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Published on Friday, December 16, 2011

Gentleman Jim

By J.W. Throgmorton

 

The clerk swept around the four Lazy-Bar-H cowboys draped over the wooden crates in the shade of the Prescott stage depot. Although they hadn't broken any furniture or started any fights, the cowhand's Saturday night had been a humdinger. Bent on drinking every drop of beer in the Palace Saloon, they had gambled, and danced with the ladies until well past midnight, but the morning exacted an atonement for their night's revelry.

   

Their heads throbbed with each heart beat, mouths of cotton and nauseous stomachs rendered them unable to endure the jarring ride back to the ranch. To make matters worse, they had not a nickel between them to buy the proverbial, 'Hair of the dog ...'

Thundering hoofs and the rattling of harness chains wrapped in a cloud of dust announced the arrival of the southbound ten o'clock stage. With a heavy head, John Tucker glanced up at the big clock that hung on the crumbling adobe wall. Next year's completion of the railroad to Prescott would put the stage line out of business, so no one saw fit to make building repairs.

"Nine-forty, she's early," Tuck said.

"Uh-uh, she's late," Frank Johnson, corrected, "Leaves at ten."

The driver's hollering and the stomping of nervous horses made enough noise to cause the cowhands to decide on retreatin' to a quieter location to recover. They stopped dead in their tracks when they saw 'him' step down from the faded red coach and began to knock the dust off his attire. Perched on his head was a shiny black hat shaped like an up-side-down bowl with a brim too small to provide shade. The man's suit jacket and tapered leg pants resembled a blue and green plaid horse blanket. White linen spats that barely reached his ankles covered his shiny black leather shoes. The bow tie he sported around his neck looked like a woman's fluffy scarf, and he wore gloves that buttoned at his wrist and matched his spats.

The man's duds held them mesmerized.

Frank was the first to speak. "Would ya look at that?" The comment was rhetorical since they all stared.

"Danged if that don't beat all. It's a dude." Tuck said and he, along with Pete Johnson, Frank's brother, and Jack Kelly, began to laugh.

The man paused to survey his surroundings and then stepped onto the boardwalk to await the unloading of his luggage. As he waited, he became aware of the four men sprawled on the crates in the shade of the mesquite canopy attached to tired old building.

The man turned and strolled to where they sat.

Jabbing his elbow into Tuck's ribs, Frank said, "Now you've done it. We don't need trouble."

Tuck lowered his voice, "He's a dude ... a purdy one at that." He commenced chuckling again, but Pete and Jack refrained.

Approaching, the man tapped the brim of his hat, "Excuse me, Gentlemen. May I inquire as to the location of your town's hotel?"

Confused, Tuck stared up at the man. It was as if he spoke a foreign language, which to them, he had. "Huh?" Tuck asked.

"Hotel. Could you direct me to your town's hotel?"

Pete pointed. "It's that-a-way," he said. "The Palace, it's across from the courthouse yonder."

Jack rose on his shaky legs and inhaled deeply to quell the sick feeling in his stomach. After the queasiness passed, he said, "For the cost of a beer, we'll tote your goods to the hotel."

"Why, thank you my, good man. That would be a splendid arrangement."

Tuck eyed the man suspiciously, "Does that mean 'yes'?"

The man grinned showing all his teeth. "It most certainly does ... I mean, yes."

Frank and Pete took hold of the travel trunk and lifted. Pete grunted with the strain and then muttered, "Shoulda made it two beers."

Jack carried the dude's carpetbag, leaving Tuck to carry the man's black leather pouch with gold embossed initials, 'J.J.C.'

His spurs jingling from the long strides, Tuck worked to keep in step with the tall dude, "What brung ya to Pres'kat?"

The man smiled at Tuck's inquisitive nature. "I'm a thespian and I am joining my theatrical company here to offer your community a sample of our repertory."

Tuck could only stare. He didn't understand a single word the man said. "Iffen ya don't wanta say I guess it'd be your business."

"You jackass," Jack said, "He's a play actor, and he's meetin' other ones here to give us a show or somethin'."

"That true, Mister?" Tuck asked.

"It most certainly ... I mean, yes."

