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Forty-two

Morgan came out of Haffords Saloon and joined his brothers and Doc Holliday in front of Haffords, on the corner of Fourth and Allen. The Doc was wearing a long gray coat and carrying a cane.

Heard we was going to shoot some cowboys, Doc said.

Virgil nodded. Might have to, he said.

Care to join us? Morgan said.

Doc took a nickel-plated revolver from his right-hand coat pocket and pretended to shoot it twice, making soft puffing sounds to indicate the shots.

Dont mind if I do, Doc said. You ready, Wyatt?

Wyatt nodded. He felt himself steadily clarifying, as if some sort of internal telescope were slowly coming into focus. He had the big Colt Peacemaker in his belt. It seemed to be just right there, as if when he took hold of it it became him, part of his hand, an extension of his reach. His collar was turned up, and he felt warm and steady inside the wool mackinaw. He could feel the strength in his muscles. His heartbeat was steady. His legs felt springy. His hands felt soft and comfortable. There were people coming out of Haffords, and going into Haffords, and walking past on both Allen and Fourth Streets. But they seemed now insubstantial, not invisible, but immaterial as he leaned his back against the wall of the saloon again and waited. It would come; it was like an empty railroad car that had been started on a downgrade, moving persistently faster, becoming always more inevitable. One had only to wait its arrival at the bottom of the grade. Except for the weather, it was the way hed felt when he faced down Clay Allison in Dodge.

Where are they? Doc said.

Dexters Corral, Virgil answered. Look.

The cowboys came out of Dexters and crossed the street and entered the O.K. Corral. As they disappeared into the livery area, J. L. Phonic walked up Fourth Street and stopped in front of Virgil. The collar of his long black coat was turned up against the wind. His smallish townsmans hat was pulled down hard on his head.

You need them, I can deliver ten men with Winchesters right now, Phonic said.

Dont expect to need them, Virgil said. Those boys stay in the O.K. Corral, we wont bother them.

Why those boys down on Fremont Street right now, near your rooming house, Doc?

Looking for me, probably, Doc said.

Theyre heeled, Virgil said.

Sure, Phonic said.

Well, I guess we better go down there and disarm them, Virgil said.

He handed the shotgun to Doc.

Keep that under your coat, Doc. Dont want people getting the wrong idea and going off too quick.

Doc gave his cane to Virgil and stowed the shotgun, holding it inside his coat with his left hand.

Here we go, Virgil said.

Things at large were going very fast now, but the small details were getting steadily slower. Everything Wyatt looked at seemed leisurely and somehow stately. The wind had stopped. The movement of his brothers and Doc as they began the walk down Fourth Street was timeless and made no sound. Johnny Behan appeared and spoke to them and was brushed aside. A two-horse hitch moved past them going silently in the opposite direction, moving as if it had wound down, the big draft horses nearly balletic in their slow elegance. He could feel the steady rhythm of his pulse, the easy flow of his blood. There was nothing on the periphery anymore. The buildings along Fourth Street disappeared as he walked, and he felt Virgil and Morgan and Doc to his left. They walked abreast, Wyatt on the far right. He knew there was coldness and the smell of snow. Now and then a random and singular snowflake would drift in front of him. He felt the weight of the six-shooter in his belt. Everything seemed to be happening soundlessly at the bottom of a clear lake. They were at Fremont Street. It had taken no time at all, and yet it had moved more slowly than it seemed possible to move. Wyatt didnt want it hurried. If Josie were with him here in this crystalline moment there could be no heaven to match it. As it was, he felt as if his life had compacted into a density that no harm could penetrate. He opened his hands wide and let them relax and stretched them again for the sheer physical surge of it. Everything was profoundly intense, nearly magical. Ike was there with Billy Clanton and the McLaurys, clustered in the alley together beside Flys. Virgils voice came from beyond a vast emptiness. Something about Throw up your hands and then, Hold on, I dont mean that and then gunfire. His big Army Colt ahead of him, an extension of himself, the hammer thumbed back, bucking slightly as the hammer fell. Around him, barely penetrating his focus, other guns were firing as if at a great distance. Frank is hit, and Billy Clanton, and his brother Morgan. Ike closes with him for a moment. Wyatt tosses him aside. Ike runs. Tom shoots from behind his frightened horse. More shots. Hammer back. Pull the trigger. Again. The bullets seem to surge from his deepest self in a leisurely way. Doc staggers and curses and fires again. Clinging to his horse, firing over him, Frank takes a few steps into Third Street and falls. The horse shies off, his reins trailing, and trots down Third Street. Tom is down in the alley. Billy Clanton is on the ground, his back against the wall of Flys, still cocking and firing. Another shot. Billy slumps. Then vast silence. As if time had stopped. Virgil was limping, a bullet through the calf. Morgan was in pain, a bullet in his shoulder. Billy Clanton was dead. Tom McLaury was dead. Frank was dead. In the utter stillness the smell of cordite was thick in the narrow alley. Wyatt still held the gun with its hammer back, moving the gun slowly before him back and forth, scanning the silence. Part of the silence, at one with it, as the occasional snowflake spiraled down, and the clean desert air that filled his lungs began to clarify the gun smoke.


Forty-one | Gunman`s Rhapsody | Forty-three