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132 With A Bullet

by Donald Edward Peters

The sound of swinging doors squeaking rusty hinges got everyone’s attention.

          Slim strode into the Dry Gulch Saloon, trying desperately to swagger. Of course, when you weigh as much as a Shetland pony, swaggering is extremely difficult. Just walking takes concentration.

          His nickname was not some witty fabrication by a smart-alleck local. The sad fact was that no one in Prairie Gopher was capable of that level of humor, or for that matter, any type of intelligent comical remark. Knock-knock jokes were often met with puzzled stares. The embarrassed comedian would inevitably say he heard it from “some Easterner, just in on the stage,” and everybody would relax because it was common fact that Easterners were a bit strange. And they bathed regularly.

          No, Slim had been given his non-de plume (his real name was Mervyn) a long time ago during his hazily remembered youth when he’d actually been a svelte young man. But decades of inaction coagulated Slim until he turned into someone who looked like they’d swallowed a hot-air balloon. His thin, rolled shoulders and scrawny legs remained, which made him a comical sight, but again, no one in Prairie Gopher could appreciate the joke. So the town kept calling him Slim, which Slim didn’t mind. Anything was better than Mervyn.

          So when Slim lurched into the bar, he purposefully slammed the louvered doors with his thin hands, creating the squeal that got everyone’s attention. Dutifully, the saloon patrons set down their cheap whiskies and turned toward the intrusion. Then someone muttered, “Ah hell, it’s only Slim,” and the crowd turned back to their drinking, which was about the only entertainment in Prairie Gopher - the Old West equivalent of league bowling night.

          Slim oozed toward the bar, which was the standard polished wood and pitted brass. The bartender stood off to one side, idly rubbing a glass.

          “You’re new,” Slim said, squinting at him just to be sure.

          “Yup,” the bartender replied.

          “What kind of beer you got?” Slim asked. The Dry Gulch hadn’t changed its menu since the Civil War, but it never hurt to ask.

          The bartender stopped polishing the glass and stared at Slim. “Well, from what I see you’ve got two choices. Warm and real warm.”

          Slim glared at the newcomer. He had to be an Easterner. Only a city boy would have long hair, speak like a professor (which to Slim meant in complete sentences) and smell good. “What’s your name, boy?” he demanded.

          “Chris.”

          “Where you from?”

          “Berkeley.”

          Slim frowned. “Where’s that?”

          “Another world, man,” Chris smirked. “Another world. You want that beer?”

          “Give me a whiskey.”

          “Sure you don’t want anything else? Like, maybe a Mai Tai?”

          Slim didn’t know what a Mai Tai was, but he didn’t want the longhaired barkeep to know that, so he just growled, “Give me the whiskey.”

          “Sure,” Chris said. “Too bad, though. We just got in a shipment of those little umbrellas.” He poured Slim his shot and went back to polishing the glass.

          Slim took the offered drink and downed it with a single, satisfied gulp. It tasted like turpentine, but since that was the only taste Slim could associate with Dry Gulch whiskey, he belched appreciatively and turned toward his nearest neighbor, Boots Lowell.

          “Seen Lenny?” Slim asked.

          Boots said, “Nope.”

          “You sure?”

          “Yup.”

Slim leaned on the bar rail. “I thought he might be around,” he said. “The new rankings came out.”

          Boots finally showed some signs of life. “Where’d Lenny come out?”

          “132,” Slim said proudly, but when he saw Boots frown at the information, he added lamely, “but with a bullet.”

          “Thought he’d be better off than that,” Boots said. “‘Specially after he took down that Johnson boy.”

          “Yup,” Slim agreed. “Those voters just won’t give a Prairie Gopher guy a break.”

          “You got that right,” Boots said, nodding emphatically. “‘Course they probably heard the Johnson boy was pig drunk at the time.”

          “So was Lenny,” Slim defended righteously.

          “Not as drunk as the Johnson boy,” Boots replied. “They damn near had to prop him up against a wagon and put the gun in his hand.”

          “It was a fair fight!” Slim protested.

          “Sure it was,” Boots agreed. “It still took Lenny three shots.”

          “He was just trying to give the guy a break.”

          Boots smirked and said, “Yup. Sure he was.”

          Slim knew it was a good time to change the subject. His protégé was getting the verbal snot kicked out of him. “Even though he didn’t move up much, Lenny is still the highest ranked local since Tomcat McQuaid.”