"Danged if that don't beat all," Tuck said. "Heard about 'em, but never see'd one."

"Well you shall see one next Saturday night. Please, gentlemen come as my guests?" He boomed in his deep bass stage voice. Then swirled his hand in the air with a flourish, like the ringmaster from a circus.

Tuck, Jack and the dude stood outside the Palace Hotel and Saloon waiting for Frank and Pete. Cowhands earned their living from horseback, occasionally on the ground mending fences, roping and branding, but they never wandered far from their horses. The high-heeled boots kept their feet in the stirrup, but they were poorly suited for walking; especially carrying a heavy and awkward trunk.

"Guests for what?" Pete asked.

"You Gentlemen shall be my guest next Saturday night here at the Palace Hotel to see my troupe's performance of Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'."

Tuck had pulled off his hat and was scratching his head, "Are you in the Army? I mean what's troopers got to do with play actin'? I know they parade roun' and such, but ..."

Jack, who had attended school and could read and write better than the others, tried to explain. "It's 't-r-o-u-p-e' not 't-r-o-o-p.' He's talkin' about the other play actors."

"Then why don't he say so?" Tuck demanded.

Jack just shook his head and looked apologetic to the dude as they entered the hotel's lobby and restaurant to drop off the luggage.

The dude retained his good humor, "It's quite alright," he said. "I still wish for you all to be my guests. Now for the libations I promised for my part of our agreement?"

"No thanks," Tuck said. "I'd rather have a beer."

Jack, embarrassed by his friend's continued display of ignorance turned to Tuck and asked, "Where was you raised?"

"My fo'ks come out 'ere from Kentuck when I was but a young'n. And I run off when I were about fourteen. Ya know'd that, why you askin'?"

"It's by way of an explanation to the gent." Jack said.

Tuck looked at Jack, and then to the dude with a confused expression on his face, finally, he just shrugged. "Let's get that beer," he said and pushed through the swinging doors that separated the saloon from the hotel.

Jake, the burly bartender, looked up from the glasses he'd been drying when they entered. "I told you boys last night; no credit."

The dude, who had come through the doorway last, said, "It's quite alright, Sir. I'm paying for their drinks. Would you be kind enough to pour beers for us all?"

Jake paused. The dude tossed a silver dollar on the bar. The bartender's nimble fingers snatched it from the bar's smooth varnished top quicker than a cardsharp dealing from the bottom of the deck. He promptly placed four reasonably clean glasses, filled to the brim, on the bar.

"Ah, that's a good man. Thank you."

The Lazy-Bar-H cowhands, badly dehydrated, tilted their heads back in unison. When they sat down their drinks, the mugs were nearly empty.

"That hit the spot," Tuck said, and he looked at the dude.

With an understanding twinkle in his eye, the dude smiled. Despite his dress and manner, he was not a stranger to a hangover and knew their need. "May I buy you gentlemen another beer?"

"Sure thing," Tuck said.

"You bet," Frank and Pete chimed in.

"Thank you," Jack said, and they all pushed their mugs towards Jake for refills.

"Easy on the foam," Tuck instructed.

The dude's silver dollar bought them four rounds each, which brought heavenly relief to their throbbing heads, nauseous stomachs, and trembling hands. In fact, they were near ready to start another night of celebration.

While they stood at the bar sipping their beers, they naturally started a friendly conversation with their host. Tuck, ever the nosey one, asked, "So how long ya been a play actor."

"I've been in the theater for several years now. I'm from San Francisco originally, and that's where I started as an actor."

"So was y'ur fo'ks actors?"

  

"No, certainly not..." He straightened and his tone changed slightly, "My father did not approve of my becoming a thespian. His preference was that I continue with my budding career as a banker. However, I chose the theater in its stead."

"Then what'd they do fer a livin'?" Tuck was persistent if nothing else.

Jack spoke up. "Tuck, you're bein' terrible nosey. Let the gent be, he treated us to these beers."

"It's quite alright. I enjoy the conversation. One likes to tell about themselves, if there is an audience. Your Mr. Tuck is my audience du jour."

