Neva Cora is in the middle of its first full editing pass, but I needed to take a bit of a break from looking at it after working on it for so damn long. To work on something wildly different for awhile, I jammed out this passage for a potential Wild West-inspired story in about 10-15 minutes. The idea for the setting is that it’s Not America, much in the way most fantasy is set in Not Europe. The western frontier is effectively America’s equivalent of that era, or as close to it as a country so young can get, so it held some allure for me.
Enjoy it, or don’t! There isn’t much plot here, just me jamming on an idea and seeing if I have the chops to take on such a setting.
A man sat at the bar alone, drinking blackberry brandy. He tapped a cigarette clean in the ashtray beside his wide-brimmed hat, and old smoke yellowed his mustache. Bearback Shuffle played on the piano, while folk of all sorts played cards over drinks and the saloon’s free lunch of okra and chicken sausages. Only a cool breeze passing through it swinging doors and window shutters, the hot summer sun having the decency to keep itself outside.
“You addin’ another mile to your tab tonight, Jonah?”
The man took a leather pouch from inside his duster, setting it on the bar. “No, ma’am.”
“Oh, come on,” the barkeep frowned. “You’re gonna make me weigh powder again?”
“I had to do it.” Jonah took a drink. “Only fair you got to.”
“I’d argue with you,” she replied, “but I’ll take the powder over nothing. How about I skim a little extra for my time?”
Laughing, Jonah shook his head. “I’m gonna say no on account of those shakes you get ‘round powder. Seems you always find a little extra on floor anyway.”
The barkeep laid a hand over her heart, shock on her face. “Are you accusing me of being a thief, Jonah?”
“Truths ain’t accusations, Honey.” He waved his glass in the woman’s direction. “Get weighin’ or that powder and I are gonna walk.”
Snatching the satchel, the barkeep walked to her scales. Another, shorter man sat down on the stool beside Jonah, he had a broad face and smelled of sweat and fire. “Been awhile.”
Jonah looked at him out of the corner of his eye and sighed. “You’re not supposed to be here, Tommy. What do you want? And take your damn hat off.”
“I like my hat right where it is.” Tommy looked Jonah up and down, chuckles rolling from his throat. “Damn, Jonah. You used to be pretty.”
“You used to be ugly.” Jonah took the man’s hat from his head, setting it on the bar. “Ugly now, too.”
The man shrugged, leaning one arm on the bar. “I got a job for you”
“I ain’t that kind of man anymore, Tommy.”
“A man don’t change overnight.”
“Been a lot more than a night.”
“Ain’t been that long.”
“Alright,” Tommy laughed. “You ain’t that kind of man. What kind of man does that make you, then?”
Jonah took a drink. “Righteous.”
Tommy laughed harder. “Listen to you! Don’t tell me you found God, brother.”
Then Jonah laughed, too. “Not that righteous.”
Honey walked back to the bar, setting Jonah’s pouch of powder in his hand. “This fellow giving you trouble, Jonah?”
“He’s giving me trouble alright,” he nodded, “but not the sort of trouble callin’ for gutshot. He’s a friend of sorts. He’ll take a whisky on me. Make it a tall one, ma’am.”
“Sure thing,” she answered, pulling a glass from beneath the bar before walking to the back still.
“Buying me a drink? That mean you want the job?” Tommy asked.
“Then what’s the drink for?”
“Can’t a man be friendly?”
Tommy shrugged. “I just mean it’s a little suspicious, is all. Turning down a job, then buyin’ a man a drink. Who says you ain’t havin’ her poison me?”
“Nobody poisons nobody,” Jonah said, eyeing the other man weirdly. “That kind of thing doesn’t happen, Tommy. Easier to put a bullet in you if I wanted you dead. That’s the problem with these jobs. Makes you crazy. Speakin’ of crazy, I read a crazy thing the other day.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“Telegram came down from Janesville,” Jonah explained. “Some folk living out at Cripple Canyon turned up dead. Word is the Bootknives had somethin’ to do with it. The Peacemakers are offering two hundred bearbacks to anybody with a little information.”
Honey set Tommy’s whisky on the bar.
Tommy didn’t touch it. He leaned forward, speaking quietly to Jonah, eyes narrowed. “So what? You gonna turn me in?”
“Ain’t sayin’ I’m gonna turn you in.”
“Then what are you saying?”
Jonah opened his coat, and Tommy’s eyes went to the revolver strapped to the man’s side. Quieter still, Tommy asked, “You’re gonna shoot me?”
“Look a little higher, Tommy.”
Tommy looked up, gaze settling on the silver badge pinned to Jonah’s chest: an angel holding a revolver in her right hand, an olive branch in the left. He read the writing inscribed upon it and his eyes went wide.
Jonah took Tommy’s whisky, smashing the glass over the man’s head. He jumped to his feet, kicked Tommy’s stool out from under him, and Tommy fell straight down, his head cracking against the wooden bartop. The saloon burst into screaming, the piano’s sweet music ending with a discordant twang.
“Don’t anybody worry,” Jonah called out, pinning Tommy to the ground with a knee set in the man’s spine, locking irons around his wrists. “Peacemaker business, you understand. Get back to your drinks.”
Tommy struggled, blood rolling from a slice under his right eye. “Jonah, you son of a bitch! You can’t do this to me!”
“Seems I can.”
“We’ve got your wife!” Tommy shouted, spittle flying from his mouth. “You hear that? We got your wife! Shoulda taken the job, Jonah!”
“You ain’t got my wife.”
“Yeah?” Tommy laughed, manic. “You think we don’t?”
Jonah stood, pulling up on the chains that held the other man, heaving him to his feet. “I know you don’t.”
“What makes you say that, huh?” Tommy yelled. “You don’t know shit.”
“I know you don’t,” Jonah said, “because I’ve seen my wife’s shootin’.”
Twisting Tommy’s arms high against his back, Jonah took his hat off the bar, set it on his head, and began to escort the man out of the saloon. Honey called him back. “I expect you to pay for that drink, Jonah. The glass, too.”
“Check the floor, ma’am.”