The desert night was cooling quickly and the small Western town was extremely rowdy, even for a Saturday evening. With the advent of the railroad coming to town and thus opening up the shipping of beef to the East, both saloons were overflowing and at the brothel across the tracks, business was brisk. In addition, this was the first Saturday evening of the month and a lot of workers had just got paid and their money was burning a hole in their pockets. However, as Kip Gates rode through the town, he paid little attention to the all festivities going on; tonight Kip was in town on a mission.
It wasn't surprising to find the hitching rail was full at the Busted Flush saloon so Kip crossed the street to the general store where he could find a place to tie his horse, Swag to the rail. Gates sat for a moment in his saddle, looking over at the Busted Flush and mulling over what he had ridden into town to do. During the last round up out at his ranch, he discovered he was short two mares from a new breed he was developing and Kip was angry. When one of his crew told Kip he thought he'd seen the two horses over in Lucas Solomon's corral, Gates couldn't believe it. It was true that he and Lucas were not the best of friends, but Kip never thought Lucas would stoop to stealing the two horses. Shaking his head in disbelief, he started to dismount. As he started to cross the street, he met the town's sheriff coming out of the saloon. Kip tipped his hat as he greeted the sheriff, "Evening sheriff, how's it going?"
"Evening Durango," Everybody in town called Kip by his old nickname. It had been several years since Kip had abandoned his wild ways and settled down, but the old nickname still stuck. Back in the day, there had been lots of rumors about the man they called Durango; some of those rumors might have been true, but a lot of them were just tall tales ... or at least that's what Kip kept insisting. "Where ya goin'?" The sheriff asked.
"Over to the Busted Flush. I need to have a little chat with Lucas Solomon."
The coldness in the way Durango said the last sentence made the sheriff stop and look up at the tall man. Kip Gates was a big man. At well over 6 feet tall, he was a lot taller than any normal man of the time, and all of the hard years working on his ranch had left Gates with an excellent physical physique. Kip looked exactly like the man that he was; big, tough and physical. Even today, regardless that Gates had given up his untamed ways, a lot of men still gave Durango a wide berth when they saw him coming.
Durango's face was hidden by the shadow of his large black hat, but his pale eyes still showed the anger bubbling inside of him. "Why do you want to see Lucas?" The sheriff asked with trepidation. The sheriff had heard most of the stories about Durango and he was glad he never had to deal with finding out how many of the tales might have been true. If just a small percentage of the tales about the gunfights and the women Durango had been involved with were true, it didn't surprise the sheriff so many men, and women, still looked at the tall cowboy with either adoration or fear. And looking up at the tall man standing in front of him, the sheriff could see danger written across Gates' face. The sheriff could see it was 'ol Durango looking for Lucas, not Kip Gates.
"Sheriff, I just came from his place. I found my two mares from the new breed I'm developing with that stallion and the mare I got from those city slickers from Australia." The sheriff nodded his head. He knew about Kips efforts. "When we did our last round up, two mares were missing and Clem told me he'd seen them over at Lucas's place. I didn't believe it, but Clem kept insisting he had seen them in Lucas' back stall. I went over there this evening and I found the two mares exactly where Clem said they would be. They are now back at my place where they belong. I promise you this sheriff; I'll give Lucas a chance to explain why my mares were in his stalls."
"You sure they are yours?"
Kip took a step back and glared down at the smaller man, "Sheriff, you and I go a long way back. Do you take me for a fool?" Durango snapped at the smaller man.
The sheriff held up his hands in front of his body, sorry Kip had taken his remarks the wrong way. "No ... no. That ain't it Kip. It's just mistakes happen,"
"Sheriff, the brand RB was still on their hindquarters. Last time I looked, I am the only one around here with a spread call 'River's Bend'. And I know I am the only one who uses 'RB' as a brand. Now, are you tellin' me that was a mistake?"
Gates watched as the sheriff's shoulders seemed to slump. Looking down at the ground, the sheriff asked softly, "What you gonna do to Lucas?"
