©2017 Robert Lee Murphy
Will pushed away from the table. The back legs of his chair caught in a crack in the crude, wooden floor, and he toppled over backward. He reached down to lift the flap on the Army holster he wore buckled on his right hip over his buckskin jacket. From where he lay sprawled on his back, he kept his eyes locked on Paddy, who raised the tail of the woolen coat he wore, reaching for his own pistol.
Paddy sneered, exposing a mouthful of rotten, broken teeth. He spat a stream of tobacco juice onto the café floor. The skinny Irishman’s smirk caused the scar running down the left side of his face to twitch visibly.
Will’s holster flap resisted lifting. The freezing weather had stiffened the leather. He reached across his body with his left hand to hold the flap up so he could grasp the butt of the Colt .44-caliber revolver with his right.
Paddy beat him to the draw. He pointed his pistol at Will’s uncle, double-cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger. The explosion filled the room with a boom. Smoke rose from the end of the barrel.
Will’s uncle groaned and slumped forward in his chair.
“Sure, and I told ye Major Corcoran,” Paddy said, “I’d get ye for killing my pa.”
Paddy double-clicked the hammer again and aimed at Homer.
Will still struggled to free his revolver from its holster.
“And, sure it is, nigger, I’m going to kill you, too.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Will could see that Homer seemed to be paralyzed.
Paddy pulled the trigger. The hammer snapped against the percussion cap with a metallic clunk. No explosion followed. Paddy looked at the gun.
Will knew any number of things could have caused the revolver to misfire. Maybe the cylinder was empty, perhaps the percussion cap had fallen off the chamber’s nipple, or the wet weather had dampened the powder charge.
Will freed his revolver from the holster, double-cocking the hammer as he raised the Colt.
Paddy turned and bolted out the back door.
Will got to his feet and kicked the chair out of the way. He leaned toward his uncle, who sat up at that moment holding his left shoulder. “Uncle Sean? Where’re you hit?”
“In the shoulder. Think it broke my collarbone.”
“Homer,” Will said, “take Uncle Sean over to the railroad doctor. I’m going after Paddy.”
He headed across the dining area toward the rear door, which Paddy had left open.
“What are you doing?” his uncle demanded.
“Going after him.” Will paused in the doorway and looked back at his uncle and Homer. “I thought he was dead. I’m going to finish this.”
“That’s not a good idea,” his uncle said. “You’re not using your head, Will.”
“This won’t take long, Uncle Sean.” Will stepped into the alley, pulling the door closed behind him. The sleet blew into his face, making it difficult to see. He’d left the café without his poncho or hat, and he felt the cold settle through his thick hair and cling to his scalp.
A shot exploded, and a bullet smashed into the wood of the doorframe beside him. Will ducked behind several barrels lined up along the back wall of the café. A second shot, fired from a little farther away, smacked into one of the barrels. Pickle brine sprayed out the hole.
Will peered around the side of the barrel and spotted a figure running toward the far end of Hell on Wheels. The runner’s bowler hat confirmed he had Paddy in sight. Will rose and raced down the alley after his nemesis.
He hadn’t seen Paddy since last summer in Wyoming, when they had their gun battle atop the freight train as it rolled across the bridge over Green River. Will shot Paddy twice then, hitting one or perhaps both of the Irishman’s legs. Paddy jumped into the river before Will could finish him. The act had surprised Will, because he’d known from a previous experience that Paddy couldn’t swim. When Will searched the riverbank the next day, he found no evidence Paddy had lived.
Now, in the dimming light of the evening and the haze created by the slanting sleet, Will barely kept Paddy in sight fifty yards ahead of him. Opposite the canvas warehouse of the Casement brothers, Paddy stopped and snapped another shot in Will’s direction. The whiz of the bullet sounded loud as it whipped past Will’s ear. Either Paddy had become a better shot since Will had last confronted him, or maybe it was the luck of the Irish.
Will raised his Colt and aimed at Paddy’s back. He paused. If he had the Yellow Boy Winchester he’d left at the stable, the shot would have been guaranteed. He lowered his pistol. No matter what weapon he used, he refused to be labeled a back shooter. Once last year, while leading Count von Schroeder’s hunting party in Wyoming, Will had a chance to shoot Paddy in the back with the Winchester rifle, but he’d held off.
The double doors of the canvas warehouse swung open, and Dan Casement emerged. “What’s going on out here?” he shouted.
Will trotted up to Casement and stopped. “Paddy O’Hannigan’s trying to kill me, again.” Will pointed to the figure disappearing down the slope, heading toward the bank of the Weber River.
“O’Hannigan, eh.” Casement at five feet tall had to look up at Will who towered over him. “We fired that rascal a couple of years back for stealing railroad property, you know. What’s he still doing around here?”
“I’m pretty sure he’s a henchman for Mort Kavanagh.”
“Wonder why that doesn’t surprise me. Kavanagh’s giving your uncle fits over property right now, and he’s always creating trouble for me by enticing my workers to get drunk and not show up the next day.”
“I’m tired of having to fight Paddy,” Will said. “I’m going after him. But where can he run tonight, in this storm? He can’t cross the river.”
“Some Irish workers are holding a wake down that way. One of the gandy dancers was crushed to death under a load of iron rails today.”
“I’ll check out the wake, sir. See you later.” Will stepped off the trail to follow in the direction he’d seen Paddy heading.
“You be careful, Will,” Casement called after him. “The Irish are usually rip-roaring drunk at one of those wakes. Hard to tell what they might do when they’re all liquored up.”
“I’ll be fine, sir. What could they do to me?”