June 9, 1875--the last thing Colt expected that night was to kill his best friend.
A heavy fog blotted out the moon and the stars, making travel slow. So it was near midnight when Colt rode into the small town of Stone Creek, Wyoming Territory.
He sniffed the cool night air hoping for the aroma of steak frying--or even beans. He especially craved whiskey to cut his fierce thirst. Nothing. All he could smell was the dust and his own sweat. A mirthless smile flickered across his lips. Stone Creek hadn't changed in the year he'd been gone. They still closed up the town at ten o'clock.
He had never expected to be back in Stone Creek again. After all, Billy's insulting remarks had driven Colt away in hot anger. Colt had gone to live with an Indian tribe for a year. Even there among Indian friends, once Colt had almost left when he had learned they were also old friends of Billy's.
The memory floated back into Colt's mind to a conversation he and Billy had had in their hotel room a year ago. What had turned out to be their last conversation....
"You're a fool," Billy had said, bending down to flick a speck of dust from his already spotless black boots. "You say, 'Don't shoot to kill if you don't have to. Only shoot in self-defense. Don't kill for money. No robbery.' What do you think we live on boy, --glory?"
"There's bounty to live on," Colt had said, his blue eyes intense with the effort of making Billy understand. "You can bring them in alive. So you don't have to kill for money. Or there's a bodyguard job, or a stagecoach guard. With those you don't rob, and you don't shoot to kill if you don't have to, only in self-defense."
"You're a fool," Billy had repeated, his voice laced with harshness, "You believe there's actually honor and glory in being a gunfighter. And you don't want to tarnish that image. Well, it's an image of clay, and you can't tarnish clay, boy."
"Are you telling me you think I shouldn't be a gunfighter, Billy?" Colt had asked defensively. He wasn't sure of what hurt more, Billy throwing scalding water on his dream, or the fact that it was his idol belittling him.
"Colt, I don't know," Billy had said, "There's none faster than you on the draw, including me. But you're so blasted full of these foolish ideas. Not to mention a buffalo could walk quieter than you. And the way you're coughing your lungs out--you'll be dead of consumption before you're twenty-five, anyway."
"Then stop wasting your time on a fool!" Colt had said angrily and stomped out of the hotel room., coughing in his agitation...
The memory brought a mirthless smile to Colt's lips. It had taken a long time for his anger against Billy to cool. Yet now Colt's anger toward Billy was gone. So what was Colt doing back in Stone Creek?
Colt needed Billy's advice. He'd left the part of his life with the Indians behind. He felt ready now--but ready for what? He wanted to talk to Billy before he started too far along this gunÂ¬fighter road. After all, the experienced gunfighter had taught Colt everything he knew about guns. Billy Blevins had been a father to him, better than Colt's real father. With a grimace Colt thought about his drunken father. He so despised his whiskey-stewed father that he had changed his own name from Michael Fletcher to Colt Blevins, taking his own middle name and Billy's last name. After all, he was better off with no ties to his real father, and Billy Blevins had been far more a father to him than that drunken sot, Zachary Fletcher.
Colt padded in silence along the deserted streets of Rock Springs, wishing Billy could seem him now. Colt had changed since he'd left Billy. He wasn't the heavy- footed, coughing nineteen year old Billy had once known. After spending a year with the Indians, Colt could walk through fallen leaves without a crackle. Thanks to his outdoor life with the Indians, his cough had almost disapÂ¬peared.
The town was swathed in fog. The fog weighed upon Colt's spirits and made him jumpy and nervous. So when he heard heavy footsteps, he whirled around, hand on his gun.
"Came to warn you," a big, hulking man grunted, "Out there, somebody's looking to kill you."
"Who--" Colt started to ask, but the man was already walking away, disappearing into the thick fog. Colt walked toward the hotel, licking his lips. Why would anybody want to kill him? His nerves were stretched taut with tension. Every muscle was poised for action.
Out of the corner of his eye, Colt saw a flash of movement. He whirled around, his gun in his hand. Then he gave a grim smile. It was only an alley cat.
Colt strained his ears, listening for any sound. The alley was as silent as a cemetery. Colt grimaced at the thought of a cemetery. The fog thinned as an evening breeze blew through town. A figure stepped from behind a building. A shaft of moonlight glinted on metal. Too fast for conscious thought, Colt pulled his gun and fired. The figure fell.
Colt ran over to the man. Now he'd find out who his would-be killer was. His own voice echoed in his head, 'Don't shoot to kill if you don't have to--only in self-defense.' But this was self- defense, Colt reasoned. He hadn't shot for money, or robbery. But the man was dead just the same. He reached the body and froze.
There in the dust lay the only white man Colt ever claimed as friend--the man who had taken an angry, embittered kid, and turned him into an accomplished marksman.
He had killed Billy "Bloody" Blevins!