          At the mention of the legendary Tomcat McQuaid, everybody in the saloon rose as one and put their hats over their hearts in solemn memory. Tomcat had been a real up-and-comer. Quick of eye and (semi) sharp of mind, he’d gone to Tombstone to seek his fortune and a match against a top-ranked gunslinger. He’d lasted ten minutes. Prairie Gopher residents still vehemently denied the scandalous rumor that Doc Holliday had gunned down ‘ol Tomcat between offhanded sips of coffee.

          In death, Tomcat had become a martyr for the town - a dead symbol of Prairie Gopher’s sincere and ridiculous attempts at establishing itself as a cosmopolitan city. With just a few breaks in different directions and maybe the addition of a WalMart or two, Prairie Gopher would have been as big as Virginia City, or Dodge, or even San Francisco with a little bit of luck.

          But the Prairie Gopher was still a backwater, and Lenny was now cast in the role of town savior. A number-one ranking was probably out of the question - a matter of reflexes, brashness and eyesight - but certainly, if his career was handled smoothly, Lenny could creep into the top ten.

          That was Slim’s job. As Lenny’s manager, he chose the opponents. The Johnson boy had been a good one to pick off early: Given more seasoning and time to develop, he’d have blown Lenny away like laundry lint.

          Take it slowly, Slim mused as he signaled Chris for another whiskey. Let Lenny develop a reputation. Hell, that was half the battle. The top guys didn’t have to fight much - people just weren’t that eager (Tomcat excepted) to become just another notch on Holliday’s or Bill Hickok’s gun belt. Sure, if you pulled off the upset you were an instant celebrity and you skyrocketed up the charts. ‘Course you had to be alive to enjoy it.

          Again there was the slam of the louvered doors, and this time it was the man himself. Lenny strode into the bar, restless eyes searching the crowd for dangerous foes. Or girls. Or just friends. But hell, it looked good.

          Slim admired his protégé. Lenny was tall, handsome and thin. There was a rugged look on his face; chiseled chin, and flat, pale blue eyes. The black Stetson pulled low over his eyebrows, gleaming boots, small string tie; and, of course, the ever-present six gold bullets hanging off his belt.

          Every good gunfighter needed a gimmick; something that fans could instantly recognize. Slim had tried them all: an eyepatch, rattlesnake boots, derby hat and handlebar mustache. Nothing had seemed to fit. But a fit of imposed sobriety (he’d been in jail for urinating on the mayor’s lawn) had given Slim the idea; and the local undertaker betting into Slim’s ace-high flush had provided the opportunity. Silver bullets were everywhere, but nobody had gold ones. Lenny was forbidden to use them - there weren’t that many people in town with that kind of bridgework - but they had the right look. Slim figured they were worth ten slots on the rankings, easy.

          Lenny sidled over to the bar, eased into the stool next to Slim and snapped his fingers imperiously. The bartender looked up from his now spotless glass with an annoyed glare.

          “Something I can get for you?” he asked.

          “Whiskey, and make it snappy.”

          Chris grabbed the bottle off the counter and poured Lenny a shot. Sliding it down the bar, he said, “Here you go.”

          Lenny made a stabbing lunge at the flying glass, spilling half its contents in the process. “Hey,” Lenny yelped. “You shouldn’a done that.”

          “Why not?”

          The pale blue eyes narrowed with what in Prairie Gopher passed as a fierce stare. “Don’t you know who I am?”

          “No.”

          “I’m Lenny Sturgen,” he said, and when Chris showed no sign of recognition, he added, “The gunfighter.”

          The bartender shrugged. “And?”

          Slim noticed confusion flash across Lenny’s face. Witty repartee was not Lenny’s strong suit - even by Prairie Gopher’s standards, Lenny was a rock. It was Slim’s job to engage in verbal barbs.

          “Better be careful what you say, boy,” Slim said. “Lenny here’s ranked.”

          The confusion finally left Lenny’s face, and he added, “Yeah.” He looked proud of himself.

          The bartender glanced at Lenny. “How high?” he asked.

          “132 and moving up,” Slim replied.

          Chris laughed. “That’s all? There’s mules ranked higher than that.”

          Slim and Lenny were speechless. The conversation was way out of their league.

          “Not many,” Slim finally managed to reply.

          The barkeep looked Lenny up and down. “Could be something,” he said. “Needs a catch. Maybe an eyepatch.” And he moved off down the bar.

          “I told you we should have kept the eyepatch,” Lenny muttered to Slim when the bartender was out of earshot.

