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December 01 , 2007

The One-Horse Lawman


In 1881, Virg Slappey, a U. S. deputy marshal in Denver, Colorado, has decided to retire, marry his childhood sweetheart, and begin cattle ranching in Wyoming after a career of fifteen years as a lawman. Virg is an easygoing, fun-loving individual who never fired a shot while on duty. For the entire fifteen years, he has ridden one horse almost exclusively: Bob, a comatose, skinny, swayback bay. On the rare occasions when Virg had to ride another horse in the line of duty, disaster usually struck. When Virg noticed on his last assignment that the enfeebled Bob could hardly make it back to Denver, he knew he had chosen the right time to end his career as a lawman. On the day that Virg submitted his resignation, Brian Oakes, his boss and closest friend, tells him that he could have been famous except that he had engaged in too much horseplay and was involved in too many petty feuds with people in high places. He also tells him that he has a gift for making people as mad as hell at him. Before their meeting is concluded, Oakes is notified by telegram that Curt Baxter, a famous outlaw, has been captured and jailed in Mayville, a mining town located in the mountains west of Denver. For Oakes, selecting the right man to send to Mayville was a simple matter. It had to be Duke Trent—a legend in his own time. Six-feet-two and ruggedly handsome, Trent could outshoot, outfight, and outride any man in the West. He was the best lawman Oakes had ever seen. Without giving the matter a second thought, he wired Trent to go to Mayville immediately to get Baxter. But Denver politics got into the decision. The governor and other powerful poker cronies of Oakes were adamant that all measures should be taken to ensure that Baxter would be brought to Denver alive so that he could be given a fair trial before they hanged him. The main fear was that Baxter’s gang would try to rescue him as they had in the past, and that Baxter would be either on the loose again or killed by Trent. Bruce Thackeray, a powerful banker, points out that Virg had brought in hundreds of prisoners alive without taking his gun out of his holster. Buckling under pressure, Oakes reluctantly persuades Virg to go on one last assignment. The plan was to send Virg to Mayville in a diversionary scheme in which Trent would return to Denver by the most-used route with someone posing as Baxter, while Virg brought the famous outlaw back by a back trail. Trent was notified by telegram to stand pat until Virg arrived. A weighty problem for Virg was that he had to have a horse to make the trip and horses were in a short supply in Denver at the time due to recent U.S. Cavalry purchases in the area. Suckered into a bet with an old antagonist, Judge Grayson, Virg agrees to ride the judge’s horse, Dolly, a hellacious mare known for bone-breaking. To win the bet, Virg must ride to and from Mayville on Dolly and bring back Baxter in the process. He let himself be the judge’s foil due to his inordinate pride at having served under Jeb Stuart in the Confederate cavalry during the Civil War. When he bragged that he could ride any horse, Grayson called his hand and the bet was consummated. The assignment turned out even worse than expected. Before Virg arrived in Mayville, Baxter escaped from jail with both Trent and the local sheriff hot on his trail. Starting a day later, a reluctant Virg also joined in the pursuit. In the next few days, both Virg and Trent are engaged in several gunfights. As bodies piled up, and despite Dolly’s efforts to maim Virg, the two marshals plod forward, determined to see the matter through to the bitter end. Both Virg and Trent encounter attractive young women who complicate their efforts to snare Baxter. One is Leah Anderson, a redhead with exceptionally good looks, who Trent falls for. The other is Megan Moran, the step-daughter of an evil town boss, who takes a fancy to Virg despite the fact he’s engaged to another woman. However, th
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