Authors: Robert J. Conley
“I reckon I'd best get on down to the jailhouse,” I said.
“You do think there's trouble a-coming,” Bonnie said.
“Nothing for you to worry your pretty little fat face over,” I said. “I just think I'd oughter go down and talk with my depitties about the situation. That's all.”
“Barjack, be careful,” she said.
“That's my middle name, sweet tits,” I said. “Come on, Dingle. Let's get our ass back down there.”
We walked out onto the boardwalk together and turned to head for the jailhouse. Just as we turned, a bullet smacked into the wall just beside a' my head. I jerked out my Merwin Hulbert and looked around. They was two cowhands a-standing out in the street. Both of them had their Colts out and a-pointed at me and Dingle. I shoved Dingle outta the way back toward the door to the Hooch House.
“Watch out, Barjack,” he shouted.
“Barjack,” one a' the cowhands said, “your ass is grass, and I'm a hungry bull.”
I snapped off a lucky shot and dropped the hungry bull right in the street where he had been a-standing. The other one shot then, but I had
dodged to one side. His bullet smacked into the wall alongside the other'n. I raised up my Merwin Hulbert and aimed at him, but he had turned around and was a-running. I aimed real keerful, and then I pulled the trigger. My shot hit him in the right cheek a' his ass. He screamed and went to tumbling in the street. He was on his belly, and he kinda raised hisself up on his right hand. I fired again, and this time I hit him smack in the middle a' his back. He dropped down on his face dead.
“Come on, Dingle,” I said, and we hurried on down to the jailhouse. Whenever we got there, I damn near forgot to yell out. My hand was on the door handle whenever I remembered.
“Barjack a-coming in,” I called out. Then I pulled on the door, but it were latched. In another minute, someone unlatched it, and I went in, follered by Dingle. Pistol Polly was a-setting in that chair with her shotgun pointed at the door. I heaved a heavy sigh and shut the door behint me. Dingle latched it back.
“We heard shooting,” Sly said.
“I just kilt a couple a' cowhands what was taking potshots at me,” I said.
“They're all over town, Barjack,” said Happy.
“That there's just what I come back to talk with you about,” I said. I went back behint my desk and set down. The first thing I done was to open up my desk drawer and get out my bottle and some glasses. I poured some drinks around. Sly turned it down.
“What are we going to do?” said Polly.
“If you get a shot at one, kill him,” I said.
“Without he's doing nothing wrong?” said Happy.
“They're all in town to get Owl Shit outta jail,” I said. “That there is wrong enough, ain't it?”
“Well, I guess.”
“All I done just now was to come walking outta the Hooch House,” I said, “and two of them went to shooting at me. I was just lucky, is all. We ain't going to wait for them to shoot first no more. When you see them, kill them.”
“Yes, sir,” said Happy.
Sly was standing at the winder kinda looking out sideways. “It looks like they're all going into the Hooch House,” he said.
“Good,” I said. “Maybe I'll get most a' their money before we have to kill them dead.”
Churkee stepped over to my desk then, and he said, “So, does that mean that we just sit in here and wait till we get a shot at each one of them?”
“That's about the only thing that I can see that we can do,” I said. “Does any one a' you have any other idee? I'd be glad to hear it if you do.”
No one said anything, so I just tuck me a drink, was all. Sly was still a-watching out the winder. “Where's Butcher?” I said.
“He's on the roof,” Happy said.
“Good. That's just where he'd ought to be. Anyone seen Chugwater?”
“I saw him go into the Hooch House with his boys,” Sly said.
Of a sudden, I begun to worry about my Bonnie. Would Chugwater mess with her? I wondered. I didn't think so, but then you never know
what a bastard will do whenever he gets desperate. I thunk about taking all my posse over to the Hooch House, but then, who would watch the jail? I didn't have enough men to split them up neither. Not against that bunch of Chugwater's. I drank my whiskey on down fast and poured me another glass full. I thunk to my own self, If that Chugwater bothers my Bonnie, there'll be hell to pay. I won't kill him. Not right off. I'll tie his ass up and strip his skin off. Real slow. I'll skin him alive and tack his hide up right in front of him, him there all raw and bleeding. He had ought to know it too, and if he knows it, he'll leave her alone and just only pay for his damn drinks over there, is all.