          “Shut up, Lenny,” Slim answered, and the town hope dutifully went back to sipping his whiskey.

          Later, Lenny and Slim were walking down Prairie Gopher’s main thoroughfare. It wasn’t the only street in the town - it just had the greatest proliferation of bars, whorehouses and farriers. It also had the most potholes.

          Lenny sunk one of his expensive, hand-tooled boots six inches into one of the more accommodating of the muck-filled holes, and stumbled into Slim trying to keep from following in the disobedient footwear.

          “Watch it!” Slim snapped crossly as he slipped into a muddy wheel rut. “Look where you’re walking.”

With difficulty, Lenny extracted himself from the hole and clumped after Slim. When he caught up to his waddling manager, he gasped, “I think I need a nickname.”

          Slim sighed heavily. It was a common complaint from Lenny. Wild Bill, Buffalo Bill, Doc and the Kid - all the great ones had nicknames. And Lenny wanted to be Dodge City with Prairie Gopher skills.

          “We been over this,” Slim said with exasperated patience. “You can’t just say you want a nickname.  Somebody else has to give you one. It’s like a gift.”

          “How about ‘Tex?’” Lenny said. “We could say you gave it to me.”

          “That’d be stupid. You ain’t from Texas.”

          “We could say I was.”

          Shaking his head at Lenny’s stupidity, Slim said, “Maybe after you knock of someone big.”

          Lenny sullenly thrust his hands into his gun belt and kicked a pebble. “When’s that going to be, Slim? You ain’t let me go against anybody good.”

          Another ritual conversation. “You ain’t ready.”

          “Sure I am,” Lenny said. “I took out the Johnson boy.”

          “He was plumb drunk,” Slim replied. “Sober, he would’a planted you like a daisy.”

          “Now that ain’t nice.”

          “True, though. You worry about shooting straight and I’ll take care of lining up the opponents.”

          Lenny sighed in forced agreement. “OK.”

          “Now hush up. I’m trying to think.”

          Lenny eventually swaggered home to practice his quick draw, plink at some cans and practice his steely gaze in the mirror. Slim, with nothing better to do and no itinerary, returned to the Dry Gulch.

          Inside, the saloon patrons hadn’t changed much - in fact, they’d hardly moved. There were some new additions; Jenny the whore, Phil the effeminate piano player and Winston Gaitlow, the Butterfield Stage Manager.

          Winston sat at one of the corner tables. He was a thin as a bamboo shoot and wore pince nez glasses. Long ago, he claimed to have been an accountant in Cincinnati, but given that he needed to pull his boots off to count past ten, Slim figured he’d actually just counted the pigs as they went into the slaughterhouses.

          Jenny was also at the table, playfully fending off Winston’s advances with a branding iron. She was dressed in her working clothes - frilly skirt, garters and a feather boa. Jenny wasn’t beautiful by most standards, but served as a gleaming beacon of femininity in Prairie Gopher. That she slept with men to earn her living didn’t detract from her social standing - the Prairie Gopher wives saw Jenny as a service industry, and she’d been elected president of the Lady’s Rotary three years running.

          Jenny carried the wrought-iron metal club solely for Winston’s sake - every other male in town over the age of 16 she took up to the attic without a second thought. But, despite his bribery, blubbering and occasional unmanly begging, Winston could never convince Jenny to have a go.

          “C’mon,” he pleaded as Slim walked up. “Just this once. It’s my birthday.” Winston stretched his hand toward Jenny’s gartered thigh.

            She whacked him across the hand with the branding iron, making his eyes cross and his mouth pucker. “You said it was your birthday last week,” Jenny growled. “Buy me another drink and I’ll think about it.”

            “Me, too,” Slim said as Winston scurried off to the bar. It was an old routine. Jenny would dangle the carrot all night, and Winston would bankrupt himself trying to cloud her mind with cheap liquor. It never worked. Winston was a nice guy, and normally the men of Prairie Gopher wouldn’t let a woman con one of their own like that, but it kept them from having to buy Jenny drinks, so they played along. Jenny had a notorious tolerance, and when Winston would finally go home, broke and whimpering, some other bar fly would swoop in and reap Winston’s harvest.

            Jenny set down the iron and invited Slim to take a seat. “Howdy,” she said after he collapsed onto the wooden chair. “How’s your boy?”

            “Restless and stupid,” Slim sighed.

            Reaching into her blouse for a cigar, Jenny slashed a match across the varnished tabletop and puffed the cigar to life. “Best in town, though,” she said. “Until something better comes along.”

