All That for a Will

I stopped Print Quimby from heading directly to Colorado. If he wanted me to take care of the disposition of Cliff Shanks will without involving him, I needed him to sign a paper that authorized me to do just that in front of at least one witness. My job as a US Marshal and reputation would make a notary unnecessary. However, Judge Brooking, if he certified Shanks' will as binding, wasn't the sort to rely on my word alone as to Quimby's intentions. Accordingly, I accompanied him into town where he and I signed a paper witnessed by Wilbur Jonas and Moss Grimmick that all Quimby wanted was the hat on his head with everything else mine to do with as I saw fit.

As soon as that requirement was fulfilled Quimby left on his horse, heading west. By the time Judge Brooking ruled on the will three weeks later I had no idea where the man had gone off to other than it was probably Colorado. With the widow Clara Shanks, cattle broker Kyle Terry and original landowner Jim Redfield contesting the will the judge had to hold a formal hearing. His decision went as I suspected it would. Brooking ruled the three people contesting it had willingly signed the deed and cattle over to Shanks and his partner Quimby. Thus, Shanks was within his rights to bequeath his share to his partner. Quimby, in turn, could authorize me to dispose of the estate as I saw fit.

Clara Shanks, who was much younger than Cliff, immediately became involved with Len Ware almost as soon as Redfield evicted the Shanks for non-payment of rent. Now she was free to legally marry Cliff's longtime friend, a much younger man than her deceased husband. He would provide for her. Redfield and Terry were both successful businessmen. I certainly wasn't going to give the proceeds of the sale of the property and stock to either of them, nor was I going to award it directly to them. As much as I didn't like how Shanks had hoodwinked all three, I couldn't turn around and reward them for their disloyalty and greed. Besides, who was I to overrule Shanks intent and Judge Brooking's decision? I faced quite the dilemma.

I needed to mull over what I was going to do, but if I went to the office Chester would pester me about the hearing. Just thinking about Chester made me realize it was getting on one and I hadn't eaten. Maybe Kitty and Doc would join me for dinner. I crossed the street to find all three sitting at our usual table in the Long Branch. There went the chance for sensible ideas. Chester would be sure to push some scatterbrained idea about who was worthy. Sure enough, he began talking before I could open my mouth and didn't stop. I couldn't take anymore. Besides, I was sure they could hear my stomach grumbling.

"I'm hungry!" I blurted out. "Let's get something to eat, on me."

"Why didn't ya say so when ya first come in, Mr. Dillon?" Chester quipped as he scraped his chair back to get up. "It's much better to talk things over while eating. Makes it easier to concentrate."

I left Delmonico's to see Kitty back to the Long Branch with a full stomach but no more of an idea about what to do with Shanks' legacy. Doc walked off toward his office with Chester. If the two of them hashed over any ideas Chester would be sure to tell me. Meanwhile, at least they left me to be alone with Kitty. Nobody knew we were in her office.

"You know Cowboy, you could keep it for your old age." Kitty said when we reached her office. "You'd be guaranteed a place to live and might even earn some money."

"Yeah, and how much would I have to pay someone to run the place while I still wear this badge?" I asked her, pointing to the piece of tin on my chest. "Besides, chances are good I won't live long enough to retire."

"You'd better live long enough Mister. I've plans for that far off someday even if you don't. In the meantime you could make money off the place by renting it out. I'm certain that Doc and I could help you find someone."

"I don't have time to be a landlord. You already don't like how much time I spend working. It will only keep me away from you even more, honey."

"Enough of your sweet talk. I'll handle the business end. All you have to do is deposit the money in the bank. You could even hedge your bets by allowing them to put the rent toward buying the place."

"Kit, I won't raise any more objections. You'll have the answers. Now that you've worked out the ramifications of Shanks will, there's one more thing you can do for me while we're alone," I said in as cajoling a manner as I could while drawing her closer.

I should have known we'd be interrupted. I wrapped my arms around her. Her lips were responding to deepen the kiss I'd initiated. Then the feelings engulfing us were suddenly forced aside.

"I hate to interrupt. I snuck back here from out front. It was easy. You wasn't payin no mind. I'm only lettin ya know I'm here to keep us all from bein embarrassed. Now, if one a you will open the safe, I'll be obliged," the intruder said pointing his shotgun at us.

There was no need for Kitty to put her hand on my gun arm. I wasn't about to take a chance on her being killed while I drew and fired at the robber. Looking at him, nothing more than a lanky just shy of six feet youth of 22 or thereabouts in the patched clothes of a newly arrived sodbuster. I figured I stood a good chance of talking him out of his foolishness.

"Son, just why do you want to rob the Long Branch?" I began as I pushed Kitty behind me and inched closer to him. "Maybe we can work something out where I won't have to kill you as I go down."

"How can you be so sure you'll kill me?" he began, but noticed my badge before he could continue in that vein. "On second thought I reckon ya just might at that. I can't take a chance on leaving ma and little brother Abel to take care of Dinah and the baby. It's just that I'm desperate for enough to put a roof over our heads just long enough for the birthin. As it is ma will have to see to it. We sure can't pay no doc or midwife," he continued, lowering the double barrel.

I took the weapon from him and ushered him from the office into the barroom. It was mostly empty now that the midday crowd had dispersed after filling up on beer and the free lunch while the after work crowd had yet to appear. He and I sat at a corner table where Kitty, who had gone behind the counter to draw three beers, would shortly join us.

Slowly Jasper Corbett revealed how he came to be so hard up. The family had managed to survive Lawrence ten years ago. When the war ended in '65 his father staked out a claim on land near Bannock where his pa worked himself to death trying to make a go of none too fertile soil that lacked an adequate water supply. Dinah was the only member of her family to survive when fever struck. The nearest doctor was too far away to be of any help. Jasper, now head of his family and married to Dinah, decided to find new land farther west. He would have combined what he got from the sale of their old farm and the one his bride's family had worked to buy a wagon, fit whatever they could pile on it and use the remaining cash for a stake once they found a spot to settle. Dinah's family farm went for back taxes and the Corbett farm sold for just enough to purchase the wagon and supplies to carry them to Dodge City. Now all they had left was a few household goods on the wagon, two mules and a milk cow. Even if they had the money they couldn't go any farther because the baby was due.

"If you're willing to accept my terms, I've got the solution for you," Matt began with a nod from Kitty, who sensed what he intended. "As it happens, I inherited a ranch south of town with a house, outbuildings and 200 head of cattle. I'm willing to let you live there for periodic payments of $100 provided you work it and let Doc Adams see to the birth of your child. The government pays me enough so I can wait for you to begin to make a go of it before I expect anything but hard work from you and your brother. Fact is, I'll put the money in the bank as payment toward ownership. I'd say $1,000 would be a fair purchase price. That sound about right Kitty?"

Kitty called Sam over to arrange with Judge Brooking to look over the papers and finalize the deal. By dusk the Corbett family was settled in their new home with the deed, including the intension that the leased property would belong to Jasper Corbett as soon as his payments to my account totaled $1,000 no matter how long it took. Two days later Carlton Matthew Corbett, CM to family and close friends, was born with Doc supervising and Kitty assisting. I didn't tell Jasper, but Kitty knew if it took more than five years I'd simply declare it his. She approved, but I think it was only because she knew I'd agree to nothing else.