Shortly, fresh eggs set on a small, wooden table. Now, the cast-iron stove whistles red-hot steam through a pinhole in the griddle. Kindled with fat lighter, flames leap inside iron doors. As Wooster sniffs, coffee screams mercy signaling the hot brew is more than ready.
“Biscuits an’ gravy an’ eggs ‘n black coffee for breakfast,” Wooster rumbles. He shovels food to his cheeky face. “Not bad,” he blows and he glances to Johnny.
“Well, ham or beef would be nice; but that’ll have to wait for tonight. This’ll get us two, cowpokes movin’ ‘til noon-lunch.”
“Yep,” Wooster grunts.
“Then, what’re we aiming to get done this mornin’, anyway?” Johnny Ringo goes on.
“Um,” Wooster swallows, coffee. “Sniff,” he makes noise. One big hand runs through his thinning, brown hair. “I don’t rightly have anything in mind, Johnny.”
“That’s what I figured,” Johnny grumps. His eyes roll down; and he breaks a buttery-biscuit in half. “You know I’m a gunfighter by trade.” Johnny looks up to stodgy Wooster.
Wooster rolls eyes. “Yep.”
“Well, I’ve been a-followin’ you the past few years on many a bounty handed out by a local sheriff. Our takes been decent you, old badger. But there ain’t been no jobs lately you’d told me of.”
Wooster glances hard to Johnny. He wags one thick finger. “Hold yer tongue, young’n; mind yer elders.”
“Phew,” Johnny gasps. He rubs few whiskers on his dimpled chin. “Well, let’s see,” he goes on. “What to do, the fishin’s been good in the valley. But, I’m about all fished out for a while since we moved up here Wooster. An’ there’s no need to chop any wood. There aren’t but scant twisted trees lyin’ around the measly property—those mixed with dang-tall cactus.”
“Tell me about it,” Wooster says and he chuckles.
“Well, we’re all alone up here,” Johnny goes on.
“What do you mean? We’ve chickens, roosters, and lizards by the dozens,” says Wooster. “And I’ve my cat, Mr. Moneybags.” Grinning, he holds his tin plate to the fragile wooden eating table while sopping up more gravy.
Moneybags finishes eating scraps. Chunky cheeks of the golden-brown cat nearly droop to the floor.
“Ah, Wooster,” Johnny whines. Leaning away, he scoots from the table and rises. “You can’t read worth a darn Mr. Fiddlesticks. Too, you’re more ornery and fidgety by the day. There’s only so much open-range-ridin’ a man can do Wooster. He’s got to see people occasionally.”
“Yeah, well…” Wooster pauses. Glancing to a sticky spider web in the ceiling, the big man swallows several large bites of biscuit and egg. Now, he reaches for his hot black coffee.
Johnny Ringo shoves hands to his pockets. Taking a breath, squinting, his lips, purse. Johnny strides back and forth. Now, he spins and he rubs his ear.
“You tell me you didn’t enjoy that music and dancin’ and the joke tellin’ at the saloon, in town last night,” Johnny continues.
Wooster kicks back. “We had ta’ get supplies yesterday, Johnny. That’s all. It was convenient to stop by the saloon. Sarsaparilla is always good. Besides, a tale or two lightens a man’s heart.”
“So, you’re sayin’ you didn’t enjoy that?” Johnny asks. His hands to his side, stooping, he continues. “You can’t fool me. You were on the dance floor you skunk. I saw you hoopin’ and a hollerin’ like the rest of us.”
Wooster’s fat cat curls in the corner.
“Of course, I like’d it,” Wooster groans. He slaps his thighs. “I just….”
“I knew you liked it,” Johnny says. “Ha,” he crows and he claps hands. “Now, we’ve been up here long enough Wooster. At our age, why, we’ve got to take more precaution, take care of ourselves. We’ve got to be dang reasonable. It’s a good idea to be close to people. In addition to that, there’s too much fun to be had with friends in a town. A man can’t be a friend with dang roosters. Squawk!” Johnny wails.
“Pugh,” Wooster blows. Eyes bulge; and he cocks his head and stares to Johnny.
“Squawk!” Johnny shrieks again. Flapping arms, laughing, Johnny circles Wooster like a belligerent goose might circle a stealthy fox eyeing the mother’s peeping goslings.
“Now I told you. Cut that out.” Wooster’s lips tighten, his eyebrows roll down. As he grunts, his meaty, chapped hands go to his waist.
