Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
The blue and pink tour bus, with “Heavenly Tours” emblazoned on its sides, zoomed north toward Tombstone, Arizona. It slowed down as it entered the town. Every passenger looked out of the windows.
"Look at that sign in the window, boys," Ike Clanton said. "It says 'The Best Margarita This Side Of The Border'."
"If she's anything like the Margarita I knew in Juarez, we could be in for one helluva good time," Cole Younger remarked.
"All you fellers think about is women," "Doc" Holliday said from the last seat in the back of the bus.
"The Crystal Palace looks to me like our kind of place," Jesse James said.
The bus parked on a side street to discharge its twelve, grizzly looking passengers.
Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton led the way. Wyatt and Ike stopped so quickly when they reached Allen Street that Morgan and Billy-The-Kid almost bumped into them. "The sign says Allen Street," Wyatt said, pointing to the street marker. "But it shore don't look like the Allen Street I knew."
"Hell's fire, Wyatt," Ike said. "It's been a helluva while since we was here. Things change with time."
"I know that, Ike, but there used to be saloons, gambling' halls, and bawdy houses all over town. Now look at it! A bunch of damn tourist shops. I'll bet we'll have a helluva time findin' a poker game."
"I reckon you're the only one hankerin' fer poker, Wyatt," Ike replied. "I'll bet the rest of us would just as soon have breakfast. Let's see if the Crystal Palace is still around."
By this time the rest had formed a sinister looking group at the corner. Wyatt stepped into the street and started walking north. "There's the EPITAPH office where Johnny Clum ran the newspaper. I shore had him fooled."
As they were passing the EPITAPH office a man had come to the door and was scrutinizing the bunch, looking at each one as if he knew them all. As the twelve men entered the Crystal Palace Saloon the same man followed thirty yards behind.
"Damned if it isn’t good to be back," Wyatt said. "The old place looks the same."
“What’ll it be, fellers?” the bartender asked.
"We're looking for Margarita," Butch Cassidy said.
"All of you want a Margarita?"
"I reckon so, unless you have more girls than her."
"You guys are funnin' me. Margaritas here are the best this side of the border 'cause we use good tequila and fresh lime juice."
"You mean to tell us that Margaritas are drinks?" The Sundance Kid asked.
"With or without salt?"
One by one the men ordered their Margaritas, some with salt, some without.
All the men raised their glasses in a toast, and took tentative sips. Cole Younger said that he would rather drink his tequila straight. Ike Clanton agreed, but lifted his glass for another swallow.
"The movies never had us drinkin' fancy drinks like these," Bob Younger said.
"The movies doin' us?" Billy The Kid said. "Man, they sure got it all wrong, just like them shoot 'em up novels and stories. Hell's fire, there ain't no man can ride even one hundred miles a day, especially on those wore out nags we used to steal."
"And they always have me with some fancy gun," Ike Clanton said. "Crisakes, I had a bunch of guns, and the one I used was the one that I had stolen ammunition for.
"Another margarita round?" the bartender asked.
"Why not?" Wyatt Earp spoke for the rest.
"Look who's comin' in the door," Jesse James said, as he looked toward the entrance. "If it ain't ole Sittin' Bull hisself comin' in from The Happy Hunting Grounds. Bull, pull up a stool and have a drink."
"They don't allow Native Americans to drink booze," Sitting Bull replied,
"Aw hell, Bull, they haven't had that law around for years," Wyatt Earp said. "Besides, you're an Indian."
Sitting Bull walked to the bar, sat on a barstool. "I'm a Lakota Sioux," he said as the bartender mixed him a margarita.
"Bull," Wyatt said. "Whatever you are you really did a number on ol’ George Armstrong Custer. They been writin' about that Little Big Horn Battle for years now and can't seem to get it all straight."
"Well, I'll tell you boys something," Sitting Bull said. "If they had asked me, I would have said the same thing I'll say today, even after one of these drinks. Custer had it coming."
"Any more of you fellers comin' to this breakfast?" Jesse James asked.
"Crazy Horse is right behind, I think. The Border Patrol at that last roadblock stopped him. They think he's an illegal Mexican. He doesn't know what an illegal Mexican is. He told them he was a Native American and had never been to Mexico. He brought his peace pipe along and the officers think it's some sort of paraphernalia, whatever that is. I don't know what they are talking about. They said they were looking for pot. Crazy Horse never carries his pots around. His wife always does the cooking."
"Did they stop you, too?" Cole Younger asked.
