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Cas City Forum Hall & CAS-L  |  GENERAL TOPICS  |  Saddlebag Tales (Moderators: Marshal'ette Halloway, Lucky Irish Tom)  |  Topic: EotL 2 - Nickel-a-Horn 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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« on: May 28, 2008, 06:58:48 pm »

End Of The Line
(cc) by-nc-sa

2. Nickel-a-Horn

The barbershop spun clockwise above Adam's head.  Leaning back in the chair, he could feel the vomit rise in the back of his throat.

Adam closed his eyes and bit down on his lower lip.  He counted to three.  Opening his eyes again, the sickness and the spinning receded. 

There was no barber.  No combs and brushes.  No sickly sweet overpriced cologne water that left you smelling like a call-girl.  Adam lay fully reclined in the dusty barber's chair, staring up at the cobwebs, a half empty bottle of whiskey wedged between his side and the leather.  He was drunk as he could be.  Had been for a week.  Every time he sobered up it hit him- the insanity  -so he kept drinking.  One of the benefits to suddenly owning a saloon.

The barber, whoever he had been, had nailed the door shut upon abandoning the shop.  Adam had to kick his way in.  The barber must have left in a hurry, taking only the essentials of his trade that could be carried.  Expectations must have been high to leave behind what must be a fifty dollar barber's chair.  Can't pack a barber's chair on a mule, though.  Can't pack a barber's chair all the way to Deadwood.  No, combs and brushes are all you can take when the siren's song of gold comes calling.  Adam wondered if  the barber had headed to Deadwood to cut hair or prospect.  Didn't really matter.  Either would be more profitable that staying in End of the Line. 

The room began to spin again, and Adam took a gulp off his bottle.  The whiskey chocked on the way down, and Adam coughed it up in a fit of retching.  Turning on his side to stop from drowning, Adam became aware of a figure in the open doorway.

“Well, if it ain't the Dude!”  The figure said joyfully and chuckled.  Adam tried to focus on the figure in the top hat.  Middle aged.  Mustache.  “You'll forgive me.  We haven't been introduced.   Name is Fish. Harry Fish.  I own the bank down the way.  I'm also Mayor of End of the Line...”

The figure offered out a hand.  Adam could feel the whiskey dribbling from his stubbled chin.  The Mayor said 'End of the Line' with a sing song familiarity that made it sound like 'Endaleleen'.  Adam was focusing now.  Mayor Fish looked like a banker.  Dark suit.  Cravat.  Adam knew a thousand men like him back in Saint Louis. 

“You don't mind if I call you Dude, do you?  That's all folks around here been calling you:  The Dude.  Little Bobby's been talking up your tale too a mighty big deal.  You walking into the Hinny Saloon like you did, and putting a fright into the Gaffa.  Gets better every time he tells it, and he's been been telling it a bunch.  Yes, sir.”

“You'll forgive me if I don't get up.”  Adam managed, and lay back into the chair.

“Oh no, don't mind me.  Just thought I'd stop by and jaw with you some.  You being new in town and all.  I feel it's important to meet all the new faces we get he in Endaleleen.  Ain't many, as you can probably guess.  Simple town this, since the gold shinned out.  Cows out number the folks most days!”

Adam braced himself as the room began to spin again.  He found that listening to the Mayor speak was contributing heavily to his queasiness.  He moved the end the conversation.

“Is there something I can help you with, Mayor?”  Adam said, sounding almost sober.

“Well, yes.  Two things actually.  One item you can help me with, and then I think I can help you with the other...”

“Oh, yes?”

“Yes.  First off:  It has been traditional for the Town Council of Endaleleen to conduct it's meeting at The Singing Hinny.  It being the largest place in town, an us not having formal facilities for conducting such town business.  Now, we're off a mind to call just such a meeting tomorrow morning, and since you are apparently the new owner of the aforementioned establishment...”

“My home is your home, Mayor.”

“Well, thank you most kindly, sir.  The Town isn't able to requite you for the use of the space, but the members of the council have always paid our tabs at the bar...”

“Drinks will be on the house.”

“Why, that is most generous of you, Dude-  I mean...”  The Mayor puffed at his insult, but Adam drunkenly waved it away.

“The second matter?”

“Ah, yes.”  The Mayor continued.  “As I was saying before, young Bobby Goodfellow has been telling of your confrontation with the Gaffa to all that will listen.”

“He the urchin I met when I got off the train?”

“Yes, that the little fella.  He hangs around town doing odd jobs for nickels.  Harmless, but fond of a tall tale.  He's really making a story out of your deeds.  He can be quite the raconteur when the spirit is with him.  Anyway, seems like word has gotten back to Anacreon- that's the Squire's ranch -of how you pulled one over on the Old Gaffa.  Sent him packing.  And you with your empty gun and all.  Bobby's making it sound like the Gaffa, quaking at the sight of you, turned tail and run.”

“Wish it'd been that way.”

