The Sins of the Father

By Rene Steen

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety and Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
Omar Khayyam

A shimmering in the air preceded the sudden appearance of a door-sized rectangle a few feet off the ground. Within its frame a man stood up from the couch in which he had been reclining and walked forward, jumping lightly to the ground. He glanced at the keypad that he held in his hand. According to the digital readout he had arrived in the late summer of 1886. Satisfied he fixed his eyes on the portal hovering impossibly before him and touched a button on the keypad. The shimmering intensified momentarily then imploded taking the portal with it.

"Hold it right there, stranger." The voice was low and strong, and came from directly behind him. Kane Garnett froze as the centre of his back began to itch.

"Turn around slowly, don’t make no sudden moves."

Slowly he shuffled his feet turning to the left until he was facing the opposite way to before. He saw a man roughly his own build levelling a revolver at him with his right hand whilst his left held a set of reins that were attached to a large sable gelding.

"Now where did ya come from? I seen ya come out of thin air. Are ya some kind of demon?" He cocked his head as he surveyed Kane with open hostility and the barrel of his pistol never wavered but stayed pointed squarely at Kane’s chest.

Kane groaned inwardly. He had planned his arrival to be some distance from the nearest settlement or town. Just his luck that this man had happened to be coming past and spotted his arrival.

"I’m not a demon. Why don’t you just get on your horse and continue on your way? Just forget whatever it was you think you saw."

The stranger continued regarding him with cold hard eyes for a few seconds, then he gave his head a shake and laughed.

"I saw what I saw, mister and ya got some explaining to do. I reckon I’m bringing ya in t’ the marshal at Yuma. I reckon he’ll know what t’ do.

Kane shook his head. It was important that his trip here did not become common knowledge else it might have dire effects along the time line to 1998.

"You don’t seem to understand. I am merely a traveller. I am not a demon nor am I a criminal, but I’d rather we didn’t speak to the marshal or to anyone else. You see, it is rather a delicate matter."

"Quieten up there, mister. I ain’t taking no chances with ya. Yuma is nine miles east of here and that’s where I’m taking ya."

The gunman flicked his pistol towards the east, a gesture that was intended to get Kane moving in that direction. Kane took a step towards the man but the gunman immediately stepped one pace back.

"No tricks now or I’ll have no choice but to shoot ya. Just get going east, steady as ya please."

Kane shrugged and made as if to comply with the request. At that moment the man turned his head slightly to look at the horse, his left hand tugging at the reins to get the beast into motion. Seeing that he was momentarily distracted, Kane dived sideways onto the ground, rolling in the dust. His right hand, scrabbling urgently amongst the pebbles, clasped onto a large round stone. A loud explosion deafened him as he twisted out of the line of fire and desperately flung his makeshift missile. He had a split second view of the pistol zeroing in on him for a second shot before the rock found its mark, striking the gunman squarely between the eyes. The gun flew out of the man’s hand as he stumbled backwards falling heavily to the ground.

Quickly regaining his feet, Kane stepped to the fallen gun and picked it up, aiming it at the man who lay supine, spreadeagled in the dirt with a trickle of blood running from his nose. He took a cautious step forward, paused and took another until he was at the man’s side. The fallen man’s eyes stared upwards at the sky. There was no light in them and the man did not appear to be breathing.

Carefully placing the gun on the side of his body away from the man, Kane reached for the carotid artery in the man’s neck pressing down with two fingers as he felt for a pulse. There was none. The man was dead. Kane swore and examined the corpse, rolling the man over to inspect the back of him. The cause of death became immediately obvious upon doing this. He had fallen with the back of his head onto a sharp outcrop of rock that had punctured the back of his skull and penetrated the brain.

* * * *

Kane stepped back to survey his work. It was a shallow grave as, even though he has found a spade amongst the man’s belongings tied on the horse, the ground itself was rock hard. He had managed a shallow depression of a couple of feet deep into which he had rolled the body, then had used the ample supply of stones to cover him up. Nearby the horse stood placidly awaiting its new master’s pleasure.

Satisfied that the grave would be reasonably safe from the desert scavengers he turned to the one other pressing task. Approaching the horse presented no difficulty. The animal was apparently prepared to serve any master and stood patently while Kane searched through the saddlebags hoping to find something to identify the man. He was rewarded with a wad of money in a silver clip and papers tied up with a leather thong running crosswise and lengthwise around the bundle. He counted the money, a little over five hundred dollars, then untied the papers and spread them on a flat rock.