"Ha, that's one I knows, 'dejer'..." Tuck beamed proudly. "They have that at Frenchy's place. It's the soup they're offerin' fer the day, right?"

The dude smiled, "That is close enough my friend."

 

*         *        *

 

Across the barroom seated alone nursing a bottle of rotgut whisky skulked Steer Johansson. No one rightly knew Steer's real given name, but Steer suited him. He tipped the scale at over three-hundred-pounds and towered over everyone in town at his height of nearly six-foot-four-inches. Steer was a cruel bully and uncommonly mean when he was drunk. A while back, it took the Sheriff and two of his deputies to haul him off to jail after he assaulted widow Barton for no reason other than she didn't get out of his way quick enough.

Too large to sit a cowpony, Steer worked as a ranch-hand. Though no one here claimed to have witnessed the event, it's told that after a horse stumbled and fell under his weight that he killed it with a single blow of his fist to its forehead. Since Steer was vicious, people accepted the rumor as fact.

The Muleshoe Ranch owner had just fired Steer after he'd threatened to break the cook's neck. Steer thought the gravy was too watery. The cook presented the owner with an ultimatum, either Steer had to go, or he would.

The owner wasn't sure if the cook was angry about the threat or the watery gravy comment. But, no matter, it genuinely hadn't required any contemplation on the owner's part. Truthfully, he had wanted to fire the lazy oaf anyway. He ate big and worked little, and the men generally didn't care for him.

The outcome of the situation had left Steer in a black mood and searching for someone on whom to direct his anger. He had been watching the dude with the Bar-H boys, and two days of drinking cheap whiskey had only increased his surliness. Steer decided the dude in the fancy clothes fit the bill.

Steer stood, and staggered his way to the bar. Frank and Pete lounged against the bar on the dude's right. "Out my way," and with an exaggerated swipe of his huge arm, he sent the Johnson brothers to the floor.

 

*         *        *

 

He had seen the big man's approach and recognized the behavior of someone bent on trouble. When Steer turned on the dude, he wasn't there. The dude had stepped away from the bar. Although he hadn't raised his fists, he was ready for Steer.

Tuck stepped in front of Steer. "You got more 'an hundred pounds on 'm. Sides, he's a dude and don't know how to fight."

"I sincerely appreciate your concern Mr. Tuck, but this drunken bully doesn't appear very threatening."

Tuck and Steer both turned to looked at the dude, "Huh?" They said in unison.

Jack translated. "He says for you, Tuck, to get out of the way so he can deal with Steer."

The Johnson brothers had eased up off the floor, but kept several feet between them and Steer. Tuck hadn't moved and Jack smiled at the prospect of some entertainment before they returned to the ranch. It would give them something to talk about.

Steer leaned back against the bar for stability and sneer down at the dude. "Do you know who I am, Mr. Fancy Pants?"

"My apologies, but I do not. Are you a local celebrity?"

Tuck moved next to Jack and asked, "What's a 'sea-labor-tee'."

Jack seemed to have accepted that he would have to act as an interpreter for Tuck and most likely steer as well. "It means, a well-known person, ya know like the mayor or sheriff."

Steer puffed up, "They call me Steer on accounta I'm so big. Everyone roun 'ere knows me too, and they knows to stay shy-o-me when I'm on the prod."

Mirth shone in the dude's eyes, "Steer you say. Ox would have been more appropriate, don't you think? In either case, Mr. Steer, I can certainly see why the good people of this community would prefer not to abide your companionship."

Steer's eyes squinted, he had understood the words well enough, but he wasn't sure they meant what he thought. "You makin' funa me?"

"Certainly not ... in a way that you would understand."

Jack chuckled; Steer glared first at Jack and then the dude. Even in his drunken stupor, he knew he'd been insulted.

Why else would Jack have laughed at him?

Steer growled, "Enough talk, Fancy Pants," and then he lunged.

The dude sidestepped the giant's rush, stuck out his foot, tripping him, and placed a well-aimed punch to the base of his skull as he went down. Steer splay across a table, which collapsed from his weight. He didn't stir.

Tuck, scratched his head. Never at a loss for words he spoke first. "Danged if that don't beat all. O' Steer went down like a bag a feed."

