Read The Last Shootist Online

Authors: Miles Swarthout

The Last Shootist

 

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For

Glendon

and

John “Duke” Wayne

the
real
shootists

 

Acknowledgments

 

The 1954 black-and-white photograph of the famous alligator pond in El Paso's downtown San Jacinto Plaza is reprinted by permission of the El Paso Public Library from their Aultman Collection, with the assistance of librarian Danny Gonzalez.

I'd like to thank publisher Tom Doherty of Tor/Forge Books for allowing me another book in print and editor Bob Gleason for once again helping with good story notes. Assistant editor Kelly Quinn and copy editor Susannah Noel were also helpful in readying this text.

Former Northland Press editor Tom Carpenter from Flagstaff and frontier-weapons expert Phil Spangenberger from Leona Valley, California, both provided their expertise, as did Los Angeles producer/filmmaker Marcos Cline-Marquez with my weak Spanish. Mr. Spangenberger can also be enjoyed on two of Mark Allen's DVDs,
Gunplay Made Easy
and
Gunplay: The Art of Trick & Fancy Gun Handling
. Wes Patience is a Western historian retired to Bisbee, Arizona, who pointed me in right directions research-wise.

And lastly, my dear mother, Kathryn Swarthout, for her help removing modern words from these Old West characters' mouths. Without these experts' wise suggestions, this Western tale could not have been polished.

As for the master storyteller himself, the great Glendon, well, he
knows
.

 

Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Epigraph

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Epigraph

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Afterword

About the Author

Copyright

 

The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.

—Psalm 104:21

 

Prologue

 

The Final Scene from Glendon Swarthout's Western Novel
The Shootist

Gillom Rogers inched through the doors of the Constantinople. Eyes watering from the smoke, he gaped at Jay Cobb and Serrano and Koopmann, and at Jack Pulford, seated against the wall.

Skirting the three bodies near the bar, avoiding the blood and brains as best he could, he looked over the bar, then scuffled in wonder through the carnage of glass behind it. A dollar bill stopped him. He put it in his pants pocket that held the other money. A black-handled Remington lay in the walkway. He picked it up and holding his breath approached the prone man, who seemed small to him now, even puny.

“Mister Books?”

He saw the torn coat and the blood on it and the right arm extended stiffly, gun aimed. He moved slowly to Books's side, bending.

“It's me, Gillom,” he said.

He got down on his knees. Books was incapable of speech. His chin was clamped upon his left wrist. Gillom did not care to look into the face, but the eyes arrested him. They considered. They considered not only the archway, as though something implacable waited on the other side, but something transcendent beyond that as well, far beyond.

“Mister Books, it's me, Gillom.”

The mouth opened. Nothing inaudible issued from it, but the lips formed two words: “kill” and “me.”

“Kill you?”

Gillom chewed his lips.

“Sure thing,” he said, then stood, moved behind the man, straddled him, and put the muzzle of the revolver he had picked up to the back of the head. He turned his own head away, shut his eyes tight, gritted his teeth—pulled the trigger.

The hammer
clicked
.

“Shit,” he groaned.

He despaired, aware on the rim of his consciousness of the smoke and the reek of the air and the solemnity of the fans. He got down on his knees again beside the prone man and worked at the fingers clenching the pearl handle of the second Remington, prying them free until he possessed that weapon, too.

He stood again, straddled the prone man, and put the muzzle of the revolver to the back of John Bernard Books's head a second time, into the hair. He turned his own head away, shut his eyes tight, gritted his teeth, and pulled the trigger.

*   *   *

He walked out of the Constantinople into chaste air. A crowd of men and boys had gathered across the street. Waiting for a buggy to pass, then a buckboard, he crossed the street to the crowd.

“What happened in there?” at least six asked.

“They're all dead,” said Gillom.

“Who?”

“J. B. Books. Jay Cobb. Jack Pulford. A Mex name of Serrano, a rustler. And some guy I don't know who. A big guy. He killed 'em all.”

