This week’s theme for Flash Fiction Friday was very enticing: the wild west. Land of gold rushers, robbers, gunslingers and cattle drives. I have wanted to do a western story for a long time, but for some reason, I kept putting it off.
Now, there was no way I could pass on this opportunity.
So I hit play on the score to Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, masterfully done by the great Ennio Morricone. That set the mood perfectly.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that this story matches the works of such western masters as Grey, Leonard, McMurtry or L’Amour. I need to work on making the dialogue more colorful, more in touch with the era’s way of speaking.
Here’s what I’ve come up with. Saddle up!
Arizona Territory, shortly after the Civil War
Blanche left the comfort of the post office and crossed the dusty street to the saloon.
She pushed the doors open and entered the watering hole. It was quiet, on account of it being 10 a.m. Stan Brown made himself look busy behind the bar. A lone customer had parked his wide derriere on a stool.
Two of Brown’s ladies threw themselves at the burly man. Despite the filth covering him from head to toe. They drank house bourbon and laughed, their roars echoing in the near-empty bar.
Blanche made a point of not looking at the gals. She’d escaped that life years ago, and thanked God for it every day.
She went around the bar and grabbed Brown by the arm to lead him away from the small crowd.
«You need to see this, Stan,» Blanche said, handing him a telegram addressed to Lee Watson.
«Why that look, Blanche?»
Brown fixed his eyes on hers while he unfolded the paper.
«Read it,» Blanche told him when he hesitated.
Brown squinted down at the paper for a minute, then shook his head. «My spectacles are upstairs.»
Blanched sighed and ripped the paper from his hands. «It’s Silver Dollar Tom. Stan, it says he’s gonna be here in two days.»
Brown stomped his foot on the floor and cursed under his breath.
Silver Dollar Tom’s name brought back horrible memories.
Blanche questioned him with a look.
«Who else have you told about this?» Brown asked.
Brown tossed the paper into the wood stove. He bent under the bar to retrieve his gun belt, tightened it around his waist. He checked his Colt and dropped it into the belt.
«Watch this place, Blanche.»
Blanche looked at the girls and frowned. «Be quick please, Stan.»
Brown walked down the middle of the wide street, making sure he didn’t step in the fuming piles of horse dung and ruin the shine on his boots.
Dark thoughts entered his head and he pushed them away. Tom Haskins had done him and this village wrong more than once. Now he was coming ‘round for more.
«Howdy, Stan!» Owen Johnson, the banker, saluted Brown from the porch.
Brown waved lazily and kept walking.
Father Frank’s horse, groomed and saddled, sat outside the chapel. The old pastor was headed out.
Inside, Brown found Father Frank kneeling at the altar.
The bartender stopped a few feet behind the pastor and cleared his throat.
Startled, Father Frank dropped his beads to the floor and turned to the sound.
«Need a word, Father,» Brown said.
«You scared me, Stanley.»
Brown pointed to a pew and both men sat down.
«We received a telegram,» Brown explained. «From Tom Haskins.»
The pastor’s eyes filled with a hatred uncommon for men of the cloth.
«Thought that devil was in hell.»
Brown shook his head.
«Guess he heard that Watson expired at Mesilla. That’s why he’s coming back.»
Father Frank mumbled a short prayer. Stanley Brown stood, his massive bulk towering over the short pastor, and toyed with his Colt.
«We gonna fight him, Stanley?»
«Nobody’ll do it for us, Father. There’s a posse for hire in the next town over. War veterans. You don’t mind, I’ll send a telegram. Hire them.»
Father Frank nodded. «May God be on your side, Son.»
Brown made his way back to the saloon.
The dirty customer had made his choice and disappeared with Lucy. The other girl, older and thicker around the waist, sat across from Blanche. The women were gossiping about the village’s few amorous affairs.
Blanche looked up when Brown walked in.
«Need you to send a telegram, Blanche.»
They walked to the post office, where Blanche sat at the desk and waited for instructions.
«There’s a posse for hire in the next town,» Brown said. «Gonna need their help for when Haskins shows.»
Blanche’s face lost all colour. The mere thought of more mischief in this town was enough to throw her stomach into a funk.
