September 13, 1871
Sheriff Larson Atwood pulled his big boot down off of his desk. With a thud, it landed on the floor, eclipsing the squeal of his wooden chair as his weight shifted. He might've nodded off, but couldn't tell. He’d been daydreaming about a platter of slow-roasted Tennessee barbecue and then suddenly had a vision of Milly Masterson, the sultry barmaid at the Crescent Saloon four doors down from his office. That was usually how nodding off worked for him, so he assumed he had.
He stood with a long and loud stretch and peered through the bars at his latest catch - a skinny well-dressed fellow with teeth as white as a December snow. The man, who’d introduced himself as “Charles” the night before while being hauled toward jail, his shiny new boots dragging across the dusty road, was new in town. There always seemed to be a fairly steady flow of new people in Stiletto, New Mexico, which Atwood thought made the job of being Sheriff an even tougher one than it might've been in other towns.
The guy hadn't offered much of a fight in resistance. Just seemed to accept his fate. He wasn't even particularly astonished when Atwood grabbed him underneath the arms and started to lead him out of the casino - pretty much went limp and allowed himself to be dragged into custody. Which was disappointing in large part, mainly because Atwood enjoyed the sport of it. New fellow comes to Stiletto from an unknown origin and the Sheriff hunts him down and holds him for a night. Out here there wasn't much cause you needed to prove, either. In order to keep peace in some of the smaller towns, sheriffs were given what the government called carte blanche to do what they felt they needed to do. It was French. It meant an awful lot of leeway.
A sheriff couldn't be too careful, neither. In fact, the sheriff before Atwood, Sheriff Daniel Hixson, was shot and killed when the outlaw Samuel McNanee road into town for the very first time. McNanee would later be known as the “notorious” outlaw, but at the point when he crossed paths with Hixson, he was just a young, trigger-happy gunslinger. While he then became infamous for wreaking havoc in towns across western Texas and other parts of New Mexico, Stiletto hadn't seen McNanee since he’d shot up the saloon and gunned down poor Dan Hixson in the street while escaping. So, Atwood had taken to a practice of keeping an extremely close eye on newcomers.
He looked at this “Charles,” still sleeping on the wooden bunk that Atwood was thankful he’d never rested his head on. Partially from the sheer discomfort, and partially from the saliva, snot and blood that he knew was caked onto its surface. There was no maid in the Sheriff’s office, and he wasn't going to take the time to clean it. So it simply piled up over the years. He could only imagine.
Quietly, Atwood unholstered his Colt revolver and held it backwards in his right hand. He didn't want it to go off accidentally – the guy hadn't actually committed a crime beyond wandering into his town. He just wanted to startle him to add to the effect. Watch him jump. Have him squirm a little. And then let him go on about his business. He rattled the handle of the gun against the metal bars.
Charles did jump. About three feet in the air.
Atwood was a little surprised that he'd still been asleep – it was nearly eight o’clock in the morning and the Western sun was already peering through the square window at the front of the office. He watched as his prisoner tiredly sat up on the bunk and rubbed his eyes and forehead, yawning with a stretch.
Finally, he looked up at him. “Coffee?”
Atwood laughed. “Now that’s a strange request for someone like you. What makes you think I have coffee for you?”
“I don’t know, but I could really use some,” Charles said. Atwood tried to place his accent. He wasn't from out here in the West, for certain.
“Well, I didn't have any coffee today, so neither do you,” he said.
The man nodded and smiled. “So how soon do I get out of here?”
“When do you get-” He stopped. This was abnormal. Usually he could make them shake in their boots a bit. This Charles guy was cocky. Too certain of himself. Especially for someone who looked like he’d just bought his frontier clothes yesterday. “You've got some questions to answer first.”
“First of all, where are you from?”
Charles laughed. “Are you serious?” The sheriff nodded. “I’m from New York.”
They were all from New York, Atwood thought. “And what brings you to Stiletto?”
“I heard it was the place to be,” the man said, then his demeanor changed - his posture relaxed and casual. “Look, Sheriff, I’d really like to see the town before I leave and I don’t really have all that much time.”
