Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
At one time Flying Lead was the smallest town in Arizona. In spite of its size, consisting of the Muleshoe Bar, the Jackass Hotel, and The Stall and Straw livery stable, there was more mescal consumed within the town limits than whiskey in any other place in the territory. That was because Jesse served only mescal that he personally distilled out in back of the Muleshoe.
There is a long footnote in one Arizona history book that when the Muleshoe Bar was dismantled the wood was used for firewood. People discovered that their stoves and fireplaces became puddled in melted lead from the many bullets that had been imbedded in the planks over the years.
Jesse Hatch built the first Muleshoe Bar long before Tombstone got its start when Ed Schefflin discovered his silver and the Earp brothers invaded the town with their idea of justice. There were several times when the Earps invaded Flying Lead trying to start gunfights so that their reputations would grow throughout the territory. This was especially true after someone found a bundle of love letters written by Wyatt and “Doc” Holliday to each other. That was one of the many explanations for the gunfight at the OK Corral. Ike Clanton had discovered the pair in Big Nose Kate’s parlor and they saw fit to try and kill him in the OK Corral fiasco that didn’t happen in the OK Corral anyway. That shootout was mild compared to the many gunfights in Flying Lead that were mostly begun in the Muleshoe Bar over mescal or at the Jackass Hotel next door where the girls worked their wares on a twenty-four hour basis. Those Jackass girls did their own share of triggering, especially when anyone referred to them as “Fallen Doves” instead of “Dream Girls of Flying Lead”. The mescal, made by Jesse in his still behind the bar, was a clear fiery liquid made from agave like tequila.
Jesse built the Muleshoe with two stories. One flight of stairs went up on the outside to reach the second floor. The stairway was fairly well hidden by a tall tree that Jesse has planted before his built the Muleshoe. Jesse lived on the second floor, and the stairway served another purpose.
Jesse had acquired five wives, a perfectly accepted practice within the LDS Church. However, not everyone, in spite of the many Mormons living in Arizona, found that practice of plural marriages tasteful, so Jesse figured out a unique system to keep the Flying Lead mouths from chattering too much. Every month a different wife would arrive on the monthly stagecoach, As that wife got off, the wife that had just spent a month with Jesse got on and left town on that same stage. The result suited Jesse fine. He had a different wife every month. He just hoped that the stagecoach company would continue its monthly schedule. Vernon, Jesse’s choreboy was the only Flying Lead resident who had any idea about Jesse’s family situation, and he kept a closed mouth about any of Jesse’s business. Sometimes some of the regulars at The Muleshoe would remark that they never saw Jesse at the Jackass Hotel. When this talk began, always when Jesse was out of the room, Vernon had trouble keeping in his laughter. Vernon might have been slow in some peoples‘ minds, but he knew a lot about what went on in Flying Lead.
Besides the owner and principal bartender, Jesse Hatch, there were the regulars that came by every day and tied their horses to the hitch rack or left them at the Stall and Straw Livery Stable, a stone’s throw from the bar’s front entrance. The first thing most customers and visitors saw was the carved wooden sign over the bar in front of the large mirror that Jesse had replaced many times over the years he owned the place. The sign read: CLOSED FOR THE SABBATH FROM 4:00AM until 4:30AM EVERY SUNDAY UNLESS THERE ARE CUSTOMERS AT THE BAR. Jesse was a Mormon, born in Utah so he had to do something that hinted of religion at the Muleshoe besides keeping his five wives at regular intervals.
Ivan, “The Terrible” Putinsky was a misplaced Russian miner whose claim, five miles into the mountains surrounding Flying Lead, yielded small amounts of silver, but showed a promise for copper. Ivan’s financial resources prohibited the necessary exploration. So, Ivan frequented the Muleshoe Bar complaining constantly that the mescal Jesse served fell way short of the quality of vodka, his native drink from Russia. Jesse Hatch had never heard of vodka so paid little attention to Ivan’s diatribes. The small yield of silver from time to time made it possible for Ivan to be classed as a regular at the Muleshoe.
Mathew, “Matt The Cat”, Brewster, was a tall lanky cowboy with eyes that looked like sunken slits and a stringy black mustache that shot out from his upper lip so that it had the appearance of cat’s whiskers. Mathew walked with short steps like a cat stalking prey. He worked as a cowboy for the O Bar O Ranch that imported Mexican steers when there was grass enough to feed them on the brush-covered bajada of the Shot-In-A-Glass Mountains. Mathew was a peaceful sort until someone made fun of his mustache. When that occurred all the regulars in the Muleshoe headed for the door to the outside. The one street in town was called “Only Street” because Jesse Hatch hated the name “Main”. He had been born on a Main Street in a little town in Utah called Binghamville. The other boys always made fun of him living on that street because his was the only house on it.
Silvester Running-Horse Perry rarely spoke when he was drinking his mescal. He had lots to tell about his life as a half Apache from Boston, with his Apache accent that came from his mother, a full-blooded Chiricahua and niece to Cochise. But, that accent often got mixed with Bostonian that he had acquired from his father. Silvester’s father owned a ranch adjoining the O Bar O that he had named Bulls Running Ranch. His dream for his son was for him to become a cattleman in Arizona and not follow his footsteps in the judicial system of Massachusetts, where he had been a Supreme Court Justice. Silvester’s father made annual visits from Boston to check on his son’s successes and failures. In between these familial visits, Silvester split most of his time between the Muleshoe and the Jackass Hotel where he had become Jessica Flores’s only customer. Silvester had made slight, out of the way inquiries of his father about what the Judge Perry thought about him marrying Jessica, but his father made his disapproval clear. Silvester knew he was better off at the helm of the ranch and visiting Jessica every night than angering his New England judicial father risking his removal as ranch manager. Silvester Running-Horse always stood at the far end of the bar where he was able to view the comings and goings on Only Street as he sipped his mescal.