It appeared this man’s name was Jethro McBane from Tucson, Arizona. Reading through he discovered that the man had been on his way to San Diego to meet a sailing ship bringing his betrothed from Ireland to America. Apparently the two had never met previously, the marriage being an arranged one. Kane remembered reading that this practice was once common in the old west where women were scarce. Men would seek to marry women in a ‘mail order bride’ style arrangement with the women usually coming from the United Kingdom or Europe, usually fleeing oppression in their homelands for the freedom of the United States.

Her name was Sarah O’Sheehy from County Clare. According to the letter of introduction she was nineteen years old. Jethro McBane had definitely not been nineteen years old. More like thirty-nine, Kane guessed but that too was not unusual for this time. He began packing up the papers, wondering as to the fate that would befall the young woman now that she would arrive without anyone to greet her. Possibly she would be stranded with little or no money in this strange land and it was his fault entirely. If his time machine had not disgorged him from out of thin air in front of Jethro McBane then the two would have met, gotten married and had a life.

He finished gathering the papers, deftly retying the thong around them before stuffing them back into the saddlebag. At least he should go down to San Diego and meet the boat, perhaps explaining to her what had happened to her betrothed…well, not actually telling her what happened, but at least relating a plausible lie as to the cause of his untimely demise. He fingered the money as he contemplated his next move. Although he didn’t know how much passage on a sailing ship cost in this day and age he was sure that it would not be over five hundred dollars. If he went to San Diego and met her at the pier he could purchase a ticket so that she could return to Ireland on the next ship out. It was 180 miles from Yuma to San Diego – approximately three or four days ride on horseback – but it was the least he could do to salvage a bad situation.

* * * *

Kane stood on the wooden quay watching as the tall ship approached moving majestically on the afternoon breeze. As it approached its berth figures scrambled up the rigging and began the task of furling the sails until only minimal canvas remained. The ship lost speed, turning to starboard, aiming to bring its port side up against the pier. Dockers grabbed at hawsers thrown by the sailors. Quickly they were twisted around capstans and the burly dockers reefed on the ropes bringing the ship up against the quay. Soon they tied off the hawsers and the Emerald Princess bucked like a wild stallion as she took up the slack until she ran up against the ropes, then she settled at rest after her long voyage from Limerick. Kane watched as the gangplank was put into place and the passengers began to disembark. Nearly two dozen couples had disembarked before he saw her. It must be her, he knew, as she was the only young woman to descend from the ship unescorted. She was exceptionally beautiful with dark auburn hair and green Irish eyes. Her full red lips were pouted in concentration as she gingerly placed her feet on the rough planking striving to avoid the cracks and knotholes that might trip her up. As her feet touched American soil, or more accurately the American wood of the wharf, she looked up and her eyes came directly into contact with his.

"Pardon me, Sir," She said in a broad Irish brogue, "But would you be Mister Jethro McBane now?"

Kane felt his throat constrict painfully as he viewed her up close. The low-cut gingham dress allowed the mounds of her breasts to swell up to a point where one wondered how they could possibly remain within the dress and the sunlight made the redness in her hair stand out strikingly. He opened his mouth to reply and astounded himself by the words that came out. He certainly had not intended them to be his answer.

"At your service ma’am. All the way from Tucson, Arizona."

Now he had done it. This beautiful girl considered him to be her betrothed. Him, the man who had killed her betrothed and buried him in an unmarked grave in the desert. Him who had irrevocably stamped upon her future, changing forever what might have been. Now he was masquerading as Jethro McBane instead of following his plan and sending her back to Ireland.

She smiled then. Even as the horror of his actions welled in his mind, and that smile drove into his soul like the first beam of spring sunshine. It cleansed him as surely as holy water and the demons of his deeds receded into the background.

"Then pleased I be to make your acquaintance." And she held out her hand to him, cocking her head slightly as she studied him. Kane remembered the custom and took her hand gently in his, bowed forward and kissed her fingers lightly. Then he stood straight, looked into her smiling eyes, and gave her his best grin.

"And so be I, to be sure. May I escort you to our lodgings? I shall have a porter bring your luggage later."

* * * *

For the next two weeks they worked on getting to know each other. She had left her ‘Da’ and ‘Ma’ to seek a new life in ‘The Americas’ after a three-year run of crop failure had driven her parents to poverty. Since there was not enough food to feed the family she had decided to make the sacrifice and leave her ancestral home.

