Slocum Giant 2013 : Slocum and the Silver City Harlot (9781101601860) (5 page)

BOOK: Slocum Giant 2013 : Slocum and the Silver City Harlot (9781101601860)
13.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

He walked toward Frank, then spun when movement at the edge of his eye caught his attention. The Indian pony had tangled itself up in the thick undergrowth. Bridle wrapped around a thornbush, it reared but could not pull free.

Slocum went to help it. Gentling the horse took a few minutes. White still showed around its eyes, and it tried to toss its head and lash out with its front hooves, but Slocum eventually won it over, yanked the bridle free, and had himself a mount. It had been a spell since he'd ridden bareback, but there wasn't a horse alive that could throw him if he put his mind to it. Try as it might, the Indian pony sunfished and bucked and eventually decided it was the lesser of two evils having a white man astride it than fighting further.

A slow walk back to where the ice wagon had stopped completed the conquest. Slocum had himself a new horse.

He looked down at Frank, wondering if he owed the man a burial. Then he cursed. Frank moaned, stirred, and tried to roll onto his back. The effort proved too great, but it didn't kill him either.

Unless Slocum wanted to use that bullet to put the man out of his misery, he had a companion all the way to town. He dismounted, got his shoulder under Frank's gut, then heaved. Without rope, he couldn't lash the weakly stirring man to the horse, but when he mounted, Frank in front of him, he could hang on to keep him from sliding to the ground.

It would be a long, slow ride to Silver City.


“I don't know what all they're asking me to fix,” Marianne Lomax said, frowning. She looked out over the crowd gathered in the Lonely Cuss Cantina and Drinking Emporium and began to despair. “You did what you said, Sheriff, and there's no way I can repay you, but this is too much.” She started to take off the leather apron, but Harvey Whitehill reached over the bar and caught her wrist. She started to pull away but couldn't. His grip was too strong.

“There's plenty of time to learn, Marianne. Look at these yahoos. So what if one asked for a Mississippi Peach Fizz and you didn't know how to fix it? He was just funnin' you. You can draw beer and pour shots of whiskey. Not much else bein' served here or anywhere else in Silver City that ain't those or some combination of 'em.”

She reached over and used her left hand to pry loose his grip. It made her uneasy having him touch her—having anyone but Texas Jack touch her, actually. How she missed him!

“I'll stick,” she said. “I need the money.”

“Tom Gallifrey is a skinflint and doesn't pay his barkeeps too good. That's why he has such a hard time keepin' help, but you can make tips. Just talk to the men.”


“And nothin' more. Just listen. Most of these galoots want to brag on how good they are at minin', how rich they're goin' to become, and have a pretty lady pay them some attention. You don't have to do anything more than listen.”

“Unless I want to?” She saw the disappointment on his face an instant before a poker mask dropped down.

“Do what you please on your own time.”

“I won't, Sheriff. That wasn't the real me taking men to my bed for money, no matter what the other womenfolk in town say. Letting my son starve wasn't going to happen.”

“You have any trouble, call me. Or I just hired me a new deputy who'll stick close to Silver City. His name's Tucker, but he goes by the moniker of Dangerous Dan. He's a real character, but he comes well recommended.”

“Tucker,” she said. “I'll remember that. If I ever have to holler for help. Excuse me a second, Sheriff.” She scooped up a bung starter and hurried to the end of the bar where two men stood, faces inches from each other, knives in their hands as they shouted.

Marianne never hesitated as she swung the wood mallet. The flat head connected with the nearest man's forehead, staggering him back a pace before he collided with another patron and both fell to the sawdust-covered floor. The other man looked startled, then laughed and pointed the tip of his knife in the fallen man's direction. Marianne strained to swing the mallet backhanded. She knocked him out with the blow to the side of his head.

“A drink to whoever drags both of them outside,” she said. Without even raising her voice, she got four men scampering to do her bidding.

Marianne looked over her shoulder. Sheriff Whitehill smiled ear to ear.

“You're gonna do just fine,” he said. He stepped over a chair that had been knocked on its side and went into the cold night air.

Marianne caught her breath. She liked the sheriff and didn't want him to go, but he had a way of meddling in her affairs. Whether he was sweet on her or just determined to be helpful to someone in need presented a question she couldn't answer.

“Hey, bartender, can you fix me up one of them fancy drinks like the rich folks back East drink?” The grizzled miner looked first left and then right to be sure he had an audience. The hubbub in Lonely Cuss died down to see if the miner could stump her.

“What'll it be? But you got to be willing to pay double for anything really fancy.”

