Gunsmoke, Steam, and Blood

Luke 10:18
Near San Francisco, California

Blackthorne sees the airship coming through the mountain pass long before he can hear it. She looks like’s she’s aiming to land somewhere nearby. In the distance, he can see a cloud of dust. Looks like there’s some people expecting her.

Interlude II
30 miles from Abilene

Two riders from the Double Q lie on their backs on the drought-withered scrubgrass, their mouths and eyes wide-opened, but all sense and motion now gone from their bodies lying in this ungainly repose. “They ain’t goin’ anywhere now,” says a man, laughing. “Least no where on this earth. There may yet be messages for them to deliver in Hell.”

“This is a messy business,” says t’other. “This has gotten out of control and now the professionals must become involved. I do hate to see it. This was never meant to be the way of it.”

“You are a solemn ———, you glum cove. We will do our part and that will be the end of it. We have all done worse things back in the war.”

“That’s as may be, for you. Come, we must dispose of these and attend to their horses, and then await the ’ship.”

Interlude I
Trouble in Abilene

“Came in over the heliograph for you. Fifty dollars a head, and they’re to be found at the Livery. This ain’t no time to dawdle.”

“God damn you, Tom Shandy, you and your ‘without delays’, one of them is a woman and I shan’t draw on a woman for less than a hundred dollars in gold.”

“You may go to hell before you collect that hundred dollars, you Shylock, she is a Chinawoman and therefore of no account. I can give you twenty-five more than fifty, but that’s out of my own pocket, on account of other jobs you and your brother have done for me.”

“Well then, I shall do the thing. I had feared that when we rode into town they would find no work for us here, and it would be all a waste of feed and horseflesh.”

“Load your piece and let us depart.”

Abilene, Kansas, June 1868
A lawless cattle town

Abilene sits at the end of the Chisholm Trail. Cattle from the Rio Grande or San Antonio are driven to her immense stockyards, to be shipped to the Midwest or the East, where they can fetch $40 a head. In 1867, 35,000 head of cattle were shipped out of Abilene, 1.4 million dollars worth of trade in an era when the average farm hand could expect to make less than fifteen dollars a month.

All sorts come to Abilene. Cowpokes, flush with cash after finishing the trail; European aristocrats, looking to experience the frontier, or to invest; poor immigrants, looking for a fresh start; former soldiers, newly mustered out; saloon girls; missionaries, Indians; honest folk and criminals, too. Especially criminals, perhaps, for Abilene, packed with rowdy cowboys, filled with money to be made or lost, and with liquor freely-flowing, has one of the highest murder rates in the nation.

So, why are you here?


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