"When they stopped me they asked me where I was born. I had to think about that one, and finally told them I was born in Fargo, North Dakota. They let me pass through their roadblock. Not Old Crazy Horse. Why do you suppose they would let me through and not him?"
"Probably, he told them where he was born is none of their business, Clanton said. "He hasn't said much to the white eyes since those treaties."
"I don't either," Sitting Bull continued. "For one thing I am tired of you white eyes calling us 'Native Americans'. I am a Lakota Sioux, you know, not an American. It used to be that none of you white-eyes would ever claim Indian blood. Now all of you claim it to get free medical care, oil royalties, or to get your poetry published."
"But, Bull," Wyatt Earp broke in. "Look at the advantage of being an Indian today. Indian pots sell for more than white eye pots, and there's one publisher I know of that won't publish any poetry unless it's written by a Native American, or Indian, or whatever you call yourselves."
"That's all part of the guilt trip you white-eyes are on," Sitting Bull replied, and went back to his Margarita.
Frank James turned to speak for the rest. "Reckon we could use somethin' in our bellies about now."
"Do you have reservations at Clanton’s"? The bartender asked.
"I have a reservation," Sitting Bull replied.
"Under what name is your reservation, Sir?"
"Sioux Nation," Sitting Bull replied. "What does that have to do with breakfast? All we want is some food; do they have any venison or buffalo?
The bartender looked quizzically at Sitting Bull. "Are you gentlemen here in the valley for a movie?"
"We're here for breakfast," Wyatt Earp said.
"I'm afraid you'll have to wait if you don't have reservations," the bartender said. “They fill up early at Clanton’s.”
"I just told you I have a reservation," Sitting Bull insisted.
"Just tell us where this eatery is," Earp interjected.
"What did he mean about being here for a movie?" Sitting Bull asked.
"Look at all the photographs on the walls of the movie stars who have played us," Jesse James said. "There's John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Gary Cooper over there. The Hollywood fellers must make movies around here."
Two Sheriff's deputies, badged and armed, swaggered through the swinging doors for a coffee break from patrolling the highway. Billy-the-Kid, seeing the stars on their unformed chests, in a lightning swift movement, reached down to his hip, but found his revolver missing. Wyatt Earp noticed his quick movement. "Don't worry about those guys, Billy, your wanted poster hasn't been circulated for years. Remember, you're dead, Billy."
"I reckon I was a bit hasty, Wyatt, but every time I see a badge I get antsy. They didn't seem to recognize any of us, did ya notice?"
"Yeah," Ike Clanton said. "But, that doesn't surprise me at all. They think we're them movie stars that have played us."
"I remember all those wanted posters," Billy the Kid said. "The pictures never looked like me. I wanted to get a decent picture taken that showed me better lookin'. Just think if we was still robbin' stages, banks and trains, we could have color photos on our wanted posters."
"Obviously, you never looked in a mirror Billy. There ain't a photographer in the world that could make you good lookin', even in color."
"Speaking of the movies, Wyatt," Holliday said. "That Kevin Costner sure as hell don't look like you."
"That movie bombed anyway. He should have asked me before they spent all those millions of dollars."
"Costner did a good job on Dances With Wolves," Sitting Bull said.
"You're only sayin' that 'cause he was on your side, Bull," Billy the Kid said.
"Did you come from a broken home or was ya abused as a child, Billy?" Ike Clanton asked.
"I don't remember nothin'."
"Sounds to me like you must have been abused to turn out so damned ornery"
"I don't even know what abused means," Billy replied.
"Haven't ya been watchin' television, Billy?" Cole Younger asked. "Don't you know ya could be absolved of all your crimes if ya could prove that ya were abused as a child?"
"I ran away when my uncle Joshua told me I had such beady eyes that I could look through a keyhole with both of them at the same time."
"That sounds like abuse to me," Jesse James said. "Maybe we were all abused, and that's why we went to Heaven?"
"From what I hear," Ike Clanton chimed in. "We could have done a lot worse."
"I had a choice," Wyatt Earp said. "I was told to get out of Dodge, or face the consequences. I didn't know what consequences meant, so I left Dodge. By the way, we really should get on with The Last Breakfast or it will be dinner time soon, and I understand they have a "happy hour" here at the Crystal Palace, and that means disaster for Ole "Doc" Holliday."
"He's already had five Bloody Marys," Morgan Earp said. "He thinks if he drinks Bloody Marys he won't get a hangover."
"A man with such an illustrious medical background as "Doc's" should know better than that," Cole Younger added.
