THE SANTA FE GUNFIGHT

CHAPTER ONE

        Past midnight the full moon shed some light on the Santa Fe Plaza as Clayton Boone made his way on foot to the dark Boone’s Hotel.  He carried a carpetbag and a holster around his waist with a Colt .45 revolver in it.  Clayton came to town on the Santa Fe Railroad train which had been delayed and had arrived late that night.

        When Clayton walked into the luxury hotel lobby, he met the desk clerk named Zale Westley.  Two lanterns were glowing on the desk.  Zale had been a friend of Clayton for years. They greeted each other warmly.

        “Good to see you Clayton,” said Zale.  “Did the train come in late again?”

        “Yes, it did, why I’ll never know,” answered Clayton putting his carpetbag on the floor next to the registration desk.

          “You have been gone for three months,” noted Zale.  “I wish to express my sympathies about your ather.  Too bad you couldn’t arrive in time for his funeral yesterday.”

          “The telegram from my mother said he died unexpectantly a few days ago.  I assume she is asleep in her room,” said Clayton. 

          “That’s correct,” said Zale.

           “I don’t want to wake her up,” explained Clayton.  “I’ll see her first thing tomorrow morning.”

           “As you wish my friend,” said Zale.  “Let me help you with your bag to your old room.”

           “I can get it myself and find my way upstairs,” said Clayton.  “Goodnight Zale.”

           “Goodnight Clayton.”

           Clayton took one of the lanterns and carpetbag through the hotel lobby and up the grand stairway.  When he got to his room down the hallway, he put down the carpetbag and opened the door. He walked across the room and placed the glowing lantern on an end table.  He went back to the doorway for his carpetbag and shut the door behind him.  His shadow reflected off the walls.  Exhausted from his long trip on the train, he stripped of his gun belt and clothes, putting them on a wooden chair. He turned off the lantern laid down in the bed and fell asleep. 

           The next morning Clayton rose from the bed and washed his face, drying it with a white cotton towel.  He dressed but didn’t put on his gun belt.  Walking back down the hallway and staircase he came the large hotel office.  Opening the door, he greeted his mother, Grace.  His Uncle Morgan who was itting behind his father’s large desk smoking a pipe nodded to him as he entered the office.

         “Oh Clayton, you finally made it to Santa Fe.  It is good to see you,” said Grace. 

         They embraced and his mother led him to a comfortable leather chair in front of his father’s desk. Grace sat down in another chair herself.                 

         “Hello Clayton,” said Wayne who greeted him with a sly smile.

         “Hello Uncle Wayne,” said Clayton.  “Mother how did my father die?”

         “Clayton there is so much to tell you.  First of all, it was a beautiful funeral and well attended.  Your father must have had a heart attack in his café on the Plaza the morning of his death.  It happened uddenly and there was nothing Dr. Butterfield could do to save his life.  Sometimes things just happen like that.  It is so sad,” said Grace, looking heartbroken.

       “But father was in good health when I saw him last,” said Clayton.

       “I know but a heart attack can come unexpectantly as it did with your father.  It is so sad,” said his mother, looking distressed.  “I have more news for you.  Your Uncle Morgan has proposed to me and I’ve accepted.  We plan to marry soon.  I love him dearly.”

       Clayton was shocked and couldn’t believe it. He felt hurt.  How could it be true his mother was getting married so soon after his father’s death to his own uncle?  He managed to say, “I hope you two find happiness together.”

       “Thank you for understanding Clayton,” said Grace in a comforting voice.  “Tomorrow morning the three of us will meet with our lawyer Rueben Cooper and discuss your father’s will.”

       “As you wish mother,” agreed Clayton. 

       “Good,” said Wayne.

       “I want to be alone now and sort things out,” said Clayton standing up and approaching the office door. 

        “That’s understandable,” said Grace also standing up.  “Give me a kiss.”

        Clayton gave his mother a kiss on her cheek and exited out the office door feeling distressed by the chain of events.  His mother’s marriage plans had caught him off guard.  He walked across the lobby and began talking with Zale.

        “If she stops by and I’m gone please tell Ember to meet me for a dinner date at six o’clock tonight at the café,” said Clayton to his friend.

        “I’ll do that,” agreed Zale, knowing how important Ember was to Clayton.

        “Please get a horse ready for me at eleven o’clock this morning.  I want to ride out to the ranch,” said Clayton

        “I will do that for sure,” promised Zale.  “Have a good morning,”

        “Thank you,” replied Clayton as he left the hotel.   He waved goodbye to Zale.

        Depressed, Clayton walked up to a prominent location of the Plaza and came to the Cathedral of Saint Francis.  Outside the Catholic church were massive round arches separated by columns and square towers.  Saint Francis Cathedral was built with yellow limestone blocks quarried nearby Santa Fe.  The large rose window in front and those of the Twelve Apostles in lateral nave windows were imported from Clemont-Ferrand France.  It was a most impressive structure that took twenty years to complete from 1869 to 1886.

        Walking inside Clayton greeted the Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy in the priest’s office.  Father Jean had known Clayton since he was baptized as a newborn. 

        “Father Jean, my father’s funeral was recently held.  Could you take me to his grave so I can pray for his soul?” asked Clayton.

      “Certainly,” said the priest and they left his office and walked outside around the church.  After a lengthy walk they came to the Catholic cemetery’s gates.  Father Jean showed Clayton his father’s grave. A simple wooden cross marked the burial site.

