Florence: May, 1888
The cowboy standing at the end of the Grayback Hotel bar said, “Are you Captain Early?”
From his midpoint position, Bren Early's gaze moved from his glass of cold beer down in that direction.
“There is a man here looking for you.”
The man who stepped out from behind the rangy cowboy, a large-framed man himself, wore a dark business suit, a gold watch chain across the vest, a gray Stetson that looked like it had just come out of the box.
“Are you Mr. Johnson?” Bren Early asked. It was the name of the party he was supposed to meet here in Florence.
Instead of answering, the man walked over to a Douglas chair against the back wall where a maroon felt traveling bag sat waiting.
Bren Early liked businessmen hunters who were conscientious about the clause “Free in Advance” and handed it over before they shook hands and said how much they'd been looking forward to this expedition. Raising his cold beer, Bren Early looked up at the clock on the wall between the back-bar mirrors. It was 11:48 in the morning. He liked the idea of putting five hundred dollars in his pocket before noon. He liked the quiet of a morning barroom-the heat and heavy work left outside with Bo Catlett and the light-blue hunting wagon. He'd bring Bo out a glass of beer after.
The cowboy was still sideways to the bar, facing this way. Like making sure he wasn't going to leave. Or so that he'd see the pistol stuck in the cowboy's belt. Why was this cowboy staring at him?
The man in the business suit was bending over his open traveling bag, taking a lot of time. Why wasn't the money on his person?
Bren Early put down his glass of beer. He heard the man in the business suit say, as the man came around, finally, with the pistol:
“This is for Jack McWilliams, you Indin-loving son of a bitch-”
(Though, the bartender testified at the Pinal County Sheriff's Inquest, the gentleman never got to say the last word.)
Bren Early shot the man with a .44 Smith & Wesson, the slug exploding from the barrel, obliterating the word and taking the man cleanly through the brisket…shot the cowboy dead through the heart, heard him drop his weapon and fall heavily as he put the Smith on the man in the business suit again, not 100 percent sure about this one.
The man was slumped awkwardly in a pole-axed daze, half-lying-sitting on the maroon travel bag, bewildered, wondering how his plan had suddenly gone to hell, staring up at Bren Early with maybe ten minutes of life remaining in him.
“You rehearsed that, didn't you?” Bren Early said. “I'll bet it sounded good when you said it to a mirror.”
Blood seeped out between the man's fingers pressed to his rib cage, trying to hold himself together, breathing and hearing the wound bubble and breathe back at him, sucking air, the man then breathing quicker, harder, to draw air up into his mouth before the wound got it all.
“You should not have begun that speech,” Bren Early said. “But a lot of good it does advising you now, huh?…Has anybody an idea who this man is?”
J.A. McWilliams of Prescott, a supplier of drilling equipment and high explosives, according to identifying papers. The cowboy with him remained nameless-at least to Bren Early, who left Florence with Bo Catlett and their blue hunting wagon as soon as he was cleared of any willful intent to do harm.
McWilliams. It was a somewhat familiar name, but did not stir any clear recollections from the past.