The Duplicate Saloon

Doc pushed his hat back on his head, leaving a streak of dust rimming his forehead just above washed-out grey eyes. The dust clogged in the creases outside each eye as he squinted in the bright Arizona sun. His horse tiredly shuffled his feet across the desert floor, head down, eyes nearly closed, not even noticing the lizard that crossed in front of them, stopping to flick its tongue and blink at the drooping rider above the plodding horse.

“Well, Sundance, I kin just barely see the shacks outside Dry Gulch now. We should be in town soon. I surely do hope the saloon has lots o’ whiskey. I’m right parched.” Doc’s dry tongue scraped across even drier lips. The horse did not respond.

On the other side of town, on the roof above the general store, Snake-Eye Jackson squinted into the desert, too, watching a tired, drooping man on a plodding horse. “Humpf! I don’ ‘spect Bullet is dumb enough to just ride into town like that, brazen as can be.” Snake-Eye mused to himself as he watched the weary rider approach. “I heard he was on his way to Dry Gulch, but that cain’t be him!”

Snake-Eye had been hiding on the roof most of the day, hoping to get a glimpse of Bullet Richards, orneriest, meanest sum-bitch in the southwest, before anyone else saw him. His gut still burned as he thought about that poker game in Lone Tree, up in Colorado Territory, a couple months ago. The two of them had plotted to cheat their way to winning a big stake in the game, but Bullet snuck out of town right after the game and took all the money with him. Snake-Eye had been hunting for him ever since.

“Well, I’ll be horn-swaggled! If it ain’t Doc Henderson!” Snake-Eye’s one good eye widened as the lone rider got close enough he could see the dusty beard trailing down the front of Doc’s sun-faded vest. That beard could only belong to Doc. It was his one pride-and-glory. “I wonder what that old hired gun is doing here, of all places?” Snake-Eye scrambled back from the edge of the roof as he saw Doc push his hat back on his head and all but look him in the eye.

“Stop pickin’ yer teeth, Angie!” the barkeep yelled over at the chunky, garishly dressed barfly while he lazily swiped a dirty rag over an even dirtier bar. “It’s getting’ so even the oldest, drunkest, and ugliest cowboy don’t even want to come near the bar with you standin’ there!”

“Oh, shut up, Duke!” Angie brushed her dried out straw-like hair off her face and struck a pose at the end of the bar. “There was a day when the cowboys used to fight over me! Why, I remember these two…”

“Aw, Angie, them days is long gone. You might jest as well fergit about them. Those two old gunfighters are prolly dead by now. You sure as shoot ain’t never gonna see neither one o’ them agin!” Duke finished washing the bar and threw his rag at Angie. “Now, git off that there bar stool, git yerself cleaned up, and help me get set up fer the evenin’ rush!”

“What evenin’ rush? Why, there ain’t been but two-three old drunks in here in weeks . . .” Angie’s voice trailed off as the swinging doors whooshed open, leaving a man’s silhouette against the setting desert sun in the open doorway. She stared at the man as he slowly moved toward the bar. His face was shielded by his hat, but that beard – there was something familiar – “Oh my gosh!” Angie breathed, could it be? She sat back down heavily on the bar stool, stealing a glance at her face in the cloudy mirror.

“Howdy, stranger!” Buck grinned at the newcomer, hoping to encourage him to buy something. “Can I get you something to wet yer throat?”

“Yeah, whiskey, and leave the bottle.” The stranger tossed a silver dollar on the bar as he turned to look at Angie, who was desperately trying to fix her appearance in the old mirror. “Angie, is that you? Why, I’ll be! Ain’t never figured to see you agin!”

Out behind the corral next to the livery stable, a shadow moved in the approaching desert night. The horses in the corral whinnied softly as they detected something moving along the fence line. The shadow paused, and crouched lower as the horses stirred restlessly. “Whoa, fellas. It’s OK now.” A soft voice floated out over the corral, steadying the horses. The shadow grew taller, stretching to the height of a man with a pair of saddlebags flung over his shoulder. He slipped over the fence, and, keeping the bodies of the horses between him and the light from a solitary lantern in the livery stable, moved through the herd, softly reassuring them as he went.