She had registered her name with an agency that contracted eligible women and matched them with eligible men. Object: Matrimony.

Apparently McBane had financed her ticket after picking her out of a list of available ‘mail-order brides’ with the American branch of the agency.

Now, two weeks after her arrival in America, they were falling in love with each other. Really in love, regardless of the cold and calculated way their meeting had been orchestrated.

The night they first made love was a balmy autumn evening. They had picnicked on the beach for supper and afterwards taken a long stroll along the beach with a light sea breeze blowing through their hair and a large, ruddy sun sinking slowly in the west. Under a sky slowly darkening they had embraced and, as the first star winked on in the east, over the water, he had kissed her passionately. Soon the moon rose, a huge orange orb that bathed the beach in a surreal light and sent fiery highlights skipping across the wave tops. At first he had explored her tentatively unsure of her response. His hand sought her breast and she responded by pressing closer against him. Soon they were kissing and exploring each other with greater urgency until their passion reached fever pitch. He had spread the picnic blanket between the dunes and upon it they had undressed each other. Their lovemaking seemed to go on forever until the orb above them turned silver and shrunk to a more familiar size.

Afterwards they lay naked, arm in arm staring at the stars above and soon he began pointing out constellations as he remembered them from school. At one stage the wonder of it all overcame him and he pointed at the moon, now almost directly above them.

"One day a man is going to walk upon that moon. The whole world will be watching him as he does it. It will be the greatest achievement of the human race." He whispered.

She giggled against his shoulder.

"That’s silly, Jethro." She answered. "The moon cannot be reached by man. It is too high up and men cannot fly. And how would the world see him do it? It is too far for even a telescope."

As her words sunk in he suddenly felt a great sadness come over him. He realised he had grown comfortable in this latter part of the nineteenth century, momentarily forgetting his own era. Suddenly he knew it was time to go home.

The amor of the evening had vaporised like snow on a heated grill and his guilt rushed in to fill the void. He had killed the man who should have bedded this girl. He had stolen his name and then bedded her himself. Somewhere on his soul he felt the scratching of black chalk as his sins were tallied for future reference.

"Come, my love. Let us return to our lodgings. The night air is getting rather cool."

Sarah snuggled closer, hugging him tightly.

"Just once more, my love? Then we shall go."

"Perhaps another day, Sarah. I really think we should be going now. It is late and the night grows cold."

At their lodgings the rules concerning unwed couples were quite explicit, although old Mrs Huxtable turned the blind eye at their kissing on the porch before coming inside. He held Sarah closely and kissed her, first on the forehead and then on the lips. It turned into a passionate, lengthy embrace but the kiss held a certain finality about it. Sarah would not have thought so. To her it was the kiss of a maiden who had surrendered herself to her true love expecting it to last forever. To Kane it was bacio morte , the ‘kiss of death’ as when his darling Sarah awoke in the morning he would be gone.

* * * *

A few hours before cockcrow Kane left the lodgings, closing the front door with the stealthiness of a thief. Walking swiftly along the quiet streets he made his way back to the beach and along the shore until he reached the place where a few hours ago he and Sarah had made love. Sadness overwhelmed him as he looked out over the dark ocean. There was no breeze now and the surface of the ocean was as still as a millpond. Now that the moon had set only the glow of the stars reflected on the water making it appear oily.

Kane reached into his pocket. He had hidden the control in his room over the last few weeks, now he held it in his hand and gazed at it in the poor light. It was the size of a remote control for a TV. The touch pad had a series of buttons, again reminiscent of a remote control and any late-twentieth century person would probably have recognised it as such however it was far removed from such a mundane device.

He punched in a code number and touched the transmission button. >From the tiny instrument a signal, inaudible and invisible to humans, sped through the barriers of space and time.

Somewhere inside a laboratory, in 1998, the signal found the circuits that awaited it and the circuits responded. A panel lit up, dancing with lights as a mainframe computer began its calculations at a rate of several million bytes per second. The time capsule shimmered and flickered in its cradle.

Back in 1886, on a beach near San Diego a patch of night air began to glow. The glow pulsed more and more rapidly until it shimmered and parted to reveal a door-sized portal a foot or two off the ground. Within the portal a couch could be seen. Kane glanced once more at the darkened city where only a few dim gaslights burned then he climbed into the portal and sat in the couch.

