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Location: Central Michigan, United States

Spent a long career making lots of money for other people. Now it's my turn. _____________________________ Email: erikivanjames@gmail.com

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Jess

Jess peered over the batwing doors---a big man, rugged and confident. More than a month had passed since he had been in civilization. He itched from the dirt and stank from sweat. No matter, he was there to kill.

The odors of stale smoke and unwashed bodies permeated the air at the entrance to the small saloon. Raucous laughter, punctuated by the profanity of illiterate men, accompanied the smell. Three past-their-prime whores worked the crowded room; pushing support-lifted tits against dirty shirts and rubbing clapped-up crotches against denim covered thighs. Sour notes tinned from a never tuned piano. Jess lifted the retainer thong from the hammer of the double action Colt, inhaled a deep breath of the repugnant air and parted the batwing doors of the Lost Arrow Saloon. It had been a long, hard search.

Now, the smell and the noise almost overwhelmed him as he entered the dreary room. The combinations of coal oil, cigars, stale beer and human stench was oppressive after weeks of tracking his prey across tall grass blanketed Plains and through high clean mountain passes. The two men he trailed had known their destination, he hadn’t. He had to find them the hard way; by following the occasional signs they left along their route. Many times, he had thanked God there had been no rain.

Jess leaned his lower back against the rounded edge of the badly scarred bar. His eyes scanned the room; a cold shadow seemed to tint their color. In the din of noise he felt, more than heard, the bartender approach from behind him. He turned to the side. “Whiskey or beer?” asked the bartender. “Both.” Jess replied. The bartender passed a dirty hand through his greasy hair and looked Jess square in the eyes. A chill slithered down his spine. “Sure,” he said. The man lifted a glass and a bottle of whiskey from behind the bar, poured a full measure, and then turned away to pull the beer. Jess resumed his scan of the haze filled room.

“A nickel for the beer, a dime for the whiskey,” the bartender said. Placing the coins on the bar, Jess said, “What’s the ugly one’s name? The one with the big blood-mark on his face?” The bartender didn’t hesitate, “Don’t mess with him! He’s crazy, rabid-dog crazy! He goes by Cross.”

“Just wanted to know his name,” Jess said. He knocked back the glass of whiskey and then picked up the beer. He drank about half, set the mug on the bar then stated, “The three men playing cards with him don’t seem to be frightened.”

“The one across the table is his brother. The other two are the local blacksmith, and a whiskey drummer that comes through here every couple of months. Cross needs the blacksmith to keep his critters fit and the drummer gives him free whiskey from his sample cases. He probably won’t ever kill either of them…unless one of them pisses him off.

“Pour another whiskey,” Jess said. He drank the rest of the beer, set the empty mug down and added, “Fill that one too.” As the man did, Jess asked, “Cross have any friends in here…besides the brother?”

“Ain’t hardly!” snorted the bartender. “Like I said, he’s crazy mean. Take my advice, enjoy the drink and put the questions about Cross aside. Your curiosity about him will get you dead!”

“Don’t have any more questions, friend,” Jess said. “None.” The bartender shivered.

Jess lifted the full beer from the bar, pushed away with an elbow, and began to make his way through the noisy customers and toward Cross’ table. One of the whores snatched the sleeve of his shirt and said, “You look like you could use a good fuck, mister. I’ll suck and fuck you ‘til ya drop, baby.” He looked down at the worn-out whore, smiled and said kindly, “Yes, ma’am, I’ll bet you would. I’m a mite dirty now, though…maybe another time.” He moved on, the whore sighed.

At Cross’ table Jess placed his free hand on the back of an empty chair while taking a sip of the beer. Cross looked up at him and snarled, “Want somethin’, asshole?” Jess smiled. “Just passin’ through. Wondered if my money was any good at this table.” Cross leaned back in his chair, and with a sneer said, “I’d be glad to put your money in my pocket, just as long as you understand we play by my rules. Like ‘em or go fuck your sister!”

“Don’t have a sister,” Jess said quietly. He set the mug of beer on the table and began to pull the chair back and away from the table. His eyes focused on the blood-mark on Cross’ face. Cross appeared ready to make a comment when his brother tossed the deck of cards in front of him and told him to “deal”. Jess smiled.

