Bullpen Short Story
Logan found Rhett Sauls and his boys playing cards at a saloon in a town so small it offered nothing else but a general store and blacksmith shop. There were some coins, a few small bills, and several empty shot glasses on their table. Save for the red-faced and fidgeting barkeep, nobody else was in the establishment. When Logan called Rhett’s name, the outlaw looked up at him with a broad sneer on his face. “Well, snakes afire,” he said. “If it ain't Logan Cooper.”
Logan nodded and tipped his hat. “Hey, Rhett.”
“You aim to take me and my boys in, Logan?”
“Just you. Your boys aren't worth anything to me, dead or alive.”
“Well, if you was a proper lawman,” Rhett said, “I believe this the is part where you’d ask me if I intend to go peacefully or if I'm going to resist.”
Logan dropped his hand to side, letting it hover over the chestnut grip of his single-action revolver. “Don’t be a fool, Rhett. Do you want to bet your life that you’re faster than me?”
Rhett and his boys erupted into a laughing fit. “No sir, I do not. But I’ll bet my life that you can’t outdraw all three of us. Now, are you willing to call that bet?”
“You might be onto something Rhett,” Logan answered. “But here’s the thing: I might not can shoot all of y’all before one of you gets me, but I can shoot one. So, who’s that one going to be?”
Suddenly the quiet was shattered by the scrape of chairs scratching against the wooden floor and the click of pistols being cocked as they were snatched from worn leather holsters. Before the outlaw on Rhett’s left brought his gun to bear, Logan snapped off a round and he fell to the floor with a dull, heavy thump. Rhett's other man had just finished kicking his chair away when Logan’s second shot struck true, knocking him onto this back. Rhett had stood and started to extend his shooting arm to take aim, but his liquor-addled mind could only react so fast and he moved as if swimming through molasses. Logan swiveled to face him, cocking his pistol again as he turned, and held his sights in line with Rhett’s forehead.
“Drop it, Rhett.” Logan snapped, stopping his target in mid-draw. “Don’t be as stupid as your boys. Be the one who walks out of here alive.”
Rhett nodded. “Alright, Cooper, alright. You win this time.” He started lowering his pistol, but Logan still kept his weapon at the ready, following Rhett’s every movement.
“That ain’t gonna work, Rhett,” Logan snapped. “I’d feel alot better if you would just drop that piece on the floor instead of on the table.”
Rhett huffed and dropped his gun to his feet.
“Now kick it over,” Logan instructed him.
The outlaw hesitated for less than a heartbeat, then did as he was told. It was only then that Logan started to lower his pistol, and in that moment Rhett reached behind his back for the hold-out gun he kept holstered there.
He was dead before his fingertips even touched the grip. The dead body fell forward, crashing through the thin table.
Logan holstered his pistol and stepped up to the bar. He steadied himself on it and took several deep breaths. When his nerves had calmed he told the barkeep--who had taken refuge on the floor--that it was all clear.
The man stood as Logan reached into his pocket and took out a roll of money. “This is for burying those two I don't need,” he explained as he slapped the wad of cash onto the bar. He then handed the barkeep a single bill. “That's for a bottle of bourbon. You got anything to eat?”
“Got some biscuits.”
“You got any honey for those biscuits?”
“I believe so.”
Marshal Hathcock answered the knock at his door to find Logan standing on the porch.
“Dead or alive?” the marshal asked.
“You don’t see anyone out here shackled up, do you?”
“Who is it?”
“He at the undertaker’s?”
Logan reached into his coat pocket and drew out a crumpled piece of paper. Hathcock took it and gave the scratchy note scribbled on it a cursory read. “Alright,” he huffed. “Come inside and get your money.”
He offered Logan coffee and a seat, and the bounty hunter accepted both. Hathcock made his way to the safe behind his desk. He took three stacks of bills out of it and handed them to Logan. “That’s three thousand for the bounty,” he said. He reached back in and took another, shorter stack out. “And here’s an advance on your next job. You’ll get the other half when it’s done.”
The marshal poured them each a cup of coffee, and Logan helped himself to a sip before responding. “My next job? Do I not get to pick my own bounties anymore?”