Coming home was an anticlimax for Kane. He had brought back Jethro’s revolver, the papers from the saddlebag and a few other trinkets he had picked up in San Diego but generally it felt as if he hadn’t really achieved anything.

He thought of Sarah often over the next few days and his heart pained him when he thought of the grief she must be feeling – must have felt a hundred and twelve years ago. She would be – would have been bewildered, unable to fathom why he would leave her thus, in the middle of the night without a word. He had packed all the money into an envelope – there had been just over four hundred dollars left – and had wedged it into the jam of her door where she was sure to find it upon leaving her room. Perhaps she would – had – met a man and settled down, had children, forgetting about him in time. Perhaps not. He had to know.

* * * *

The librarian was a sour-faced individual in her early forties with thick bifocal glasses and bad teeth. She ushered him into the reading area and gestured to a seat before busying herself along the shelves marked ‘Genealogy’. Soon she returned to his table and placed a large tome before him marked in gold lettering with the title: ‘GENEALOGY – VOLUME XXVI’

Kane’s hands shook as he fingered through the pages until he found the name he was looking for.

‘O’Sheehy, Sarah

BORN""-"1867, County Clare, Ireland

DIED""-"1887, San Diego, California – USA

MARRIED"-"(no record of marriage)

ISSUE""-"Patrick McBane, born 1887 San Diego, California, USA

NOTES: "Arrived in San Diego 1886 on the sailing ship ‘Emerald Princess’ Betrothed to Jethro McBane (father of Patrick McBane) who vanished in unknown circumstances in September 1886. Sarah O’Sheehy died giving birth to her son and is buried in ‘Our Lady of the Cross’ cemetery. (Some said it was not due to the birth, but from a broken heart that she died.)

He was stunned. Sarah’s death only months after he left her saddened him yet, through her, he had a son! Kane leaned back in the chair and studied the fluorescent light above the desk. At least he had had a son back in 1887. Patrick McBane would be one hundred and eleven if he still lived, which was highly unlikely. So what had happened to him?

A quick search along the shelves and he located the volume containing McB’s. Returning to his table he turned to the specified page. He ran his finger down the long columns of names until he came across the entry.

‘McBane, Patrick.

BORN:"-"1887, San Diego, California, USA

DIED:""-"1959, Castle Rock, Maine, USA

MARRIED"-"1923 to Susan Shuttleworth

ISSUE:"-"Michael Garnett – (1925), Daisy Garnett-(1927) , Edward

Garnett jr-(1931)"

NOTES:"Orphaned at birth, Patrick McBane was placed in an orphanage until adopted by Edward and Mary Garnett in 1893, when his name was also changed to Garnett.

Kane felt his blood freeze as he read the passage again. A feeling of deep horror overwhelmed him and his heart began to hammer furiously. This could not be. Must not be. He stood up so abruptly that his chair fell to the ground, clattering noisily on the marble floor. Hastily he righted it before crossing to the shelf, hunting feverishly until he came upon the volume he required. He stood at the shelf leafing through the book totally unaware of the librarian’s disapproving stare from the end of the aisle. His complexion paled and sweat broke out upon his forehead as he read the entry he had dreaded to find.

Garnett, Edward Jr.


MARRIED""1965 to Mary-Anne Henderson

ISSUE""-"Kane Garnett – (1969)

The booked dropped from nerveless fingers. Kane lifted his face to the ceiling, opened his mouth and screamed a loud, long "Noooooo!" He did not even notice the librarian pulling at his arm nor, later, the police who escorted him from the library. Somehow he stumbled into a cab after being released on the library steps but the next clear recollection was of waking up fully dressed, lying on his own bed.

It was morning and the sick feeling in his guts had died away to a deep, gnawing grumble. His eyes felt hot and sticky and his head hurt terribly. What to do? He had to go back…had to correct this terrible mistake. Back to the moment before he killed Jethro McBane. Jethro McBane had to live and father the child of Sarah, otherwise Kane would forever be his own great-grandfather while his own father would be his grandson.

He stumbled from the bed, stripped off his twentieth century clothing and dressed in clothing appropriate for the late-nineteenth century American west including the revolver, which he strapped to his side. During the past week Kane had visited a coin collector’s store and there had purchased four hundred dollars in bills printed prior to 1886. Now he rolled up the money and stuffed it into his pocket. He intended to ensure that McBane would get to San Diego if he had to escort him there himself.

