Martian Territorial Log: 27 Tumar, 0010 MD

Roids holstered his still smoking gun. The sobbing girl clung to him, blood seeping slowly from the wound in her shoulder. Within the hour, everything in the Loose Lady would return to its wide open celebration of life. But now the crowded bar had fallen silent, and even the pleasure ladies had stopped their trade momentarily to acknowledge this grim observance of death.

Five Shot Murphy was seated on the floor against the bar where the slugs had slammed him. His face tightened into a painful grimace, showing teeth stained dark red from the arterial blood flowing into his lungs. The old outlaw looked up at Roids, staring at him with coal black eyes. There was nothing Roids could do for the man, so he glanced to his right toward Deputy Osterman.

There was even less he could do for the young man who was almost Marshal. Osterman had taken three slugs to the chest and lay sprawled over the collapsed table, his blood mixing freely with the liquor spilled on the floor, his sightless eyes staring up toward the glittering ceiling of lasers and lights. Roids stared down at the Deputy and shook his head sadly.

"A lady's honor costs a lot in these parts. But a good lady? She's worth it."

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Enla.

New LA.

New Los Angeles.

Nitpicking Lousy Assignments.

It was all the same place to Roids. The largest and most important city on Mars, New Los Angeles - dubbed Enla by the residents - was a booming metropolis of over half a million people. Located on the north rim of the Ascraeus Mons, and within sight of the spectacular Mount Olympus, Enla was capitol of the entire Martian colonies and the hub of all political, academic and business activity. It boasted four universities, its own broadway, twelve museums, two zoos and the most renown orchestra in the solar system. Not as loudly boasted was that Enla also had eight hundred and fifty seven bars and a murders-per-capita rate twice that of the worst city on Earth. These grimmer facets were overlooked for one very compelling reason: Enla made money for a lot of people. Enla was a growing city, full of itself and very conscious of the impact it was having on all mankind, Terrans and Martians alike.

To a Martian Territorial Ranger of Roids' stamp, though, Enla was a huge pain in the butt. He'd much rather be out on the desert floor, making his patrols in and out of the rowdy mining camps, underground ranches and lively supply towns of the Martian frontier. The Martian Iron Rush was in full swing, and Roids much preferred keeping the peace where it counted instead of playing baby-sitter to petty thugs and pickpockets in the big city.

But Enla was the closest Ranger Station to the Elam ranch, and the two-week reporting time for a deadly force case was already a week past. Roids tried putting it off but knew he had to head in sooner or later. Most times, he'd just bury the man in the town nearest to where he fell. It was an unwritten code that everyone - even outlaws - got a proper burial and red rock tombstone. But Laserface Williams had popped and dropped a few Terran stuffed shirts in his infamous career, so positive identification was required at a Ranger Station. Hence Roids' less than enthusiastic trip to Enla. A desiccated Laserface - in his airless suit and strapped to the back of Roids' hover bike - seemed less bothered about the whole thing than Roids, but then Laserface didn't have to fill out twenty tabinal screens of questions.

Roids eased his bike up to the big airlock that marked the beginning of Enla city limits and passed through, going from open Martian sky to hard red stone in two cycles of a sealed door. He scooted down the tunnel for five kilometers, the tunnel ceiling lights mesmerizing to the tired Marshal as they passed overhead in monotonous regularity. Finally, he reached the end and passed through the wide open emergency lock and into the heart of downtown Enla.

Rooted deeply in one of the large fissures that peppered the mons slope, Enla, Roids was forced to admit, was a glorious, glittering city. The canyon's mouth and top had been sealed in an engineering masterpiece of metal and red glass, and the entire fissure had been warmed and pressurized with a breathable atmosphere. While most buildings were able to maintain their own air supplies in case of catastrophe, air was plentiful and abundant throughout the city and suits were not needed.