            “Yeah. But now that he took out the Johnson boy, he wants to go after bigger game.”

            “But the Johnson boy was blind...”

            “Don’t say it! I know! I know!”

            Jenny shrugged. “Sorry.”

            Nodding, Slim said. “Sure. The trick’s gonna be finding a ranked guy falling on hard times. Maybe a little bit off his game.”

            Jenny leaned over and, blowing smoke over her shoulder, said under her voice, “Professor Candrick’s comin’ to town tomorrow.”

            Slim arched his eyebrows. “How do you know?”

            “Winston tole me. Comin’ in on the 2:30 stage from San Francisco.”

            Leaning back, Slim asked, “Where’s he ranked?”

            “54. And falling fast.”

            Slim pursed his slips. Some time ago, Professor Candrick had been a real contender. The Professor (given because he’d once gone to college) dressed like an undertaker and had a remarkable ability at winning when he was supposed to get splattered across the street.

            “What happened?” Slim asked.

            Jenny shrugged. “Word is he became a drunk. Hasn’t fought anybody in months. You know; this could be a good chance for Lenny. Take the Professor out when he’s off his game.”

            “Hmm,” Slim pondered. “Could be something in that. Comin’ in on the stage, he’ll be tired. How can I set it up?”

            “His manager’s over there,” Jenny said, jerking her thumb at the bar.

            Slim followed the movement. Sitting alone was a portly man in a derby hat, sipping whiskey and reading the newspaper.

            Jenny whispered again. “Why don’t you try and get an edge?”

            “How so?” Slim whispered back.

            “Get him drunk before the fight. It’s a long ride from San Francisco.”

            “How?”

            Jenny sighed. Sometimes, Slim wasn’t much brighter than his gunslinger. “Have Winston do it. Telegraph ahead to the driver and set it up. When the Professor gets drunk, he gets mad. When he’s mad, he don’t fight as good.”

            Slim pondered Jenny’s proposition as Winston returned, precariously juggling three full glasses of whiskey.

            “You got an idea,” Jenny state-whispered.

            “I do?” Slim asked, then revelation. “Oh, yeah. I do got an idea.” Waiting for Winston to carefully set the drinks down (so not as to spill them), he barked, “You’re going to do a favor for me.”

            Winston jumped. “What?” he said suspiciously.

            “Wire ahead to your stage driver in San Francisco. The one bringing in Professor Candrick. Tell him to have enough booze on board to get the Professor good and drunk. I want him falling over himself when he gets there.”

            “Maybe,” Winston said slowly. “What do I get out of it?”

            “I’ll get Jenny to sleep with you.”

            Jenny stared impassively at Winston, despite his sudden, lascivious leer. “Now go do it,” Slim said, watching Winston as he sprang out of the chair toward the door, hope in his heart once again.

            When he was gone, Jenny eyed Slim, “I’m not gonna.”

            “Of course not,” Slim answered. “But he don’t know that.”

           

            The portly man set down his newspaper as Slim eased his considerable bulk on the adjoining bar stool. “Howdy,” Slim said in way of greeting.

            The man nodded and said, “Good evening,” in a cultured, refined voice.

            Slim signaled Chris the bartender for a drink and continued. “Heard the Professor’s comin’ into town tomorrow.”

            “Yes, he is.”

            “Got me a boy who’s pretty good. Just starting out.”

            The fat man didn’t look interested. “Is he ranked?” he asked in a bored tone.

            Slim pumped his head emphatically. “Yup. 132 this week and moving up fast.”

            “Good for him.”

            This wasn’t going as Slim wanted, but he was determined to get the match. “Could use another fight. How ‘bout it?”

            The man snorted. “Professor Candrick go against a lower-ranked opponent? We don’t need it. There’s nothing in it for us.”

            “Sure there is,” Slim persisted. “You boys been fallin’ on hard times recently. Couple of matches don’t go through, rumors floatin’ around about the Professor and the bottle. You need a good fight to get back on your feet.”

            “Not interested,” the man said as Chris came up with the whiskey bottle.

            “What’s this?” the bartender said, setting the glasses down in front of the two men. “You’re trying to line up a match for Lenny?”

            “His name’s Lenny?” Candrick’s manager said.

            “Sure,” Chris said to him. “I wouldn’t worry too much about him. Lenny couldn’t hit a rain cloud during a thunderstorm.”

            “What?” Slim roared.

            “Well, now, maybe we can schedule something after all,” the portly man said.