The time capsule had retained his last trip’s coordinates in its memory banks. Swiftly he programmed the machine to deliver him to the exact time in 1886 where he had appeared the first time. Nine miles east of Yuma. There would be an element of risk in trying for the exact spot although mathematically the percentage was within acceptable limits. Pressing back in the couch he pressed the button to transmit himself there.

* * * *

Jethro McBane had stopped to take a drink from his canteen. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and sipped at the tepid water, grimacing at the flat, metal taste. Still, it was wet and he was hot. He surveyed the surrounding Arizona desert and his eye caught a strange shimmering in the air. Heat shimmer, he thought as he watched. Suddenly about a foot or so off the ground a portal appeared with a man seated on a couch within. Jethro watched as the stranger, with his back towards him, jumped down to the ground. McBane dismounted and drew his revolver. Leading his horse by the reins he moved to within a dozen yards of the man who had not seen him. The portal disappeared and he called to the man.

"Hold it right there, stranger."

The newcomer froze, hands held before him.

"Turn around slowly, don’t make no sudden moves."

Jethro studied the man who appeared around thirty years of age. He had dark hair and eyes that appeared haunted by something terrible.

"Now where did ya come from? I seen ya come out of thin air. Are ya some kind of demon?" He cocked his head as he looked at the man, but his pistol never wavered.

"Jethro McBane. Listen to me. Put away your pistol. I mean you no harm."

McBane blinked at the sound of his name. "You know me?" He asked.

The stranger smiled tiredly and shrugged. "Practically related." He replied. "Just put the weapon away, will you."

McBane shook his head. "You drop your hogleg, mister." He replied, gesturing to the pistol at Kane’s side.

Kane unbuckled the belt and threw the weapon at Jethro’s feet. "I’m on your side, McBane." He said as he put his hands up to shoulder height in a gesture of surrender. "Believe me, no one could be more eager to see you safely to San Diego to wed Sarah O’Sheehy."

This time the man’s pistol did waver while his jaw dropped foolishly.

"Where…How did ya know about Sarah?" He asked, his voice stammering in disbelief.

"It’s a long story and I cannot tell you any of it but for now believe me. I am your friend, not your enemy so put away the gun."

"I still seen ya come from thin air. How’d ya do that?"

"If I told you, you would not believe me. All I can say is I’m neither a bandit nor a demon. I’m Kane Garnett and I wish you no harm. Please put away your pistol."

McBane gazed at him for a lengthy period, his revolver steady and pointing at Garnett, then he nodded curtly. "Okay, but I keep your smoker and don’t try nothin’ funny, ‘cause I can draw and fire before you can finish blinking."

With that short speech McBane holstered his revolver, picked up the belt and holstered revolver on the ground, slung it over his saddle horn and mounted his horse.

"We go to Yuma. It’s only nine miles east of here and that’s where I was heading to stay overnight before going on to San Diego. We’ll check with the marshal there to make sure ya ain’t wanted and if ya ain’t, then I will wash my hands of ya."

"Okay with me. Just don’t mention the bit about me jumping out of thin air. They won’t believe you and I’ll deny it." Kane turned east and began the nine-mile walk with McBane riding at equal pace behind him.

* * * *

Yuma was a medium sized town of approximately 1800 souls situated on the eastern banks of the Colorado River. Until recently Fort Yuma, a military post set up on top of Indian Hill on the other side of the river, had been the main reason for the town’s existence but since its closure in 1883 the town’s focus had switched to mining in the nearby hills.

Kane gazed around as they rode in along the generously wide main street. It was of course a dirt street as were most of the smaller town streets of this period. A hot wind blew tendrils of dust and sand across the road as they passed a collection of adobes on the outskirts of the town. As they entered the heart of Yuma the adobes became less frequent, replaced instead by clapboard establishments with their high facades familiar to any Western movie fan. A few of the establishments still showed the town’s name as ‘Arizona City’ which it had been before it became Yuma in 1866.

McBane had not taken his eyes off of Kane during the ride nor offered to spell him from his walk. Now, tired from the heat and exercise, Kane stood before a building which had painted in gold lettering on its main window ‘Office of the Arizona Marshal’ and under that ‘Jake T. Coleman – Marshal’

The rancher dismounted and twisted the reins around the hitching rail, then took Kane by the elbow and guided him up the three steps onto the wooden boards. Pushing open the door with his free hand, McBane led his companion through the door.