Each of the canyon's main walls stretched up three hundred meters and were pockmarked with dwellings, ramps and walks, along which the city's population went about their daily lives. The business district was located on the floor of the canyon and covered nearly three quarters of the available space. The remaining twenty-five percent was given over to roads and parks. As he skimmed by on the red road leading to the Ranger Station, he noticed how jarring the green grass was compared to the red rock and soil around it. Roids had been born on Earth - as had nearly all adults on this still young planet - but though he remembered the blue skies and green grass of his home planet, it seemed somehow wrong now. He didn't believe in myths, but ticking off the God of War by planting green grass in red soil mixed with Terran dirt struck Roids as being somewhat sacrilegious and worthy of godly vengeance.

He pulled his bike up to the front of the Station - an imposing, carved slab of imported granite embedded into the side of the cliff - and got off. He grabbed the bike's long reins and tossed them over the hitching rail provided. Taken up in the similarities of the Old West, Martians had happily adopted those traits of that ancient time that still made sense. Reins on a hov bike was one small example. It provided an easy means to tie up a small, all terrain vehicle that floated over anything while also providing a place to embed the identification crystals used to make the craft respond only to the owner.

Law enforcement was much the same, too. Unable to use more modern practices due to the extreme remoteness of both law and citizenry, with the onset of the Martian Iron Rush four year prior - eight by Earth reckoning - Mars had turned to the concept of all powerful Red Marshals, of which Roids was one of the first. It put a very great deal of authority in one man or woman, but the very reason why it was done ensured it would not be abused. While the frontier citizens needed a presence of law, they could also look after themselves. Any Marshal who abused their power would quickly end up in a lonely, unmarked grave in the town cemetery.

Roids ran up the dozen steps to the entrance - again, a wide open airlock - and went into Ranger Station One, home of the Martian Territorial Rangers. He released the izers on his helmet and pulled it off. He sucked in a lungful of fresh air and held it for a moment before letting it all out with a contented sigh.

"I reckon bein' here ain't all bad," he said to no one in particular.

A couple of deputies just inside the door, and with nothing better to do, had watched him and were grinning widely. They recognized the blond curls, baby face and pale blue eyes of the popular Marshal, so they had an idea of how long it had been since Roids had breathed without a suit. Roids turned at their chuckles, gave them a smile, jerking a thumb behind him.

"Step to, fellas. I gotta bad guy on my bike that needs some attention. He's all freeze dried, but not likely to take to this air as well as me."

"You bag another one, Cavanaugh?" The first one grinned and stood up, stretching. Both were - on tabinal - the guards to the entrance. The reality was very different. Anyone stupid enough to attack a building filled with armed people authorized to shoot on site was already dead. That turned their duty into the most boring job available and any chance to break the rut was seized.

"Uh-huh. Laserface Williams jumped me over at the widow Elam's place. Caught me fair and square, too."

"Looks like he didn't know what to do with you after he had you, though," the second cracked.

"Well, he had his mind made up," Roids replied. "His spirit was willin', but his flesh was weak. Most likely 'cause of the four holes I put in him."

They laughed and went outside to take care of Williams. Roids stripped off his suit and tossed it into a bin provided for cleaning and recharging, then set the marker to six hours, meaning he'd need the suit again by that time. He leaned over the bin and detached his badge from the suit. Made of red iron, it was plain and simple. But it represented the difference between right and wrong. Roids didn't know how or when he'd go down, but it would be with the badge, never against it. He attached it to his shirt, then buckled on his gunbelt; cautious even here, in the heart of Martian civilization. Civilization made possible by his badge.

"Only six hours, Roids?" a voice behind him said.

Roids turned and looked into the eyes of Captain Roy Farer, the number one Marshal on the planet. Farer was tall, almost matching Roids' one point nine meters. He was much heavier than Roids' lanky eighty-five kilos, though it was all muscle. Except in his head, which was all smarts. Farer, Roids knew, was Captain by merit; he had been the first Ranger and had instilled the honor and duty that was forever a part of all Red Marshals, Roids included. An honor and duty Farer also held; his missing right leg was a result of action after he'd taken the quieter desk post.