Bullet Richards had arrived, on foot, in Dry Gulch. He snuck into the stable, found an empty stall, slunk inside the partially open door and buried the saddlebags under the straw spread on the floor. He crouched there for a few minutes, listening for sounds of anyone else in the area. After awhile, he decided there was nobody about, so he lay down, pulled his hat over his face, and went to sleep.

Snake-Eye moved across the general store roof, climbed down the back of the building, using the crates he stacked up there earlier as steps, and jumped the last few feet to the dirt track running behind the store. He brushed off his pants, squared his hat on his head, and stepped out into the street in front of the store as if he belonged there. “Guess if Bullet is coming to town he must be planning to sneak in under cover of darkness.” Snake-Eye mumbled. “Howdy, ma’am.” He tipped his hat to a woman who looked at him quizzically as she passed by. “Nice evenin’ ain’t it?” She nodded, stepped around him, and went on, looking back once with no comment.

Snake-Eye continued on toward the saloon, noting the fading sign above the swinging doors: The Duplicate Saloon: Double Yer Fun. “Ha, I just bet!” he snickered. “What kind of fun could be had in this worn-out town?” He pushed the swinging doors aside and looked in. All he saw in the gloom was some old cowboy, his back to the door, over at the end of the bar talking to a worn-out hussy, who seemed to be preening herself in the mirror. The barkeep was watching the pair with a bored smirk on his face.

“Hey! Barkeep! How about a drink?” Snake-Eye stepped up to the bar and slapped a half-dollar down. Duke poured a glass of whiskey and set it down on the bar next to the coin. “You want some change, or are you going to have another?” He asked, eyeing the coin as if it were going to disappear. “Leave it, I might want another.” Snake-Eye growled. He was still not happy about not finding Bullet.

Both the cowboy and the hussy turned at the sound of his voice, staring  at Snake-Eye. The cowboy with distaste, and the hussy with amazement. “Snake-Eye.” They said at the same time.

“Yeah, Doc, I figured that was you. I saw you ride into town from the north. But, who the hell are …?” Snake-Eye’s one eye widened for the second time that day. “Angie, as I live and breathe!”

It took a few minutes for everyone to recover their surprise at seeing each other again. The last time these three were together was on a riverboat out of St. Louis. Angie was one of the hostesses and Doc and Snake-Eye were playing poker. Both the gun fighters were enraptured by Angie, who was young, slender and pretty. The three of them had a high old time on that river boat trip. When the trip was over,  Angie declared she did not want to give up her life as a river boat princess to go live in the Wild West with either of the gun slinging gamblers, although they both asked.

In the years since that river trip, the gun fighters went their separate ways out West. Doc hired himself out as a part-time lawman to small towns in Montana and Wyoming Territories. Snake-Eye continued to gamble his way through Colorado, Utah and now in to Arizona Territory, staying just barely on the wrong side of the law. Angie’s fortunes steadily decreased until she found herself working in this tiny, desolate bar in Dry Gulch, Arizona.

“So, why are you here, Doc?” Snake-Eye wanted to know. “I thought I heard you were working for the law up north.”

“I am. I was hired by the town of Deadwood, Wyoming to bring in a notorious bank robber who hit the bank there.” Doc went on to tell them about the $100,000 the townspeople had been raising for five years to build a new courthouse. He mentioned that Bullet Richards got it all and they hired Doc to find him.

Snake-Eye tuned out Doc’s story and was busy eyeing Angie, trying to figure out how to get her alone, until he heard the name “Bullet.” He perked up and listened to the story Doc was telling. His one eye gleamed with anticipation as he started mentally calculating this new development.

“What brings you to Dry Gulch?” Angie asked Snake-Eye, coquettishly ducking her head and batting her eyes. Snake-Eye was gently stroking Angie’s fingers as they lay on his thigh. Doc grunted, and echoed Angie’s question, trying to draw Snake-Eye’s attention away from Angie.

“Just wanderin’ around the West,” Snake-Eye lied, not wanting to reveal he was after the same man as Doc, but for a very different reason. He gloated to himself as he thought about catching Bullet with not only his share of the illicit poker game, but now with the takings from the Wyoming bank as well.

