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Duel Personalities

Title: Duel Personalities
Fandom: The Adventures of Brisco County
Characters: Brisco, OC
Word Count: 9152
Rating: PG-13 (There is some shooting and death)
Notes: This follows and original story from my The TOC Files series titled Time and Again. You don't need to know what happened there to follow this but you might get more out of it. Enjoy!

Alan Kelly arrived outside of the small Arizona town as if from nowhere. At least that's how it would have appeared to any onlookers. In truth, he had decided to take a vacation from his job-400 years in the future! He smiled at the irony. The mainstay of his job was time traveling for the Military and here he was time traveling for fun

He strolled along the raised wooden walkway of the bustling town as it celebrated July 4. Across the street, he could see those competing for a blue-ribbon pie. Maybe he'd stop by later. Up ahead was what drew his attention. A section of the road had been closed off to allow a gun salesman to set up something of a shooting gallery. Always one to prove his marksmanship, Alan went over and accepted the man's challenge.

"Ah, my good man, what is your weapon of choice?" he said with a glance at Alan's holster.

"Colt Peacemaker, but there hasn't been much need for me to use it as of late."

"Let's see how you do with the new Colt. If you break the record, you can keep a pair of perfectly matched revolvers. How's that sound?"

"Sounds great. So, what is it I need to do, exactly?"

"We have stationary targets set up here and then moving ones."

"Fine." Alan picked up the revolver and tossed it in his hand a few times to get the feel of it. He also checked the sight and chambers to make sure all was in working order. "Ready."

The first test was target distance, shooting at a bull's-eye. Alan hit dead center each time. Next was surprise targets, ones that would appear as if from nowhere. Again, no misses.

A sizeable crowd had gathered and Alan was just warming up. This was fun, just the thing he needed on this little getaway. The others would be upset that he had come without them, but he wanted some quality "self" time. As far as these people were concerned, it had been five years since he had last been here. For him, it had only been about a year. Time travel was a funny thing.

"Now, Mr. . ."

"Kelly," Alan supplied.

"Now comes the hard part. As soon as you are ready, we will throw these disks in the air." He held one up for all to see. "You then try to hit them. We may throw one or as many as three. Clear?"

"Crystal." Alan took his position and checked the chambers of his revolver so as not to be caught short. "Ready!" he called. A few moments later the third phase began. It started slow, one or two at a time. He was given time to reload and then it started in earnest. He began to economize on shots. He wasn't sure if it was being frugal or showing off, but it worked.

Soon it was over and he had a perfect score. "I can't say as I've ever seen such shooting before," the man said. "Here's something you might be interested in." He handed Alan a slip of paper. "Contest by invitation only. It's for all the best gunslingers around. It's in a couple of days over in Hendrickstown. Just show this."

"Thanks. I will."

Brisco County Jr. leaned back in his chair and watched the comings and goings of those in the saloon. He tried hard to look like the hardened gunslinger he was pretending to be. He only hoped that the real Kansas Wiley Stafford didn't show-or anyone who knew him. It was a good thing that Bowler wasn't here. Subtlety and patience were not his strong suits.

Seeing all these outlaws in one place would drive any other bounty hunter crazy. Brisco, however, was here to get the mastermind behind this gathering. Hendricks worked with John Bly and was one of the men responsible for killing his father. Brisco had made it his mission to bring them all to justice.

He looked once again at the piece of paper that was his invitation to this "soiree". It was only by coincidence that he had stopped in that town and took part in that shooting contest. He set a record-so he was told-and given this paper that would prove his entry into this more advanced contest, a contest that could prove most interesting.

He looked up as a new contestant entered the saloon. He was of average height, wearing a brown duster. He was clean-shaven and didn't look the part of a desperado. He sauntered over to the bar, exuding self-confidence and, well, dignity.

The barman's voice carried to him. "The saloon's only for those in the contest." The man said nothing; he just took a paper from his pocket and placed it on the bar. If he said anything, Brisco didn't hear. The barman read over the paper. "Well, well, looks like we got ourselves a perfect score." There was a low murmuring from those at the tables. "Even Kansas over there couldn't get a perfect score."

Brisco feigned disinterest and watched as the man ordered a beer. He took his hat off and Brisco got a better look at his face. He looked about 30, give or take a year, with strong features. He was too far away to see much else.

"So, what's your name?" the barman asked.

There was a slight pause, as the man seemed to debate telling. "Nevada Smith," he finally replied.

Nevada Smith? Jeez, what was I thinking? No retracting it now. He looked about the saloon over the rim of his beer mug. It had seen better days, if the faded curtains by the "stage" were anything to go by.

He had noticed that about the whole of the town as well as he rode in. As far as he knew, there hadn't been any mining in this area to account for the sudden demise. It was off the beaten cattle path as well. It had all the typical buildings: hotel, saloon, mercantile, and stable. He didn't see a marshal's office and wondered why. Right on the edge of town, he saw the ruins of some building, and, on closer inspection, learned the reason. It had been burned down and left there as some sort of reminder.

He'd dwell on that later. Now, he had to concentrate on making it through this contest. He didn't know the rules, but seeing the other contestants made him a little wary of the outcome.

A number of men entered the saloon in high spirits and were greeted by those already there. Alan took the opportunity to slink into the shadows. The man sitting by himself-Kansas-saw this and gave him a wry smile.

