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Monday 3 December 2018

Wild West Campaign Update: The Hornswoggle

The present session began with the (non-historical) arrival of former Dodge City Sheriff Charlie Bassett to Tombstone. The reason for this deviation from real history is that Bassett had such an impact on the PCs, and particularly on Jeff Young, that he sent messages to half the counties in the west to track Bassett down, and ask him to come and help them as things heated up in their conflict with the Cowboys.

Bassett arrived, and was informed of the situation, and offered what help he could give. But in private, to Young and Marshal Virgil Earp, he confessed that one of the reasons why he had given up being a lawman was that he'd developed a pretty severe case of rheumatism, which made him much less of a shootist than he once was. He wasn't really sure he'd be able to be of that much help to them. But Young had wanted Bassett there because of his moral value, not because of his skill at gunplay. Having given Virgil and Jeff due warning, Bassett accepted a position as a deputy.

Later on, in a chat with Doc Holliday, Doc told Young that what he'd done was stupid. This fight with the Cowboys was not going to be a fight about moral value; it wasn't going to be a fight about Law versus criminality. Doc predicted it was only going to end one way, through mass bloodshed. And Charlie Bassett, he figured, was the worst possible man for the job, a lawman who really believed in the law and refused to even bend it, in a fight where by the end of it everyone involved would need to outright break the law just to survive.

Charlie Bassett was immediately called to work. Earlier on the day that Bassett arrived, Virgil Earp had tried to arrest Sherman McMaster, only for the latter to get away on his horse; Virgil fired a warning shot and then tried to hit him with his second shot, but McMaster was too fast. At least, that's what he told most of the lawmen. Bassett had reacted with surprise; while he didn't know McMaster, he knew of his reputation as having been a Texas Ranger. Later on, in his private talk with Bassett and Jeff Young, Virgil let the two in on a secret he'd been keeping for a year: Sherman McMaster was actually working with him. The "attempted arrest" was just cover for Sherman, to make sure none of the Cowboys suspected him, or the fact that he'd been giving Earp information to help him keep a step ahead of the Cowboys.

And now, McMaster had told him that the hold-up of the Bisbee Stagecoach the day before was done by two cowboys: Pete Spence and (former county deputy) Frank Stilwell. Virgil raised up a posse of himself, Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, and Kid Taylor (who volunteered). Morgan Earp, Jeff Young, and Other Miller stayed behind to keep the law in Tombstone.

While the posse rode on to Bisbee, in Tombstone a mystery developed. Cooter, the one-eyed jailer and master coffee-maker, had disappeared. He had, the day before, been waxing romantic about a girl named Sally, the saloon girl at the Billiard Hall. This morning, it turned out that neither Cooter nor Sally were anywhere to be found. This caused a great deal of concern to the lawmen, particularly to Jeff Young, who'd become quite addicted to Cooter's coffee to the point that none other would do. They scoured the city looking for Cooter, but he wasn't anywhere to be found. They'd asked around about Sally but couldn't find out her currently living place; she had been staying at the Widow McKenzie's boarding house, but left a couple of weeks ago. They also learned that before she had become flirtatious with Cooter (hardly a catch, unless she was a coffee fanatic), she had apparently been seen romancing a greenhorn from Boston by the name of Robert Emerson. He, it seems, was a gambler, and not a very good one; he'd come to Tombstone starting out playing high-stakes games with some of the city's best (including Doc Holliday), and ended up gambling for nickels in the cheapest gambling halls.

The posse made its way to Bisbee, and the local sheriff spoke to Virgil.  The passengers had moved on since the hold-up, but the driver was in town. He was unable to identify the assailants, but describing the details of the hold up mentioned that the men appeared to know that the coach carried $2500 in a locked box, and one of the robbers referred to money with the sland term "sugar". This was a term that Frank Stilwell frequently used. The posse rode to where the hold-up happened, and there Kid Taylor noted that one of the boot prints, presumably of a robber, had an odd sort of shape.  Charlie Bassett, a skilled tracker, noted that this appeared to be a boot that had been repaired with a wider heel, and that based on the print the repair had happened very recently, with any luck in Bisbee itself. Taylor and Virgil rode back to Bisbee to make inquiries at the local shoe shop while Wyatt and Bassett followed the trail they'd found of the robbers. In Bisbee, the lawmen quickly confirmed that the local craftsman had repaired a boot, in the exact way matching the print, and that his customer had been Frank Stilwell.

Before going to bed for the night, Kid Taylor spoke to the stagecoach driver again, and convinced him to testify, if necessary, that he could identify Stilwell. Like many ordinary people in the area, the teamster had come to hate the Cowboys, and gladly volunteered to perjure himself.

That same evening in Tombstone, a message was left for Crazy Miller at the New Argent Saloon. It said "we have Cooter. If you want him back safely, you should send $1000 by the Wells Fargo to Tuscon, to be received in the Tuscon station to the name of John Smith". Crazy Miller immediately got in touch with Other Miller and Jeff Young. They scoured the city again but to no avail. So finally they decided on a plan: Crazy Miller would put up the money, but he and Morgan Earp (who would have US Marshal authority in Tuscon) would ride on ahead of the Wells Fargo stagecoach to get to Tuscon first, and watch for who would pick up the money (they were assuming it would be Emerson, who they hoped might lead them to Cooter, if Cooter was even still alive).

