Robert B. Parker
As always, for Joan, the girl of the golden west…
and east… and north… and south
I was in the Blackfoot Saloon in a town called Resolution, talking with the man who owned the saloon about a job. The owner was wearing a brocade vest. His name was Wolfson. He was tall and thin and sort of spooky- looking, with a walleye.
“What’s your name?” Wolfson said.
“Hitch,” I said. “Everett Hitch.”
“How long you been in Resolution?” Wolfson said.
We were at the far end of the big mahogany bar, sipping whiskey that I had bought us.
“’Bout two hours,” I said.
“And you come straight here?” Wolfson said.
“Ain’t that many choices in Resolution,” I said.
“There’s some others,” Wolfson said. “But they ain’t as nice. Tell me about yourself. What can you do?”
“Went to West Point,” I said. “Soldiered awhile, scouted awhile, shotgun for Wells Fargo, did some marshaling with Virgil Cole.”
“You worked with Virgil Cole?” Wolfson said. “Where?”
“Lotta towns, last one was Appaloosa.”
“And you were doing gun work,” Wolfson said.
“Virgil Cole,” Wolfson said.
I nodded and sipped some of the whiskey.
“We got no marshal in this town,” Wolfson said. “Sheriff’s deputy rides over once in a while from Liberty. But mostly we’re on our own.”
“Got a mayor?” I said. “Town council? Anything like that?”
“Who’s in charge?”
“In town? Nobody. In here? Me,” Wolfson said.
I glanced around the saloon. It was half full in the middle of the afternoon. Nobody looked dangerous. The lookout chair at the other end of the bar was empty. I nodded at it.
“Could use a lookout,” Wolfson said. “Last one got hoorahed out of town.”
“What are you paying?” I said.
He told me.
“Plus a room upstairs,” Wolfson said.
“If you eat them here,” Wolfson said.
“Anyplace else in town to eat?” I said.
“I’ll take it,” I said.
“It’s kind of a tradition,” Wolfson said. “Some of the boys like to test the new lookout.”
“Fact is I’ve had trouble keeping a lookout.”
I nodded again, and drank a little more. The whiskey was pretty good.
“I got a big capital investment here,” Wolfson said. “I don’t want it wrecked.”
“Don’t blame you,” I said.
“Think you can stick?” Wolfson said.
“Sure,” I said.
“Some tough people here,” Wolfson said.
“Tough people everywhere,” I said.
“Any chance you could get Virgil Cole to come up here, too?” Wolfson said.
“No,” I said.
“You fellas on the outs?” Wolfson said.
“No,” I said.
“There’s a shotgun behind the bar,” Wolfson said.
“Got my own,” I said.
“When you want to start?”
“Tonight,” I said. “Gimme time to stow my gear, clean up, take a nap.”
“It can get rough,” Wolfson said.
“Any backup?” I said. “Bartenders?”
Wolfson shook his head.
“They serve drinks,” Wolfson said. “Ain’t got no interest in getting killed.”
“You?” I said.
“I’m a businessman,” Wolfson said.
“You’re heeled,” I said.
Wolfson opened his coat and showed me a Colt in a shoulder holster.
“Self-defense,” he said. “Only.”
“So I’m on my own,” I said.
“Still interested?” he said.
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “Sure. Just getting the way it lays out.”
“And you ain’t scared,” Wolfson said.
“Not yet,” I said.
I had an eight-gauge shotgun that I’d taken with me when I left Wells Fargo. It didn’t take too long for things to develop. I sat in the tall lookout chair in the back of the saloon with the shotgun in my lap for two peaceful nights. On my third night it was different.
I could almost smell trouble beginning to cook as people came into the saloon after work. There were more than usual of them and they seemed sort of excited and expectant. In addition to trouble, the saloon smelled of coal oil, and sweat, and booze, and tobacco, and food cooking, and the loud perfume of the whores. There were six men who had arrived early, sitting at a table near me, drinking whiskey. The trouble would come from them. And it would start with a sort of weaselly-looking fella in a bowler hat, wearing a gun. Everyone at the table was looking at me, and around the room, trying to look nonchalant, the rest of the customers had situated themselves where they could watch.