The next day, both gun fighters were up at the crack of dawn, and, after a hurried breakfast of biscuits and strong, bitter, black coffee at the hotel café, they headed out, looking for signs that Bullet had come in during the night. Snake-Eye pretended to be bored as he wandered down the street toward the general store, but he was watching Doc as he hurried to the livery stable to inquire if there were any new horses in town. Neither one of them was thinking about Angie, who was frantically going through her wardrobe, looking for something other than the frowsy barfly clothes she usually wore. She had been doing some calculating, too.

As Doc strode up to the doorway of the livery, Bullet was sneaking out the back door near the corral. He saw Doc enter, and in his haste to hide behind the water trough, he tripped over an old saddle that had been carelessly dropped outside the back of the livery. The crashing sound caught Doc’s attention and he hurried toward the noise, six gun drawn at his side. Snake-Eye noticed Doc’s hurried movement and ran toward the stable, thinking that Doc might have found Bullet.

The three men, each aware of only one other, spent the next few minutes peering around bales of hay, the water trough, and other livery stable equipment, hoping to see something that would give away the position of the others. Doc was looking for an unknown man, but one he thought was Bullet, Snake-Eye was looking for Doc, and Bullet was trying to hide from Doc. He did not see Snake-Eye come up behind him until it was too late. “Put em up!” Snake-Eye whispered, “Or I will shoot you right now!” “And be quiet, I don’t want Doc to find us just yet!”

Bullet jerked around and found himself staring down the barrel of Snake-Eye’s six shooter. “Quick, get over here, Doc can’t see us back behind this wagon. He thinks you are still out by the corral.” Bullet did as Snake-Eye said, seeing as how he really did not have a choice. “Look, Snake, I can get you your money now,” Bullet started to say. “Shhh. Not here!” Snake-Eye looked back over the boot of the wagon to see where Doc was. He saw Doc’s back as he crept closer to the water trough. Snake-Eye and Bullet then sneaked out the front of the livery stable, down between it and the building next door, then into the track in back leading behind the hotel, general store and jailhouse. Once they got behind the hotel, Snake-Eye grabbed Bullet, shoved his gun in his face and growled, “I want my money and half of what you got in the Wyoming robbery or I tell Doc where you are!”

“You’re not telling Doc anything, Snake-Eye. Now you jest put that gun down and back off Mr. Bullet there.” Both of them turned and stared in shock at Angie, who held a shotgun leveled at Snake-Eye’s head. “Now, Angie, put that down before you hurt yourself!” Snake-Eye took a step toward Angie, who waved her gun and tightened her finger on the trigger. “I may not be a crack shot like you, but this here is a shotgun and you ain’t that far away, I figure I can do some serious damage with it, so once again, back away!” Angie looked like she might really pull the trigger. Snake-Eye lowered his gun and stepped back.

“Now what ya gonna do, Angie? I thought we had somethin’ there last night.” Snake-Eye whined a bit, looking from the shotgun to Angie’s face.

“I thought we did, too, but then I figured Mr. Bullet here has something’ more – at least $100,000 more – and I think he would be a better choice for me to run off with. Right, Mr. Bullet?” She swung the barrel back and forth between them.

“Well, actually, Angie, I figure neither one of these boys has anythin’ you will be wantin’ seein’ as how both of them are headed for the jailhouse!” They all three turned and stared as Doc stepped out from the shadows, his gun aimed at Snake-Eye, and Bullet.

“And, Angie, I would put that gun down right fast unless you are plannin’ on joinin’ them in there.” Duke, wearing a tin sheriff’s star, stepped out beside Doc.

Snake-Eye and Bullet went to jail, the money was recovered and the townspeople of Deadwood were able to build their new courthouse and Doc went back to patrolling Montana and Wyoming Territories, looking for bank robbers. What about Angie and Duke? Why, they got married, of course. It seems Angie was just looking for a big, strong man to take care of her, and Duke, who had always been jealous of her past life as the riverboat princess with men chasing after her all the time, finally convinced her that those days were long gone!

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