The Eldorado of the West (Part III)Submitted by ridiculous at 2010-03-15 12:27:39 EDT
Rating: 2.0 on 11 ratings (11 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
Part I: http://www.ubersite.com/m/124673
Part II: http://www.ubersite.com/m/124682
Frank walked the horse through the mid day sun, sweat soaked clothes stuck to him and his nose and eyes burned. The smell of sweat, blood, piss & cheap whiskey flooded the air, it was almost appalling enough to drive the flies away, Almost. The dust swirled in the street from the Santa Annas, that punishing hot wind coming from inland that brought the annual fires. He licked chapped lips and continued up the street. The old animal was footsore from the journey and a life spent being worked too hard but its pace was steady and it didn’t shy from the smell.
The men sheltering in the meager shade provided under the balconies and awnings of poorly constructed buildings swatted absently at flies or whispered amongst each other between sips of whiskey. They watched the boy move past. Frank knew that some of those men were prospectors, some highwaymen but each and every one of them was waiting for a chance. A chance to jump a paying claim or a prospector with gold in his pocket, and they wouldn’t have the slightest compunction about slitting his nineteen year old throat to do it. Like wolves watching sheep their eyes burned into Frank’s back, he flicked the reigns hastening the horses step.
Dropping to the ground and tying the animal to the post & lintel, frank stepped around a fly covered pile of horseshit and ascended the steps into the general store. The overhead bell jingled his appearance as he pushed the door open. Frank stopped at the door and scanned the store.
The store was dusty and filled with all the things a prospecting store needed. Flour and beans, canned goods, molasses even a barrel of butter. Pans, shovels, ropes, lamps & fuel, picks even spare pick handles that were arrayed about inside a barrel. Behind the counter were whiskey and tobacco, bucknives, a rifle and ammunition. Frank stayed where he was and waited, the last thing he needed was to get caught wandering in the store with no one around. Frank’s eyes finally focusing on the door, behind the counter, leading to the back storeroom.
Frank thought he heard something in the back room, clearing his throat he tried again, louder.
“God Blasted! What the hell do you want! I’m trying to count!” The door flew open and a balding, bent old man with a white handlebar mustache and a pair of ancient spectacles perched on his nose stepped out. “William! Boy, you better show yourself ‘fore I count ten or you’ll live to regret it! One…two…three…” His voice grew louder, angrier as he counted.
“Mr. Cunningham, sir.”
“four…Five…SIX!” the old man was shouting. “SEVEN!...”
A boy of about twelve appeared, grinding a fist into his eye, from behind a burlap stack of dried beans, haphazardly stacked in the corner of the small store.
“William! God Blasted, where in hell’ve you been! Sleeping, no doubt!” The old mans face, reddening as the boy fumbled for an excuse.
“Sorry, sir, I was just…I…”
“Dammitall boy! You’re here for one reason only! To mind this shop when I can’t!” An accusing finger was pointed in Frank’s direction. “He coulda loaded ten wagons without waking you up!”
“Sir, I… I just…”
“Save your lies! You get on out of here before I tan your hide like your pa shoulda to teach you better’n to sleep while yer workin!”
The child rushed out of the store, bumping into Frank on his way to the exit, the boy turned as if to apologize but couldn’t speak. As tears welled in his eyes, he turned and ran. Frank turned back to the shopkeeper who looked to still be furious. The door swung shut behind him.
“And what do you want, anyhow?” Cunningham put his hands on the counter leaning closer to scrutinize the boy.
“Sir, my pa, that is, Mr. Jack Williams, sent me to fetch his order.”
“That’s right, you’re his eldest. Jason, right?” The old man harrumphed. “And I ‘spose, you aint got no money for it either?”
“No, sir, I do have money.”
“hrm.. well that’s a change.” Several uncomfortable seconds passed as the older man looked down his nose at the boy. “Well, out with it boy, lets see this money!”
Jack pulled a small leather pouch from his pocket and carefully unwound the cord around the top. Seeing the little purse Cunningham pulled a balance from under the counter.
“You tell that old man of yours that he knows better’n to bring dust in here but I’ll accept it because he’s a month behind!”
The golden dust and tiny flakes were poured on the balance, gram weights added and the bargain was struck.
“Your old man gonna want the same in two more weeks?”
“No, sir, I reccon we’ll be gone ‘fore then.”
“Fine… fine…” The old man was dismissive. “Where’s the horse?”
“Just out front.”
“Alright. Come back in about twenty minutes and he’ll be loaded up for ya.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cunningham.”
“You remind your pa that he’s behind and he better not bring no more dust in here because he knows damn well I can’t figure how pure it is. And you tell ‘im that if it aint worth ten dollars then he better have the difference next time he comes in!” The grouchy old man wrote up a quick receipt and handed it to the boy who unceremoniously stuffed it in a pocket.
“Thank you, Mr. Cunningham.”
“Yes, Sir.” Frank turned and exited the shop, the bell ringing behind him.
Frank walked down the dirt street dodging piles of horse shit and puddles of filth where he was able. His boots were wearing thin, still serviceable but needing to be resoled, he tried to avoid rocks.
All around men stumbled, some drinking others arguing, smoking or just staring and hoping to see something different. They were filthy, drunken and rowdy. Frank thought they seemed to enjoy living like that, wandering around town, from saloon to gambling hall to brothel until they were out of money or out of luck. That was when they got to be really dangerous, when they ran out of money. Frank proceeded on down the street.
The saloon was just ahead to Frank’s left, it was timber construction, like everything else, but one of the better made buildings. The sign over the door proclaimed it as J.R.’s. There were a pair of steps that led to a wooden deck around the façade of the building, white lace curtains hung in the windows and somewhere inside an old upright was playing.
Frank hurried to past the place, his father had warned him about what kind of men were in there and that it was no place for him. Frank did his best to always listen to his father and had decided long before he ever saw J.R.’s that his father was right. It was no place for him.
Frank turned back to the building as a pair of raised voices reached their crescendo. A moment later the door burst open and a man flew through it. He hit the deck hard. Before he could get up the biggest man Frank had ever seen was standing over him. He war a black coat and hat and Frank could see a pistol tied to his leg.
The big man started to kick the man on the ground. First he kicked him in the ribs, as he was trying to get up, Frank could hear the man’s bones crack and the kick was so strong it threw the man over on his back. The big man then kicked him in the head repeatedly; eventually he started stomping on the man’s face.
Frank stared in horror, all the blood was gone from his face. He felt cold, like ice was all over him and he couldn’t move. He wanted to look away but his eyes didn’t do what he told them, they were fixated on the gory spectacle before them. Frank had never seen anything like this before and was completely in shock.
Nobody was helping the man. A couple of men were watching, laughing even, but no one tried to save the man on the ground. The beating went on long after the man stopped crying and moving. It went on long after Frank was sure the man was dead.
The big man in black finally stopped. He pulled a handkerchief from a pocket inside his coat and wiped his sweating face with it. He slowly swept the street with his eyes, challenging. Men, young and old alike, busied themselves doing something else, averted their gaze or turned away. Frank just stared. The big man locked eyes with the boy.
“What are ya lookin’ at boy?” His voice was rough; it was scratched and uneven from too much tobacco and whiskey. It reminded Frank of the gravel banks on the American, the sound they made when you walked across them.
Frank was still in shock, it had taken him being spoken to just to remind his body to blink. The icy feeling came back: It rushed over his skin and down his spine; it stole his breath away and whispered to him of pain. This time it was dread.
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