TOMBSTONE, ARIZ. -- The marshal of Tombstone reaches down to his gun belt, runs his hand over the black leather loops that hold the cartridges in an orderly row. His dry fingers push bullets up against the loop, six of them, one after another. One after another, he pushes six bullets down.

The squad cars are parked with their bumpers backed up to the gate of the OK Corral, ready to roll. The southern Arizona sun is rising but the morning is still cool and quiet -- maybe too quiet. The fellow with his boot up on the bench outside the marshal's office asks, "So this is it? Today's the day?"

Doc Holloway, marshal of Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die, just laughs from behind his sunglasses. "Today's the day." He pushes six bullets up, he pushes six bullets down. "Today's the day I head on down the road."

The car he's leaning on has the marshal's star on the door, a five-pointed silver star just like the one on his shirt. The Tombstone marshal badges they sell in the souvenir stores that line Allen Street have six points and cost $2.25 apiece. And will Gerald (Doc) Holloway take that star of his off his chest today, the last Friday in August, his last day on the job, and throw it across his desk just like the marshals of the movies?

"I've spent 28 years in law enforcement," he says. "I'm going to leave this job like a professional, as a professional. I'm just going to fade away." He pushes his dark glasses back against his brown temples, going gray at the sideburns, and he smiles. "There was no controversy."

There was a controversy, and the newspapers covered it in full. Not the Tombstone Epitaph, however, which is a monthly that goes out to Old West history buffs -- the shootout at the OK Corral is still breaking news at the Epitaph, and has been since it hit the headlines on Oct. 27, 1881, the day after the bullets flew and the blood was spilled.

The controversy this time was only slightly clearer than the much disputed details of the set-to between the Earps and the Clantons. Holloway asked the City Council for more deputies to support the three officers he had, and his request was ignored. The marshal and the council had something of a verbal shootout in his office behind the Corral, and after nine months as marshal, Doc Holloway decided to set off toward the sunset.

"I hope you got some money out of 'em," his friend says over his shoulder, heading off to a car parked near the Corral's adobe wall.

"Hell, the City of Tombstone has lots of money," Holloway tells him. "They just spend it all on wooden sidewalks."

Mayor Alex Gandillos sees it a mite different. "I can understand Doc's feelings," he says, leaning on the counter of his print shop. "I think when you come to a town like this one, it's easy to think you're going to be semiretired. But a small town like this has a lot of activities going on."

Vigilante Days have been over since the second weekend in August, but Wild West Days are scheduled for Labor Day weekend, and Tombstone will be without an official marshal to keep the peace. The job should be filled by Helldorado Days in mid-October, but you never know. The sign posted on the community bulletin states a particularly slim set of particulars. It reads: "Help Wanted -- Marshal" and lists a pay rate of $11.58 an hour.

Doc Holloway reckons his most notable accomplishment to be the elimination of abuse of Tombstone's criminal-information computer, but a man has to do a lot more than administrate to earn his eleven-and-a-half an hour. There was a manslaughter case not long ago -- four fellows were drunk and waving a gun and one ended up shot in the face. Those young shavehead soldiers from over to Fort Huachuca can raise a little more ruckus than the other tourists might care for, and the kids from the high school have been known to squeal out of the parking lot in four-by-four trucks going far too fast for a town full of sightseeing pedestrians. And right now, that damn hand-painted motor home with the wagon wheels over the wheel wells that belongs to Roy McNeely ("Roy Mac -- the former marshal of Tombstone, now booking TV-Movies-Clubs-Commercials") is parked partway in a yellow zone right out on Allen Street.

But it's not Doc Holloway's job to worry about that, not after today. The mayor and the city clerk and the chairman of tourism had a little ceremony at City Hall about 10 o'clock or so, gave Doc the key to the city and a photo of himself in uniform with all their autographs on it.

They're looking over applications now to fill his boots but they don't figure they'll make their decision for another week or so. "A lot of these applications we get are from fellas who just want to say they applied for the job of marshal of Tombstone, you know," the mayor says. "And then they probably go around saying they turned the job down."

Doc Holloway has turned it down in any case, and now he's sitting on the rail fence next to the Blown Glass Shop, the heels of his cowboy boots kicked back against the wooden sidewalk. It's high noon, nearly halfway through his last day as marshal of Tombstone, and the streets are filling with tourists. From where he sits, he can see the sign painted on the second-story window over the Crystal Palace bar that says, "Virgil W. Earp, City Marshal." Mayor Gandillos comes tooling by in his 1949 Ford pickup, and the question arises: Is Doc Holloway going to hold onto that badge of his, keep it as a souvenir?

"They said I can keep it," he says. Then he gets up and walks past the Blown Glass Shop's window display of six-pointed stars, $2.25 each.