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Long Arm of the Law

Around the time that Arizona Territory became the State of Arizona, Ambrose Kilroy spent his days hanging around the Capitol in Phoenix, looking for people to talk to.

He was tall and lean. He wore an expensive Stetson hat and a dark suit. The empty left sleeve of the suit was tucked into his coat pocket.

Kilroy would tell new acquaintances, “Friends call me ‘Kill’ for short. I never could tolerate the name Ambrose.”

Which seemed odd to those who knew him, for it was widely believed that Ambrose Kilroy was not the name he had been born with.

It didn’t take much–just the slightest glimmer of courtesy–to make Kill reveal the story of how he’d lost his left arm.

Ambrose Kilroy had been the town marshal during the rip-roaring heyday of Copperosity, a lively burg at the foot of the Rabble Mountains.

Cowboys came to town on Saturday night to drink and fight with the hardrock miners. This was a refinement over many towns, where miners or cowboys could only fight among themselves.

Cowboys were so busy brawling with miners that sheepherders went unmolested. Copperosity became so popular that they moved some of the fights up to Thursday night.

Miners looked down on the cowboys as drifters and outlaws. In truth, many cowpokes weren’t too meticulous about staying on one side of the law or the other.

Likewise, the saddle bums scorned the miners. They said that if you cut off a cowboy’s head and hid it where he couldn’t find it, he had no choice but to become a hardrock miner.

Kill Kilroy was up to the task of adjudicating these brawls. He was a fair man, usually. But there was enough outlaw in him to scare the hell out your ordinary lawbreaker. It was said that he had left Texas in the middle of the night, just ahead of a posse, and took the name Ambrose Kilroy from a headstone in a West Texas graveyard.

Kill had been civilized somewhat by his relationship with Miss Velma Hawkins, an attractive schoolmarm. Miss Hawkins lived in a trim little cottage with a blind German shepherd named King–the first dog in Arizona Territory to have a seeing-eye person.

The only element in Copperosity that gave Kill a hard time was The Tack Room Gang. They were an anarchistic handful of misfits and pea-brains led Big Booger Dvorak. Booger had the body of a circus giant, and the brain of a sparrow. He was so ugly that just the sight of him scared dogs and little children.

Booger was so low that he had to climb on a milking stool to kick a frog in the butt. He loved trouble for trouble’s sake.

Booger and his half-witted followers lived at the edge of Copperosity, in a side canyon called The Devil’s Tack Room. The brains of the Tack Room Gang was Booger’s girlfriend Big Sadie, a blacksmith. In another town, and another occupation, Big Sadie had been known as “Thunder Thighs.”

The gang stole anything left lying unattended. They broke things just for the hell of it. But their favorite passtime was intimidation–scaring the daylights out of ordinary citizens.

Now, Kill Kilroy could handle the street brawls, and clean up after the shootouts. He knew the mind of the run-of-the-mill rustler or bank robber.

But there was no reasoning with the Tack Room Gang. They were too dumb to be scared, and Big Booger kept them stirred up with visions of their own fierceness.

Things came to a head one evening as Kill, Velma and King were out for a stroll. They observed Booger standing on a balcony at the Copperosity Hotel and dangling a little child over the street. The child’s mother sobbed nearby.

Kill Kilroy snapped. He couldn’t shoot Booger without hurting the child–or could he? Kill aimed carefully down the street at a tall rock called The Devil’s Forefinger. His shot richocheted back with a nice bit of English and hit Booger in the fanny.

Booger roared and dropped the child. Velma Hawkins, the alert schoolmarm, caught the child in her outstretched skirt.

Booger and his hangers-on began shooting at Kill from the windows and doors of the hotel. Big Sadie fired her shotgun from behind the curtains.

Kill ducked behind a wagon and fired back. This is how most western gun battles were fought; few gunslingers were drunk enough to stand unprotected in the street and be shot at.

But in a minute or two, everyone was out of ammunition. Nobody had come downtown expecting to be in a gunfight.

Big Booger lumbered out of the hotel and into the street for the showdown. Onlookers moved back a respectable distance. All the dogs ran away, because Booger was so ugly–all the dogs but King, of course.

Kill was a big man, but Booger was three times as big. Kill threw his .44 Colt at the approaching giant. It bounced harmlessly off Booger’s forehead.

Miss Velma sicced King onto Booger. King snarled and grabbed Kill Kilroy by the ankle. When King heard the marshal scream, he realized that he had erred, and he slunk away.

Desperate, and without a weapon, Kill had to think of something quickly. He grabbed his left wrist with his right hand and tore his left arm from its socket.

He advanced on Booger, wielding the bloody left arm. Reflexively, Booger reached to tear off his own left arm.

But the the sight of Kill’s blood made him feel faint. He passed out cold, there in the dust. Big Sadie, thoroughly disgusted, had the gang drag him back to her blacksmith shop. Sadie and Booger quietly left town that night.

The grateful citizens of Copperosity gave Kill Kilroy a small pension. That and Velma’s teaching salary sustained him as he hung around the Capitol, looking for people to hear his remarkable story.

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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