Pablo Becker had inherited his ranch from his father who had been killed during an Apache raid on Tubac where Jim Becker had gone to buy some saddle horses from a prominent horse breeder there. Pablo’s real name was Paul, but he preferred the Spanish translation because he was proud of his bilingualism. Pablo was what one might call a “frequent shot drinker,” because he flitted in and out of the Muleshoe between taking care of ranch business. He constantly chided Jesse Hatch about his lifelong residence near Mexico and not being able to speak more than six words of Spanish and not really know what they meant in translation. Once in a while, Pablo would get drunk enough to rattle off a couple of paragraphs in Spanish at Jesse just to watch Jesse scowl. After finishing his verbal volley Pablo would rear back his head and produce a huge belly laugh. Jesse never knew whether or not Pablo was cussing him out in Spanish or just talking aimlessly just to rile him. Pablo Becker was one of the wealthiest cattlemen in the territory, but he was also the tightest, cheapest skinflint that had ever ridden the range in Arizona Territory. He was also one of the toughest. But, Pablo had a generous streak that sometimes amazed even himself.
Then there was Vernon Claypool who worked for drinks. Vernon was not what one would call normal, but he was friendly and smiled all the time as he swept the floor of the Muleshoe and washed shot glasses. He also made sure the manure from the horses tied to the hitch rack was always moved to a pile next to Jesse’s garden so that flies would not invade the Muleshoe. There was another quality about Vernon that made Jesse feel completely justified in keeping him on the Muleshoe payroll. Vernon Claypool not only carried a Peacemaker; he knew how to shoot it. He could outdraw any bandit that had ever walked through the door of the Muleshoe. It was Vernon Claypool that made it unnecessary for Flying Lead to employ a lawman. Jesse also made sure that Vernon had plenty to eat and a bed in the bar’s storeroom.
“Big Willy” Blinkerman, six foot-three, two hundred-fifty pounds of Philadelphia aristocracy, had come to Flying Lead looking for his sister Eileen. He had heard she had begun working at the Jackass Hotel. However, when he arrived in town and had gone directly to the hotel, he saw nothing but blank faces on the girls when he inquired about Eileen. He didn’t know that Eileen had seen him walking down Only Street and had taken refuge in the hall closet next to the only bathroom in the hotel. “Big Willy” left the hotel, disappointed that none of the girls knew the whereabouts of his sister and went next door to the Muleshoe. After several shots of Jesse’s mescal, “Big Willy” asked if anyone knew his sister Eileen. All the customers glanced his way, but none answered his question. What “Big Willy” didn’t know was that Eileen Blinkerman had changed her name to Florence Gerhard, or Flo as she was called at the Jackass Hotel.
“Big Willy” spent a month in Flying Lead staying in the spare room in the barn at the Stalls and Straw Livery Stable. It was not only the intermittent stage service that kept him in town, but also the feeling that he wasn’t getting the truth about his sister from the residents of the town or the customers at the Muleshoe Bar. He had promised his mother and father back in Philadelphia that he would do his very best to find his sister, their wayward daughter who had run away after being caught in bed with her Portuguese lover. “Big Willy” agreed with his parents that no Blinkerman woman should lower herself to any man who was not from her class in Philadelphia society.
The major event at Flying Lead happened once a month when the Margarinefield Stage coach arrived and stayed for an hour while the passengers rested in the Muleshoe Bar. That arrival gave the town of Flying Lead real meaning in an otherwise eventless spot in the middle of nowhere except when violence erupted for some reason. “Big Willy” made several forays into the Jackass Hotel to ferret out the truth if he could, but on the second evening of this probing he fell victim to the charms of Lulu Grimes, a blonde, curvaceous woman who, at forty, was well preserved, especially given her past occupation that tended to age some women prematurely. Lulu Grimes not only gave “Big Willy” his money’s worth, she also got him to part with a substantial tip of fifty dollars. The word about “Big Willy’s” generosity went through the town like a charging bull, and was the topic of discussion at the Muleshoe for several days. From that night on, the girls at the Jackass Hotel held Lulu in far more esteem than previously. They all waited with high hopes that “Big Willy” would come back to the Jackass and choose one of them for entertainment. They were disappointed when he boarded the next stage before it rumbled out of town.
There were two other “regulars” at the Muleshoe. They were twins and it was difficult to tell them apart. Billy and Bobby Garnet worked as government surveyors so they were not daily regulars. They came to the Muleshoe whenever they had time off from their surveying job, determining where the International Border was after the Gadsden Purchase. Whenever they ended a rest period and had to return to their work, they bought several bottles of mescal from Jesse to last them until the next rest period arrived and they could return to the Muleshoe Bar in Flying Lead.
