A Western Scene


The wind is up. A small tornado of dust twists a dervish down the street of packed earth. The town’s main thoroughfare is cleared of most activity by the sun in Arizona’s midday sky. Dogs pant beneath porches in the cool dimples they’ve dug in the dirt.

The louvred pine doors of the saloon squeak and flap; there stands Nate.

Addressing me at the bar: “Cowboy. There was a man come by the livery looking for you. I thought you might be getting a shave so I sent him to the barber. I told him if you weren’t there then sure enough you’d be here. And sure enough, here ye be.”

Me, not so much addressing Nate as my whiskey glass: “How could you be sure he knew who to look for? Saloons get crowded in hot weather. ”

“To be sure.” Nat regards the amount of elbows on the bar. “He freely admitted not knowing you on sight. So, I give him a description.”

Nat, with surprising eloquence, delineates my features.

Not a boy but no old timer. Less than 6 feet in boots yet still taller than a lady. Lean and wiry as opposed to outright skinny. Hair, full and brownish, not dark – a touch of blond in the sunlight, truth be told. Brows are prominent but it can’t be said of them to be bushy like burlier oafs and the dancing brown eyes beneath can give out a fierce stare sharp enough to pierce raw hide. A month away from the razor and the only hair on his face will be that which grows around the mouth and chin, a natural Van Dyke, if you will. Fair as the English gentry. He will be the cautious man. Expect no gregarious “Pleased to meet thees” or other such frivolous pleasantries. Once known from Adam, though, and trusted, he is true and faithful as your best hammer.

All smiles, proud of the portrait he has painted, asks: “How did I do, Cowboy? Can you picture thee.”

“I can, Nate, I truly can. It is if I were looking into a woman’s vanity. And I am flattered by your kind words and candor as to my character.”

“A pleasure, to be sure.” Modest: “The allusion to a hammer was my own device.”

Then he asks, pleased to have been of service, “And this fellow, did he find ye alright?”

“He did indeed, Nate. He did indeed.”

My drinking hand – glass, whiskey and all – motions in the direction of the table and chair overturned by the prostrate body beside it.

The louvred pine doors announce another. It is Uriah adjusting his beaver felt stove pipe knocked askew by the low doorway.

“Begin your undertaking, Uriah!” The bartender, wiping a mug, is anxious to remove the stiff before peak hours.

“I declare, Cowboy. If I’d have known this to be his grim business I would have left out a few details. I hope you don’t hold a grudge.”

“No, Nate. In fact, in your description I noticed one particular omission that worked in my favor.”

“I can’t think what that would be, Cowboy.”

I wink. “Cowboy shoots better when drunk.”

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