“However it was, that the story folks are hearing, and word's come back that word has gotten to the Gaffa, if you know what I mean.  They're saying that the Gaffa's steaming mad.  Fit to put things right.  Fit to put you in your place.  Or in the ground.  Whichever being of your choosing.”

The Mayor paused to let this sink in.  Adam sat very still, letting the room spin.

“Luckily for you, the Gaffa and his boys are finishing the last roundup of the season.  They're all neck deep in beef.  But come this time next week, all that cattle is going to be charging down that there Main Street on it's way to the railhead.  The Gaffa and twenty guns will be right behind it, and you can sure as bet that they'll be coming to call on you.”

“I thought this Gaffa was supposed to be the Sheriff?”

“That's right.  And that badge making anything he sets his mind on doing perfectly legal.  So I reckon, unless you think that empty pistol of yours is going to scare away the Gaffa a second time, you should get your affairs in order with regard to the saloon, gather up some of your best sipping whiskey, and drag yourself onto the next train out of here.  The Gaffa might be sore, but his badge don't protect him beyond the county line.”

The Mayor paused again, waiting for Adam to speak.  After a moment of silence, he shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, I've had my say.  Ain't no reasoning with so folks.”  The Mayor said, and turned to leave.

“I know how to load the gun, you know.”  Adam said to the Mayor's back.  The Mayor turned.

“Dude.  You may be brave man or it might just be the liquor talking, but trust me:  When the Gaffa blows into town, you'd better have blown out.  He means to kill you this time, and he can get it done.”

And the Mayor left, leaving Adam in his barber's chair watching the room spin.
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« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2008, 06:59:40 pm »

The next morning Adam sat at the window of The Singing Hinny, reading a month old copy of the Saint Paul Gazette, sipping at a beer, and eating a plate full of eggs.  The beer and the eggs helped a little with his hangover.  Truth be known, all he wanted to do was climb back into bed or a bottle; whichever he found first.  However, his conversation with Mayor Fish the day before had left an impression upon him, and he needed to be sober for the town council meeting.  Adam had heard that a  representative of the Anacreon Ranch was be in attendance.   Anacreon and its Squire had come to interest Adam greatly.

The cast of characters began to dribble in.  Gully gave Adam a whispered commentary as he busied himself with sweeping the floor.

First the Mayor stomped up the front steps of the Hinny, brushing the dust of the street off his frock coat.

“Only Mayor the town's ever had.”  Gully said.  “Don't remember there ever being an election.  Only man with money in town, though.  Guess that sort of automatically makes a man the Mayor wherever you might be.”

The Mayor seated himself at the pool table Gully had converted for the meeting.  A bottle of whiskey and a number of glasses were already on the table  The Mayor helped himself.

Next a barrel chested man in an ill fitting jacket came in and scanned the room.  He had a mane of red hair, and hands that size of slabs of meat.  He exchanged a muted greeting with the Mayor, and removed his jacket. 

“Big Ben Bell.”  Gully whispered.  “Blacksmith.  Doesn't speak much, but you sure listen when he does.”  Big Ben sat, and the Mayor poured him a drink.

As if in contrast, a small, quick man entered after the Blacksmith.  His eyes darted back on forth around the bar, as if quickly auditing the contents of the room.  He wore spectacles and and dark suit, carrying himself slight hunched over. 

“Josey Thibodaux.  A Gentleman of the South before the war, so they say.  Was the Assayer here back when there was something to Assay.”

Josey sat and took a drink.  He exchanged greetings with the Mayor, and Big Ben acknowledged him with a nod and a single booming word: “Reb.”

Finally, to complete the council, a thin man with a thin mustache and a preacher's collar blew into the saloon.  He fidgeted with his hands, obviously uncomfortable with his surroundings.  He took a seat at the table.  No one offered him a drink, and he didn't reach for one.

“The Reverend Evan.  The less said there the better...”

“Reverend Evan?”  Adam said, mopping up the last of his eggs with some crusty bread.  Gully just shrugged.  As Adam raised from his chair, the man from Anacreon pushed through the swinging doors.    He dressed like a cowboy, but his calfskin vest was too spotless, and the brass of his belt buckle too shinny to be any sort of working man.  On his hip in an leather holster he carried some sort of nickel-plated revolver that Adam didn't recognize.  He was flanked by two sinister looking weather beaten men who we obviously the real deal.  He paused at the threshold of the Hinny to give Adam a bemused look.  Satisfied, he continued to the pool table with his men following.  Adam positioned himself at the bar near the table, well within earshot.

“Gentlemen of the Council-”  He said before even sitting down.  He accent betrayed education.

“Now hold on,”  Mayor Fish interjected.  “First thing gotta be first.  Robert's Rules and all...”

“If it pleases the chair-”

“Didn't I tell you to hush?  Seems to me, that I got the roll call here...”  The major began to dig through his papers.