Atwood’s enthusiasm sank. This wasn't what he’d expected – in fact, it was the first time a prisoner of his had showed any kind of... complacency... to being locked away in his jail. Disappointed, he pulled his master key from his pocket and opened the cell door. Charles stood, picked up his hat, dusted himself off, and walked out. He did turn and strangely thank Atwood for "his hospitality" before letting the heavy door slam shut behind him.
Confused and dismayed, Atwood returned to his desk and sat. Only, instead of assuming his customary position reclined with his foot on the desk, he sat forward with his head buried in his hands. Something had happened, and he was beside himself to figure out what and why.
It was about six months before that he’d started to notice strange things happening. As Sheriff of a small town in a country whose population was very much moving in his direction, he’d always felt he had a keen awareness of interlopers among the town’s citizens. He had help finding them, too. Locals didn't very much like ‘em. Which Atwood always thought was short-sighted because they generally brought cash and were willing to spend it. But, in their minds, there was always the chance that any travelers were going to like what they saw in Stiletto and decide to set up shop. Competition could be healthy, but not always in a town of several hundred people. A well-financed business person from the East Coast could squeeze a local businessman right out of existence. So, at the request of the townsfolk, the Sheriff had made a priority of identifying newcomers and doing what was within his power to make them feel less than comfortable.
That was before he started treating them to a night in prison, however. Around that time, a young man showed up in town with a decidedly conspicuous arrival. He came with no horse, no means of transportation, no family, no gun – just a fancy cowboy get-up that noticeably failed to carry the dusty experience of a trek through New Mexico. As he drew immediate suspicion from the townspeople, Atwood paid close attention to him. For twenty-four hours, the man meandered through the town without purpose and then suddenly was gone on his way. No one saw him leave. Suddenly, he just wasn't around anymore.
Now, to Sheriff Atwood, that wasn't the craziest thing – a host of people had come through on their way to Arizona and California. While Stiletto wasn't the most direct route, some of the more ambitious parties would stray to the south in hopes of stumbling upon a silver mine. A few had, which was enough to make others try. But to come to town under the circumstances this man had was disconcerting to anyone who was paying attention.
Once the man was gone, though, Atwood didn't dwell on him anymore. That was until a week later, when a couple arrived in very similar fashion. Young man and woman, both impeccably dressed to the point they stood out. While the people of Stiletto were not haggard by any stretch of the imagination, it was not a cosmopolitan town. So even though this couple’s appearance seemed to mimic the townsfolk’s, they were far too bright and well-kept.
The couple’s visit to Stiletto was shorter – only six hours. Unless, of course, Atwood had simply lost them among the buildings. Which was unlikely for a sheriff that prided himself on vigilance. Two days later, there was another visitor. This time it was an older gentleman with graying hair and a clearly failing respiratory system. It was this man that most raised Atwood’s interest, as his physical constitution was not the sort that could have endured a long and strenuous journey across the frontier. The man disappeared as quickly as he had arrived.
Atwood began an investigation, asking around town the people’s experiences with these mysterious visitors. Most said the folks were pleasant enough. They'd asked a lot of questions, but never imposed. Many commented on the pristine quality of their teeth and their determination that people in New York must spend a great deal of time caring for their mouths. But none of the four visitors had divulged any information about themselves beyond their city of origin.
At that point, Atwood took on a role that he classified as part hunter, part detective. As he’d suspected, he didn't have to wait long to go to work. About a week after the old man had left, a much younger man appeared in the town. Same story all those before him – well dressed, and interestingly in what Atwood swore might've been the identical outfit as the first man. This guy was comfortably outgoing, and Atwood observed him standing in front of the mercantile talking with a group of locals. Once the conversation died, he’d approached the man and asked if he could ask him some questions. The man had appeared suddenly nervous and tried to walk past the sheriff and into the street, at which point Atwood had apprehended him, taking him to the town jail. On opposite sides of the metal bars, Atwood had grilled the man for his back story, but he offered nothing. Late into the night, he opened the cell and let the man go. Like the others, come morning he was nowhere to be seen.
The entire next day, Atwood had sat at his desk much the way he was sitting right then, his head in his hands trying to figure out what the hell was going on. After several hours of deep pondering, he came up with a theory. There was some strange magic or mysticism to blame. The teeth, the fresh new clothes, the lack of any transportation. These people had somehow dropped into their sleepy little town to look around for a bit and then head back to wherever they’d come from. There was something about Stiletto that made it an attractive destination for them, so he counted on more visitors coming.
