Winds of Change
Winds of Change By: Dallas G. Releford Marie Felton was easily the prettiest woman in St. Louis in 1878 but by the time she rode into Dodge City, Kansas on a hot July day, she was a deadly, determined killer with but one thing on her mind. Marie Felton combed her long, silky red hair in front of the dirty mirror in a “sleazy” hotel room in a sleepy, dusty Kansas cow town. Each careful stroke of the brush through her long hair brought memories of better times when someone else did what she was doing now, combing her hair. His gentle, even strokes of the hairbrush through her hair had been made with love and such things gave her much pleasure. It was a time when she didn’t have to jump for a pistol every time there was an unexpected noise or when something interrupted her thoughts. It seemed that the only thing on her mind these days was survival. But, wasn’t that one of the things that everyone had to deal with, survival? Joe Doran had been a good friend, lover and trusted companion and she thought that things would really work out between them until that night in St. Louis a couple of years ago. Funny how things just don’t seem to work out she thought still brushing her hair but her thoughts were on memories of better days gone by. Joe Doran shared a hotel room with her. They had a reasonably good life with him working the card tables by night and her singing at the O’Hare Club on Fourth Street. Sure there were times when the money was tight and things were tough but they always made it through it. To compensate for the lean times, she worked a few hours each day at one of the local hardware stores in town. Working the counter and helping poor old Mr. Griggs stock the shelves, she earned enough money to help them pay the bills. She and Joe were trying to save all the money they could so they could buy a ranch in Montana. That was their dream, owning their own ranch where they could raise cattle and not have to work day and night just to make ends meet. The work occupied most of her time but the cookie jar kept under the bed in the hotel room got fuller with each contribution until they had to start using an old discarded churn to put the money in. Marie insisted on depositing the money in the bank but Joe wouldn’t hear of it. He said that bankers just couldn’t be trusted. With each addition to their hidden cache, Marie worried just a little more that something would happen to it. That wasn’t her only concern however. With each passing day, Joe seemed a little less interested in her. She passed this off as just another result of overworked bodies and tired minds that didn’t get enough sleep. On a hot July summer night she had been singing in the bar for several hours and decided to finish the night early because she wasn’t feeling well. Her head hurt and her stomach ached. Her body burned with a fever that she attributed to just part of the bad cold that was causing her problems. She was certain that a good nights sleep would cure what ailed her so she informed Mr. Barkley, the bar owner that she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go home. He agreed. One thing he didn’t want was a singer that couldn’t sing. Quickly looking around the crowded, smoke-filled room, she didn’t see any sign of Joe anywhere. She had hoped that he was there so she could tell him that she was going home just in case he missed her and wondered where she was. He often played cards at one of the tables so that he could be close to her. Sometimes he played there when the pickings were slim in the other bars. After changing into something more suitable, she made her way across the busy street, dodging riders on horses and an occasional wagon or buggy. The dusty street was dimly lit by oil burning lamps on carefully placed posts. Joe wasn’t in the hotel lobby. In fact, there were only a couple of guests present enjoying their cigars and reading the towns only paper. They glanced at her once and then returned to their pastime. Ascending the stairs with great difficulty, she finally made it to her room without vomiting but the perspiration was popping out on her forehead and she was grateful when she made it to the top of the stairs. As she turned the doorknob, opened the door and entered the dark room her only thoughts involved getting undressed, taking a quick wash off and then getting some sleep. The light from the hallway revealed some movement in the bed. Maybe Joe had come home early and decided to get some rest? It was apparent that he was moving about and she wondered if he was in pain. She heard his grunts and groans clearly and hoped that he wasn’t hurt or sick. She tossed her clothes and other things in the chair by the door. She walked quietly over to the flowery porcelain oil lamp in the corner on the table and lifted the chimney before lighting it. She hoped that she hadn’t scared him but she had to know what was wrong with him. When she turned around her heart seemed to sink deep into her chest cavity and she gasped for breath at what she saw. Joe’s gun belt hung from the bedpost at the foot of the bed. She had purchased the matching set of pearl handled Colt .44 pistols for him on his birthday two years ago. He had worn them proudly swung around his slim waist and had told everyone that Marie bought the guns, belt and holsters for him. She pulled one of the “peacemakers” from the holster, aimed it at Joe and never uttered a word of warning. Neither Joe nor the “women of the night” from the bar across the street had even realized that she was there until they heard her pull the hammer back, the cylinder turn and the weapon cock. Neither did they realize her deadly intent until they both stared up into the long hollow barrel of the Colt .44. “You bastard,” she screamed, “how can you do this to me after all we’ve been through together?” Joe