“Dingle,” I said.
“Has any a' them seen you with us? Besides them two I just kilt, I mean.”
“I don't think so.”
“Then you'd oughta be safe out there. I want you to go back over to the Hooch House and set in a corner and keep your eyes and ears open. If anything happens that hadn't ought to, come back over here and tell me.”
“I'll do it,” he said, and he headed for the door.
“Wait a minute,” I said. I got up and tuck a Webley Bulldog pocket pistol outta my gun rack and I dropped it into his coat pocket. “Go out the back door,” I said.
“Okay.” He turned and went out through the back room. He was a-carrying his notepad with him.
Polly said, “Barjack, will he be all right?”
“I think so,” I said. “They don't know that he's with us. He's just only a scribbler, is all. They won't mess with him.”
“Barjack,” said Sly, “what if I was to slip out the back and sneak around to see if I get a chance to take any of them out, one at a time? Narrow the odds, so to speak.”
I rubbed my chin and give it a thought. It seemed like not a bad idee. “I think there's enough of us in here,” I said. “It sure as hell couldn't hurt nothing. All right. Go on ahead.”
He headed into the back room.
Well, now, let me tell you what. I were uncomfortable. I had ole Butcher up on top a' the jailhouse a-watching, and ole Dingle down at the Hooch House a-watching and a-listening, and now ole Sly out a-hunting lone cowboys to kill, and there I was just a-setting in the office killing time with my rest of the depitties and that damned ole Owl Shit setting in the can. I felt kinda like I had ever'body else out a-doing my work for me. Then I thunk about it a little bit deeperlike. It come to me that maybe that there was just the way it had ought to be. Being town marshal, I had a lot a' responsibilities, and I had the job a' delegating that there responsibility too. You might even say that were the mainest part a' my job. That there delegating. Why, hell, I weren't s'posed to do ever'thing. I felt some better whenever I seen it like that. Yes, sir. It seemed almost like as if I weren't s'posed to do nothing a'tall. I poured myself another glass full a' whiskey and relaxed.
“I wish we could be doing something,” Churkee said all of a sudden.
“We're a-doing all we can do for now,” I said.
“Barjack?” said Happy.
“Do you think we can hold out here against all a' them Chugwater hands till the judge gets here?”
“Hell, yes,” I said. “We been doing all right so far, ain't we? Ain't we got ole Sly, the widdamaker, with us? And Churkee and Polly over there. Ain't they top guns? And then you and Butcher ain't no slouches. And how about me? Hell, I've got books writ about me, ain't I?”
“Yes, sir,” Happy said.
“Just who the hell is Chugwater anyhow? He's just a old rancher. A cowpuncher. That's all. He ain't nothing to worry about.”
“I guess not,” Happy said. “He's sure got a bunch a' men working for him, and if they ain't enough, he's got the money to hire more whenever he wants to.”
“Hell, I've got money, ain't I? I'm one a' the wealthiest men in Asininity, ain't I? Chugwater ain't got nothing on me. No, sir. He's just got that damn funny name, is all. Chugwater. I don't know if he's named after that damn crick what runs by the edge a' town or if the crick was named after him. I ain't for sure. But that ain't no claim to fame no-how. Chugwater. Named after a crick what's dry for more than half a' the year.”
“Chugwater Crick,” Happy kinda mused. “Funny. I never even thought about that before.”
“Well, you think about it. Don't it seem silly to be a-worrying over a man with a dumb name like that? Chugwater.”
“Barjack, that Chugwater Crick runs through
here from plumb out to Chugwater's ranch, don't it?”
“I reckon it do,” I said.
“That's funny,” he said. “Do you reckon his mama named him Chugwater?”
“How'd I know?”
“Can I say something, Marshal?”
I looked around right quick at Owl Shit there in the cell. It were him what ast that question. “What the hell do you want?” I said.
“I just asked you if I can say something, 'cause I don't want to get no water throwed on me.”
“Go on and say it,” I told him.
“She never done that.”
“Who? What are you talking about?”