After their survey was completed the new maps drawn by the U.S. Coast and Geodedic Survey showed a distinct angle from the ordinarily straight line across the southern border of Arizona west of Nogales. Further on the line returns to its former westward direction. The result of the deviant line forming the angle is that Arizona was deprived of a seaport on the Gulf of Cortez. The deficiency has been blamed on Jesse Hatch for oversupplying Bobby and Billy Garnet with his powerful mescal. There is one other plausible explanation parading around among those who enjoyed parading around such explanations that Bobby and Billy got really blotto after arriving back from their time off in Flying Lead and neither could tell themselves apart. This resulted in the angle across the southern border of Arizona because the twins couldn’t remember which one of them was the rodman and which was on the transit nor which compass setting was the destination. It is surprising that the lie is straight where it does go.
There were a few disgruntled geographers that arrived in Flying Lead and spent a few days throwing tirades at Jesse for selling the twins too much mescal.
None of the regulars will ever forget what happened on a particular San Juan’s Day. June 24th is a Mexican holiday that is also popular in the Southwest of the United States. It is supposed to mark the arrival of the first summer rain, but that has been disappointing many times so that most have changed their hopes for the first summer rain to July Fourth.
On this particular San Juan’s Day around sunrise, Jesse had just bottled a new batch of mescal from his still. The regulars started arriving close to noon because they all knew that such a holiday meant several rounds of free mescal. By two o’clock in the afternoon the bar was full and laughter echoed off the walls. Everyone was celebrating the Mexican Holiday in grand style, especially after three free rounds of mescal that Jesse donated to the event.
Silvester Running-Horse, standing in his usual place by the window was the one who gave the alarm after watching two Mexicans carrying a Gatling gun toward the entrance to the bar. The customers, wide-eyed from the warning, shuffled quickly, carrying their shot glasses, to the far end of the room, huddling together for what they hoped was safety.
Jesse Hatch stood behind the bar with his arms folded across his chest just above his somewhat protruding belly. He scowled toward the door. Stealthily, he reached under the bar and moved something before returning to his folded arms position. The Mexicans rushed in and mounted their Gatling gun on its tripod as they yelled at the crowd in Spanish. Once the gun was in place they started speaking broken English when they realized that nobody in the bar spoke Spanish. Pablo Becker stood with the rest at the far wall, but didn’t open his mouth to speak either Spanish or English.
Jesse looked over at Vernon Claypool who was about to draw his Peacemaker and do away with the brash Mexicans. Jesse signaled him not to try to shoot the intruders.
“We are members of the Tequila Cartel. My name is Jose, and my friend is called Cuervo. We are here with a wagonload of our tequila to sell and we are also here with this weapon to make sure the load gets sold here. So why don’t you people get out of here and bring in all fifty cases. But, before you start unloading our wagon I want two hundred dollars or else I will start this Gatling gun and you won’t get any tequila.”
“Just a minute, Mister Jose,” Jesse said, still standing with his arms folded across his chest. “I only sell mescal here and I distill it myself. I have a good idea. Bring in one of your bottles of tequila and pour us all a shot. I will pour you two hombres shots of my mescal. Then you be truthful and tell us if you like my mescal better than your tequila. Then my customers here will be truthful and tell us which they like the best. If they like your tequila better than my mescal, I’ll give you three hundred dollars for your tequila as long as you unload it into my storeroom. How does that deal sound to you?”
The two Mexicans looked at each other, raised their eyebrows as if questioning each other and then turned back to Jesse.
“That sounds like a good deal to us because we know our tequila is far better than any mescal anywhere. We are Mexicans and we know all about tequila and mescal.”
“All right hombres,” Jesses said. “Go out to your wagon and get a couple of bottles of your tequila. I will be pouring out your mescal while you do that.”
“What should we do with the Gatling gun while we are getting the tequila?” One of the Mexicans asked.
“Leave it here or take it with you. It doesn’t matter,” Jesse said.
The two cartel members left through the door. Jesse reached down beneath the bar and put two drops from a small bottle into each shot glass before pouring them full with his mescal. He put the full shot glasses on top of the bar. The customers, still standing in a group across the room, watched Jesse’s every move, wondering what he was up to. Jesse returned to his position, standing with arms folded across his chest. The Mexicans re-entered carrying two bottles of their tequila.
“Bueno. Here is our tequila,” one said.
Jesse counted the customers huddled across the room with his pointing finger. He took out eight shot glasses from the shelf and put them on the bar top.
“All right, amigos, pour your tequila for my customers,” Jesse said.
The Mexicans opened the two of the bottles and poured the shot glasses full.
All right, amigos,” Jesse said. “Here is your mescal.”
“Salud,” they said. The Mexican cartel members took the full shot glasses and tossed the contents down their throats.
“What do you think about my mescal, now?” Jesse asked.
“Very smooth,” they said in unison. “Now you try our tequila.”
The customers came warily to the bar and took their full shot glasses and drank the clear liquid just as they were accustomed to drink Jesse’s mescal. The Mexicans watched them all drink and then held out their hands, palms out signaling for them to tell how they liked the tequila. The Muleshoe regulars all shook their heads in the affirmative.
“So you like the tequila better than you do my mescal?” Jesse growled.
“It sure is smoother,” several said.
“Well, it looks like you amigos won the deal. I will go get your three hundred dollars while you unload the tequila into my storeroom.”
