Authors: Robert B. Parker
Tags: #Parker, #Everett (Fictitious character), #Westerns, #Fiction - Western, #Fiction, #Robert B. - Prose & Criticism, #General, #Virgil (Fictitious character), #American Western Fiction, #Westerns - General, #Hitch, #Cole
IRGIL AND I were having coffee and dried-apricot pie at Café Paris. Through the front window we could see the opening ceremonies for the new Laird bank that the general was opening in Appaloosa.
There was red, white, and blue bunting. There were some speeches. Two guys played banjo. The general was there, of course, in a dark gray suit and some ribbons and an officer’s dress sword on a sash. Teagarden was beside him, wearing his ivory-handled Colt. Chauncey was a bear for ceremony.
“Lotta money kicking around Appaloosa these days,” I said.
“Callico and the general,” Virgil said.
“Yeah,” I said. “They’ve brought in a lot.”
“That much money coming and going,” Virgil said. “Trouble comes with it.”
“Bad element collecting in town?” I said.
“Seems so,” Virgil said.
“Anyone special?” I said.
“Well,” Virgil said. “There’s you and me.”
“We cleaned it up the first time, Virgil.”
“Might have to again,” Virgil said.
“And who’ll pay us to do it?”
“Whoever got the most to lose, I expect,” Virgil said.
“So, we got some preliminary skirmishes to observe,” I said. “’Fore we know.”
Virgil nodded. We both ate some pie, and Virgil drank some coffee. He shook his head.
“Chinaman makes the second-worst coffee in Appaloosa,” he said.
“Allie being the worst,” I said.
I nodded toward the bank festivities.
“Allie’s in attendance,” I said.
“I know,” Virgil said. “Since Laurel went off, Allie’s got a lot of free time.”
He drank some more coffee.
“I don’t encourage her to spend it cooking,” he said.
“I wouldn’t,” I said.
“She’s working her way up in Appaloosa society,” he said.
“Which would be, at the moment, Callico,” I said. “And the general.”
“Callico is through Mrs. Callico,” Virgil said.
“The belle of New Orleans,” I said.
“Whole damned South,” Virgil said.
The Chinaman came out and poured us more coffee. We both drank some and looked across the bright street. Allie was talking to Chauncey Teagarden.
“General’s kinda long in the tooth,” I said. “But Chauncey ain’t.”
Virgil nodded and stared across the street at Allie over the top of his coffee cup.
“You and me know Allie, I’d guess,” Virgil said, “better’n anybody.”
“You know her best,” I said.
Virgil shook his head.
“No,” Virgil said. “I fucked her and you ain’t. But you know her well as I do.”
I didn’t say anything.
“And she knows that Chauncey is here sooner or later to kill me,” Virgil said.
“And she knows that he might succeed.”
“Always possible,” I said.
“And so you know she’s thinking ahead,” Virgil said.
I was quiet for a moment, looking across the street. Then I took in some air and blew it out slowly.
“And lining up replacements,” I said.
“In case,” Virgil said.
“Something happened to you, I’d look out for her,” I said.
“She knows that,” he said. “She also knows I go down, you’ll probably go, too.”
“Probably,” I said.
“And even if you don’t go down, she knows you won’t . . .”
Virgil wobbled his hand a little.
“No,” I said. “That’s right. I’d look out for her, but I wouldn’t, ah, be with her.”
“You don’t love her,” Virgil said.
Virgil gazed across the street silently.
“I do,” he said.
“Don’t make any sense, does it?” Virgil said.
I exhaled again.
“No,” I said. “But maybe it ain’t supposed to.”
“I want her to feel safe,” Virgil said.
“I’ll see that she does,” I said.
“No,” Virgil said. “You can’t. ’Cause you won’t fuck her and she can’t feel safe with no one ’less she’s fucking him.”
“I know,” I said.
“So, let her find somebody to fuck, if I go,” Virgil said. “And don’t kill him for fucking her.”
I nodded again.
“Work out better all around,” I said, “you don’t die.”
“Would,” Virgil said. “Wouldn’t it.”
S THE TOWN BLOOMED, the Reclamation Commission bloomed along with it and, in time, was effectively running Appaloosa. Most of the running was done by Laird and Callico, who had come to seem to be almost a single entity. They built a big hall with offices for town government and a big meeting hall on the second floor. They called it Reclamation Hall. Callico moved his offices there from the jail. He and Laird set up offices for the Reclamation Commission there. At the end of a grand mahogany corridor on the first floor, they built a lavish office for the mayor. There was the Reclamation Commission. There was Callico and Laird. The rest of the offices were empty. There was no town government. There was no mayor.
“Bad mistake,” Virgil said, walking through the still-virgin offices.
“Building the office first?” I said.
“Longer it sits here,” Virgil said, “more pressure to have an election and elect a mayor.”
