Marshallville is a town founded in 1865, south of Denver, by a man named John Marshall and five other families. Not long after the town was staked out, two brothers, Buck and Bull Rogers, ex-sheriffs founded a ranch outside of town. As their lawmen friends retired, many of them moved to Marshallville enjoying the company of longtime friends. Some of the ex-lawmen in town are: Short Keg, Buzzard Cooper, Shady Mike, Nevada Slim, and Gentleman George. The sheriff is Quick Cal and his deputy is Dead Eye Kid. The barber is an ex-union solider named Wild Shot, the butcher is Skinner, the newspaper editor is Hannah Calder and two other ex-lawmen live out at the Rogers ranch named Levi and Lefty.
“So George, what do you know about that newspaper lady,” Shady Mike asks while he pokes around the new outfits Gentleman George just unpacked in his men’s clothing store.
“Shady, you seem to be takin’ a trunk load of interest in that lady editor.”
“No, what are you talking about? She’s new in town and I just like to know bout folks in town.”
“There’s a new lady over at the dress shop but you haven’t asked about her. There’s a lady cook at the Rocky Mountain café but you haven’t asked about her. There is a new lady working the desk at the hotel but you haven’t asked about her. But that newspaper lady is the one you are askin’ about so….”
“George, it’s just that she is kind of a mystery. One day she shows up in a wagon, driven by a man, with a printin’ press and all the makins’ of a newspaper, rents a store and two blinks later she starts posting news. Maybe Slim knows more about her. She has her team and wagon at his place. It’s after five so he’s probably over to the Short Keg by now. I’ll buy him a drink and see what he knows.”
George closes up and he and Shady head to the saloon. Nevada Slim is at the bar talking to the owner of the Short Keg named Ken but everyone calls him Short Keg on account of he owns the bar and is somewhat shaped like a short keg.
“Hey Slim”, George calls out, “what do you know about that newspaper lady. I think Shady here might be interested. You have her rig to your place, did she say anything?”
“All I know is she bout got washed out of Denver when the Cherry Creek flooded out the south side of town. She knew Marshallville was new and she figured it needed a newspaper. Right smart name, “The Marshallville Gazette”, don’t ya think? Her name is Hannah Calder, she came in with her brother-in-law and that’s all I know. She is a handsome woman, tall, dark hair, curves in all the right places far as I can see. She don’t seem to cotton to no men, busy woman. She’s staying at the hotel right now so you might ask Lola Belle what she knows, she owns the place.”
“She does a good job of printin’,” Short Keg added, “she printed up that poster I put over in the window. See, I put ‘buy two beers and the third one is half price’, pretty catchy uh? I figure a little advertising might bring in more customers.”
“Good thinking Ken, then you’ll have to hire some good looking women to serve all those extra customers, might spruce up the place a bit,” offered George.
“Come on George,” said Slim, “if this place gets too fancy, I’d have to go somewheres else. Course a piano player couldn’t hurt this place none.”
“You know havin’ a newspaper in town might just smartin’ you boys up a bit,” chuckled Short Keg. Did you see the headlines in today’s paper? Some guy named Jesse James held up a bank in Missouri getting $15,000. Then there was a train robbery over in Ohio; who would try such a thing? I can tell you I’m bout done with bank robbers. I chased more than I care to think about. Hey, here come’s ole Buzzard, bout time he closed up shop, its way after five.”
“Did you boys see the ad in today’s newspaper?” Coop said as he bellied up to the bar. “It’s the darndest thing; I may have to carry one in my store. Dang if a guy didn’t invent a coffee percolator?”
“What the heck are you talking bout,” said Slim, “a coffee what?”
“A percolator, Slim. You put coffee in this here basket and put it on the stove then the boiling water rises up a stem and spills over the coffee and drips down in the pot. You just keep boilin’ the water till the coffee gets as strong as you want. It has a glass bubble on top so you can see the color of the coffee. “
“Well what’s wrong with just throwin’ a hand full of coffee in the pot and boiling it like we always do?”
“The difference is the basket keeps the grounds out of the water and out of your cup. Ain’t you tired of spittin’ out those grounds in the bottom of your cup?”
“Well dang if that don’t beat all. Next thing you know there will be coffee saloons where people sit around drinking coffee.”
“I’ll admit,” said Shady, “I actually put a dollop of honey in my coffee, cuts the bitterness a bit.”
“Well of course you do you fancy, dancy card sharp,” said Slim with a twinkle in his eye.
“Hey boys, looks like a fancy palaver at the bar,” said Wild Shot coming through the bat doors wiping his brow. “Another hot one today, time for a beer. You know some day some guy needs to invent something that blows cold air thru the window.”
