The weary travelers dismounted and stared at the dusty buildings. “Cactus Pass Saloon,” Vivian said, reading one of the faded signs. “Looks like we’re in the right town, Alphonse.”
Her husband took a swig from his water pouch. “If you can call this a town.”
The swinging doors of the saloon banged open and out walked a lanky man wearing a cowboy hat. In one hand he held a gun; in the other he cuddled a cat.
“Jeremy!” Vivian exclaimed. “What are you doing here? And however did you find our sweet baby Truffle?”
Alphonse stepped forward. “He obviously stole our cat when he left St. Louis.”
“Only fair,” Jeremy said. “You stole my fiancée.”
“Truffle was a gift from my mother!” Alphonse yelled.
Vivian ran up to Jeremy. “Give us back our kitty, you brute! My husband is in charge now. The mayor of Cactus Pass, a dear old friend, sent him a letter appointing him Sheriff!”
The kitty, misliking so much noise and also spotting a lizard, meowed, jumped down, and ran off.
Alphonse poked through his saddlebags and triumphantly waved a piece of paper. He brought it to Jeremy. “Read this! This is my town now.”
Jeremy holstered his gun, glanced at the paper, and neatly tore it in half. “Dead man’s signature ain’t worth much around these parts, my friends.”
“Dead man!” Vivian gasped. “What happened to Noah McUnicorn?”
Jeremy shrugged. “He had an accident while cleaning his hunting rifle.”
Vivian and Alphonse glanced at each other. “Accident?” Alphonse said, putting his arm around his wife. “And where were you when that happened?”
Jeremy put his hand on his gun. “I’m getting too thirsty to answer impertinent questions from newcomers. I’m going back into my saloon, which is in the center of my town. I suggest you water your horses and skee-daddle on back to St. Louis. I don’t want to see you again in Cactus Pass.”
“We had better do what he says,” Vivian whispered, and Alphonse nodded. They had guns too, but Jeremy had backup. They had seen his men in the shadows of the doorway.
Slowly, they rode back out of town, but instead of heading east, they decided to go southwest, toward El Paso. Vivian had a cousin there she wanted to visit. They could camp out one night, and then meet the train by midday.
As Vivian washed her face in the stream, she said, “Alphonse, the water here is so gritty. I don’t think it’s safe to drink.”
“Let me see.” Her husband scooped up some water in his hands to examine it.
“My heavens, Vivian! We’ve found gold!”