“Who?”

“Books.”

Someone had counted. “Five!
Whooeee!

“Jesus Christ, boys, he killed every hard case around!” someone exulted. “Jesus, boys, we fin'ly got us a clean town!”

“Oughta put up a statue of the murderin' bastard!” someone else enthused.

“These are his guns.” Gillom held them up for all to covet. “He gave 'em to me before he died.”

“Look at that!”

“Short barrel, no sight, specials by God—hey, kid, wanna sell 'em?”

“Hell, no,” said Gillom. He grinned and waved at the Constantinople. “Okay, folks, step right over and see the show! Drinks on the house!”

As the crowd tided across the street, Gillom Rogers strode away down it, swinging a gun in each hand. An alchemy of false spring sunlight turned the nickel of the Remingtons to silver. He strode head up, shoulders back, taller to himself, having sensations he had never known before. One gun was still warm in his hand, the bite of the smoke was in his nose and the taste of death on his tongue. His heart was high in his gullet, the danger past—and now the sweat, suddenly, and the nothingness, and the sweet clean feel of being born.

 

One

 

One thing he knew for a fact: he had to get these pistols hidden quick or his mother might kill him, too. They were much too valuable to flash around town.
Sweet bearded Jesus!
He now possessed J. B. Books's matched Remingtons!

Gillom Rogers slowed his walk, wondering where he would get a double-holster rig to house these legendary nickel-plated Remington .44s. Or should he have a silk vest made like Books's, with leather holster pockets sewn on either side of the chest, angled forty-five degrees inward for a cross-handed draw? Too late to get J. B.'s own now. That special weapons vest was all shot up and bloody on his corpse. Books was too heavy to clothe Gillom's skinny frame anyway.

If I can just learn to handle these pistols as well as Mr. Books did, quick draw, spinning tricks, a sharpshooter, I can become as famous a shootist as that old man was! With a little gambler's luck, if nobody fills me fulla lead, makes me look like a colander. Famous
and
feared.

“Hey, kid!
Kid!
Wait up!”

Gillom halted in El Paso Street and stepped back from the steel trolley tracks to turn to see who was hulloing. Shading his eyes against an afternoon sun, he squinted at the hullabaloo stirring around the Constantinople saloon, spectators shouting, hurrying in and out of the opened front doors. A spindle-shanked fellow in a striped suit and derby hat galloped out of the crowd and waved at Gillom.

“Dan Dobkins! Daily Herald!”

Gillom Rogers nodded as the young journalist caught his breath. “You interviewed Mister Books at our house.”

“Well, almost. Before that cranky old bastard booted me out.” Dobkins pointed at one of the shiny revolvers Gillom held. “His pistol?”

Gillom straightened, displaying a nickel-plated Remington in either hand.

“J. B. Books himself gave 'em to me the moment before he died.”

Dobkins couldn't resist running an index finger along the five-and-a-half-inch sightless barrel of the made-to-order Remington.

“You
stole
'em off a dead man.”

“I did
not
! It was our deal. If I told Cobb, Pulford, and Serrano over in Juarez to meet Mister Books in the Connie today at four, when the shooting was over, Mister Books said I could have these specials.”

Dan Dobkins only had about ten years on this callow youth, but he surveyed the teenager with a cynical eye. “So you
took
'em off a dead man?”

Gillom reddened. “
No!
He asked me to finish him off. Hell, he was all shot up anyway, almost dead. So I pried this loaded pistol from his fingers and did what he asked.”

Dobkins's mouth fell open. “
You
issued the coup de grâce?”

“The what?”

“Executed him?”

“Yup.” Gillom Rogers raised his narrow chin defiantly, risked twirling the revolver in his right hand by its finger guard, just once.

The star reporter of the El Paso
Daily Herald
noticed bystanders halting to overhear. He grabbed the teenager by the shoulder, turned him round, and marched them both toward the swinging doors of the Pass of the North's best-known saloon, the Gem.

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