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The Special Delivery


I had time to jot this one down the other night.  I hope folks enjoy it. 

The Special Delivery 

by Rob Mancebo

Porter Armen swallowed the fist-sized lump that had been welling up in his throat for the past three days.  His button-on collar felt too tall and his tie felt too tight.  He stretched his shoulders under the fabric of the seldom worn suit and realized that some of his irritation was simple nerves.
He had a right to be nervous.  It wasn’t every day that a man met his future wife.  He heard the whip-crack of the incoming stage and he banged a calloused hand across the front of his trousers for the hundredth time.  He really wasn’t dusty, just nervous. 

Yet the rancher was not so focused that he failed to see Buck O’Reily poke his head out of the Washboard saloon, look in his direction, then let out with a braying laugh before going back inside.
Big buck O’Reily was the reason that Porter was carrying a Colt in the waistband of his town suit.  Porter had caught Buck’s hands pushing cattle onto his Bar-7 range.  Those beeves would’ve used up grass and water they had no right to.  The act had been out-and-out theft.  He knew that very soon, he and Buck were liable to face-off over the sights of their guns about the issue. 
For Porter the impending fight was a matter of basic survival.  He had a modest soddy, a dozen head of horses, and about a hundred and thirty head of cattle.  As ranches went, he was doing well.  He couldn’t afford to let a range-hog like Buck push his beeves off their graze. 

But the issue with Buck would wait for its proper time.  Porter Armen had a woman to meet.
The jangling of harness and the thudding of the team heralded the arrival of the stage and Armen looked on with expectation.  He watched anxiously as the driver opened the door for the passengers.

The first person off was a greasy drummer in a hound’s-tooth coat.  Then a woman-- but no, she was gray-haired and matronly.  Inga was a swede and he had been instructed to look for her blonde hair.

Now Porter hadn’t fooled himself into believing everything that the girl had written.  Anyone desperate enough to answer a newspaper ad for a mail-order bride would probably stretch the truth to offer themself in the best possible light.  Her reply to his ad had been short and somewhat crudely written.  But then she had admitted that her English wasn’t very good.  Her family had tried to emigrate from Sweden, but her mother and father had died on the boat from sickness.
Alone in a strange country, she wrote that she had been surviving by working odd jobs.  She had agreed to become a mail-order bride to leave the big city behind.  He’d sent her tickets and a little traveling money for the arduous trip.  She would’ve come by train, and then by stage to meet him in the barely settled territory of Wyoming.
Another fellow of some traveling trade or another got off.  Porter became impatient.  He wondered if she’d missed the stage or sold the tickets he’d sent her for the cash.  Some women had been known to. 

And then a blonde-haired girl stepped from the stage.  Porter could only stare in astonishment.  She was pretty enough, even though her clothing was plain and hard-used, but she was so skinny and so young!  She was just a kid! 

He’d heard that the famine in Sweden had spurred the latest wave of immigration, but the girl looked like a waif, hardly more than a pale, blonde scarecrow. 

“Porter?”  she greeted him.  He suddenly realized that he was the only person waiting for the stage.  There was no way to fade into the background to avoid meeting her. 

Porter Armen was nearly thirty years old.  Thirty--hard--years old.  He’d fought for every head of stock and every foot of land he owned.  He had advertised for a help-mate, not a child to raise.
Porter doffed his hat self-consciously and greeted her despite his disappointment.  “Welcome to Muddy Ford, Inga.” 
The driver tossed down her bundle.  As Porter picked up all her worldly goods, he realized how desperately poor she was.  She didn’t even have a suitcase or trunk.  Her luggage consisted of a blanket roll which had been tied up with braided grocery store string. 

“Did you eat?”  he asked, looking at her scrawny frame. 

“Eat?”  she considered the question.  “Oh, eat.  Ya, I eat on the train.” 

“Well that was more than a day ago,”  he said.  “We’ve got to get you something.” 

He took her blanketroll and led the girl to Dillon’s hash house.  It was the only place in town fit to take a girl.  When he’d bent to pick up the blanketroll, his coat had swung open and he saw her eyes go to the gun tucked into his trousers.  “Thieves been botherin’ my ranch lately,”  he explained as they walked.  “Robbers tryin’ to steal my home.” 

She nodded seriously, but didn’t comment. 

“Say,”  he asked as delicately as he could while they walked.  “How old are you anyway?” 

The girl gave him a quizzical look which he found endearing. 

“You,”  he pointed at her.  “Years?  How many years old are you?” 

“Oh,”  her eyes brightened in understanding.  “Eighteen years.  Two weeks ago.” 