Alan had barely sat down when the saloon doors swung open again and a group of men entered. At the center was a man who had made the attempt to change his social position by the clothes he wore. By the deferential treatment he was receiving, he could only be the head honcho behind this whole thing.

He strode towards the front of the room. "Welcome, gentlemen. You are all thought to be the best of your profession-or at least talented amateurs. If you make it to the final round, there could be a permanent job in it for you."

The others seemed to know what this was all about, but Alan was at a loss. Was it like an employment agency? If he could strike up a friendship with someone, maybe he could find out.

"Tomorrow we start. I just thought we all needed a chance to get to know our opponents before we face them over gun barrels."

"Right you are, Mr. Hendricks!" called one of the rowdies.

Hendricks smiled, but it never reached his eyes. He looked about the saloon and his gaze stopped momentarily on Alan before continuing on to his neighbor. "So, you're Kansas Wiley Stafford. Not quite what I expected." He held out his hand and Kansas just stared at it before it was withdrawn.

"I didn't expect to have to put up with the niceties," growled Kansas.

"Why did you come? I always thought you were a loner."

"My ego needed a boost."

"With an attitude like that, I hope you do well." He faced Alan. "Who might you be?"

Brisco let out a sigh as he passed the first hurdle. Hendricks didn't seem at all suspicious. He had now turned his attention to Brisco's neighbor, Nevada Smith, who was acting very laid back, not at all nervous like a first-timer would be in this sort of contest.

"You ever kill a man, Smith?" asked Hendricks.

"In self-defense."

"How do you think you'd do in a shoot-out?"

Smith shrugged. "I reckon we'll soon find out. I've been told that I draw as fast as Hickok in his prime."

"That good, eh?" Hendricks sounded impressed. "I'm gonna have to keep an eye on you." With that, he left to chat with the others.

Brisco looked over at Smith. Something about him just wasn't ringing true. He had to be hiding something, but what? He needed to strike up a conversation. "Draw like Hickok, hunh?"

Smith turned to face him and Brisco encountered a pair of brilliant green eyes. "Yeah, so I've been told." He drank his beer. "I hear you're good, too."

Brisco nearly choked at the understatement. Both he and the real Kansas were known for their prowess with a gun. "I've had my good days."

"Well, I hope we don't face each other too soon." Smith finished off his drink. "I'm off to get myself a room. I'm gonna need my rest in order to have a county-wide reputation."

Brisco just stared after him, stunned.

Alan smiled as he walked away from the famed bounty hunter. He knew he knew the man. There had to be some reason for him to be here masquerading as a less than savory character like Kansas Wiley Stafford. He also knew that County was very perceptive and hoped that he wouldn't see through his own façade. It seemed that they both had secrets.

He approached the bartender and asked if he knew where there was a room available. "A room? If you're lucky, you might get one at the hotel. I'm full up."

"Thanks." With a nod to those in the saloon, Alan sauntered out. He spotted the hotel across the street and walked over. The hotel seemed to be doing a better job of clinging to its prosperous past than the rest of the town. He approached the registration desk, his steps muffled by the faded threadbare rug.

The clerk looked up. "Here for the contest, sir?" He spoke in the plumy tones of a man who should be in a posh hotel back east.


"I do have one room. Not the best, but it's all we have left."

"Don't plan to do more than sleep there anyway," he said as he signed the register.

"Very well, Mr. Smith," said the clerk. "It's room 310. Take the stairs to the top floor and turn left."

With a nod, Alan straightened his saddlebags and headed up the stairs. When he reached the top floor, he could see that it was rarely used as the paint was peeling from the walls and there were cobwebs masquerading as wallpaper. His room was to the back and seemed more of a glorified closet than a room. There was a narrow bed and a small bureau for clothes. He dumped his bags on the floor and jumped onto the bed. Not bad. More comfortable than I expected. He stood and looked out the window. Since it faced the back of the town, he expected to see open prairies. Instead, he saw a shantytown. Migrant workers? Pioneers on the way west? He'd have to look into it.

To kill the rest of the day, he wandered about the town, picked up a few things at the mercantile, and then had dinner in the hotel restaurant. The hotel became louder as the occupants of the other rooms returned for the night. Bypassing them as much as he could, Alan went up to bed.

After Smith left, Brisco finished his drink and walked about the town. The people who were out gave him a wide berth as he passed. They wouldn't meet his gaze either. These people were frightened, and not just of him. At a guess, these townspeople hadn't been the same since Hendricks showed up and took over the town three years ago killing the marshal in the process.

He made his way to the livery stables to check on Comet. The horse snorted and nodded his head in greeting. "I know, I know. I said I would come by and see you, but it took me this long to get away," he said to the horse. Comet tossed his head. "None of that. You weren't there." Brisco looked about to make sure there was no one else there. It wouldn't do for "Kansas" to be seen talking to his horse. He found a curry brush and continued to talk as he brushed Comet down. "There was this new guy I'd never heard of before who supposedly shot a perfect score." Comet whinnied as if he was laughing. Brisco glared at the back of the horse's head. "I didn't have to bring you, you know. I could have left you with Bowler-or even Soc."

