Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Trouble in Town


I was out on the porch this afternoon when a rider came over the hill. Housty, coming to beg forgiveness for lumping me with a skillet, I figured, till a familiar bosom jiggled into view. Curious as to what Cordelia was doing in these parts, I stepped out to meet her.

With no trace of her customary smile, she returned my greeting with a grunt, and dismounted. I smelled trouble and the sight of a gun on her hip had me searching my conscience before asking if she was okay.

‘I’m fine,’ she snapped.

‘Well, if you ain’t rode all the way out here just to brighten my day, maybe you’d better tell me why you’re here?’

‘There’s trouble in town; big trouble. The sheriff’s got Buck Mallory in jail.’

‘About time too, what’s he done now?’

‘Remember Polly Steinson?’

The name meant nothing till I remembered the little cutie at The Parlor, the one with the big hips and…

‘Yeah, that’s her,’ Cordelia cut in, like she’d read my mind.

‘What about her?’

‘Buck Mallory and his gang jumped her and dragged her down a back alley a couple of nights back.’

‘Is she alright?’ 

‘She’ll live, but what those animals did to that poor girl ain’t fit for description.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘So is Pete Lawler’s widow.’

‘Pete Lawler’s dead?’

‘Someone stuck a knife in his back when he tried to help Polly.’

‘Hmm, that’s too bad. Pete was a good fiddle player. Want some coffee?’

‘No, I need to get back to Polly. She needs me.’

‘Okay, thanks for letting me know.’


‘I ain’t through yet. Every snake with a grudge has thrown in with the Mallorys. They’ve taken over the town and got the jail surrounded. They’ve given Emmett till midnight to turn Buck loose. If he’s not out by then there’s no telling what they’ll do.’

‘Maybe he’ll let Buck go?’

‘I wouldn’t count on it.’

‘I guess not, darned fool.’

‘Whatever he is, Emmett’s no fool. He’s a man with a backbone, that’s what he is, and he needs all the help he can get.’

‘What about that trusty deputy of his?’

‘He’s holed up in the jailhouse with Emmett.’

‘Well, he don’t need my kind of help, that’s for sure. He made that clear when he took away my badge.’

‘You can’t hold that against him.’

‘Who says I can’t?’

 ‘I say. That’s if pride doesn’t mean more to you than justice for Polly.’

 ‘Why pick on me? What about the rest of the men in town? Why don’t you ask them to stand up to the Mallorys?’

‘Like little Calvin Brewster, who got beaten senseless? Or Clem Thurman, whose hardware store ain’t got a front window anymore? Or Luke Ridley, whose face needed forty stitches after an attack with a broken bottle?’

‘And you came here expecting my help? Well let me tell you something, I’ve got sensitive skin and… did Emmet send you?’

‘No. I came to you because you’re the one man I know that can make a difference. You and I come from the bottom of the same heap. We might not amount to much but we know where the line is drawn. I thought you might help.’

‘Well you thought wrong.’

‘Valance, I’ve never asked you for anything before, but I’m asking now.’

‘No’

‘Please Valance, I’m begging you.’

‘I said no!’

Cordelia hushed. Then she got all sniffy. Course I felt lousy and it didn’t help that she started talking sneaky and womanly.

‘Alright, I’m sorry I wasted your time. I should have known better than to throw myself at a rat that cares for no one but himself.’

‘Yup’

‘A rat that once stole the pennies off a dead man’s eyes.’

‘Well, he had no use for them. Hmm, how did you know about that?’

‘Don’t look surprised. I know a lot of things about you Valance. I know you talk in your sleep too, but don’t worry, I won’t tell. I thought I knew everything about you, but I was wrong. I never knew you were a coward.’

‘Well now you know better.’

‘I most surely do. You’re not just a lying, cheating skunk… you’re a selfish, yeller bastard.’

‘Yup, that’s me. And you’re nothing but a two bit whore, overpriced at that.’


I shouldn’t have said that. Sure, I was blazing, but before Cordelia was out of sight, guilt was eating my insides. Maybe we both said things we didn’t mean. I’m sorry for Polly and the folks in town. Maybe the sheriff too, but whatever happens is gonna happen anyway and there ain’t a darn thing I can do about it. And even if could, it ain’t any of my business. It just ain’t my concern.

Aw, what the hell...


Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Boss - 4


Dang blasted woman.

The Boss - 3

It’s a wonderful thing to sit out on the porch on a warm night. Whiskey and cigarettes, a cooling breeze, clouds drifting over the moon… yup, life is sweet, and getting Housty back in line makes it all the better. Sure, she gets a little spiky sometimes, but she knows who the boss is.