“First things heck!”  The small man named Josey said.  “We all know who's here.  We gonna have this meeting or ain't we?”

“Ain't an official meeting until we call the roll...”  The Mayor found his paper.

“Well, I'm here ain't I?  You can't miss Big Ben.  You, sure as Dutch, are here, and the Preacher's right there.  There!  Roll is called.  Let the dandy fella of the Squire's say his peace and we can all get back to working!”

“Will you cork it for a spell, Reb!  We also got the minutes of the last-”

“Oh heck!” 

Everyone began to talk at once.  For a good half a minute, chaos reigned.  Silence was only restored when the mayor pulled a revolver from his belt and rapped the butt on the pool table like a gavel.

“Fine!  Enough with Robert's Rules of Whatever.  You all know Jacob Banner of the Anacreon Ranch, other side of the Big Sue.  He's rode down today to talk with us all.”

“So let him talk!”  Josey said, and poured another glass of whiskey.  The Mayor threw up his hands, and took his seat.  The man named Banner found a chair, and sat.

“Gentlemen of the Council.  I've come to talk to you today on behalf of my employer Clint Burbank.  Known to some as The Squire.  It being less than a week before the final roundup of the year, my-”

“Get to the point.”  Big Ben thundered.  Everyone jumped a little in the seats.

“I'm getting there...  Seeing as this is the last week to drive cattle across the Big Sue before she gets mudded in, and as the Squire is planning on driving as many as ten thousand head through town.”

“If your boss wants a break of the stockyard fee, you can tell him to forget it!”  The Mayor interrupted.  “Endaleleen's got preciously little to tax as it is, and cattle drives tear up the streets something awful.”

“No no, you misunderstand me.”  Banner said with a grin.  “The Squire ain't looking for a break on the corral fees.  In fact, he's thinking he'd like to pay more.”

This was met with a table full of silence.

“Squire was reckoning End of the Line was in a hard way what with the miners and their money all going to Deadwood.  We got to thinking that perhaps it was time for the Council to flex it's muscles a little, if you understand my meaning.”

“Not really?”  The Reverend spoke up.

“Well, with beef constituting the largest voting block in town, it seems only fit that they pay their fair share.  Why tax the people of End of the Line, when cattle is worth so much more.”

“You suggesting we tax the beef?”  Josey said.

“A nickel.”

“A nickel?” 

“A horn.”

“A nickel a horn?  Why, that's....  That's a lot of money...”  Josey tailed off, while everyone did some mental arithmetic.  Adam had heard enough, he turned away from the pool table and got Gully's attention.

“Another beer, Gully.”  he said.  This got Banner's attention, and he turned to size Adam up.  With beer in had, Adam turned back to the proceedings.  He raised his glass to Banner.  Banner seemed a little put off by Adam's knowing grin, but he continued. 

“Think of it, Gentlemen.  This time next year this Council could be meeting in a real Town Hall, not a foul smelling beer hall, being gawked at by drunks.  With the amount of beef hoofing through this town on its way to the abattoirs of Chicago, this town could be something.  Why let all that money fill the pockets of the ranchers, when you could make this into a good, decent town where folk could raise their families and be happy to call home.”

“Nickel a horn seems totally reasonable.”  Said the Mayor.  “After all, what's beef selling for in Saint Paul?”

“Seems only right to keep a little of that money here...”  Josey added.

“With the revenues we could build a school house.”  The Reverend thought out loud.  “Offer incentives to reopen the storefronts.  Give people a reason to move here other than gold...”

“With a school,”  Big Ben's brain moved slower than the others. “they'd be children again...”

“It seems I've made my point.”  Banner said, raising from his chair.  “I'll relinquish the floor so the Council can debate the point.  The Squire and myself back the Council, whatever you decide.”  Banner and his two compatriots moved towards the door as the Council began to excitedly discuss how they were going to spend the tax revenues.  Adam followed Banner to the door.

Outside in the brisk autumn mountain air, Banner and his men mounted their horses.

“Nicely done.”  Adam said, leaning against a post, sipping at his beer.

“What's that?”  Banner replied.

“I said, nicely done.  In there.  You sold them on a nickel-a-horn.”

“Just call me civic minded.”

“Yeah, I guess.  Say, answer me something?”


“Who's going to be collect this beef tax?”

“Figure that'd be the Sheriff's job.”  Banner said with a smile, spurring his horse.

“Figured so.”  Adam replied, staring down into his beer.
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« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2008, 07:00:16 pm »

The next day, waking up with another hangover, Adam importance of acquiring ammunition for his gun began to sink in.  There were only a few more days before the big roundup came to End of the Line, bringing the Gaffa with it.  Bluffs seldom worked twice on the same person.  When the Gaffa showed up again, Adam would have to have a loaded gun.  A loaded gun and the will to use it.

