Published on Monday, April 30, 2012
Wild Horse Saloon
By Connie Vigil Platt
Earl Talbridge only came to town about once a year. When he did come he usually needed a bath and a haircut and had a scraggly beard. Sometimes it looked as if he had trimmed his hair with a hunting knife leaving a ragged edge. His clothes were tattered and dirty but he always had a small sack of gold nuggets.
After placing his order of beans and rice along with whatever he needed he made his way to the Wild Horse Saloon to quench his thirst while the store keeper packed his list of supplies.
A picture of a black horse with flowing mane and standing on his back legs pawing at the empty air was hung over the bar. The fancy name of "The Wild Horse Saloon" was taken from the picture. The rest of the room was as dejected as the patrons.
The bar smelled of spilt beer and whiskey. Cigarette smoke floated overhead in a blue haze. Sawdust was gritty under his feet, but Lulu, the local entertainer, although slightly overweight was enticing, wearing a red spangled dress that showed a shapely thigh and sparkling feathers in her hair, she smiled at him with lips shinny with crimson lipstick. Her teeth were a little crooked and faintly tinged with cigarette smoke. She was an overweight blowsy blond and on closer inspection the top of her spangled dress was stained and the skirt was patched in places, her stockings were threadbare with runs and holes. Her skimpy top left little to the imagination with her flesh bulging out around the low neckline. Her ample arms jiggled slightly when she moved. Yet she was the only entertainment in town.
Jeb and Leo were out of work drifters and had nothing to do but lean on the bar and talk to Lulu. They were not only broke but dirty and shabby still they were the only customers Lulu could talk with until Earl came in.
"What can I get for you old timer?" Zeke, the bartender asked, dusty bottles of corn whisky, gin and rye were lined up like soldiers ready for war. A dusty back mirror reflected the dejected faces of the idle saddle bums leaning on the polished bar.
"My name is Earl Talbridge and I'm buying drinks for all my friends." Earl called as he set the sack of gold nuggets on the bar top.
Zeke set up four glasses and a bottle of rye on the bar.
There were only two drifters and Lulu in the room. They all crowded around Earl.
"Did you strike it rich old timer? Did you find a mine out there in the wild canyon country?" one of the men asked.
"Oh no not me, Mining is hard work." He looked slyly around "I was digging fencepost holes when my shovel clanged against something. There as if it was waiting for me to dig it up was a rusty coffee can full of gold nuggets like these. It's a wonder I didn't smash it with my shovel. Every time I need a little money I go find me another one. So far I've dug up six. Pretty good don't you think?"
"Do you think there are any more cans out there? How much is in each one? Are they buried in some kind of a pattern? How do you know where to look?" Lulu asked a greedy glint in her eye.
"I think there are plenty of cans yet to be found. You know there were plenty of outlaws rode through here and needed a place to hide their loot." Earl tilted his head back emptied the glass and set it back down. He turned and staggered to the swinging doors, lurching and reeling down the street. The liquor hit him hard on an empty stomach.
"Did you put something in his drink? How could he get that drunk on one drink?" Lulu asked. "He's ready to fall over and sleep it off in the gutter.
Zeke nodded without looking up. He kept old Indian herbs under the bar waiting for such an occasion. The old man didn't deserve that kind of riches.
Jeb and Leo stood looking at the space where Earl had been.
"Go after him you fools. He might pass out before we know where the stuff is. Be sure to take a shovel. Do I have to think of everything? Bring a horse around I'm going with you. I don't trust you to anything right without me." Lulu screamed.
The two drifters came back with short shovels tied to their saddles and leading a bay mare for Lulu. She grabbed the reins, gathered her skirt around her thighs and swung into the saddle riding astride like a man. The horse grunted and moved sideways under her consider able weight.
Seeing the horse Jeb said, "Can you keep up with us? Mebbe you'd better stay here."
"Don't worry about me I can keep up with the likes of you two. "She kicked the animal into movement.
"Which direction did he go? Did you see him?" She looked around and saw a shadow of a rider in the distance.
"We don't want to catch up to him until night fall. That way we can sneak up in the dark."