As Cross lifted the deck of cards, Jess lifted the big Colt from its holster. In a single smooth motion, he touched the muzzle to the center of that ugly blood-mark and pulled the trigger. Brains, blood and bone splattered the grimy wall. Cross’ brother jerked up his head, wide eyed and mouth agape. Jess, already turning toward him, shoved the hot muzzle into the brother’s open mouth and pulled the trigger one more time. The three whores screamed.

The echoes from the big gun died away. Burned gun powder and the sickly-sweet smell of blood masked the other smells of the room. Jess’ boots thumped wearily on the wooden floor and two empty brass cases plinked there too as he reloaded and walked back to the bar. All heard the softly spoken words of a man in the crowd…”sweet Jesus”…

“I’ll buy that bottle to go,” Jess said to the bartender. “Whatever you want,” said the man, “a bottle of my best, on me! The man paused then added, “What caused you to make such a mess in here, son?” Jess didn’t answer the question. Instead, he thanked the man for the generosity and told him he’d just as soon pay. The deadly Colt holstered, Jess dropped more than enough money on the bar and picked up the unopened bottle of whiskey. The bartender leaned with his elbows on the bar. Shaking is head slowly with disbelief; he starred at the two bloody bodies on the floor.

With his free hand, Jess grabbed the top of the batwing door on the left. As he began to push it open, the whore called to him from the center of the room. “Mister!” she said. “I’d be real pleased to give you a bath first!” Jess turned enough toward her to face her fully, he smiled and said gently, “Yes, ma’am, and I’m sure it would be pleasurable. Had a real pretty wife once…she liked to give me a bath.” He gave the woman a curt nod of his head then pushed through the batwing doors and stepped out into the night.

The two batwing doors of the Lost Arrow Saloon fluttered back and forth on rusted hinges. Human gore oozed silently down the grimy walls. The bartender had the answer to his question.

The whore sighed. She rubbed her crotch against a denim covered thigh, a tear trickled down her powdered cheek, “How about you, cowboy…want a bath?

10 Comments:

Blogger Bernita said...

Overall, very good, Erik.

9:08 AM EST  
Anonymous spyscribbler said...

Wow, even with all that gore and violence, you managed heartfelt poignancy.

I'm impressed! Thanks for sharing! :-)

12:59 PM EST  
Blogger EA Monroe said...

Sour notes tinned from a never tuned piano.

Nice. Thanks for sharing and for taking us to The Lost Arrow Saloon. I could see the imagery, smell the humanity (especially after weeks of clean mountain air), feel the "shock and relief" of the saloon patrons, hear "brass cases plink on wood" -- and in the end a little tug on the heartstrings. Great flow from tension to release.

It's life that gives depth (and emotional impact) to writing such as yours. Sometimes, only the writer knows how much hides beneath his words.

2:41 PM EST  
Blogger ivan said...

Ah, the short story.

So easy to read and so hard to write. You have done a yeoman's job on the writing. Bernita is right.

I'd sure as hell want to stay out of the Red Arrow Saloon.

You set the atmosphere masterfully, Erik.

As for Jess, I don't know.

When a psycho meets a psycho comin' throught the rye?

I worry too, about Miss Kitty.
Norman Mailer would call that kind of girl a "plumber".

Good work overall.

7:35 PM EST  
Blogger Meander said...

wow! i normally would not read this genre but you had me hooked. what inspired you to write this?

6:09 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

Thank you all very much!

~laughing~
I suppose what inspired me, Meander, was necessity. My "sex" gun ran out of bullets...empty. So, I had to pick up my "six" gun.

7:12 AM EST  
Blogger ivan said...

Violence is golden.
Some chicks dig it.
What do I know?
I'm jusst a fiddler.
Fiddler's luck

8:48 AM EST  
Blogger Donnetta Lee said...

Hello EIJ. Just thought I would let you know that I enjoyed the western story. I'm Liz's best friend in Oklahoma. I'm thinking of writing a children's story about an Indian. I think the vocabulary would go a wee bit differently....Thanks for sharing the story. Donnetta

10:22 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

Welcome, Donnetta Lee! Thank you for stopping by. It pleases me that you enjoyed the story, and you are always welcome here. I might do another "Jess" scene soon...haven't decided yet.

Good luck on your children's story. I understand that market to have a big demand for writers.

6:52 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your stories. It isn't often that you get "hooked" on the first sentence. You did just that. The novel needs to come. You do an excellent job, Erik!!!

9:30 PM EDT  

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