didn’t say anything. He didn’t have time to say anything. She pulled the trigger continuously in a frantic, desperate rage of violence. Blood flew all over the covers of the bed, on the floor and even up to the ceiling above. Small droplets of the sticky liquid dripped back down to the bed again before the sounds of gunfire had ceased. Six bullets weren’t enough for them Marie decided because she could see both bodies still jerking and twitching. She thought they weren’t dead. Dropping the empty pistol to the rough plank floor, she emptied the second gun into the bodies until they were silent forever. Marie staggered backward unaware of what she had done. Finally realizing that she had committed cold-blooded murder in her moment of intense anger, her mind raced ahead at a daunting pace. She knew that it wouldn’t be long until the hallway would be full of curious spectators and the law surely wouldn’t be too far behind. She nervously but quickly washed the blood from her hands and body and wondered how things could change so quickly. The winds of change were rolling through her life. She quickly discarded the dress in exchange for a light blue blouse and jeans. Her method of transportation would demand such clothing because she would have to move very fast and that meant leaving the town on the fastest horse that she could find. She knew that she would have to hurry because people were already beginning to gather in the street outside the hotel. They had obviously heard the shots but probably didn’t know exactly where they had come from. It wouldn’t take them long to figure it out though. She strapped the gun belt around her slender body and cleaned the weapons before reloading and putting them in the holsters. Taking Joe’s saddlebags, she emptied his meager possessions on the floor being careful not to stumble on them as she scurried around the room collecting things that she really needed. Marie stuffed the items into the saddlebags. It occurred to her that she would need money and lots of it. She pulled the cookie jar from under the bed only to discover that it was empty. The old churn was in a similar condition and her anger grew as she starred at the two empty containers. She hadn’t figured Joe would do such a thing but he would never do it again she thought. She found some comfort in the fact that he wouldn’t ever be able to do it again. Even as angry as she was, there seemed to be a void that had developed in her life just like a twister suddenly appeared on the Kansas plains. Angered, she remembered the thousand dollars she had hidden in her new boots in the closet. Luckily, it was still there because she hadn’t told Joe anything about it. It was part of the money she had earned from working at the store. She noticed the old Winchester rifle and decided that the weapon and the extra ammunition would come in handy at some later date. She slung the Winchester around her neck using the shoulder strap and filling the canteen with fresh water, Marie grabbed the saddlebags and slipped quietly out the open window and onto the tin roof outside. She climbed down the huge tree that was near the hotel roof and slipped down to the street below. * * * Now two years later, she sat in front of a mirror combing her hair and wondered what would happen next. Her thoughts raced quickly to the many events that had followed the murder. The recollections of racing to the stable in the dark, stealing a horse, getting shot at by the pursuing posse and being chased for over a hundred miles through rain, wind and sunshine were burned into her mind as surely as her beautiful white skin had been burned by the hot midday sun. Tired, exhausted and completely devastated after crossing rushing streams, wide prairies and flooded plains, she had finally arrived in Abilene, Kansas barely alive. After several days of rest, she set about changing her appearance and her identity. She bought the same type of clothes that the cowboys wore in those days and cut her hair short. Her full lips were so enticing and beautiful (as were her beautiful blue eyes) that it was difficult to hide them from the world. Her full feminine figure was also a problem but she set out to find a viable solution that would allow her to pass herself off as a man. After hours of frustrating, torturous thinking and experimenting with various schemes, she finally gave up. She decided that she’d just have to pass herself off as a rough and rowdy female cowboy even though she didn’t know much about the profession. She figured that with the right connections, she could find a job and learn it. Being a wanted woman limited her ability to earn a living and to have a normal life. She knew that if she was going to survive that she would have to go somewhere else, perhaps as far away as Canada. Before she could find a way to leave the country, she began to hear rumors about a man claiming to be Joe Doran. How could that be she wondered? She’d killed him over two years ago and dead men didn’t normally walk the earth, or did they? As the months flew by, she managed to somehow stay two steps ahead of the many bounty hunters, lawmen and gunslingers. She heard more and more about the man. Finally, she found out that he had gained quite a reputation as a gunman. His last known whereabouts was in Dodge City, Kansas. It took her four days of hard and difficult riding but she finally arrived in Dodge on a hot Thursday night. She found the town bustling with activity. Most of the activity involved drunken and wild cowboys, malicious card sharks and a mix of other kinds of notorious characters. With so many varied character types in town, a beautiful, well-built woman dressed in dirty, soiled cowboy garb and wearing two pearl handled pistols strapped around her waist and carrying a Winchester in her right hand drew