by Robert Broomall
Copyright 2012 by Robert Broomall
The average life expectancy for a marshal in Topaz, Arizona, was three weeks. Jack Ryan was not that lucky. He was killed after nine days on the job, shot in the back by a drunk who was trying to see if his pistol worked.
They buried Ryan on Boot Hill. There were few mourners. The late marshal had no relatives in Topaz, and he hadn’t been around long enough to make friends. Most of the town’s inhabitants didn’t even know his name.
The members of Topaz’s town council did not attend the funeral. They gathered gloomily in the upstairs office of Thomas Price’s General Merchandise store. Price’s store had been one of the first buildings in Topaz. It was one of the town’s few frame structures, and it held a favored spot, just over the bridge on Tucson Street, shaded by the cottonwoods that lined the banks of the San Marcos River, in whose bend Topaz lay.
Wearing shirtsleeves on this searing mid-July afternoon, the five men poured drinks from the decanters on Price’s sideboard. “Pity about Ryan,” said Cruickshank the banker, in his soft Scots burr. “I’d hoped he might last longer than the others.”
Amos Saxon, the fork-bearded, bespectacled justice of the peace, was philosophical. “He forgot to watch his back, that’s all.”
“What are we going to do for a marshal now?” Cruickshank asked.
Tom Price, who was also Topaz’s mayor, shook his head. “I've offered the job to a number of people, but nobody’s interested. Nobody even wants to talk about it.”