The last remaining hardware store in End of the Line was called Entenmann's.  From the street it looked a tidy, well stocked establishment.  Every morning since arriving in town, Adam had seen the store being opened by a young woman at the stroke of eight o'clock.  It closed at five, on the dot, with the same woman packing up the merchandise.  Not once had Adam seen a customer between those hours.

Stepping into the store, Adam found himself surrounded by sifters and gold pans of all descriptions.  The store was obviously still stocked for the mining crowd, and Adam quickly began to fear that he'd have to search elsewhere for primer and ball.  He was about to leave, when a voice came from the back of the store.

“Can I help you with something, sir?”  It was a woman's voice.  The woman Adam had seen opening and closing the store.  She emerged from behind a stack of wheelbarrows.   He blonde hair was pulled tightly back into a bun, and she had a wide crooked smile that made her look inquisitive. She was wearing a plain grayish-blue dress with a bustle that wouldn't have been out of place in Saint Louis a season ago.

“I was wondering if I could speak with the proprietor.”  Adam said.

“That is I.”  The woman said, securing a pencil behind her ear, and putting a notebook into her apron.

“Mrs. Entenmann?”

“My name is Mrs. Sears.  Mr. Entenmann was the former proprietor, my husband purchased the business going on three years.”  She has a Missouri accent.  Or was it Kansas...

“And didn't change the sign?”

“Why would we?  It's a perfectly good sign.”

“Well, yes...”  Adam's hangover pinched him behind the eyes.  “Could I speak with your husband, then?”

“Did you misunderstand me, sir?”

“Come again?”

“I said I am the proprietor of this store.”  He tone was both direct and scolding.  “If there is something that you need, you can speak to me.”

“I see.”   Was all Adam could manage.  “Then I need primers, powder and .36 caliber ball.”

“I can help you with the power and primers, but I've no lead shot to speak of.”  Mrs. Sears stepped behind a counter that was almost completely concealed by merchandise, and rummaged through some shelves. 

“Ah.”  Adam wasn't surprised.  “Might you suggest another establishment that-”

“It's here or Cheyenne, I'm afraid.”  Looking back up from the counter, she gave Adam a hard stare.  “You're that dude that came to run the saloon, are you not?”

“Owner.  Proprietor.  Only customer this last week, too.”

“I heard about you and the Gaffa.  Little Bobby Goodfellow was here.”

“My personal biographer...”

“Now I understand why you need bullets.”

“The Mayor already suggested I leave town.”

“As well he might.  But if I can't help you with shot, and you're determined to stay, I might be able to help you with a new gun.”

“How's a new gun going to help my without bullets?”

“Don't have shot, but I do have cartridges.”  Mrs Sears pulled a cardboard box up from under the counter.  She opened it to reveal fifty rounds of cartridge ammunition, all shiny in brass.  “Used a cartridge revolver before?”

“I only have my Colt Navy from the war.”  Adam said guardedly 

Mrs. Sears crossed the shop, and led Adam to a glass case.  Inside a number of revolvers were displayed for viewing.  They were of the same make as the gun Banner carried to the Council meeting.

“The new Colt revolver in .45 caliber.”  She removed one of the pistols and handed it to Adam.  It was larger and heavier than his Navy, but the lack of a charging handle gave it good balance.  He half cocked the hammer, and turned the cylinder.  It clicked like a watch.

“Sell many of these?”  Adam asked as he looked in the loading gate. 

“More popular than gold pans.”  She said sardonically. 

“Any chance you also sell hats?”  Adam said, closing up the gun, and lowering the hammer.
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« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2008, 07:01:07 pm »

Adam left with the Colt, two boxes of cartridges, and a wide brimmed hat that really didn't suit him..  Mrs. Sears was left with an IOU, which she took begrudgingly.  Back in the Hinny, Adam loaded five of the six chambers and stowed the handgun behind the bar next to an old scatter gun.  He busied himself for the rest of the day with the Saloon's dubious accounts and the contents of a whiskey bottle.  Come evening, Adam fell asleep at his table by the window, waking the next morning to the sound of tremendous thunder. 

Sitting up, Adam blinked his bloodshot eyes, and tried to focus on the street beyond the window.  It looks windy out, but perfectly dry.

“What the Dutch?”  He managed.  The bottle and glass on the table skip around as the thunder grew louder.  Without warning a single, lone cow trotted down the center of the street, heading downhill.  Adam was stunned.  Raising to his feet, he staggered on wobbly legs to the swinging doors.  A few hundred yards behind the single cow, and mass heard of grunting dust appeared at the top of the street.  By God, the heard was early!  Finding new strength, Adam charged across the room to where he had hidden his gun.

“That'll be the roundup from The Lazy S!” Gully yelled from the bar, sensing Adam's panic.  “Maybe a thousand head!”

“The who?”  Adam yelled back , steadying himself at the bar as the dust and thunder filled the street outside.

“Lazy S!  Bert Stallman's outfit!  They're normally first through the pass come roundup!  Good man that Stallman!  Small operation, but they say he runs a tight ship!” 

