MURDER IN DOGLEG CITY
Laird Jenkins had been in so many saloons, gambling dens, and houses of ill repute across the West that he couldn't even begin to remember all of them. Sometimes it seemed to him that he had spent his entire life breathing in the distinctive yet dubious perfume blended from tobacco smoke, stale beer, whiskey, piss, unwashed human flesh, bay rum, and cheap lilac water.
One thing he knew: the dens of iniquity here in Dogleg City, the less savory area of the settlement known as Wolf Creek, weren't any different from the ones he had visited elsewhere, with one or two exceptions.
The place he was in at the moment, Asa's Saloon, was one of those exceptions. It was owned by a black man, something you didn't see every day. Many of the clientele were black as well, but not all—there were a handful of Mexicans and a few white men who looked down on their luck. Not the sort of place Laird would normally choose to drink in, but he wasn’t really there to drink. He was there to do a little business with Asa Pepper. That business wasn't concluded yet, but Laird thought he had made a good start on it.
Without saying good night to anyone – there wasn't anyone in here that he would want to strike up a social conversation with, as Asa’s customers tended to be the dregs of the town – Laird left the saloon. He paused on the boardwalk just outside to take a deep breath of the night air and clear some of the saloon fumes from his lungs. He was about to head toward the Imperial Hotel, ready to turn in for the night, when an overpowering urge struck him. He turned the other way, toward the nearby alley, and started fumbling with the buttons of his fly.
Damn, he told himself, he wasn't old enough to be plagued like this. He ought to have a few years left, at least, before he started having to hurry these things or else he'd piss his britches.
The darkness of the alley folded around him. He got himself set, ready to relieve his bladder. And then, wouldn't you know it, the blasted thing went balky on him and refused to do anything.
With that to worry him, he almost didn't hear the faint noise of someone moving behind him. Laird didn't particularly like the idea of being disturbed at his personal business like this, and he knew as well that robbers often lurked in alleys near saloons, lying in wait for unwary drunks. His hand moved slightly toward the butt of the Colt on his hip.
But maybe it was nothing. A cat or a rat. Or maybe Asa Pepper had followed him from the saloon, deciding that he wanted to hear more of what Laird had to say about how they could both make some money.
“Mister Pepper?” Laird said without looking behind him. “Is that—”
The muzzle flash split the darkness. A blink of orange flame, there and then gone, and as it lit up the alley something smashed into Laird's back, a hammer-blow almost perfectly centered between his shoulder blades. It drove him forward off his feet. His face smashed into the hard-packed dirt of the alley floor. A fierce pain expanded through him, followed by an even more terrifying numbness. In that brief moment while Laird's muscles still worked, he managed to roll onto his back. Dying in an alley behind a saloon was bad enough. Dying with his face in the dirt and shit and trash of that alley was worse.Laird tried and failed to draw air into his lungs. Everything was slipping away from him, and he wished he could breathe in that heady saloon fragrance once again, just one more time, just . . .