Too Many Crocketts
Davy warned me not to stop in Cougar Springs. As he remarked right off, the fact that all the citizens were peeking at me from behind closed shutters reflected poorly on their hospitality. And when two gents wearing chaps and six-guns emerged from the saloon and invited me to leave town for my health, I should have taken their advice.
But I'd just put more than fifty miles between me and Golden City, with Davy nagging all the way, and my throat was dry as a fried lizard. Like many another Colorado town, Cougar Springs wasn't muchjust a fading memory of a short-lived mining boom. But it had that saloon, and my thirst would not be denied.
Didn't I tell you to stay in Golden City?
Hush up, I told him. You're dead, in case you forgot.
And lucky for you, he said, or I'd take a switch to you.
Davy, you see, was my grandpappy, and a right famous man in his day. But I never even met him, seeing he died twenty years before I was born at a place called the Alamo. Still and all, he talks to meand dang near never shuts up. The old coot's voice just sort of fills my head, sometimes so loud I can't hear my own thoughts. Crazy? Maybe so. But if a dead ancestor had been stuffing your head with nonsense since you were a pup, you'd be crazy too.
Such ingratitude, Davy said. Sometimes I can't hardly believe you're a Crockett.
Sometimes, I replied, I wish I wasn't.
I'd just watered my paint and hitched him to a rack, when one of the galoots on the saloon porch puffed up and thrust a chin at me. "Here, now! We told you to vamoose."
"Yeah," the other snarled. "Find another drinking hole."
I tipped back my Stetson and examined the welcoming committee. One was tall and raw-boned, with a knife-slit for a mouth. His partner was built like a water barrel with legs. Long and Short. Both rested hands on their gun butts, but the guns were still in their holsters. Tsk, tsk.
"How far's the next saloon?" I asked, polite as can be.
"Forty miles," said Long with a smirk. He jabbed a thumb off toward the west. "That-a-way."
"Shucks," I said. "Thought I seen one just up the street." I pointed back the way I'd come.
Both craned their necks to look, and before they knew it, I was betwixt them.
I got Long by the throat, kicked the legs out from under him and swung his head down and around. His skull hit Short's with a most satisfying smack, and both men promptly lost interest in me. I plucked the .45s from their holsters and stuffed them in my gunbelt.
A lot of trouble for a bellyful of bad whiskey, Davy said. Better you should drift back to Golden City. That town was ripe with marriageable females, and they were fixing to elect a sheriff.
Precisely why I skedaddled, I retorted.
Old Davy, you see, has been pestering me for years to scare up a wife, raise a pack of young 'uns and follow his footsteps into politics. But those are the very things I strive most to avoid. It ain't hard, long as I keep shy of too much civilization. Mostly I prefer trail driving, but I've done my share of buffalo hunting, gold mining, lumberjacking, and even scouting for the cavalry. My one rule is to never light too long in one spot. Just because the great Davy Crockett married young and became a responsible citizen don't mean I should suffer the same fate.
What about fame and glory?
What about peace and contentment?
I ducked my head and pushed through the batwing doors of the saloon. I was half sunblind at first, and all I could make out was a long rough-hewn bar with a mess of bottles on shelves behind it. I commenced to salivate.
Listen up, boy. There's somethin' you oughta know.
Just then a lilting female voice said, "Oh! Have you come to save me?"
Squinting into the gloom, I made out a slim piece of blonde femininity slumped on a barstool. Her dress was long and black, making her dern near invisible. As my eyes slowly adjusted, I discovered a dude in a swallow-tailed monkey jacket standing next to her.
I said, "Save you from what?"
"Why, from being forced to marry this evil brigand against my will." Her lips, I saw, were red as roses and her eyes blue as the sky. I began to feel mighty ticklish.
I focused on the fancy fellow at her side. He was big for a citified gentnot more than a foot shorter than mebut he looked sort of slippery around the edges, like he'd been weaned on snake oil. His hair was greased back, his mustache was waxed to perfection, and he had a diamond horseshoe pin in his silk necktie.
"I see what you mean," I said. "He looks like a politician."
"Not him," the blonde gal said. "Him." And she aimed a slim finger over my shoulder, off to the right of the doorway.
