Rumors don’t come howlin’ through the window like a Santa Ana wind at four o’clock in the mornin’. Nope, more ‘n’ likely they come tantalizin’ like a breeze, lickin’ at yer ears, temptin’ ya to position yerself for a mite more o’ folks’ palavarin’.
I wish to high heaven I’d fastened the shutters snug agin’ my own meddlesomeness. If I’d’a done that, I mightn’t be in this here pickle, havin’ to make a life alterin’ decision.
I been owner o’ The Dry Gulp Saloon here nigh onto twenty years, offerin’ the best whiskey in town. And sasspariller fer the ladies. I ain’t opposed to females frequentin’ my establishment a’tall. But if it weren’t fer womenfolk I might’a never heard what I’m about to tell ya. So I’m a tad conflicted about allowin’ ‘em in.
Boy howdy, there’s this big outfit outside o’ town, The Cornerstone Ranch. It’s been there since before I come out west. Owner lives back east. I been out there, providin’ liquid sustenance at a barn dance, so I know the foreman. Clay seems like a good ol’ cowpoke, never done me no harm anywise. He’s shore made somethin’ out’a that spread. Ever’ fall his cowhands drive hundreds o’ head o’ cattle to the railroad, herds so big there don’t seem to be no end to ‘em. Must take in some purdy good money too ‘cause Clay and the boys drop more’n a bit o’ silver on this here countertop o’ mine.
I asked Clay once about his boss. He said he ain’t heard from the feller in years, figgers he done lost interest in the place. That don’t bother Clay none. Clay says, “Me and the boys’re doin’ mighty fine. Don’t need him messin’ things up. We been doin’ all the work all these years—I figger it’s MY place now. He ever shows up? Might jest be a show down in the streets, that’s all!”
I must’a looked a tetch pale faced ‘cause Clay grinned and clapped me on the back. “Don’tcha worry none, ol’ feller,” he said. “Mr. High Falutin’ Eastern Fancy Pants ain’t a’comin’! I’m shore he got better things to do than ride all this way on dusty trains and stagecoaches an’ all. You jest tend yer bar and no trouble’ll come to ya.”
Well, I wadded my botherment like a hankeychief in my back pocket and got on with my saloon keepin’, like the man said.
I got me a little gal, Daisy Rose, borned to me and my wife seven years ago. My wife’s one o’ those ladies who come in fer my sasspariller. She ended up stayin’. I ain’t sorry Daisy Rose come along but like I said, I’m a mite conflicted.
I let Daisy Rose have the run o’ the place. She keeps me up on the doin’s ‘round here. They say womenfolk love bearin’ tales but I gotta ‘fess up, to my shame, my ears’re always flappin’ fer the tale to be told. So I ain’t never told Daisy not to eavesdrop.
One day Daisy tells me what she heard while she was doin’ her little chores, sweepin’ the storage room. She don’t know what it’s all about but it durn near made my blood freeze.
Seems a couple of Cornerstone cowboys was enjoyin’ a smoke out back. They’s laughin’ an’ talkin’ about how messengers from Mr. Fancy Pants been comin’ regular-like to the ranch. How the cowhands got orders from Clay to give ‘em a message to take back to him. As Daisy Rose prattled, a remembrance come to my mind of a coupla well-dressed strangers that’d partook of a glass of my finest. Later I seen ‘em boardin’ the stage, a little worse fer wear. Now’s I think on it, ‘twas evidence of a cowpuncher’s blows.
Daisy’s a’pullin’ on my vest, “Papa, does Mr. Fancy Pants have a son? Willy and Little George said when Mr. Fancy Pants’ boy gets here, they’re gonna throw him a party in the gully where that ol’ weepin’ willow grows. What kinda party is a lynchin’ party, Papa? Maybe Willy and Little George’ll invite me.”
Now I gotta decide if’n I bear this tale to the sheriff an’ run the risk o’ Clay’s six-shooter finding a place to put a plug in me. Or am I gonna let Mr. Fancy Pants’ boy get hung so’s I can go on benefitin’ from the Cornerstone’s silver?
I wish to heaven I’d’a made Daisy Rose stay home with her mama.
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