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Nobody knew quite what to say when Randall Clarvis Jarviston staggered into the Gumpistol-Whoadilly Brothers’ Saloon looking like…welp, I reckon you’d say he looked like piss, if you try’n imagine yer piss growing a skeleton and the know-how t’ climb up outa the bucket, put on some clothes and a hat and walk around. Yep, I know, his middle name and last name don’t fit him too good, kind of like that ugly face’uh his atop that gangly body that looks’ it about to get tangled up in its own limbs and start spilling rusty gears on the floor like an ol’ wooden clock that’s bit the dust. By the looks of it, he didn’t know what to say neither.
That’s Randall- we call him Jarvy. His missus don’ like that nickname too much, and she a sweet lady, so out of dignity, when in the presence and hospitality of Misses Jo-Ellen Justine Jarviston, we address the ol’ fool as Randall, but to us he ain’t nothin but Jarvy, and he knows it. Now, just what that worthless ol’ son of a mule done did in the eyes’uh the good lord to deserve’im a right pretty gal like Jo-Ellen Justine’s hand in marriage, it whups the bacon outa me to consider. I’ll fall off my horse before I deal that bastard a fair hand at Tuesday poker rounds. Skinny fellows who walk funny ain’t to be trusted when there’s money on the table, specially when it’s yer money.
Lou Misky saw it first — the blood on Jarvy’s shirt, that is. Jarvy was missing one suspender; the bullet done tore it right off. He was babbling about something. He made it as far as the whiskey booth ‘fore he fell flat on his brittle behind and went into a sleepin spell.
Lou Misky used to be the night watchman down at the jailhouse, but he done retired ‘bout- oh, let me see, about three, four years ago, and now he lives up on the prairie and sells clay pots he molds hisself. Lou is an honest man like they don’t make’m no more. When you got a secret that needs gettin’ off yer chest, and it ain’t no priest’s business, there are two men you know you can feel safe talking to; God, and Lou Misky. His wife Priscilla don’t think too kindly of him spending his evenings at the Gumpistol-Whoadilly, but there’d be lots more hell raised if he weren’t around to keep us in line.
Last Jarvy was seen — before dragging his wounded sorry kiester into the saloon — was four days ago when he rode off with Bill, Trullie and both Sullivan boys to the mountains in search of precious gems for collectin’ or some such foolish ‘venture. They were askin for trouble going up there, and now that Jarvy’s the only one’em who came back, seein’ the state he’s in, it don’t look too good for the rest of them boys.
Lou and a couple others tended to Jarvy, picked him up off the floor and brought him down the road to the infirmary, probably ran to notify Jo-Ellen after that, I don’t know. I came in here to drink my whiskey, and that’s what I’m goin’t’do. A’course, all people wanted to talk about after that to-do was rumors of what was up in them mountains.
I know what’s up there. Miss Germarnen told me when I was in third grade. Yeah, I know, her name don’t sound right at all; if you say it out loud, it’s like yer sayin good mornin. Back when I was a little brat, I weren’t too well behaved, I was always runnin about, teasin the gals, picking fights and sayin dirty words. Miss Germarnen pulled me aside one day after I let loose thirty-six squawking chickens inside the schoolhouse to be funny (to this day I can’t figure how she knew it was me) and she told me that if I kept up like that, the mountain women would come get me and do unspeakable harm to naughty little me. The mountain women?, I askt. Yeah, she knew all about the mountain women who hide in trees and bushes and shoot atcha with pistols just like you’re a wild animal, and then they roast you around a fire, get dressed up in yer skin and laugh atcha.
Some say the mountain women ain’t even alive; they like something between a ghost and regular folk, I reckon. I think Miss Germarnen was hintin that she were’nt always a schoolteacher, weren’t always a sweet, civilized person. Nobody ever knew who’r parents were or where she from. ‘Gives me the dust-locust-flutters-in-a-lungs to think ‘bout (that’s our way’a sayin the heebie jeebies, guess you could say).
Now here come Jo-Ellen and Lou escort’n her, that polite ol’ hounddog. She damned near hysterical, and- what’s this? Naw, naw, she got to be kidding if she’s insisting we all go up to the mountains. Tell me I ain’t hearing’er right, cause it sound to me like she’s demandin us to get on outa here, get on our horses right now and rescue Bill, Trullie and the Sullivans if they’re still alive.
Lou’s got his arm around her, tryin to hush’er up. Dog-on, I did hear’er right. Like I said, Jo-Ellen, she a sweet lady whom we all got nutt’n but teh utmost respect fir, but there’s a line that ain’t supposed to be crossed, and she just done crossed it, and that line is the doorway to the Gumpistol-Whoadilly Brothers’ Saloon.
You don’t bring non-whiskey-drinking-related business into the Whoadilly; that might as well be a law, and if the sheriff don’ enforce it, haayyl, I will. Jarvy violated that and now Jo-Ellen done followed in his sacrilegious footsteps. Ah s’pose I’ll forgive her for’t, but you should know you don’t never interrupt a man’s drinkin unless it somethin’t can’t wait, and something that really for real can’t wait. And more t’the point, you never, ever, ever ask a man- much less order a man, to go up to the mountains.
The mountains… Wait, now, what’s this about? It’s gettin fuzzy t’me. Let’s see, Jarvy come stumblin’ in, Jarvy- and now Jo-Ellen’s here, but he ain’t…everyone’s squawkin and tryin to tell each other what t’do, my head’s feeling dizzy…oh yes, I remember now, Jarvy come back from the mountains and-
She saw what just happened to her husband — she outa her mind, comin in here.
By darn, if there’s anything I caint be talked into by a pretty gal in a skirt, I’ve yet to ‘ncounter’t. It’s getting too dark to set out ridin’, but come sunrise we goin t’the mountains.
Jarvy, y’old skunk, you’re gonna owe us big time for this. The Whoadilly ain’t no place for matters unaffiliated with whiskey. You’ll learn yet.
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Portland Fiction Project
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