      “Father Jean, do you think my dad went to Purgatory or heaven?” asked Clayton.

       “It is not for us to judge,” answered the priest.  “He was a faithful servant of Jesus Christ so one can assume he found his right place in the afterlife. Trust in the Lord.”

       They stood in front of the grave praying for a few minutes and then Clayton thanked the priest.  They departed from the cemetery and went their separate ways.

       Clayton continued on his walk through the Plaza and past the Hall of Governors.  The long adobe building served as the capitol of the New Mexico Territory.  Indians were selling silver jewelry and pottery under the building portal in the shade. 

       The young man passed his father’s mercantile greeting some customers who were leaving the store with their purchases.  Clayton made his way until coming to Boone’s Café also own by his father.  Going inside he took a table near the front window.  A Mexican girl named Angel served him a cup of coffee with cream and took his breakfast order.  Clayton only requested a bowl of soup.

       After hearing Clayton’s voice, the Mexican cook named Manuel came out of the kitchen and greeted im with gusto.  “Hello my friend,” said Manuel.  “So, you order soup with browned ground beef combined with cheese, onions and tomatoes.  A wise choice indeed.”

       “I’m sure it is a good choice as you are a true chef in your kitchen,” complemented Clayton.

       “You have my sympathies regarding your father’s unexpected death.  He was sitting at a table here in his café with you uncle when he stood up, coughed and collapsed.  It happened so suddenly.  I had my son run to Dr. Butterfield’s office to tell him what had happened and he came immediately.  Unfortunately, your father had died.  God bless his soul.  I am so sorry.”

       “I think it was unusual that my father died without any health issues during his life,” said Clayton.

       “So do I,” agreed Manuel, who then turned away and left for the kitchen to heat up the soup.

       As he drank his cup of coffee Clayton decided to talk with Dr. Butterfield.  Perhaps the doctor had an explanation as to way his father died so suddenly.   Angel served the young man his hot soup with crackers.  When he finished his meal, he didn’t have to pay for it as it was his father’s cafe.  He tipped Angel generously and left after saying goodbye to Manuel.

       Clayton walked the length of the Plaza and turned on South Water Street towards Dr. Butterfield’s office.  He came to the door and walked inside.  The doctor was standing up behind a counter and looked up at Clayton.  Years ago, Dr. Butterfield had assisted with Clayton’s birth so he knew the now grown man.

       “Hello, hello Clayton.  It is good to see you,” greeted Dr. Butterfield.  “Are you feeling poorly?”

       “No.  I’m in good health thank you.  I stopped by to ask you for some information concerning my father’s death,” explained Clayton.

       “Most unusual.  Your father was in fine physical condition when he died.  I couldn’t believe it,” said Dr. Butterfield.

       “So, you don’t think it was a heart attack that killed him?” asked Clayton.

       “Not likely but I just don’t know for sure.  It is hard to tell the reason for his death,” said Dr. Butterfield.  “I do have a theory but I can’t prove it.”

        “What is your theory?” asked Clayton.

        “Perhaps your father died of arsenic poison.  Arsenic is the “king of poisons.”  The most common form is gray and has a distinctly recognized odor.  However, I didn’t smell it on you father’s body.  Because it can’t be traced it’s the poison of choice of murderers.  Perhaps some day it can be traced by scientists, who knows, but not now days.  I didn’t want to alarm you but it’s my theory of what caused your father’s untimely death,” explained Dr. Butterfield.

        “Thank you,” said Clayton who showed himself to the doctor’s front door.  “I’ll keep your theory a secret.”

        “Good,” said the doctor as Clayton left the office.

        Clayton became upset and mad as he walked through the Plaza to the hotel.  Could it be someone poisoned his father?  But who would have done such a thing and why?

        The young man returned to the hotel for his Colt .45 and horse. 

        Zale told Clayton the Ember had stopped by and agreed to see him for a dinner date the evening in the café.  The desk clerk gave him his father’s white stallion named Apache from the Boone’s Stable. The noon day sun was hot as usual.  He mounted the horse and rode out two miles to the Boone’s Ranch.

                   Once he arrived at the large ranch, he was met by the foreman named Henry Blake.  A group of horses were in the corral.  Henry greeted Clayton as an old friend.

                  “Hello.  It’s good to see you Clayton.  Out for a ride this beautiful day?” asked Henry who grasped Apache’s bridal and halted the horse.  He tied the leather reins to a hitching post.

             “Yes, I am,” said Clayton dismounting.

               “I’m sorry about your father,” said Henry, giving his sympathies to the young man.  “It’s a tragedy.”

                “Where are all the cowboys?  I don’t see any around.”

                “When your father died and the future of the ranch was’nt clear your mother asked me to lay them all off.  Come inside and I’ll pour you a cup of hot coffee,” offered Henry.              

                 “That sounds good,” said Clayton. Following Henry to the adobe ranch house.  A cactus garden had been planted near the doorway.  They went inside the sprawling home and sat down at the kitchen table.

               “This place sure does make me think of happier times growing up,” noted Clayton.

              Henry nodded yes in agreement.   The ranch foreman poured both of them a cup of coffee and took a bottle of cream from the icebox.  He told Clayton.  “Do you have any idea about what will happen to the ranch now that your father isn’t alive anymore?”

              “He had a will and I’ll learn tomorrow morning if I inherited the ranch,” answered Clayton. “I hope I did and everything stays the same but I don’t know for sure.” 

