He was used to the smell of dust, but in this town it wasn't the clean smell it was out in the pastures. A passing rider on a single-foot bay had stirred up the grit. He wondered again why he'd ever taken this marshal job, but then his mind always came back to how broke he was when he'd shot Curly Snowdon as he mounted his horse after robbing the Bowie Bank. There was no marshal in the town at that time, and the citizens whose money he'd saved immediately hired him for the job.
It wasn't a bad job, overall. In the winter he particularly liked the idea of waking up on a cold morning knowing he wouldn't have to mount a ringy bronc and chase through mesquite thorns after cow brutes, but then came spring, and the temptation to chuck the badge and ride out where the long winds blew was so strong he nearly always fought with himself. And it was spring again.
Jules Harding stepped off the boardwalk and into the street, reflecting that there was no jingle of spurs as there had been for so long. A town man had no need to wear heel cutters, and now that his pants were over his boot tops rather than inside them, the spurs would have been an extra nuisance anyway.
Almost to the Alhambra Saloon--there must be one of those in every town in the west--Harding stepped back up onto the boardwalk and paused in the shade to look up and down the street. All was quiet as far as he could see, as late afternoon drew evening toward it. Darkness made the ground dangerous, but then danger was what he was paid for. He walked on and looked over the batwing doors and into the saloon. Sooner or later he knew he would probably have to close this place down and run Jake O'Hanlon out of town, but not tonight.
Everything in the saloon seemed quiet, so the marshal moved on to the Lady Gay. This was Bowie's only gambling house. Sure, the other places had card games going on from time to time, but Bert Mayfield had brought in blackjack and faro tables and chuck-a-luck cages. Women of low reputation ran these games, though they were a step above the dancehall girls at Maude's or the soiled doves at Madame Lange's.
Jules went in and wandered around watching the play, and also watching the pretty girl at the faro table. There was something about her that made him wonder why she was working in the place, for she seemed different from the other women, and she never spoke to the men who played at her table, except to call out cards. She looked up as though feeling his eyes on her and lifted the corners of her mouth in a small smile. He wondered if the nickname came from her creamy complexion. Peaches.
As near as he could tell the games were on the up and up, but not being a gambler he couldn't know for sure. Mayfield, solid stomach pushing out his flowered vest, pushed through the crowd around Peaches Malone's faro table and said in an oily voice, "Care for a drink, Marshal?" Mayfield knew Harding never touched the stuff, but it was his normal greeting. The marshal ignored him as if he had never spoken, and the red of anger colored the gambler's neck and cheeks.
Usually he was careful around Harding, knowing that his business depended on the lawman's good report, but tonight was different. "I spoke to you, lawman, and it's only polite for you to acknowledge my question." He gritted out.
Harding slowly looked the man up and down, from his highly polished shoes to the well-cut black frock coat. Mayfield was bald on top, but he tried to cover it by growing his dark brown hair long on the right side and combing it up over the crown of his head. It didn't do much to cover his baldness, but it sure showed his vanity. Further, he affected a van dyke beard and moustache. This man was a dandy, and proud of himself; he expected everyone to ask how far when he said "jump!" "I'm real picky about who I talk to, Mayfield, and I don't choose to talk to you right now," Harding replied, looking back at the faro game.
He heard the rustle of clothing behind him and he did the unexpected thing, it was what had kept him alive for a year as marshal, he just bent over and shoved the weight that landed on his back right on over and into chuck-a-luck table, scattering cage, dice, chips and players all over the place. When he straightened he turned and looked first at the large man trying to get out of the mess, and then at the gambler. "Now, I'm talking to you, slicker! I always knew you were too big a coward to fight your own battles, but you put your hired muscle on me again and you'll share a cell with him, do I make myself clear?" The last five words were said right in Mayfield's face as Harding had gathered up his expensive cravat and bunched it right under his chin. Looking hard into the gambler's eyes he saw fear.
Before Mayfield could answer Harding shoved him back through the crowd until his back was pressed against the bar. He shook him once, and then threw him aside like a bag of trash. It was too much for Mayfield. Nobody treated him this way! He whipped his right arm up and a double barreled .44 Derringer filled his hand. Quicker than the eye could follow Harding had his own gun out and crashed the barrel down on the gambler's wrist, obviously breaking it for the crack of bones could be heard throughout the room. The small pearl-handled gun flew from Mayfield's hand and skittered under a table. He screamed and grabbed his arm.
The marshal turned to look at the rest of the room, but every person there was frozen in place by the sudden action. Without further words Harding picked up the derringer, took the gambler by his uninjured arm, and led him out the door.