I told you there was somethin' you oughta know.
I turned slowly, inching a hand toward my gun.
"Belay that!" The voice was like a blade scraping stone. "Touch that butt and I'll air out your skull."
My first impression was I was looking at a grizzly in buckskins. This critter had hair enough for any ten humans, and it bristled in all directions. But his eyes were too mean for a bear'sboth the two in his head and the one at the end of his pistol barrel, which was staring directly at my nose.
"My name's Stark," he said. "Welcome to my wedding. For the safety of all concerned, I'll ask you to remove your gunbelt."
That notion had little appeal, so I shifted my weight, fixing to spring forth and stuff that gun down his gullet. But I was nowhere near ready when his pistol bammed and I felt a peculiar tingling at the side of my head. I reached up, and sure enough, he'd shot off a piece of my ear.
I found this mildly irritating. As I knew from experience, it took a good deal of skill to nick a man's ear. Stark would have no trouble hitting my nose, a considerably larger target.
Very carefully, I loosed my belt buckle. The guns I'd borrowed from the boys outside clattered to the floor just ahead of my own.
That done, I turned to the bar and reached for the nearest bottle of coffin varnish.
"Hold it," Stark growled.
I grabbed the bottle and emptied half of it into a big mug. "I came in here for a drink. Shoot if you want, but I'm having it." No bullets perforated my back. I drained the mug in a gulp. The stuff tasted like hot tar and smelled like sheep dip. I poured another.
Looking around, I saw this had once been a fancy joint, with a gilt-edged mirror, a roulette table, a chandelier, brass cuspidors, and a ceiling so high I hardly had to stoop. But like the rest of Cougar Springs, it was tired and dusty, and about ready to give up the ghost.
At my feet, I noticed a pair of dusty boots protruding from behind the bar. Stretching my neck, I saw a prone form attached to them. I kicked one of the boots. "Who's this?"
"Justice of the Peace," Stark said. "A stubborn one."
I nodded toward the fancy dude and Stark's prospective bride. "And these folk?"
The slippery-looking gent clicked his heels and snapped off a hint of a bow. "Major Talbot T. Paddington, sir, at your service."
"At my service, eh? What are you, a butler?"
Paddington stiffened. "Most assuredly not. I am Attorney General of this great territory. May I inquire as to your identity?"
"Crocker," I lied. "Dave Crocker." I'd learned there were times it was wise to conceal my heritage. Folks always expected a Crockett to be some sort of hero.
Spineless and shameful, Davy said. Could be I'll never speak to you again.
Suits me, I replied. Go haunt some other Crockett.
I aimed a thumb at the blonde. "Who's the gal?"
The black-clad female leaned closer and brushed her fingers across my arm. I snatched it away. "My name is Belinda Goodwin. You've no doubt heard of my father Zachary. He was he was" her voice caught and she lay her head upon her arm, sobbing.
I had indeed heard of old Zack Goodwin. He'd carved out one of the richest spreads in the West, stretching from here to Denver and halfway to the Utah Territory.
"Miss Goodwin's father accidentally shot himself," Stark said. "In the heart." He smiled when he said it.
Major Paddington scowled at him. "Zachary Goodwin was a fine man, and his ranch is a testament to his greatness. He will be sorely missed."
I nodded at Stark. "Except by this two-legged grizzly who wants to marry the ranch."
"And quite incidentally," Stark said, "the daughter." He ran a slobbery tongue over his lips, evoking a shiver from Miss Belinda.
Groans drifted up from behind the bar. Boots scuffed the floor, and a man slowly rose, caressing a head lump the size of a turkey egg. His bushy eyebrows and chin-whiskers struck me as familiar. Finally he turned to look me full in the eye.
"Snakes alive!" he said. "If it ain't Dave Crockett!"
"Crockett?" Stark and Paddington gasped in perfect harmony.
I said, "Howdy, Josh. You truly a J.P.?"
He grinned. "Bar owner too. This here's my place. Too bad you ain't come at a more congenial moment."
Stark said, "Your name really Crockett?"
I just looked at him. He seemed to wince a little.