He switched sides and continued to brush Comet down. "I think there's a little more to this guy than he lets on. I think he knows who I am. I guess tomorrow will prove where he stands." With one final brush, he said goodnight and left the quiet stables for his own room at the hotel.

The following morning Alan woke early and washed himself down with the cloth and basin resting on the bureau. Throwing on a fresh shirt, he went down to the hotel restaurant where he ordered coffee and eggs. The room was empty, most of the patrons were either out most of the night or they had just skipped breakfast.

Alan wondered on what he had gotten involved in. A vacation wasn't supposed to include this much mental stress. The moment he heard "shooting contest", he envisioned targets, not living people. Killing people just to advance yourself didn't sit well with him.

As he sat there contemplating his choices for the day, he noticed Brisco enter the room. He smiled as he thought on his western experiences. First time around he met Wyatt Earp. This time it was Brisco County Jr. . He motioned to him. "Care to join me, Kansas?"

Brisco walked over and took a seat. "Why, thank you, Nevada."

After the waiter had taken Brisco's order, Alan questioned his reason for being there. "Are you here to stop it? I would have thought the idea of those guys killing each other off would have been a help to you."

For some reason he couldn't fathom, Brisco knew he could trust this man with the truth. "Hendricks is one of the men responsible for killing my father."

"And you want to bring him in." Alan took a swig of his coffee. "Why not just go get him? Why go through all this and risk getting shot?"

"Let's just said I'm evening the odds." They stopped as the waiter returned with Brisco's breakfast. Once he had gone, Brisco looked Alan straight in the face. "So, now you know my reason. What's yours?"

"I was in the right place at the right time and reckoned a contest would be exciting. Didn't figure on killin' people."

"C'mon, the real reason. You're throwing out too many 'reckons' and 'figures' to be real. Let me guess: you're from back east."

"You're right," answered Alan, dropping the western drawl but keeping the American aspect. "Boston."

"Really? I went to Harvard. Where in Boston did you live?"

Knowing further lying could get him in deeper, Alan gave up on the idea. "Bloody hell! I did have to pick a city you knew."

"Hey, you're British!"

"Nothing gets past a Harvard man, eh?"

"Why all the charade about being a gunslinger?"

"With this accent, I doubt I would have been taken seriously."

"That could have played in your favor, if you're as good as you say you are."

"True. It could have, but it's too late to change things now." Alan stood and paid for his breakfast. "I'm going to the saloon to wait for this thing to start. Care to join me?"

The two walked to the saloon where the contestants were gathering for the contest. As they entered, they were each assigned a number. They took their seats at a corner table and watched as others entered. After a point, no more numbers were given out.

When everyone was settled, Hendricks entered and explained the process of the contest. "The first half of you to enter were given a number. The second half will now step up and pick a number out of a hat. Whoever holds the matching number will be their opponent. This will also mark the order of when you shoot."

Alan turned to Brisco. "That's a very organized way to go about it."

"You were expecting mayhem in the streets?"

"Weren't you? This civilized approach to death makes it seem far more unreal." He kept his eyes on the center table where the hat with the numbers had been placed. "There is one good thing about this."

"What's that?"

"We don't have to face each other."

"Yet," added Brisco. "I guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it."

They both watched as the drawing began. Most of those in attendance were men of questionable taste and poor grooming habits. Their skill with a gun had to be top-notch in order for them to be here. A large mountain of a man with a full, bushy, unkempt beard and scraggly hair drew number 8, Alan's number. "An interesting match," commented the bartender as he wrote their names on a giant slate hanging on the wall. "John 'Grizzly' Hayden and the new kid, Nevada Smith."

Brisco's match would be last against a man who looked to be an ex-Confederate soldier who wore the remnants of his uniform with pride.

Hendricks pulled out his watch. "It is now 10:30. We will start at noon which should give everyone time to prepare."

As they walked out of the saloon, Brisco offered Alan a piece of information regarding his opponent. "From what I've seen before of Grizzly, he kinda wrinkles his nose before drawing."

"How will I know he didn't just get a whiff of himself?"

After checking that his gun was working properly, nothing sticking that shouldn't, Brisco sat back and thought on his new acquaintance. For an Englishman, he did a pretty good job on the accent. He must have been in the country for some time, if not in the west, in order to recognize him. As far as he knew, his story hadn't made it over to England yet.

A little before noon, he went down to the hotel lobby where he saw "Smith". He walked over. "Make sure you get a good spot."

"You expect me to watch?"

"It just might save your neck. You don't know who you'll be up against next so you had better watch everyone to see if you can learn anything about their technique."

"Guess that makes sense," commented "Nevada". He stood and followed Brisco out to the street.

Brisco found them a spot near the center of the action. "This should be as good a place as any."

"Until it's our turn."

"Are you always this negative?"

"I like to think of myself as realistic."

At noon, Hendricks stepped forward and called the first two shooters. He then marked a line in the dirt for each and told them to stand behind it. "Now instead of having you shoot at will, I have what the Chinese call a gong. When you hear this sound," he had the barkeep demonstrate, "you will draw and shoot. Couldn't be simpler."

Brisco watched with interest as the men took their places and prepared to draw. Hendricks also kept his eyes on the two men, and, after waiting a sufficient, torturous amount of time, he slashed his arm down through the air and the gong sounded. The two men drew almost simultaneously but one fell to the ground, blood coming from the hole in his chest. The man smiled and put away his gun with an attitude of confidence.

