The dusty road stretched on into the horizon sunset.
A lone figure walked along, tired, and thirsty from a long journey. She had gone far, and still had a great distance to travel.
The top belts on her boots clicked, undone to let some air reach her tired feet. She wore a pair of canvas pants, sand-blasted, weathered, and torn from her travels; she wore a simple, light shirt with a cloth vest and a light leather overcoat. She carried a detached saddle and a pack of what belongings she had left. The back of her neck was dark and sun soaked and her pale hair was tied under a low brimmed hat that shadowed her face. Her stride was long and she moved like a desert fox. The setting sun filled her face as she looked up, her grey-blue eyes squinting, showing the swift features of her face that held four scars, two parallel on each side that cut through her cheeks.What remained of a cigarillo brightened at the tip in her clenched teeth. She spat out the smouldering remainder and straitened herself in the cooling wind.
A small road stop was before her, the sparse buildings on either side of the road framed the westward sun. A windmill spun gayly, unaware of it’s environment. Flat empty land stretched in all directions otherwise. She wiped her brow, and strode onward towards where she hoped there would be at least water.
The tough sand crunched beneath her boots, the heat that radiated through the souls had long past the point of unbearable and became a part of her life. The buildings and the windmill neared. Their shadows growing long. Hers grew as well, nearing the others. The shadow of the windmill’s blades fell on her, one after the other in alternating sun and black silhouette. Two buildings stood on either side of the road. One said “Hotel”, it had a stable around back. It looked as stately as a hotel in the middle of nowhere could be. Square with four floors and real glass windows with shutters and arches over each one. The red paint on the arches was faded, and the black shutters had become grey and dry. The other end of the road was a slumped old cabin with a big porch and an extension built on one side. A few paces away were tents.
The weary traveler looked from one to the other. The windmill which flickered the sun above her had a pump with a pipe. That pipe lead up from the ground and into the cabin. On the cabin’s front door was a carved picture of a full frothy bear mug.
The woman turned to the cabin. Stepped up the stairs of the porch which creaked along with the jingle of her boot belts. The window on the right was boarded up so she looked through the left one. Through the dusty glass, red sunbeams lanced through the westward windows and fell across a lonely piano and an old table with thin chairs drawn up to it. No one there.
She stretched out her hand and pulled the thin wooden door handle of the front door.
As the door creaked open, the sound of a conversation between two men became hushed.
Opening the door to it’s full liberty, she observed the room, still with the saddle over one shoulder, and her pack hanging on the other. Two men sat at a table next to the piano out of her previous view. They watched her cockeyed. They were dirty looking sand rats who shaved out of necessity rather than grooming, thick dusty stubble covered their faces and necks. They had grease-sweat stained shirts that hung loosely over their shoulders. One was large and the other was swimming in his shirt. They both wore bowler caps atop greasy matted black hair. They said nothing, watching her for a moment and then pretending to go back to their conversation, but stealing glances back to her in the doorway.
There was a skinny bartender to the right behind a long dried out board supported by a row of four barrels, who despite his surroundings had heavily pomaded hair and a waxed mustache. he had suspenders and a faded red bow tie. He watched her as he shined a glass, saying nothing yet.
She scanned the rest of the room and saw it was empty. Five tables were placed around in no order, including the one the two sat next to the piano and a grey curtain covered the part of the cabin that was extended. A twin bladed fan spun pointlessly slow from the low ceiling. It was always tense to enter a room out in the boonies.
The weary traveler stepped inside and strolled over to the stools which were four barrels in front of the barrels supporting the bar. They had thin pillows on them at least. She dropped her saddle to the floor and took off her pack. She sat on the stool and breathed easy for a moment to be off her blistered feet.
The bartender eyed her and finished polishing the glass at his leisure. When he put the glass comfortably away on the rack behind him, he turned with a large smile on his face.
“Why hello mayum! It isn’t often we see er…um… females at the Routchpand Arms.”
The woman sighed and leaned over the plank of wood on her elbows. She glanced up at him with the kind of look a cobra gives a mouse.
“Yes er um, what’s yer name stranger?”
“That’s between me and my mother” She said “As far as you need to know my name is Water Anda Whiskey.”
With that she planted her gloved hand on the board. It shook and when she removed her hand two lady fame dollar coins were on the table.
The waxy bartender smiled with stars in his eyes at the two coins before him. “Well mis whiskey! absolutely!”
He hurried and turned the lever on the water tap. It rattled and clanged before a red muddy liquid came out. After a moment it passed and clear water came through. The man filled a glass and tried sliding it down the board to her before grasping the whiskey bottle. Yet the old board was so dry the glass stuck where it was.
Whiskey reached over and grasped the glass of water, downing it in one go. It traveled down her parched throat and cooled her stomach.
The bartender placed the whiskey down in front of her and she slugged it down just as quick. It made warm zig zaggs down her whole body and settled in her gullet.
She relaxed as well as she could on the barrel and let the sensation travel over her. The two bowler hats were talking quietly by the wall, but her keen ears caught every word as easily as if they were shouting them.
“Cid, I swear, that one with the bounty, and the gang. They say a woman runs them?” said the skinny one.
“Thats what I hear,” The large one affirmed “…they call her Bloody Sue, or Bloody Jess, or…well I tell you she’s bloody somethin’. Say she’s dark skinned and gots a temper that’ll strip paint.”
“Gotta bounty on Bloody Jess don’t they Cid.”
“Thats what I hear Zib. Fifty Five thousand.”
“That kinda money’s fer something serious. What she do?”
“Nearly killed a whole town off, bank robbing, train theiving….”
Whiskey saw where this was going. She placed another coin on the “bar”.
“Will that be water or whiskey miss…whiskey?” the Bartender asked.
“I need something strong, Been on the road a long day.” She said loudly “Been tryin’ to get from Borthsmith to Winslow, but wouldn’t you know it, the people I set out with betrayed me and tried to kill me. Shot my horse right out from under me. It was a damn shame, having to be killing them all after I thought They were good folk.”
She took a slug of the fresh whiskey, only taking a third of the double.
“All ten of them” she added after placing the glass down.
The bartender glanced over at the two men at the wall. They both watched her now. Whiskey caught that and tipping her hat back pretended to regal the tail like a fond memory.
“Yessir, we had completed our honest business in Borthsmith, mail and delivery and whatnot, nothing fancy, and were charged with the transportation of a private package to Winslow. Now, the company I kept were supposedly from the Bernard L Daily shipment company and we had all met each other at one point or another. This package was so special they needed eleven people to protect it. I was lucky enough to be appointed the confidant of the delivery, one sealed envelope. Now I don’t ask questions or stick my nose into other people’s business, I’ve seen people killed for that, heck I’ve killed for that…”
Whiskey’s grey-blue eyes came back to focus, she turned to the two bowler hats and said “By any chance, either of you gentlemen have any tobacco?”
To be continued….