Silly bit of Western
The Broken Spur Saloon was a din with hard men and rougher women. Two-Thumbs McGrath was whipping up a storm on the banjo while StinkEye Ned rattled the washboard in good-auld-boy style. The local undertaker, Shallow Jacobs, accompanied them; tickling the out of tune ivories of an ancient half piano. With liquor flowing like the Mississippi, the patrons didn’t give a two- bit damn.
Paris led her Cancan girls through the usual routine: legs kicking and gowns swishing, galore. For a seventy-two year old, she still knew how to play the crowd. Amid the whooping and a hollering, Old man Chambers scuttled along the worn planks of the dance floor. Clicking his heals and “Yehawing”, he shouted up to Paris as she neared the climax of her skit. ‘Paris, m’Lady, don’t over do it. You hear!’
‘Sugar, If I told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times,’ she leapt into the air, dropped both fans and landed in the splits to uproarious applause , ‘I’ve got to jiggle ‘em, split ‘em…’
‘AND NEVER, EVER QUIT ‘EM’, the crowd finished in unison.
As the Cancan girls left the stage Paris sprung to her feet and bowed. Winking at Old man Chambers, she said, ‘Come back in five, Sugar, and I’ll give you your private show.’
Old man Chambers reddened. Even after all those years together, his wife still knew how to make him blush.
The musicians left their instruments and headed for a table already aligned with jugs of Whiskey. The floor emptied of dancers and revellers who returned to their places to cool down. It was during the lull when the Stranger entered.
His ice blue eyes had a cold stare. His weather-beaten face held several days’ stubble, and the dust and grit of a hard ride coated him from head to toe. Maybe it was the timing or maybe it was how he stood in front of the swinging doors and scanned the room, whatever the reason, he managed to go mostly unnoticed by the crowd.
The bar’s counter stood vacant with most of the folk sitting around tables, playing cards or getting drunk. The Stranger’s determined walk covered the distance in a matter of steps.
The barkeeper’s back was to him while he polished glasses and reset them along the shelf.
‘Whiskey,’ the Stranger demanded.
The barkeeper craned his neck and glanced at the imposing figure. ‘What sort?’
The Stranger hesitated for a moment as if the notion of such a question was alien to him. ‘The sort that’ll stop me putting a bullet through yeh,’ his raspy voice warned.
Unimpressed, the barkeeper poured, and then slid a shot glass of whiskey along the counter top.
‘Twenty five cents.’
The Stranger threw two dollars on the counter top. ‘I’ll be taking the bottle.’
The barkeeper raised his eyes and shook his head in resignation that the Stranger was going to be one of the awkward ones. After placing the bottle of whiskey in front of the customer, the barkeeper knew what was expected of him. Very well, he thought. ‘Haven’t seen you around these parts before, mister.’
There was no reply. Just as the barkeeper was going to return polishing glasses, the Stranger spoke, ‘I’m looking for a man.’
Should have know, the barkeeper thought. ‘Francis… Francis, get out here.’
There was the sound of commotion from the storeroom. Then Francis barged through the door carrying a crate of bottled liquor. Glancing at the newcomer, he delicately picked his way around the tables being sure not to stain his bright blue chaps. He hoisted the crate onto the counter and stopped a little short of the Stranger.
‘Oh, hello cowboy. Don’t you look the rugged type?’ Francis playfully swatted the Stranger’s arm.
A look of confusion clouded the man’s cold, cold eyes.
‘How many times must I tell you not to bring your dates in here?’ the barkeeper asked angrily.
‘He’s not “My date”, well, not yet anyway,’ Francis snapped back.
Pushing Francis to one side, the Stranger snarled, ‘Keep your hands away, or I’ll feed them to a rattlesnake.’
‘Oh, touchy, aren’t we. Should’ve guessed. Who wears a black Stetson with red chequered neckerchief these days especially with pearl-handle colts?’ Francis turned and headed back to the storeroom.
‘I’m looking for this man,’ the Stranger raised his voice as he held aloft an old wanted poster. He turning slowly around so the whole saloon could see the image sketched above the twenty-thousand dollar bounty. ‘His name’s Cummins. You probably know him as Blister Finger Cummins. I’ve heard word he’s hereabouts. Now where is the Yellow son of a goat?’ he snarled loudly.
A hush fell across the saloon.
‘Did he say “Yellow” or “Yeller”,’ somebody asked in a whisper.
‘I thought he said “Hello son, of a coat”’
‘That don’t make any sense.’
‘I know it doesn’t, that’s what I mean.’
‘Hush, he’s about to say something else.’
As one the rest of the patrons shifted their seats forward to hear better.
From the silence one voice spoke up. ‘Get back on your horse and ride away, son.’
The crowd turned and looked at the man who spoke as he moved from the shadows of the stairwell. His slow measured steps brought him into view. Few could see his face beneath the cowboy hat, but all recognized his gait. He carefully made his way to the other end of the bar’s counter. Striking a match on the mahogany surface, he lit a cigar.
‘You’ve come a long way to feel a whole lot of pain. I advise you to reconsider your desire and go back to where you came from.’ He exhaled a bloom of dense smoke while bringing his gaze up to meet that of the Stranger.
If the Stranger was startled he did a good job of hiding it. ‘You’re a wanted man, Cummings. And I plan on taking you in.’
Looking at the Stranger’s hands poised over his six-shooters, Cummings shrugged. ‘You could, but then you’d never know if you were good enough.’ He could tell from the Stranger’s eyes that the bait was set.
‘Okay, be it the hard way.’ The Stranger said before he carefully positioned himself to square off against Cummins.
Those closest moved away not wanting to interfere with events. A look of melancholy came over Blister Finger Cummins face. He had seen this so many times. ‘So be it. Barkeeper, say when.’
The barkeeper pushed himself as far away from the action as he could before gulping. ‘Okay, on my word. One…’
The silence was deafening.
A bead of sweat started to roll down the Strangers forehead.
An agonising scream erupted from the Stranger as both of his hips dislocated from their sockets. In a blink of an eye he collapsed to the floor. Cummings barely moved a step.
‘Bind him to his horse and get him out of here,’ he ordered no one in particular. ‘They always mosey the wrong way,’ he added.
When the Stranger was eventually strapped to his horse and sent off to an unknown place, the silence still lingered within the Broken Spur Saloon. It was Paris who called out to Cummings after all was done. ‘Hey, Cummins! Show us that mosey you stole from the governor, one last time.’
Reluctantly he did and the place erupted with hollers.