"Well, Zeke, here's your gun." Marshal Dillon opened the jail cell as the sun was rising above Dodge City, "Take my advice and practice a little sobriety next time you're in town. Drinking doesn't do much for ya."
"You didn't need to arrest me, Marshal!" the young cowboy launched to his feet and grabbed his property, "We were just having a little fun!"
"You call it fun to go around town shooting out windows and harassing women?" Matt retorted, his eyes narrowing in a heartbeat.
"We didn't hurt anybody." Zeke complained, stomping through the cell door and bullying his way past Chester to get to the outer room.
"Well, excuse me…" Matt's assistant gave him a dark look.
"Tell me something, Marshal?" the young man whirled around, his face red with anger, "If what we were doing was so bad, how come you only arrested me? Everybody—"
"As I recall," Matt's temper started heating up, "you were the only one shooting! And you were the one roughing up the girls in the Long Branch. You're lucky Missy isn't pressing charges. Now, get out here before I—"
"Naw, that's not it!" Zeke's eyes were like daggers, "You just wanted to embarrass me in front of the boys. Yeah, that's it. This is my first time riding with the herd and—"
"Get your horse and get outta Dodge before I arrest again!"
"What'cha gonna charge me with this time?".
Disturbing the peace."
"Oh, yeah? Whose peace am I disturbing?"
"Mine!" Matt nodded at his assistant, "Chester, get the door for him, would ya?"
"With pleasure!" he limped eagerly, "Never met such an ornery ole—"
The next moment, Zeke found himself reeling backwards, his nose bleeding a bloody trail down Front Street.
"Damn, you, Marshal—" he hollered as Matt and Chester looked on from the doorway, "You're gonna pay for this! You're gonna pay real good! Nobody makes a fool of me and gets away with it!"
He hit the dry street dust as the jail door slammed shut and sat still as his ears rang, bitterly nursing his wounded pride with a heaving chest as his hawkish eyes began roaming up and down the sparsely populated street. He didn't know what he was looking for but he did know that Matt Dillon would pay for what he'd done. And he'd pay before Zeke left town.
He just had to find the right target.
That's when he saw her. The beautiful redhead who the Marshal had been sitting with the night before came out of a store and started across the street, walking in the direction of the Long Branch.
"Oh, yeah, Marshal, you're gonna pay real good…" the young cowboy's eyes lit up as he staggered to his feet and slid behind the corner of the building.
Matt and Chester knew who to arrest the moment they heard the shot. Up until then, Matt had been hoping that Zeke was just a young, full of himself, buck who'd simmer down once he'd gotten out of town and back with the herd. But when he saw Kitty laying in the middle of the street, he almost choked.
"Kit—" his voice was hoarse as he dropped to his knees beside her, trusting Chester to cover them.
"Matt—" her face was twisted with pain, shock, and confusion as she tried to sit up, "I-I've been shot."
"Yeah, I know. Take it easy, sweetheart." he cautioned, gently restraining her as his eyes locked on the blood oozing down the back of her white dress; he barely heard Chester barking at the few onlookers to find out where Zeke had gone.
"Don't worry about that right now, sweetheart." Matt shook his head, "We need to get you up to Doc's."
"Mr. Dillon," Chester looked back at them, worry lines etched deeply into his face, "Doc left this morning to deliver a baby over at—"
The Marshal's eyes bulged, "By golly, you're right, Chester—" He gritted his teeth as his face lost color.
"Come on, sweetheart." he gently slid his arms under the woman he loved, hoisting her off the ground with ease, "I'm gonna have to take that bullet out myself."
He nodded at his assistant, wishing he knew more about laudanum dosages; if he did he'd consider breaking into Doc's office, "Chester, get over to the Long Branch and get me a bottle of whiskey."
"But-but what about Zeke, Mr. Dillon?"
"Don't worry about him...I gotta get this bullet out of her." He glanced down as his assistant lopped off, noting that Kitty's face was losing color too.
This won't be easy for either one of us, he thought, as he hurried back to the jail and laid her on the cot in the outer room, but at least the bullet isn't in a terrible spot.
"Stay with me, honey. Stay with me." he murmured, as her eyes began to flutter, "No, no, don't close your eyes now, sweetheart..."
"Bill says it's on the house." Chester came flying through the door.
"He'd better…" Kitty mumbled, only just conscious.
"Alright, Kit…" The Marshal took the glass Chester held out, hoping his pulsing fingers would hold steady, "Can you drink this, sweetheart? I need you to drink this. It'll make you feel better. It'll make me feel better." He eased a hand behind her head and held the glass to her lips, "That's right." he smiled as she swallowed, "That right. You're doing fine."
He gave his assistant an urgent look as he eased her onto her side, "Pour me a glass too, would ya, Chester?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Dillon."
The Marshal tossed the shot back with one gulp then took a deep breath to steady himself. Sure, he'd taken bullets out of people before. He'd even taken them out of women. But he'd never taken a bullet out of Kitty Russell!
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I know how much you like this dress..." he murmured, wiping his knife on his pants as he checked her face again; she was pretty well unconscious now and all he could do was pray that his fingers would hold steady as he began digging for the bullet, "Just stay with me. That's all I ask…"