Western Short Story
He sat in the corner of the saloon, in Quentville, Montana, hoping to God he’d never get picked for the jury, ill at ease without a drink in his hand, the lone comfort reaching him being the soft recall of barroom air. What he wouldn’t give now for a drink, kept hounding him; all the possibilities astir, an endless line of them as his imagination played mindful games.
At one point, he saw Wally, the robust bartender, pointing at him while talking to one juror already named and accepted for the next trial. “Probably working my name onto the list,” he thought, “getting me into a position where I couldn’t refuse the task. That’s when everybody would get on my case for being a slacker, grind me to flat beef about duty and citizenship and all the correct words that’d fit the case.”
He really wanted a drink, but was held back by his own imagination, raising a ruckus with his thirst, his throat, his lips pursed for a glass. None of it felt fair to him; not a bit of it.
Suddenly, out of nowhere conscious, he recalled his first drink all those years ago with Smitty Jones behind the barn all the way back to Tennessee, a good 30 years ago; stale beer that made both of them gag and give it all back to the Earth.
They’d uncovered his father’s supply of booze in the barn, bottles scattered to all corners, most of the out of his mother’s reach but not her anger or her pleas. “Don’t make your gift the boy’s gift. Let him plow up his own world; don’t do it for him, like it’s giving a present at a party.”
He owned up to the drink like he did to his blood.
But it all fell into a new experience; one he had never dreamed of. Not an ounce of it.
Caravanting around the hills beyond town, he entered mining territory, and found the mining site of Muchler and Smallwood, two old miners he had talked to in town over the past few years and found them likeable and versatile, able to survive many draws and drains on their human spirits.
And this day found them dead and buried, with crosses and names above their graves, and four, Fat Fancy Pants from town, as he called them, sitting at the miners’ site eating a dinner of ‘eat it now or let it rot’ trout from a nearby stream, along with a few bags of gold they had found undercover, as they said.
That the Fat Fancy Pants had performed the formal rites of burial was evident, but he had a question or a few questions pop into his mind: the four fat ones had not been borne or bred to labor or any serious activity like trout fishing, there was never any fishing gear in their baggage aboard saggy horses, why nothing of the sort. Was that, because of such performed rites, they snagged both fish and gold realizing both Muchler and Smallwood had no heirs, never a single one seen or heard about for more than a dozen years, no inheritors available for the left-overs, thus it was arguably free to those who performed the final rites for the pair, whatever way they had perished. And what way was that? In what manner? By rockfall? Did a piece of the mountain carry them down? By wild life? By long-range rifle fire or short-range pistol? By poison slipped into a meal?
Joe Jackman reported the deaths of the two miners to the sheriff in town. That was necessary because he had announced in the saloon a few days earlier, to one and all, that he was going to spend a few days caravanting around the hills; he had to cover the ground twice.
The sheriff had a response: “You got out of jury duty, Joe, because now you’re the sole material witness to the possible murders or deaths by any means of two old men who spent 20 or more years mining for gold and may have died for that cause. I’ll have to bring in your Antsy Fancy Fat Pants for questioning. How and why did they get there? Did they also bury any proof of the pudding with them? They have to be looked at, checked out, questioned one and all, one by one and as a bunch to see what breaks up between their stories, if anything at all does.”
“That means, Joe, you have to take part in this, never you mind any jury duty you were trying to run away from. You’re stuck from now to eternity comes to the guilty party or parties, if such be the case.”
The sheriff, as the lone law in the near whereabouts, called for an inquest and brought the Four Fat Fancy Pants into the saloon for questioning before a body of their peers, such be they called.
“You boys know why you’re here. First, you have to be identified by legal name. You,’ he said to #1, what is your name?”
“Why, sir, you know me as Harrison Flagler, lo, these many years. There is no question to that.”
“That’s enough of the wisecracks for now. So, it comes to you, #2.”
“Woodrow Wilson, though I be, for all yon eternity.” There was music lodged in his voice.
“I said, no more wise cracks and say it again to you, #3, as quick and as clean as you can make it.”
“Indubitably, I am, and have been for 32 years that I know of, been called the one and only Lucas Lance Lunable of these here parts for all those years, my pardon for my parents’ jest for the best name of choice for their voice, or how they’d call me back for lunch.” He clucked at his response as if he was a star on a quiz parade during Open-Wagon Day.”
“Well, #4, you adding anything to this parade?”
“Sheriff,” he said, “being the only Slade Sladious Maximus I know of, I swear by all holiness, that I did not kill the two miners. I did not shoot them. I did not poison them. I simply suggested that we bury them in the near earth with proper rites for eternity and include their names on appropriate crosses of the Lord so that with none of their relatives known to any of us, the residue of their lives could be assumed by us who made possible such final rites and burial places, and ask what man hereabouts would not have done the same?”
The sheriff leaped in at that point and demanded, “Do you have any idea of what that residue might be worth?”
“Sir,” he said, “after the dozen or so trout that might have gone south with an ungainly eventual smell, but were a most delicious side-issue, we all figured that we have, each of us included, about $10,000 apiece, which will last us for the rest of our lives if we have the chance to invest it in fair and promising pieces of land in the hereabouts, and free drinks in this here institution for every Saturday in the months of St. Patrick’s celebration, hot August, and Christmas month, for as long as it lasts, beginning at this very moment.
Which, with a huge and loud hurrah, began the legacy of Four Fat Men in Fancy Pants in Quentville, Montana, where August at that moment was most fairly hot.