"Yup," Roids replied to his Captain's question, gripping the man's forearm with a firm and honest Martian greeting. "Gonna fill up the suit, fill out the forms and grab a bite at the Loose Lady. A couple hours for a snooze then me my bike are outta here."

"I'd like it if you could stick around a few days," Farer said, motioning Roids to his office behind the open reception area. "I've got some rookie deputies in and I'd like you to show 'em the attitude."

"Why me, boss?" Roids asked. "You got good people right here without pullin' me off my rounds." He pointed around. "There's Chang and Greene and Radcliffe." He chuckled and raised his voice slightly. "You get desperate, you can even have Gomez help out. She's a lazy no-account, but she's gotta badge."

"Oh, yeah, Roids?" Gomez yelled at him from across the room. "Least I bring my outlaws back alive." She paused. "Every now and then," she added with a laugh.

"That right, Dixie?" Roids shot back. "How about Trigger Blackwell?"

"Hey! No fair!" she said. "How was I to know he was dead before I shot him? It was dark. You popped Uranus Bob's corpse in broad daylight! During his funeral!"

Several pairs of eyes - all belonging to recruits - swung around at that comment, but Farer tugged Roids into his office and tapped the door button. An opaque energy plane filled the frame, cutting off sight and sound.

"Sorry, Roids, but the last thing I need is my rookies hearing you and Dixie trading war stories."

"That's part of the attitude, Cap'n," Roids said with a shrug. "A Marshal doin' his job does a fair bit of killin' over the years. Sure, we bring most in alive. But there's enough dead ones to weigh on a person's mind. Our jawin' about it helps."

"I know!" Farer snapped in irritation, then grinned in apology. "Sorry. But who better than me knows that, Roids? Except maybe you. I've bagged eighty-nine in my seven years as a Marshal on patrol. Hell, I had forty of 'em in the ground before I even swore in my first deputy.

"But this breed of recruit's a little different," he continued. "There's twenty-six Marshals right now, and I'd die for any of you. More important, I know any of you would die for me." Roids nodded. "And that's the point: You wear the badge and your life is less important than every other law abiding citizen." He paused to stare out the window, shifting his weight off his artificial limb and onto his real leg. The window had an incredible view of the imposing Mount Olympus. They were deep inside the canyon rock so the window was actually a hologram, but the image was flawless and no less real.

"What's different with this new group is that Enla's giving them a warped sense of power. Only Marshals and Deputies can wear guns in the city. Only Marshals have access to any location. Only Marshals are constantly looked up to and respected by the citizenry and feared by the criminals. I'm afraid all this unearned respect and privilege is puffing them up."

"So get 'em out of the city," Roids said simply.

Farer turned and smiled. "That's exactly my plan. You ever been to Vermilion?"

"Over in Reull Vallis, on the Hellas Impact Basin? Near the mother lode site? That's a tough town, boss. Haven't been down there yet, but I hear the baby boys in Vermilion start shavin' after two weeks. The girls, a week after that."

Farer smiled at the joke. "You're not far off. It is a tough town. It has its share of outlaws, but the citizens are what make the place so tough and lively. It's just the place to set up shop. The law abiding citizens are just as hard as the criminals. You show up as a rookie down there, you'll learn your place in the scheme of things real quick. Once that happens, the proper attitude of what to do with the power you're given comes natural."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Roids said. He sighed. "All right, Cap'n. I'll stick around a bit and show the rookies the attitude. Who knows?" he finished with a grin. "Maybe you'll end up with a couple dozen of me!"

"God forbid!" Farer exclaimed in mock protest. "Go finish off your reports and catch some shut eye. I'll hook you up with someone tomorrow. Probably Osterman. Now get outta here."