A wave of relief washed over Adam.  He reached behind the bar, came up with a new bottle of whiskey, and took a long satisfying drink.  Outside the thundering of hooves began to subside, and the sound off yelping cowboys could just be heard.

“Those boys of a habit of drinking here?”  Adam asked as he fished behind the bar again.  This time he came up with his pistol and shells.

“Reckon they ain't got much choice.”

“You make sure this Stallman talks to me while he's still sober.”   Adam scooped up the empty whiskey bottle off his table, and couple more in reach.  “And while I'm still sober.  Understand?”

“Will do.”

Adam took the back door out the bar into the small yard that backed up against tree covered hillside.  He took a deep breath to calm himself.  In the distance, he could hear the cattle mooing down in their pens.  He put the empty whiskey bottles on the back fence, and walked to the other side of the yard.  Fifteen, maybe twenty yards.  He leveled the pistol, cocked the hammer, and fired. 

One, two, three, four, five. 

The whiskey bottles sat unmolested, mocking him.  The gunshots rung in his ears, adding another layer of pain to his hangover.  He rubbed his eyes, and dropped more cartridges into the revolver.

“Nice shooting, Dude.”  A high voice said behind him.  Adam turned to see the same boy he had met the first day as he had come into town.  Bobby.  Still wearing the same ragged top hat.  “Now I see why you kept your gun empty.  Safer that way.”

Adam reloaded, cocked the hammer, and fired again.  He missed the bottle he was aiming at, but hit the fence post.  The bottle teetered, and fell into the grass.

“Ha!”  Bobby laughed.  “That one's yellow!” 

“You fit me up right good, didn't boy?”  Adam said, cocking the hammer again.  He took a long slow bead, and squeezed the trigger.  Bang.  Finally a whiskey bottle exploded in a shower of glass.

“Fit you up?  How's that?”  Bobby asked through the ringing in his ears.

“You and your storytelling 'round about town.”

“I didn't say nothing I didn't see.”

“Well, they say the Gaffa's got a burr under his saddle hearing your tale.  You making out like he's yellow and all.  He's figuring to come back to town and take another try at that draw down.  Yep.  Fitted me up real good.”

“Oh heck, you've got bullets in your gun now.  You ain't scared of that Gaffa is you?”

“Kid, you just seen me shoot.”

“Yeah, there's that...”  Bobby scratched his scalp under his hat.  “I'm guessing my original advice still stands, then...”

“What's that?”

“Time for the Dude to shin out.  Train at four thirty.”

“I ain't shinning out, kid.” 

“No one think you're yellow if you did.  People respect good sense.”

“It ain't that.”

“Then what?”

Adam leveled his pistol again and took another shot.  His split a bottle in two, leaving the jagged base standing.

“Old Scratch has been dogging me, kid.  All my life.  And here I am, with no more room to run.”

“End of the Line.”  Bobby said knowingly. 

“Got the feeling  this hand's gotta play out.  Gotta have a little faith.”

“Faith?  Faith in what?”

“Sorta hard to explain...”
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« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2008, 07:01:38 pm »

That night Adam tended bar as the Hands from the Lazy S sipped at their whiskey.  Just after dusk, the cattle all seen too, Stallman joined his men for a drink.  He was a short, pudgy fellow with a dark complexion and thick, tree-like limbs.  He swaggered into the bar, congratulated him men on a job well done, and poured himself a drink from an open bottle.

“You Stallman?”  Adam asked as the ranch boss poured himself another drink.

“I am.”  Taking down the belt, he finally looked at Adam and smiled.  “You must be that city slicker all the talk is about!  Why heck, you don't look all that plumb terrifying.”

“Ad Liche.  Owner and Proprietor.”  The two shook hands.

“Say, I didn't expect to stumble across you. Word hasn't got to you about the Gaffa and his temper?”

“It has.  Business has kept me in town.”

“Well, I wouldn't let it detain you!  We ran into outriders off the Anacreon herd on our way across Big Sue.  They can't be but a couple days ride out.  What business you got in this town besides to keep you?  If you're thinking of dying over this place...”  Stallman's men laughed and cheered, and everyone drank.  Adam leaned forward so as to lower his voice.

“Word got to you about the nickel-a-horn.”  Adam's words made Stallman's face petrify. 

“Yes it has.  That crook mayor sprung the news on me soon as I corralled the beef.   Of all the hair-brained, half-baked, wastes of my...”  Stallman spat as he searched for words for his indignation. 

“You of an idea who planted the bug in the Fish's ear?”

“Bug?  This ain't the Good Mayor's bright invention?”

“No, sir.  A man named Banner came to the Council meeting the other day.”

“Banner?  Swell from the Anacreon?”

“The very same.”

“Why would the Squire want to tax beef?  He's got more cattle than anyone.”

“Plum crazy, huh?  Say, can I ask you a question, Mr. Stallman?”


“Who's got the biggest spread in these parts?”

