By Jeff Bailey

 Lucy Clover had suggested the theater, arguing they wouldn’t get a sense of Tombstone only by looking for roughnecks to put down. “A town without community is a prison without walls.” 

She and Wendy Cheng arrived early for the evening show at the Birdcage Theater. The velvet and polished oak widened their eyes more than the promised entertainment. Wendy paid for two tickets and the pair went inside. 

It didn’t take long before some ranch-hands began hollering at the actors. Wendy looked at Lucy. “Whatever comes next has to be better than this show.”

The ladies expected drunken catcalls, but a huskier, less intoxicated voice held their attention. “Dadgummit, can’t a man laugh at an idiot in peace?” The swaggering voice belonged to a snarling Cowboy.

Wendy looked over her shoulder. “Can you boys take that outside? We’d like at least a penny’s worth of our admission.”

One of the drunkards fired his Colt wildly into the ceiling. A volley from the Cowboys sent the audience diving for the floor and actors scattering offstage. The ranch-hands stampeded towards Wendy’s seat. Her shotgun’s stock knocked the first man to reach her to the floor. Lucy collapsed another with a whipped pistol to the gut.

Lucy managed to get clear of panicked townsfolk and drunken brawlers. She surveyed the ceiling for anything that looked easy to fix and fired. “THAT’S ENOUGH!”

The drunkards vaulted over each other in haste to reach the door, and someone pushed into Wendy from the side. She swiveled, shotgun ready – but hesitated as she saw an elegantly dressed man paired with wickedly sadistic eyes.

The man looked at Wendy. “Tigris cavea tuum ante et perdet unguibus.”

Latin? Wendy’s brain raced to remember a strident nun wielding an unforgiving birch wand. After a moment, meaning arrived. Cage your tiger, before she loses her claws. She retorted, “Si vis caveam, cavea dabo tibi,“ which she hoped translated back into “If you want a cage, I’ll give you a cage.” Then Wendy smiled. “You must be Johnny Ringo. I’ve heard you’re the smart one. Just not smart enough to set yourself right.”

Johnny smirked, hand at his holster. “Of the two of us, I’m not the one trying to light lanterns in rainstorms.” He noticed Wendy’s badge. “I’ve heard of you, too. You and your law won’t go here.”

Lucy stepped forward. “If you mean to shoot, then shoot. You don’t scare us.”

An older man grabbed Johnny by the shoulder. “Johnny – don’t get excited. Tonight’s faro at the Oriental.” He gestured towards the Law Dogs. “These two will keep, but the tables have miners’ money on them right now.”

Johnny paused, then spun his weapon out of his holster and right back in. He relished Lucy’s startled gaze, then stared at Wendy. “If you’re running with the Earps, we’ll meet again.”

Lucy looked over Johnny’s shoulder. “And you should be careful who you run with, too.” She already knew Curly Bill Brocius by reputation for the murder of Marshal White. The men laughed and strode out.

As the ladies headed towards the foyer, a familiar face appeared. Morgan Earp surveyed the fallen. “I heard gunplay, and headed here. It seems like the Cowboys have a little fear in their bellies.”

Wendy shook her head. “No. I suspect they followed us here. To test our mettle, knowing we stand with you.”

“Johnny’s fast of hand and temper, and also wits and cunning. Curly Bill, however, is out for blood. I think they’d rule Tombstone now, if not for my brothers. Speaking of which – let’s go outside.”

The street was clear, except for a well-appointed stagecoach. Morgan waved it closer, and the driver pulled to a stop in front of the theater. The door opened, and another man stepped out. Polished silver spurs glinted behind thick black boots. Dusty brown hair slid neatly from beneath a black-brimmed cowboy hat into the starched white collar of a formal shirt tucked behind  a black velvet waistcoat and leather duster. His eyes never wavered, taking in every detail. The man’s strides were deliberate and confident.

“I see you’ve met my brother Morgan. He’s taken a shine to your courage. I knew we’d meet in person, sooner or later. I believe you might be willing to help save this town.” He offered a gloved hand. “My name is Wyatt Earp. It’s a genuine pleasure.”