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"I'm sorry, Marshal," the flat voice from the tabinal insisted, "but you must answer questions 14, 26, 27 and 87 properly before this report is satisfactorily complete."

Roids tossed the annoying tabinal onto the desk he'd borrowed and glared at his nemesis. He briefly contemplated deadly force. A tabinal didn't have any rights, did it? Two quick shots with the slug gun and the horror would be ended. He decided against it, but it was a close thing. He recalled a trick Chang had taught him and picked up the tabinal one more time.

"The answer to question 14 is 26. 26 is 27, 27 is 87 and 87 is none of your business." Chang had found out from a programmer he'd juiced up liberally at a local bar that this was a work around they'd used when first designing the reports. As long as the majority were filed properly, Farer tolerated the cheat. This seemed the right time.

"Thank you, Marshal," the tabinal purred while its display grew foggy and it filed the report. "Your report is now complete. Live long and prosper." It toned off.

"Huh?" Roids asked, then remembered the weird sign off was indication the cheat had been used. Programmers, he thought with a sad shake of his head. No real life to speak of.

He dropped his feet from the desk and stretched. A little sack time sounded very appealing. Three floors up, the Station kept a nicely appointed set of rooms for Marshals in from patrol. They were deep inside the Station and inaccessible from any but Marshals, deputies and staff, so they were utterly safe, allowing the normally cagey officer some hours of complete relaxation. He'd never admit it to anyone, but Roids did look forward to coming to Enla at least to the point of getting use of one of those rooms.

But his stomach and dry throat made a louder protest than his weary body, so he decided on a meal and beer at the Loose Lady. He threw the tabinal on the desk - to Roids, that meant filed - and left, waving to the desk sergeant on his way out.

The Loose Lady was a piece of raw frontier in the big city. The proprietor, one Lance Turnbull, had been on the Mars since 2040, five years before the Martian Calendar had started in Terran year 2050, and back when Enla was little more than a scientific station. Turnbull had been a geologist, but stayed behind and set up shop once his service time was up. Determined to keep the feel of Mars life as it was before the rush, he boldly named his saloon the Loose Lady and kept the interior and mood rugged, bright, and open. A person couldn't be sure of their safety in the Loose Lady, but a fun time was guaranteed or they'd throw you out. That the Loose Lady was frequented by most Marshals whenever they drifted into town ensured the saloon's continued existence. Not only did Loose Lady welcome the law keepers with open arms, the city fathers preferred not having Rangers appear in the classier places.

Roids stepped through the open front lock and into the wide open arms of tall redhead with enough upper body terrain to hide a good sized weapon. Perhaps a mortar. She wasn't hiding a weapon of course; an inspection from ten centimeters verified that. An inspection from two kilometers would have worked, too. She planted a huge kiss on Roids cheek.

"Glad to see you again, Marshal!" She boomed. "You haven't been in here for months! Need to let off some steam?" She turned her head. "Hey, girls! Cavanaugh's back in town!"

He stepped back, blushing and wiping his cheek.

"Hold off, Marcy. Thanks for the invite, but..."

Marcy laughed, a deep belly laugh that filled the crowded room. From any other woman, in any other location, the laugh would have seemed grotesque. From Marcy, though, in the Loose Lady, it could not be closer to perfect.

"I'm just joshin' you, Marshal! We know you're always the gentleman. C'mon in! First beer's on the house! Wanna steak with that?"

Roids grinned, "Now you're servin' up what I want! I'll take both; the beer cold and steak hot and rare."

"You got it, Marshal. Now go have some fun and try not to shoot too many people tonight!" Marcy pushed him firmly into the crowd and went about her business. Roids looked around and saw more than a few people he knew. He was still picking his spot when he noticed a young man waving his arm at him. It was Deputy Osterman, the recruit Marshal. The Captain had mentioned Roids hooking up with him in the morning. May as well start now, he thought.

