Chapter 17, Donni’ Fault
The group of horsemen rode into town a little past one o’clock in the morning. “Where did you leave Kelvin and Luke?” Carlton asked Donni, who had subsided into a sullen silence after leaving the Gatlin place. There had been little talk from anyone on the ride. The lawmen knew the real work was just starting in this area. This was going to be a real range war and not just unconfirmed rumors.
“The saloon… Kelvin was playin’ cards and Luke was with him guzzlin’ whiskey.” Carlton experienced a moment of panic, it would be better if they had just gone to be boarding house and stayed there like he hoped. He spurred his horse faster. The rest followed.
When he saw the saloon still intact, open, and no bodies lying around outside he slowed his horse. The Holts dismounted and tethered their horses. Mathers grunted toward Jed and nodded toward the stable then turned to head that way leading the three ranger’s horses. Carlton called out, “Send the boy out to get our horses, thanks.” Mathers waved over his shoulder acknowledging the request. Carlton and Donni removed their saddle bags and rifles before turning to the saloon. Carlton strode into the bar and finally relaxed when he saw Kelvin sitting peacefully at a table with five other men. From the looks of it he hadn’t moved all night.
Kelvin looked up and broke into a grin when he saw his brothers. “Hey… where have you two been?” Carlton and Donni dumped their load on an empty table next to the game. Donni slumped into a chair and tossed his hat on the table. “You got hay in you hair, Donni? Are those powder burns on your face… ugh?,” he quickly glanced at his pocket watch, “Damn! One o’clock all ready? I thought you were just in the other room, Donni.”
Carlton looked around at the one-roomed saloon, “What room would that be Kelvin? Where’s Luke?”
Kelvin sat down his cards, “I guess I’m out, gents. Thanks for teaching me how to play.” The other five weren’t amused. A rather large pile of cash was sitting in front of Kelvin. He picked up the cash and appeared to stow it in his coat, “I’ll be see’n you boys tomorrow? Maybe we’ll play again.”
“I don’t think so,” the Doctor said sourly, “You’ve got almost two hundred dollars from me alone tonight.”
Kelvin looked surprised, “Well, I guess I do. Just lucky, I guess.” He handed the money to Carlton, “There’s three hundred and seventeen dollars,” he whispered, “A good night at the table. Oh and I paid my one hundred fifty fine with the sheriff.”
Carlton’s eyes widened momentarily, “Fine?” he whispered quizzically, but Kelvin had moved away towards Donni. Carlton stashed the money away and headed toward the bar. Jed and Jim had beaten him to the bar already and ordered a round of beers while he was checking on Kelvin. They were already finishing their first glass.
Kelvin walked over to Donni at the empty table and joined him. “What happened?” he asked quietly.
Donni shrugged, “We got into a gunfight. Nothing serious. Only one old guy on our side, Phoebe’ grandfather I think, got wounded, barely.” Kelvin could tell Donni had no concern over the wounded man. “We killed a few of the attackers and chased the rest off when the rangers showed up. I think that we’re going after some other ranch now. I don’t know for sure, you would have to ask Carlton. Kelvin, he made me leave the Gatlin’s alone out at their ranch, without me there to protect them.” Ah, the real reason he was down.
Kelvin looked sick, “Another problem you got us into?”
Donni looked confused, “What the hell you talkin’ about?”
Kelvin snorted disgustedly, “You chased some dumb skirt again and now we’re caught up in trouble. You just had to go killing guys again. I knew it! Dammit, Donni, I was just gettin’ these boys interested in some real card playin’… and you go and mess it all up with your dumb women! You know I hate gunfights!” Kelvin stood quickly scattering the chair he was in noisily backward and turned toward Carlton at the bar. The rest of the bar had been steadily clearing out after Kelvin had left the poker game. There were only a few other patrons and the group at the bar to take notice of the noise.
Leaving Donni behind he stormed up to the bar and ordered a whiskey. Donni followed along behind and ordered a beer. The bartender served the drinks then informed the group that it was closing time.
Carlton eyed his two brothers, he could see that Kelvin was upset, “What’s wrong, Kelvin?” Kelvin only grunted and then downed the whiskey and then turned away to look out at the rest of the saloon. The piano player was cleaning up the tables and flipping the chairs up. Kelvin never understood why bars did that at night. They just had to put them all back down in the morning when they opened.
Donni grinned at his little brother’s back, “Apparently I started the range war, Carlton. An it’s interferin’ with our little brother’s card playin’.”
Jed Thornton laughed, “Well, did you?”
Donni looked offended, “Sure as hell didn’t! I just shot some dumb ugly cowhand and they’re all blamin’ me.”
Kelvin snipped, “Well you did shoot him and got me thrown in jail.”
Carlton drained his beer, this was getting no where, “Stop it you two. Go back to the boarding house and get some sleep. We’re payin’ a visit to the Marshall in the morning. Where’s Luke?”
Kelvin looked at Carlton and shrugged, then he and Donni left the saloon arguing.
Jed eyed Carlton, “How do you ride with those two?”
Carlton smiled, “Well, pa taught me a lot of things while I was growin’ up. One of them is that family is family. They may both be a little dumb, but they’re my brothers. We take care of each other. Always!” Carlton pulled out twenty dollars of Kelvin’s winnings and tossed it on the bar.
Jed nodded sagely and finished his beer. “See you in the morning, Holt.”
“In the morning,” he replied. As he was leaving Carlton caught the eye of the bartender across the room sweeping around the tables and stacked chairs. “Keep the change,” he called.