“Well, the Burke Ranch is mighty big, but the Squire's lay has got to be the biggest.”

“And the most cattle on the hoof?”

“Ditto there:  The Squire.”

“And the deepest pockets?”

“I wouldn't rightly know...”

“But assuming your answers to my first two questions...”

“Assuming that, I guess The Squire's got some coin.”

“And End of the Line is the only railhead to get cows to market?”

“Until they lay more track, yeah.”

“So, it may be true that the Squire's gonna have quite a bill, what with this new tax, but isn't it also true that the Squire is best fit to afford it?”

“I guess.”

“Nickel-a-horn is a scratch to him, but it's gonna make you bleed.  True?”


“I hope you won't take this as presumptuous, but it seems to me that this Squire is starting a war of attrition.”

“A war of what?”  Stallman half coughed up his drink.

“Attrition.  Hurting everyone equal knowing that him, being the toughest, can hang in there longest.”

“But it'll cost him a fortune!”

“A fortune he'll easily be able to recuperate when he's dictating the price of beef.”  Adam stepped away from the bar for a moment to let this sink in.  He poured himself a drink, his work done for the evening.

“You're talking sense.”  Stallman said, slowly nodding.   

“And,”  It was time for Adam is drop the other shoe.  “Who collects on taxes owed in this county?”

“I reckon that would be the...”  Stallman went pale.

“I'm thinking you and I got an malady in common...”  Adam shot his drink.
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« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2008, 07:02:15 pm »

Adam didn't know if foiling the Squire's play to corner the market on Montana beef was what Adam's father had seen in the stars, but Adam knew any acrimony towards the Anacreon could only help with his impending showdown with the Gaffa.  Hardly nation destroy stuff, Adam thought, a ten cent tax on cattle, but if frustrating the Squire got Adam closer to fulfilling his destiny, then that was the game he was going to play.

Perhaps after the showdown, if Adam somehow survived, a letter from his father would be delivered with instructions for him to return home.  But no.  Thurgood had mentioned letters.  Plural.  Fate had more in store for Adam that simply exchanging fire with the Gaffa.  “End of the Line will be the center of it all.”  His father had written.  But how?  And center of what?  Collapse of beef futures?  Again, hardly nation destroying stuff.

Reasonably confident at his skill with the handgun, Adam put it aside under the bar and waited for the arrival of more cowboys into End of the Line.  The next day bought outfits from the Burke Ranch and the Twin Falls Spread.  Jim Burke and Lucas Michael both drank at the Hinny that evening, and Adam again gave his speech, this time with Stallman as a chorus.  The two were as quick as Stallman to grasp the implications of the Horn Tax.  But after half a bottle of whiskey, they were fighting more amongst themselves then they were planning any maneuvers against the Squire.  Adam quickly realized he had underestimated the years of animosity that had built up between the various ranchers.  Reliance on the railhead to sell their product had kept peace in End of the Line, but out on the plains fights over water, cattle, and women had turned the various ranches into little more than armed gangs.

Adam now understood the Squire's tax in a new light.  It wasn't just a business decision, it was a new front in a war.

By then end of the evening, everyone was good and drunk, and little of importance had been settled.  Sure enough, Adam had managed to get all the ranchers hopping mad, but nothing approaching an alliance or a plan really materialized.  Adam passed out in his bed that night with no better idea of what the Gaffa's arrival the next day would bring.  Other than trouble.
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« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2008, 07:02:53 pm »

At about noon the next day, the Squire's cattle began to dribble in.  A few at first, then large packs later, driven on by mud-encrusted cowboys.  The rains had come to the Big Sue, and as the afternoon rolled on, a drizzle began in End of the Line.  Unsure of what else to do, Adam busied himself around the Hinny cleaning up.  A few minutes after four, the whistle of a locomotive echoed up the valley and the four thirty came into town right on schedule.  From his window, Adam could see supplies coming off the train, and cattle starting to get loaded.

Adam removed his pistol from his belt and checked the chambers for the hundredth time that day.  He picked up his ridiculous hat off his table, and squared it on his head.  Unsure of what to do with his hands, he tried sitting at the table, and looking at his paper.  Uncomfortable doing that, he stood up again.  He took out his gun and checked the cylinder for the hundred and first time.

“Keep doing that, you'll wear the action out of that gun.”  Gully said from behind the bar.  Adam felt silly, and sat down again.  “Drink to steady the nerves?”

“So much easier when the action comes on you all of a sudden.  No time to think about it.  All this waiting around.  Gives me the shakes.”

“I'm assuming you see the train.”  Gully said casually.

“You think I'm blind?”

“Just asking...”

“You suggesting I shin out too?”  Adam stood up and paced over to the bar.  “First the Mayor, then the boy, now you.  Everyone in this town's sure got my best interests at heart!”

“Ain't no dishonor in walking away from a fight.  Just in not fighting the one's you gotta.  You got to fight this one, Boss?  Seems to me this town's gonna be the same place tomorrow whether you get on that train or you don't.”