Of course, this theory wasn't something he’d share broadly. People who believed in aliens, ghosts, charlatans or the Greek gods on Mt. Olympus were quickly put out to pasture. But everyone who’d come west, Atwood included, had heard and told enough stories of strange happenings that he couldn't discount anything.
So, he took the responsibility on himself, making his own determination that, if any of these strange visitors came, he’d jail them as soon as he could identify them. A week later, one did. Atwood put him in jail. Another week later, a man and woman. Jailed them both. He didn't hold them for particularly long – just long enough to let it be known that Stiletto was his town, and if they were going to spend any time there, they’d be abiding by his rules - the first of which was not being anonymously mysterious. For the past few months, he’d remained on-guard, and he’d taken particular pride in imprisoning about two dozen of these mysterious visitors.
Now, the sheriff rose from his desk and pushed open the front door to his office, walking outside onto the front porch of his building. The street was slowly filling with townsfolks – it wouldn't usually start bustling until about 10 o’clock. He scanned the street for this man, Charles, but he was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’d already left, headed back to wherever he’d come from. Which was fine with him. Atwood didn't like his cavalier attitude.
But Charles’ behavior was affecting him more substantially than he’d anticipated. For the next two days he found he could not do much more than wander around town in a stupor. In his own mind, he tried to play it off as though he was a hunter searching for his next target. But in reality, he was disappointed, and was simply looking for one chance to validate himself.
Forty-eight hours after “Charles” left never to be seen again, Atwood meandered into the Crescent to chat up the bartender and one of only a few in town that he would actually refer to as a friend, Arty Grisham. It was before noon, so Grisham wouldn't be busy with patrons, save for a couple of the old-timers who liked to meet there to play cards. Grisham would be prepping for the drinking day, which would generally start around 2 p.m., when the first of the farmers from the town’s outskirts would trickle in after putting in what they felt was a reasonable day's work. By 6 p.m., the place would be busy, but Atwood knew he could tap into his friend’s thoughts with little interruption in the morning hours.
He sat down at the bar and watched Grisham inspect a glass for spots, giving it an extra twist with a rag wrapped around his middle three fingers. “Sheriff, what brings you in here today?” Grisham asked without looking at him.
Atwood removed his hat and set it on the bar. He ran his hand through what was left of his hair and rubbed his palm into his forehead. The brief pressure felt good. “Arty, have you seen some of these new people coming through town?” he asked.
“What do you make of them?”
He set the glass down behind the bar and picked up another. “Haven’t thought much about it,” he said. “They seem to be gone as soon as they arrive, but they spend their money in here. I like that.”
“Sure do. There’s one right over there,” he said, pointing with his head to his left, Atwood’s right.
The Sheriff looked over and saw a young man fitting the description of every one of these visitors he’d been tracking. He didn't have a speck of frontier dust on him. Just sat there nervously hunched over the bar with a half-full glass in front of him. “What’s he drinking?” Atwood asked.
Atwood grunted then picked up his hat, returning it to his head. He stood and started walking toward the man, observing him as he approached. The newcomer sat with his boots propped up on the footrest underneath the bar, his knees up toward his chest. It was dangerous posture on the frontier – huddling into yourself showed weakness. Most of the folks in town, from the actual cowboys to the farmers to town banker, would dangle their legs off the bar stool in order to take up as much room as possible. Anyone that positioned themselves differently branded themselves as an outsider.
He stepped up next to the man, who he could now see from close up couldn't have been more than twenty years old. “Howdy, son,” he said. “How’s things?”
The kid couldn't contain his enthusiasm. “Is this where I get arrested?” he asked, turning to Atwood.
Atwood stepped back. “What would make you say that?”
“Well, I’m supposed to get arrested, aren't I?” he said. Same as the others – pearly white teeth shining at him.
“Why don’t you come along with me?” Atwood said, grabbing the kid by the arm. He stood obediently and followed him out the front door of the saloon. They walked slowly across the street to Atwood’s office, where the sheriff led him inside the building. A moment later, he was locking him in the cell, then sat across from him. “Why did you think that I should arrest you?” he said. “Something you want to confess?”
The kid shook his head. “No. I just thought it was part of the experience.”
“What experience is that?”
