Bullpen Story
Itchin' for Trouble
Alexander Richardson


Bullpen Story

The day they hanged Pete Lawson, Samuel Black sat in front of the barkeep, his second whiskey in hand.

“Christopher Hunt’s a no-good sonuvagun. You hear me? A no-good sonuvagun.”

The barkeep nodded. A couple fellas were playing cards a few tables away, and one of them–wearing a red bandanna–looked over. Near the door, Harvey banged at the piano, supplementing his lack of skill with enthusiasm.

“Heard you just fine,” the barkeep said as he wiped a glass. “Just like the first and second time.”

Samuel snorted. He wore a Stetson and duster to match his family name, with a navy shirt buttoned underneath and a crisp, white vest over it. His gray pants dipped into worn boots, the spurs tight, and a gray bandanna hung below his chin. His brother’s old six-shooter was holstered at his side.

“Sonavagun sold me a broke wagon, Carl,” he said, and drank his whiskey. “Paid him forty dollars, and the axles broke. That sonuvagun.”

“Yep, yep,” the barkeep said, setting the glass down and picking up another one. “It busted on the main road and you lost five pounds a’ sugar and Roger Fellows broke his leg ’cause a’ it.”

Samuel pushed his glass forward.

“It ain’t no laughing matter. The man wants remuneration for work lost and bills incurred.”

“You try talkin’ with Hunt?” Carl said, pouring a splash of whiskey into Samuel’s glass. “Man sold you a faulty product. Ain’t no crime in bringin’ it up.”

Samuel laughed. It was loud and harsh and his face was red. After a moment, the laugh turned into a cough, and Samuel pressed his bandanna against his mouth.

When he was done hacking into it, Samuel slammed back his whiskey and stared at Carl with red eyes.

“You ever so much as try tellin’ that yellow sonuvagun no? Man’s off his rocker. I got half a mind to shoot him down in the street like a dog.”

The card player with the red bandanna laid down his cards, collected his money, and walked out of the saloon. Carl set down his glass and started cleaning another one.

“Got no cause sayin’ that in here, Sam. Them’s fighting words. You’re itchin’ for trouble, talkin’ like that.

Samuel squinted at him. “You getting’ tough with me?”

“You know I ain’t, Sam, and knock it off. Fool talk like that won’t get you nowhere. I’m your friend.”

Samuel kept his mean-eye stare on Carl for a moment. Then, his face softened.

“I know it, Carl. I know it. I just…oh, I’m spittin’ mad. Makes my fool mouth run off on me sometimes.”

Carl nodded a few times. He set down his glass and picked up another one.

“I don’t want no trouble with anybody,” Samuel said. “Just gotta figure how’ll make this right. Maybe I should talk to Hunt.”

“Don’t see how it could hurt,” Carl said.

Samuel nodded at him.

“I’ll talk with him, man to man. Between the two of us, I’m sure–”

You lousy coward!

Harvey stopped playing the piano, casting the saloon in silence. The card players looked over. Samuel spun around on his stool. Carl glanced up from his glass.

Standing in the doorway, wearing a blue tailcoat and matching bowler, his brown beard neatly trimmed, and with a gun on each hip, was Christopher Hunt. Beside him was the card player with the red bandanna.

Christopher took a step forward and pointed at Samuel, his face red.

“You got all the nerve, poppin’ off with your nonsense about bein’ cheated! If I told you once, I told you a hundred times them axles was worn and needed replacin’. That’s why I sold the thing so cheap. Ain’t my fault you’re too stupid for good advice.”

Samuel stood up. “Who do you think you’re callin’ stupid?”

“You, stupid! Why? Too stupid to get it?”

“That’s enough a’ that,” Carl said. “Hunt, you get outta my saloon.”

Christopher stared at him.

“Ha!” he said. “Ha, I say! It’s outrageous. Outrageous! You yellow-bellied nancies!”

“Harvey, get the marshal,” Carl said.

The piano player looked at him, his brow furrowed.

“Marshal’s gone, Carl. Off with them Army Scouts, lookin’ for Comanches.”

“Get whoever you can, then,” Carl said, “and do it quick.”

Harvey hustled out of the saloon, the doors flapping behind him. Christopher grinned.

“I’ll leave your dirty saloon, Carl. Don’t twist your nuts up.”

He pointed at Samuel. “Me and you can settle this outside. I’ll be waitin’.”

And with that, Christopher turned around and left, the card player with the red bandanna following behind him.

“You stay right here, Sam,” Carl said. “We’ll get this fixed up with whoever Harvey brings back.”

Samuel bit his lower lip. The card players looked at him.

“I…I can’t.”

Carl frowned. “Whaddya mean, you can’t?”

“I don’t face him,” Samuel said, “the whole town’ll think I’m yellow.”

Carl stared at him.

“You want a belly full a’ lead? Hunt rode with the Army for six years. Fought in Texas. I’ve seen you shoot. It ain’t nothin’ to write home about.”

Samuel stared into his glass. “It don’t matter. I…I can’t have nobody thinkin’ I’m yellow.”

He started to walk away. Carl reached over the bar and grabbed his arm.

“Sam, he’ll kill you.”

Samuel jerked his arm free. “There’s fifty dollars in my room, under the bed. I don’t come back, you give that to Roger for his trouble.”

He turned and walked away, the card players still watching him.

“Sam.”

Without looking back, Samuel pushed through the bar doors.

“Sam!”

Samuel didn’t come back. Carl stood there for a moment. He swore to himself and started to walk around the bar, but gunfire sounded from outside. It was fast and terrible, drowning out all other noise, and then it was over. A few moments later, Hunt pushed his way through the doors and came back into the saloon.

“You know, Carl,” he said, thumbs in his pockets and a smile on his face, “I actually wouldn’t mind having me a drink.”