“Okay. Pugh,” Johnny exhales. He retakes his seat. “We ought to reconsider, Wooster. Let’s look at movin’ back to a town. It doesn’t have to be as bustlin’ as Tucson. Just some where’s we can get out on occasion, mix it up with folk, in addition to ridin’ the range. Whaddaya think?”
Wooster’s big brown eyes roll. “Well I…”
“Movin’ from Galveston to El Paso and now to Tucson, I like the small town and people Wooster,” Johnny spits words quickly. Smiling, he leans closer to the floppy-eared, hard-headed bounty man. “So?”
“Aw. I don’t know. Maybe you’re right,” Wooster says. “Gosh,” he blows and he leans, away. Scratching one tanned cheek, he taps fingers to the table. “I’ll do some considerin’ on it, Johnny. Now hand me my jacket behind you. I want you ta’ read me that telegram I got yesterday, the one from the Western Union. I didn’t get a chance to read it.”
Johnny shakes his head. “That’s because you had too much sourmash’t sarsaparilla in ya’ last night.” Johnny spins and he grabs a heavy coat behind him. Righting himself, he goes on. “Here.”
Wooster reaches for his coat. “Thankee,” Wooster mumbles. Then reaching inside the lining of his jacket, he retrieves an envelope.
“Well, okay.” The sometimes-overbearing lawman sighs. “You read it, Johnny. Please. I’ve got readin’ problems, as you said.”
“I’ll say.” Johnny’s eyes squint; and his lips pooch. He grabs the dingy envelope from Wooster’s hand, removes a white piece of paper, unfolds it, and steels eyes to words. “Arum,” he clears his throat.
“Well, go ahead,” Wooster asks easily. Corners of his lips turn up.
Exhaling, Johnny nods. “It’s a Western Union telegram, Wooster,” Johnny carries on. One steady hand holds the fragile paper. Eyes peep. “And it reads….
Mr. Wooster Bogburn
Bounty man, former lawman and gunfighter
Regarding your services and your friendship, sir:
I hope this posting finds you well, Wooster. Wayne, Eastwood, Hickok, Holiday, Earp, Masterson, and James and me are all gathered together. We’re in a nice little town west of the Sierra Nevada’s: Shankletown West. People are quite nice here. There’s a good saloon, building activity, and good minin’ claims. We aim to rest up a spell. Too, we might test our good fortune in these silver and gold hills behind us. That’s why we came. It’s kind of funny being separated all these years…all of us. But, the lure of gold called us all together Wooster. We’re going to try our luck.”
“I’ll be gully-washed and horny-toed snickered,” Wooster gushes.
“Just be quiet,” Johnny says. “Let me finish.”
Wooster nods; and he remains tight-lipped. Johnny continues as clear eyes gaze to words.
“Anyway. It just so happens we got ourselves in a bit of a fix here, Wooster. We’ve handled a good bit of codgering by roustabouts lately. But we’re lookin’ for the likes of a man like you to clear out this trouble that’s popped up. Clear it out for good.
You may know of ballyhoo bandits: Cactus Jack and Sagebrush Sal. Together, they’ve wrangled-up a sizeable group of no good dudes. They’re doin’ the town-folk in: takin’ their claims, rustlin’ their cattle, robbin’ the saloon, and perhaps havin’ eyes on the savings and loan here—and the railroad that carries gold to Carson City for minting.”
“Phew. Interesting,” Wooster blows. Johnny nods. Licking lips, he continues to read the note.
“We make a good team here, Wooster. But we need a better man to lead us in our charge to help these, folk. We can pay you a good split off gold we recovered. Also, we can offer you free room and board, set up all the sarsaparilla you might possibly want at no cost, and…and, Wooster, it just so happens I’ve caught my eye on Rosalinda Bellisimo.”
“I’ll be horsewhipped,” Wooster gushes.
Johnny Ringo, smiles. His eager eyes focused to the paper, once more, his smooth lips slide.
“She’s here Wooster. In one of the local saloons, I’ve spotted her like a shiny penny in a scabs den. I’ve done some checkin’; and she has no boyfriend Wooster.
Your kind consideration of this matter is appreciated. The favor of a reply is requested. Our friendship will stand regardless of your decision on this urgent matter.
L. McCain, Sheriff, Shankletown West, Calif.