He smiled broadly. “Oh. I get it.” Nodding, he changed his demeanor. “Well, Sheriff, how long will you be keeping me here? Hopefully I’ll be out by morning. Big day tomorrow.”
“Is it? What’s going on tomorrow?”
The kid paused for a moment. “Just a big day for me.”
“Well, we’ll see how long you need to be here.” Atwood wanted to ask how he'd gotten there, but couldn't bring himself to do it. It was not in his best interest to talk about it - if the kid was capable of some kind of magic, who knew how he’d react if he was threatened? So far they’d all been docile, but there was always a possibility... Best he could do was quietly hole him up there in the jail for a while to minimize his impact on the townsfolk and then send him on his way.
But the kid sat on the bunk grinning for the next hour until Atwood couldn't take it anymore. He stormed out of the office leaving him alone confined by his bars. The Sheriff spent most of the afternoon walking through town, greeting the folks he knew personally and tipping his hat to the others. Later in the afternoon, he grabbed a bowl of hearty red beans and rice from Mrs. Stapleton at the mercantile and wolfed it down. Then upon leaving he decided his prisoner should eat, too, so he had her fix a bowl for him, as well. With the man's dinner in hand, he sauntered back to his office. Not quickly. He took his time.
When he pushed through the front door, he immediately noticed that the kid’s smile was gone. After several hours sitting in the jail, the novelty of Stiletto had worn off. He extended the bowl through the bars, but the kid didn't take it.
Instead, he said, “Sheriff, when do you think I can be out of here?”
Atwood laughed. “Why? You've got somewhere to be?”
“Not ‘til morning. I just hoped to not spend this much time in your jail here. Especially since I haven’t done anything.”
“Well, you asked to be arrested,” he said. “I was only obliging you.” He motioned with his head to the bowl. “Eat the beans and then I’ll let you out. I don’t want it to be said I was cruel and unusual.”
Relenting, the kid took the bowl and ate the beans and rice quickly. He was hungry. He licked the bowl dry and then handed it back through the bars. Atwood set it on the desk.
“You say you've got a big day tomorrow,” the Sheriff said. “What’ll you be doing tonight?”
“I’ll be looking for a steak, some drinks and then somewhere to stay.”
Atwood rose and pulled the keys from off his belt. He unlocked the cell and held the door open for him. “You can get a steak and some drinks at the Crescent,” he said. “There’s a boarding house about four doors down. I’ll arrange for a room for you while you have dinner.”
“Well, that’s mighty kind of you, Sheriff.”
He laughed again. “It ain't about kindness. I just want to be able to keep an eye on you. You folks scare me.”
“I understand,” the kid said, nodding, then he returned his own hat to his head and left the office.
Atwood thought it was an interesting answer - “I understand.” He’d purposefully lumped him into a class of person by referencing “you folks,” half expecting the kid to back off or be offended. He hadn't. He knew exactly what Atwood was getting at. It was confirmation that he was truly on to something.
Over the next hour, Atwood made his way down the street to the boarding house and set up a room with the manager, Lily Picard, who flirted with him until he left. She was a nice lady and he always said he could see himself getting involved with her, but there would be too much drama in the town if it were to happen. He never minded a little playfulness with her from time-to-time, though.
After taking one more stroll through the town, Atwood decided to call it quits for the night and retired to his humble home on the rear side of the Sheriff’s office. He set a fire and cooked himself a pot of soup, but then decided not to eat it since it had beans in it. He’d had enough beans and didn't want to be up all night. In fact, he ended up turning in earlier than usual in order to get a jump on the kid’s “big day” he had planned.
The next morning, Atwood rose at the crack of dawn, re-lit his fire and boiled himself water for coffee. He looked out his window, which faced away from the town and stared at the range in front of him. The sun was quietly creeping above the horizon and he thought that despite his tired routine, he liked his life. He knew that out there was great adventure if he’d ever decided to seek it out, but realized in his heart that he never would. As long as the people of Stiletto wanted him to be sheriff, he’d be here for them.
He heard a sharp noise behind him and turned. Then another. Then another. They sounded like gunshots. He sped across his own house through the door that adjoined it with the Sheriff’s office, sidling up against the wall next to the small window and peering out into the street. He could now hear yelling to go along with the gunfire, though from his vantage point he couldn't see exactly what was happening. A moment later, though, a small group of men clothed in black dungarees and black trench coats entered his field of vision.