“Mama. She never named him Chugwater. What kind of a mama would name a kid Chugwater?”
“She never?” said Happy.
“No. She never.”
“So what the hell did she name him?”
“Charlton,” said Owl Shit.
I bursted out a-laughing so hard that I like to fell outta my chair. Whenever I kinda caught my breath again, I tuck out another glass and poured it full a' whiskey. “Happy,” I said, holding it out, “give this here to Owl Shit. He deserves it for letting us in on that little family secret.”
Happy tuck the glass over to the cell and handed it through the bars to Owl Shit, who grabbed on to it real eagerlike and slurped on it right away. “Thank you, Barjack,” he said. Then he turned to Happy. “Say,” he said, “is Happy your own real name?”
Happy kinda hung his head like as if he were ashamed a' something. “Yeah,” he said, “it is.”
“Your mama give it to you?”
“How come her to call you that? Happy.”
“Well, Owl Shit, whenever I final come on out, she were Happy.”
“We could give you a nickname, Happy,” said Churkee. “Something like, maybe, Gregory.”
“Barjack,” Happy said, “ain't it about time for me to relieve Butcher?”
“I reckon as how it is,” I said, and he hurried on outta the jailhouse. Just as he slammed the door shut behint him, I heared a shot ring out. Churkee was the first one to the door, but I was close behint him.
“What was that?” Churkee called out.
Butcher come a-walking around the corner. “That was Happy shooting at a cowboy,” he said. “I asked him, how come you to do that? And he said, Barjack's orders. If we see one a' Chugwater's men, we're s'posed to shoot him first and ask questions later. Is that right, Barjack?”
“That's what I said. You never heared me say it on account a' you was up on the roof.”
“It was all right, then?”
“Damn right,” I said. “Did Happy hit the son of a bitch?”
“I think he shot a hole in the cowboy's leg,” said Butcher. “He howled and went a-hopping into the Hooch House.”
“Maybe he'll bleed to death,” I said. We all went back inside the marshaling office, and I went back
behint my desk. I was a-looking out the hole in my front door what Pistol Polly had put there whenever she like to of kilt ole Dingle. I seen a flash across it from outside, and just in time I reckanized ole pettifogging Peester, the mayor a' Asininity. Pistol had raised that shotgun, and I yelled, “Don't shoot.” She just had time to raise that barrel up as she pulled the trigger. The roar a' that scattergun inside the office like that damn near made my ears deaf, but I did hear Peester scream, and whenever the smoke cleared a little bit and I could see out the hole again, I didn't see him nowhere. I got up and run to the door and jerked it open to look out.
I seen Peester on his back in the dirt where he had fell off a' the boardwalk. “Peester,” I said, “are you hurt?”
“Yes,” he said. “I am. My butt is bruised.” He reached over and picked up his silly little bowler hat and helt it up for me to look at. “And look. My hat is ruined.” It did have little holes all in it.
“That ain't no loss,” I said. “You can buy you a real one to replace it.”
“What the hell was that all about?” he said, struggling to get up to his feet. “I might have been killed.”
“I couldn't be that lucky, Your Orneriness,” I said. “Get up and come on in.”
I went on back to my chair behint my desk and set down. I tuck me a drink a' whiskey. Peester come huffing in then. “Why was I nearly killed?” he said.
“On account I hollered out a warning just in
time,” I said. “If it weren't for that, you woulda been.”
“You know what I mean,” he said. His face was red, and he was a-trembling all over. “Why are you shooting at people through the front door of your office?”
“Oh, that,” I said. “Well, I told ever'one who might be coming into the office to holler out their name before they went for the door. I guess I forgot to tell you. You see, we got a killer in jail here. It's Owl Shit Johnson. Ole Chugwater's baby brother, and Chugwater is a-trying to break him out. He's got the town plumb full a' his cowhands right now.”
“Is that what all the shooting has been about?”
“Sure as hell. Are you just now getting around to asking about that?”
“Never mind that,” he said. “I came down here to give you this telegram.”
He helt out a piece a' paper toward me, but I never reached for it. I tuck another swaller a' my whiskey. “Read it to me,” I said.