The two Members of The Tequila Cartel went back to their wagon. Jesse remained standing behind the bar with his arms folded in front of him looking at the door. Silvester Running-Horse went back to his place by the window and watched as the Mexicans began unloading the cases of tequila. Suddenly each put the case he was carrying on the ground. Then they both collapsed and fell one on top of the other. Silvester turned toward the others.
“They passed out,” he said. “It looks like they couldn’t handle Jesse’s mescal.” Silvester laughed.
“All right, my friends,” Jesse called out. “Someone take some rawhide and tie those jaspers up tight. The rest unload and bring the tequila into my storeroom. Those two won’t wake up for hours after drinking the knockout drops I put in their mescal. And, Vernon, I want to talk to you.”
Vernon walked over to Jesse who was still behind the bar. “Vernon, when they get all that tequila out of the wagon, I’ll have the boys load those two jaspers into their wagon and send them back to Mexico. The team of horses will know their way home. You get up on the wagon seat and get them started home. Then come back. And, thanks for not shooting them. I could see you had a great shot at them, but shooting those two could have started an International Incident, and I sure don’t need any State Department yahoos in Flying Lead snooping around my storeroom and still.”
“I’ll get that all done, Mister Hatch. Would you get me a shot of mescal first?”
“Sure thing, Vernon. You will earn it.”
Vernon took the glass and tossed the shot down quickly before going outside.
It didn’t take long for the group of mescal drinkers to unload the cases of tequila and carry them into Jesse’s storeroom. Then they loaded the unconscious bodies of the cartel members into their wagon. Vernon climbed up onto the seat and gently slapped the team on their rumps to get them started for Mexico. He drove them for a mile or so, then stopped them on the tracks that the wagon had made on its way to Flying Lead. He jumped off the wagon, went to the heads of the team and removed the bridles. He hung the bridles on the hames, walked back behind the horses and slapped the near horse on its rump to get them started on their way back home. Vernon walked back to the Muleshoe, sweating profusely from all that activity on that hot June 24th. Jesse poured him another mescal and thanked him for doing the chore.
Jesse had taken two bottles of the tequila and put them on top of the bar. Once all the cases had been stored and the group had returned to the bar, Jesse made an announcement.
“Since all you jaspers told those Mexicans that you like their stinkin’ tequila better than you do my mescal, the price of tequila by the shot will be double what you have been paying for my mescal. And furthermore, I won’t open another bottle of mescal until every one of those bottles of tequila is gone.”
There were groans throughout the Muleshoe bar. Jesse began filling shot glasses with tequila.
Jesse collected the money and went outside to look up at the sky. Not a single cloud. “Fiddlesticks. Another San Juan’s Day without rain,” Jesse said, and went back inside the Muleshoe.
Two days later, around mid-afternoon, Pablo Becker rode in and tied his sorrel horse to the hitch rack. Silvester could tell he was in a hurry to get inside the bar. Jesse took a bottle of tequila and poured out a shot.
“You people have no clue as to what I saw at Poco a Poco tank.”
He took the tequila, downed it quickly and put the glass on the bar for a refill. “That team and wagon those Mexican Cartel fellers came to town in was leaving Poco a Poco tank where I assume the horses went for water. There must have been thirty buzzards in the back of the wagon fighting over the meal they had discovered and fifty more circling overhead.
“What did you do with them, Pablo?” Mathew “The Cat” asked.
I just kept on riding. That wagon and what might be in it is not my business. I raise cows and calves, and that about sizes up my business.
“Fiddlesticks,” Jesse said. “We should have buried them here in Flying Lead. Now there’s going to be an International Incident and we won’t live in peace until the guvment leaves us alone again.”
“They were still alive when Vernon drove that team out of town,” Silvester said.
“Maybe they are still alive now walking out there somewhere,” Mathew said.
“What do you think all those buzzards were feasting on?” Pablo asked, flaring his nostrils.
Jesse wrung his hands after pouring another shot for Pablo. “Fiddlesticks,” he said, and poured himself a shot.
“Remember,” Ivan said, “That shot’s gonna cost youse double.”
“Fiddlesticks, Ivan,” Jesse said. “Whose tequila do you think it is?”
“I tink maybe belongs to the ones the buzzards ate.”
Two weeks after the cartel event, Cochise of the Chiricahua Apache arrived in town with a number of his warriors. He went directly to The Muleshoe where he and his friends walked in and asked for the whereabouts of Silvester Running-Horse Perry. Jesse, standing in his usual pose with his arms folded across his chest, took his left arm away and pointed to the man standing by the window. “That’s Silvester,” Jesse said.
Cochise walked around the regulars who were surprised to see the Indians inside the bar carrying all their weaponry. Silvester turned around and faced Cochise. “I am Silvester Running-Horse Perry,” he said. What can I help you with?”
“I am Cochise, headman of the Chiricahua Apache. I am also your great uncle. My niece married your father, the judge in Boston. Therefore you are my grand nephew. It is my pleasure to meet you, as the white Eyes say.”
“I am also pleased to meet you, Uncle.”
“I came here to ask you to speak with your father, the big judge man in Boston, and ask him to have the White Eyes army stop chasing us Apache all over Arizona, New Mexico, Chihuahua and Sonora. We are very tired of fighting and want to seek peace with the White Eyes. However, I cannot keep any peace if the White Eyes do again what they did to me when I was seeking peace before near Fort Bowie.”
“I will do what I can,” Silvester said. “My father comes here every year to visit and to see how the ranch and cattle are doing. I will speak with him at my first opportunity.”