J. T. Coleman looked up from his blotter with a slight frown, his pen poised above the paper he had been scribing. Hard eyes peered over pince-nez glasses at the two intruders.

"What kin I do for ya?" His voice was deep and gravelled while the hand poised with its pen remained rock steady. The tiny drop of ink that was beginning to well at the nib fascinated Kane. It would fall any second and ruin the man’s page.

"Found this hombre wandering in the desert without a horse or supplies. Ain’t someone ya might be looking for, Marshal? Says his name is Kane Garnett."

There was no mention of the manner of his arrival. Kane felt relieved about that.

"Garnett? Wasn’t there a Blackie Garnett over at El Paso, wanted for robbin’ a stage last spring?" The Marshal plopped his pen into a ceramic inkwell thus negating the imminent disaster of an inkblot falling onto his page. He fumbled in a drawer and came out with a small pile of posters that he placed onto the desk. Flicking through he selected one and studied it, lips pursed and eyes squinting then suddenly turned it so the two men could view it.

"Don’t reckon so, mister." He grunted. Kane looked at the picture, which showed a grossly overweight man with a dirty beard and one damaged eye. Beneath was printed, ‘WANTED – REWARD $1000 DEAD OR ALIVE’ and under that a brief history of the man’s sins.

The Marshal placed the poster back onto his table and smiled a tight grin. "I guess Mister Garnett here ain’t wanted mister…I didn’t catch ya name?"

"McBane. Jethro McBane. I come from Tucson. Heading to San Diego. Well thanks, marshal. I guess we’ll let you get back to your bookkeeping. Adios."

The marshal gave an abrupt wave with his left hand while his right reached for the pen again. "Adios amigos, Hasta la Dios." He was busily writing by the time the two men walked out of the door.

"Well, Mister Garnett. I guess I got no reason to detain ya no more so here’s ya shootin’ iron." McBane jerked the belt off the horn of his saddle and handed the weapon to Kane. As the latter buckled it on he caught McBane staring at the belt and the gun. He was frowning.

"Yer rig sure looks familiar." He commented stroking the butt of his own weapon while still eyeing kane’s. "Could have mistaken it for mine anytime." He shook his head as if to dismiss the thought.

"Can I buy ya a drink for the trouble I caused ya? I always head for the Arizona Club whenever I’m in town."

"Thanks, but only if you call me Kane. I could use a beer. " And the two men headed for the Arizona Club across the road.

* * * *

The beer was better than Kane would have suspected. It was cellar cool, clear and had a tight head. He revelled in the sharp hoppy flavour and enjoyed the way it cooled his throat. McBane had ordered whisky, throwing the first slug down and refilling his glass before Kane had even sipped at his beer. By the time Kane had finished the generous tankard McBane had consumed a quarter of the bottle that stood near his elbow.

"Where are you staying tonight?" Kane asked as the man refilled his glass. McBane’s eyes were beginning to take on a glassy appearance and he appeared slightly drunk.

"There’s a doss-house just past the marshal’s office called ‘Rita’s Rest’. Bath, bed and breakfast for two dollars and a woman for two dollars more." Jethro replied pointing with his glass. "I always stay there when I come this way."

"And a livery? I need to buy a horse."

"Just a way up the road that-a-way." McBane’s glass swerved to the opposite direction as he indicated. "Where you planning to ride, Garnett?"

"San Diego." Kane replied as he headed for the door. McBane was tipping more whisky into his glass as Kane walked into bright sunshine.

Kane had managed to purchase a roan mare that stood about fourteen hands high and was about 12 years old. The blacksmith had thrown in a saddle and bridles with the horse for a total of eighty dollars and, after the deal was sealed with a customary handshake, had even offered free stabling until the morning. Leaving the horse, Kane wandered back past a building that announced itself as ‘Underhill Transfer Company – T.W. Underhill (prop.)’ and made his way to ‘Rita’s Rest’ where he booked his room with bath and breakfast (but no woman). The buxom Mexican-Indian woman who served him seemed genuinely disappointed that he turned down a bed companion for the night, but smiled as he gave her three dollars and told her to keep the change.