"This here," Josh Wheeler said, "is the grandson of old Davy Crockett hisself. Him and me was at Chancellorsville together, under Bobby Lee. You picked the wrong hombre to tangle with."
Stark cleared his throat. "My apologies, Mr. Crockett. I'd no idea you was royalty. You may of course depart, provided you promise no interference to my nuptials."
I glanced at the pleading face of Miss Belinda Goodwin and was sorely tempted to accept the offer.
You've watered your tonsils, Davy said. Let's mosey back to Golden City.
"Nah," I said. "I believe I'll stay."
"Good show!" Paddington said. "I welcome your assistance, sir. What say youwill you join me in rushing this miscreant and taking his gun away? A sound thrashing will do him good."
Stark reached back and drew a sawed-off shotgun from a shoulder scabbard.
I revised my opinion of Paddington. He had plenty of sand for a politician. But Stark's shotgun was leveled at me, not him. "Pass," I said.
Since when did you turn sensible?
I got an aversion to buckshot. Besides, I'll be a heap more comfortable once this gal's hitched.
Davy sighed. Should've known.
The batwing doors creaked, and in stumbled Long and Short. Both fixed me with baleful looks.
"This feller who whupped you," Stark told them, "thinks he's Davy Crockett. And he may be right. Watch him close, but try not to shoot him until after the ceremony. I don't want him bleeding on the bride."
The two gazooks snatched up their weapons and leaned their backs against the wall next to the bar. Long motioned me to stand in front of them. I played along.
Stark glared at Josh. "Now, Wheeler. You ready to marry us up?"
Josh swallowed hard. "Gonna kill me if I don't?"
Stark smiled. "With great enthusiasm."
"Dearly Beloved," Josh said, "we are gathered to join these two, et cetera et cetera."
"Wait!" Paddington blurted. "Misters Crockett and Wheeler may be cowards, but I am not. I tell you now, Stark, you will never wed this divine beauty while I live." Placing his hand over his heart, he turned his fervent gaze on Miss Belinda. "For years on end, I have loved her from afar, scarcely daring to speak her name. But unworthy as I am, sir, you are doubly so. I challenge you here and now to a duel."
I smell a skunk, Davy said.
You should talk. You been preaching love and marriage at me since the day I passed puberty.
Miss Belinda ceased her sobbing and gazed up at her newly proclaimed champion. "Why, Major," she said softly, "I never suspected."
"And well that you didn't, good lady."
Stark lumbered forward, pressing both barrels of the shotgun against Paddington's forehead. "Here's your duel, Major. Should I count to ten?"
Make that two skunks.
Quiet. I want to see what happens.
Here's what'll happen. If you want out of this town perpendicular, you'll say what I tell you.
Take orders from you? You're crazy as a mudhen.
You're the one who hears voices. Want to live or not?
Depends. What do I say?
He told me. It was even more outlandish than his normal brand of nonsense, but it did promise to shake things up. And if his plan didn't work, I still had my fists.
First, Davy said, clap your hands.
I rolled my eyes, but complied. Everyone swung to gawk at me.
"A truly amazing performance," I said, parroting Davy's words. "You fellers belong on the stage."
Stark's eyes narrowed. Josh and Miss Belinda stared as if I'd lost my wits. Maybe I had.
Paddington said, "Just what is your meaning, sir?"
"Just this, Major. Next, you'll grab Stark's scattergun and threaten to blast him. Stark and his coyotes will flee in terror, making you the biggest hero since Achilles. Miss Belinda will beg you to marry her on the spot."
Paddington began to tremble. Stark's face grew dark. Belinda Goodwin's lips formed a large O.
"As the brave husband," I plowed on, "you'll be a powerful landowner, and likely the next governor of the territory."
"The state." Josh beat his palm with a fist. "We're about to become a state."
"All that," I said, "when you're really nothin' but a lowdown killer. You hired this Stark blister to shoot old Zack Goodwin."
At this, Miss Belinda shrieked blue ruin, and Paddington's cork finally popped. "That's a lie! The killing was Stark's idea!"