“You speak well, Nephew. I am proud to be your Uncle Cochise.”
The Indian leader and his warriors turned around and left the Muleshoe. Silvester watched from the window as they rode their horses out as a group, not in columns like the U.S. Cavalry.
About a month after the Mexican Cartel incident, two men came into town driving a team of mules hitched to a Springfield wagon. They stopped near the Muleshoe and went in. One man was Red-headed with green eyes with an Irish look about him and the other was Mexican. Both men were dressed in the familiar style of government bureaucrats with cravats choking their necks and heavy looking suits. Silvester saw them from the window and told Jesse that he had visitors.
The redheaded man approached Jesse first. “I am Thomas Ryan,” he said. “I am with the United States Customs Service. This is Enrique Salazar of the Mexican Custom Service.”
Jesse stood with his arms crossed across his chest. Ryan looked around as if he were looking for words or someone to provide words for him. “We are here concerning a wagonload of stolen tequila from a distillery in Mexico. We understand that smugglers came here and sold the tequila to you.”
Vernon hurried out the door and into the storage room with a half full bottle of tequila he had slipped into his trousers from the bar. He poured some mescal in until it was full before putting it back in the case nearest the wall.
“I don’t think you have your story straight, Mister Ryan,” Jesse said. Those two cartel jaspers came in here with a Gatling gun threatening to kill us if we didn’t buy their tequila. I fixed them with knockout drops in my mescal. We all got together and unloaded the tequila so we would have room for those two crooks in the wagon bed. We stacked the cases of tequila in my storeroom where it still sits waiting for someone to claim it. I assume that is why you are here.”
“Mister Hatch, we are here to arrest you for receiving stolen goods.”
“Now, Mister Ryan, you still don’t have your story straight. I had nothing to do with stolen goods. I am merely storing those goods for the rightful owner. And, by the way, do you have authorization to take the tequila into your possession? Come with me to the store room and I will show you what you have come for.”
Salazar and Ryan followed Jesse to the storeroom. Jesse left the door open so that they could see the cases of tequila. Jesse stepped over to the stack, pulled a bottle from a case and handed it to Ryan. “Is this the tequila you jaspers are looking for?” Jesse asked.
Ryan opened a paper folder, looked at it for a moment and then counted the cases of tequila in the stack. “Hmm,” he said, and looked up at Jesse. “All the cases are accounted for. We were assuming that it would all be gone by this time. The Muleshoe Bar does have a reputation for heavy drinking.”
“I am not aware of Muleshoe’s reputation nor am I concerned about it. I am concerned about my own reputation for honesty and forthrightness, so I am happy that you have found the tequila I have been storing for you.”
“Mister Hatch, I am more than happy to cancel the warrant I have for your arrest, and will be most grateful if you would find some people to load these cases onto our Springfield wagon. And, please give me a bill for the storage.”
The three returned to the bar where Jesse took out a pad of paper and wrote out a storage bill to United States Customs Service as directed by Agent Ryan. Jesse asked the regulars to load the cases of tequila into the Springfield wagon and he poured out two shots of his mescal for the custom agents. Before they left, Salazar left a five-dollar bill on the bar.
Jesse poured himself a congratulatory drink after Silvester told him that they had left town. But, before he could down it, Pablo walked up to him. “Jesse, I have a question,” he said.
“Are you going to ask how I came to outsmart those custom agents?”
“No, Jesse, I am asking you how come all those tequila bottles were full since you were charging us double for tequila shots. Where did all those empty tequila bottles go that we bought our shots from?”
Jesse stood motionless with his eyes staring with hatred at Pablo. “Are you questioning my honesty?”
“You might say that, Jesse. I am just curious what your scheme was all about. Tell me and I will let this entire matter drop.”
Jesse was reluctant to speak further on the topic of the full tequila bottles, but he finally decided that if he didn’t explain what he had done, Pablo would make life miserable for him.
“All right. At the very first when I told you that since you’all liked the stinkin’ Mexican tequila better than you liked my mescal, I took the first four bottles that I had emptied into yours and the others’ shot glasses, and filled them with my mescal. So what you saw was a tequila label on the bottles that held my mescal.”
“And all the while you were charging us double, but it wasn’t for the tequila but for the mescal that we had always drunk.”
“I suppose you can put it that way,” Jesse said.
“That means according to my estimate, that you have been charging us double for your lousy mescal for a month,” Pablo said.
“Now Pablo, let’s not get hasty. Suppose I pour you free mescal for two weeks to make up for what I did.”
“A month, or I spring the news to everyone.”
“I thought we were friends, Pablo,” Jesse said, pleading with his eyes.
“We were and we can be again in a month,” Pablo said, and smiled.
“Are you sure you are not a Mormon, Pablo?”
“Quite sure, Jesse. Is it a month of free mescal?”
“You have a deal, even though I don’t know why I am being so generous,” Jesse said.
“Because you got caught, Jesse! Because you got caught!”
Jesse filled Pablo’s shot glass, and watched as he downed it with a large smile on his face. Now I know how Pablo got to be the wealthiest rancher in the territory. Jesse thought to himself. It was several days before Jesse stopped worrying that more of the regulars would figure out his bottle-switching scheme.
