Bowl of Stew

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“Son, you’re fixin’ for something stupid with that six shooter. Sit down.

“Clara, get this boy some stew. New batch. Right.

“Between us, I think she cooked up Johnson’s mangy hound in the old stuff. I ain’t sayin’ yes and I ain’t sayin’ no, but there it is.

“Ever hear about East? Don’t be a smartass. Give you stew and you point east. Guess that’s what barkeeps are for. Abuse.

“East is good folk. S’pposedly a hellacious shot with rifle, veteran and all. Takin’ the Union Pacific to California lookin’ for gold. Train stopped here in Ryalls to take on water.

“Thanks Clara. Try that. No dog in that bowl.

“East comes in, just for dinner mind you, and Shelly — yep, her. She and him get talking. Good conversation too. East, bein’ nice, gives her a dollar for her time, but she got mad. Says ‘I don’t charge just to talk.’

“You know Slick? Rascal with sketchy manners? He come along, grabs the dollar ‘n drags Shelly upstairs sayin’ ‘No, whore’s get paid to screw’.

“Good stew, ain’t it?

“Couple months go by, East comes back into town all hang dog. He went bust in California and seems he got a telegram. His girl back home says they ain’t marryin’.

“He left the telegram here on the bar — I may have accidentally perused it.

“Plops his sad sack down right where you’re sittin’ and just says ‘Whiskey.’

“Now Shelly sees East is back and she comes downstairs and makes a funny joke. What was Shelly’s joke Clara? Right. She goes ‘Didn’t pan out?’ ’Cause he was going to California? Looking for gold?

“Seemed funnier at the time.

“Well Slick come on up, I mentioned his sketchy manners already, he goes ‘Shit, it’s the pretty boy. Gonna give me another dollar to screw the whore?’ Sorry Clara, that’s just what he said.

“East don’t mind him none. Just reaches for his whiskey.

“Slick, he ain’t gonna be ignored so he grabs East’s wrist and says real nasty ‘You gonna give me a dollar or not,’

“East, he looks at Slick’s grubby hand then lets him have it.

“Slick goes flyin’, but his pistols’re out ‘fore he lands, both barrels square on East.

“East just downs his whiskey and lets it settle a bit.

“Then, grim as death, he walks over to Slick and leans over. Slick’s barrels’re two inches from his nose.

“East goes ‘You gonna shoot me or not?’

“Slick’s fumin’, but East, he’s just standin’ there, staring straight down both barrels and he ain’t givin’ nothin’ away.

“My Lord, it was forever they’s staring each other down.

“That train whistle blows and if my heart didn’t stop then and there I swear it never will, but East, well ol’ East is still starin’ down Slick.

“It’s come clear Slick ain’t gonna shoot, cause his arms start gettin’ tired. Them six shooters, they’s a lot of iron to hold stretched out like that.

“East just waits there while Slick’s arms gets shakier and shakier, and Slick finally figures he either gots to shoot or drop, and he didn’t shoot. Just lowered his guns, still fumin’ but he knowed he got beat.

“East don’t say nothin’. Just walks out n’ gets on his train.

“Stew was good huh?

“Son, let me save your carcass a couple unnecessary holes. Your ma still needs you to help around the house and the field.

“You ain’t gonna prove nothin’ by tryin’ to shoot’ holes in Jake except that neither of your skins’d be good for carrying water.

“Good man. Naw, stew’s on the house. Go on now, say ‘hey’ to your ma for me. I’ll let Jake know there ain’t gonna be no gunfight today.

“Clara, how ‘bout fixin’ a bowl o’ that stew for me?

“‘Course I told the same story. I only got so many stories to tell.”