“Which will be either Callico or the general,” I said.
“Running against each other,” Virgil said.
I nodded slowly without saying anything.
“Ain’t ready for that yet,” Virgil said.
“Laird might be,” I said.
“Maybe he is,” Virgil said. “Maybe he ain’t. Callico ain’t.”
“Wants it too bad,” I said.
We walked out of the gleaming new office and down the broad corridor.
“Wants everything too bad,” Virgil said.
“Wants to be more than he is,” I said.
“Not the key to happiness, I’m thinking,” Virgil said.
“You’d settle for being what you are,” I said to Virgil.
“I have,” Virgil said.
“Would you settle for being Callico?” I said.
We opened the heavy front door and went out of the soap-smelling hall and down the stairs. The smell of the town was thick with sawdust and raw wood, horse droppings, and the smell of scorched wood from the steam saw. All drifted across Appaloosa on the easy breeze from the prairie, to which a vestige of sage smell still clung.
“No,” Virgil said.
HE RESTORATION of Appaloosa was complete by the time the fall rains arrived. But the town kept right on building.
On September 1, Amos Callico and General Horatio Laird both announced that they were running for mayor. On September 15,
The Appaloosa Argus
endorsed General Laird.
“Do you think he’d be the best?” Allie said.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” Virgil said. “Hate politics.”
“Well, they’re what’s running,” Allie said. “Who you gonna vote for, Everett?”
“Probably Callico,” I said.
“Even though the newspaper says it should be General Laird?”
“They probably think he looks like a mayor,” I said.
“He was a general, you know,” Allie said.
“Part of the problem,” I said. “He’s used to working inside a set of rules. And he’s used to people doing what he tells them to do.”
“I should think that would be good for a mayor,” Allie said.
Virgil was standing in the kitchen doorway, looking out at the dark rain soaking into his yard. The sound of it was pleasant. The smell of the new rain was fresh. The mud was probably six inches deep already.
“Not for mayor of a town like Appaloosa,” I said. “Never had a mayor before. Never actual like had a government before. Man’s gonna get things done in a town like this, hell, most towns, is a liar and a thief. Like Callico. He won’t keep his word. He won’t honor yours. He doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t expect you to care about him.”
“That’s a good mayor?”
“He’ll get things done,” I said.
“Maybe that’s not all he should do,” Allie said.
At the open door, Virgil turned and looked for a long moment at Allie.
“By God, Allie,” he said. “Maybe it ain’t.”
USINESS WAS GOOD in Appaloosa. Virgil and I kept busy buffaloing drunks, and occasionally a little more, in the saloons we serviced. When we weren’t busy we spent our time watching the mayoral election unfold in virgin territory.
The rain was meager today. Enough drizzle to keep the streets mucky but not to drive the voters away, and they stood in a damp cluster around the stairs to Reclamation Hall, where General Laird was explaining to them why they would be wise to vote him in as mayor.
“I have led men all my life,” he said. “I understand how to run an organization.”
“You understand how to run,” someone said loudly in the front row.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” Laird said.
“Whyn’t you tell ’em how you flat-out run away at Ralesberg,” the loud voice said.
“I did no such thing. We won at Ralesberg.”
“While you was running, you burned out a refugee camp and slaughtered a bunch of women and children,” another voice said just as loudly.
“Sir, that is a lie,” Laird said.
He stood very erect in a slightly shabby gray CSA general officer’s coat, the light rain drizzling down onto his bare head.
The two voices separated themselves from the front row. One belonged to a tall, raw-boned red-haired man with a weak and unimpressive beard. The other was shorter and thicker, with a dense black beard, wearing a Colt on a gun belt over bib overalls.
“You callin’ us liars?” the red-haired man said.
He carried a short-barreled breech-loading cavalry carbine. The people immediately around them moved away.
“Watch Chauncey,” Virgil murmured.
Chauncey had been leaning against the frame of the big front door, sheltered from the rain, watching the a ctivity.
“What you are saying, sir, is untrue,” Laird said.
“I say you are a back-shooting, barn-burning, gray-bellied coward,” the red-haired man said. “Anybody gonna tell me no?”
“I am,” Chauncey said.
“Who the hell are you?”
“General Laird is a gentleman,” Chauncey said. “He is not a murderous thug. He is not going to descend to a street fight with you.”
“And you?” the man with the black beard said.
Chauncey straightened lazily from the door frame and ambled out to stand maybe five feet in front of the two men.
“I am a murderous thug,” Chauncey said.
There was silence. Chauncey’s ivory-handled Colt, sprinkled slightly with raindrops, seemed to gleam in the low, gray light.
“If you’d like,” Chauncey said, “you get to pick where I shoot you.”
“Chauncey,” General Laird said. “I appreciate your support. But this is a democratic process. We cannot have people killed.”