“This ain’t a bounty.”
“Please don’t tell me you’re hiring me as a deputy.”
“No sir, I’m not. I’m hiring you to do some security work. My daughter’s been hired as the school teacher up in Millworth and needs to be up there by Sunday night so she can get started Monday morning. I’m getting Bobby to drive her up in his stagecoach, but I’d just feel better if a gun hand was riding with her.”
“So send Tilly.”
“No, I need Tilly here with me.”
“What for? I can’t remember the last time he used his deputy badge for anything but getting pretty women from out of town to drink with him.”
Hathcock chuckled and shook his head. “Even so, he’s my deputy, and his responsibility is to Parkersville--not running personal errands for me.” He started working on his own cup of coffee and leaned back in his seat. “Look, son, I’m paying you five-hundred dollars to take a day’s ride with a pretty girl to a town that you’re probably heading to before long anyway, seeing that’s where your buddy Lando has established his business.”
Logan smirked. “I’ll be traveling with a pretty woman that I can’t even flirt with because she’s your daughter and you’d cut off any part of me that touched her.”
“Right you are, so how about I also pay your stabling fee and give you money for a room at Lando’s so you can stay the night and carouse to your heart’s content?”
“You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?”
“Logan, you don’t get to be as old as I am by letting things escape you.”
“I suppose not.” Logan finished his coffee and set the cup down. “Alright, I’ll do it.”
Marshal Hathcock offered his hand, and Logan shook it. “I sure do appreciate it,” he said. “Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight? My wife is frying up some chicken and I’m sure there’s a batch of biscuits and a pumpkin pie in the oven.”
“Y’all got honey for those biscuits?”
Logan stood from his chair and headed for the door. “Well, let me go get a shave and put on some clothes that don’t smell like sweat and dirt, seeing that I’ll be in the company of ladies.”
Emily Hathcock poured herself another glass of wine and sat back in the parlor sofa. She sipped it and took a deep breath, savoring the flowery aroma and rich taste of the going-away present her father had bought for her. Having satisfied herself with that first luxuriant sip, she called out to her mother Susie, who was setting the table in the dining room.
“Please tell me Daddy doesn’t intend on setting me up with Logan.”
“Heavens, no,” Susie Hathcock called back. “Even if your daddy wanted to, Logan Cooper ain’t the kind to be set up with anyone.”
“Well, that’s good to hear.” Emily indulged in another sip of wine. “I hope you’ll forgive me for assuming that Daddy was hoping to find me a fine husband to go with my new job. It’s not like we’ve ever had a dinner guest who wasn’t a potential suitor.”
“He just wants you taken care of, that’s all.”
There was a knock at the door. Susie rushed through the parlor to answer it. It was her husband, and with him was their young dinner guest. Logan looked different than when she had last seen him; he was clean-shaven and his hair had been trimmed from its usual shagginess down to a respectable length. She had long ago come to know him, so he certainly wasn’t cleaning up to give her a good first impression. She hoped that her husband wouldn’t make her out to be a liar.
Susie reached out for the marshal, offering him a smile and a kiss as she greeted him. Logan took off his hat as he stepped into the house and Susie offered him a quick peck on the cheek. “Emily, dear,” she shouted out, “your father and our guest are here.”
She led the men to the parlor, where Emily met her father with a tight embrace. When she stepped back from him, she turned to Logan and curtsied. “Logan, good to see you again,” she said.
“Well,” the marshal declared, “now that we’ve exchanged greetings, how about we find something to eat?” He turned to his wife. “Miss Susie, I promised this young man fried chicken with biscuits and honey and plenty of it.”
Susie beamed and replied that there was indeed plenty everything to be had, and both apple and pumpkin pies were in the oven. “And don’t be worried about choosing which one to have,” she added. “I cooked two desserts, so you’ll have two desserts.”
They sat and ate and talked about their days. Marshal Hathcock bragged on Logan, telling stories of some of his most recent bounties. Logan affected an earnest modesty, and Susie insisted that he was doing fine work and deserved all the praise due to him.