           “I sure hope your mother doesn’t sell it off.  I’ve got  many good memories about this place that I would be disappointed if it got sold to another party,” shared Henry while he took a sip of coffee from the tin cup.

             “No promises but I personally want it to stay In the family.  The Boone’s Ranch an ideal location for the Santa Fe area,” Clayton told his friend.

             “Good,” said Henry, feeling better about the situation.

               The two men chatted about old times for nearly four hours.  They laughed and cried a little sharing stories about Clayton growing up at the ranch with his father.  Once it turned five o’clock Clayton said goodbye and rode back to Santa Fe.

         By the time he got to the café Ember was waiting for him to arrive at six o’clock.   They hugged each other and sat down at a wooden table in the corner.

           “Clayton, thank you for the dinner invitation,” said the young redheaded woman.  “Are you back in Santa Fe for good?”

            “Probably,” Clayton told his girlfriend who looked pleased by his remark.

            They ordered cheese enchiladas and wine.  Both chatted about what had happened that day.  Clayton didn’t tell her about his conversation with Dr. Butterfield if he did he thought it would alarm Ember.   When their food arrived, they both began to eat their dinner.  Half way through their dinner Ember’s father, Reuban Cooper, and her older brother, Jesse, entered the café looking mad.  They both approached the dining room table.

           Reuban said, “It’s time to go Ember.”

            “But father we are eating dinner.  I’ll be home shortly,” Ember told her father.

           “No.  I don’t want you to be seen in public with Clayton.  You’re coming home right now,” ordered Reuban.

             Jesse, armed with a side gun strapped to his waist nodded his head in agreement.  It was obvious he didn’t care for Clayton.  They both stopped eating their meal.

.             “You won’t see him again soon.  Ember you’re too young to be courted.  I forbid it,” ordered her father.

              “Goodbye Clayton,” she said, accepting her father’s wishes to leave without protesting further.

              “Goodbye,” he said, looking upset.

                Ember stood up and left the café with her father and brother.   Clayton had lost his appetite and finished drinking glass of wine.  Then he left the café himself for the hotel again.

                Zale asked him, “How was your dinner date with Ember?”

                 “Her father, Reuban, cut it short” Clayton said feeling depressed. “He told us Ember was too young to be courted.”

                 “I never liked that lawyer,” said Zale.

                  “I’ll be upstairs reading in my bedroom.” he told his friend.  “Please don’t disturb me this

evening.”

                 “Okay,” promised Zale.

                   Clayton walked up the staircase and got ready to retire for the evening.  All he could think

about was Ember.  The young woman had captured his heart but he didn’t like her father and older brother.  He sat at the desk and wrote her a love letter.  Then he put it in an envelope addressed to Ember Cooper. Clayton did not put a return address on the envelope for fear Ember’s father might

intercept it. He planned on mailing the letter the next morning at the Santa Fe post office.  Eventually  it became dark outside and Clayton fell asleep in his pajamas on top of the sheets due to the warmth in his bedroom.

             At midnight Zale heard a horse approach the hotel.   He went to the front door and stepped outside.  Much to his surprise a ghost and a horse stood in front of the adobe building.  A fearful Zale shouted, “Who are you and why do you come to haunt me?  I’ve done nothing wrong.”

             The ghost said, “I am the spirit of Wayne Boone.  Send me my son Clayton.”

           Scared and fearing the ghost, Zale returned inside the hotel lobby.  The clerk ran upstairs to Clayton’s door.  He pounded on it hard with his closed fist.  Hearing the knocking at his door a sleepy Clayton got out of bed and walked over opening the door.

             “What is the matter?” asked Clayton, upset to have his sleep interrupted.

               “Your father’s ghost is outside the hotel and has summoned you,” explained Zale, shaking.

              “I don’t believe in ghosts,” said Clayton upset with the situation.

               “Come quickly and see for yourself,” pleaded Zale, worried the ghost might harm him if Clayton delayed.

              The two men rushed down the staircase and out of the hotel.  Standing on the boardwalk the ghost was gone.  Clayton said, “You must be mistaken.  There is no ghost.”

            “Wait,” said Zale hearing the sound of horse hoofs approaching the hotel. 

           Appearing in the darkness Clayton immediately recognized the apparition as his dead father.  He didn’t know if the ghost came from heaven or hell, or whether it harbored wicked or charitable

intentions.  Clayton challenged the ghost to explain the purpose of his visit to Earth and make things clear.

             The ghost on the pale horse said, “I am your father’s spirit.  I was murdered by my brother, Morgan, and now walk in Purgatory during the day and on Earth at night.  In order for my soul to be released to heaven my death has to be avenged.  It is up to you Clayton to kill my murderer so I can rise above into heaven.  Death be to Morgan but spare your mother Grace.  Now I’ll be gone.”

          “Wait.  How do I know you are real and not a dream?” asked Clayton, but the ghost and horse dissolved into the night.

          Clayton turned to Zale who was trembling from fear.  He said, “I would have not believed the ghost to be true unless I saw it with my own eyes.  Zale, tell no one of what we have seen tonight.  It is our secret, understand?”

          “Yes, I do.  What’s going to happen to you uncle, Wayne?  Are you going to kill him?” asked Zale.

           “I don’t know the answer to that question.  I’ll have to think it over.  Perhaps this is just a bad dream.  I’m not sure,” said Clayton.