            “Now wait just a minute,” Slim demanded, swiveling his head between the two men.

            “Something wrong?” Candrick’s manager asked.

            “Well, no,” Slim stumbled. “It’s just that...”

            “He’s really pretty bad,” Chris said.

            “You son of a bitch,” Slim gasped, reaching over the bar toward Chris’ throat.

            “How’s noon on Thursday for you?” the portly man said.

            “I...” Slim started.

            “Try three tomorrow,” the bartender suggested. “Lenny’s usually in the bag by then.”

            “Hmm, OK,” the manager replied. “Three tomorrow in front of the saloon good for you?”

            “Uh...”

            “It’s settled then.” The man stood and slapped some change down on the bar. “Thanks for the advice,” he said to Chris.

            “You made a wise choice, sir,” he answered, and the manager left the saloon.

            Slim, still trying to catch up to the conversation but knowing he wanted to throttle the bartender said, “I’ll kill you.”

            “Relax, Slim,” Chris chortled. “You got your match.”

            And so he had. Slim slugged down the whiskey to calm his nerves and rapidly left the bar. He had to make sure his protégé didn’t drink himself into a stupor the night before his biggest match.

           

            The next morning found Slim desperately pouring coffee down Lenny’s throat. The night before, the town hope had already drained a bottle of cheap tequila by the time Slim had gotten to him. Twelve hours of sleep, orange juice and cursing had gotten him functional, if not fully sober.

            Lenny pushed the offered coffee cup away from his mouth. “Don’t want anymore,” he mumbled.

            “I don’t give a damn,” Slim growled, forcing Lenny to take another drink. “You did this to yourself, now I’m fixin’ it. Biggest chance in our lives and you gotta be halfway in a bottle.”

            “Jus’ havin’ a lil fun,” Lenny groaned.

            “Yeah. Real big fun.”

            Slim’s saving grace was a telegram, hastily read and crumpled in his pocket. Winston’s driver had wired from Vallejo that the Professor had eagerly dipped into the free whiskey and was busy regaling the other passengers with historical anecdotes and Irish limericks.

            With a little luck, the Professor would be barely standing by the time the stage reached Prairie Gopher. Slim checked his pocket watch. It said 11:15. A little more than three hours to go.

            Turning back to his gunslinger, Slim cursed once more and roared at Chris the bartender for another pot of coffee.

           

            By two, Lenny was bright-eyed, full of nervous energy and wired to the ceiling on caffeine. He fidgeted with his gun, adjusted and readjusted his hat and drummed his fingers on the bar top.

            “You’ll be fine,” Slim said soothingly. Great. Walking zombie this morning and now he threatened to leave his game in the bar. “Relax. You can take this guy.”

            Lenny nodded, glancing at his reflection in the bar mirror. He was dressed in his killing best: powder blue vest, black chaps and duster; the gold bullets gleaming on his polished belt. The Stetson, pounded until the dirt leeched out, crouched on his head, misshapen and lumpy. Maybe after he won he’d buy a new hat.

            At the prescribed time, the stage screeched into town and stopped in a flurry of trail dust and horse sweat. Slim and Lenny stared at each other for a minute until Slim said, “It’s time,” and the two of them swaggered through the swinging doors.

            The stage driver tied off the reins, leaped off his seat and opened the carriage door. First through was a tall man, dressed impeccably in a tailored suit, white vest and straw skinner. Reeling slightly, he stepped down onto the pitted street and took note of his surroundings.

            The Professor - gold fob watch, spectacles and inlaid revolvers - had arrived.

            Candrick lurched toward the bar, his manager scurrying to meet him. “Damn you,” the portly man said, grabbing Candrick’s wrist. “I set up a match.”

            “Oh?” the Professor slurred. “Anybody in particular.”

            “Lenny Sturgen. New boy. Book says he’s good off the draw, but has trouble moving to his right.”

            Slim winced. He knew Lenny’s weaknesses better than anyone did. Somebody must have briefed the manager.

            “No sweat,” the Professor said. “Just give me a minute to get ready.”

            The whole of Prairie Gopher had turned out for the showdown. Crowds gathered near the saloon doors. Gunfights were just another excuse to drink. Bookmakers set up shop near the livery stable. Saloon patrons argued back and forth about each contestant’s merits. The new school marm burned her bra and someone produced a Frisbee.

            As the Professor galumphed toward the Dry Gulch, Chris the bartender approached him. “So what college did you go to, Professor?”

