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The town was a surprise. It sat up against the mountain and seemed quiet and anachronistic. Jene had seen a lot of social experiments in his wanderings in these wild lands and this unguarded and unprotected town should not be here. The one element that always existed here was the need for protection against, ever present, marauders. There should be a defensive wall, of wood, brick, or stone. He had seen moats, spikes, fire pits, land mines, canon-topped battlements, and any and all manner of creative and desperate protective devices. Yet, this little single-lane, wooden-housed, and open shopped community sat there below, unprotected and wrong. The wooden structures all had a facade facing the single dirt boulevard. Wooden covered walkways connected the buildings one to the other, there were women and children walking calmly in and out of shops and across the dusty roadway. Jene put down his binoculars and looked over at Hawk Marion. She shrugged. He lifted up his glasses and noted a water tower and a large building on the far edge of town. Suddenly he detected frantic movement in the middle of the road. A large fat man was looking through a telescope, apparently at them. He was waving as if he wanted them to come down. Jene quickly slipped down behind the boulder.
“I think a man down there may have spotted me – he seems to be waving me down.”
Snake crawled up on Jene. “Well, we might as well go down there. Maybe we can find something out about the two we are looking for.”
Jene nodded then pulled himself up for another look. The fat man was gone, as was everyone else. The town seemed empty. Jene slipped back down. ‘Okay. I go down alone and you two follow in an hour.
Boss Jene walked in the Saloon door and quickly scanned through room. There were two filthy men sitting very close to each at a table next to the huge circular fire pit that dominated the center of the room. They gave a quick eye to the tall stranger and went back to their conversation. To the back of the room there was a large table with eight men, playing cards, a women who appeared to be the dealer, stared directly into his eyes. All eight men turned to look at him. The woman shifted slightly and Boss Jene threw back the side of his coat to reveal his sidearm. She smiled at him and continued the game.
The Boss walked over to the bar and asked the Innkeeper for whatever alcoholic beverage they sold. The man poured him what looked to be a reasonably clear amber lager. He put a small gold nugget down. The Innkeeper weighed it on a scale that sat on the bar and wrote out a chit, slipping it back to the Jene. He looked at it and nodded. He sipped the lager and was so surprised by the rich flavor that he just about dropped the mug.
"I'm good at it aren't I?"
The Boss turned his handsome features around and a tall round man with a handle bar mustache and long flowing hair grinned. He gestured for Boss to come and sit at a table with him. He waved to the Barkeep. A cold pitcher was delivered with another mug.
"Your friends are not as comfortable." He poured a drink. "They should be tired of the wilderness - my men are sitting with them at their camp right now." The big man shifted his four hundred pounds and grinned. He poured himself a mug.
“You think you have my people?" Boss asked not showing any emotion. This is a game and one he had better win.
"You misunderstand…I sent my men to go get them. I saw you earlier and invited you down. It is your people that acted in an unfriendly manner. Now…Did I say they were together? My men are in your camp, your people, including an attractive woman, are hiding in a cave, taking shots at my men. They are quite good."
"Is there a reason for them to be so suspicious of your men?" Boss took another sip.
"How do you know I didn't poison your drink?"
"I took a chance that when I entered this fine town, that shines like a diamond in a goats ass, that the person, or persons, who kept order here would be interested in three people dressed and armed in our unusual manner." Jene smiled.
"That these same people who run this lovely burg, shining, as it were, in the manner you so quaintly stated, would find some reason not to kill you and by keeping you alive would find some profit in befriending these three people?"
The big man gulped down the whole mug. "I grow hops."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You have never tasted anything like this have you?"
Boss took another drink and smiled. "No, my new friend…I never have. It is wonderful. It looks like beer, but it's better… wonderful – if not a little distracting. And you Sir, with all due respect, look like an Elite High-up."
The fat man ignored him and continued. "I found the recipe for beer locked in an old safe. It was buried in a mine. The recipe, actually it was a book, on how to brew beer, keg and store it… Hops was the key. I didn't know what it was. I researched and found out and went on a quest, don't grin - it offends me - I was a smaller man then – as skinny and fit as you. I found some wild hops, a plant, and began growing the plant myself. Now, in that very same mine I brewed and stored thousands of gallons of this stuff. I sell it throughout this region."
"You could be looking for a business partner? You think I may have connections – elsewhere - that will allow you to expand your business. How many men did you send after my people?" The Boss leaned forward. The fat man leaned back in response.
"I'm very sorry. I hope you weren't very attached to them."
The door opened and Hawk Marion and Snake James stepped into the bar with their guns drawn. The two men at the fire pit stood up and died from two shots through each of their foreheads from James’ pistol. The woman at the card table put her hands out in front of her, and the men in front of her didn't even flinch. Hawk and Snake positioned themselves to have a clear shot at anyone in the room.
"I take it they are dead?" The fat man squeezed his eyes shut. "It's a part of the risk associated with their jobs. I let myself become too involved with my employees. It is a philosophic weakness of mine." He poured another mug full and drank it. "The two you killed, over there, were not mine. They came into town a week ago - boorish and odorous. Waiting for you all – no doubt.You have done me a service. Who knows - perhaps the men I sent were in league with these two and I sent them to you? I call that efficient."
Boss Jene made a flick with his finger and Marion was going through the dead men's pockets.
"Locator…miniature. Communicators in their belts… High energy discharge weapons, disguised as revolvers." Marion turned their heads and looked at their scalps, she then pulled down the pants of one of the men.
"What in the name of propriety is she doing?" The fat man asked.
Marion prodded the dead man’s butt cheek and stood up. She waved in a hurried manner. Boss Jene stood up and yelled. "Everyone outside in a hurry if you want to live." He ran out with Marion and James. They stood around the corner of the storefront across the street. All the people in the tavern joined them.
The Inn blew up. The explosion was oddly contained, having a deep whoop sound. All that was solid turned to dust and furled out in sphere twice the size of the Inn - collapsed and fell to the ground. A huge wind blew in all directions breaking a few windows and blowing odds and ends down the street, end over end. When the blast wind subsided there was an empty lot between the Outfitters and the Laundry.
Ken Lehnig (c)2010
Why is doing what you love the hardest thing to do? Is it because failing what you thought defined you would be too devastating a thing from which to recover? If so, we stay where mere accident has left us.