As Guthrie pushed through the batwing doors of the Springs Palace saloon, he took in the entire scene in an instant. Two feet inside, he suddenly stopped, whirled, grabbed the tops of the doors, pulled them back as bit, then shoved them forward. The doors slammed into Guthrie’s two escorts, sending them staggering back.
Guthrie spun back, drawing his Remington. In the moment he had assessed the room, he saw the man who was in charge. He was sitting at a table a bit removed from the others. Guthrie fired, shattering a glass next to Garrett’s right hand.
“You’re either a mighty poor shot, Mr. …”
Garrett nodded. “As I was saying, you’re either a mighty poor shot, Mr. Guthrie, or that was a warning.” He paused a moment and smiled. “And I don’t believe you are that bad a shot.”
“So, what are you warning me about?” He seemed unconcerned.
“To mind your behavior. And that of your damn fool hirelings.” He moved a few steps to his right, away from the entrance. “And if your boys come through those doors, they’ll be carried back out.”
Garrett nodded again. “Art, C.M., stay outside and away from the door,” he called out.
A tall, stringy fellow moved a few steps away from the polished maple bar. “Let me get rid of this vermin for you, Mr. Garrett,” he said.
“I don’t think that’d be a good idea, Walt.”
“You don’t think I can take him?” Walt asked in some surprise.
Never taking his eyes off Guthrie’s, Garrett said, “No, I don’t.”
Dammit, Mr. Garrett …”
“Walt, he has his pistol out.”
“He holsters it, we can see who’s best.”
“Are all your men this stupid?” Guthrie asked, somewhat amazed.
“No, not all. Just some. Walt, go back to the bar.”
“Who’s paying you, Walt?”
“Then do as I say.” Garrett still did not look at his henchman. To Guthrie, he said, “Please, have a seat.” Seeing Guthrie’s hesitation, he asked, “Something concern you?”
“Reckon I’d feel a lot more comfortable without several of your men standing around here.”
Garrett considered that for a moment, then said, “Walt, you and the others leave. Go on over to the Empty Springs. Take Art and C.M. with you.”
“You sure, boss?” one of the other men asked,
“I would say so. I think Mr. Guthrie is an honorable man who doesn’t plan to shoot me. Do you?”
“Not unless I have to.” He paused and looked over at the men by the bar. “I hope that won’t be necessary, boys. But if you think you can walk outside, turn around and shoot me, know that your boss here will be dead first.”
The men grumbled but left.
“Satisfied, Mr. Guthrie?”
“Almost. Mr. Garrett. I’m gonna ask you for your chair.” He patted the one nearest him. “You can move over here.”
Garrett rose, smiling a little, and took the other chair, which put his back to the door. “A wise move.”
“Always pays to be cautious when you can.” He set his Remington on the table near his right hand. “Now, sir, why’d you send a couple of damn fools to bring me here at gunpoint?” Before Garrett could answer, Guthrie added, “You really ought to find some new men to work for you. Hard to believe that Art and C.M. were too damn stupid to leave my pistol on me.”
“I will certainly discuss their stupidity with them.”
“So, why am I here?”
“I wanted to welcome you to town.”
“All right, I just wanted to ask why you’re in Apache Springs.”
Guthrie’s eyes narrowed a bit “It ain’t really your business, but I’m here to visit a friend.”
“Like I said, it’s none of your business.”
Garrett’s tone hardened. “Anything that goes on here in Apache Springs is my business.”
“Think a heap of yourself, don’t you?”
“I do. And I have plenty of reason to. I’ve never seen you before, and you come riding into my town, gun on your hip, causing trouble. Makes me quite curious as to your reasons.”
“Then you’re gonna have to keep wondering, Mr. Garrett. I’m here to meet a friend. I lived here for a spell. It’s where I met my wife. I ain’t caused any trouble in the couple hours I’ve been here, and don’t plan to unless I’m forced into it. If I was here to cause trouble, I’d not have brought my wife and baby son.”
Garrett said nothing but appeared to be thinking it over.
Guthrie gave him a few moments, then said, “I don’t know what you got going on here, Mr. Garrett, but I’ve never seen you before either. Never even heard of you. So I have no reason to come here and start bringing you trouble.”
“You could’ve been hired by someone.”
“Who? And why?”
“Can’t say who, but a wealthy man finds himself with enemies.”
“I was never a fellow to aspire to wealth.”
“There’s something wrong with a man who doesn’t appreciate money.”
“Didn’t say I didn’t appreciate it. I got nothing against money. Even like to have some. I just don’t aspire to be a rich man. Like you say, a rich man has enemies.”
“You seem to be a fellow who can handle enemies pretty well.”
“I’ve done so and I’m still standing. Doesn’t pay to go out of my way to make new ones.”
“So you don’t have any enemies?”
“I suppose I do. I try to be careful, though. Reputation helps, I reckon.”
“I’d think that’d be a hindrance. Don’t all those young fellows looking to make a name for themselves gunning for you?”
“Some do. I deal with it however seems appropriate at the time. Sometimes they decide that taking me down isn’t as important as they had been thinking. Others? Well, so far they’ve ended up with other enemies —— in various bone yards.”
“Pretty damn cocky, aren’t you?”
“I wouldn’t say that, no. Just sure of myself and what I can do. I reckon some gun hand’ll put me under some day. Till then, I don’t worry about it.”
“So you’re fearless?” Garrett seemed almost incredulous.
“Not by a long shot.” He grinned just a bit at his slight joke. “Any man who’s not scared at times is loco. It’s what you do about it that makes a difference. It’s nothing you think about. You just tamp it down or ignore it, or you don’t. I ain’t sure if it’s being confident or if I’m just not unconcerned about dying.”