“It is mister ‘shave and a haircut’ guy,” said George. “If I read that poster in your window right, you’re chargin’ 25 cents for a shave. At those prices you’ll be rich in no time.”
“25 cents is cheap for the job I do. First I wraps a hot towel around your face. While the towel softens up your whiskers, I hone my blade to the sharpest edge you’ll ever see. I lather my brush with a special soap I get from Denver; can’t get it in this town. Hey Coop, how bout getting’ some of that soap from France in your store? My blade cuts those whiskers slick as sliding on ice. Then I slap on some lavender water to finish the job and the customer walks out rubbing his chin with a smile on his face. A lot of single guys come in right before courtin’ a friendly lady. Yes sir, 25 cents is cheap. Throw in a haircut for another 25 cents and a man just rightly feels handsome.”
“Speaking of things in my store, I got in some new cowboy hats made by a guy named Stetson. A right smart looking hat any cowboy would like. They are $5 but well worth it. Come over tomorrow and take a look. I can order more if you like. Shady, you’re a snappy dresser, you might like one.”
The next day, Shady wanders over to the hotel and looks for Lola Belle. Lola Belle is at the front desk explaining to a middle-aged woman the duties of the desk clerk. The woman is tall, wearing a high buttoned light brown suit, hair put up in a bun.
“When someone comes up to the desk, you ask, ‘May I help you’? If he asks for a room you ask ‘how many nights?’ Make him sign his name in the register. You look at the name and always refer to him as mister and his last name. Rooms are three dollars a night and always collected in advance. If anyone argues, just tell them it is company policy.”
Lola Belle was an attractive woman, short but full figured with blond hair. The few grey hairs mixed well with blond and added a certain wise and regal look. She had sparkling blue eyes and a smile that could melt a man’s heart in two beats. She was widow but there was still a glint in her eye and she did not mind flirting a bit. She saw Mike approach, finished with the new desk clerk she turned to Mike.
“Hi Mike, good to see you.” Smiling she asked, “What brings you in this morning?”
Tipping his hat he said, “Hello Mrs. Belle, you are looking well today. I have a question for you if you have a few minutes.”
“Sure Mike, come back to the office.”
There was a door a few feet right of the desk that entered into her office. It was a tidy and neat office. Lace curtains covered the window and a round blue and red checked rug sat on the floor in front of a solid oak desk. There were two high-back chairs opposite the desk and Mike took one while Lola Belle sat in a sturdy leather chair behind her desk.
“What’s up Mike?”
“Well, I’m afraid curiosity has gotten the best of me. I’m not the gossipy type but between you and me, what do you know about the newspaper lady?”
“Why Mike, do I detect more than a passing interest? What are your intentions Mr. Holand,” she said with a smile and tongue in cheek.
“Like I said, curiosity got me wondering. She is a little mysterious. She rolls into town one day with a man driving her wagon, and then she sets up her own newspaper. Nevada Slim says she was washed out of Denver in the Cherry Creek flood and her name is Hannah Calder. She is printing posters for people around town and puts out an interesting paper. The man she came in with helped her set up the equipment but now she runs the place by herself. So, what do you know?”
“You are right, she is an interesting woman. We had dinner together the other night and I got to know her somewhat. I’ll tell you what I know only because I am concerned about her safety. Her father ran a newspaper in Illinois. She learned the business from him and married his co-editor and reporter.
“I don’t know if you ever heard of the ‘Bandits of the Prairie’, you were only about ten at the time. In much of Illinois, bandit gangs roomed the area. I’m from that area and remember it well. Even some of the township and state officers were bandits. After some years of trouble, some citizens formed vigilante group known as regulators. Some of these groups also became ‘lynching clubs’. Hannah told me her father and husband got mixed up in the trouble. Her dad had published a lot of news naming some town officials as bandits. She was a young girl when this started so she grew up tough. She can handle a gun and did so on a few occasions. What worries me is both her father and her husband were killed, shot in the back, after some of these stories ran in the paper. She may still be in danger if she knows anything about those officials or if relatives are seeking revenge about her father and husband’s postings.”
“You are right Lola; she may be in danger. I am sure certain high officials do not want their names flapping in the wind. So,” he says with a sly smile, “I should probably keep an eye on her.”
Mike headed over to the “Marshallville Gazette.” He walked in to say hello to Mrs. Calder but to his surprise Buck Rogers was there flirting around with a smile on his face. Shady could feel the blood rise in his face as he tried to look casual.
“Hey Shady,” Buck said, “come on in. Hannah was showing me how a printing press works.”
Mike was immediately aware that Buck called her by her first name, Hannah.
“What are you up to Shady?” asked Buck.
