Authors: Robert J. Conley
“Well, I'm back, and I ain't hurt,” I said. Happy come over then, and he said, “How many men is Cody sending?”
“He ain't sending no one,” I tole him, “the chicken shit.”
“There's too many of them out there, Barjack,” he said.
“Where are they located?” I ast him. “Is they all scattered or is they in a bunch somewheres?”
“They're all over town,” he said, “but there is a bunch of them just about across the street.”
“Is anyone in here hurt?”
“No, we're all okay.”
“Good,” I said. I reached under my coat and pulled out a stick a' dynamite and held it out to Happy. I knowed that he had a good throwing arm. “Light you up a smoke,” I said. “Then go out back and climb up on the roof. Keep down so no one will spot you. Move up to the front a' the building, and touch your ceegar to this here fuse. Then toss the son of a bitch right smack in the middle a' that bunch acrost the street. That should oughtta narrow the odds down a bit.”
“Barjack,” he said, his eyes wide-open, “is that fair?”
“What the hell do you mean? Who gives a shit? Just do it.”
“Yes, sir,” he said.
I left him to do what he'd been tole to do and walked up to the front a' the jailhouse. Everyone was a-shooting out the winders and the Churkee was a-shooting through that hole in the front door.
“Are you'ns narrowing the odds any?” I said, pulling out my Merwin Hulbert.
“A little,” said Sly.
“Well, we'll narrow them considerable more in a minute.”
I tuck me a peek out the winder and seen that bunch acrost the street. There was maybe eight or ten a' them, and they was all hunkered down behint barrels and boxes a' stuff and shooting at my winders. I was a-thinking, You goddamn assholes are in for a big surprise. I heared Happy's footsteps over my head, and I added, Right about now. Then I seen that dynamite come a-flying, its fuse a-sparkling, and it lit right snug up against one a' the barrels them bastards was a-hiding behint.
“What's that?” said Bonnie.
“It's a blow-them-all-to-hell stick,” I said. “Just watch.”
Just then it blowed, and I seen men and pieces a' men and bits a' barrels and parts a' the store-front all a-flying all over the street, and there was a ringing in my ears what I thunk wouldn't never stop. There was screaming outside too and shouting. It was like a scene from behint the gates a' hell, or at least it was like a battle in a war.
“Who done that?” said Bonnie.
“Happy done it just like I tole him to do,” I said.
Gradual things settled down outside after the last stick had dropped outta the sky. It was real quietlike. In another minute or so, Happy come in again through the back door. “How'd I do, Barjack?” he said.
“You done just fine,” I said. “You blowed their ass up.”
Sly said, “They're mounting up and riding out.”
“The ones that're left,” Churkee added.
“We won?” said Happy.
“This round,” I said.
“They'll be back,” said Sly.
I unlatched the front door and opened it. Then I stepped out onto the boardwalk and Sly follered me. We was each still a-holding our six-guns in our hand, and we looked up and down the street. It seemed like the cowboys was all gone for sure. “I think things'll be quiet around here for a while now,” Sly said.
“I expect you're right about that,” I said.
“The only thing is,” he said, “Chugwater's down to about half the number of gunmen he had now.”
“He'll be a little easier to deal with.”
“Maybe. He'll be more desperate.”
“Yeah, I reckon you're right about that too.”
“We'll just have to act like we're more desperate too.”
“We will,” I said.
Just then a cowboy came riding hard down the street. Me and Sly was both some relaxed, and I damn sure weren't ready for him to throw down on me with a six-gun as he rid past real fast. He
fired a shot and it nicked me right where my neck growed outta my shoulder on the right side. I yelped and grabbed at it with my left hand. I staggered back and leaned against the wall. Sly made out to shoot back, but before he could get off a shot, a rifle barrel sticking out of a winder fired, and that cowboy went a-tumbling off a' his horse.
I staggered inside and went into the free cell and fell down on the cot. I was bleeding something ferocious. Bonnie seen it and went to screaming. Sly said, “I'll get the doc,” and went running off. “Somebody get me some whiskey,” I said.
Bonnie dropped down on her fat knees right beside a' me and went to wringing my free hand. “Barjack,” she said, “Barjack. Don't die on me. Sly went after Doc.”