"Gracias, Senor. Muy bueno gracias." She said as one of the dollar notes disappeared into her bodice while she stuffed the other two dollars into a tin beneath the counter. Kane smiled at her as he opened the door then stepped back onto the street. The transactions had taken nearly an hour but now, with nothing much to do for the rest of the day, Kane headed back towards the Arizona Club.

He had just passed the Marshal’s office on his way back when he heard angry shouting from the direction of the club. Marshal J.T. Coleman emerged from his office still buckling on his revolver when two shots rang out. The shouting stopped and there was deathly silence as the marshal broke into a run with Kane close on his heels. The shots had come from within the Arizona Club.

Inside a small crowd of men had gathered in a rough circle around another lying prone upon the wooden floor. As he approached Kane could see a large pool of blood leaking from beneath the man’s chest, spreading towards a crack in the floor. He recognised two things instantly. The man lying on the ground was Jethro McBane and he was stone cold dead.

A young cowboy stood quietly nearby, his face pale, his jaw slack as he stared at the corpse. Two men held his arms while a third held his pistol by the barrel. Marshal Coleman took the gun away from the third man and tucked it into the front of his belt.

"What happened, Abe." He asked the man. Abe shrugged and pointed to the young cowboy.

"The kid came in and, as he walked past the stranger, the stranger stepped back causing the kid to collide with him. The stranger got angry, shouted at him and went for his gun but the kid beat his draw. I’ll testify it was self defence."

The marshal looked at the men holding the kid. "Ben, Lopez?"

Both men nodded and the one called Lopez replied, "Si, marshal. It was self-defence. The gringo drew muy pronto, but the kid, he was faster."

Now J.T. Coleman approached the young gunman and poked his chest with a large sausage-like finger. "And you, boy. What do you have to say?"

"It’s as they said, marshal. I wasn’t looking for trouble but he drew on me, so I drew and fired in self defence."

"Well I guess yer just going to have to tell it to the judge, kid. Bring him with ya boys, down to the jailhouse."

The marshal left with the two men and his prisoner while Kane stood numbly staring at the dead man who had not fathered his line yet. How could this have happened? It was apparent by what McBane had told him that coming to Yuma was a planned event, as was drinking at this club and staying at Rita’s Rest so Kane saw no way that his presence influenced this disaster. So who was going to marry Sarah and father young Patrick so that the Garnett line could be established? Slowly he shook his head, turned away from the body on the floor and made his way out into the afternoon sunlight.

* * * *

Sleep would not come to Kane as he lay in the big double bed on a feather mattress that was too soft for comfort. Perhaps if he used the time machine to go back to just after the moment he walked out of the saloon to buy the horse? Maybe he could prevent the young cowboy from entering the club, or maybe he could prevent the altercation that caused the fatal shooting? No, too risky. He could not pop out of the machine in the middle of Yuma during broad daylight without a grave risk of being seen. He couldn’t go back to the instant he had arrived in this century earlier in the day either. He had already overlapped the arrival point once and to try and coincide with a second overlap was courting disaster as mathematical probability exponentially moved away from a successful merger with that exact temporal point.

No, he had to fix the problem now, somehow, without the aid of the time machine.

Kane sighed deeply and got up off the bed. As he dressed he hoped that the blacksmith would not be too grumpy at being disturbed this time of night.

A half-hour later he was leading the roan mare out of the stable after paying the blacksmith a five-dollar tip for waking him. The man had been glad to assist in packing some supplies and had not objected to Kane claiming Jethro McBane’s saddlebags. As far as the blacksmith and the marshal were concerned Kane was the nearest thing McBane had for a relative anyway. Soon he was heading west towards the Colorado River where he would cross before riding on to San Diego.

As he rode into the chill waters of the river Kane took the remote control from his pocket and examined it, turning it over and over in his hand. The mare, which he had named Jezzabelle, whickered softly as the cold waters reached her underbelly. Kane looked thoughtfully at the quiet, muddy waters for a long time then gazed up at the moon riding high above in a clear sky. Suddenly he drew back his arm and flung the control as far into the middle of the stream as he could. As it disappeared with a faint ‘plop’ Kane grasped Jezzabelle’s reins and gently kicked her flanks.

"Come on, Jezzabelle. We got riding to do you and I. Mustn’t keep the future Mrs Jethro McBane waiting now, must we? And this time I ain’t gonna let her die bearing my child."

The End

© 1999 by Rene Steen

Aphelion's Lettercolumn

Return to the Aphelion main page.