“I’m not running for anything, General,” Chauncey said.
“You are with me,” General Laird said.
“Yessir,” Chauncey said. “I am.”
He smiled at the two hecklers.
“’Nother reason to vote for General Laird,” Chauncey said. “He just saved your lives.”
IRGIL AND I were having breakfast in Café Paris when Allie came in with a tall woman in a fancy dress.
“Since you’re not willing to eat my cooking in the morning,” she said, “I decided to join you.”
Virgil and I both stood.
“Please do,” Virgil said.
“This is Amelia Callico,” Allie said. “Her husband, as you know, is chief of police here. She’s been dying to meet you.”lay
We both said we were pleased. Mrs. Callico tipped her head slightly and made the faint hint of a curtsy, and we sat. She looked around.
“How charming,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Virgil said.
“Do many women come in here?” she said.
“Mostly men,” Virgil said.
“We ladies lead such sheltered lives,” Amelia said. “Unless the men take us, we never go anywhere.”
“Lady can’t be too careful,” I said.
“Virgil and I met here,” Allie said. “I was alone and they wouldn’t give me biscuits, and he stepped in.”
“How gallant,” Amelia said, stressing the second syllable.
“Virgil was the marshal here then,” Allie said.
“I understand that he was,” Amelia said. “And what do you do now for work?”
“Odd jobs,” Virgil said.
“For some of the local saloons,” I said.
“How nice,” she said.
“Covers the cost of breakfast,” Virgil said.
“I’m sure,” Amelia said.
“That’s a beautiful dress, Amelia,” Allie said.
“Yes, thank you. I had it made for me in New Orleans.”
“You from New Orleans?” Virgil said.
“Yes,” she said. “I am. What’s good here.”
“I’d stick with the biscuits,” Virgil said.
“That’s all?” Allie said. “Why do you come here when all you eat is biscuits? I can make biscuits for you.”
Virgil’s face didn’t change expression, but something in the set of his shoulders shifted, and I stepped in.
“We eat food that ladies wouldn’t like,” I said. “Sow belly. Fried pinto beans.”
“So, for lady food,” Amelia said, “biscuits is what they offer.”
“’Tis,” I said.
“Then that’s what I’ll have,” she said.
The Chinaman took our order and went to get it.
“I never understand why they are so silent,” Amelia said.
“It’s as if they hate us.”
“Mostly don’t speak much English,” Virgil said.
“Well, they should,” Amelia said. “They’re going to come here and live and take our money.”
“Sure,” Virgil said.
“I wanted to meet you, of course, because of my friendship with Allie,” Amelia said. “But also I wanted to suggest an opportunity for you and your friend to make money, and do yourselves some good.”
“Open a lady-food café?” Virgil said.
Amelia smiled. She had a very convincing smile.
“Perhaps,” she said.
She was a good-looking, full-bodied woman with a mass of reddish-brown hair piled on her head.
“As you know,” she said, “my husband, Amos Callico, is running for mayor of Appaloosa. I am convinced that it is only a first step. Indeed, I am utterly convinced that it is the first step on a path that will lead him, ultimately, to become the President of the United States.”
I could see that Virgil was trying to look impressed, and I could see that it wasn’t working.
“You will certainly make a grand first lady,” I said.
“Thank you, kind sir,” she said. “I am hoping that you both would wish to join us.”
“How would we do that?” Virgil said.
“Help us get the truth out,” Amelia said. “There are facts about our opponent that need to be known.”
“He ran in combat?” Virgil said. “He slaughtered women and children?”
“Yes, that and more,” Amelia said. “There is much in General Laird’s past that is shameful.”
“And you want us to tell people?”
“The truth must be the basis of any election,” she said.
“Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am,” Virgil said. “But how do we know it’s the truth?”
“No pardon needed,” she said. “You have my word that anything we tell you is the truth.”
“Fellas that fronted up to the general outside Reclamation Hall yesterday?” Virgil said. “They get their information from you.”
“Yes, and it is good information. But Laird has a man working for him . . .”
“Chauncey Teagarden,” Virgil said.
“Yes. He is quite intimidating.”
“From New Orleans, too, you know that?” Virgil said.
“I did not,” she said.
“Small world,” I said.
Allie smiled at me nervously. No one else paid any attention.
“You figure Teagarden won’t intimidate me ’n Everett,” Virgil said.
“I’m told that nothing does,” Amelia said.
“And if you helped them now, think what it would mean to us,” Allie said. “As Mr. Callico moved on up the ladder.”
Virgil looked at me. I shook my head. He nodded.
“Nope,” he said.
“We will pay you well,” Amelia said.
“Why not?” Amelia said.
“Me ’n Everett don’t like your husband,” Virgil said.
She sat silently for a minute. The she stood.
“He will be disappointed to hear that,” she said, and stalked out of the café.
Allie looked as if she might cry.