“I started something here.  Reckon I ought to see it done.”

“Started something?  With all your talk to the likes of the Lazy S and the Burke Spread?  Hope you ain't expecting that garden to grown a might but more bickering and hard feelings.  And that's a crop that can easily tend to itself., I tell you what.”

“No, I was sent here from a reason.  There's something in this Nickel-a-Horn...”

“Ah, now you're just talking crazy!   Ain't no reason in you getting yourself shot.  Your daddy didn't leave you this place so you can go get yourself killed over it.  You've been here a fortnight and how many customers have we had?  This place ain't worth the fuss!”

“Then why'd that crazy old coot send me here?”

“It ain't to get shot, I can tell you that.”

In the street, over the din of cattle, voices could be heard coming closer.  Adam shot bolt upright.  The time had come.  Maybe there wasn't going to be a fight.  Maybe he was supposed to talk his way out of the one too.  Yeah, that was it.  He'd dodge the worst of a lot of trouble lately...

“One for the road, Gully.”  Adam said.  Gully poured Adam and shot, and Adam belted it back.  Putting the glass back, he caught a glimpse of himself in the shattered mirror.  Heck, there was no way he was going to die in such a stupid hat.

With all his composure, Adam stepped out of the swinging doors.  The light rain had made the street muddy, and the cloudy dusk gave the town a muted hue.  Sure enough, the Gaffa and a dozen cowboys where hiking up the street though the mud.  The looked waterlogged and ornery from a hard day's ride.  Unsure of what else to do, Adam leaned casually against the pillar of the boardwalk at the top of the stairs.  An easy target with the firelight of the Hinny behind him. 

“Dude!”  The Gaffa yelled when he was twenty yards away.  “I'll be having words with you!”

Adam scratched at his unshaven chin.

“I said-”  The Gaffa began again.

“I can hear ya!”  Adam yelled.

“I thought I told the likes of you had to get out of town?!”  The Gaffa yelled. 

“As I remember, we came to an arrangement acceptable to all!  As in you got to drink my liquor for free and I get to stay!”

“There were no arrangement!  I don't make deals with tin horn scum!  If you think you can make a fool of me, Dude, you're sorely mistaken!”

“No one was trying to make a fool of your, Gaffa!”  Adam said raising his arms in a calming gesture.

“Then lets see if you got any bullets in that gun!” 

So much for talking.

The Gaffa drew his pistol, cocked the hammer, and pulled the trigger.  There was a flash as the primer ignited, but no bang.  The waterlogged Colt Dragoon had misfired.  For a long second everyone stood in stunned silence.  Adam.  The Gaffa.  The Cowboys.  Everyone.  The Gaffa cocked the gun again and aimed.  This time nothing at all.  For a third time he cocked and pulled the trigger.  This time it fired, but he was long past aiming, and the bullet hit the boardwalk pillar with a crack.  This awoke Adam from his paralysis.  He pulled his pistol and fired at the center of the mass that was the Cowboys.  By sheer luck- or fate -the bullet found its mark in the Gaffa's gut.  The Gaffa dropped to his knees and let out a  low moan.

Not waiting to see what happened next, Adam dived back through the Hinny's swinging doors, taking cover behind its stone fireplace.  As he did, the dozen or so cowboys found their guns and peppered the front of the saloon with lead.

Splintering wood and shards of glass filled the air as Adam poked his nose around the fireplace and fired three shots wild into the dusk.  This sent cowboys diving for cover, and letup on the hail of bullets.  Adam fired his last shot out the door, and paused to reload.  Outside things quited down, and Gully came crawling out of the far end of the bar, the scatter gun in his arms.

“You get back behind that bar!”  Adam said, cocking his gun.

“I ain't dying without at least shooting back!”  Gully said.  He peaked out of the boarded up window the Gaffa broke two weeks before.  He threaded the shotgun barrels out.  Two blasts, and he pulled the gun back inside.  “That fella ain't gonna be sitting down for a spell...”

A figure darted past the side window, and Adam snap shot as it went by.  He missed, but brought the glass shattering down.

“They're fixing to come in the back!”  Adam made a motion for the bar, but a couple bullets ricocheted of the fireplace.  He was pinned.  “If we get surrounded!”

“I'll get the-”  Gully managed before a hail of fire pounded thought the boarded up window.  Gully fell back with a face full of splinters and lost control of his handful of shells.  They clattered across the floor in every direction. 

A dull thud came from the back room, then a crack of wood splintering.  Through the doorway behind the bar, Adam could see shadows move.  He fired into the room beyond, but hit nothing.  Outside, a new hail of fire came, chipping large chunks out of the fireplace's mantle.  Adam ducked deeper down behind the stone.  He leveled his gun at the bar door, cocked the hammer, and aimed.  For an instant he saw a head in the doorway, and he fired.  The head vanished back into the dark.