            The two men walked back inside the hotel.  Clayton went back to his room and tried to fall asleep but couldn’t.  All he thought about was his father’s ghost.  He stayed awake until the daybreak. 

            The next morning, he joined his Uncle Wayne, Grace and the family lawyer, Rueban Cooper, in the hotel office.  All but Wayne were sitting in front of his father’s large desk smoking a pipe.  Clayton felt hostile to Wayne because his uncle had taken his father’s place behind the desk.  They greeted each other cooly and Clayton sat down in a leather chair. 

            The family lawyer Rueben Cooper began the meeting by saying, “We meet here today to open Wayne Boone’s last will and testament.”

              Rueben tore open a large envelope and took out some legal papers.  He began reading the will and said, “I Wayne Boone, being of sound mind bestow my entire estate consisting of the Boone’s hotel, the stables, the mercantile, the café and the ranch to my brother Morgan Boone.  Signed, Wayne Boone.  Witnessed by myself.

              Clayton jerked back in his chair and said, “My father would have never given his entire estate away to someone else and leave me out of his will.  His signature is a forgery.”

               “Now, now Clayton, I’m sure you are disappointed but your father’s will is straight forward and absolutely legal,” said Reuban with a sly smile.

                “I’ll challenge it in court,” said Clayton, upset, staring at his mother.

               “You will lose,” said Morgan, bluntly.  “I will sell off the estate immediately.  I want the money for my own projects.  I see no reason to discuss the matter further.”

        “By the way Clayton, I don’t want you to bother my daughter again.  Leave her alone,” said Reuban coldly.     

           “Clayton you need to respect Reuban’s wishes.  Morgan and I will marry soon and we can become a loving family again,” said his mother, Grace.

        “You are all crooks,” said Clayton as he left the office and slammed the door behind him.  He marched out of the hotel and tried to cool off on the boardwalk.  Thoughts of revenge raced in his mind.  It was all so wrong.  He despaired his father’s death and his mother’s plans for a hasty remarriage but he didn’t know what to do.

          After standing on the boardwalk for a moment he went to the Santa Fe post office and mailed the love letter to Ember.  He hoped she would receive it promptly but knew it could be intercepted by her father, Rueban.

           The next day Ember received Clayton’s well written letter.  He was so loving and he even wrote a poem about their close relationship.  After reading it several times she hid the letter in her upper drawer under some clothes.   Ember wondered when she would see her lover again.

            Later Reuban returned to his adobe house and went inside.  “Ember,” he said, “come out of your bedroom.  I need to talk with you.”

             “Yes father,” she replied.

             “I discussed your situation with Clayton this morning and he agreed not to see you again,” he lied.

             “I don’t believe that for a moment,” she countered.  “He is my boyfriend.”

            “We’ll see about that,” said her father.  “It’s just a matter of time and you will realize he just wants your virginity.”

             “That’s disgusting,” said Ember, turning and going back inside her bedroom.  She closed the door and reread Clayton’s love letter.  Surely, he hadn’t agreed never to see her again.  She thought her father was a monster.

               Late that same night the ghost returned and asked Zale to get his son out of bed.  Zale complied with the ghost’s instructions.  Once he got downstairs and outside on the boardwalk Clayton saw the ghost and pale horse again.  He turned to Zale and asked his friend to leave them alone for a long time.  Zale returned inside the hotel lobby but stared out the front window watching the two figures talk.

                The ghost told Clayton, “I am your father’s spirit and hear me out.  My time is short as I must return to Purgatory.  I cannot share any secrets of Purgatory, but I have a tale of woe that I must pass on to you.  I charge you to avenge my murderer by slaying brother Morgan.”

               His father’s request horrifies Clayton for they confirm his worse fears.

              Continuing, the ghost said, “I have to hurry back to Purgatory before sunrise.  My bother seduced Grace my seemingly virtuous wife and poisoned me at my café.  The arsenic curdled my blood and robbed me of my life.  Because I died without a priest to give me my last rites I also lost my absolution and pardon to heaven.  Remember me with revenge so I can go to heaven.  Spare my wife, Grace any harm.”

           Clayton realized he must wrest retribution only for his uncle and not Grace.  The ghost and pale horse dissolved into the midst and left him standing on the boardwalk alone.  He turned and saw Zale in the hotel window watching the scene.  Clayton went inside telling Zale nothing specific but demanding hat he take an oath to tell no one what he has seen or heard.  Zale takes the oath with his hand on a Bible.   When Zale finished taking the oath, Clayton went back upstairs to his bed but couldn’t fall asleep again.  He tossed and turned until he was exhausted.  The young man finally fell asleep.

CHAPTER TWO

        Fearing that Clayton was a threat to the Boone’s fortune and his upcoming wealth, Morgan summons two hired guns named Carson and Bart Flynn.  Once instead the hotel office with the two gunslingers Morgan bluntly asks how much it will cost him to have Clayton ambushed and murdered.

       “Why don’t we just beat him up and intimidate your nephew into leaving town,” said the oldest brother Carson.  “It would be a lot easier than killing him.”

        “I know Clayton and he won’t be intimidated,” said Morgan.  “In fact, you two brothers may have a difficult time killing him.  He is fast with a gun.  I want my nephew dead.”                       

         “Murder is a serious crime.  We could end up in prison for life,” pointed out Bart.

          “I’ll pay you two handsomely.  The first half of $5,000 now and the second half when he’s dead,” he offered the hired guns.

