The town’s headlong rush to debauchery slowed as sunrise approached. The oil lamps were extinguished. The saloons shuttered. The star-shot sky above was giving way to a salmon colored dawn. Joe Wiley made his last pass along the main drag, kicking drunks awake. Telling them if they didn’t have a place to stay then at least get out of sight before the stores opened for business.
The night before was quieter than most. Most of the drovers were spread out all over the hills to the north and south gathering steers for shipment. A few bunk house creepers made it into town. There were some fights and indiscriminate gunfire. Only four arrests and no one was convicted. No work for the gravedigger.
The Dugans joined Joe as he walked back toward the jail. Coolie Taylor sat in a chair on the boardwalk, tipped back and sipping coffee from a mug. The Dugans made their way inside to their bunks in the spare cell. The main cell was loaded with four drovers pitched out of the Majestic for fighting. They tried to return inside prompting a battle on the boardwalk with the Frenchman’s toughs. The hardest part of the arrest for the Dugans was loading the unconscious cowboys onto a cart and rolling them down to the jailhouse.
“Ben let you out?” Joe said.
“Kept steak and beans and a hunk of pie down all night,” Coolie beamed.
“You can keep an eye on things till noon then?” Joe said.
“Me and John Henry,” Coolie said, patting the brass Henry rifle that rested across his knees.
“Then I’m going to lay my head down a few hours,” Joe said, walking away along the plank walk.
“Go easy, amigo,” Coolie said, drawing a mouthful of honey-sweetened coffee thick enough to float a horseshoe.
At the Grand Prairie, Joe listened at Ben Temple’s door and heard nothing. The man was sleeping it off elsewhere or catting around with one of the girls at the Majestic. Joe entered his own dark room. A white shape lay in the gloom that wasn’t there when he left. Years of instinct had him out of the bar of light from the hallway and into the darkness by the door, the .44 drawn and cocked in his hand.
The white shape made no moves. His eyes adjusted to the gloom. It was something draped over a chair, folds dropping to the floor. His eyes swept the room as did the long barrel of the revolver. He stepped to the chair. The cloth was cool between his fingers. Lace trim crinkled as he lifted it from the chair.
A tinkle of feminine laughter in the dark.
Joe stepped to the bed to see the covers shift over a slim form moving there. A fan of corn silk hair spread across the pillows. Slender fingers clutched the sheet drawn up to her chin.
“Sister Adeline Tibbets?”
She laughed again. More heartily this time.
“Is this any way for a nun to act?” Joe said, smiling.
“I’m not a nun, you idiot,” she said.
“You left a whole lot of clothes over there, Sister.”
“Uh huh.”
“What have you left to cover yourself?”
“Only what God gave me,” she said lifting her chin, her eyes gone smoky in the dark.
Joe lifted the sheet to see the bounty of the Lord.
….