Polly brung in my whiskey bottle from the desk, and I pulled my hand a-loose from Bonnie's grip and tuck it. I had me a long drink. Then I said, “Hell, I ain't going to die. I'm too damn pissed off to die.”
“Does it hurt, Barjack?” Bonnie said.
“It hurts like hell,” I said. “Who shot that son of a bitch?”
“I did,” said Polly.
“Do you reckon it was worth it to him to'a nicked me and then got his ass kilt like that?” I said.
Bonnie tore off a piece a' her petticoat and pulled my left hand away from the wound. Then she went to daubing at it with that rag. She made a hell of a face while she was a-doing that.
“Does it look that bad?” I said.
“It looks pretty damn bad,” she said. “Polly, bring me some water, will you?”
“Sure,” Polly said, and in another minute she done it. Bonnie dipped that rag in the water and daubed a little bit more. Then she tuck my left hand and washed the blood off a' it. She tore off another bit a' rag off a' her petticoat and folded it up and laid it on that wound and held it down tight. About then the doc come in. Someone pointed him to the cell and Bonnie got outta his way.
He studied on my hurt neck for a little bit, and then he went to messing with it. Whenever he was all done, I had some kinda salve rubbed on it and a bandage tied down on it. He stood up and picked up his bag. “Just keep quiet,” he said. “Don't do anything strenuous for a while. It'll heal up.”
“Send your bill to Peester,” I said. He walked on out.
I drank me some more whiskey outta my bottle, and pretty soon I dropped off to sleep. I dreamt that someone had shot me, and my whole head went flying off. I don't know how I coulda been conscious the whole time and even seen my own head rolling around in the street, but that was the way it was. Course, it was only a dream. But whenever I woked up I couldn't help thinking how stupid it was. Hell, my eyeballs was out there in my goddamn head, and it was rolling around in the street along with them other pieces a' men what Happy had blowed up. I was a-standing on the boardwalk without no head, and so a'
course, without no eyes, but still I was a-looking at my own head out there. Dreams can be awful damn dumb sometimes. Dingle had called that some kinda word one time, and I was a-wishing I could remember that word, but it just wouldn't come to me.
I tried to turn my head, but it hurt too bad to do that, so I just yelled out, “Dingle. You out there?” He come into the cell right quick, and he looked like he had been in a war. His shirttail was out on one side, and his shirt was full a' bullet holes. There wasn't no blood, though. His hair was all messed up, and his face and his shirt was smudged black from the powder his own shots had blowed back on him. “Damn,” I said when I seen him. He kinda grinned. He was holding his pad and a pencil, though.
“They came close but they never hit me,” he said. “What did you want with me, Barjack?”
“What was that there word you used once? You said it meant something what was like a dream. Do you recollect?”
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah. It was surreal.”
“Surreal,” I said. “Surreal. Yeah. That's it. Well, I just had me a surreal dream. My head was shot off, and I was a-looking at it. It was a surreal son of a bitch.”
“Yeah. It sounds like it.”
“So that there's the right word for it?”
“I'd say so,” said Dingle. “It sure sounds surreal to me.”
“Surreal,” I said, and I said it over and over on account a' I wanted to remember it. I liked getting
new words from Dingle. That was half the fun a' keeping him around, although it weren't bad to make money off a' him and his books, the ones what he writ about me and my adventures. I figgered he was a-working on another one right then.
Then I decided that we was all of us in the middle of a goddamned surreal situation. There was Owl Shit in jail for doing a dumb killing, and his dumb brother, Chugwater, trying like hell to bust him out. Then there was pieces a' dead men all over the street. It was all pretty damn surreal as far as I could tell.
Well, nothing much happened for the next couple a' days, and it was a damn good thing too, on account a' my neck begun to hurt like hell. I had been shot before, a' course, but it never did hurt me like that goddamn nick in my neck hurt. I couldn't think a' nothing for a time except only that I wanted a drink a' good whiskey, and I had me a good many a' those. The guys and gals all hung around the jailhouse and kept a watch out for any a' Chugwater's bunch what might show up, but none of them did. I final got to thinking about the mess we was in, and the first thing I thunk about was why in the hell I was so damn determined to hang on to that damned Owl Shit. I couldn't come up with nothing. He sure as hell weren't worth me getting my own self or any a' my friends and âspecial my sweet Bonnie big tits kilt over. So why in the hell didn't I just let ole Chugwater have the little shit? I couldn't hardly answer that damn nagging question.