Jack and the Johnson brothers looked on with amazement. "Mister, you just poked a stick in a big nest of hornets," Jack said. "You'd best be outa town afore he sobers up. That's no joke."

"I would not be so concerned gentlemen. I have dealt with large bullies before. It may be that he has learned his lesson?"

"Gent, ya just don't seem to understand your pur-dicament." Tuck said. "Ya know how he got the name a Steer? ...he kilt a horse once with his bare fist."

A wrinkled brow conveyed the dude's confusion at Tuck's sentence. Jack translated, "Tuck means that he's big as a steer, and it's told that he killed a horse with a blow from his fist." Jack added, "But no one seen it firsthand."

"I see," said the dude. "Be that as it may, I have a contractual obligation to this establishment. Departing town is not a viable option."

"... But," Tuck started to speak.

The dude raised his hand to halt further discussions. To Jake, he said. "Please have the cost of replacing the table added to my hotel bill," and he left the saloon.

 

*         *        *

 

When the boys returned to the Lazy-Bar-H, they spent the entire week repeating the story of how the dude had bested Steer Johansson. By the end of the week, the cowhands believed that Steer had been beaten to a bloody pulp. The next Saturday, only a few hands stayed at the ranch. The rest went to town to see the dude that had whipped Steer.

 

*         *        *

 

Saturday morning in Prescott, Arizona was the business day of the week for the neighboring ranchers and their hands. Except for the Fourth of July and rodeos, the town held their social activities in the coolness of the evenings. During midday, when it was the hottest, people tended to stay indoors or at least in the shade.

The Palace bar was packed for a Saturday morning's business. Beer was the beverage of choice, and it poured freely. The Lazy-Bar-H hands had taken over the Palace, and were waiting to see the dude.

 

*         *        *

 

Steer Johansson also waited, in the Palace, but this morning he wasn't drinking. Quiet conversations and darting glances from the cowhands left Steer without doubt that they were talking about him, but no one laughed. 'Best not, if they knew what was good fer 'em,' he thought.

He had laid low all week to avoid the stares and comments from the town folk. But, come Saturday, the cowhands would return, and he would have an audience when he whipped the dude.

When the dude appeared in the Palace's restaurant for a late breakfast, the Lazy-Bar-H hands crowded around the doorway. Each of them pushing and shoving to secure a better view.

Finally, Steer got up from his chair and marched to the doorway. Sensing his approach, the men pulled back, unblocking his access to the restaurant. He ground to a halt when he reached the dude's table.

He stood with his thumbs hooked over his belt, and waited for the dude to look up. The man continued eating, ignoring Steer, and likewise, the crowd that had formed behind him. No one had ever dared ignore Steer before, so he was not accustomed to it, and his anger quickly grew to fury.

Red-faced, teeth bared, Steer grabbed the edge of the dude's table and hurled it across the dining room, crashing it to splinters against the wall.

The dude looked up with an amused expression. "Your action was solely at your initiation, and therefore, the cost of repairs shall be at your expense."

Steer's brow furrowed with confusion. Jack Kelly, who had been watching, called out. "He means you gotta pay for the damage, Steer."

"Outside, Fancy Pants. It's time fer ya ta start learnin' that Steer Johansson ain't so easy a fight when you're facin' him and he's sober."

"Are you so grandiose that you must speak of yourself in the third person?"

"Huh?"

"It doesn't matter. I am sure you are not."

"Outside, I said. We'll soon see who's best man roun 'ere."

Tuck pushed through the men; he had something to say. "Steer, this gent can't weight more 'an one-ninety, and ya got longer arms. This ain't even close ta a fair fight."

Rumblings from the other men confirmed their agreement.

"Mr. Tuck, once again I am indebted to you for your attempt at trying to safeguard my person, but I assure you, that your effort is unneeded."

The dude strolled out onto the boardwalk and looked up and down the street. Steer followed with the cowhands on his heels. "May I suggest we settle this matter at the local livery? There is no need to disrupt the rest of your community."

However, Prescott was a small town, and word traveled fast about Steer and the dude. And most of its occupants had already gathered outside the Palace Hotel.

