With a violent kick, the bar doors swung inwards. Patrons pivoted reflexively, hands poised above holstered six-guns. The honky-tonk pianist ceased pounding the ivories abruptly and instinctively threw himself to the wooden floor underneath his worn keyboard. Durango was a tough frontier town and Filthy Phil had seen enough brawls and gunfights to know how to survive. Startled eyes, framed by a bowler hat and bushy beard, peered outwards from Phil’s sanctuary under his piano. Discretion trumped valour.
Red-haired Rosie, owner of the Last Chance Saloon, glanced up quickly from the ceaseless task of polishing whisky glasses with her dirty cloth. Squinting towards the doorway she sensed the new arrival was a stranger to these parts. Red-haired Rosie knew everyone in Durango township, and most settlers and herders around the Animas River. Was this new customer gonna be downright ornery or just thirsty?
The stranger, clad in flannel shirt and dusty buckskin breeches, was a short, feisty female carrying a six-gun on each hip. Removing a dusty Stetson, her eyes peeled warily around the room as she sauntered menacingly towards the bar. Her eyes could barely see over the top of the counter.
“What can I do fer ya, stranger?” inquired Red-haired Rosie, quietly putting down her glass and cloth and moving imperceptibly towards the section of bar where she kept her hidden shotgun.
“You the owner here?” demanded the stranger.
“Might be. Depends who’s askin’. You got a name?”
“Plenty of Pattys in the South-West, stranger. Got a last name?”
“Yep. Cake. Patty Cake. And now ya know who I am, you can give me back my diamond ring. The one you got from that cheatin’ pretty boy, Judge Warburton.”
Fumbling fruitlessly under the counter for her shotgun, Red-haired Rosie protested angrily, “But that badass hangin’ judge gave it to me a few months back. Promised he’d marry me and take me to California.”
“Maybe,” Patty interjected, “but he’d given the ring to me first. Way back in 1882, up in Silverton. So the ring’s mine. That was afore he left me for that no-good sultry barmaid who stole the ring from me when they ran off together. I got an anonymous note in my mailbox recently. Told me where the ring was now, so I tracked ya down. Just give me what’s mine and I’ll leave.”
Unable to locate her concealed weapon, the saloon keeper spluttered, ”Now just hold your horses, Cake. I don’t have the ring anymore. One of me dancin’ girls stoled it from me and skedaddled just last week.”
Demonstrating her irritation, Patty Cake spat straight ahead. Being a short-ass, her gob of phlegm struck the side of the bar below the counter-top and slid down.
“She got a name? What’s she look like? I’ll track the hussy down.”
“Yeah she’s blond. Good dancer. Goes by the name of Morling. Kate Morling. Dunno if that’s her real name. She cleared out with a ranch hand from Ma Climpson’s ranch. Did you know that Old Ma Climpson is raisin’ over a thousand head of tofus? No fences. Free-range tofus, you know.”
Cake’s shoulders slumped. Bugger Old Ma Climpson’s herd of tofu; the saloon keeper was just changing the topic. Patty Cake was also blindsided about what type of beast a tofu was. Hadn’t come across them. Maybe they were them longhorn type? Bugger some more. That diamond ring, her ring, could be anywhere in the South-West by now!
“Gimme a whisky! Big one!” Patty Cake snapped.
Pouring a mean glass, Red-haired Rosie slid it down the length of the bar towards Cake with a slide perfected through years of bartending. It struck the diminutive Patty Cake between the eyes and spilled down her front.
“Right! I’ve had enough of your crap, ma’am! Ya done that on purpose! Git yerself out from behind the bar and we’ll sort this out.”
Cake’s hands were hovering menacingly above both pistols when the saloon doors flapped open again.
Eighty-five year old, bow-legged Sheriff Brain was framed by the saloon doors. He was packing a holster on his right hip, and carrying a ball of beige wool and two knitting needles under his left armpit. Despite the weapon, he was smiling benignly, revealing a lifetime of dental hygiene neglect.
“That your wheelbarrow out beside the horse trough, stranger?” the Sheriff asked gently.
“Yeah Sheriff.” Cake answered. “I don’t gotta horse no more since it got stolen. I’ve just wheeled all the way to Durango with me blanket and water flasks in that barrow. Why? What’s it to you?”
Sheriff Brain switched his walking cane to the other hand, an action which caused his knitting to plummet to the saloon’s floor. Retrieving it with a slow arthritic grunt, he noticed he’d dropped several stitches. His brow furrowed and his tone of voice darkened.
“I’m truly sorry, stranger, but your wheelbarrow’s illegally parked. I’m gonna have to move you on. We don’t like troublemakers in these parts. The train to Silverton is presently building up a head of steam and leaves in five minutes. You and your barrow are gonna be on it. Let’s go.”
Exiting the Last Chance Saloon, Sheriff Brain’s perennial smile returned to his craggy face and lit up an otherwise overcast day. Filthy Phil crawled out from beneath his piano and recommenced the honky-tonk. Customers resumed drinkin’, smokin’, spittin’ and cussin’. Meantime, the grinning Red-haired Rosie reached into her side pocket, retrieved a huge diamond ring and quietly slipped it back onto her finger.