“Two weeks ago,”  he echoed under his breath as he held open the door for her.  He shook his head and followed her inside.     
The eating establishment was a single, long structure.  It was ‘family style’ dining and Dillon served up whatever he had.  There was no menu.  What he cooked was what a person got to eat.

“We’ve got beef stew and biscuits,”  the grizzled proprietor called to them as they sat down. 

“Go ahead and trot ‘em on out,”  Porter told him. 

“You folks want coffee?” 

“Sure-- er-- you got any milk?” 

You mean for your coffee?” 

“No, like a glass of milk for the girl here.” 

The cook took a long look at the waifish girl, then disappeared back into the kitchen without a word.  He came out with a glass and a pitcher of milk and put them down in front of her. 

“If she wants some more, you just give a shout.  I’ll go and get your grub.” 

When Inga emptied the glass without stopping for air, Porter cautioned her,  “Slow down, you’ll make yourself sick.” 

He refilled the glass, but put a hand on hers to stop her and warned again,  “Slowly, okay?” 

She nodded and refrained from gulping the next glassful.

Dillon brought them out two huge plates of stew, an entire basket of biscuits, and a pot of coffee. 

Porter watched the girl eat while he nibbled at his stew.  What could he do with such a young bride about the place?  He’d have to spend all his time taking care of her.  No, he was facing up to real trouble already.  His only choice was to send the kid somewhere else.  But where?  She had no kin.  She had no money.  He knew how rough life could be among the gangs and brothels of the immigrant tenements of New York.  He didn’t want to condemn her to such a life, but he just couldn’t nurse-maid a kid when things were shaping up to a shooting war either. 

“Whatever am I supposed to do with you?  he mused as she shoveled down the stew. 

His question wasn’t answered both because she didn’t understand it, and because Buck O’Reily barged into the restaurant and shouted,  “Porter Armen!” 

The big rancher had his gunbelt slung low and a hand resting upon the walnut butt of his revolver.  His eyes were red and he swayed slightly, obviously drunk as a lord.  One of his hands, Spence Croft, came in behind him to back him up. 

Porter knew he was in deep trouble.  Buck was a bully when sober.  In a drunken state he had no hopes of talking the man out of a fight.  He also had no silly notions that Spence would stay out of it.  It was going to be a two-to-one fight. 

“I’m glad to see you in town all duded up in your Sunday-go-to-meetin’ suit.  That’s good-- real good.  It’ll save folks from having ta change your clothes when they bury you.” 

“You’re drunk, Buck,”  Porter snapped.  “Get out of here.” 

“’Get my beeves off your land’--  ‘Get out of a restaurant’.  You’re kind of a high-an’-mighty sort of a fellow ain’t you?” 

“You can’t just go around orderin’ folks about,”  Spence added.  “Ya big-mouthed sonofabitch.” 

In that moment, Porter realized that they didn’t know he was armed.  That was why they were pushing him so hard.  The drunks thought they were safe because he was dressed up and there was no bulge of a holster at his hip. 

They didn’t really know the man they were trying to hooraw.  Porter wasn’t such a fool as to come into town unarmed.  Not after the trouble they’d had, but Buck and Spence didn’t know that. 

He would have surprise on his side, but there being two of them was still a problem.  Both were armed and both were drunk.  It was a killing combination.  He also had Inga to think of.  He couldn’t get into a gunfight with her there. 

“Fer such a bossy galoot,”  Buck said,  “you sure got a mighty scrawny woman.  Maybe you’d better give up ranching and find something you’re better suited for.”
Spence laughed along and gave Inga a push on the shoulder.  “Yeah, the next good breeze will blow her right away.” 
Without hesitation, Inga flung the entire contents of her glass into Spence’s surprised face.  She stood, flipped her chair up, and smashed it over the man’s head.  The man hit the ground hard.  While she engaged Spence, Porter flashed out his .44 and covered Buck.  The drunken land-hog stared down the cavernous barrel of the pistol with blinking eyes and moved his hand away from his gun. 

“You men drop those gunbelts and do it now!”  Porter ordered.  The drunken men complied contritely.  Buck helped his hired hand up off the floor.

Inga re-filled her glass as Porter kicked the men out of the establishment.  The rancher considered her carefully as she finished her milk and put two of the left-over biscuits in her pockets to make sure she had food for later. 

“You’ll do,”  he told her grudgingly. 

“We go home now?”  she asked hopefully. 

He offered the girl his arm and told her,  “Right after we stop and see the preacher.” 

The end.


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