            “Okay, we will take the $2,500 now in gold coins.  You’ll just have to trust us that we will keep our end of the bargain,” Carson told Morgan after thinking about it.

           “I’ll have the $2,500 at this time tomorrow morning,” assured Morgan.

            “We will be back,” said Carson.  The two gunslingers turned and left the hotel office unseen by Clayton or anyone else.

              Morgan went up to Grace’s bedroom while she was out shopping in the Plaza.  He felt bad at how things had worked out and he bent his knees to the floor and thought about praying at the edge of the bed.  He believed his sin was so great it rendered him incapable of praying.  Slowly he admits before God that he has committed the primal curse by carrying out the murder of his brother, Wayne.  He also confesses that his repentance is unforgivable since he is unwilling to give up the false inheritance. 

               Clayton came by and opened the door softly so as not to awake his mother.  Instead of greeting her he recognizes the perfect opportunity to kill his uncle with a knife but stops himself.  He remembers that Morgan killed his father without allowing him any opportunity to make amends for his sins and now languishes in purgatory awaiting entry to heaven.  Believing his uncle is praying for forgiveness, Clayton thought killing him now would send him straight to heaven.  Morgan would then escape the enternal punishment that he deserves.

                 Clayton quietly departed from the bedroom and went back down the staircase knowing that his uncle had barely escaped with his life.  He observed his mother entering the hotel and confronted her by saying, “Mother, you have become my Uncle Morgan’s whore.”

                 Grace slaps Clayton hard against this cheek.  She tells him he had badly offended his own mother and walked upstairs to her bedroom.  Suddenly the ghost reappears at the bottom of the staircase but only Clayton can see him.  Clayton believes the Ghost is going to chide him for not killing his uncle when he had the chance a moment ago.  He then perceived the Ghost as his mother’s protector.  The Ghost tells Clayton to be kinder to his mother and vanishes into thin air.

                 Grace and Morgan greeted each other and made love in her bedroom.  When they finish the act Moran got dressed again and went to the Santa Fe Saloon for a beer.  Grace wanted to do more shopping and also got dressed again.  She left the hotel for the Plaza. 

               Clayton and Ember met at Willow Springs for a secret rendezvous later that day.  He arrived by horseback and his lover came in a black buggy that had been her mother’s mode of transportation. Clayton unfolded a blanket and they sat down on it under a shade tree. 

Ember said to him, “I was orried you wouldn’t come here this afternoon.”

             “Why?” asked Clayton.

              “My father said you agreed not to see me again,” explained Ember, looking distressed.

              “Believe me I never said a thing like that,” said Clayton.  “That’s a lie.”

               “Good.  I never really thought it to be true,” assured Ember, feeling better about their situation.  

               “You smell good,” Clayton complimented his girlfriend.

               “I put on some new perfume before I left the house.  I’m glad you like it,” she told him, smiling.

               Clayton leaned forward and kissed Ember on her lips.  It was a long kiss and she loved it.  They fell back on the blanket and continued to kiss more for some time.  Then Clayton cupped one of her breasts into the palm of his hand.  She gently forced it away and said, “I’m a virgin.  I want to save it for my husband on our wedding night.”

               “I understand,” said Clayton, agreeing not to pressure her sexually.  He kissed her again.  The kissing went on for several minutes.  They agreed to meet again under the shade tree in the near future. Both then got up and rode home each going their separate ways.  Ember was pleased and Clayton felt ephoric. 

                                                                    CHAPTER THREE

               The next morning Carson and Bart picked up their $2,500 advance from Morgan.  Clayton dcided to go to the Boone Ranch and see Henry.  Carson and Bart followed behind him on the trail to the ranch unseen.  Once Clayton arrived at the ranch Henry invited him inside the adobe home

for coffee.  The two men talked about the future of the ranch.  Clayton left the adobe home and started riding back to Santa Fe.

               Suddenly he could hear gunshots coming towards him off the trail.  He dismounted his father’s horse and hid behind a large rock.   Carson and Bart shouted they want a cease fire and to talk with Clayton.  He didn’t believe it and yelled back for them to stay down.  A standoff resulted for two hours exchanging gunshots.  Then eventually Clayton heard the two brothers ride away on their horses.  He got up and mount his own horse.  The young man proceeded down the trail asking himself who they were and why did they try to ambush him.  All he could reason was that Morgan had hired some guns to kill him. Finally he arriver at the hotel and told Zale what had happened

            “You should go to the sheriff and report being shot at,” said Zale, concerned about the safety of his friend.

            Clayton replied, “I don’t think so.  The sheriff can’t do anything about it.  If he did find the gunmen they would just deny being involved in the shootout.”

            His friend reluctantly agreed with Clayton.  He went upstairs and wrote Ember another love letter and new poem.  Sealing the note into an envelope he addressed it to her discreetly.  The next afternoon Ember received the letter and was elated.  After reading it several times she put it with the first letter in her clothes drawer.  All she could think about was kissing Clayton under the shade tree.     

           The next day Ember left her home and went shopping in the Plaza.  When she was gone her father searched her bedroom and found Clayton’s two love letters.  Upon returning home he confronted Ember shaking the envelopes before her face.

            “I told you not to court Clayton.  You’re too young.  All he wants is your virginity,” he said to Ember.

            “I wish my mother was alive.  She would reason with you that I’m not too young to have a boyfriend,” Ember told her father.  

            “Like I said before I forbid you to see him ever again,” said Reuban hotly.  “He’s trouble.  I just want the best for you.”