“I kin pay!” The miner dropped a leather sack on the bar. From the melodious tinkle, Marianne knew it held silver coins. “Give me a Silver Salud!”

Marianne nodded as if she knew exactly what he meant. For all she knew, he'd made up the drink on the spot to see what she'd do.

“I got the fixings back here,” she said, looking at the rows of bottles on the back bar. “Before I fix it, are you a gambling man?”

“What's that? Well, I done set in on a poker game or two in my day.”

“And he danged near lost his eyeteeth, too! He's a terrible gambler!”

“So, bet or not?” she asked.

He looked at her suspiciously and asked, “What's the nature of this here bet?”

“Your friends will blindfold you. You'll sample two drinks and you got to tell me which is the Silver Salud. You guess right, the drinks are on the house. You guess wrong, you pay for a round for everyone in the Lonely Cuss.”

Marianne stood back and let the arguments and laughter ripple through the dozen men crowded close to the bar. If the miner had intended to back down, he couldn't now with the others pressing him into the bar.

“I'll do it, but you got to make the best goddamn Silver Salud you ever did make.”

“I'll let everyone else watch,” she said. “You boys blindfold him. You got a lot riding on him not seeing.”

“Hal ain't never bought a drink for no one before. I want to see this.”

Willing hands whipped a couple sweaty, dirty bandannas around the miner's eyes. Marianne waved her hand in front of Hal's face to be sure he couldn't see, then she stepped back.

“All right, everyone, you watch real close. And watch him so he can't see how I'm fixing the drinks.”

She rattled bottles, clinked shot glasses together, and ended up pouring two shots of whiskey from the same bottle. The notion that a fancy drink would be served like a shot worried her, so she rattled more glassware, found a pair of champagne glasses, and poured the shots into them. With a dramatic clink, she touched the two rims together.

Many of the miners laughed themselves sick, holding their bellies and whispering among themselves, but they were in on the joke. The two closest to Hal shouted at him and shoved him back and forth to keep him from overhearing.

“The two drinks are in front of you. Pick the Silver Salud and you don't pay.”

“Them varmints know which is which?”

Marianne didn't have to answer. The roar of assent went up and rattled the vigas in the adobe bar's ceiling.

“All right. Stand back and let a master do his work.” Marianne reached down and guided Hal's hand to the first champagne glass. She ran her fingers up and down his wrist just enough to encourage him, then held up her hand for silence.

“Got to be fair. Nobody give him any hints,” she called. Marianne smiled as the miner tentatively sniffed at the drink, then flicked out his tongue to taste it.

“Got a kick to it,” he said, “jist like a real Silver Salud.”

“You have to try the other one, remember. You have to decide between the pair of them.

“Both might be Silver Saluds,” Marianne said, egging them all on. This produced a round of new jokes. “Let me put the other one in your hand, Hal.” Again she took his brawny wrist and stroked over it as he slid the stemware crystal glass between his fingers.

He repeated the same ceremony he had before. Then Hal went to sipping first one, then the other, until both were drained. He finally held one glass high above his head.

“This is the Silver Salud. This is it!”

Marianne thought the roof would come off from the laughter.

“You danged fool,” someone called out. “Them's both nuthin' but whiskey.”

“Good whiskey, though,” Marianne said. “The best you'll find anywhere in Silver City. Which of you boys wants a ‘Silver Salud'? Or should I say, ‘Hal's Silver Salud'?” She held up the bottle of trade whiskey to a roar of approval.

Three bottles later, most of the customers were either passed out or moaning about getting back to their claims. Hal clung to the bar to remain upright. After he'd bought a round for everyone, he found the tide of tarantula juice flowing like a river back in his direction. He hadn't paid for a drink afterward.

“Gotta ask,” Hal said, leaning forward as if to share a confidence with her. He didn't quite shout. “What the hell's a Silver Salud? I heard of 'em in a dive along the Barbary Coast o'er in Frisco.”

Marianne fished about under the bar and dropped a copy of
The Yorkshire Bar Guide
in front of the miner.

“Look it up.”

“I cain't read too good. Need my readin' glasses, you know.”

Marianne flipped through the book. Most of the pages were stuck together or so faded from having liquor and beer spilled on them that they were unreadable. She pressed the book flat and pointed.

“You got a good memory, Hal. This is what goes into a Silver Salud. Equal parts of schnapps, nitric acid, beer, and apple brandy.”

“Sounds tasty,” he said. “You mix me up one of 'em next time I'm in?”

“Sure thing, partner,” she said. “Right now, I got to close the cantina.” She looked to the door where Tom Gallifrey, the owner, stood surveying the interior.