A short man who looked a lot like a Mexican stepped off the stage when it arrived in Flying Lead and went directly to The Jackass Hotel. He walked in the front door and surprised Eileen who came running into his arms. They were close to the same height so their arms encircled each other easily.
“Eileen, I am so glad you are still here where your brother said you were.”
Little Lisbon, it is so good to see you. You’re the last person I ever expected to see walk in that door. What in the world brings you to Flying Lead?”
“By the Queen of Portugal’s eye, what do you think brings me here? You brought me here. I came to take you home!”
“And, suppose I tell you that I don’t want to go home. I had enough of all that folderol high class stuff that only raises noses too high in the sky?”
“Your brother, Big Willy is following behind me in a buggy. He also wants you home, but not with me. He is far too big for me to fight so you will have to make the choice; either you come with me back to Philly or you go back to Philly with Big Willy.”
“I don’t think I like the way you say that, Little Lisbon. It is my life, and I will do exactly what I want to do with it. Right now, I enjoy what I am doing and I really don’t care what you, Big Willy or my high browed mother thinks or says. She would have been a whole lot happier doing what I am doing rather than protecting her virginity for so long and then panting for it to return once she had Big Willy and me. After we were born, my poor father must have spent the rest of his life wondering what his manhood was for.”
“What are you planning on telling Big Willy?” Little Lisbon asked.
“Exactly what I am telling you.”
“May I stay with you tonight?”
“If you have the price.” She winked.
“Come now Eileen, let’s not play games.”
I don’t happen to think that this is a game. It is how I make a living. I think you had better find accommodations at the Stall and Straw. That is where most visitors stay when they come to Flying Lead.”
“I saw that on the way into town. It looks like a livery stable.”
“That, my dear Little Lisbon, is exactly what it is. Now if you will excuse me I must begin getting ready for the evening.”
The following morning Little Lisbon stayed in the stall until almost noon. He had had trouble getting to sleep the night before because he was far from used to sleeping on straw in a stall meant for horses. When he finally fell asleep the sun had already begun shedding early morning light over the landscape.
Big Willy came into the livery driving a one-horse buggy. “Whoa,” he yelled when he had found a place to park.
The yell awakened Little Lisbon. He opened his eyes and looked around trying to discover what had caused his awakening. He sat up enough to get a view of the barnyard and saw Big Willy climb down from the buggy. Lisbon stood up and walked unsteadily over toward Eileen’s brother.
“I see you made it all right, Willy,” Lisbon said.
Surprised to see his sister’s lover in the livery stable, Big Willy shook his head with amazement. “What are you doing here in the livery stable?”
“I slept here last night because your sister is being very strange.”
“At least you found her,” Big Willy said. “The last time I was here nobody knew where she was because nobody knew who she was. How did you find her?”
“I went right in the door to that Jackass Hotel and there she was. I must say she is not the same woman I was in love with back in Philly.”
“How on earth has she changed?” Willy asked.
“She actually enjoys being a woman of the night.”
Willy took off his felt hat and scratched his head. “Maybe we should become friends and work together rather than be adversaries.”
“I think you might have something there,” Little Lisbon said. “After my first meeting with her, I am wondering if I came all this way out West for nothing.”
“Our mother gave me a stack of gold pieces to give her if she will come back without a fight,” Willy said.
“Well, put up your horse and let’s go over to the Jackass Hotel and see if we can talk one of the jackass’s into being less stubborn,” Lisbon said.
Willy made arrangement for the care of his buggy-horse and joined Little Lisbon for the walk to the hotel. They walked in to an empty front room. “I wonder where they all went,” Little Lisbon said.
“This is strange,” Willy said. “The last time I was here this room was always full of girls waiting for a score. I must admit I had a wonderful time with a girl named Lulu.”
“I wonder where they all went,” Little Lisbon repeated. “Do you suppose they are all busy in their rooms this early in the day?”
“Oh heavens no. The people in this burg never leave the Muleshoe Bar until late afternoon and then only a few ride home.”
Suddenly they heard a chorus of girls giggling outside. The two men turned in their chairs to see the entire flock of Jackass Hotel girls approaching the front door from the direction of the Muleshoe Bar. They burst into the front room still giggling. When they saw the two men they lowered their voices and one by one came in and stood over by the door to the hallway leading to the rooms.
“Well, if it isn’t Big Willy,” Lulu said. “Couldn’t stay away, eh?”
“That’s not why I am here,” Big Willy said. “We are both here to take my sister Eileen home to Philadelphia.”
“Big Willy, I hate to tell you this, but you are too late. Your sister left an hour ago from the Muleshoe with ‘Mathew-The-Cat’. She said she was tired of arguing with you two men about returning to high society. She just wants to be left alone.”
“Who in the world is this ‘Mathew–The-Cat’?”
“He’s one of the Muleshoe regulars. He offered to take her into the city. He’ll be back because he couldn’t stand living there, but I’ll bet you fifty bucks he will never tell where he took Eileen.”
“I think you know how I would rather spend fifty bucks, Lulu,” Big Willy said.
Big Willy and Little Lisbon left the Jackass Hotel and headed next door to the Muleshoe. Everyone greeted Big Willy, welcoming him back to Flying Lead as Big Willy introduced Little Lisbon to the group. There was a small round table back in the far corner that was rarely occupied except on occasion when Ivan came in from his mine exhausted from digging rocks. The two Philadelphians sat down in the two café chairs. Jesse brought their shots of mescal.