"Take that back, you double-crossing polecat!" Stark fixed to bend his weapon over Paddington's skull. The major assumed a boxer's stance and struck Stark smartly on the nose. The shotgun hit the floor, blasting a double load of buckshot into Stark's backside, and he howled like a catamount.
Now's your chance. Long and Short are ripe for pluckin'.
I threw my right fist backward, shoulder high, driving Long's skull clean through the wall. At the same instant, I drove my left elbow back into Short's windpipe. As their guns hit the floor, I sprung forward, intending to join the Paddington-Stark tussle. But they'd gone into a clinch, clawing each other's throats and snarling like rabid wolves.
I snagged another bottle of tarantula juice and sidled onto a barstool. "Hey, Josh. I'll lay you a dollar on Stark."
Josh stood over the fallen gunnies, a pistol in each hand. "I'll take that bet, Dave. This Paddington feller's tougher'n he looks."
"Mr. Crockett, please!" Miss Belinda wrapped a dainty hand around my arm. I tried to shift away, but she clung to me like a bear trap. "They mustn't kill each other. They should stand trial for Daddy's murder."
Ignore her. Like as not, a jury'd let them off.
I considered. Davy's plan had worked, but I'd done enough of his bidding for one day. Besides, I wanted my arm back.
"Don't fret, ma'am. I'll stop 'em."
Fortifying myself with another dollop of Josh's hooch, I grabbed a piece of each man and pried them apart. But next thing I knew, both those maniacs had latched onto me. All of a sudden we were a three-sided whirlwind, bitin' and scratchin' and kickin' and clawin' each other indiscriminately. Somehow Paddington got hold of a table leg and batted me on the chin, so I caught up a brass spittoon and loosened his teeth. Then Stark begun to pound me with a roulette wheel, and I was forced to bust a lamp on his scalp, sluicing red-hot oil down his neck. As if from far away, I heard Josh bleating that we were destroying his establishment, but he might as well have been hollering at a tornado.
We went on chewing up furniture and knocking slats out of walls for what seemed an eternity before those others began to tire. But when their eyes finally glazed I banged their heads together, rolled them into a heap and sat on them.
"Josh, be a pal and fetch me more of that bottled brimstone."
"I shouldn't," he said disgustedly, "seeing you dang near demolished my saloon. But I reckon that show was worth it."
I drained a bottle and started on a second. Aside from a good deal of lost hide and a busted rib or two, I was feeling almost human when Belinda Goodwin started fussing over me. "You poor dear," she cooed. "You must let me nurse you, after all you've done." And without invitation she ripped a piece off the hem of her dress and begun to mop the blood off my face.
Her hands were wondrously soft, but when her bosom pressed against my arm I begun to feel twitchy all over.
"Those men were scoundrels," she said sweetly, "but they were right about one thing. I do need a husband to help me run Daddy's ranch."
I sat bolt upright, all benefit of the liquor gone.
"And with statehood coming," Josh said, "we'll be needin' a new governor. Once this tale gets out, you'll be a shoe-in."
You planned this, I said to Davy. You knew this would happen!
Don't be blamin' me. I ain't nothin' but voice in your head.
You talked me into keeping that gal single, knowing she'd succumb to my charms. Then you told me to ignore her, knowing I'd do the opposite. You're a demon who'll stop at nothing to get me hogtied and politicking!
I rose up so sudden Miss Belinda lost her grip and spilled to the floor. Before she could find her wits I spun for the exit, blasting the batwings off their hinges.
Leaping from the porch, I twisted in mid-air and forked plumb onto my saddle. That paint was so shocked he ripped the hitch rack out of the ground and departed Cougar Springs like a streak of lightning.
Somewhere in the middle of Wyoming I spotted an Indian war party and pulled rein. "Kill me quick!" I bellowed, waving my hat. "Scalp me and tan my hide for a teepee! I can't bear no more of this ancestral torment!"
Them Indians took one look at me and hightailed it over the horizon.
Might as well face it, Davy said. You're a Crockett, and bound for greatness.
Seems to me, I said, there's one too many Crocketts in this body. If you don't leave me be, I'll marry a crazy woman and raise a passel of half-wits. And I'll name every last one of them Davy!
Copyright © 2012 by Evan Lewis