After the chicken had been picked clean and there was nothing left of the biscuits but crumbs, Susie stood and walked back to the kitchen to fetch dessert. When she was gone, Logan turned to Emily. “Miss, what time do you want to leave Sunday morning, if you don’t mind?”
Emily started in confusion. “I’m sorry?”
Logan shot a look over at Marshal Hathcock, who grunted and turned his eyes away.
Emily then looked at her father, her face reddening with outrage.
Marshal Hathcock held his hands up. “Now darling, I’m just being an overly cautious old man.”
“I told you I would be just fine. I already have one armed man accompanying me. I don’t need more than that. What will the people of Milltown think when they see their new school teacher come riding into town with a full security detail? I don’t want their first impression of me to be that of a lost and scared little girl who needs big men with guns to see her safely to her destination.”
“You are familiar with stories of road agents, are you not?” Marshal Hathcock asked.
“And I’m sure one armed would be more than capable of fighting off any vandals we encounter on the short trip.”
Logan took a sip of wine and spoke up. “Miss, with respect, they might think you prudent.”
“Or paranoid,” she snapped. “Or maybe they’ll think that I find myself above them, or that I’m simply weak of character.” She turned back to her father. “Daddy, we had discussed this. I had assumed that you were to honor my wishes. I see that I was wrong. Now, may I be excused?”
Hathcock, his eyes downcast and a frown on his face, nodded his approval.
Emily rose from her seat and turned to Logan and bid him good night.
She walked off from the dinner table just as her mother returned. “Where’s she off to?” Susie asked.
Logan cleared his throat. “Ma’am, I’m afraid I may be to blame for her absence. I brought up a rather sensitive subject before your husband was ready to address it I’m afraid.”
Susie narrowed her eyes at the marshal and clicked her teeth. “I think I understand. Mr. Logan, would you please allow me a moment to speak to my husband alone?”
Logan had been sitting on the porch for close to twenty minutes, working on the glass of whiskey Hathcock had given him on the way out, when the marshal came out to join him. “Well,” the older man said, lighting a pipe as he let the door close behind him, “there goes a birthday present from them both.”
“I’m sorry for speaking out of turn,” Logan responded.
“No apology needed. You didn’t know there was a turn to speak out of. I should have told you up front that my daughter was under the impression that she was making the trip without an escort.”
“I take it I need to be returning that advance?”
“No, you won’t. You’re going. I managed to convince them that it was for the best.” He grimaced. “I did not manage to convince them that it was acceptable to do so without so much as a brief consultation with them. Anyway, meet her at the livery Sunday morning at eight.”
“Will do.” Logan finished off his whiskey. “So, you need to stay over at my house tonight?”
“No, I do not. Mrs. Hathcock has already pulled out blankets for the couch.” Logan laughed, until he realized that Marshal Hathcock was not. “So, those pies still warm?”
“They are,” Marshal Hathcock said. “I’ll wrap you up a couple of slices to take home.”
Logan handed his empty glass to the marshal. “Please give my regards and thanks to the lady of the house.”
They arrived at Millworth just as twilight was setting in. Logan had followed the stagecoach at an easy pace, Bill not being in any particular hurry to get to their destination. He had not exchanged any words with Emily, other than a brief greeting that morning. They had stopped at midday for a brief meal eaten in silence, the only conversation being an exchange between Logan and Bill concerning the weather.
Bill pulled to a stop in front of the Millworth Inn. Without waiting for assistance, Emily got out the stagecoach and started pulling her bags out of the storage compartment in the back.
Logan slid down off of his horse. “Do you need help with those, miss?”
“I’m just fine, thank you.” Bill had come down from his seat and scurried to Emily’s side to help, but by the time he offered to help she had already finished her task.
She turned to Logan. “Well, Mr. Cooper, I appreciate your assistance, such as it was. I trust you’ll inform my father that your company was, after all, unnecessary?”
Logan smiled and nodded his head. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear it.”
A porter came from the inn to take Emily’s bags. She let him, expressing her thanks as he left, and then spoke once again to Logan. “Well, I’m sure you’re hungry. Do you like steak, Mr. Cooper?”