“Thanks, Jesse,” Big Willy said.
“Welcome back to Flying Lead, Big Willy,” Jesse said, and returned to his favorite position behind the bar.
The two Philadelphians faced each other. “I suppose Eileen has flown the coop,” Little Lisbon said.
“I am sure you are correct in that assumption,” Big Willy said. “What do you think about this town of Flying Lead? Do you think there are any business possibilities here?”
“Well, I can tell you one thing they need is a hotel for travelers because that Livery stable is not my idea of accommodations. The only other beds are in the Jackass, but those beds go high and if you had a wife along it would definitely not be an appropriate place to stay,” he blurted out with deep breath.
“Another thing they lack here is a decent restaurant. Unless your stomach likes to be constantly lined with mescal,” Big Willy said. “And, I’ll tell you something else, but I wouldn’t want Jesse Hatch to hear me. This town needs a decent bar where you can get a drink other than that rotgut mescal Jesse makes out back.”
“All that will take money and that is something I never have been long on,” Little Lisbon said.
“Well, I have enough money to get started,” Big Will said. I think if we start first with a lobby and dining room we can expand it into a cocktail lounge, restaurant and hotel rooms later.”
“Do you think this burg can support all that?” Lisbon asked.
“I expect we would have to advertise to get tourists to come here to stay. Look at what is happening in the cities out West. They are riddled with crime, holdups and the sort of stuff that is not conducive to tourism. We can set up our little oasis of comfort here in this quirky town and make a name for it as a destination place. I’ll bet we can get enough traffic that the stage will run at least weekly instead of just once a month.”
“I like your thinking, Big Willy. If I had any money I would gladly partner with you,” Lisbon said.
“I’ll tell you what, Lisbon. You can be my partner without the money. All you have to do is work to make it all come true. I’ve known you back in Philly and you are sure no stranger to work. You know how to build buildings, too.”
“I do know how to build, and I do know how to work. I also know how to get other men to work.”
“That’s what we need. Do you agree to become my partner in Rustler’s Rest?”
“That’s a great name for this project, Big Willy. It is bound to be a success. It’s too bad Eileen didn’t stay around. She could have been the hostess! Sure I’ll be your partner. Let’s drink to it!”
They went to the bar and got a refill from Jesse. They didn’t say a word about their new plans until they had finished buying supplies in the city, thirty-five miles away, and had arranged to have it all delivered. It was then that they came to realize that they would have to import labor, because there wasn’t a soul in Flying Lead that wanted to work or could work because of Jesse’s mescal. They both contemplated that Jesse had planned it all so he would never face competition. Undaunted, the two partners scoured the city for labor. The twins, Bobby and Billy Garnet, were the only ones they could find. Both had been dismissed from their surveying jobs after the blunder on the International Border in Arizona. It took three weeks for the four wagonloads of materials to arrive from the city but the Muleshoe was buzzing with all the talk about the new venture about to start in Flying Lead. Jesse Hatch said nothing, standing in his usual position pouring mescal into shot glasses. He had walked over to the spot where Big Willy and Little Lisbon planned to construct Rustler’s Rest. Jesse waited until noon on the first day of the start of the foundation before announcing his big surprise to the regulars, including Big Willy and Lisbon who had come in with the twins for a noon break from using their shovels on the ditch for the foundation.
“You fellers better look up the maps of Flying Lead, because you are building your Rustler’s Rest on my land. I am forced to order you to cease and desist from this activity or face removal by the Sheriff. I have notified him of your infraction and he will be here as soon as he solves the murder of Agnes Cahill, the madam of a house of joy in the city. In the meantime I would suggest you boys either move to another piece of land or take all that material back to the city and forget about this hair-brained scheme of yours.”
There wasn’t a word uttered in the Muleshoe for a few moments. Big Willy finally turned to Little Lisbon with his palms up and his eyebrows arched. “Fiddlesticks,” Willy said. “Here we are, a couple of Philadelphians out here in the wild and woolly West where there is so much land around we thought everything was here just for the taking. Isn’t that what we did to the Indians? We just came out here and took their land.”
“Big Willy, I thought you had everything settled so we could go ahead with our plans,” Little Lisbon said, and turned to Jesse. “How about selling us that lot where we want to build our resort, Jesse?”
“Now, isn’t that a great idea,” Jesse said with a sneer. “Here you fellers are planning your big deal resort that will be my competitor and darn sure hurt my mescal business, and you want me to sell you the land that might cause me to go broke? Come now, what do I look like, some kind of idiot?”
“How did you come by this land anyway, Jesse?” Big Willy asked.
“I filed a ‘Townstead’ along with a map and that lot you are diggin’ on is Lot Five. You’re gonna have to find another place to build your resort, because I own Flying Lead. I even own the land where The Jackass Hotel and The Stalls and Straw are located. They pay me rent every month.”
“Well, that makes it easy.,” Big Willy said. “We will lease the lot where we are building and pay you rent just like those others are doing.”
“Big Willy, you may be big in some places, but your brain seems too small to be much use. I don’t want you anywhere near Only Street so you can steal my customers.”
Big Willy and Little Lisbon looked down at the floor of the Muleshoe, dejected that Jesse Hatch had foiled their plans for Rustler’s Rest. Then, to their surprise, Pablo Becker stepped over to where they stood.
