Robert B. Parker
As always, for Joan, the girl of the golden west…
and east… and north… and south
I was in the Blackfoot Saloon in a town called Resolution, talking with the man who owned the saloon about a job. The owner was wearing a brocade vest. His name was Wolfson. He was tall and thin and sort of spooky-looking, with a walleye.
“What’s your name?” Wolfson said.
“Hitch,” I said. “Everett Hitch.”
“How long you been in Resolution?” Wolfson said.
We were at the far end of the big mahogany bar, sipping whiskey that I had bought us.
“’Bout two hours,” I said.
“And you come straight here?” Wolfson said.
“Ain’t that many choices in Resolution,” I said.
“There’s some others,” Wolfson said. “But they ain’t as nice. Tell me about yourself. What can you do?”
“Went to West Point,” I said. “Soldiered awhile, scouted awhile, shotgun for Wells Fargo, did some marshaling with Virgil Cole.”
“You worked with Virgil Cole?” Wolfson said. “Where?”
“Lotta towns, last one was Appaloosa.”
“And you were doing gun work,” Wolfson said.
“Virgil Cole,” Wolfson said.
I nodded and sipped some of the whiskey.
“We got no marshal in this town,” Wolfson said. “Sheriff’s deputy rides over once in a while from Liberty. But mostly we’re on our own.”
“Got a mayor?” I said. “Town council? Anything like that?”
“Who’s in charge?”
“In town? Nobody. In here? Me,” Wolfson said.
I glanced around the saloon. It was half full in the middle of the afternoon. Nobody looked dangerous. The lookout chair at the other end of the bar was empty. I nodded at it.
“Could use a lookout,” Wolfson said. “Last one got hoorahed out of town.”
“What are you paying?” I said.
He told me.
“Plus a room upstairs,” Wolfson said.
“If you eat them here,” Wolfson said.
“Anyplace else in town to eat?” I said.
“I’ll take it,” I said.
“It’s kind of a tradition,” Wolfson said. “Some of the boys like to test the new lookout.”
“Fact is I’ve had trouble keeping a lookout.”
I nodded again, and drank a little more. The whiskey was pretty good.
“I got a big capital investment here,” Wolfson said. “I don’t want it wrecked.”
“Don’t blame you,” I said.
“Think you can stick?” Wolfson said.
“Sure,” I said.
“Some tough people here,” Wolfson said.
“Tough people everywhere,” I said.
“Any chance you could get Virgil Cole to come up here, too?” Wolfson said.
“No,” I said.
“You fellas on the outs?” Wolfson said.
“No,” I said.
“There’s a shotgun behind the bar,” Wolfson said.
“Got my own,” I said.
“When you want to start?”
“Tonight,” I said. “Gimme time to stow my gear, clean up, take a nap.”
“It can get rough,” Wolfson said.
“Any backup?” I said. “Bartenders?”
Wolfson shook his head.
“They serve drinks,” Wolfson said. “Ain’t got no interest in getting killed.”
“You?” I said.
“I’m a businessman,” Wolfson said.
“You’re heeled,” I said.
Wolfson opened his coat and showed me a Colt in a shoulder holster.
“Self-defense,” he said. “Only.”
“So I’m on my own,” I said.
“Still interested?” he said.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Sure. Just getting the way it lays out.”
“And you ain’t scared,” Wolfson said.
“Not yet,” I said.
I had an eight-gauge shotgun that I’d taken with me when I left Wells Fargo. It didn’t take too long for things to develop. I sat in the tall lookout chair in the back of the saloon with the shotgun in my lap for two peaceful nights. On my third night it was different.
I could almost smell trouble beginning to cook as people came into the saloon after work. There were more than usual of them and they seemed sort of excited and expectant. In addition to trouble, the saloon smelled of coal oil, and sweat, and booze, and tobacco, and food cooking, and the loud perfume of the whores. There were six men who had arrived early, sitting at a table near me, drinking whiskey. The trouble would come from them. And it would start with a sort of weaselly-looking fella in a bowler hat, wearing a gun. Everyone at the table was looking at me, and around the room, trying to look nonchalant, the rest of the customers had situated themselves where they could watch.
“Hey Lookout,” the Weasel said. “What’s your name?”
“Hitch,” I said. “Everett Hitch.”
He was wearing a dark shirt with vertical stripes, buttoned up tight at the collar. The buttons were big.
“Any good with that shotgun?” the Weasel said.
The room was quiet now, and everyone was watching. The Weasel liked that. He lounged back a little in his chair, his bowler hat tipped forward over his forehead. The gun he carried was a Colt, probably a.44, probably single-action. He had cut the holster down for a fast draw. And wore it tied to his thigh. Probably the local gunny.
“Don’t need to be all that good with a double-barreled eight-gauge,” I said.
“And I bet you ain’t,” the Weasel said.
“Wouldn’t make much difference to you,” I said.
“Why’s that?” the Weasel said.
“I was to give you both barrels, from here,” I said, “blow your head off and part of your upper body.”
“You think,” the Weasel said.
He was enjoying this less.
“Yep, probably kill some folks near you, too,” I said. “With the scatter.”
I cocked both barrels. The sound of them cocking was very loud in the room. Virgil Cole always used to say, Yougotta kill someone, do it quick. Don’t look like you got pushed into it. Look like you couldn’t wait to do it. It was as if I could hear his voice as I looked at the men in front of me: Sometimes you got to kill one person early, to save killing four or five later.
I leveled the shotgun straight at the Weasel.
“Hey,” he said, his voice much softer than it had been. “What the hell are you doing. I ain’t looking for trouble. None of us looking for trouble, are we, boys?”
Nobody at the table was looking for trouble.
“I’ll be damned,” I said. “I thought you were.”
“No, no,” the Weasel said. “Just getting to know you.”
He finished his drink and stood.
“Gonna drift,” he said. “See how loose things are down the street.”
“See you again, Hitch,” the Weasel said.
“I imagine you will,” I said.
The Weasel sauntered out, followed, maybe less jauntily, by the rest of his party. The silence hung for a minute in the room, the sounds of the saloon reemerged. Wolfson came down the bar and stopped by my chair.
“That went well,” he said.
“Who’s he?” I said.
“Name’s Wickman, works for O’Malley out at the mine.”
“He’s not a miner,” I said.
“No, gun hand. Got kind of a reputation around here,” Wolfson said. “He won’t like that you backed him down.”
“Don’t blame him,” I said.
“He’ll likely come at you again,” Wolfson said.
“Likely,” I said.
“What’ll you do then?” Wolfson said.
“Kill him,” I said.
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