“One of my favorites, in fact. And call me Logan, please.”
“Well, there’s a fine steak to be had at the Continental, if you’d like to join me. My treat, of course.”
“I’d appreciate that, miss.”
“You can call me Emily.”
“Very well, Emily. I’d rather like a steak dinner.”
Emily made the same offer to Bill, who replied that steak didn’t really sit well with him and, after all, he was more thirsty than hungry. Logan offered his arm to Emily, who took it although it was clear that it was she was the one leading the way. “Have you ever eaten at the Continental, Logan?”
“I’ve heard all kinds of good things about it, but I’ve not yet had the chance to see for myself if they live up to their reputation.”
“You won’t find a finer place to dine from here to Slick Stone. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
“Well, begging your pardon, but there’s a diner in Slick Stone that I’m quite fond of, so you’ve just set the standards to which the Continental must live up to quite high.”
“I doubt they’ll disappoint.”
They kept walking without any further small talk, navigating the crowded path to their destination, and were nearly there when a scratchy voice called out from across the street. “Logan Cooper!” a tall man with thick black hair shouted out. “Stand where you are, boy, I’ve got a word to have with you.”
Logan located the man shouting at him and sighed, shaking his head. “Excuse me,” he said to Emily, “I’ve a matter to address.”
He slipped his arm away from her and walked out into the street. By now, a few people had stopped to spectate. The man stepped out from the crowd and stood a few feet from Logan, his hand on his pistol at his hip.
“Hello there, Tom,” Logan said in greeting.
Bill did not return Logan’s good manners. “I heard you shot up Rhett Sauls a few days back.”
“You heard right, Tom. I gave him a chance to go peacefully, and he didn’t take it.”
“That was my cousin, Logan.”
“I know. You told me both times I took you in. Said he was going to come spring you.”
“He did, indeed. His money kept me out of prison.”
“Well, sounds like it’s best you don’t break any more laws, seeing as how you’ll be staying for good next time you get locked up.”
Tom flexed his fingers over the grip of his pistol. “I don’t take too kindly to your dismissive words, Cooper.”
gaze fell to Tom’s gun belt as he moved his hand over his own
revolver. “You must be in a rush to go to jail,
Tom, threatening me as such.”
“I’m in a hurry for something, but it ain’t going to jail.”
Out of the silence of the crowd came Emily’s voice, so sharp and distinct that it caused both men--and several bystanders--to flinch. “For Heaven’s sake!” she snapped, rushing forward to stand between Logan and Tom. Logan moved forward to push her aside and Tom’s face wrinkled in shock. She shoved her hand out toward Logan and he halted in place. “If you two were really going to shoot each other, you would have already done so! Now, if you’re both quite finished, I’m famished.” She turned to Logan. “You still want that steak dinner? Then stop this foolishness and walk away.”
Logan, not entirely sure if he was relieved or embarrassed, shot a glance around to the crowd and huffed as he tipped his hat. “Apologies,” he mumbled, barely loud enough to be heard. He scurried back to the walkway lining the main street.
Emily placed her hands on her hips and turned to look at Tom with pursed lips and a cutting glare. Tom dropped his hand from his pistol and raised his hat in a salute. “Miss, don’t let me keep you.” He walked on down the street, stealing a glance back at Logan but saying nothing else.
The steak was, indeed, the best Logan had ever tasted. It was served with a steaming pile of mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. Emily took a break from her dinner to sip her wine while Logan smeared some honey on one of the fresh biscuits the waiter had just delivered. “What is it you love so much about biscuits and honey?” she asked him, a smile on her face for the first time since leaving Parkersville. “You seemed more excited over them than my mother’s fried chicken the other night.”
Logan shrugged and took a bite off his treat. “I don’t know,” he said once he swallowed. “I guess I just like things soft and sweet.”
Emily smiled. “Well, I suppose you’ve no interest in me.”
Logan put his utensils down and picked up his glass of bourbon for a quick sip. “Miss, you’ll forgive me for not knowing how to answer that.”
“You can answer honestly. My father will never know that we had this dinner, much less this conversation, and I’m quite aware I’m neither soft nor sweet.”