It was Samuel McNanee and his boys.
Atwood pulled his holster off of the pin hanging on the wall and slung it around his waist. Then he took a deep breath and pushed open the front door, which immediately drew everyone’s attention, McNanee and the three men with him turning almost immediately to face him. Satisfied with at least temporarily halting the ruckus, he walked slowly down the stairs and into the street with them.
He was at a tremendous disadvantage as all four of the men already had their guns drawn. Atwood was quick – you didn't get to be sheriff without being so – but no one was that quick, so he was praying that he could find a diplomatic solution to McNanee’s arrival in his town.
“What’re you doing here, McNanee?” Atwood called out, his voice echoing through the early morning streets of the town. “You’re waking up all of my friends.”
“What’s it to you, pig?” the now notorious outlaw said. Atwood had never actually met the man, but he looked enough like his wanted posters.
“Look, Samuel,” he said, “this is a peaceful town. These people aren't enemies of yours. What is it you want?” He scanned the street. Anyone who was up at this hour was now in hiding. He thought he could see sets of eyes peering out from behind shaded windows. While he was pleased to be able to protect these people, he had to admit he wouldn't have minded if one of them grabbed their gun and came out to back him.
“What do we want? What does anybody want?” McNanee said. “Wine, women and song.” He laughed obnoxiously, and his men followed on cue.
“Well, it’s too early for wine and the women are still asleep. If you’d like me to sing for you, I’d be happy to hum a few bars.”
“That’s very funny, Sheriff,” McNanee said, now for the first time walking toward him.
As he did, Atwood noticed that standing directly behind him was the kid from the night before.
Panic hit him. While he wasn't pleased with the newcomers infiltrating his town, he certainly didn't want any of them to be in harm’s way. While the outlaws probably wouldn't want to take a shot at a sheriff because it’d probably mean the noose, they might not have the same qualms about pegging a non-descript kid in a fancy new outfit.
McNanee must've noticed Atwood’s attention diverted, because he turned toward the kid. “Now what’s this little sunflower?” he said, stalking toward the kid, waving his gun at him.
“Let him be, Samuel,” Atwood called out, now he, himself walking toward the band of outlaws. He realized he was out in the wide open and would be cooked if they’d decided to open fire. But for the time being, they were focused on the kid, teasing him and slapping his face.
Atwood looked at the kid’s eyes, not sure how he was going to react. He saw fear, but he also saw defiance – a far cry from the hunched over whelp that had urged his own arrest at the bar the day before. But then they started to get rough with him. The slaps became harder and ultimately close-fisted. The kid started to fight back and by the time Atwood reached them, it was turning into a pummeling.
He grabbed the closest outlaw by the back of his collar and tugged with all his strength, sending the man sprawling onto the dirt. The man, a red-headed fellow with a scraggly beard, scrambled back to his feet and went immediately to his gun. “You shouldn't have done that, old man,” he said, raising his pistol.
Atwood wasn't ready. He was off balance from pulling the man backwards and was still half paying attention to the plight of the kid, who was now behind him. The pistol was pointed at him and he heard a shot fire.
The red-headed man listed sideways and fell to the ground. Atwood looked down and checked his own chest for blood. There was none. Behind him, he heard a succession of gunfire and turned to see Arty Grisham darting into his saloon shotgun in hand, bullets ricocheting off the swinging doors behind him. Then he completed his turn to see McNanee and his two remaining cohorts fleeing in the opposite direction, shooting wildly behind them as they ran. Atwood raised his own gun and fired a shot at them, clipping one of the men in the calf and sending him sprawling to the ground, but he regrouped quickly. The three men hopped onto three of four previously unseen horses and sprinted off into the sunrise.
The peace of the town restored, Atwood let out a sigh and turned back to the saloon, where Grisham had re-emerged, still clutching the shotgun. He waved to him. “I’m in your debt, Arty,” he said, to which the bartender simply nodded. Atwood looked down at the dead man on the ground and kicked him. Yep, dead.
