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Published on Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Hankering

By J. R. Lindermuth

 

Jack Slade had a hankering for sausage. He stomped up to the saloon and paused, squinting down the road. Not a critter, man nor beast, stirred. This was to his liking and he spat off to one side. A stiff breeze blew grit from the east, though, and that wasn't a good predictor for any day. Jack scratched under his chin, then across his ribs. He spat once more and went inside.

Charley Beam looked up from a week-old newspaper as he entered, but didn't say anything.

Slade stood a moment, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom. "Got a hankerin' for sausage," he said, stepping up to the bar.

"Haint got none," Charley told him. Saying it made the bartender nervous. He folded the paper and laid it aside. Jack Slade, division chief for the Overland Stage Company, gave permission to open the saloon and Charley liked to stay on his good side. It was usually easy—except when Jack started drinking. This early in the morning, Jack didn't appear to be under the influence. Still, Charley couldn't be sure. He felt his heart pick up a beat or two.

Slade leaned on the bar, a couple planks laid across a pair of barrels. The room was so small it got crowded if half a dozen men came in to drink. They were so close to one another Charley imagined he felt the heat emanating from Slade's body. "Got some eggs and ham," Charley said in a shaky voice.

   

"Hankered for sausage."

"Man said he haint got none," another voice responded from across the room.

Slade peered in that direction. The kid, the one who'd been skulking around the past couple days, leaned against the far wall, sipping at a mug of coffee. Slade ignored him, turning his attention back to Charley.

"They say you killed a lot of men—mebbe as many as a dozen or more," the kid said.

"Danged Frenchie's been spreadin' rumors about me again."

"Don't rile him," Charley warned.

The kid grinned. "Haint scairt of him."

Slade turned his head and peered down his nose at the kid. Fuzzy-cheeked boy had drifted in from somewhere, looking to make a reputation. Jack sighed. He wasn't the first and he wouldn't be the last. "Mebbe you should be you wanna see your next birthday." His hand moved without thought to the .44 Colt Army at his side. He noticed the kid had a Le Mat tucked in his belt. He sighed again. All he'd wanted was some danged sausage.

"You want I should whip up some eggs?" Charley asked.

Slade licked his lips. Keeping one eye on the kid, he gave some thought to Charley's question. Before he could reply, the door opened behind him, distracting Slade's attention. Slade whirled in that direction, drawing his Colt at the same time.

Blam! A pistol went off so close the powder burned Slade's cheek and made his ears ring.

"Damn, Jack, I didn't mean to startle you. Only wanted a cup of coffee."

Jack squinted at Floyd Bannister, one of the stage drivers, who stood framed in the doorway, both hands raised at his sides. Slade holstered his weapon and glanced at Charley. The bartender wiped the back of one hand across his forehead. A Starr double-action lay on the bar between them, a wisp of blue smoke curling up from its muzzle. The kid was slumped against the far wall, his pistol on the floor beside him.

"Guess you saved my hide, Charley."

"Couldn't let him shoot you in the back." Charley took a deep swallow and blanched. "Never shot nobody before."

Jack grinned and slapped him on the shoulder. "Frenchman'll be spreading rumors about you next."

"That haint funny, Jack."

"No. I guess not. Well, Charley, I still got me an appetite."

"Still haint got no sausage."

"Guess them eggs and ham will have to do."

"How many eggs you want?"

"Oh, maybe half a dozen or so. And how about a bottle for you, Floyd and me?"

THE END

 

J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill. A retired newspaper editor, he is the author of 11 novels, including five in his Sticks Hetrick mystery series. His stories and articles have appeared in a variety of magazines.

 

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