“Willy and Lisbon,” Pablo said, lifting his head slightly and cocking it to the right. “I’ve been listening to all this and I don’t like the way Jesse, here, is treating the two of you. I happen to think that competition is a healthy aspect of all business. I can see how Jesse is loading his pants at the prospect of you two gong into business with your resort because he has had a monopoly of recreational drinking in Flying Lead since its beginning.”
“What are we going to do about it, Pablo?” Willy asked.
“I have a simple solution. I am looking forward to patronizing Rustler’s Rest. It will be refreshing to have a first class establishment in this town where I can buy my preferred drinks instead of that rotgut mescal that’s been destroying my liver ever since Jesse came and built the Muleshoe Bar. So, with your approval, and I cannot see why you would even hesitate, I will deed over the amount of land you will need for your establishment.”
“How can you do that, and how much will it cost us?” Willy asked.
“I own an old Spanish Land Grant, Saint Murphy’s in the Weeds, and it’s eastern boundary butts right up to Jesse’s land that he got for nothing from the governrnent. It will not cost you a nickel because I want you to go ahead with your plans. In fact, if you need more money as you go along I will be happy to make it available to you.”
Jesse pounded his fist on the bar. “Pablo Becker, you were my first customer and I have treated you like a brother all these years. Why are you doing this to me?”
“Now Jesse, calm down,” Pablo said. “I have been your customer since that first day you opened and I have slid more money across your bar than most. Do I owe you something? I don’t think so. Do I owe Big Willy and Little Lisbon something? I don’t think so. But, I can tell you one thing about who I owe. I owe myself to do exactly what I want to do no matter what. I am finding this entire matter a great diversion from my everyday work taking care of those cow brutes and worrying about rains and cattle prices. The Rustler’s Rest is a win-win situation for me and for those two partners who are just trying to make an honest living.”
Pablo Becker turned back to Big Willy and Little Lisbon. “I will have the deed to that land in a week, but you can go ahead, move all your stuff over there and start your building. Now, come with me and I will show you where your land is.”
Big Willy and Little Lisbon followed Pablo out of The Muleshoe and walked to the other side of the Stall and Straw. Thirty yards beyond the livery Pablo pointed to an iron stake that protruded from the ground.
“From this stake my boundary goes five miles to the north before it turns to the West. All you have to do is pace off how much land you think you will need for this Rustler’s Rest and let me know the measurements. I’ll hire those two surveyors that are digging the ditch for you to make a survey that I can use on the deed I will give to you when it is all recorded and final at the county seat.”
“Pablo, I don’t know how to thank you except that when we finish and open this resort, your drinks will be free of charge.”
“Thanks a lot, Willy, but I prefer to pay for my drinks because you are going to need all the income you can muster to make a living here in this burg called Flying Lead.”
“We appreciate your interest and your generosity,” Big Willy said.
“By the way, Willy, Pablo said. “Should you ever find your sister Eileen, let me know where I can find her. I got well acquainted with her at the Jackass Hotel, and I understand she’s a good cook, and I am getting tired of grilling my own meat, if you know what I mean.”
Rustler’s Rest was built and became a favorite destination tourist spot, especially after a major highway came through Flying Lead after motor vehicles became popular. Big Willy and Little Lisbon became multi-millionaires when a large hotel chain bought them out and expanded the property to include a man-made lake, riding stables and eventually a gambling casino. Jesse Hatch thought about leaving Flying Lead, but since all his assets were free and clear he remained owner and bartender at the Muleshoe Bar. Rustler’s Rest attracted all the customers from town and all the other places people arrived from. Jesse’s wives complained about the lack of money for their living expenses, and eventually stopped coming to Flying Lead for their monthly visits.
Eventually a high-ranking bishop arrived to investigate Jesse’s wives’ complaints. He accompanied Jesse back to Binghamville. Jesse could not find a buyer for the Muleshoe or the other real estate holdings of his in Flying Lead. Eventually he gave it all to the Church. Within a month of Jesse’s gift the Church sent three members to the Muleshoe to destroy the still, but they left the Jackass Hotel in tact after staying there for several days after their work at the Muleshoe had been completed.
In case anyone is wondering, this is a work of fiction. Fiction is another word for lies, but sometime or other, somebody came up with the term “Literary License”. There have been countless times when writers have taken advantage of this nebulous expression. Since this work may be questioned in some circles as literary, I will clarify what I consider my literary license.
I lied about the gun fighting and violence in Flying Lead. I even lied about the name of the town, but I will never reveal its real name or the real names of the establishments that I discuss at length in this work. Such a revelation could spoil the entire story for some should they learn the true name of the town and decide to visit it.
Wyatt Earp and “Doc” Holliday didn’t shoot up the town when they stopped off to visit. They just smiled at each other and held hands. They left town on the same stage on which they had arrived. The regulars at The Muleshoe didn’t even recognize them.
There are some things in this account that are based on the truth, and I will leave that to the readers to ferret out what is true and what is commonly on the ground in certain cattle corrals. As for any PhD historians who find this a fascinating source in their scholarly research of the Southwest, I would hope that you would insert proper and appropriate footnotes to your manuscripts because I sincerely feel that this work deserves its rightful academic recognition.
Fiddlesticks, I forgot to say that creating this imaginative story has been pure joy. I must also submit a change of title to:
A Western Story With No Cuss Words, No Shootouts And Only Five Family Values Who Came To Town At Certain Times