«Stan, haven’t we buried enough men? What with this darn War? And now you want to fight Tom Haskins?»
«I buried my only son because of him. Can’t let him come back and ruin our lives again.»
Blanche sighed and read the words out loud as she typed.
«Colorado City. Stop. Need gunmen. Stop. See Saloon. Stop. Quick.»
«That’ll do it,» Brown said. «Let me know when they answer.»
He left the post office and crossed back to the saloon.
Blanche, her lower lip quivering, pulled her drawer open and found her husband’s last letter.
She read the final line over and over again, this line she knew by heart, but no longer believed.
Love always, your Lee.
Weeping, she tossed the paper back into the drawer and slammed it shut.
Two days later
Stan Brown woke to the thundering sound of hooves in the distance. He bolted from his bed and went to the window.
He looked west and saw a dozen or so dark specs crossing the valley. Lightning fast.
Brown dressed and hopped downstairs.
Behind the bar, he poured the day’s first bourbon and took it out to the porch.
The sounds of hooves got closer and closer. Brown smiled as his hired men arrived.
Fourteen in all. Their horses filled the street. Father Frank joined them at the saloon, followed by Johnson and a few other villagers.
Brown held court in the full saloon and told everyone about his plan.
«All we know is he will arrive today,» Brown explained. «I don’t know when. Nor do I know how many men Haskins’ll have.»
He wanted the gunslingers to have a clear shot at Haskins whenever he rode in. Brown knew Haskins would head straight for his saloon, so he placed most of the men around it. A few others would be placed to the east of the saloon, where they would see Haskins approach and sound the alarm.
«Up and at ‘em, gentlemen,» Brown said.
With everybody in place, Blanche walked into the saloon and joined Brown and Father Frank at a table.
«Everything will be fine,» the pastor reassured her.
«I hope so,» Blanche replied with a faint smile. «We must rid ourselves of that devil for good.»
«He’ll find his way to hell one way or another,» Father Frank said.
They were silent. From time to time, Brown would go to the front window and check on the situation. Satisfied that the men were good and ready, he returned to his drink.
As the sun faded in the distance, one of the look-outs perched at the top of the chapel noticed a small shape in the distance. The galloping horse raised a cloud of dust so thick it was impossible to tell how many men were in the group.
The man ran to the bell and rang it twice.
In the saloon, Brown jumped to his feet and ran outside. Blanche sobbed nervously.
Out in the street Brown looked up to see the leader of the posse staring down at him, hands on his guns, ready for action.
Brown held a hand up. Wait. Both men turned their eyes eastward and noticed the dark shape growing larger by the minute.
The chapel’s bell rang again, three times now. The group was close.
«Wait for my signal,» Brown called out.
He squinted. Brown made out two horses, only one of which had a rider in his saddle and lead the other.
Odd, thought Brown. Figured Haskins would come with a full crew.
When the horses slowed to a trot in front of the chapel, the bell rang once again, then fell quiet.
As the group approached the saloon, the gunslingers trained their weapons on the rider. They awaited Brown’s signal.
Now Brown could make out the familiar traits of the rider’s face. For a minute, he thought he was dreaming. He stepped forward.
Cripes. It was really him.
«Lower your weapons,» Brown called out.
«You sure?» the leader of the posse replied.
Brown looked back to the saloon. Father Frank had just stepped onto the porch, Blanche right behind him.
The rider stopped his horses when Brown reached them.
«Howdy, partner!» Lee Watson called out, touching the brim of his hat as he smiled at his long-time friend. «I believe you know this dirt bag?»
Watson pointed his chin to the bloody corpse of Silver Dollar Tom Haskins laid across the horse’s back.
«What’s with the gun show, Stan?» Watson asked.
Brown sighed. «We was ready for a fight.»
«No need for that, now, is there?» Watson laughed and dismounted. «Now, where’s my wife?»
He searched the crowd for Blanche’s golden hair.
Father Frank stepped aside, revealing a weeping Blanche. Watson strode toward her.
«Miss me, love?»
Watson wrapped his arms around his wife, swearing to himself never to leave her side again.
If you’re looking for more Western entertainment, you could do a lot worse than picking up any of these movies or books :
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