While they waited for news from Tuscon, Jeff Young hired the band of Irish Travelers on the edge of town to get information.  They had managed to find out that the local members of the Chinese Tong in Tombstone were also looking for Emerson, as he'd apparently ended up owing them a great deal of money, which was payable with his head. This fact became apparent in Tuscon, when the "John Smith" who'd come to pick up the money turned out to be a Chinese man. Morgan went to arrest him and when it looked like he was going to resist, Crazy Miller pistol-whipped him into unconsciousness.

Over in Bisbee, Wyatt Earp and Charlie Bassett had tracked the robbers straight to a shack not far from town. But they went back to Bisbee to meet with Virgil and Kid Taylor. Bassett figured that Pete Spence and Frank Stilwell didn't know the lawmen were here, and were likely to come through town before heading back to Tombstone, and that it would be easier to capture them without a firefight if they ambushed them in town rather than trying to besiege them in the shack. They all agreed, and waited it out, and eventually Bassett's guess proved true. Spence and Stilwell rode in. The four lawmen snuck up on them in the Bisbee corral, wondering if there was going to be a famous shootout there.  But as it happened, when the two Cowboys saw they were facing four famous lawmen (and shootists), they gave themselves up.

In Tuscon, when "John Smith" woke up, Morgan and Crazy managed to get him talking. He had no idea it was Crazy Miller's money he was picking up, and was profusely apologetic. Apparently, the Chinese gangsters in Tombstone believe Crazy Miller (who is still publicly connected to the Cowboys) is a 'boss' of the "white triad", and he is considered a man to be feared and respected. The Chinese man was named Lo, and he was an underling of one of the bosses in Hop Town (the name for Tombstone's Chinatown), a man named Qing Fu, who runs the Fan Tan gambling house. At this point Morgan and Crazy learned about Emerson having a price on his head. Lo pleaded with Crazy Miller to come back with him to Tombstone and have a parley with Qing, which Crazy agreed to, since Lo had no idea where Emerson, Sally or Cooter were.  But first, to try to make it up to them, Lo acted as Crazy and Morgan's host that night in Tuscon's Chinatown and its exotic delights.

When they finally got back to Tombstone, Crazy Miller met with Qing Fu, and he found that Lo had sent word in advance to Qing about what had happened, and how Emerson had kidnapped Cooter to force Crazy Miller to pay the money Emerson owed Qing.  Apparently, the Tong boss didn't take kindly to that, so he had a present for Miller: it seems Emerson had a partner (a Mexican named Lopez) that he'd sent to confirm that Qing had received his money. When he came to inquire, Qing had him captured and tortured him for the last two days until Lopez broke and revealed the location of his farm (Jeff Young had searched in all the local farms and ranches, but had skipped the ones owned by Cowboys or Mexicans, assuming incorrectly that Emerson wouldn't be there). Qing offered Crazy the choice, between the return of the $1000 or the head of Emerson. Crazy let Qing keep the money (realizing it would make Qing indebted to him by honor) and only asked for the direction to the farm. While Morgan stayed behind this time to keep the peace in Tombstone, Crazy, Other Miller, and Jeff Young headed to the farm, hoping to capture Emerson and Sally and find Cooter alive.

They got to the farm at night, and found that it appeared abandoned. They broke in, and found Cooter, in the bedroom, buck naked and tied up to the bed. He seemed confused. He'd been there abandoned for a whole day, when Sally had suggested playing a "sexy game", and then just left him, riding off with Emerson. Cooter was a bit heartbroken, but more embarrassed than anything, though otherwise unharmed. He hadn't even realized he'd been "hornswoggled" until they came to rescue him. Other Miller took Cooter home, while Crazy Miller and Jeff Young were both intent on chasing Emerson and Sally, pursuing their trail.

In Bisbee, Spence and Stilwell were put on trial, but by then the Cowboys had heard of this and sent Billy Breakinridge to town along with a high-priced lawyer provided by Johnny Behan. He got them released on $7000 bail, and got a change of venue to a town where the Cowboys would be able to rig the jury. It became obvious to the lawmen that the two crooks would be getting off free. Bassett commented that the last few days reminded him why he'd loved being a lawman, and why he'd quit too. Spence & Stilwell mocked the lawmen as they left, suggesting they'd be 'seeing them real soon'.  At this point even Wyatt Earp, who had been trying to keep in denial of the situation, had become convinced that this feud between the Cowboys and the Earps would only end in blood.

Crazy Miller and Jeff Young followed the trail of Sally and Emerson to the Nogales line, beyond which was the Mexican border. They briefly considered following, but in this era it was Mexico and not the US that was full of a heavily-armed border patrol that did not look kindly to people crossing illegally. They figured they'd be unlikely to catch up to the crooks, and more than moderately likely to end up in a Mexican prison.

So they rode back to Tombstone. Once there, Qing Fu met with Crazy Miller, and when Crazy told him he'd failed to capture Emerson because he'd gotten across to Mexico, Qing simply replied "there are Chinese in Mexico as well; I have promised you his head, and his head you will have, in due time".


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