"Our first winner," declared Hendricks. "While he goes for a well-deserved drink, can we have the next pair."

This went on for six more times and then it was Nevada's turn. As he headed to the street, Brisco told him, "You won the right to be here so just show them it wasn't a mistake."

He watched as Nevada took his place behind a line. A glance at the ground and he could imagine the thoughts racing through the other man's head as he saw the blood of those who had gone before. Hendricks had cut his speech and the two men just faced each other, waiting. Brisco looked at the Englishman's face and could see no sign of anxiety or even fear. Hendricks's arm went down and before the sound of the gong had reached its peak, Grizzly was lying facedown in the dirt. Brisco didn't even think he was that fast. A low moan proved that Grizzly was still alive even though he was out for the count.

"You never said they had to die," he said as he put his revolver back in his holster.

Hendricks merely shrugged and motioned for the contest to continue.

Nevada walked back to his place beside Brisco without saying a word. Brisco just stared at him and the other man simply shrugged.

Seven more men died before it was Brisco's turn.

Alan watched as Brisco took his place in the street. Fourteen men had died already today-it would have been fifteen had he not aimed for the shoulder and not the chest. This was not turning into the holiday he had planned. If he walked away now, he'd be branded a coward and that did not sit well with him. He'd have to stick this one out. He watched as Brisco and his opponent-whose name he couldn't remember-faced each other in the afternoon sun. This would be something to remember. He was actually getting to see the famous Brisco County Jr. in a shoot-out. His eyes didn't leave the two men even as the gong sounded. It was over in seconds. Brisco stood, the barrel to his gun smoking, as he looked over at his fallen opponent.

"That's it, gentlemen!" called Hendricks. "We have narrowed the contest down to eight men who will face each other in," he looked at his watch, "two hours when we shall narrow it down to four."

Everyone went back to the saloon where an atmosphere of celebration reigned. Eight men had lived. Granted, half might not make it until evening, but that would surely be dwelled upon as the hour drew near.

Alan was drawn into a game of poker with four other players. Luck was with him as he took three pots in a row. As he played, he could feel eyes watching him. Between hands, he walked up to the bar and ordered a drink. He also struck up a conversation with Brisco and cast his eyes about the room in the hopes of finding who was watching him. He spotted a figure sitting at a table near the door. When the man realized he had been spotted, he ran out.

"Take over my hand, will you, Kansas?" Alan ran out after the man and spotted him disappearing around a corner. He gave chase but lost the man in the shantytown. He knew that in a place like this, everyone helped everyone else. If the man didn't want to be found, no one would tell Alan where he was.

Alan turned and headed back to the saloon. He was getting in deeper and deeper. Why was somebody watching me? He wasn't one of the players, I know them by sight. No, he was a local, that's why he ran to the shantytown. Maybe I should look into why that even exists.

He walked up to the poker table and stood beside Brisco. "How am I doing?"

"Your winnings are improving, but your sanity might be questioned."

"Gentlemen, I hate to stop your game, but I need to speak with Kansas for a minute."

Brisco gathered up the winnings and followed Alan into one of the upper rooms. "What is it?"

"As I was playing cards, I felt someone's eyes on me. It was kind of an eerie feeling. Anyway, I spotted him and he then ran out the door. I chased him to that shantytown. I was wondering what that's doing there when the town's in good shape."

"That's a bit of a story. When Hendricks came along, he killed the marshal and blew up the jail. The townsfolk did their best to fight back, but Hendricks and his men were just too much for them. They didn't really want to leave, so they set up their own version of the town right where Hendricks could see it. They even kept the same name, Oak Bluffs."

Alan was stunned. This is Oak Bluffs? It can't be. How could they let someone take over the town especially after that incident with the Garvey brothers?

"What's the matter? Know the place?"

"Uh, no," Alan lied. "Just surprised that they set up town so close."

"Hendricks doesn't bother with them unless they get in his way."

"That's good to know."

Soon the bell over the bar rang out and Hendricks called for attention. "Again, you will all pick numbers. There are two each which will pair you and decide your order."

Each man stood and walked to the bar where they picked numbers. Brisco and Alan soon found themselves wondering what number the other held but could not act too familiar and ask. The room was quiet except a few murmurs as the bartender then called the numbers.

"Number one!" Brisco looked down at the slip in his hand. He stood and was thankful that Nevada was still sitting down. He was also relieved that he would be going first. That way he wouldn't have time to agitate over everything. After his name was written on the slate along with that of his opponent, Brisco resumed his seat.

When the draw was done, it was revealed that Smith would be going last against a shooter called Flash Branigan who acted like something from a dime novel. Brisco looked at Smith to gauge how he was doing but was met with a face void of all expression. That should be enough to put off any opponent.

Hendricks called for everyone to step outside for the next stage of the match-up. The procedure was to be the same as before.

Brisco took his pace in the street facing his opponent and waited for the gong. He narrowed his view to only the man in front of him. There was no one else. Normally he would have his senses tuned to everything around him, but this wasn't like his shoot-out with Pete Hutter. This was a matter of pride-or as much pride as these guys could muster. Hendricks wouldn't put up with anything crooked in regards to this contest. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of movement. He tensed his arm over his gun. The gong sounded a split second later and he drew and fired in one swift motion. When it was over and he was still standing, he knew he had won the day.