The Boss - 2

Housty ain’t talking to me. See that broken window? She blamed me for that. Huh, like a man’s supposed to stand still when a woman lets fly with a flat iron?


She’ll simmer down, soon enough. Just takes a little time, that’s all. Good thing I know how to handle her. Most likely she’s remorseful already. Could be she’s cooking something special right now, to make amends. I wouldn’t be surprised. Then she’ll come slinking out here to apologize. 


Tuesday, 12 July 2016

The Boss - 1

There are times when a man has to hold up his hands and admit he was wrong. Well this ain’t one of them. If I say it ain’t my turn to go down to the creek for some water, then it ain’t my turn to go down to the creek for some water. There’s only one boss in this house and as soon as Housty understands that, the better.

Now look what she’s gone and done…


A joke, I hope. It better be, if she don’t want putting over my knee.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Custer


How do you like the present Housty bought me? Custer’s Ruin; the finest whiskey in the west they say, with twice the kick of any other. At five times the price, it ought to be. Too bad I ain’t allowed to touch it. Housty said I gotta save it for a special occasion.

Did I ever tell you I served with Custer? Back in ’67 it was, when I went scouting for the army. Everyone cheered, a marching band played and pennants fluttered in the breeze on the day he led a thousand men out of Fort Hays. A send off befitting of the man’s stature, I guess, and a big hurrah to the brave men of the seventh cavalry. We thought we’d put the redskins in their place and be back in no time; only it didn’t work out that way. After three weeks of chasing shadows in Nebraska, we backtracked, and set up a camp on the Republican River. Frustrated by his failure to engage the enemy, Custer ordered his scouts to report directly to him.


I got the feeling he was looking for a scapegoat. Well, it wasn’t me that led us on a wild goose chase and it wasn’t Will Comstock, and though I had my suspicions about Two Knives and Billy Big Weasel, they weren’t at fault either. By the time Custer had finished blowing his own bugle, it was clear where the blame lay, since the jasper had ears for nobody but himself.

Everyone was surprised when we struck camp before the week was out, since we were supposed to be waiting on fresh orders coming through. As we’d seen hide or hair of an incoming patrol, we figured the big man had just grown tired of waiting. Well, what a mistake that was.

A day or two after we’d pulled out, an army patrol of a dozen men arrived at the abandoned camp. Since the young lieutenant in command could only guess at Custer’s whereabouts, he led his men in the direction of Fort Wallace. Only they didn’t get that far. At Beaver Creek they ran into a large force of Sioux and Cheyenne. Nobody survived.

Course we weren’t to know that, not then, but when we reached Riverside Station and Custer wired the fort for orders, he must have been shaken by the reply. News of the massacre spread fast. As men scrambled to obey an order to remount, few had any doubt where we were heading.

I’ve seen some terrible things in my time, but three days hard riding ain’t time enough to prepare a man’s mind for the things I saw at Beaver Creek. As part of the advance party, me and Will Comstock were amongst the first arrive, and what those redskins did to them troopers ain’t fit or description. It was Will that discovered the dispatch on the young Lieutenant’s body. Signed by Sherman himself, it was a reprimand for Custer, for disregarding orders. 

‘Vengeance shall be ours!’ said Custer, in a speech that went someway to fixing morale. It earned him a cheer but behind the bluster, he must have known it was him that got those troopers killed. 

Well, I’d seen enough. Being a hired scout and not an enlisted man, I was bound to nobody. That I walked away without regret and forfeited a month’s pay is a measure of the contempt I had for a loon whose thirst for glory came before his responsibilities.

I guess he never learned. When he finally bit off more than he could chew at the Little Big Horn, in ’76, I wasn’t surprised. Sympathy?  For the men that followed him into battle, sure, but Custer? No, not him… none at all.

Hell, I need a drink. I'll just have a little taste. 


Friday, 1 July 2016

The Wrong Side of the Law

I took the buckboard into town this morning. Since we were low on supplies I thought I’d make myself useful whilst Housty got on with the chores. While I was there I caught up on the news.

Herb Wheeler at the hardware store told me young Widow Orton had taken in a new man. A hired hand, supposedly, but Herb knew different ‘cause he’d got it from Johnny Gibson, who’d got it from Harry Dade, who claimed to have got it from the hired hand himself.

Seeing Kyle Boardman in charge of the livery was a big surprise. After advising me to take anything Herb Wheeler says with a pinch of salt, he said he was looking after things till Sam Hardman's back on his feet. Seems Sam busted his leg falling from the hayloft. 