Logan put his bourbon down and helped himself to another bite of biscuit. “That doesn’t mean you’re not a fine woman, miss. Sometimes it’s the fact that a woman isn’t soft, or sweet, that makes her a fine woman. Now, I don’t hardly know you, but I know that you’re generous. You bought me dinner after all, just because I happened to be in your company. I know that you don’t waste any time getting things done, and I know that you have little patience for needless showmanship. All those are fine qualities.”
“Well, I thank you, Logan.”
They ate in silence for the rest of the meal, and afterward they each ordered another drink.
“Honestly, Logan, I wasn’t sure what to make of my father’s arrangement with you at first. He’s convinced that I need a man to look after me, and I was apprehensive about you being the latest in a long line of forced suitors.”
“I will certainly inform Marshal Hathcock that his daughter can keep herself safe.” He raised his glass of bourbon. “Now, here is to your success as a school teacher in this town. The children you teach will have a fine woman to teach them, and I can’t think of anything better to make for a strong man--or woman--than a good teacher.”
Emily smiled and clinked her glass against his. They finished their drinks and Emily settled the bill. She took Logan’s arm and let him lead her back to the inn.
“Will you be heading back to Parkersville tonight?” Emily asked at the door.
“No, there’s a saloon in town I’m fond of and I’ll be staying there for the night.”
“A saloon that rents out rooms?”
“Well, miss, it’s a nice saloon.”
Emily nodded and extended her hand. “Well, I hope you have a safe trip back tomorrow when you do leave.”
Logan shook her hand and said goodnight, seeing her was safely inside before heading off to Lando’s House of Ill Repute.
Logan was halfway through his third beer when Tom Ricks came to sit beside him at the bar.
Tom flicked his hat at Logan in greeting. “Where’s the missus?”
“She’s no missus of mine, and she’s staying over at the Millworth Inn. Come tomorrow morning, she’s the town’s new school teacher.”
“Well, I doubt she’ll have any trouble keeping the younguns in line.” The bartender took Tom’s order of two shots of whiskey and served him, then left to serve another patron. “Speaking of which,” Tom said before knocking back one of his shots, “I say we attend to business now that she’s not around to interfere?”
Logan shook his head. “Tom, there’s no warrant on you, at least not in any jurisdiction I frequent, so I’m not going to draw on you. You know that if you draw on me, I’ll shoot you dead.”
“We could just settle it with our fists.”
“We could, but what would that prove? That one of us can take more punches than the other? Your cousin would still be dead. If I won, you’d still want to kill me. If you won, you probably would shoot me while I was down. How about instead of settling anything, I tell you that I’m sorry for your loss, order you another shot of that whiskey, and we drink to Rhett’s memory?”
“You killed my cousin,” Tom hissed, “and now you want to drink to him?”
“I respected Rhett, I really did. More slippery than a greased snake he was. I ran after him for the longest time, and the only thing that was his downfall was he and his boys had too much to drink.”
Tom nodded. “Even then he went down fighting.”
“That he did.” Logan waved the bartender over and ordered two shots of whiskey. “Now, how about that drink?”
Tom shook his head. “Alright, Cooper. We’ll drink to Rhett, because Rhett deserves it, but don’t think I won’t shoot you next time I get the chance.”
The bartender returned with the shots. Logan took them and passed one to Tom. “Tom, if my previous experience with you stands true, you’ll have a bounty on your head soon enough and we’ll both get our chance.”
Tom raised his glass. “To Rhett Sauls, outlaw to the end.”
Logan clinked his shot glass to his new drinking partner’s. “To Rhett.”
They knocked back their shots. Tom finished the shot still waiting for him on the bar and paid the bartender. “You know, Cooper, you can be too soft and sweet for this occupation of yours.”
“Well, I can’t help it. I like things soft and sweet.”
Tom smirked and stood from his stool to walk out. Logan returned to his beer and asked if the cook was still working.
“No, he isn’t,” the bartender asked. “But we got some leftover biscuits you can have if you want.”
“You got any honey for those biscuits?”
“I believe we do.”