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
OU WANT to move in here?” Virgil said. Pony shook his head.
“Kha-to-nay not stay with white devil,” Pony said.
“Don’t blame him,” Virgil said. “Wasn’t one myself I wouldn’t stay with him, either.”
“Not understand,” Pony said.
“Virgil’s making a joke,” I said.
“Got any money?” Virgil said.
Pony smiled and nodded.
“When Kha-to-nay destroy train in war with white tyrant, he take money, too.”
“Kha-to-nay’s not so dumb,” I said.
From his place at the far end of the porch Kha-to-nay said nothing.
“Anybody on your trail?” Virgil said.
Pony shook his head.
“Only man can track Pony Flores,” he said, “is me.”
“Good,” Virgil said. “Police ain’t on our side here.”
“You on other side of law now?” Pony said.
“Neither side,” Virgil said. “Just keeping order in the Boston House saloon.”
“You not the law,” Pony said. “Maybe we bring you trouble. Maybe should move on.”
“Where?” Virgil said. “Here, you got two friends in town.”
“Four,” Allie said.
We all looked at her. Virgil nodded slowly.
“Four friends in town,” he said.
“All good with gun,” he said, and smiled at Laurel.
She almost smiled back.
“We stay,” Pony said, “for while.”
“Then what?” Allie said.
“We see,” Pony said.
“See what?” Allie said.
Pony looked at Virgil.
“See what develops, Allie,” Virgil said.
“That’s your plan?” Allie said.
“Plan gonna depend on what develops,” Virgil said.
“So, how do you know you can handle what develops?” Allie said.
Ladies, don’t drink from the jug,
, but they sometimes have several from the glass.
“Don’t,” Virgil said.
“What about all of that stuff Everett talks about from
Who’s-he-which on War
?” Allie said.
“Clausewitz,” I said. “Prepare for what your enemy can do, not what you think he will do.”
“How about that?” Allie said to Virgil.
“Hell, Allie,” Virgil said. “Don’t know who the enemy is yet.”
“So, you just wander into it,” Allie said. “The great Virgil Cole, full of yourself, assuming, as you always do, that you can handle everything.”
Virgil said, “Don’t know how else to go, Allie.”
“Everett’s no better,” Allie said. “You go, he goes, too.”
She poured an unladylike slug of whiskey into her glass and drank some.
“Well, what about me? What happens to Laurel?” she said.
“Wouldn’t have found Laurel without Pony,” Virgil said.
Allie didn’t say anything for a moment.
Then she said, “Men!” and shook her head.
Laurel looked as solemn as always.
SHORT, fat man with a goatee, wearing a flat-crowned black hat, came into the Boston House in the late afternoon with Lamar Speck. He and Speck located Virgil leaning on the bar.
“Virgil,” Speck said. “This is Buford Posner.”
“I own the Golden Palace,” Posner said, “down the street, and there’s trouble there right now.”
“I suggested you and Everett,” Speck said.
He was speaking very fast.
“Whaddya need?” Virgil said to Posner.
“A group of cowboys are causing trouble in my place,” Posner said. “They’ve run off my lookout, and Lamar tells me you’ve been successful with this sort of thing in the past.”
“Why not the police?” Virgil said.
“Like Lamar, I am not on good terms with the police,” Posner said. “I will pay you, of course.”
“Be a favor to me, Virgil,” Speck said.
Virgil looked at me.
“Why not,” I said.
“They say they are going to destroy my saloon,” Posner said.
“Then we better hurry,” Virgil said. “Everett, bring your eight-gauge.”
The Golden Palace wasn’t much on the outside, but inside it was a fancy, fussy little place with murals painted on the walls and ornate plaster moldings. There were eight cowboys in there, drinking whiskey from the bottle. A couple were sitting on the bar, the rest at a pair of tables. The spittoons had been tipped over. There was broken glass on the floor, and someone had shot holes, kind of strategically, in the mural of a wood nymph.
Behind us, Posner said, “My God,” and backed out the door. Virgil and I went in without him.
One of the cowboys looked at us as we pushed into the saloon and said, “Who the fuck are you?”
“Name’s Virgil Cole,” Virgil said. “Big fella with the siege gun is Everett Hitch.”
“Want a drink?” the cowboy said.
He was young, probably no more than twenty-five, and he wore a big Colt with a black handle in a low-cut holster tied down on his right thigh.
“No,” Virgil said. “We’d like you boys to leave.”
“Leave?” the young cowboy said.
I moved away from Virgil, so that I was close to the saloon wall on Virgil’s right. He moved left, against the bar.
“Correct,” Virgil said.
The young cowboy jumped down from the bar and faced Virgil.
“What happens if we don’t leave?” he said.
“We shoot some of you,” Virgil said.
I thumbed the hammers back on the eight-gauge. It was a touch of theater, the sound of the hammers snicking back. We’d done it a hundred times before. But I also knew that Virgil was ready to shoot. He didn’t seem to have changed position, but I knew that he was balanced, knees bent a little, shoulders relaxed. He looked steadily at the young cowboy. It was a hard look to meet. But the young cowboy had the wild eyes you see sometimes in bucking horses, and he held the look. I knew Virgil didn’t care if the kid held his look or not. Virgil was in the place he goes to when it might be time to shoot. Everything registered and nothing mattered.