Roids worked his way easily through the noisy, raucous crowd and joined Osterman at his table. Osterman shook Roids forearm and motioned him to a chair. Roids instead took the chair that put his back to the wall. Osterman gave a short laugh.

"How do you remember to do that, Cavanaugh?" he asked loudly.

"Nothin' to remember, deputy," Roids answered with a shrug. "Just something a Marshal does. Don't worry, you'll pick up the habit."

"I hope so," Osterman said. "What I'd really like to know is how you get the crowd to keep its distance from you when you walk through them. They just all seemed to melt back."

Roids shrugged again and said nothing. Extra talk was a waste of air and quiet time. Then he recalled he was supposed to be showing this man proper attitude and grudgingly answered him.

"It's not something I do," Roids replied. "It's something they all choose to do. Only two ways a fight starts; 'Cause someone wants it or because there's been a misunderstanding. They all know I ain't lookin' for anyone here in the Loose Lady, so they do their best to avoid misunderstandings with me. It works out fine."

A young lady with physical attributes impossible to support anywhere except in space or a low gravity planet like Mars came up to their table and laid a liter mug of beer and an iron plate with a kilo steak down in front of Roids.

"Here ya' go, Cavanaugh," she purred, running a hand through his blond hair. "Lance says you dig in, it's on the house."

"Tell Lance I'm much obliged, ma'am," Roids said, picking up his knife and fork.

"Hay, lady," Osterman spoke up. "Can I get a free steak?" He flashed his badge. The girl laughed and stood up.

"The Marshal's steak isn't free, Deputy. Lance is still payin' off his debt."

"Debt?" Osterman asked Roids after the girl had gone.

"I pulled his backside out of a scrape a couple years back. He an' Uranus Bob got into a tangle at Bob's funeral, an' I..."

"Wait a second. You saved Turnbull from a dead man?" Osterman asked increduously.

"Bob's dead now," Roids agreed. "Only he wasn't in such a peaceful state at his funeral. Bob ran the protection racket in Enla for years. Things was getting hot for him, so he faked his death. He had some work done on his skin and had an open casket funeral to sucker his enemies in close. They followed him to the cemetery to make sure he got planted. Only he had some of his boys waitin' and it turned into a firefight. Got real nasty.

"Anyway, me an' Dixie were there, so we got active. Uranus Bob comes up out of his coffin, gun poppin' off. He wings Turnbull, and looked to get him proper, so I nailed him." Roids took a long pull of beer and cracked a grin at Osterman. "Seemed only fittin'. Bob already had both foot and his fat ass in the grave already. I just finished the job. He just drops his gun and fall back into his coffin. I never had an easier time takin' care of a corpse."

"Man!" Osterman said, shaking his head. "That is incredible! I can hardly wait to start killin' outlaws like that!"

"You miss the point, kid," Roids swallowed a piece of steak, looking firm at Osterman. "You use your gun only when you gotta. Sure, out of the city, that happens. But if I coulda taken Bob in alive, I woulda. But to do that, Lance had to die, and that wasn't a fair trade. So I killed Bob. Doesn't mean I enjoyed it."

"But just to go into a situation knowing you can," Osterman objected. "That's gotta count for a lot. The confidence you get from that gun..."

"Is fake, Osterman," Roids replied. "As Marshals, we got an obligation to protect the law abiding citizens and their property. Nothing more. Keep that in mind. The law's to protect the innocent, not to use against the guilty. If you're getting confidence from carrying a gun, you're in the wrong business." He stood, picking up his beer with his left hand, something Osterman noticed. "I'm gonna move around a bit. You take care, kid, and I'll see you tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow, Cavanaugh," Osterman said, looking at him strangely.

Roids moved off, glad to get away from the deputy. He had an uncomfortable feeling about the man. He'd have to speak to the Captain in the morning.

"Hey, Marshall!"

