Learn more about Destination Santa Fe: Book Four of The Clint Mason Series
Copyright William F. Martin. All Rights Reserved.
The setting sun’s golden rays played across the face of a tall, olive-skinned, well-built man. With sadness in his eyes he looked over Carson City, Nevada. The big Appaloosa stallion under him was ready to finish this trip and get some rest. The three beautiful horses that were being led were the best that could be bought in this whole western region. Outlaws and cattlemen would kill for these horses, and some had tried.
Carson City was a booming town with plenty of people and money. The big hotels, casinos and saloons were just the places for a gambler, gunman and fugitive to hide out in plain sight. This lawless frontier town didn’t care where you came from or where you were going as long as you had money. John Hayes, the name he was using today, had a lot of gold dust and $20 golden eagles in his saddlebags. He was a rich man by Carson City standards.
John Hayes found a small livery stable and corrals off the main drag for his trail horses. After giving the attendant some specific instructions about them, he took the Appaloosa with its saddlebags and bedroll on up the street to one of the big hotels. The hotel had a big steel safe where two heavy saddlebags were deposited. A lavish tip got the man’s attention and appropriate respect for what money could buy. He promptly took the stallion down the street to the hotel’s livery stable, with plenty of promises that the horse would be well tended and available whenever he asked.
A nice room with feather bed, a hot bath and a shave, then a big meal in a lavish restaurant set the stage for a new beginning for this trail weary traveler. He had been on a fast move for over a month in order to leave no trace of his past in California. The zigzag path he had taken through the Sierra Nevada mountains, only stopping for short stays at trail towns and trading posts, had worn his body and his horses completely out.
His favorite pastime, gambling, overcame his body’s demand for rest. A clean set of clothes and a good meal under his belt rekindled the desire for some poker. The casino attached to the hotel he had selected was lavish and very active. After slowly sipping his drink at the bar, a poker table of businessmen had a seat come open. They were happy to see new money and a well-dressed young man join the table. Even though the game was a friendly way to pass the time, competition was always at the heart of the game. The regular players at the table quickly realized that this new player was good – very good.
The name John Hayes was a little familiar to one of the players. He asked John several questions about his travels. Since the real Mr. Hayes had been killed by this handsome stranger, and his identity taken, the name was still new to its current holder. His reputation as a professional gunman from St. Louis, hired by the Starr Ranch in California to kill the young man that now was using the name, was all that was known about the original Hayes. The businessman remembered hearing the name in Denver the previous year, and more recently, in association with another Hayes brother who had reportedly been involved in a shootout over a card game. John acknowledged that his brother, Bob, had been killed in Bay Town, California, within the past month. Those at the table expressed their regrets. This exchange seemed to settle the curiosity of the businessman and the other players.
The next few days in Carson City put the new Mr. Hayes in top physical health. Fully rested, and somewhat richer, his exceptional card skills and his mathematical mind put him at a considerable advantage over the average player. It was becoming clear that John Hayes’ reputation as a professional gunslinger was seeping through the conversations around town. This was the cause of being called out by some rough and tumble gamblers, but also reduced the openness of the businessmen. He could just feel that uneasy feeling of fear they had toward him.
The businessman that had first recognized his name finally asked a question that put this John Hayes on the spot. The businessman wanted to know what had happened to his brother’s good-looking wife and small boy that had been traveling with them back in Denver. A quick fabrication laid out a story about Bob Hayes and himself accepting a job that took them out near Sacramento, California. Bob’s wife would not go along with this new job. The wife had given up on making a good man out of Bob, so they parted ways. John said he was taking Bob’s share of the money they made on the last job back to his widow and son. John let him know that he had not been in contact with the widow and was not sure she was even aware that her ex-husband had been killed. The businessman thought that the Hayes woman had left Denver and traveled south to Durango right after Bob and John left town.
Luckily for John, the businessman dropped the widow’s first name as Linda, which allowed him to move past his blind guesswork. The businessman must have had a lot more interest in Ms. Hayes than he first let on. A few more drinks and the businessman revealed that he had tried to get to know Linda Hayes. She was beautiful and gracious. He had no idea how she had ever married John’s brother. The look on the businessman’s face became fearful. Maybe he had said too much about the dead brother. John quickly put him at ease by saying his brother had always been too wild for Linda’s tastes. He had no idea why they ever got married in the first place except she was a beautiful and nice woman.