            Candrick stopped and peered at the interloper. “Stanford,” he replied.

            The bartender nodded. “That’s an OK school. I would have gone there if I hadn’t gotten into Cal. Well, maybe not, but it was definitely among my top ten choices.”

            The Professor stopped in mid-stride and narrowed his eyes. Or tried too, but the whiskey intervened. It came out as a rheumy squint. “What?”

            “I said...”

            “I heard what you said,” the Professor roared. “How dare you insult my alma mater that way!”

            “Quite easily, I assure you.”

            “Hey,” Lenny jumped in. “Don’t we have a match?”

            “I’ll deal with you in a moment,” Candrick hissed. “Just as soon as I polish off this malodorous nuisance.”

            “‘Malodorous?’” Chris mocked. “Big word from a guy whose college mascot’s a fir tree.”

            “That did it!” the Professor howled, reaching for his guns. “Draw!”

            “Hey!” Lenny interrupted.

            “I don’t have a gun you ignorant twerp,” Chris said.

            “You’re right,” Candrick said, glancing around for another weapon.

            “Can’t you do something?” Slim demanded of the manager. His carefully laid plans were falling apart. The manager threw up his hands and then tugged at his gunslinger.

            “It’s not sanctioned!” the manager howled.

            The Professor shook off his boss’ grasp and rummaged in his suitcase.

            “Figured you’d forget a detail like that,” Chris continued in a drawling sneer. “Bet you remember The Play, though.”

            “Why you...” Candrick said from his suitcase

            “How’s the band?” Chris asked innocently.

            “That did it!” the Professor screamed, tossing his spare gun belt at the bartender’s feet. “Put it on!”

            “I don’t want to fight you,” Chris said.

            The Professor, suddenly cold sober in the heat of anger, grinned mercilessly. “Put it on or I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

            Slim slumped against the saloon railing. Great, he thought. Now the Professor gets a warm-up. Maybe he could postpone the whole thing.

            There was dead silence as Chris leaned over to pick up the gun belt. “Guess I have no choice,” he said. “One question, though.”

            “What’s that?” Candrick hissed.

            “How do you put this thing on?”

            The crowd jeered and the Professor broke into a wide grin. A helpful patron got the belt on Chris and propelled him onto the street.

            The Professor moseyed after him, silver spurs jangling and winking the late afternoon sun. He strode twenty paces away and turned to face the bartender.

            Slowly, Candrick stretched the fingers of his right hand and settled it on the grip of his revolver. Chris did the same, and the two faced each other and the capacity crowd deadened into silence.

            “Draw!” the Professor screamed as he started to pull his gun out.

            Later, there would be some dispute to what actually happened. Some in the crowd said Chris had his gun out the whole time, other said he was just faster than any man alive. In any event, one blink and the gun was still in his holster; the next it was in his hands, and two blinks later the Professor lay sprawled on Prairie Gopher dirt as a single shot echoed above the stunned audience.

            “Holy Jesus,” Slim muttered, which pretty much summed up the general feeling.

            Candrick’s manager rushed toward his fallen gunslinger as the Prairie Gopher citizenry cautiously approached their new champion. The bartender smiled broadly as he spun the gun back into his holster.

            Slim, sensing opportunity, was the first to greet him.

            “Boy, that was sensational,” he crowed. “Just amazing. But what you need is a manager. We could call you the Barkeep; maybe hang little shot glasses off your gun belt.”

            Lenny, two steps behind as usual, protested, “Slim!”

            “Hush, Lenny,” Slim said. “What d’ya say kid?”

            Chris shook his head. “Nope,” he answered. “Already have a manager.”

            “Huh?” Lenny said and Slim demanded, “Who?”

            Jenny broke through the crowd and linked her arm through the bartender’s. Dressed in her Sunday best and looking smug, she said, “Me, Slim. The boy and me, we’re going places.”

            “But,” Slim protested as, arm in arm, the two new heroes strutted toward the Dry Gulch, followed by their admiring fans.

            Once again, Lenny and Slim were alone on the main street of Prairie Gopher. Behind them, the undertaker raced toward the fallen Professor, a tape measure in his back pocket flapping in his wake.

            “Slim?” Lenny asked hesitantly.

            “Oh, shut up, Lenny,” Slim said.

Donald Edward Peters grew up in a small California town. He is a proud graduate of the University of Oregon.
Today, he lives in Southern Maryland with his wife.

Peters is the author of The Pride of Lyons (2013).