"Somehow I knew you would be the victor," commented Hendricks. "You have earned a respite until tomorrow morning when the final four will face-off."

With a wave of acknowledgement, Brisco took his place on the sidewalk as the next contestants took their places.

Alan took deep breaths and prepared to face his new opponent. It was a good thing Brisco had talked him into watching the earlier matches. He knew what this Branigan was quick, but he also knew that he had what poker players called a tell, something he always did before preparing to shoot. Once he saw that, he knew he was okay. It was his turn.

He took his place in the street and looked out at his immediate future. If the circumstances weren't so dire, he would be laughing at the man's getup. It looked like something out of the movies, what easterners thought the people in the "Old West" dressed like. Just looking at the man made him smile.

Again, he wondered what he was doing here. How had these people let Hendricks come in and take over? What had happened to Marshal Healey? He didn't want to dwell on that. He redirected his thoughts to the matter at hand. Aside from the fact that dying was the last thing he planned to do, he had a few people depending on him back home.

The gong sounded and instinctively Alan drew and fired. There was no time for regret. His aim shot the bullet through his opponent's wrist, ending his career as a gunslinger. No one would be smiling at him anymore.

Hendricks walked to the center of the street and faced the crowd. "We have now narrowed it down to our final four contestants. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, these four men are invited to dinner at my humble abode tonight. Dress is formal-or at least as formal as you can make it. Until tonight."

Brisco looked at himself in the mirror. Freshly shaved and washed, he put forth a clean outward show. He had brushed off his jacket and changed into a fresh shirt. He knew that the others wouldn't be much better dressed than he would. Except for Hendricks, of course. He rubbed his boots on the back of his legs before heading out of the room.

As he passed through the hotel lobby, he heard a few catcalls aimed in his direction. Ignoring them, he continued on to Hendricks's house on the edge of town. A pair of lamps were shining at the foot of the steps leading to the porch and another pair were at the door. He walked slowly up the steps and made to knock at the door.

It swung open and Hendricks's lackey stood there. "Mr. Stafford. Do come in. Everyone else has already arrived."

Brisco handed over his hat and jacket before entering the drawing room where the other gunfighters and Hendricks were waiting. "Sorry to keep everyone waiting."

"We were just taking the time to get to know one another a bit better," said Hendricks as he set down his glass of what looked to be whiskey. "You're really not that late at all," he said, standing. He looked to his servant. "If dinner is ready, we can now adjourn to the dining room."

Brisco followed as Hendricks led them into the opulent dining room. He was awed by the presence of antique furniture, paintings, and Oriental rugs. Had they belonged to the original owners of the house, or had Hendricks "appropriated" them as he did most things? Despite there being only five present, the table was set for six-with fine china no less. He was expecting another guest.

"Please, take your seats but leave the head of the table free. I am awaiting a very important guest. One who will be a major proponent in tomorrow's activities."

The meal continued with each man telling tales of their accomplishments. Brisco had to remember to tell Kansas's stories and not his. Just after the entrée had been served, there was a knock on the door. When the newcomer entered the dining room, Brisco nearly choked. He was dressed in black with a white frilled shirt. It was his face, however, that drew Brisco's attention. There was no mistaking that pale skin and those dead eyes.

Hendricks rose and welcomed his guest. "Mr. Bly, I'm so glad you could join us tonight. Please, take a seat." He ushered Bly to the vacant seat.

Bly sat down and looked over the diners. "These are your top contestants?" he said in his slow, whispery drawl. Hendricks made the introductions. Bly didn't care about the first two; it was the last pair that held his interest. He recognized County from the moment he walked in. He wasn't surprised by his presence at all. It was the other man, the one calling himself Nevada Smith that shocked him. He knew the man for what he was, a time traveler from the 24th century.

Alan Kelly was a household name after close to 150 years later when Bly was just starting out in the early 26th century. The lure of going back in time and using it for his own purposes was to strong a temptation and he gave in to it. Then there were the orbs. If he could only learn how to harness all the powers they possessed he'd be unstoppable. Until now, only Brisco had stood in his way. However, with Kelly on the scene, the odds had been changed.

"Gentlemen," he said as he picked up a glass of freshly poured wine, "you have made it this far and I am duly impressed. However, to see Kansas at this table is no surprise at all. Tonight, let us enjoy the wonderful food and think on tomorrow when the time comes. The champion will be a welcome addition to my organization."

"Excuse me, Mr. Bly," Kelly spoke up. "But wouldn't four new additions to your organization be better than one?"

Such naïveté. Can this really the man from the stories? "It might be better in the course of more numbers, but it would also mean four gunmen who, at any moment, could turn on me. I think one is enough."

With dinner over, Alan decided to had back to the hotel. Being in the same room as Bly gave him such an eerie feeling. He knew this was the man responsible for the death of Brisco's father. He also knew that he and Brisco were not strangers. For him not to denounce Brisco as an imposter, he had to have something planned. Brisco was just as determined to leave Bly's presence.

They both staggered down the steps pretending to be drunk and continued the charade until they reached Brisco's hotel room. Alan turned to face him. "We can't stay at the hotel tonight."