Roids looked past a dozen or so people and saw a familiar face. The man was about twenty-five or thirty, with gray hair and a full mustache. His face was wrinkled with age and hard times, but eyes were coal black and alive. Roids nodded his head and worked his way to the bar where the man was leaning, his gun hand free though he wore no visible weapon. It was Five Shot Murphy, an outlaw on the reform trail. Murphy would be the first to say Roids was the second most important thing to his new life.

"Hiya, Five Shot," Roids said, giving the old outlaw a warm smile. "Thought somebody woulda planted you by now."

"Nah, I'm too mean to go down." Murphy slapped his hand on Roids shoulder. "Join me for a drink?"

"I'd be happy, too." Roids finished his beer and raised a hand to the bartender, who quickly refilled his mug. Roids took a pull and gave the outlaw a look. "You're carryin', ain't you?"

"Hey, old habits, Marshal," Murphy laughed, patting a vest pocket. "'Sides, I still got some enemies you won't let me shoot lessen they shoot first. I mean to oblige if the chance comes." He took a swallow. "And between you and me, Marshal, I hope it don't. I got me a real reason to live right, now."

They passed a pleasant hour, sharing stories and times that were colorful now but deadly serious when they'd actually happened. Roids felt himself relaxing, feeling at home with the former outlaw. He was tempted to call Osterman over and let the deputy see why capture was better than killing. Five Shot Murphy was the perfect example. A notable outlaw in his day, he'd served his time down at the Bombala Mines Penal Colony and was now a man worthy drinking with. Too bad the same couldn’t be said about his younger brother, Four Beers Murphy.

Roids looked to the far side of the bar toward Osterman's table. The deputy was sitting there, a hard look in his eyes, his hands fingering his gun. Roids followed Osterman's gaze toward the bar.

Ten meters down from where he and Murphy were standing was a thin whip of a man, his back to the bar and his glittering eyes watching the entrance. Roids recognized the man as a local outlaw. Thruster Sherwood, as Roids recalled, and he didn't get his nickname from working on engines. He was a peeping Tom, with no real record, but a potential threat. Roids again followed line of sight and looked toward the entrance of the bar. Murphy noticed and looked as well. He suddenly sighed contentedly.

"Ain't she a beauty, Marshal?" He said, pride filling his voice.

They were looking at a young woman who'd just entered the Loose Lady. She had black, black hair and even blacker eyes. Her face had a strength to it that proudly showed off her simple beauty while underscoring her intelligence. She had on modest clothing and carried herself with the cautiousness of a newly arrived Terran. She was looking around the bar on tiptoe, as though searching for someone.

"She sure is, Five Shot," Roids said admiringly. "Yours?"

"Yep. My daughter, fresh from Earth. Her ma just died an' she's been talking about emigrating to be with me. They don't let me out at the port 'cause of my record, so we decided to meet here." He flushed, embarrassed. "Actually, she told me to meet here. I was against it."

Roids laughed. "Let me guess; she want's to see what her old man's really like."

"Something like that."

Roids laughed again and slapped him on the back.

"Sounds like a smart girl, Murphy. And I think she's going to be proud of what she sees. She should be." Murphy stood a little straighter. "Come on. You can introduce us."

"It'd be an honor, Marshal." They set down their glasses and moved toward her.

It was then that everything happened. Taken singly, each event could have meant nothing, or amounted to nothing. Even blended together, with any one element missing or slightly altered, Roids knew that the combination still would not have been explosive. Yet the experienced Ranger also knew that in rare, horrifying moments of time, the right mix came together and there was nothing to do but survive it while making sure those who deserved to also lived.

That moment of time had come yet again to Roids Cavanaugh.

He and Murphy had taken no more than three steps when a sudden movement caught Roids' eyes. Osterman had abruptly stood, hand still on his holstered gun, and was moving quickly toward them, his gaze locked to Roids' right. In a flash of certainty, Roids snapped his head toward Thruster Sherwood. The man had pushed off the bar and was approaching the girl, who was oblivious to her part in the unfolding tragedy.

