Published on Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The Bastards of Gallup
By Alec Cizak
|It weren't the first time nor the last that somebody blown in from the prairie looking to settle a score with Michael Doniphon. Around Gallup, the women called him Saint Michael on the count of his generosity. It was rumored that Michael once laid out three dollars for Irish Maggie, a visiting whore from||
And you can rest assured it was on the count of Saint Michael's slipping in and out of as many beds as possible that the occasional angered husband or shamed kin come along to win back the good name of one lady or another from the east; from before the war. By 1880, most everybody had settled their score with Michael. To be more precise, Michael had settled their score for them.
Dana Stecenko shown up an hour before sunset. Saint Michael was at Calhoun's, as usual, playing poker with some other foremen from the railroad. They was getting red-eyed and ornery. The air stank from cigars Michael brought up from Mexico. He slouched in his chair, real casual, holding his cards in his hand.
The saloon was filled with Mexican, Chinese, Irish and Italian workers from the east. The bosses were present too, carrying on with the men so as to show them they was no different despite the fact that they lived in homesteads while the workers set up in tent city, three a piece and never you mind that them tents was built for two, uncomfortably. Michael told the bosses it weren't ever a good idea to socialize with men they occasionally whipped during the day.
"You see how things worked out for the south," he would say.
"But that was slavery," they would say.
"Don't see much difference here," he'd say.
"We give 'em wages, so's they can pay for their meals and quarters. That makes 'em free men, get it?"
Michael said he didn't get it at all. "How is a man going to be free when he's expected to help make you a profit each and every day for twelve hours whilst you sit in a caboose counting yallers?"
The bosses would remind Michael just how lucky we was to be foreman and not have to do any actual work. They reminded him that he made a much better wage than the men who worked under his supervision. "Could be rough for a man ain't got but one arm and one leg," they would say.
"I reckon so," Michael would reply.
Saint Michael wasn't nearly as concerned about the welfare of the men who worked on the railroad as he sometimes put on. He had fought for the south, despite the fact that his mother was a slave from Africa. The man she accused of being his father had been brought over from Ireland to do work in the Caribbean that seemed a might right like slavery despite the fact that his masters gave it a nicer name — indentured servitude. Michael earned his freedom killing Yankees and, as soon as the difference was settled among the states, he whittled his concerns down to gambling and making God's best work with as many women as he could.
So it was, on a blistering October night, that Dana Stecenko, the wealthy son of a polish immigrant who was smart enough to become a Protestant somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, come a straddling into Calhoun's to take issue with Michael.
The damned side of being without an arm and a leg was that it was generally easy for anyone to pick Michael out of the lot. Dana walked over, emphasizing his gait just as wide as possible, hoping folks would think he warn't nobody to fool with.
"Michael Doniphon?" he asked, standing right over Michael's shoulder, staring at his cards as though that weren't a shameful breech of conduct.
Michael looked up. "Who's asking?"
"Dana Stecenko. Son of Abram Stecenko."
"That don't mean anything to me, young man." Michael went back to his cards.
"Well, it should."
Michael set his cards on the table.
"My father passed two months ago. Was about the time they set him in the ground that my mother told me the truth about how it was I came to be in this world."
Michael chuckled. He guessed that Dana was roughly twenty-five years old. The kid was dressed in a slick purple suit tailored somewhere on the East coast. So Michael said, "Ain't you a bit old to be just now let in on the ways of men and women and such?"
The other men at the table laughed. So did the whores standing around, looking on and waiting for someone to get bored and take one of them upstairs.
Dana blushed. "That's not what I'm aiming at. No sir, what I intended was, Mother explained to me why it should be that I got the squat, hawkish-snout of an Irish weasel and not the esteemed nostrils of a Polish gentlemen, like my father."
Michael turned his chair around. Much as he wished otherwise, he saw the resemblance between himself and the flustered young man before him.
"Mother said she met you when Father was in Washington, on business. Said you seduced her fierce, opened her up with some whiskey and planted the demon seed that spawned me."
"So you claiming to be my boy?"
"That's right, sir."
"I wouldn't ever name a child of mine Dana."
More hearty laughs.
Dana put a stop to it by swinging his fancy purple coat to the side to reveal fine, pearl-handled equalizers on a white and black leather belt. "Truth be told, sir," he said, "I don't reckon you're my father anyhow. Abram Stecenko raised me. That right makes him the man I call Father."
"Well, I guess you've got it all squared away,then."
"Not quite." Dana took three steps backwards. "Stand your ground, Mr. Doniphon."
Michael sighed and slowly made his way to his feet. He raised his hands. "I ain't carrying any irons."
Dana Stecenko's voice shook as he spoke. "Borrow one."
Larissa Lensky, a Russian whore from New York dressed in bright red ruffles, interrupted. "Never you mind whether he's carrying or not, mister. Set him down like a dog and I'll sit you up all night."
Michael sneered at her. "Mind your own, Larissa."
Dana spoke up. "Why don't you step outside on Hill Avenue, Mr. Doniphon? Settle this like a gentleman."
Michael sighed. "Now, I realize you got to do what you got to do. Sun's a-heading to the far side of the Pacific and I'm already high and lonesome. What say you let me buy you a whore, hell, you can have old loud-mouthed Larissa if'n you want. It's on me. A gift from your natural born father. Then we can both get a good night's sleep and take care of our unpleasant business in the morn'."
Dana shook his head. "I'm not fixing to stick around that long."
Michael nearly choked. "You don't want to spend time with a whore? Well, I honestly ain't ever heard of such a thing!"
"Maybe he's allergic to women," said one of the girls near Michael. This got the whole bar laughing once more.
Dana turned red. "I'm not interested in sittin' up with a whore when the man who made a fool outta' my mother and father sits here breathing air he don't deserve."
Michael exchanged another glance with Larissa, who was making her way to Dana. She traced her fingers along the kid's shoulders as she moved behind him. "Nice to see some class in this town," she said.
Dana shivered. "I ain't interested in women."
"You know," said Saint Michael, "I do believe your father had that same affliction. Hence the friendly ways of your mother."
Dana clenched his fists and stepped forward to land one across Michael's face. He didn't get far before Larissa picked up an empty chair and smashed it into the back of his head. The young man from the East tumbled to the floor.
Michael winked at his very favorite whore.
Dana Stecenko was dispatched just the same as every other agitated soul come looking for justice with Michael Doniphon. He was strapped to the back of a mule that was given a fierce nudge towards the west. Michael and Larissa watched the ass carry the boy away.
"He'll do well in California," said Michael. "Whole place seems to attract men what can't make it nowhere else." He put his arm around Larissa and led her inside and upstairs to her room where he laid an extra dollar on her nightstand before helping her remove the top layer of her dress.
Alec Cizak is a writer from Indianapolis. His work has appeared in Beat to a Pulp, A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, and Thuglit. He is also the editor of All Due Respect.