"What do you mean 'we'? I'm the one that Bly will be after."

"People have seen us together. Bly will think I'm helping you."

"Aren't you?"

"Now I am, but that wasn't part of the plan." He backed to the door. "When the hotel quiets down we'll meet by the back door and head for the shantytown."

"Why are you so suddenly taking an interest in my welfare?" questioned Brisco as he sat on his bed.

"You're the good guy, aren't you? Besides, just being in the same room with Bly gave me the creeps."

"He does have that affect on people. Fine. We'll do as you say."

A little over an hour later, Alan was waiting for Brisco at the back door. He wasn't waiting long. "Okay, let's go."

"Wait. What about Comet?" Brisco started for the livery.

"Don't bother with you horse." Brisco looked at him as if he had said something sacrilegious. "We're not leaving for good, Brisco. It's more of a strategic withdrawl. Besides, if Bly knows how you feel towards Comet, he won't do a thing to him. Now, come on."

As they kept to the shadows, Alan thought on the relation between a cowboy and his horse. For some, it was the only constant companion, the one this they could depend on. Alan likened it to a fighter pilot and his ship. He smiled. At least a horse was a living being.

They reached the shantytown and Alan noticed it wasn't as ramshackle as he thought. The largest building seemed to be a permanent structure, and, as they got closer, he saw it was a church. As Alan stood in the road debating what to do, the door to the church opened. "Hurry. In here."

Brisco entered and Alan followed. A group of men were gathered in the weak light in the first few pews. Alan dreaded this moment and had since he learned where he was. He recognized some of the men and stayed to the shadows.

"Got on Hendricks's bad side, did ya?" asked one of the men.

"No, it was his boss," answered Brisco as he walked forward. "Thanks for helping. I'm Brisco County Jr. and this is. . ." He expected to see Alan by his side and was surprised when he wasn't. He dragged him forward. "And this is---"

There was a hush as the men stared at Alan in awe. One of them grinned and Alan recognized him as the man who had been watching him in the saloon. He also knew him from before. "Alan Kelly. I knew it was you."

Brisco looked at Nevada--no, wait, Alan-with new eyes. The way these men were treating him as akin to the return of the prodigal son. He had lied about knowing about Oak Bluffs. What had he done to garner this reception?

The man who had let them in now ushered them into the circle. "So, what brings you back? Are you here for Hendricks?"

"Truth is, I had no idea about Hendricks and what he had done until Brisco told me told me after I chased Hanrahan from the saloon. I had no idea where I was. After enough travel, all towns begin to look alike."

Brisco sat off to the side, virtually ignored. His name was usually the one to spark adulation, for want of a better word. It wasn't jealousy, exactly, it just took some getting used to. It was time to find out why. "Could someone please fill me in on what happened here?"

"You mean you don't know?" asked the one he now knew as Hanrahan. "I would have thought you followed everything regarding criminals."

"Quiet, Hanrahan, and let me explain."

Brisco listened as Kelly told how he and his brother arrived in Oak Bluffs and relaxed in the saloon over a not-so-friendly game of poker. Warned by the marshal, Alan was thrown into jail the next time he drew his gun, even though it was in self-defense. The marshal was also under the impression that Kelly was someone else. However, when the gang in question came into town and caused a brawl, the marshal was aware of his mistake and Kelly was released. Seven men faced down the gang and soon it was only the two brothers alive. Alan shot the gang leader and the other brother was taken to jail.

Brisco soon knew the incident that was being described. "You're talking about the Garveys, aren't you? I always wondered about the details. The way you tell it makes it seem like a dime novel: a group of strangers bring a town together to stand up to the villain."

"You didn't hear the best part," said Hanrahan.

"I told the full story," Alan defended.

"In the jail, while talking to Healey, Alan here got the draw on Wyatt Earp. Healey even compared his shooting to Hickock."

"So, you were telling the truth about that," Brisco said with a touch of awe.

"So now you know part of my history, but I think we had better concentrate on the here and now, especially if we want to live through tomorrow."

"I've been thinking on that," said Brisco, "and I think I have just the thing."

John Bly sat in a wingback chair in Hendricks's study and stared at his snifter of brandy. Hendricks had always been one for the finer things which worked to his advantage as it hid his crueler tendencies.

There was a knock on the door. "What is it?"

Hendricks looked in. "Stafford and Smith are gone, sir. Their beds weren't slept in and all their belongings are gone."

Bly slammed his fist down on the table. Knowing such a display of temper wasn't good, he brought himself under control. "It's very unlike him to run from a challenge," he mused.

"Sir? Why is it that you want Stafford dead? Or Nevada?"

"Hendricks, I can't believe you can't see that man for who he really is. He has sworn to bring us all in for the death of his father."

"Of course," said Hendricks as he realized. "So that's why you wanted him killed. But I still don't understand about Nevada."

Bly couldn't tell him the real reason. "It just seemed to be that the two were rather chummy and might be in on this together." He strode over to the window and looked out. "Check the livery for his horse. County would never leave his animal behind." As Hendricks headed for the door, Bly added, "And have someone go to Deep Well and keep a watch on the marshal's office. County might go there."