He heard a groan and turned to see the kid on the ground writhing in pain. Quickly, he bent to tend to him, only then noticing a patchwork of deep crimson on his fresh cowboy clothes. Without speaking, he pushed on the kid’s knee to straighten his leg in an effort to open his posture up enough to find the source of the blood. He got a good look at it - it was a clean shot to his abdomen.
“Somebody get Dr. Hanley,” someone, a woman who’d come out of hiding, yelled behind him. But Atwood knew there wasn’t enough time.
He scooped the kid up and carried him quickly across the street back to his office. He negotiated his body through the office and into his own house, where he laid him on the dusty sofa.
“What are you going to do with me?” the kid said with great labor, finally speaking. “I’m gonna die.”
“No you’re not,” Atwood said. “But you’re going to have to be straight with me. Where are you from?”
“I’m from New York.” The kid groaned.
“No, dammit," he said, pounding his fist on the edge of the sofa. "Where are you really from?”
The kid let out a string of vulgarities. “It hurts,” he said through pain. “I’m from Boston.”
Atwood felt vindicated in his assessment that something out of the ordinary was afoot, but he hadn’t expected that answer. Unfortunately, that answer wasn't enough to help here.
“How did you get here?”
He groaned again then said, “I came from the year 2020.”
“Yes, I’m from the future,” he said in anguish. “Help me.”
“Alright, listen to me carefully,” he said. “You’re going to die if we don’t get you back home. How do you get back?”
He groaned again. “My right pocket.”
Atwood reached into the kid’s right pocket and pulled out a circular metal device about the size of a plum. It had a red button on top of it, and crazy blue numbers on a see-through window. “What do you do? Push this button?” He pointed to the top.
The kid nodded.
“Well, you’d better push it.” He wedged the ball into the kid’s hand and stepped back.
The kid looked up at him wide-eyed and mouthed something that could've been “thank you.” He pushed the button. There was a quick flash of light, causing Atwood to blink. When he opened his eyes, the sofa was empty.
The door leading from his office flew open and Dr. Hanley burst into the room, his medical bag in-hand. “Where’s the victim?” he said.
Atwood looked at him for a moment, contemplating what he should say. Nothing had changed. The townsfolk would still have a big problem with someone with tales about people coming from the future. They weren’t ready for it. “Apparently, he wasn't as bad off as he looked,” Atwood told the town’s doctor. “He ran out the back door here, hopped on his horse and headed off to the next town.”
“Sheriff, there’s blood all over the street out there. That kid’s hurt badly.”
Atwood sighed. “Doctor, stranger things have happened,” he said.
Accepting his feeble story, or just not wanting to challenge the sheriff, Dr. Hanley left his house and went on with his day. Atwood didn't want to have to maintain the story with everyone in town, so he simply stayed indoors throughout the morning and into the afternoon. The townsfolk obliged him and left him alone. Must have figured he’d had enough excitement for one day, facing down Samuel McNanee and his posse. He did nothing but sit at his desk deep in thought. He wondered what would become of these future visitors to his small, sleepy town now that one of their own had been injured almost to the point of death. He couldn't imagine Stiletto's popularity would continue.
Late afternoon, Atwood was contemplating retreating to his home for some dinner when the front door to his office opened. He started to say something to evict the intruder of his peacefulness, but he recognized the man. The look in his eyes, the shape of his face. It was the kid, only several years older and more mature. He was still dressed in the ridiculous cowboy get-up, but instead of the uncertainty he’d carried before, he was tall with confidence.
“Didn't I just get rid of you?” Atwood said calmly.
The man laughed and sat down in the wooden chair across from him. “I’m back.”
“I see you survived.”
“I did. Because of you. You helped me and now I want to help you.”
“How can you help me?” He leaned forward in his chair.
“Sheriff, my name is Jake Simon. I work in marketing in New York City.”
“Not sure what marketing is, son.”
Simon shook his head. “That doesn't matter. How would you like to have a steady flow of people visiting your town and spending their money here?”
“Not sure the townsfolk would be comfortable with that.”
“They would with the kind of money I’m talking about. Sheriff, for some reason the town of Stiletto has been an extremely popular one with time travelers. I think you know this. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because you have all the attributes of an authentic Western town without the drama or violence of a Tombstone. There’s not too much chance of changing history here either, so it’s a safe bet. But something happened when I was here.”
“When you were here? That was seven hours ago.”