“I just came over to welcome Mrs. Calder to town, introduce myself and tell her how much I enjoy reading the paper.” Looking at Calder, holding out his hand, he said, “My name is Mike Holder.” Calder took his hand and said, “Pleased to meet you Mister Holder and thank you for the compliment. Mr. Rogers was filling me in on his ranch, some of his friends, and the town history. It is a comfort to know many of our town’s citizens are retired lawmen. I have met Mayor John Marshall and the rest of the city council. I met Mr. Cooper and Mr. George. I printed some posters for them and for the Short Keg. I look forward to meeting the other ex-lawmen soon. Perhaps someday you will tell me why they call you ‘Shady’?”
“Oh, the boys have a sad sense of humor, as you’ll likely find out.”
“The stage rolled in and I need to check the mail. There are stories coming in from Denver, plus our little town is plenty active. Seems the ‘Ladies Society for a Sober Town’ are complaining about a few of the saloons on the South side of town and are starting a petition for a 10pm curfew on all the drinking halls in town. They want me to do a story about their cause and mention some upcoming meetings.” Looking out the window Mrs. Calder grimaced and nearly shouted, “I hate to see that, what can we do?”
Mike and Buck looked out the window in time to see a wagon load of women, ‘soiled doves,’ some say, heading toward the south end of town.
“They are being used up in the brothels and saloons,” she lamented.
“That’s a true story Mrs. Calder but it ain’t against the law,” Mike said, “where ever you find men and drink and money, you find women close by. Some got nothing else, sure ain’t a decent way to make a livin’.
“Someday, I will start a home for those women and figure a way for them to make a decent living.”
“Well Mrs. Calder, it is a pleasure to meet you, we’ll let you get back to work. Buck, let’s go chat with Short Keg.”
Buck was hesitant to go. He obviously wanted to flirt a little longer but not wanting to be too obvious he said, “Sure.”
On the way to the Short Keg, Mike told Buck about the bandit problem in Illinois and Hannah Calder’s connection. “We need to watch for any strangers that might be taking a special interest in the paper. It may be nothing any more but let’s keep her safe.”
It was a busy night at the Short Keg and the action at the Faro table was non-stop. A few of the players objected loudly to a losing streak but Mike settled them down by offering to buy them a drink. They grumbled but took the drink.
Faro is strictly a game of luck, no thinking involved; maybe that was why it was so popular. The betting lay out is a suit of cards, usually spades, from Ace to King printed on a cloth covered board. Players put money on any card. The first card the dealer (or bank) turns up is a losing card (suits do not matter only the face). The dealer takes any money placed on that card. The second card turned up is a winning card. Any money on that card is paid by the dealer. If both cards turned up are the same, a pair of fives for example, the dealer takes half the bet from the five. That is supposed to be the only advantage the dealer has. Mike got his nickname ‘Shady’ for a reason. He was able to ‘shade’ the odds in his favor without being too obvious. For one thing it was uncanny how many times a pair turned up. He also knew how players might try to cheat. He made it very clear to anyone who sat at his table that if he caught someone trying to cheat, he would take their bet and run them out of the saloon. Mike had two helpers standing on either end of the table. Both were large, both wore a brace of guns, butt first in plain view. Neither was an ex-lawman, both were ex-cons. Having done prison time, both carried a menacing look that said, ‘don’t try nothin’.
There were plenty of gamblers in town so there was a second Faro table in the Short keg run by a woman named ‘Poker Alice’. She was attractive with a loose fitting blouse. Most men didn’t seem to mind losing their money to her. They also assumed that since she was a woman, she didn’t cheat. Yet, as some people pointed out, she seemed to make a good living night after night.
The Short Keg was a friendlier saloon than the ones on the south end of town. There were no upstairs ladies; Ken did not deal in women. The more ‘upstanding’ residents in town frequented the place for drinks, conversation, and gambling while the rowdies generally hit the south end of town.
Two of three strangers drinking at the bar decided to play Faro at Mike’s table. They were a rough looking pair. Card after card, the two men seemed to be on the losing end of the deal. There were over ten players at the table so it was lively and loud. The strangers were at either end of the table. They both put up a large bet then ‘coppered’ the bets. (Putting a piece of copper on the bet reversed the action on the bet) Attached to the copper piece was a thin horse hair. If the card played was a winner, the copper coin stayed on the pile of chips. If the card played was a loser, the horse hair could pull the copper off the chips making it a winning bet. With eight or ten other players at the table placing bets, losing bets, winning bets, swearing loudly at cards, swapping out a ‘copper’ might go un-noticed.
Mike was well aware of the horse hair coppering; he had done it several times himself. He was on the alert any time someone coppered a bet. He also signaled his ‘helpers’ to watch the action. Right on cue, when Mike turned up a losing card for one of the coppered bets, the stranger yanked the copper changing the bet from a loser to a winner.