The following morning Bly decided to go on with the contest as planned. As he walked with Hendricks he looked about, expecting to see County at any moment, especially as Comet was being led to the hitching post in front of the saloon. "I still can't believe you didn't search that shantytown last night. We could have gotten them."

"We have an understanding, Mr. Bly. I don't go there and they don't come here. Besides, we have his horse. How far could he get?"

"Wasn't this town once known for something?"

"They killed most of the Garvey gang-or at least seven of them did. However, once we got the marshal, there was nothing tol hold them together."

They stopped in front of the saloon where the two finalists by default were waiting. Bly looked at Hendricks, who spoke. "Gentlemen, it appears that our other two contestants have chickened out, so it is now down to the two of you. I trust there is no need to explain the rules?"

"No, sir, Mr. Hendricks."

As the two men took their places, Bly positioned himself near Comet knowing County wouldn't risk shooting his own horse. The beast attempted to bite him and Bly fought the temptation to shoot the animal himself.

He felt pressure in the small of his back and he knew it to be a revolver. "They have an innate sense about evil," County said in his ear as he removed Bly's guns.

"You don't disappoint, County, though you are predictable."

"As are you. I knew you had to go through with this contest. Y'know, if you're looking to replenish your gang, I'm surprised you're only going for one. I thought I made a larger hole than that."

"Oh, so modest, County." He slowly turned around to face him. "And where's your friend?"

"You're my fight, Bly, not his."

Bly looked over to Hendricks and the other two men and wondered why they hadn't noticed. "The contest takes all concentration, Bly. It's just you and me."

From his perch overlooking the street, Alan could see Hendricks and the others preparing for the "final showdown". He didn't want any more deaths in a lost cause and stressed this fact with the men from Oak Bluffs. Shoot to kill only if you have no other choice. His own words echoed in his head. As Hendricks was about to lower his arm, Alan shot the ground in front of his polished boots. He smiled at the look on Hendricks's face captured in the sight of his borrowed rifle. The contestants in the street drew their weapons and looked about for a sign of the enemy. The ground in front of them erupted as shots were fired in their direction.

A signal from Alan passed along the line of men hidden around the town and they moved in a tight circle, closing in like a noose. Along the way, they took out Hendricks' "security", leaving him at their mercy. Once he was sure they had things under control, Alan moved over to Brisco and Bly. "How was that for timing?"

"Great," said Brisco. "You wanna tie him up? There's rope in the saddlebag."

Alan took the ropes from the saddlebags and worked them tightly over Bly's wrists, making sure not to get in the way of Brisco's gun. As he leaned in, the man spoke so only Alan could hear. "But then you've made perfect timing a science, haven't you, Colonel?"

Alan stilled for a moment. How could he know? He pulled tighter on the ropes. "I don't know what you're thinking, mister, but, in case you couldn't tell, I'm not in the army."

"Play it your way, Colonel, but I know your future."

Alan drew the ropes as tight as he could and smiled as Bly grunted in pain. "I may not know you, but what I've learned from our brief time together is that you deserve everything you get."

Brisco inspected the knots. "Good job. I don't think he'll be able to get out of those."

"I've had a lot of practice."

Brisco just shrugged noncommittally and pushed Bly towards the circle of men who were reclaiming their town.

As Alan looked at them he felt proud that he could have had a hand in this. The looks on their faces said it all. They had stood up against the enemy and won.

"I thought you had an understanding," Bly said to Hendricks.

"We did. I don't know what happened." He stared at the guns pointing at him.

"A visit from an old friend made us realize that what happened before wasn't a fluke," said Hanrahan with a look in Alan's direction. "This time we left it almost too late. There won't be a next time."

Brisco was amazed at the power a name had. Outside of religion and revolution, it was almost unheard of. From what he could tell, Kelly would have preferred that no one knew. However, since they did, he rose to the occasion admirably.

"I'll need to borrow someone's rig to transport these two to the nearest marshal."

"Yes, sir, Mr. County. I think we can get one for you," said one of the townspeople.

"Wonderful." He looked at the remnants of the jail. "Is there a place where we can lock them up for now?"

"There's a room in the hotel cellar we can use," said that establishment's clerk.

"Perfect." Brisco saw Kelly looking down the street. "What's the matter?"

"Just looking for the telegraph office. Thought you'd want to arrange for proper transport. I wouldn't trust either of them on a horse and anything could happen in an open wagon." He stood, waiting for Brisco's approval.

"Okay. Get the nearest marshal to send a wagon for prisoner transport. Tell them who it is so they can be prepared."

Kelly saluted with a smile and left for the telegraph office. A few eager young boys tagging after him.

Once Alan had gone, Brisco personally took Bly to the hotel cellar. "Ever wonder why your friend showed up when he did?" the mastermind questioned.

"He came for the contest. Got a perfect score in South Fork and they sent him here. What else is there to know?" Brisco knew that Bly's words could easily poison the mind if given any thought.

"He has secrets of his own, County. Remember that."

"Everybody should have a few secrets," he said to cover his own curiosity. "Makes things a bit more interesting."

Once Brisco examined the room in the hotel cellar, Bly and Hendricks were locked up. "They are not to be released into anyone else's custody without my being present," Brisco told those gathered. "Understood?" When no one said anything, he smiled. "Now, how about something to eat?"