That exchange eased the tension and a few days later John was asked to join the businessman’s poker table. Over the next week, a lot more information came out about the reputations of the two Hayes brothers. The businessman finally said that John seemed a lot more friendly and polished than the reputation they had up in Denver. John’s only response was that time and experience can improve a person. The loss of a brother in a shootout can take that aggressive edge off a person.
The businessman left for Sacramento a couple of days later. It was only then that a lonesome feeling settled over this John Hayes. These conversations with a complete stranger had been enjoyable and comforting. They did bring back memories of his past; an older brother by the name of Brad Mason that he last saw just before his 16th birthday. His brother and he had been as close as twins, but as different as day and night. Brad had been a steady, dependable young man where as he, Clint, had been a troublemaker, quick pistol draw, and fierce gambler from the age of thirteen. While Brad had been tall, gentle and well-built as a youth, Clint had been a wiry, tough, reckless, skinny kid. A smile came over Clint’s face as he looked into the mirror at the new Clint Mason, now called John Hayes. His frame was over six-foot, fully muscled and he had that air of a gentleman in his dress and manners. There was not a hint left of that skinny, reckless kid in the man that looked back from the mirror.
Clint had to give thanks again to the late Ms. Jamison, the elderly, gracious and elegant school teacher who was primarily responsible for taking a wild, young kid and transforming him into a well-educated gentleman with the manners that had made him welcome at fancy parties in San Francisco. The five years of education and training Clint had received under Ms. Jamison’s tutelage was equal to a college education back east. He knew she was disappointed in that his gambling skills had increased as she developed his mathematical skills. The doctor that had been at her side when she expired of heart failure had given him a note saying how proud she was of her star student.
In honor of Ms. Jamison, Clint put on one of his best San Francisco tailored jackets. He went downstairs in the fancy hotel for a top quality meal with the best wine in Carson City, Nevada. It felt good to be in fine clothes, well-rested and circulating among the crowd. He did miss the social life that his teacher had introduced him to in San Francisco. If only his brother could see him now. That thought put a new hope in Clint’s mind. Maybe after all these years he could try to contact his brother, at least find out if he was alive and well. Clint knew he would have to be careful because he was wanted for questioning in a murder case from over 10 years earlier, and that had caught up with him when he was in San Francisco.
Destination Santa Fe would be the new goal. Santa Fe, New Mexico, was about two days’ ride north of the home ranch where he had last seen his brother, Brad, more than six years earlier. The first stop would be Durango, Colorado, to help the widow of Bob Hayes, if possible. He had killed Bob and John in self-defense when the two brothers had set out to cash-in a contract killing. However, he was a rich man and made money easily gambling, so why not share a little with the woman he had made a widow? It would give some purpose to his wandering. Besides, Durango was on the way to Santa Fe. With his next step planned out, he settled into a couple of weeks enjoying the fruits of Carson City.
The cards were running in his favor as they usually did, when his new identity caught up with him. Two very rough looking trail bums challenged him at the poker table. They contended that John Hayes and his brother, Bob, had killed their buddy over a card game in Denver just four months earlier. They had been trailing the two Hayes brothers all this time. The trail had led to Bay Town, California, but they had gotten there too late. The one brother, Bob, had been killed in a gunfight, but the other brother had escaped a gunfight with the local marshal. The word was that John had killed a man named Charles Martinez, then took his large cache of gold. They were there to collect the gold and settle that score with their friend’s killer.
The other poker players cleared out, leaving Clint looking into the barrels of two guns. Clint explained that the bag of gold coins was hidden, so he would have to show them the location. The two men were moving around the table to get behind him when a tray of drinks was dropped. The man close to Clint turned to look at the noise. That split-second opportunity was all the advantage Clint needed. His first shot knocked the first gunman into the second, then before the second man could bring his gun back to Clint, another bullet caught the second man dead center. All went quiet in the saloon. As the smoke cleared, the crowd saw the well-dressed, soft spoken gambler they had gotten to know, slowly slide his pistol into its holster. An awe of amazement slipped through the lips of the onlookers; the good-looking young gambler should have been killed. Instead, there he stood, looking down on the two dead men who’d had the drop on him as he sat at the table. It all happened so fast that there were at least four versions of the gunfight before Clint even collected his winnings, checked out of the hotel and hit the trail for Durango. The legend of John Hayes would grow a lot when this gunfight was told and retold, each time getting bigger and better, as tales usually do. These latest tales from Carson City would support the illusion that Hayes had survived the Bay Town gunfight and was alive and on the move. This last nearly fatal encounter with Hayes’ past convinced Clint to look for another identity.