeping and the next thing I know, I'm back in 1878."
"The only thing I can think of was that somehow I got caught in a riff of the Space Time Continuum." Tyler thought about the Science Fiction he'd read. "Or maybe I was abducted by aliens and transported back in time." He chuckled, then laughed and soon was laughing almost hysterically. He got control of himself after a minute. "Who am I kidding? I've got no idea why or how I'm here or how long I'm going to be here; maybe for the rest of my life." He finished the water and stood up. "I can't do anything about getting back so all I can do is make the best of it."
Tyler walked down to the spring branch flowing at the bottom of the rise. "I bet the well taps into this spring. The water I drew was cold and had almost a sweet flavor." He snapped his fingers. "I remember now, this is Sweet Water Spring. It's the reason Grandpa decided to settle in this spot."
Climbing back to top of the rise he walked around to the back of the cabin. One of the two buildings he'd seen earlier were about 50 feet behind the cabin. It was directly opposite the door coming out of the kitchen. Tyler smiled as he recognized the outhouse.
"I think they called them privies," he said.
The other building was opposite the barn about 100 feet from the cabin. As he got closer, Tyler realized what the building was. The smell of smoke made by seasoned wood was heavy on the air as he neared the little building. Opening the door, the smell seemed to roll over him in a wave.
"It's a smoke house. I've read about them but I've never really seen one."
The low afternoon sun cast a light into the shed and Tyler could see something hanging from a cross beam. A large form was wrapped in what looked like burlap sacking; beneath the wrapping was a large slab of bacon. Tyler knew from his research and stories his father had told that the smoked and cured meat would be useful for a several months.
"Well at least I won't have to go into town to eat every day." He pulled a folding Buck knife out of his pocket and cut two thick slices of bacon. On the way back to the cabin Tyler saw that a root cellar had been dug next the north side wall. He put the bacon in the kitchen and came back to the cellar. Pulling back the door he saw four wooden steps leading down. Inside he found a large bag of dried beans, some potatoes spread out on a shelf, and several bunches of wild onions.
Back in the kitchen he poked at the coals in the stove with a short andiron and added three or four pieces of split wood to make a fire and while it was building he used the hand pump to draw a bucket of water. Tyler put two double handfuls of beans into a large pot and covered them with water. The beans would soak overnight, soften, and be ready to cook with some fat back or bacon the next day.
"Funny thing, Grandpa's been gone for at least a week but when I woke up the coals were still hot and the coffee was warm. Sorta like I'd been asleep instead of just getting here."
Tyler sliced a potato into a large cast iron skillet and added two onions. When the potato was nearly done he added bacon that he'd sliced off the slab. After the meal was ready, Tyler didn't bother with a plate; he ate directly from the skillet. "It's a good thing Mom made me learn how to cook a bit. Of course now I'd have to learn or go hungry. Not the healthiest meal but it'll have to do until I can get some supplies from the general store."
After supper Tyler sat on the front porch in the rocker with Ernie's whisky. He took one drink and set the bottle at his feet. It had been a stressful day and as the tension ebbed out of him he became sleepy.
"I'm tired of thinking about this. I'm going to bed."
Three days later Tyler made the ride into New Braunfels. "I don't know how long I'll be here but I need a few things from the general store if I'm going to stay. Can't keep eating at the café all the time; it's cheap but I've only got so much money." He snorted and said, "Like I've got any choice about being here. Hell, I may wake up tomorrow in my own bed."
He tied Midnight to the hitching rail and walked into the store. Tyler had to smile again; the store looked exactly like the ones depicted in western movies and on TV.
"Howdy, can I help you Mister," asked an elderly man behind a counter.
"Hello. I'd need some coffee, a little flour, sugar and five or six pieces of this stick candy."
A few minutes later the man had the supplies gathered on the counter. "That be all for you?"
"Three boxes of .44-40 cartridges too please," Tyler answered. Other than what was loaded into the weapons, he hadn't noticed any ammunition back at the cabin.
"That'll be $21 Mister. Let's make it $20 even for your first time in my store." Tyler dropped a Double Eagle on the counter, gathered his packages and left.