"But "Doc's" a dentist," Ike Clanton said. "Besides learnin' how to yank teeth, they spend four years, these days, learning how much they can charge their patients and get away with it. How about some breakfast "Doc"?
"Breakfast," Holliday said with a definite slur to his speech. "I've already had five stalks of celery for breakfast. That ought to be enough to keep me healthy until we get back." He lifted the tall, narrow glass to his lips for another swallow.
"Butch," Ike Clanton said. "You and Sundance are being awful quiet."
"Haven't anything to say," Cassidy replied.
"Well, I'd sure like to know what you fellers did in South America," Clanton said.
"Who says we went to South America?" Cassidy replied.
"It was all in that movie. You tried to take on the whole durned South American Army."
"Sundance can tell you the whole story if he wants to, but I'm sworn to secrecy by the State Department," Cassidy said.
"Well, what about it, Sundance?" Clanton asked.
"I'm takin' the Fifth Amendment, Ike," Sundance said.
"Whatever that is," Clanton said.
"Ya take the Fifth Amendment when you don't want to tell the truth and you're skeered a lyin' 'cause you'll get in trouble," Sundance said. "What if'n I was to ask ya about Hole-in-the-Wall, Ike? What would you have to say?"
"I never could figure all the excitement about that place. We just lived there because there was no rent to pay."
The man who had been following the group entered the bar, staring at the men, trying to figure out who they were. "Bartender, let me buy these gentlemen their drinks," the man said.
The thirteen men turned to see who the drink-buying stranger might be. "Much obliged," Wyatt said.
"My name is Penrod," the man said. " I'm the editor of the Tombstone EPITAPH, and when I saw you walking down Allen Street I thought you men looked familiar."
"I doubt if you have ever seen any of us before," Cole Younger said.
"You wouldn't be in town for that movie they're shooting would you?" Penrod asked.
"No, Sir, we ain't here for no movie," Butch Cassidy said. "We came to town for some breakfast."
"You won't find breakfast here at the Crystal Palace Saloon, gentlemen, but I can recommend Clanton's Cookery down the street a ways. But, you will need a reservation."
"Well, thank you, Penrod," Wyatt said. "And thanks for the drinks."
"You're quite welcome," Penrod said, and a quizzical look spread over his face. "You gentlemen are certainly familiar, and for the life of me I can't place you." He stood next to Billy the Kid. "And you, Sir," he said touching Billy lightly on the shoulder. "What's your name? Do live in these parts?"
"Name's William, and I don't live anywhere near here, Penrod."
"Well," Penrod said. "Enjoy yourselves in Tombstone, and let me know if there's anything I can do for you. I'll be over at the EPITAPH office."
The men at the bar said their thanks, and the baffled editor went out the door shaking his head.
"Let's find Clanton's Cookery, fellers," Ike Clanton said. "I could use some breakfast other than tequila."
"Hell's fire, Ike," Cole Younger said. "You just want to see if'n you got kin still around."
"Chances are they just borrowed your name," Morgan Earp said. "I'm for stayin' for a few more tequilas, cause once we have the Breakfast the bus is leavin, and I for one am damned sure goin' to be on it."
"I'm with you, Morgan," Billy Clanton said. "Hey, it would be kinda fun to go have a look-see at the cemetery while we're here in Tombstone."
"Wyatt," Morgan said, turning to his brother. "Billy Clanton wants to visit Boothill Cemetery while we're here. Whadda ya think?"
"Might be fun as long as it's on the way to Clanton's Cookery. Bartender, how do we get to Clanton's Cookery?" Wyatt asked.
"Just past Boothill across the street."
"I guess we might as well have another round, then," Wyatt continued. "Is there a poker game in town?"
"No gamblin' anymore. The City Council passed an ordinance against gambling a few years back," the bartender said. "The only place to gamble these days is on the Indian reservations."
"Bull, does your reservation have gamblin'?" Wyatt asked.
"Beats me," Sitting Bull replied. "I haven't been there in years, but if there's money to be made, you can be sure that we'll give it a try. Sounds like a good way to fleece the white eyes."
The bartender poured another round of tequila, and a shot of Jack Daniels for "Doc" Holliday. Wyatt asked for the tab, and the bartender told him it would be $32.50. Earp tossed out a fifty-dollar bill, and turned to Frank and Jesse James. "Did you hear how much this round of tequila cost?"
Both Frank and Jesse shook their heads. "I couldn't believe it," Jesse said. "This stuff ain't worth more than a dime a drink."