little attention. If anything at all, she got an occasional quick glance from some passerby. If Joe were alive and IF he were in town then she knew exactly where she could find him. After checking all but one of the dirty, filthy bars on the south side of Dodge, she was about to admit to herself that Joe wasn’t alive and that he wasn’t in town. She pulled down the brim of her felt hat to cover her bangs and eyes. If he was in the dimly lit room, she didn’t want him to recognize her before he eyes grew accustomed to the light in the room. The room was crowded with drunken, sweaty stinking cowboys and a variety of other people, none of them looked friendly. Nearly naked women were dancing on the stage and a half-drunk, laughing piano player was plinking away at the ivory. The bar was lined up with loud, boisterous men and the card tables were all occupied. She carefully surveyed the figures at the bar but didn’t see Joe anywhere there. Neither did she find him near the stage where numerous drunken cowboys tossed silver dollars on the stage beneath the prancing feet of the dancing bar room queens. She finally walked slowly toward the card tables in front of the bar. Her eyes fell on a figure with a moustache, full beard and steel blue eyes. It was Joe Doran. She was sure of it. Her guts became queasy, her nerves tightened and she got a lump in her throat the size of a Kentucky bull-frog the moment she realized that this was the varmint that had made love to her, cheated on her and stole her hard earned money. Her teeth were firmly clinched together as her right hand tightened around the butt of the pistol. “Well Joe, what do you know?” She asked loud enough so that he could hear her above the sound of a hundred other voices in the smoke-filled bar room. “I don’t guess six bullets was enough to kill you, HUH? I didn’t know that I was such a bad shot. After all, you’re the slob that taught me how to shoot, weren’t you?” The man’s hands trembled until he dropped the cards entirely and the slim cigar fell from his lips. His eyes gazed at her as if he were seeing a ghost. “No, you are actually a good shot,” he almost whispered, his voice hoarse and weak from fear, “your mistake was that you hit everything but my heart.” “Well, maybe you won’t be so lucky this time,” she replied pulling the pistol from its holster and cocking it. “Even I can’t miss at this distance.” “Please --- please wait now Marie,” he pleaded in a last desperate attempt to save his own worthless hide. “Please, can’t we talk this over?” “Of course we can talk it over,” she replied smiling, “you just had your say and I’ll do my talking with hot lead. While we’re having this conversation, let’s talk about something real important like where is the money that you took? I want every penny of it back.” Doran didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. She knew from the blank expression on his weathered face that he had gambled it all away and spent it on the barroom belles. So that’s what he had used her for all along, to get a stake for him so he and his hussies could live a life of grandeur and luxury while she disappeared off the face of the earth, she thought. It took a few minutes for the thought of what he had done to sink fully into her tortured mind. “You bastard!” she exclaimed loudly as she pulled the trigger. The bullet hit one of the many piles of silver coins on the table in front of him and changed direction then broke a bottle of whiskey on the counter. Men who previously had been drunk now sobered quickly and dived for cover anywhere they could find it. Others chose to exit out the saloon through the swinging doors and even through the glass windows. Nothing mattered to her as she aimed the gun directly at his heart and pulled back the hammer. Pleasant memories invaded her mind. As she looked at the helpless creature in front of her, she thought not of all the bad things he had done to her but of the good things he had done for her. Scenes of the times they had made love all night while the gentle rain pounded on the tin roof of the hotel and the lightning flashed endlessly outside occupied her mind for several minutes. Doran muttered something under his breath that was almost inaudible to her. Her eyes were glazed, starring at him but not actually seeing him as he really was. What she was seeing was a man standing there and she was beside him with her wedding dress on and a bouquet of red, long stemmed roses in her hand. Her hesitation was just enough for Doran to fall quickly and safely to the floor of the bar. The next shot went wild breaking one of the wooden slats in the back of the chair where he had been just a few seconds before. She didn’t see the Derringer but she felt the bullet tear deep into her chest. She felt the warm blood gush out and knew that she couldn’t breathe anymore. Doran got up, casually brushed his black suit off and walked around the table. She could hardly see him. All she saw was a figure coming near her. Doran picked up two bits from the table, bent over and held the coin above her still eyes. “You wanted your money so here it is,” he boasted coldly. He stooped down beside her and dropped the coin on her blood soaked chest. “And something else,” he whispered to her placing the barrel of the Derringer against her right temple, “you can’t kill the one you love.” He squeezed the trigger and she saw or heard nothing more. A roar of laughter went up from some of his friends who had gathered around to view the spectacle. Maybe he had won for now but the winds of change were blowing wildly across the Kansas plains. Doran didn’t know it but he had a rendezvous with a man named Ringo, in a faraway town called, Tombstone at a much later date. There is another lesson to be learned by men such as he. We all have to meet our own fate sometime.