Voices were suddenly raised outside the Hinny, and a round of shots came that didn't impact in the bar.  A few more shots, and outside Adam could see cowboys running.  Disinclined to leave his cover, Adam waited.  Another group of shots, some muffled yells, some crashing in the back room, then all fell quiet.  Adam reloaded.

“You in the bar!”  A voice came from the street.  It sounded familiar.

“I can hear ya!”  Adam yelled back.

“It's Stallman!  The Gaffa's boys are running!  It's a sight to see!”  Adam stole a look around the fireplace and saw cowboys standing in the street.  Different cowboys, holding rifles.  Adam wearily stepped out from behind the fireplace.  No incoming fire.  He stepped through the swinging doors.  Stallman was coming up the front stairs.

“Where's the Gaffa?”  Adam asked, suddenly uncomfortable with the gun in his hand.   “I think I shot him.”

“His partners carried him off.  Seems they got no stomach for a fair fight.  Everyone alright in there?”  Gully came out the door behind Adam, his shotgun broken over his arm.

“Looks that way.  Don't know how to thank you.”

“Just returning the favor.”  Stallman said, and patted Adam on the shoulder. 

“And I don't know how to thank you...”  Adam said turning to Gully.

“You can thank me,”  Gully said, obviously shaken.  “by cleaning up your mess.”
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« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2008, 07:03:31 pm »

The next morning, sitting at his usual table, reading the month old copy of the Saint Paul Gazette, eating a plate full of eggs, Adam looked out at the street though the hole where a window used to be.  The rain had stopped, but it was still an overcast day.  As he ate, he noticed Mrs Sears step out of her store, cross the muddy street, and walk up the boardwalk towards Adam's Saloon.  She held something in her hand.

“Well, isn't this convenient.”  She said, stopping at the windowless frame beside Adam.  “My position as Postmaster often requires me to enter into the places that would otherwise be unseemly for a lady to frequent.  But I must say this new arrangement works out just fine.”

“Good morning.”  Adam said.

“Good morning.”  Mrs. Sears said, and handed Adam a letter through the window frame. 

“Thank you.” 

Mrs. Sears spun on her heels and walked back to her store along the boardwalk.  Adam look at the return address on the letter.  Strother, McLaglen & Elem.  New York, New York.  Opening the envelope with his egg covered knife, he found a letter and another envelope.  This one address in his father's hand.  The first letter read:

Dear Mr. Liche,
My apologies for not being able to deliver this letter in person, as per your father's instructions, but events in New York have required my attention.  I will endeavor to deliver the next correspondence from your father in person at the appointed time. 

As always, your servant.

Emmett Thurgood Esq. 
Strother, McLaglen & Elem

Adam quickly cut open the second letter, and read on:

My Son,
I will assume that this letter will find you alive and well, but probably not a little the worse for wear after the events of the last few days.  With all likelihood, your arrival in End of the Line has brought you into violent conflict with one of a number of rival factions that operate through the town; and you have used this faction's attempts to monopolize access to the railhead to enlist the help of the others.  Who these factions are, or how they intend to achieve their goals, I cannot see.  I'm sure, however, that you are intimately acquainted with these details by now, and I need not ramble on to you.

I hope with the up most sincerity that this enterprise has not caused you any serious injury.  There is still much work to be done and so little time in which to do it.  While you may be disinclined to seek out more conflict, it is imperative that these rival factions are mollified in the coming weeks.  Drums in the hills are beating, my son.  The Drums of War. 

Listen for the drums.

Henry Archibald Liche

“Good news, I hope.”  A voice said outside the window.  Adam jumped.  Major Fish was standing in the same spot Mrs. Sears had vacated.  He wore his usual top hat, and an unusually large black eye.

“Good morning, Mayor.”  Adam said, putting the letter down on the table. 

“Good morning.  Eventful evening you had, so I hear.”  The Mayor chuckled.  “Word is that you been talking against that there Horn Tax we were discussing the other day.”

“I did share my thoughts on its macroeconomic implications.”  Adam smiled.

“Yes, well, you'll be glad to hear that The Council has reconsidered levying the tax after some, err...”  The Mayor rubbed his black eye.  “input from our constituents.”

“I think that's wise, Mayor.”  Adam said.  The Mayor dug into the pocket of his frock coast and came up with a tin badge.

“Here.”  He said, throwing it down on top of  the letter from Adam's father.  “Gaffa never did bother to come picked this up.”  The star had 'Sheriff' engraved on it, and the numbers 3-7-77 underneath.  “Since you so ably helped him vacate the position last night, the Council fells that you just gone and volunteered to replace him.”

“I don't...”

“No need to thank me.”  The Mayor said and turned to leave.  “Oh, and as Sheriff, if you have any more thoughts about this town's err...  'macroeconomic implications', you'll bring them the heck straight to me.” 

The Mayor turned walked off down the boardwalk, rubbing his black eye gently.
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