"I remember we used to get tequila for a damned nickel right in this very saloon," Wyatt said. "I figured it might cost a fiver at the most for the round. And, they don't even have a poker table in here. Times shore have changed."
"I wonder what breakfast will cost," Frank James said. "We might have to pull another disappear like we did back at the Cattle Corral Restaurant and Bar."
"Let's drink up fellers, and head for Clanton's Cookery," Wyatt said to the group.
The bartender brought Wyatt's change and the men lifted the shot glasses to their lips. "You gentlemen can have your breakfast, I'm staying here," "Doc" Holliday announced.
"Now 'Doc', Wyatt said. "Remember what Pedro said about stickin' together. We shore don't want you to be missin' the bus."
"You fellows pick me up on your way back to the bus. I already ate my breakfast of celery."
"You'll miss visitin' Boothill, 'Doc'," Ike Clanton said.
"I really have no other desires except more of this fine tasting whiskey."
Wyatt saw his companions being arranged in front of the old building by the editor. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid had "Doc" Holliday propped between them. "Would you find a place among your friends," Penrod said when he arrived. "I would like a photograph for the front page of the newspaper."
Wyatt joined the others. Penrod fiddled with his camera, getting the lens set for light and focus. "Ready," he said, as he looked through the single lens reflex camera. He pushed the shutter button, and then looked up at the group. "One more, please," he said. "This time please don't smile."
Penrod snapped another photograph. "Thank you very much, gentlemen. If you will give me your names and addresses, I'll make sure you get copies of The Tombstone EPITAPH, The National Newspaper Of The Old West."
"We'll stop by and pick them up on our next trip, Penrod," Wyatt said. "Just hang on to them until then."
"Fine," Penrod said. "But, would you give me your names for the caption under the photograph?"
"Just put, 'The Gang That Visited Tombstone'. We've got a bus to catch right this minute."
"Thanks again gentlemen, and have a pleasant trip," Penrod said. "I wish you could stay in town longer, I would like to get better acquainted with you. What about your breakfast?"
"I reckon that will have to wait until the next trip. The bus is leaving directly.”
The group walked south on Allen Street, turning the corner where the blue and pink tour bus stood with idling motor. The door swung open as they approached, and the twelve men said their good-byes to Sitting Bull. When they had taken their seats the door closed and the bus began moving as Sitting Bull waved at the faces in the windows.
Penrod stood at the street corner watching the departure, and was surprised to suddenly see nothing but an empty street where the bus had been. The bus and the Indian had simply vanished. He returned to his newspaper office shaking his head in disbelief at what he thought he had witnessed.
He went into the room containing the archives of the newspaper, picked up the handful of old pictures he had been looking at, and left for the Crystal Palace Saloon. "George," he said to the bartender. "Look at these old photographs I pulled out of the archives. I knew that some of that bunch looked familiar."
"I thought they were here to audition for the 'Shoot Out At The OK Corral' next month, but they weren't carrying any weapons."
"Look at the photographs. This one of Billy the Kid looks just like that short one with the beady eyes. He had a different hat on is all. And, look at this old shot of Wyatt Earp when he was Marshal. It's a bit out of focus and yellowed, but it sure looks like the one who was doing most of the talking. And, I'll bet the drunk one was "Doc" Holliday!"
"Might be, Penrod, but it don't seem possible. Hell, those guys have been dead for over a hundred years. It's 2004. You may have been reading too many back issues of The EPITAPH."
"Wait until the film is developed and printed. I'll bet my pictures will match up with some of the faces I have in the archives, especially Billy the Kid and the Earps and Clantons."
"When will the films be ready?"
"The drug store has overnight developing."
Penrod went back to the newspaper office, put the old photographs back in the archive room, sat down in front of his typewriter, and began to write. The following morning he went to the Crystal Palace for a mid-morning beer.
The telephone rang. George ambled over, and picked up the receiver. "Crystal Palace," he said. "Okay, Amos, I'll tell him." Penrod left his half finished beer on the bar, and hurried toward the drug store across the street. He returned in minutes with the envelope of photographs in his hand. He looked at the prints one by one and handed them to George. Penrod looked closely at the last two from the stack. "I can't figure this out, George," he said, and handed the prints to the bartender. "None of those men are in the pictures, but they are great shots of the Crystal Palace entrance."
"That is strange," George muttered. "I was standing behind the bar watching you take the pictures. But, these are good shots of the Crystal Palace."
"You know, George, I had most of the article written too."