He came over, looking like he had eaten something that didn't agree with him.

“How'd it go?”

“Good,” Marianne told him. “I don't have much experience, but I'd say real good.” She pushed the cash box across to him.

His eyes widened at little at the stacks of silver coins mingled with a few gold disks and the piles of greenbacks.

“I did all right for myself, too,” she said, patting her skirt pocket.

“How's that? You took money? That's skimming, cheating! Gimme.”

“They were tips. For me,” she said.

“I don't allow no such thing. All the money's mine. You get a salary at the end of the month, nothing more.”

Marianne began to fume, then pulled out the wad of money and laid it on the bar as she decided what to do or say. This was hers!

“You be back tomorrow night?” Hal asked.

“Don't think so,” she said. Tom looked at her.

“You fixing to quit already?” the Lonely Cuss's owner asked.

“You're firing me. This is all mine. The customers gave it to me.” She scooped up the money—pretty near ten dollars—and stuffed it back into her pocket.

“Firin' her? You can't do that, Tom. Tonight's the most fun any of us from out at Chloride Flats have had in a month o' Sundays.”

“Might be the fun can continue in some other saloon,” she said, watching Gallifrey closely. “I'm sure I can get a job building Silver Saluds for you elsewhere.”

“That there's ‘Hal's Silver Salud,'” the miner said, grinning from ear to ear.

“Never heard of such a thing,” Gallifrey said.

“She has, and that's what matters to me and my boys. No reason to come to the Lonely Cuss if Marianne's workin' somewhere else in town.”

“Might be there was a misunderstanding,” Gallifrey said, his eyes going back to the cash box filled with the evening's revenue. “Might be you can keep whatever tips you're paid if you keep deliverin' like this.” He tapped the metal box with his forefinger.

“Can't promise that, but I can promise to try.”

“I'll buy another round for the house if you stay, Marianne,” Hal said.

“Old-timer, go home. Come back tomorrow when there're customers in the Lonely Cuss and make the offer then.” She reached across the bar and patted his shoulder. Again she received the broken-toothed smile.

“See ya then, Marianne. G'nite, Tom, you clenched-up asshole, you!” Laughing, Hal barely made it through the door. Outside he began serenading the night.

“You made a friend there,” Gallifrey said uneasily. “He's foreman at the Work Whistle Mine. Got a dozen men beholden to him.”

“Do tell,” she said, slipping her shawl around her shoulders. “If you don't mind, I want to get some sleep. This about wore me out.”

Tom Gallifrey looked down into the cash box again and nodded his head once. Feeling vindicated, Marianne followed Hal into the cold New Mexico night. Thin clouds worked their way across the face of an almost full moon casting light as silver as the metal pulled from the ground. The cold mountain air invigorated her. Step quick and stride long, she headed toward the hotel down the street.

Halfway there she got the uneasy feeling of someone watching her. Marianne looked over her shoulder, then started to run. A shadowy figure bolted into the street and chased after her.

She reached the hotel steps, tripped, and fell. Pushing herself up off the steps only got her in more trouble. She slid into her pursuer's arms. Like bands of steel, he circled her waist with one arm and clamped a callused hand over her mouth. He spun her around so her feet left the ground, robbing her of any leverage at all. In his grip she was helpless.

“You got the pistol we stole?” came a child's voice.

“I want to shoot him. You promised.”

“You can cut him up. You got a knife.”

The curious argument caused Marianne's captor to spin back around so she faced the hotel. At the top of the steps stood Randolph and Billy McCarty. Randolph had his knife out. In the bright moonlight the blade glinted like pure silver. He slashed at the air, causing it to turn to liquid and leave deadly trails behind. Billy held something small and dark in his hand.

“Dang it, I can't get this thumb buster cocked!”

“I'll stab him then!” Randolph took a step forward as a metallic click cut through the stillness of the night.

Marianne watched in horror as Billy stepped out beside her son and aimed whatever he held in his hand.

As suddenly as she had been seized, she was dropped. Marianne sat heavily in the street, gasping for breath. She looked up and called to Billy, “Give me that gun! I'll shoot him!”

The boys laughed.

“Did you see the way he lit out like a scalded dog!” Randolph laughed even harder.

“He surely did run like a dog with his tail 'tween his legs,” Billy said. “What a lily-livered coward!”

“Give me the gun!” She fought to her feet and grabbed for the gun, only to find herself holding a kitchen knife wrapped in black paper. He had struck the blade with a small rock to produce the clicking sound that had run off her attacker.

BOOK: Slocum Giant 2013 : Slocum and the Silver City Harlot (9781101601860)
13.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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