The sun was beginning to fall behind the canyon wall when they lost sight of the rider they had been following. They kept on the same trail believing they would catch sight of a campfire or come across the rider. The moon was high in the sky before they decided to make a cold camp and continue the next day. After all where could he go? If they stayed in the same direction they would have to come to the old man's ranch. After a cold and uncomfortable night they saddled the horses and prepared to find the trail.
"Did either of you bring any food?" Lulu was shivering, rubbing her arms trying to bring circulation to her body, a skimpy dress was alright for a barroom but it was not meant for a night in the open.
"Did you bring a canteen full of water at least?"
One of the men handed her a canteen from his saddle. She took a long drink.
"Give me your jacket. I'm cold." She put out her hand.
"No I'm cold too."
She reached out and grabbed his gun out of the holster tied on his hip. "I said give me your jacket." While they were struggling she managed to get her finger on the trigger. She squeezed and the gun went off. There was a scream and blood was pumping from his leg in an arch with every heart beat. She got the pistol from the holster and held it pointed at the man on the ground.
"What's the matter with you? You've killed him for a jacket?"
"You were willing to kill the old man for money. Right now I want a jacket more than money. How could that have been serious? It was his leg."
"Look at him, his blood is gushing out. Yes it was in a fatal spot."
The man lay on the ground his eyes glazed over looking toward the sky.
"Well you're not going to shoot me over a jacket." He pulled his gun from the holster and aimed at Lulu's chest. The blast lifted her off her feet, as she fell to the ground still holding the pistol she fired one more time hitting the last drifter in his stomach. She shot again. He grabbed his middle as intestines oozed out. The air smelled of blood and gun powder.
Three desperadoes lay dead on the prairie while coyotes howled in the distance. It wasn't long before the buzzards started circling, smelling blood from high in the air.
A few days later, Sheriff Helms walked in The Wild Horse Saloon. It still smelled of stale beer and spilt whiskey as depressing as ever.
"Say Zeke have you seen a couple of drifters in here in the last few days?""Yeah there was somebody in here talking to Earl Talbridge a couple of days ago. Why? What did they do?"
"Nothing I know of, one of the local ranchers is looking for someone to work a day or two. Earl Talbridge you say? Are you sure?"
"That's what he said his name was. He came in here with a sack of gold nuggets flashing them around, buying drinks. He never did pay his bill, after that he left. I guess I'll have to collect the next time he comes in."
"I wish you luck on that. Earl Talbridge has been dead fifty maybe sixty years."
"What are you talking about? Are you sure?"
"Oh, I'm sure alright. The story is that he came in to town one day and told everybody that would listen that there was treasure buried on his property. Somebody finally believed him and went out there to find it. They dug all over until old Earl caught them tearing out the wall of the house. There was a shoot out and Earl was killed right on the doorstep of his own property. The killer or killers were never found. Every once in a while Earl comes back and lures some unsuspecting get rich quick drifter into following him out to a remote area and they never come back. It's been about six times now. I guess I'd better go see if I can find what is left of those boys. The wild scavenger animals are pretty bad this year."
"Are you telling me there was a ghost in here drinking rye whiskey with Lulu? Who found him? Why was anybody even looking for him?"
"I don't know about that, it happened a long time ago, before my time and some of the details are kinda skimpy."
Zeke shook his head thinking about the drug he had put in the drink he thought was meant for a living person. What might happen to him now? Would Earl come back for revenge? Why did he think it was up to him who deserved money?
"I don't know who you saw I only know that Earl Talbridge has been dead a long time. The last time I was out there the house was falling down, the roof caved in and the windows staring back at you like empty eyes. Nobody will stay there for long. There's an eerie feeling to the place. It gives me the creeps and I don't scare easy."
"He said he found six jars filled with gold and now you say there have been six times people have gone missing before. Is there some kind of connection?"
"That's not for me to figure out." The sheriff left the building.
Connie Vigil Platt, a fourth generation cattle rancher, grew up on the high plains of Southern Colorado. She has ridden with the fall round-up, branded with a hot iron, fed cattle horseback and hauled supplies to line camps.
As an Old West history buff she is not content to see the old traditions disappear she now devotes full time to Western writing.
She has been published in Australia, Canada, England, Japan as well as the United States.