“You gonna shoot all of us?” the kid said.
“Depends,” Virgil said.
“On what?” the kid said.
The other cowboys had gathered behind him. All of them were heeled.
“On what you all do,” Virgil said. “You pull on me and I’ll kill you.”
“All of us,” the kid said.
“You first,” Virgil said. “Everett will get some with the scatter gun. Then we’ll see.”
The kid looked around for a moment at the other cowboys.
“Wanna go at ’em?” he said.
Somebody behind him said, “Lazy L don’t back down from nobody.”
The kid nodded. He looked back at Virgil.
He was going to try it.
You do this enough you can sense it. I knew he was going to try. Virgil knew. We maybe both knew before the kid really did.
The kid’s shoulders twitched, and Virgil drew his gun and had the hammer back before the kid reached his holster. I had the eight-gauge at my shoulder. We were far enough apart so that they’d have to decide which of us to shoot at.
The kid froze with his fingertips on the black butt of his Colt.
“Jesus Christ,” the kid said.
“Might want to back down from this one,” Virgil said.
“How’d you do that?” the kid said.
“Done it before,” Virgil said.
“For crissake, you didn’t even move fast,” the kid said.
“Fast enough,” Virgil said.
The kid slowly moved his hand away from his gun.
“I’m really fast,” the kid said.
The tension had gone out of the room.
“Sure,” Virgil said.
“You coulda killed me easy,” the kid said.
“Sure,” Virgil said.
The kid started slowly toward the door. The other cowboys followed.
Virgil turned slowly as they moved. I did, too, with the shotgun still at my shoulder.
When they were gone, Virgil holstered his Colt. I lowered the eight-gauge.
“Lazy L,” I said. “Could be General Laird’s place.”
“Could be,” Virgil said.
“If it is,” I said, “they might be getting tired of us.”
“Might,” Virgil said.
“If they are,” I said, “I s’pose they’ll let us know.”
“Probably,” Virgil said.
He found a couple of unbroken glasses on the bar and poured us each a drink. We were sipping it when the saloon doors opened a crack and Posner looked in.
“Everybody’s gone?” he said.
“They are,” Virgil said. “Care for a drink?”
T WAS RAINING, a nice, straight-down summer rain. We sat on the covered front porch after supper and drank coffee and watched it. Allie and Laurel were still cleaning up inside.
“What was that we ate for supper?” Virgil said.
“Dinner,” I said. “Allie told me it’s properly called dinner.”
“Whatever we call it, it was heavy going,” Virgil said.
“I think what we ate might once have been a tough old chicken,” I said.
“Think it was,” Virgil said. “But what was in the pot with it?”
“Don’t know,” I said. “Coffee ain’t much, either.”
“Gotta put a lot of sugar in it,” Virgil said.
“Whiskey might help.”
“Suspicion it would,” Virgil said. “You got the jug over by you?”
Virgil held his cup out toward me.
“Whyn’t your pour a little into this coffee for me,” Virgil said.
I poured some for both of us. The rain smelled very clean, and things seemed fresh.
“Kid in the saloon today,” I said. “Was really interested in whether he could kill you.”
“Then when he couldn’t, he was just as interested in why he couldn’t,” I said.
“Wants to be a pistolero,” Virgil said.
“He needs to get better,” I said.
“Does,” Virgil said, and sipped from his cup.
Allie and Laurel came out of the house with coffee and sat down with us.
“You drinking whiskey in that coffee?” Allie said.
“We are,” Virgil said. “Hard to drink it without some.”
“Oh, Virgil,” she said. “You know you don’t mean it.” Virgil looked at me.
“ ’Course he don’t,” I said.
“Everett,” Allie said. “You might pour a splash for me and Laurel.”
I poured some into Allie’s coffee.
“Go easy on the child,” Allie said.
“Sure,” I said.
“I met Mrs. Callico this afternoon, at a church meeting. A fine lady. Educated back east. Very good manners.”
“Like you,” Virgil said.
“Oh, Virgil, you know I don’t have an eastern education,” Allie said.
“You’re a fine lady, anyway,” Virgil said.
“Oh, Virgil,” she said. “That’s so sweet.”
Virgil smiled. The rain was making the soft noise rain can make, when it’s right.
“What are you going to do about Pony?” Allie said.
“Nothing,” Virgil said.
“I think you should tell him to move on,” Allie said.
“Thought he had four friends here,” Virgil said.
“Of course he does, Virgil. But he’s trouble,” Allie said. “For all of us. I think you should tell him.”
“Ain’t gonna do that, Allie,” Virgil said.
“It’s not him so much,” Allie said. “It’s that brother. I don’t like him. I don’t like the way he looks at me. And you know Laurel and Indians. Poor child won’t even look at him.”
“Ain’t afraid of Pony,” Virgil said.
“He ain’t all Indian,” Allie said.
Virgil stood and walked to Laurel’s chair.
“You afraid of Kha-to-nay?” Virgil said, and bent down to her.
