From “A Marked Man”:
I: A Damped-Down Fire
April 21, 1865 Half Past 10:00 a.m.
Boot-clatter out on the boardwalk’s warped pine planks—boisterous shouts and catcalls that wrench his gaze from the brew gone flat as pond water in its thick-sided mug. Soule turns, squints: the saloon door stands open onto Larimer street, its mud a slops-and-horseshit pudding runny with April thaw. He leans toward it, on alert, but doesn’t rise, merely gripping the glass mug-handle, knuckles a sickly pinkish white. Afraid? No man’s stuck that slur on him, nor he on himself. Still, when he touches the dim star pinned to his duster’s black lapel, its pointed reminder—Silas Soule, Assistant Provost Marshal—his breath stalls. Does he prod himself? Insist that a brawl in the street’s his bailiwick, his duty (whatever that might mean in times like these)? In any case, the chair holds him fast. Boylan, the barkeep, dragging his twisted leg like a cottonwood branch, eases to the flyblown window for a peek under the gilt-lettered words Criterion Saloon, then shrugs toward the marshal. Soule resumes the study of his lager. Boylan takes up the damp rag tied to his apron string and begins to wipe the nearest table. Two months it’s been since Soule testified—told the horrors he’d seen at Sand Creek to the panel convened by Colonel Moonlight. A massacre, Soule called it, Chivington’s rubbing out of Black Kettle’s village, though some in Denver City said we’re at war, which made it a battle, and some called Soule a damn traitor because he kept his men above the fray. Boylan has seen with his own eyes how death threats have turned up under Soule’s plate while he stepped out back for a piss. He eyes Soule now, sidelong. Sure seems all the verve’s been bled right out of him—a man that used to laugh at his own sly jokes, or wax philosophical over losing at cards. “It all evens out in the end,” he’d say, then wink: “Dust to dust, no matter you’re planted with a jingle in your pocket.” Of course, marriage sobered him up. The very prospect made him jump at the Colonel’s offer of a marshal’s star and steady pay. Then came the inquest, and fresh strikes by the Arapaho and Cheyenne hot to avenge Chivington’s slaughter. And Soule, for his testimony, called by some an “Indian lover” like Tappan, the man Moonlight picked to head the investigation. Small wonder some hate him, Boylan thinks. Still, half the town feels damn appalled by what was done, and looks on Soule as a brave and honest man. Boylan contemplates the marshal’s contemplation. Why don’t he just go on? When Soule sits down for a meal, the place soon empties out—for who’d care to risk their health by sitting near so marked a man? Look at him. What could he be reading in that spindly foam scrawled across the pale gold surface of his beer?