Durango understood the sheriff's dilemma; on one had the sheriff was there to keep the peace, but the lawman also understood the seriousness of stealing horses from any man. Durango replied, "I'm gonna ask him where he got the mares. Depending on what he says, I may have to ask you to arrest him and I'll sign the charges of stealing my horses."
"Why don't you let me handle this?"
"Meaning no disrespect sheriff, but that ain't the person I am. You know I have to do this myself? Right?"
"You ain't gonna kill him?"
"Shit sheriff, I can't promise you that. If I kill him it will be because he drew first. I will promise you I won't just go in there and shoot him in cold blood ... even if that is what I want to do. You know what those horses are worth?" The sheriff nodded his head. "Well, then you know there ain't a jury that would convict me if I shot the son of a bitch. Right?" The sheriff nodded his head again. "I'm gonna ask you not to come in. I don't want to put you in a situation where you might have to choose a side. You have been my friend for a long time. Go to your office and I'll bring the son of a bitch to you one way of the other."
"Durango ... Kip, I am asking you to try and bring him to me alive."
"I'll do my best sheriff, but a lot of it is up to Lucas."
Kip proceeded across the street and stopped for a moment before he stepped up on the wooden sidewalk. The legend known as "Durango" had been a long time ago. It had been years since Kip had drawn his pistol in anger and he wondered if he still had the skills to fight Lucas. The problem was if Kip didn't address the issue now, who was to say Lucas wouldn't try and steal another of his horses. Durango gave a deep sigh and stepped up onto the old well-worn wooden sidewall.
As he walked towards the saloon, the closer he got to the Busted Flush the louder the din became. When Durango pushed open the swinging doors he was greeted with a wall of sound. The large room was dimly lit and smoke filled with the smell of stale smoke, old beer and unwashed bodies permeating the air. A set of stairs ran up the wall to Kip's right which led to a balcony surrounding the entire open room. A black man was playing a piano against the wall under the stairs while one of the bar girls sat on the top of it; her legs crossed, swinging one leg and looking totally uninterested across the whole room before her.
There were tables scattered around the room with several card games going and against another wall was a roulette wheel. Standing in front of the far wall was a bar which extended from wall to wall and behind the bar was a full length mirror with lots of bottles stored in shelves across the bottom. Standing at the center of the bar was Lucas Solomon. Durango noticed Lucas was armed.
The tall man stood for a moment in the door way, filling the entire opening with his body. Kip looked around the room taking note of any of Lucas' men who might be there. When he stepped the rest of the way into the room it was as if somebody had turned off the sound. Even in the dimly lit room, everybody could see from the look on the tall man's face, this was not Kip Gates entering the room ... for some reason, Durango had come to town; and he looked angry.
The piano player stopped, the croupier stopped the roulette wheel in mid spin and the crowd grew still. The bartender quickly stepped to the far end of the bar and as if the men standing next to Solomon knew they were in harm's way, they quickly stepped away from Lucas so now he was standing alone at the bar.
Lucas' boots were scuffed and shabby and he wore a tattered pair of jeans with a faded, threadbare red plaid shirt. The grey stubble on his face needed a shave and his dark brown hair was overdue for a haircut. His battered hat sat on the bar and his holster was positioned low on his hip with the bottom tied to his leg.
Everybody watched as Durango walked half way across the floor and then stopped. "Lucas Solomon," Durango voice was soft, yet every person in the room heard the rumble of his voice. "I found two of my mares in one of your stalls this evening. Would you care to explain?"
For a moment the crowd murmured and then again grew still. Lucas glanced up and looked back at Durango's image in the mirror above the bar. He nodded his head and then replied, "Evening Kip. Well, I found them horses out on the range and I was gonna bring them back to you."
Somebody snickered in the crowd. Durango asked him, "And just when were you planning to bring them back?"
"I just found them the other day." Solomon countered.
"That's a lie. I know you've had them at your place for a few weeks now."
Durango noticed Lucas's right hand was slowing drifting down to his pistol. "Are you calling me a liar?" Lucas snarled back at Durango.
Durango paused a moment and then replied, "Kind of looks that way doesn't it?"
Lucas growled. "Well, after being called a liar, there is just one thing worse you can call me."