"Ma'am!" Roids shouted, hoping to diffuse the inevitable.

She turned her head toward Roids, but it was just then that Sherwood seized her. Either assuming she was looking for a man - or more likely not caring what she thought - Sherwood pulled her to him. She spun quickly, frightened but not panicked. Her open hand came across and slapped him in the face.

"Let her go and draw, Sherwood!" Osterman shouted, his hand tightening on his gun. Startled, Sherwood yanked the girl and shoved her at Osterman while going for his gun, hidden behind his belt. People melted away at the challenge and Roids and Murphy both jumped forward, reaching for their weapons.

Roids saw the insane determination in Osterman's eyes and swore. The kid had become drunk with liquor and power and had created a situation where innocents could get hurt. And he didn't care. Osterman's gun came clear and leveled on Sherwood, but the girl was in the way. Without even seeming to see her, Osterman pulled the trigger.

The room filled with a deafening boom and the girl jerked back and down, blood splashing from a gunshot wound in her shoulder. Now having a clear field of fire, Osterman and Sherwood exchanged shots. Sherwood's gun went off into the floor as Osterman's bullet took him cleanly in the head. Osterman's eyes, bright and mad, shifted to the girl, his gun following.

"Noooo!!" Murphy shouted, leaping toward his daughter, his forgotten gun still in his right hand. Osterman's eyes jerked at the new threat and his gun fired twice, hitting Murphy in the chest.

Roids felt his gun jump in his hand once, twice, three times. He hated doing this, but a Marshal's life was worth less than a citizen's, and Murphy was a law abiding citizen who's life was in danger. The road of honor was rocky and hard, but Roids took it without a second thought. For him, there was no other road.

All three slugs took Osterman hard in the chest. Less than a half-centimeter apart, any one would have killed. But Roids always made sure.

Osterman staggered back. His eyes flattened out and he stared at Roids.

"What? What did you do that for?" he choked out.

"You never understood, kid," Roids said quietly. "Marshals protect the innocent. No matter what. It's all about having the proper attitude."

Osterman stared a moment longer, then fell back onto a table, spilling glasses of beer and alcohol onto the floor and himself.

Still keeping his gun on the deputy, Roids stepped up to the girl and helped her to her feet. She was staring at Five Shot Murphy, her eyes filled with tears.

"Papa!" she cried out.

Roids holstered his still smoking gun. The sobbing girl clung to him, blood seeping slowly from the wound in her shoulder. Within the hour, everything in the Loose Lady would return to its wide open celebration of life. But now the crowded bar had fallen silent, and even the pleasure ladies had stopped their trade momentarily to acknowledge this grim observance of death.

Five Shot Murphy was seated on the floor against the bar where the slugs had slammed him. His face tightened into a painful grimace, showing teeth stained dark red from the arterial blood flowing into his lungs. The old outlaw looked up at Roids, staring at him with coal black eyes. There was nothing Roids could for the man, so he glanced to his right toward Deputy Osterman.

There was even less he could do for the young man who was almost Marshal. Osterman had taken three slugs to the chest and lay sprawled over the collapsed table, his blood mixing freely with the liquor spilled on the floor, his sightless eyes staring up toward the glittering ceiling of lasers and lights. Roids stared down at the Deputy and shook his head sadly.

"A lady's honor costs a lot in these parts. But a good lady? She's worth it."

Roids turned his head at the outlaw's words.

"You always were a man who kept his priorities straight, Murphy." Roids gave a small smile. "Even when you had someone else's cattle."

"You take care of her, you hear me, Marshal?" Murphy sagged back, his life nearly bled away.

"I will, Murphy. And I'll be sure to tell her about her pa. She'll be proud." Roids swallowed hard and looked him in the eye. "He was a good man."

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Proper Attitude

Copyright ©2004 by Peter Prellwitz All Rights Reserved.