            “Then leave me alone,” shouted Ember who rushed to her bedroom and slammed the door shut. Se stayed in her bedroom that night fuming and in tears.

            Upstairs, at the same time, this was going on Clayton and his mother, Grace, were arguing in her bedroom.   “Mother,” said Clayton, “everything in my life has been going downhill.  Without my father’s inheritance I will be a poor man.  Plus, Rueben has demanded that Ember not see me anymore.”

            “Son, I don’t agree with Rueben on that point.  I can’t do anything about the inheritance but I wish you Ember all the best,” Grace told her son.

            “I beg you not to marry my uncle,” said Clayton, almost desperately.

            “I am in love with him and he provides me with something your father lacked in a relationship.  I will marry Morgan soon,” said Grace, firmly.

            “It’s so wrong.  Father hasn’t been dead for long and you are going to remarry on short notice.  The Church won’t allow it.”

            “We will have a civil wedding at the courthouse and not have a Catholic wedding,” she told him.

            “But that’s a sin,” said Clayton.

            “Then so be it,” she told her son.

            Clayton threw his hands up in the air and left the bedroom immediately in haste. He went to his room and prepared to go to bed.  All he could think about was his love for Ember and the demands of the Ghost to murder Morgan.  Eventually Clayton fell asleep.

            The next morning, he shouted at his Uncle Morgan when he saw him in the lobby.  Loudly he exclaimed, “Your hired guns tried to ambush me yesterday.  I fought them off.”

            “I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Morgan, lying again. 

            “I know you poisoned my father and forged his signature on his will,” yelled Clayton.

            “No I didn’t.  Clayton, for your own good leave Santa Fe and don’t come back,” said his uncle.

            “Go to hell,” countered Clayton as he walked out of the hotel.

            Zale heard the men arguing and felt bad for his friend Clayton.  He followed him outside. Clayton began walking across the Plaza towards the café.  Half way across Carson and Bart Flynn stood in his path.  They had their six shooters in their holsters ready to draw.  Clayton was ready for them and walked forward several steps.

            “That’s far enough,” said Bart.

            Clayton continued to walk forward get closer and closer to the hired guns. 

            “Stop right there Clayton,” demanded Carson.  “Draw.”

            The three men started to pull out their six-shooters from the leather holsters.  Zale fell flat on the ground.

            BLAM!   BLAM!   BLAM!  BLAM!  BLAM!

            The gunshots seemed to go on forever.  Carson and Bart were hit by Clayton’s bullets and collapsed on the Plaza’s dirt ground dead.  Clayton was wounded on his left arm.  He holstered his Colt and held the flesh wound with his right hand.  A small amount of blood flowed between his fingers.

          Zale stood up and ran over to Clayton.  He said excited, “You killed both of them.”

         “I didn’t want to fight,” said Clayton, taking no pleasure with their deaths.  “Who are they?”

         “I don’t know,” answered Zale, “but I saw them talking with Morgan yesterday back at the hotel.”

         “Figures,” said Clayton, feeling bad about the shoot-out.

         Sheriff Evans ran up and stood before Clayton with his six-shooter drawn.

         “I was a witness,” said Zale, pointing at the dead bodies.  “These two men drew first.”

          The sheriff said, “Clayton, you better walk over to Dr. Butterfield’s office and get a bandage for your arm.  Go right now.”

          “Okay,” agreed the wounded young man.

          People started to gather around the gunfight scene. 

          Clayton left for Dr. Butterfield’s office on Water Street on foot with Zale.  The doctor cleaned the flesh wound and put a bandage on Clayton’s arm.  Dr. Butterfield told Clayton to return the next day so he could change the bandage.  Then he returned to the hotel with Zale.

          “Clayton, that was the most incredible shoot-out I’ve ever seen,” said Zale when they got back to the hotel.”

          “It’s unfortunate it ever happened,” said Clayton, feeling sorry for the two brothers.

          Morgan walked by in the hotel lobby. 

          Clayton said, “Your hired guns are dead.”

          “I don’t know what you’re talking about Clayton,” said Morgan who lied still another time as he left the hotel.  That afternoon the dead gunslingers’ blood money was found in their saddlebags.

         Later that day Clayton and Ember met at Willow Springs again.  Clayton spread a blanket out on the ground under a shade tree.  Ember told her boyfriend, “I had to sneak out of my home to rendezvous ith you today.  My father is always watching me and forbids us to be together.  I feel like a prisoner in my own bedroom.  I don’t know what to do.”

        “Try not to think about that and enjoy our time together,” Clayton suggest to his girlfriend. 

        They started kissing passionately.  Ember’s head began spinning.  Clayton reached over to her chest and cupped one of her breasts in the palm of his hand.  He felt her heart beating.  This time Ember let his hand linger for a long time while they kissed until she gently pushed it away.

        “Please Clayton.  Don’t make me fight off your advances,” Ember told him softly.

        “Okay,” he replied and kept his hands off Ember as they kissed.  “Darling I love you,” he said.

        “Oh Clayton, thank you for saying that.  I love you too sweetheart.  You’re my man,” she whispered in his ear.

        “Here, I have something for you.”  Clayton pulled out a small white box from his side pocket.  He put it into Ember’s hand.

        “What in the box?” she asked, curious to know its contents.

        “Open it and find out, said Clayton, smiling at her broadly and kissing Ember’s lips again.