Alan walked out of the telegraph office with the news that the marshal would have transport and guards there in a few hours, it was as if he had walked into a different town. Just two days ago, it had been filled with less cheer than a funeral home. Now it was one huge celebration. The people were cheering as they tore down everything that Hendricks had created. All signs bearing the name Hendrickstown were pulled or painted over until new ones could be made for Oak Bluffs.

He was told that Brisco was in the hotel restaurant and joined him there. "Sent the telegram so we should have some support in a few hours. You got them locked up secure?"

"Yep." Brisco waved over a waiter. "They're in the cellar below us as we speak." The waiter arrived. "Same thing for my friend here."

Alan looked at Brisco's meal of steak and potaoes and swallowed quickly. He hadn't realized how hungry he was. "Looks marvelous." The waiter smiled and left. Alan studied Brisco as he ate. "Um, did Bly tell you anything about me?"

"Only that you weren't telling the whole story of why you were here but I didn't pay him any attention. Should I have?" he asked as he looked Alan in the eyes.

"I will admit that there is something I didn't tell you, but it doesn't affect you in any way. You know one secret about me that no one else in this town does." He smiled, hoping Brisco would do the same. No luck. "I told the truth about how I came to be here and that I didn't know this was Oak Bluffs. If it had come to a showdown between the two of us, I wouldn't have gone through with it."

"Not even a wound shot?" Brisco raised an eyebrow.

"Well, maybe. . ."

Brisco finally did laugh as Alan's meal arrived. "I wouldn't have shot you either, if I could have helped it. I knew Bly was just trying to get to me."

Two hours later a closed wagon arrived in town with barred windows on either side and on the back door. The marshal had arrived for Bly and Hendricks along with a few deputies. He was a burly man, clean-shaven, and neatly dressed. He was spotted and word was sent to Brisco and Alan. They met him outside the saloon. "Thanks for being so quick, marshal," said Brisco as he shook his hand. "You know how important this is."

"Yes, Mr. County, I believe I do. Where do you have them locked up?"

"We had to make due as Hendricks did away with the jail. C'mon, this way." Brisco led the way to the hotel.

"It looks like this one fell into your lap, County."

"Bly did, yeah, but I was here for Hendricks." Brisco sauntered into the hotel with the marshal barely a pace behind. Alan and the deputies followed as they crossed to the front desk. Without a word, the clerk handed Brisco a key and the procession continued into the cellars. The man on guard smiled when they appeared.

"Marshal Simms is here to take the prisoners," Brisco told him. "How've they been?"

"Quite a bit of shouting and cursing, especially towards you. Other than that. . ."

"They haven't had too much time to hatch anything so they should go easy."

As Brisco prepared to unlock the door, the deputies pulled their weapons and aimed them at the cell.

The door opened to reveal the two men sitting on two makeshift cots. "Ah, County," drawled Bly, "here to make sure we are taken safely into custody?"

"I know you, Bly. You'e too slippery by half." He took the marshal's handcuffs and placed them on Bly's wrists behind his back. A deputy did the same for Hendricks. He let the marshal lead Bly and Hendricks back upstairs and to the waiting wagon. Even though there were still armed men surrounding him, Brisco still didn't trust having Bly at his back.

As the two criminals were placed behind the mobile cell, shook Brisco's hand. "Thanks again, Mr. County. We'll hold them until you get the transfer papers."

"Thank you, Marshal," said Brisco as the other man mounted his horse. "I'll get things arranged as soon as possible. Take extra good care of your guests."

"Believe me, County, they'll get the best treatment I can give them."

As they drove away, Bly stared at Brisco with those snake-eyes of his and vowed, "This isn't over yet, County!"

Alan watched the prisoner transfer quietly. After all, he really had no part in the legalities of the arrest. There was something nagging him
about the marshal, however. He just couldn't place it. He watched Brisco as Bly and Hendricks were taken away and it was if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He quest for revenge was finally over. He looked Alan's way and smiled. Alan couldn't help but respond in kind. "How about a friendly game of poker?"

A few hours later, a huge pile of winnings in front of him, Alan remembered what it was that he had found nagging about the marshal. "Oh, Lord."

"What?" Brisco looked at him.

"I just remembered something costly. We just gave Bly his freedom."

"What are you talking about? We handed him over to a U.S. marshal."

"Did we? He greeted you as Mr. County."

"Yeah, so? You used my name in the telegram."

"I didn't. And, no offense, I don't think your reputation is big enough to be recognized on sight by every lawman."

Brisco's face fell. "They had to be Bly's men waiting for him. They heard about the telegram and took the marshal and deputies places. I can't believe it! I really thought I had him." He sighed. "I should have known it was too good to be true."

Alan knew it was time to go. There was nothing else he could do without getting involved any deeper. He wrapped up the game and gathered his belongings from the hotel and paid his bill. As he untied his horse from the hitching post, he saw a disheartened Brisco. The man needed a confidence boost. "You'll get him, Brisco. I know you will, and I'm not just giving you empty platitudes. I really know you will. If you think on that, you'll learn the secret that Bly knows." He swung himself into the saddle. "You'll be surprised at what the future holds." With a smile and a tip of his hat, Alan left the great Brisco County Jr. pondering the future.


SPN Dean Writing

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