Western Short Story
The Cheapest Wine in Town
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The El Dorado Depot, practically in El Dorado, boasted in a sign painted on the side facing east, “We serve the cheapest wine in town; try for yourself.” Inasmuch as being the lone saloon in more than 50 miles, folks saw for themselves on every visit, which kept the place open, humming and full of arguments, at a mere dime a glass.

The barkeep, and the owner, was Mose Henry who had fallen off his horse on that spot more than a dozen years earlier, and never rode again after bargaining for a glass of cheap wine from passersby, “To get me going again.”

He never rode a horse again, either, but his collection of bottles of wine of every sort, jug, bottle, flask, you name the container, the taste, the color, the result being a vast collection of el cheapo itself, as he began to pedal “the cheapest wine available, “taste it and prove it to yourself.”

Before he new it, there was a roof over his head and a bar, eventually, running the width of the place, the shelves behind the bar loaded with every nondescript container that came to his hand, via donation, small thefts, and one wagonful of junk left by a dead man in front of the saloon arising from the dark earth itself.

Stories, of course, began to spread, each one bringing the curious, the non-believers, the critics saying no such place had a solid foot in the western world of men of cattle drives, runaways from law, husbands leaving cranky wives, crooks, killers, sheriffs and marshals at work, all needing a quick drink. By the hundreds, they tried the el cheapo wine “just for the hell of it.”

Those hundreds came away convinced and began to spread the good work and the bad stuff “almost for free for the proving it was as advertised, the worst and cheapest wine anywhere beyond the Mason-Dixon line of the border between the States or Territories, whatever be, and Mexico itself.

A herder, working on a drive, might say to a pard, “If you ever get down El Dorado way, a hop and a jump just out of town, you just got to try the cheapest wine you’ll ever drink for a dime a glass, day in and day out, get your own two cents in on the argument that it’s the worst wine or the cheapest you ever tried. The barkeep there has got behind him at the bar, the wildest, weirdest, wickedest collection of wine in every type of bottle, jug, or flagon you ever saw, or might ever see, in one place at one time, he’s got that much in plain sight, I swear, the story saying he fell drunk off his horse on that se spot and has never left it, his word on it being never tested, him ought to be the richest local yokel in the area.”

“Oh, that’s all hogwash, if you ask me. Nobody makes anything out of nothing like that, or we’d have cheap wine outfits all over the west,”

“Who says we ain’t? I know a saloon up near Welcome, Nevada, that serves the worst wine I ever swallowed and threw up out of my guts before I even got mounted out front, sick as a dog for an hour and then all gone away like it never happened in the first place.”

“Just like I was saying, only this guy is still in business and thriving at it, so help me.”

“Gents like that get a head start and just let things roll and we guys, out in the front end, keep it going for him on the inside, like we’re just working for him for free all the way. Someday, we’ll get up that way and I’ll show you, treat you, to the cheapest wine you ever drank. The real junk stuff, then you’ll see.”

So it was, about two years later, the two cowpokes were on a drive and came near El Dorado, and they got a break from the boss and went to see for themselves.

The pair entered The El Dorado and asked for a glass of wine and paid a dime each, and each one, belching, gagging, admitting it was the worst wine they had ever tasted, and the owner saying back to them, in front of all his customers, loaded as it was to the brim, “You can’t tell your pal here that that wine is the worst you ever drank ‘cause them is fighting words and I’m in a fighting mood to protect my name and my brand.

The word is that they drank themselves sick on gutter junk, and were thrown out of the El Dorado to be sicker in the dusty street, passersby saying, “There goes a couple more that didn’t believe the good word on the bad stuff, and finding out for themselves by the sad look of them.”

In the sobering stages of the next morning, in the local sheriff’s jail without a lock on the steel bars, the two agreed they had found the truth of the matter and went back to prove it, once welcomed back by the barkeep, who said, “My name is Mose Henry and I own this bar. I serve only the wine that’s celebrated all over the West as the worst tasting wine ever sold, and I’m still in business and have been in business for a dozen or more years. And it’s going to go on and on, as far as I can see it, so draw up to the saloon and we’ll start all over again. They drank the rot gut until they got sick again, and were tossed again, and again found themselves in the deep of night.

One said to the other, “What you got inn your pockets?”

“Hell,” came the reply, “I don’t even have a dime, not a single dime, in my pockets. What have you got?”

“I don’t have a dime either. All I have is a single match,” which he nearly scratched on his teeth.

They looked at each other, surprise on their faces, ideas flaring for recognition, restitution, until one of them said, “Let’s do it.:

That night, in the thick of darkness, The El Doredo Depot serving, since it opened, the worst wine in the West, burned to the ground, every gourd, canister, bottle, jug, flagons of names and kind, a museum of drinking vessels, sank into the embers, that singular pile of debris, left to testimony.