        Their lips parted and she opened the small box.  Inside was an engagement ring.  “It’s beautiful,” was all Ember could say as she stared at it.  “I love it.”

        “Put it on your left hand ring finger,” encouraged Clayton.

        Ember slide the ring down her finger and it fit perfectly.

        “Will you marry me?” asked Clayton.

        “I’ll have to get my father’s permission to wed,” she explained.

        “Ask him and maybe he’ll soften his position,” said Clayton.

        “I hope so,” she told him.

        They kissed.  As they laid under the shade tree Ember’s head began to whirl with delight.  She was so happy that Clayton had proposed to her even with her father’s negative attitude about their relationship.  Ember savored the moment.

        Later they returned to Santa Fe.  When she entered her adobe home her father was waiting for her

to arrive.   He asked rudely, “Where have you been daughter?”

        “Clayton proposed to me and I accepted his request.  We are engaged and will get married soon,” said Ember, hoping for the best.  “Look he gave me an engagement ring.  Please father, give your permission for us to wed.”

        Rueben grabbed her finger and tore off the ring.  He said, “Give me that horrible thing.  I’ll never give you permission to marry that man.”

        Ember began to cry.  She rushed into her bedroom and closed the door.  When her father left the house she went outside and got in the black buggy.  Ember guided the carriage back to Willow Springs. She got out and stood by the shore staring at the deep water felling desperate.  All she could think about was her father’s denial of what she had hoped for in life.  It was so wrong.  Ember edged her shoes into the water…

        Clayton enter the saloon for a beer.  Ember’s older brother followed him inside.  Jesse said, “Clayton you should respect my father’s wishes leave Ember alone.  If you don’t I’ll kill you.”   

        Ember’s brother touched his six-shooter with his right hand.  Customers in the bar scattered. Clayton stood his ground.

        “All right Jesse,” said the bartender who reached for his sawed off shotgun and pointed it at the hothead.  “Go outside for you gun play but not in my saloon.”

        Jesse turned and walked out of the bar afraid of the shotgun.  Fearing an ambush Clayton left through the back door and walked the long way back to the hotel.  Jesse was no where in sight.

       Once at the hotel Clayton believed the time was right to fulfill the ghost’s wishes.  He went upstairs and entered his mother’s room.  It was empty.  Walking around the bedroom he decided to stand behind the full- length window curtain to see if he could stab Morgan if his uncle came in before Grace.  Clayton waited a half an hour until he heard the door open and a man walking with boots stepped inside the room.  Taking his time Clayton was poised to kill his Uncle Morgan.   Much to his delight the man moved in front of the curtain.  He didn’t hesitate and stabbed the man through the curtain several times.  The man screamed and Clayton thought someone might have heard his cries in the hotel.  Againand again he stabbed the figure who fell to the floor dead.

       Once he was sure the man had been killed, he drew back the bloody curtain and gasped.  Instead of is uncle Ember’s father Rueben laid on the floor having been murdered by Clayton.  Feeling sick to his stomach he realized his mistake.  Before the murder Clayton had a plan of what to do with the Morgan’s dead body.  The slayer of Reuban rolled his body with a blanket.  He hoasted Reuban who was wrapped in the blanket over his shoulder and rushed downstairs fearing someone would see him.  No one was in the lobby including Zale.  Clayton opened the front door and carried the deceased Reuban around the back of the hotel.  He threw the body down a dry well a hundred feet below the surface of the ground. 

Then Clayton calmly walked over to the saloon and had a cold beer trying to calm down.  Nervous he was ashamed about what he had done to Rueben.  Clayton thought he had committed a big mistake by murdering Ember’s father.  He finished the beer and rode out to the ranch to see Henry.

       For two nights Clayton stayed at the ranch and worried that he would be caught sometime soon for Reuban’s murder.  Instead of being captured he later made it safely back to the hotel.  Zale wasn’t behind the counter in the lobby.  Clayton felt bad about committing the murder the day before

yesterday in Grace’s bedroom.  He knew the sheriff was investigating the crime. Walking back up the staircase he looked around to Grace’s room.  The entrance had been blocked off with wood across the door.  No one was in the hallway.  Clayton wonder what would happen next. He didn’t stay in the hotel for long and then walked across the Plaza feeling guilty of murder.

       Clayton walked further down the street until he came to Loretto Chapel which had a winding

staircase without a visible support.  He went inside to pray.  The staircase was twenty feet tall and made two 360-degree turns with no center support.  It provided access to the choir loft.  The unknown carpenter who built it used only wooden pegs.  Everyone who sees the staircase believes it adds beauty to the chapel.  Clayton moved on after saying his prayers.

        When passing the pauper’s graveyard, he saw two men digging at the ground.  He wondered if body had been found and thought the men were preparing a grave for Ember’s father. Appoaching the men they stopped digging and rested on the handles of their shovels.

        “Good day,” Clayton greeted the gravediggers.  “Who died?”

        “Ember Cooper committed suicide at Willow Springs day before yesterday,” one of the men told him.

        Clayton’s head jerked back upon hearing the bad news.  He was shocked beyond words.  His fiancé must have realized her father would never grant her permission to marry Clayton and she took her own life.

        The gravedigger went on saying, “Because she committed suicide the Church won’t let her be buried in the Catholic Cementery.  The priest said she is in Purgatory until she prays a lot and is granted permission to go to heaven.  Did you know her?”

        “Yes, I did.  She was a good woman,” said Clayton.