Mike stopped the game and looked at each man. “You boys are strangers in town, where ya from?”
“Illinois, now pay up the bet.”
“I ask because I have a rule here you probably hadn’t heard, coming from Illinois and all. The rule is if I catch you cheating, I take the money and you get thrown out.”
“What’s that got to do with us,” one man said looking nervous.
“Well, one of you tried to cheat by pulling the copper off your bet. Now I am going to take both your bets and you two are getting thrown out.”
As both men reached for their pistols, each heard a clicking noise behind their heads that sounded a lot like a hammer being pulled back to full cock. Mike’s helpers had moved behind them when Mike had started talking. The two men froze in their tracks. Mike took the money and his helpers nudged the men toward the door. These were men who did not take kindly to being ‘nudged’. As they went out the door, out of sight, they drew their guns and came back in looking for Mike. Mike’s helpers, backs to the door coming back toward the table, didn’t see them come back in. After years of sheriffing and double dealing himself, he knew the looks on the stranger’s faces meant trouble; he was ready.
Guns out as the two men came back; Mike shot one in the arm and the other in the side. Both men fell to the floor dropping their guns and twenty other patrons ducked as well. Mike spun on the third man still standing at the bar. “Leave the guns on the floor and take your friends to the doc’s. He is open all night, just across the street.”
“You’ll be sorry,” he shouted as he helped his friends to the door and toward docs.
Seconds later, drinking, talking and gambling returned to normal like a shoot-out was business as usual.
The next morning, more like noon, after breakfast Mike went to Docs. “Just a couple of flesh wounds,” doc said, “they said you took their money and that you should pay the bill. A dollar a piece please,” doc said holding out his hand.
Mike handed over two dollars with a chuckle and said, “You ever seen them boys before?”
“Nope, but a rough looking bunch.”
“Yeah, four men altogether, two wounded, two not. Couldn’t tell where they was from, but they looked to be traveling for days, still dusty and smelly. They were none too happy bout being shot but one said, ‘We’ll get her anyway’.”
“That’s what he said.”
Two days later, Hannah was working late at the office. There was a loud sound as the back door was kicked in. Four men came rushing in and the biggest one walked over and grabbed Hannah, squeezing her arm tightly.
“You shouldn’t have printed those lies in your paper, now you’re going to retire from the printing business.”
A second man kicked over a tray of letters, scattering them over the floor. A third man dumped ink and broke all bottles resting on the shelves.
“Where is the list of names you have, we need it,” he growled, as he lifted her out of her chair sticking his face into hers.
While the second man started breaking up the press and breaking plates, the fourth man tore open the drawers in Calder’s desk, throwing the drawers and contents on to the floor. Rummaging threw the papers he says, “Here it is, and Senator Meadows will love this.”
“Shut up, no names,” the first man snapped.
While they were breaking up the place, Hannah tried to break away but could not break the man’s grip. He spun her around and slapped her hard and she went down.
“Let’s go darling,” he says, “you need to take a ride,” and he dragged her out the back door.
The next morning, after breakfast, with Lefty and Levi, Mike walked over to the newspaper office to talk some more with Hannah, leaving Lefty and Levi drinking a second cup of coffee. He immediately saw the mess, went inside, and noticed Hannah was gone. He ran out to the street and saw Lefty and Levi leaving the diner. He calls out and when they come over, he shows them the mess. “Hannah is missing,” he says, “let’s find her.”
They swing by the sheriff’s office, grab Cal, then pick up Skinner and start tracking. They found her un-conscious by the side of the road about four miles from town, she was bruised with a bloody lip, and looking like she had been dragged along the ground. They got her back to town and into doc’s office. He tells them to wait outside and he would let them know when to come in. She regains consciousness while he is cleaning her up. He bandages the cuts and scrapes on her arms and legs. She sits up and he calls the boys in.
“Do you know who did this to you?” Mike asks.
Threw a swollen lip she mutters, “Yes. Senator Meadows sent some men from Illinois. In Illinois, my father and husband and I had printed several names of town officials who had been part of a bandit gang. After my father and husband were killed I left town quickly but with a list of the rest of the names. Meadows’ name was next. I heard one of the men say ‘Senator Meadows will like this’. They threatened to kill me if I ever printed any more information about the bandits.”
Cal said he would put out a warrant for their arrest. Mike looked at Lefty and Levi. “Boys, interested in visiting Illinois?” They looked at Hannah and quickly nodded yes. “Let’s get loaded up, Hannah, you won’t have any more trouble from Illinois.”
“Thanks,” she said trying to smile through a swollen lip.