She whispered in his ear. He nodded and whispered back to her. She whispered again. Virgil smiled.
“Says she is scared of Kha-to-nay,” he said. “But she knows Pony won’t let him hurt her.”
“Mrs. Callico invited me to have tea with her sometime,” Allie said.
“That’s nice,” Virgil said.
“We live here,” Allie said. “We own a house. It is my chance to have a regular life, Virgil.”
“Sure,” Virgil said. “I want that for you, Allie.”
“Then get rid of Pony,” she said. “And his brother.” Virgil shook his head. Laurel made a sound. All of us looked at her. It might have been the first sound she’d made since we got her. She made the sound again and shook her head violently.
Allie began to cry.
“Nobody understands,” she said. “Nobody understands me.”
“We do,” Virgil said. “All of us know you want to be a fine churchgoing lady. And all of us know that being friendly with a breed carries a knife in his moccasin don’t help that.”
Allie looked up with tears on her face.
“Then send him away,” Allie said.
Laurel made her noise again.
“Can’t,” Virgil said.
Allie stood with her hands covering her face and her shoulders shaking, and rushed into the house.
Virgil looked at me silently for a minute.
Then he said, “Know them long walks we was talking about you and Laurel taking?”
“I do,” I said.
“Don’t think there’ll be so much need for ’em right now,” Virgil said.
T WAS MORNING. There was a CLOSED sign on the door to the Boston House saloon. Virgil and I sat at a big round table in the back of the saloon. With us sat Lamar Speck, Buford Posner, and five other men. The room was otherwise empty. Except for Willis McDonough, who was setting up the bar. Outside, the rain that had made things fresh yesterday was making things soggy today.
“This is a private meeting,” Speck said. “What we talk about here doesn’t leave the room. Anybody don’t understand that?”
Nobody said they didn’t.
“This here’s Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch,” Speck said.
“You all know who they are and what they do. They done it for me, and you know what happened at Buford’s place this week.
“Boys,” Speck continued, “everybody at the table owns a saloon, or similar public place. Buford, you know, owns the Golden Palace.”
He introduced us around the table, and identified each man with his business.
“All us got the same problem,” Speck said. “And we thought you boys might be able to help us.”
Speck shifted in his chair and studied the backs of his hands for a moment. Virgil and I waited.
“It’s Callico,” Speck said.
He looked around the table. No one fainted. Speck glanced at the front door of the saloon. No one came in.
“He charges something he calls a ‘safeguard fee.’ We pay him regular, and when there’s trouble the police will come at once and put things right.”
“And if you don’t pay him regular?” Virgil said.
“They don’t come,” Speck said.
Virgil looked at me and smiled faintly.
“Fee a big one?” I said.
“Substantial,” Speck said.
“Thinking you could get the same service for less?” I said.
“Yes,” Speck said. “We been talking ’bout that, seein’ as you boys done it twice already.”
“’Cause you wouldn’t pay Callico’s safeguard money,” Virgil said.
“Yes, Buford and I agreed it was extortion, and refused to pay.”
“Which is why you had to hire us when Nicky Laird run off your shotgun lookout.”
“Yes. And it’s why I brought Buford to you. And it’s why all of us are here now. We all chip in. We post them rules of yours in our establishments. You’ll be here, and if there’s any trouble anyplace, they’ll send for you, and you come running. We get safety. You get money.”
“There enough trouble?” Virgil said. “We come cheaper than Callico. But we ain’t cheap.”
“We’ll guarantee you a year,” Speck said. “There’s enough trouble. More since you left. More since the police stopped showing up. And more as the town gets bigger. And more since General Laird took over Bragg’s place.”
“He the Lazy L?” I said.
“He is,” Speck said. “But Nicky mostly runs it.”
“Couple things to think about,” Virgil said.
“I know we can meet your price,” Speck said.
Everybody at the table agreed.
“Good,” Virgil said. “’Nother thing is, Everett and me do this, sooner or later we gonna have to kill somebody.”
Nobody said anything.
“Anybody care ’bout that?” Virgil said.
Speck looked at the other men around the table, then at Virgil. No one appeared to care.
“You boys should do what you need to do,” he said. Virgil nodded slowly and looked at me.
“Everett?” he said.
“Not like we got something else to do,” I said.
Virgil kept nodding. He looked back at Speck.
“Okay,” he said.
Later we sat on the front porch of the Boston House admiring the rainwashed air.
“Smells nice after it rains,” Virgil said.
Virgil tilted his chair onto its back two legs and allowed it to balance there, its back resting against the hotel wall.
“You thinking?” he said.
“’Bout Callico?” Virgil said.
Virgil nodded. He allowed the chair to rock slightly on its rear legs, the back tapping lightly against the wall.
“Me, too,” he said.
“Ain’t gonna like us taking away his safeguard business,” I said.
“True,” Virgil said.
“We kill somebody, be his chance to come after us.”
“Might,” Virgil said.
“Other hand,” I said. “If Stringer’s right, Callico’s after bigger things when statehood comes.”
“So, he might not want to open up the fee question,” Virgil said.
“Might not,” I said.
“Guess we just proceed,” Virgil said. “See what comes along.”