I sure weren't one for upholding the dignity a' my office at all costs. No, sir. I didn't have no such
scruples, so it weren't that. Were it my own personal pride and puffed-upness? The little asshole had shot a man dead right in front a' me and a dozen or two witnesses. I had to hold him in jail to keep the respect a' all the folks in town. If I was to let a goddamn murderous bastard like that just walk away, why, they'd all just commence to doing whatever the hell it was they wanted to do, thumbing their noses at me. I couldn't have that. Maybe that was the reason. Maybe.
Then it come to me that ole Dingle had been a-writing all them books about me, about what a goddamn staunch upholder a' the law I was and how I could handle any damn situation. It come to me that maybe I was a-trying to live up to the image what Dingle had created. They was a whole bunch a' people out there somewheres a-reading them books. Well, hell, whatever. The whole truth a' the matter was that I just for damn sure meant to hold on to Owl Shit for as long as it was necessary. I weren't about to give in to Chugwater. No way.
Bonnie come into the cell where I was a-laying and drinking and thinking. She set down on the cot beside a' me, even though there was barely room for her fat ass. She just kinda perched one cheek on the cot. It musta been a kind a' strain on her to set thattaway, but she done it on account a' she loved my ass so much. She petted on me and cooed around and called me sweet names and tole me how proud a' me she was and how much she was a-wishing that I'd get to feeling a whole
lot better real damn soon. I surely did enjoy that too, I can tell you.
I seen Happy out in the office walk over to the coffeepot for a cup a' the hot stuff, and I yelled out at him. “Happy, is Butcher up on the roof?”
“Yes, sir, he is.”
“Good,” I said. Happy come a-walking into the cell.
“Barjack,” he said, “do you think we need to keep this up?”
“This what?” I ast him.
“You know. Keeping us all in here all the time. Chugwater's men ain't been around for a few days. Maybe he's give it up.”
“Don't you believe that for a minute, Happy,” I said. “A man like Chugwater don't quit. Not never. He won't quit till Owl Shit's hanged up or till him or me is dead. He lives by a code, and that code is don't quit.”
“But we've killed a bunch a' his men.”
“And he promised his mama that he'd take care a' his little brother,” I said, “and that's another part a' the code. Mind your mama. Respect your mama. And keep your word. That's all a part a' it. He'll be back. Don't you fret about that. He'll be back, and he'll be meaner than ever.”
“Yes, sir,” said Happy. “Well, I guess I had better get up on the roof and relieve Butcher.” He walked on out and left me and Bonnie there to pet on each other. Course, she had never quit petting on me while he was there talking to me. That woman didn't have no sense a' shame a'tall.
I got to thinking about what I had tole Happy about Chugwater being devoted to his mama and to protecting his little brother. I wondered for a minute what I would do in his situation. I couldn't hardly remember my mama nor any a' my brothers. But what if, before I had run away from New York, what if my mama had made me to promise to take care a' one a' my brothers, or all a' them? And what if, after that, my brother had wound up in jail charged with a killing? What the hell would I have did? I thunk about that for about a minute, and I concluded then that I would let the little shit hang, and I would let my mama curse me for it. I believe I could walk around and function just fine with a curse on my head.
I realized right then that I was getting to kinda admire ole Chugwater, even though I would never have did what he was a-doing. He was standing up against all odds, meaning the law, for what he believed in. He was out to save his little brother, even though the little brother were a little snivelly shit-ass. He weren't afraid a' nothing, that Chugwater. Hell, I had me a mean-ass reputation, and he weren't about to back down from me. And then there was ole Sly, the goddamn widdamaker. Sly had kilt no one knows how many men, and all in fair fights too. He was knowed and feared far and wide, and Chugwater was standing against both a' us. You just had to admire that.