Why Heroes Shouldn't Have families
Why Heroes Shouldn't Have Families (Here's looking at you Indiana Jones).
By P.T. Mayes
Copyright © 2012 P.T. Mayes
The man with no name rode into town, climbed off his horse, tied it to bar outside the Three Eagles saloon, crushed his cigar under the heel of one dusty boot and pushed his way through the swinging doors. They didn't hit him on the way back. They wouldn't dare.
The barman stopped picking his nose and carried on wiping down the counter, whistling a tune, pretending he hadn't seen the stranger enter. Some folks didn't like being looked at too hard. Made 'em jumpy.
For a moment the man with no name surveyed the saloon, his eyes narrowed, memorising every face; noting every doorway, staircase and balcony. This place was a death-trap. The hint of a smile touched his sun-roughened lips and he sauntered up to the bar and laid one elbow on its scratched surface as he propped one foot up on the brass rail and leaned forward. His chin, unshaven for many days, itched like a dog's backside.
"What can I get you, stranger?" asked the barman, as if seeing the man for the first time.
Grabbing a bottle off the shelf behind him the barman filled a glass and slid it across the bar.
"That'll be two bits."
Two coins rolled across the bar and curled to a stop.
The man with no name picked up the glass, looked into the golden brown liquid for a second as if he could see the face of a long-lost love in it, and downed it in one go. He sighed the sort of sigh a man gives when he's been a long time in the desert without a drink, which is exactly what he was.
"Leave the bottle."
"Whatever you say, mister." The barman carried on wiping down the bar, wondering how much cash the stranger had in his wallet. "You passing through?"
Another glass, as much whiskey on the bar as in the glass, head tipped back. Sigh.
"Thought I might stay a while."
"That's not wise in a place like this, mister. Not wise at all." When the stranger said nothing the barman the barman felt obliged to explain. "You see the Barton brothers have got this town all sewn up -- cattle rustlers -- and they don't like strangers hanging around. Makes them... nervous. And when they're... nervous, people tend to wind up dead. Shot through the heart or strung up from a tree in the middle of nowhere or buried in the desert up to their necks with strawberry jam poured over their heads for the ants to eat." He shook his head. "Waste of good jam. We don't get many strawberries growing around here."
The man with no name appeared not to hear him. "You got a telegraph station hereabouts?" he asked.
"Sure, by the railroad yonder down the road. Why?"
The stranger grimaced, and it wasn't from the whiskey, which was sour. "Got to telegraph the little lady. Tell her I got here without getting my backside shot full of arrows and that she should follow along."
"Ten years next fall"
"Now you go and tell me to go mind my own business if I'm sticking my nose in places it's got no business being but, sir, you don't seem the marrying kind."
"It all happened... fast."
"You got her....?"
The stranger's eyes darted like a rattlesnake that had just spotted a mouse.
"I rescued her from hanging Judge Gibbons, actually."
The barman gulped. "Judge Gibbons! I heard he once hung a man for just saying it wasn't quite a beautiful morning as the judge thought it was. What she do?"
"Do? She didn't 'do' anything, it was the judge who did all the doing. She was his daughter."
"Oh." The barman nodded his head. "I guess he didn't take kindly to you stealing her away like that, eh?"
"You could say that."
The stranger filled another glass and downed it.
"So, she's coming here on the next stagecoach?"
"With the kids."
"Yup. Six of 'em."
"You've been busy."
"She was busy. My part in the whole matter was... momentary... or at least at the time it was."
"That's got to be quite a handful, keeping your eye on six nippers?"
"Handful?" He snorted. "Don't even have time to keep my guns clean now, which for a man like me ain't healthy, but I guess that's kids for you. Instead of out practicing my marksmanship or checking with the sheriff to see who's wanted for robbin' the bank I'm warming milk or putting them to bed or washing diapers, or helping one of 'em with her schooling or some-such." He shook his head. "No man should have to wash diapers. It's not dignified."
Hearing this the barman grabbed a glass for himself, filled it to the brim and held it out to the traveller. "And I thought I had it rough with my Bess. Sir, here's to diapers and to men's hands and may the two never meet."
They touched glasses and gulped down the firewater, gagging a little.
"And that's not all," said the stranger.
"The in-laws is coming too."
"Yup." The stranger rolled his eyes.
"How many of them are there, if you don't mind me asking?"
The stranger looked at the splayed fingers on one hand, and then on the other hand too. "Well, there's grandma and grandpa and Uncle John and Aunt Ruth and their three..."
A few minutes later, the count done, the stranger laid both hands flat on the table to show that he was done.
The barman whistled, grabbing another bottle from the bar and filled the stranger's glass and then his own. "That's quite a troupe you've got there, son. You know those darn Barton brothers will take one look at them and be tempted to kidnap one or two of them to stop you interfering in their nefarious plans."
"That's what happened in Snake's Thirst."
"Snake's Thirst? Dakota?"
"One and the same. Got myself into a bit of trouble there with the Lambert clan... cattle rustlers. First they kidnapped my wife, so I had to rescue her, then they took my littlest, so I rescued her, then my eldest boy, who rescued himself if I remember rightly. It got a bit exhausting having to rescue them all the time. Sometimes I quite forgot if I was meant to riding too or from the Lambert's Corral and whether I was meant to bringing someone back with me or not, and I can tell you grandma might look like she's as light as a feather but when she's hanging over your shoulder while you're blastin' men left, right and centre she certainly ain't. Then they kidnapped my dog, which really got me mad, but when they took my mother-in-law that was the last straw. I'd had enough."
"What happened to her?"
"As far as I know she's there still. I think she wound up marrying Pa Lambert... so in a way they're relatives too now. You never know I might be welcoming them off the stage from as well, and at last count -- after I'd shot a good two-dozen of them -- there were still at least thirty Lambert boys running about -- either that or they'll be coming here to kill me, or drag me back, which would be worse."
"That's a lot of Lamberts."
"There ain't much to do in the evenings in Snake's Thirst."
"What about the saloon?"
"Blown up with a stick of dynamite."
"Closed down for lewdness... and then burnt down."
"And church? Surely there was a church?"
"Landslide, caused by the saloon blowing up."
The barman whistled.
The stranger took a cigar out of his pocket, looked at it, and returned it with a grimace. "Better not. The missus can smell the smoke on me from fifty paces." He stood, sighing, holding the small of his back. "Having to rock babies all night sure puts your back out, messes up your aim too. I was hoping this place was going to be quieter than Snake's Thirst, but wherever I go, trouble's always seems to be waiting for me. Well, I guess I'd better be off to send that telegram. Good day to you, friend."
"And to you," said the barman. "By the way, stranger, what's your name?"
"Frank what, may I ask?"
"That's a mighty strange name, if you don't mind me saying?"
"It's French, or something. Means the mill on the river, or so I've been told." He touched the edge of his hat. "Well, I guess I'll be seeing you around. My folks don't look too kindly on me drinking anything stronger than coffee. And if hanging Judge Gibbons comes sniffing around, I was never here, okay?"
"Keep yourself safe, friend," replied the barman. "And make sure you keep an eye on those kids of yours."
"I'll try, but you know what kids are like. Always getting themselves into mischief... and dragging me with them."
The barman watched the saloon doors swing shut and then called his wife, who was in the office checking the ledger. "Hey Inga, fetch Bess from school and get packed. We're selling up and gettin' out of town."
"Now?" she said, sticking her head around the door.
"Yup. Right now. A hero coming into town is bad enough, but a hero with a family, why that's a disaster in the making!"