Published on Thursday, January 3, 2013
Tank Mullins is Coming!
By Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann
They loitered in Smokestack Hattie's Saloon waiting for something to happen.
Kelly sat behind his Faro table and played Solitaire. Today, like most days, few came to "Buck the Tiger"; at least no one showed up with money.
Hattie stood by the bar. She wore her favorite gown, a long black strapless frock. Held up by her abundant bosom, the dress dropped straight to the floor. With graying blond hair piled high on her head, Kelly once told her she looked like the smoke stack on a railroad engine, and the moniker stuck.
Suddenly the swinging doors flew open. It was old Mulie Sanford. Mulie usually just stumbled in absentmindedly, but today he seemed agitated. He wore his usual long-handles with baggy pants held up by one yellow suspender. The red underwear served as his shirt. His boots didn't match as he had taken two different styles from the trash. Completely out of breath, his blood shot eyes were wide with fear. "He's---he's comin'. I seed him and he's acomin' fer sure!"
Kid Foxx set his beer down, wiped his mouth with his sleeve and winked at Kelly. "I s'pose you saw that killer monster Tank Mullins again."
Mulie panted, leaned against Kelly's Faro table and slowly got the words out. "Yeah... I was ridin' my mule up near Blood Butte Pass when I seed him. He said,' Tell all the folks in Phantom City I'm comin' to town to get drunk and wreck the saloon.' I lit out quick to warn y'all."
Kid picked up the two six-shooters from the table. "If Tank Mullins is comin' here, reckon I'll have to give him a taste of lead." He laughed and waved the guns in a circular motion. "Bang! Bang! You're dead Tank Mullins!"
"You can joke if'n you want to Foxx, but I'd bet you'll be the first to skedaddle when Tank Mullins gets here. He don't abide no smart-ass kids."
Kid Foxx laid the guns back on the table. "Why don't you go sober up, ya old Coot."
Kelly stood up and took the old timer's arm. "You must've let the badger loose again, Mulie. You probably been seein' pink elephants too. We ain't never seen no such monster as Tank Mullins around here."
"Well I seed him this mornin'! Last winter he shot up Cactus City and strangled two people in the saloon there. Now Tank Mullins is comin' down from the mountains and he's acomin' here!"
Hattie decided to join the fun. "We ain't ever seen him, " she said. "Tell me Mulie, what does this Tank Mullins plan to do when he gets here?"
"He's mean as cornered Grizzly! When he sets foot in a saloon, it creates such a ruckus that it makes an ordinary barroom brawl look like a prayer meetin.' "
Hattie shook her head. "Mulie, what does this monster look like?"
"Miss Smokestack, Tank Mullins is about seven feet tall. He rides wild animals. Holds his britches up with a log chain. Eats raw meat. Catches rattle snakes for pets---"
The rest of his description was drowned out by laughter of his audience.
"Go sober up," said Hattie.
Mulie stomped toward the door, turned back and yelled, "Laugh if'n you want to, but I'm leavin' town. I warned you, you cain't stop him. Tank Mullins is acomin' here! He'll wreck this saloon and squash you all like bugs."
Kelly looked at Foxx and Hattie and shook his head. "His brain has gone plumb haywire."
Soon, the saloon settled back into a scene of boredom. Kelly folded his deck of cards and considered going up stairs for a nap. Kid picked up each of his guns from the table and slowly began to polish them. Hattie walked to the mirror behind the bar, tugged at her frock, primped and combed her hair with her fingers.
Suddenly, the comfortable silence shattered. A nasty voice boomed from the street. "Whoa, whoa there. Blast yer stubborn hide Sampson, hold up. Ah said whoa!"
The piercing shout sent Hattie to the batwing doors for a look outside. "Oh my God!" she shouted and then fainted dead away.
Kid Foxx and Kelly rushed to her, dragged her to the nearest chair and propped her upon it. She mumbled incoherently and pointed to the louvered doors.
Kelly and Foxx hurried to the front window of the saloon and peeked out.
A huge black-bearded man, wearing dirty buckskins and a coonskin cap dismounted from the big shaggy buffalo he had ridden into town. He carried a big .50 caliber Sharps rifle. A Bowie knife, unsheathed, was stuck in his snakeskin belt. He led an immense gray wolf tethered with a chain. He tied the buffalo to the rail and approached Hattie's swinging doors.
Kelly slinked back. His eyes widened.
Foxx ran back to his table, forgot about his six-shooters and slinked to the corner shadows near the back stairs.
Kelly cautiously backed away from the door and moved behind the bar.
Hattie, half-awake now, sat like a stone at a table. Kid Foxx stood like a statue in the semi-darkness.
The swinging doors flung open with vicious purpose, rattling as they banged into the side walls. The giant walked in. He stood still for a few seconds, apparently letting his eyes accustom to the dim light, then set the Sharps against the door frame. The wolf sat down, stared with piercing yellow eyes, growled, and readied himself to guard the big Sharps.
In three quick strides, the stranger was at the bar. "Beer!"
With a shaky hand Kelly picked out a stein, walked to the tap and poured a beer. He forgot to draw the beer slowly and the stein was half filled with foam. The giant blew the head off the beer. It splattered all over the front of Kelly's fancy vest. In two gulps the beer was gone.
A deep bass voice uttered an urgent demand. "Another---now!"
A second stein was drawn, more slowly this time. The glass filled with no foam.
Ham-like fingers surrounded the stein and raised it toward the black beard. The beer was swallowed in three gulps followed by the sound of broken glass as the stein was thrown to the hardwood floor.
Kelly peeked at Hattie who flinched at the crash of the broken glass. Then she took a deep breath, sat still, and stared at the stranger as if in a trance.
The Kid edged back farther into the shadows, and pasted himself against the back wall.
The big man took his right fist and pounded his chest. A deep belch sent a rumble throughout the saloon. No one uttered word. No one expected a polite "excuse me." For several seconds, it became eerily quiet.
Kelly forced a nervous titter. He looked down at the broken stein and spoke softly. "D-D-Don't worry sir, I'll get a broom."
The barrel-chested Goliath wheeled around. With determined strides he stomped in haste toward the big Buffalo Sharps by the door. He picked up the gun and jerked the chain on the wolf. With a scowl he turned back and surveyed the entire saloon.
Kelly took a quick glance at his friends. Kid Foxx fell to his knees, folded his hands and looked heavenward. Hattie pinched her eyes shut.
Kelly forced a shaky smile. "Sir---sir---would, would---would you like another beer?"
The mountain of a man spoke in a gruff, but crystal clear rumble. "Are you loco? I gettin' out of here. 'Cause Tank Mullins is comin'!"
Zeke Ziemann has had a dozen western short stories published on line. He is a former teacher, coach and compliance supervisor for the Arizona office of a Wall Street firm. His life long love affair with the Old West has led him to write short stories and create wood relief carvings that can be seen at his website: zekeswestern.com. Two of his stories, "Draped Over the Saddle" and "Duel is Springfield" have previously been published by The Western Online. Your consideration is appreciated.