His horse was about played out when he rode up to the ancient stage station a few yards off the road between Independence and Lone Jack. The rain came down in sheets and splattered his Stetson and worn slicker as he sat his horse and stared at the building. The glow of lantern light shone through the front windows in the night's blackness.
Unhurriedly, he dismounted and walked his horse over to the corral gate, opened it enough for them to enter, then closed it. Pushing open the barn door, he peered into the darkness and went inside. He sensed the movement of the other horses in their stalls and, after striking one of his few dry matches against a wall, lit the lantern hung on a nail near the entrance. After leading his mount to an empty stall, he removed the saddle and soaked blanket and then threw a nose-bag around the horse's head. Raising the lantern high, he looked deeper within the building. A stagecoach had been pulled inside and four tired, soaking wet horses were in a row of stalls to the right. Opposite them, on the other side of the massive coach, was a row of stalls where the new mounts were awaiting their chance to pull the coach whenever it left. Judging by the condition of the horses on the right, he guessed that the stage must have been brought in less than an hour before.
Slowly, Hoge Farrell left the barn and then stood outside the door watching the stage station. He still wasn't sure if the marshal's posse had quit the chase, but he hadn't seen a lick of them for hours and figured he had put enough miles between himself and his pursuers to give himself a respite. He stiffened his shoulders against the night's chill and marched across the grounds over to the front door of the stage station. He entered the room without fanfare, but his entrance caused the inhabitants to stare at him as he stood there holding the door open.
Just a few people were there: a middle-aged fellow in damp range clothes and a rather short man wearing a derby and gray suit, both of whom sat at the long table in the center of the room; and a young woman who sat apart from the others at a corner table. The two men stared sullenly at him as if his entrance had disturbed their private thoughts. Only the young woman, her auburn hair pinned up under a simple brown hat and her figure snug in a tight-fitting jacket and long skirt, regarded him without hostility.
Thunder was heard and lightning flashed behind him, making his silhouette look suddenly grotesque to those in the room. It felt to him like he was a part of one of those corny stage melodramas his parents had dragged him to see as a kid, in order to instill some kind of culture in him; but all he did was laugh at the overacting of the traveling stage troupe and the pretensions of the play's script.
A voice growled from the direction of the bar. "Mister, you want to shut the door? We all don't enjoy the rain blowin' on us like you do."
Farrell saw the man, big, broad-shouldered, a thick brown moustache across a wide face and a filthy apron around his sizable belly. He tensed at the sarcasm, but decided he was in enough hot water already and shut the door.
He nodded to the others and saw no answering nod in return, so he went over to the bar. He took off his hat and shook the water off the brim; then ran his hand back through his brown hair and looked at the bar man.
"Whiskey," he said.
The man paused for a second, watching him briefly, then returned with a bottle and poured a drink. A slammed door drew his attention to the back of the room where he saw another big man, this one wearing a Stetson and soaking wet Levis emerge from a hallway leading to a back door; the man was in the process of buttoning up his fly. Seeing everyone looking at him, he self-consciously cleared his throat and then sat down at the other end of the long bar.
Farrell downed the whiskey and immediately felt its warmth.
Before he could ask for another, the bar man said, "Four bits."
Farrell said, "That's a lot for a drink. I could get the same thing for two bits back in town."
The bar man said levelly, "Then go back to town. It's four bits here. This is a swing station, not a local saloon. Hell, you're not even a passenger."
"Then I might as well make it eight bits," Farrell said, holding out the glass.
The bar man scowled and refilled Farrell's glass.
Farrell downed the whiskey and set down the empty glass, letting the tension from the encounter with the bar man go out of him. He slid a coin on the bar. The bar man slapped a meaty hand on it and took it away, giving Farrell the fish-eye as he did so.
As he wondered about his next move, Farrell noticed the middle-aged man in the range clothes staring at him. He didn't want to start any trouble there, but he was also tired and irritable from a long ride and the stare was eating at him.