        He began to cry as he left the gravediggers to complete their work.  His lover was dead.

        That afternoon Jesse Cooper and Morgan Boone met in the hotel’s office for a strategy conference. Jesse said, “I’m gravely worried about my father.  He hasn’t been home for three days.  Blood was found in Grace’s bedroom on the rug.  I’m concerned something bad has happen to him, even death.”

        “The sheriff is investigating but hasn’t turned up any evidence to arrest Clayton.  I think he is responsible somehow for your father’s disappearance,” said Morgan.

        “I know he is responsible for my sister’s suicide.  He didn’t respect my father’s wishes to keep them apart.  I could kill him if it’s possible,” said Jesse.’

         “You could show your love for your father and sister both by challenging Clayton to shoot it out,” said Morgan, smoking on his pipe.  He wanted to urge Jesse to battle with Clayton in front of all of Santa Fe’s population.

         “That’s exactly what I was thinking,” said Jesse, checking his six-shooter to make sure it was full of bullets.  “I saw Clayton entering the saloon.  Why don’t we send Zale to tell him we will meet at the Plaza tomorrow after Ember’s funeral at noon.”

         “I can arrange that,” Morgan told the young man. 

         Feeling confident of success Jesse left the hotel for home.  Morgan told Zale the message he wanted Clayton to hear.  Zale agreed to go to the saloon and tell his friend about Jesse’s challenge.

         Clayton took the news from Zale in stride.  He knew things were coming to a head with Jesse and Morgan.  He still felt obligated to kill Morgan to avenge his own father’s death but didn’t know how to do it.

         Once Clayton returned to his hotel room his mother came to see him.  She said, “Morgan told me you are going to have a gunfight with Jesse.  Is that true?”

         “It looks like it will happen,” answered Clayton, honestly.

         “I’m sorry about Ember’s death.  You two would have made a great couple and should have gotten married,” said his mother, rubbing her son’s shoulders.

         “Thank you mother,” said Clayton feeling emotionally close to her for the first time since he had returned to Santa Fe.

         “Tomorrow I’ll cheer you on,” Grace said as stood up and walked out of Clayton’s hotel room.

         Clayton felt better about the situation.  His next visitor was Zale.  Zale said to his friend, “Clayton I have a bad feeling about tomorrow.  You could get killed by Jesse.  He is fast with a gun.”

         “I know but I can’t think of a way out of the gunfight,” said Clayton.

         “You could leave Santa Fe tonight,” suggested Zale, seriously.

         “No, you know I still have to avenge my father’s death and it will happen some day after the gunfight,” Clayton told his friend.

          “Still, I don’t think it’s a good idea.  Good luck,” said Zale, turning and leaving the hotel room to go back downstairs to his registration counter.  He worried about Clayton.

          The next morning Ember’s funeral took place.  As her casket was lower into the grave Clayton came forward and placed a bouquet ot flowers on top of it. Jesse came forward mad as hell and shouted, “You leave her alone. It’s your fault Ember is dead.

          Ignoring the caustic remark Clayton turned to walk away.  Jesse rushed at Clayton’s back and hit him hard with a closed fist.  The sheriff broke up the fight before it had really started.  Jesse yelled, “I’m going to kill you Clayton Moore at noon tomorrow out on the Plaza.”

          Clayton walked away feeling bad Ember’s burial had been marred.   That night he awaited his  father ghost to return to him but it didn’t.  He finally feel asleep thinking about tomorrow’s shoot-out.

          At noon a crowd of people lined the Plaza eager to see the gunfight.  The sheriff decided to let the two enemies try to kill each other and vowed not to interfere.  Jesse was having a whiskey in the saloon for a bit of liquid courage. Morgan and Grace came out of the hotel and sat on two wooden chairs on the boardwalk.  Morgan carried a cup of poison wine and set it on the wide railing.  He planned on giving it to Clayton to drink if the young man won the gunfight and survived.  Unknown to anyone Morgan had

placed a lever action rifle under his chair hours early that morning.  The spectators became silent waiting for the shoot-out.

       Jesse was getting cold feet in the saloon.  The stakes were high but he couldn’t turn back and lose face.  He threw down a third shot of whiskey and then walked out of the saloon adjusting his gun belt. Clayton came out of the hotel and proceeded towards Jesse until the young man yelled, “Stop Clayton!” 

Clayton kept walking forward until the two men were at close range. Jesse drew first and gunfire went off.  BLAM!  BLAM!  BLAM!

       Quicker on the draw Clayton was left standing.  Jesse had suddenly died falling to the ground.

       “Hail to the victor,” shouted Grace, picking up the poison cup of wine and drinking it.

       “No, don’t drink that,” called out Morgan as she drank freely.  Grace coughed, staggered and fell to the boardwalk dead.

         Clayton started walking towards Jesse’s body.  Morgan picked up the rifle under his chair and shot Clayton in the back.  Wheeling around Clayton fired a wild shot at Morgan before he too collapsed on the ground.  The bullet somehow found it’s mark and hit Morgan in the chest.  The older man also fell dead on the boardwalk next to Grace’s body.

        Zale came running to Clayton, knelt down and took his friend in his arms.  Blood dripped out of the corner of Clayton’s mouth.  He looked up at his friend and said, “I have avenged my father’s death and that’s what I wanted to do.  If I don’t survive so be it.”  Clayton gasped once, closed his eyes and died.              

Zale wept.

THE END