"Yeah, that's okay," Steer, agreed. "It's your funeral, so wherever you want," and he marched off towards the stables. The dude and the crowd followed at a more leisurely pace.

 

*         *        *

 

Steer climbed first into an empty corral followed by the dude. The dude removed his jacket, bow tie, and shirt. He vaulted the fence and landed nimbly on his feet facing Steer.

For a fleeting second, Steer seemed to reconsider his decision, but when onlookers began to root for the dude, his fury returned and he wanted to fight.

Crouched like an animal, Steer began stalking his adversary. He tried to maneuver the dude into a corner of the corral where he could manhandle him with ease. But, the dude ducked and dodged to stay in the center of the pen. Soon, Steer became winded from the exertion of trying to land a punch on the quick-footed fancy pants. The dude, however, had no problem whatsoever in striking the huge man at will. Cheers rang out from the crowd every time he landed a punch on Steer.

Steer's rage appeared all-consuming; the hulk made a desperate lung for the dude, catching his pant leg as he fell. At first, he seemed confused by his good luck, but his expression changed as he obviously relished his capture. Covered by blood-caked dirt, Steer slowly dragged the dandy hand-over-hand towards him. He moistened his lips with anticipation, but was too soon disappointed, as the dude raised the heel of his free leg and smashed it on Steer's nose. Blood flowed as if squirted from a pump.

At last, the dude broke free and leapt to his feet. Steer also rose, but much slower and now more leery of his opponent. The dude moved in with a flurry of body punches, Steer dropped his guard completely exposing his chin. With cold calculating accuracy, the gent landed a single uppercut squarely on the hairy dimple in Steer's chin.

Steer felt his knees go weak and a wave of darkness washing over him. Then, he collapsed in the dirt. The town's people applauded and cheered.

The crowd passed a fire-bucket full of water, which the dude dumped on Steer's head. He sputtered and shook his head to clear his breathing and eye sight, which swollen tissue markedly limited.

"Have you had enough or do you wish to continue?" The dude asked.

Steer raised a hand, "You win." Again, the town's people cheered.

"If you do not mind some advice, I suggest you move along to another town. And there try and be a bit more sociable."

Steer could only nod. A couple of ranch hands who had worked with Steer helped him up and back to the saloon for a medicinal whiskey or four.

 

*         *        *

 

That night, nearly everyone in town surrounded the saloon's small stage. They were there to see the play and the man who had whipped Steer Johansson.

Jake, the saloon's bartender acted as the troupe's announcer. He stepped out on the stage with the prepared script in hand. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced in a loud pompous voice, and the audience laughed. "I am pleased to introduce tonight's cast. As Hamlet..." Jake halted; he stared dumbfounded by the words written on the paper.

"What is it?" One of the spectators yelled.

"Out with it," called another.

Finally, Jake cleared his throat and began again, "Hamlet will be portrayed by James J. Corbett, the current Heavy Weight Bare Knuckle Champeen."

Jack said, "Glory be ... that's the gent that whooped John L. Sullivan.

Tuck remembered seeing the J.J.C. embossed in gold on the dude's leather pouch. All he could think to say was, "Danged if that don't beat all."

THE END

 

J.W. Throgmorton is originally from Indiana and now lives in Sarasota, Florida with his wife, DJ. Together they have two sons, Jade and Jake. Jade is married to Vanessa, and they have two sons - Aaron and Cameron. Jake is married to Audrey, and they have one son - Nicholas.

J.W. left Indiana to join the Marine Corps; spent a tour in Viet Nam before returning home to begin a very full life of raising a family and beginning a successful career in commercial construction.

Working as an Architectural Engineer, Construction Executive, and Business Owner has taken him and his family from New York to California; from Wisconsin to Florida; and multiple locations in between; giving him a wide exposure to people and places from which to draw the inspiration for his characters and settings.

In 2008, J.W. was able to leave the corporate world to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a writer. In addition to Duncan at Green River, J.W. has written other books and short stories.

At this time, J.W. has started another book and hopes to be writing for many years to come.

His novel, DUNCAN (Green River) can be found on amazon.com.

 

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