Simon laughed. “That’s right, it was. What happened was that I got to see an authentic Western gunfight. I have to tell you, Sheriff, it was the highlight of my life. The absolute highlight of my life.”
“It was almost the end of your life,” Atwood said, trying to remain as casual about all of this as possible, despite not having a single second to figure out how and why the man was there.
“That’s true, but I survived.” He lifted up his shirt to display a purple scar about the size of a bullet. “Your quick thinking saved me, thank goodness.”
“Well, I’m glad I could help.”
“So I went back to my present time and I told everyone what had happened. Guess what they want to see? Authentic Western gunfights. They’re crazy about it. So, here’s what I want to do,” he said. He was grinning and paused for a moment before continuing. “I want you to put on a Western gunfight once a day, six days a week. Take Sundays off.”
“How will we do that? We’ll run out of victims.”
“You can use blanks in your guns so no one will be hurt. It’ll be a show, here in town. Using your townspeople as actors. And your visitors can be part of the show.”
Atwood was uncomfortable and shifted in his seat. “Not sure how this helps me. Sounds like it helps you.”
“Sheriff, you’re out here in the middle of the frontier. How much does it cost for a room here in town?”
“Two dollars a night.”
“And a glass of whiskey?”
“Thirty-five cents at the Crescent.”
“Now how much do you think you could charge people for a hotel room and a glass of whiskey if you knew people would be coming? Ten dollars a night? Three dollars a glass? You could inject some real cash into this sleepy little town. I will guarantee you the visitors who will bring their money with them. All you have to do is put on a Wild West show once a day.”
Ten dollars for a hotel room for one night? That seemed like an enormous number. Could this man who worked in “marketing” from New York City have any idea what he was talking about? "What year did you say you were from?"
"2020," the man said, smiling.
"Is that how much a hotel room is in the year 2020? About ten dollars a night?"
He laughed. "No, Sheriff. More like four hundred dollars a night."
Atwood nodded his head and pulled at the clumps of hair on his chin. "You sure you're not some kind of wizard?"
“Only a wizard of marketing," he said, which Atwood didn't understand, so he just assumed, yes, these people were all wizards. How else could they travel through time? The man, Simon, continued, "I can bring people who will design the whole show and train your people. All I need is a handshake from you that says it’s a direction you want to go.”
“How would I tell the townspeople?” Atwood asked, hearing the words leaving his mouth as affirmation that this line of thinking was appealing to him, but also understanding the risk of bringing them something new and uncertain.
“We’ll tell them together,” Simon said, again grinning widely.
Sheriff Larson Atwood pushed open the front door to the Sheriff’s office and strode purposefully down the stairs, his right hand perched on the handle of his waiting revolver. “What're you doing in my town, McNanee?” he yelled across the street.
A man that looked just like the real Samuel McNanee turned with his three cohorts that looked just like McNanee’s real cohorts and faced Atwood. “Just passing through, Sheriff. We ain't no business of yours.”
“Well, last week when you were just passing through you robbed the mercantile of eight bottles of whiskey and $50 cash," Atwood said. "So you are business of mine.”
“Don’t do it, Samuel,” one of the cohorts said.
Still ready on the trigger, Atwood looked past the opposing gunmen at the array of tables lining the front porches of the four restaurants that had opened on the strip. Dozens of men and women sat awaiting his next move, many of them still working on their five-dollar steaks. He almost smiled, but that would've ruined the authenticity that they’d traveled 150 years to get.
“Drop your gun, McNanee,” Atwood said sternly. “Or I’ll send you back to hell where you came from.”
They heard a click of a shotgun loading and turned to their left to see bartender Arty Grisham trained on them from in front of his saloon. Then another click, and they turned to their right to see Milly Masterson, “The Stiletto Sweetheart,” with her shotgun aimed from the second floor of the boarding house.
“You’re surrounded, McNanee,” Atwood said his lines. “Time to give it up.”
“Not without a war, Atwood,” the fake McNanee said, pulling his gun from his holster.
Atwood drew his own gun and prepared to make his move - diving to the right before standing and firing off three shots. For a more veteran sheriff like himself, it had been a challenge getting it right, but now he was getting pretty good at it.
McNanee fired and Atwood ducked and returned fire. One of the henchmen went down, and a cheer went up from the crowd.
Today's fight was on.