Joe Hanlon at the liquor store told me he might have fallen from a hayloft too, if he hadn’t kept his insurance up to date. It ain’t like Joe to talk in riddles and for a smidge I was confused, ‘specially when he clammed up on me. Something was wrong, I could smell it, and it smelled a whole lot stronger when I turned around and saw Buck Mallory and his cousin Lonnie propped up in the doorway.

Eldon Lassiter was standing outside the newspaper office when I came by. Said there’s been all kinds of trouble lately and though he stopped short of pointing a finger, I figured it all came back to a certain family. Anyhow, some good news; it looks like the town will be expanding soon with new stores and a new church getting built.  Praise be and hallelujah, huh? That ought to keep the bible thumpers happy.

About then I felt a mite hungry. Since Annie’s place was just across the street… well, what a mistake that was. Ain’t that I begrudge paying five cents for a donut and a cup of coffee, but old Bob Straker wouldn’t let me out of there till he’d done telling me about his back, his knees and everything nobody needs to know about hemorrhoids.

I left the donut half eaten and came out just in time to see two men carrying Phineas Cardwell over to Doc’s place. Heart attack, I figured, till Nervous Ned popped up from behind a barrel to say Magdalena Cardwell was on the warpath again. Now there’s a woman I’d hate to upset. Seems she told everyone in screeching distance what a worthless fool her husband was then she knocked him out cold in the middle of the street. 

Irene Jackson and Nellie Trout were tittle-tattling about it when I stopped by at the general store. Course I took no notice. I just bought my supplies and got on with loading up the buckboard. The world would be a better place if people learned how to mind their own business, I reckon.

I had it in mind to buy Housty a present before going home; silky underwear, something like that. Since there’s no one better than Cordelia for giving the kind of advice I needed, I moseyed on up The Parlor. Leastways I would have, if Granny Applegate hadn’t come out of the bank when she did and spooked me into ducking into an alley. A slick move, I thought as she passed by, till… 

‘Hiding from someone, Mister?’


I found myself looking down the barrel of a gun. By the set of the fella’s eyes and his countenance, I figured he wasn’t a man to be messed with and I was quick to comply when he told me to put my hands in the air.

‘No, I ain’t hiding. Well, maybe I am. But I ain’t up to no good, if that’s what you’re thinking.’

‘Then why are you sneaking around?’


‘Well, I…’


‘C’mon!’ he said, jabbing the gun at me. ‘You can tell it to the sheriff.’

Well, I might have breathed easier when I saw the badge on his chest, but as he marched me to the sheriff’s office it pained me to think I was being taken in by a man wearing my old badge.

‘Well now, what have we here?’ asked Sheriff Berry. Sitting at his desk, he set his paperwork aside.

‘I found this man acting all suspicious in the alley,’ said the deputy.
  
‘Hmm, looks like you’ve hooked a mean one.’ The sheriff leaned back in his chair. 'Well?’ he asked, turning his attention to me.

By the time I’d done telling him the truth, the whole truth and nothing but, he was smirking all over his face. 

‘And that’s all there is to it, Emmett,’ I said. ‘You know what Granny Applegate’s like. I ain’t safe when she’s around.’

‘Okay Valance, put your hands down.’

‘You two know each other?’ asked a surprised deputy.



‘Yeah, we know each other,’ said the sheriff. ‘Ray; meet Levitt E. Valance, your predecessor. Valance; this is Ray Quigley, my deputy.’

Quigley’s jaw dropped. ‘You mean he’s…’

‘The very same,’ said the sheriff. ‘Better get along now Ray. I need you out there.’

I waited till the deputy left. ‘He’s a keen one, ain’t he?’ I said, as soon as the door closed. ‘Shame he ain’t smart enough to know an honest citizen when he sees one.’

‘Yeah, he’s keen. A little too keen sometimes, but Ray’s a good man to have around. These are troubled times.’

‘So I heard. Is he as good as I was?’

The sheriff chewed it over for a moment.

‘Almost.’

‘Almost? So what’s he’s got that I ain’t got?’

‘My trust.’

Hell, what a kick in the guts. And he said it straight out, without batting an eye. Since there was nothing more to say, I slunk out of the door.


Though I’d gotten over it by the time I got home, I felt bad when I remembered Housty’s present. I’d clean forgotten about that. No matter, Housty wasn’t expecting anything anyhow, and she was more than happy with the supplies I brought back. Still wish I’d gotten her something though.