Putting the supplies in his saddle bags he mounted and walked Midnight down Main Street to the Rock Bottom saloon. "Might as well have a beer before I head back."
Tyler pushed through the swinging doors like he seen happen so many time on TV, chuckling to himself as he did so. "Reckon I'm a sure enough cowboy," he said softly with a put on Texas drawl.
Ernie saw Tyler come into the saloon. He drew a beer sat it on the bar then turned, got a bottle of his private stock, poured a glass, and sat the whiskey on the bar next to the beer.
Tyler smiled and nodded at the bartender. He drank about half the whiskey and followed with a long drink of the beer. "Thanks Ernie," Tyler spoke for the first time.
"Welcome Tyler. What brings you back to town?"
"Needed some supplies. Much as I like Rosita's cooking it's a long ride every day for supper."
Ernie refilled Tyler's beer glass and the two new friends talked for a few minutes. Tyler heard the swinging doors open and turned to see who had come into the saloon.
"Howdy Ernie, Mr. Gibson," Marshal Thomas said as he stepped to the bar. "Short beer please Ernie."
Dooley took a small sip of the beer and turned to Tyler. "I saw you ride in Mr. Gibson. I'm surprised that Jack would leave Midnight with you."
"Jack asked me to take care of his horse for him while he was gone. He said that he could make better time going by stage coach and train." Tyler took a pull on his beer and smiled. "That's part of my rent; taking care of Midnight."
"You seem like you know horses. You'd better because Midnight can be a handful. Jack's about the only one that can ride that horse."
"I guess it's like riding a bike Marshal," Tyler said. "Once you learn you never forget how."
"Riding a what?"
Damn Tyler thought, I did it again. Bicycles weren't common in the west until after 1900.
"Back in Tennessee we call a spirited horse a bike," Tyler answered trying to explain. It was the first thing he could think of. "I meant that once you learn to handle a horse like that, you never forget."
"I see," Dooley replied, indicating by the tone of his voice that he wasn't sure he understood.
"Dooley Thomas, I want to see you," a loud voice called from the door way. A large rough looking man pushed his way through the swinging doors. He carried a repeating rifle in one hand and wore a pistol in a cross draw holster in front of his left hip with the butt of the gun pointed forward. The big man fingered the pistol as he walked toward the Marshal.
"Stover, if you ain't careful you're gonna see me once too often," Dooley replied.
"You shot my brother."
"Riley was my brother," Stover repeated.
"Riley was also a rustler, horse thief, and a bandit."
"Why'd you shoot him?"
"He was shootin at me Stover. Riley robbed the freight office and shot Bill Justin; shot a man for $23 and then he tried to shoot me." Dooley shook his head, stepped away from the bar, and put some distance between him and Tyler. "I trailed Riley and when I caught up to him he started shootin. I'm a better gun hand than him."
"Reckon I'll have to even things up Marshal," Stover said putting his hand on the butt of his pistol.
"You'll just end up like Riley. Now why don't you have a drink and then go arrange for your brother's funeral?"
"Nope," Stover said and pulled his gun.
He never got the chance to bring his weapon to bear. As the pistol cleared the holster and started to turn toward Dooley, the Marshal drew his own weapon and shot Stover twice. The big man took two steps backward and crumpled to the floor. Dooley pickup up Stover's gun from the floor, set it on the bar, and bent to examine Stover.
"Well hell," Dooley said almost to himself. "Guess I'll have to bury both brothers." Turning he ordered, "Ernie, best send your swamper for Mr. Temple." He noticed Tyler for the first time since Stover had walked into the saloon. "Mr. Temple is the undertaker," he explained. "Sorry you had to be here Tyler."
Tyler nodded; he was shocked by the gun fight and the dead man on the floor. He finished his drink, said good bye to Marshal Thomas and Ernie, and left the saloon. He mounted Midnight and started the big horse on the road back to the ranch.
"That man is dead," Tyler talked out loud as he rode. "That wasn't a cowboy shooting tournament; those were real bullets and real consequences. I've been thinking about wearing the Colt; now I'm not sure that's the thing to do. I'm not a coward but I've only used a gun for hunting and the action shooting contests. It never struck home when I did research or played at being a gunfighter what would happen in a real gun fight."