Red Valley – Chapter VI

So right now I’m a solid chapter ahead a day. I hope I can keep up this pace but I already start feeling myself burning out. Let’s hope I can power through.

VI

It was early morning when West rode into Lockwood. It was a simple town with simple people and West hated seeing their stupid, simple smiles. He couldn’t even muster a tip of the hat and he knew he was making a bad impression but he didn’t care. He rode straight up to Molloy’s Tavern and hitched his horse outside. He dismounted and looked at the cemetery across the street from the bar. The headstones were like eyes watching him and it made him uneasy. He pushed the thought out of his mind and made his way inside.

West couldn’t help but notice how rundown the place had become. The ceiling dripped and there were holes in the wall from drunken brawls and West wondered if he’d made one of them back in his day. Back then, Molloy’s had been a happening locale. Maybe it still was, but on this morning it just looked sad and miserable. Jack, the town drunk, who was sitting at the bar didn’t help the vibe.

West was pleased to see that Danny-Boy had survived the old days and was still tending bar. Danny-Boy, on the other hand, turned pale when he saw West enter. He’d never fully believed the rumors of West’s death but he never fully questioned them, either. And now here he was, back from the dead.

“Well, well, well… Tell me. Do ghosts drink whiskey?”

“I ain’t here for a drink. I came for information.”

Danny-Boy smiled. It’d been a long time since they danced this dance.

“‘Ol’ West Steel, the steel of the west.If he didn’t steal the west first.’ You remember when people used to say that?” Jack picked his head up from his drink for the first time since West had entered and looked at him with morbid curiosity.

“I don’t go by West no more. Name’s Michael Crowley now.” Danny-Boy just nodded his head.

“Yes sir, Mr. Crowley.”

Jack raised his finger and hiccupped. “Mr. West — it’s a — pleasure. If I could — buy you a — drink — it’d be a real honor.” He extended his hand towards West but Danny-Boy swatted it away.

“Pipe down, Jackie. You can’t even pay your own tab.” Danny-Boy turned back to West, “So what do you need, Mr. Crowley?”

“You ever heard of anyone named Sanchero?”

“Sure. The Sanchero Gang. Had a few of their boys in here just the other night ‘causin’ all kinds of hell. Chopped off this nigger’s finger and cut up my damn bar,” he said, rubbing the bar lovingly with his fingers. “Wouldn’t you know it, one of ‘em put a gun to my head. I mean talk about rude. Back in your day, the bartender was off limits.”

“Bartender was never off limits.” Danny-Boy mustered a smile.

“Come to think of it… That’s right. You  – I mean, West Steel – was the top of conversation.” West’s eyes narrowed. “See this nigger came in braggin’ about how he’d stuck up the great West Steel. Only to have the gun turned on him. No one believed him so he kept talkin’. And then the Sanchero boys became aw-fully interested. Don’t tell me the Sancheros have come under the wrath of West Steel. Err, I mean, Michael Crowley.”

“Wrath would be putting it mildly.”

Danny-Boy’s face lit up and he smiled a wide toothy smile. “Well shit. West Steel, back in action! I mean if I’d known better–” West grabbed Danny-Boy by the collar and lifted him up over the bar.

“You’re gonna see the shit-side of my boot heel if you don’t call me Mr. Crowley.” West let him go and he straightened his tie and patted his shirt. His smile was gone now and he knew West meant business. “What else you know about these guys?”

“Just that they got a ranch like a fortress. Down in Red Valley.” West repeated the name and thought to himself for a moment.

“Charlie been in here lately?”

“No. He quit drinkin’ a while back. Damn fool. You gonna go see him?”

“‘Fraid I have to.”

Danny-Boy poured a shot of whiskey and nudged it towards West. “On the house.” West looked down at the shot a moment before slamming it back and heading out the door. “It was good seeing you again, Mr. Crowley!” West grunted a reply and disappeared.

Moments later a burly figure cut through the bar. Danny-Boy stood up straight and tried to keep his cool. “Big Marshal Long. Long time no see.”

“Well if you missed me so much, how ‘bout one on the house?”

“Sure. Sure.” Danny-Boy poured the marshal a whiskey and slid it over to him. The marshal shot it back, wiped his mouth with his arm and grinned.

“Word broke out a ways east that an old gunfighter has come back from the dead.”

“You believin’ ghost stories now, Marshal?”

“Well, for a thousand alive, can’t hurt to check every possible lead.”

“So why you here?” The marshal looked around the bar, taking it all in. The place wasn’t in great condition but it had character and he liked that.

“This used to be ol’ West Steel’s hangout, ain’t that right, Danny-Boy?”

“Used to be. He’s been gone for… Almost ten years now.”

“Eight. Never did have a look at the body. His ma and pa sure buried him awfully quick. I don’t reckon I ever believed the story of his death.” Marshal Long raised his pant leg and knocked on his wooden leg. “Summer of ’69, West Steel shot my calf straight off with a shotgun. I always regretted not bein’ able to be the one to kill him. I really do hope he is alive so I get my chance to shoot that fucker dead and piss on his corpse.”

Danny-Boy sheepishly nodded in the affirmative.

“Well that sure is a sad story there, Marshal, and I do hope you get your chance too, but if he is alive like you say, I don’t think he’d be dumb enough to come back here.”

Marshal Long shot Danny-Boy a wicked smile. He picked up his empty shot glass and shook it at Danny-Boy.

“How ‘bout another one. On the house, of course.” Danny-Boy let out a nervous chuckle.

“Between your shots and Jack’s I reckon I ain’t gon’ make no money today.”

“This man not payin’ his tab?” Marshal Long asked, pointing accusingly at Jack.

“He’s just a little behind but it’s nothin’ we–” Danny-Boy hadn’t even finished his sentence when Marshal Long gunned Jack down, nor had he the proper time to go into shock when Long grabbed him by the collar and held him over the bar.

“Now you listen, and you listen good, if you so much as hear a mention of the name “West Steel,” I wanna know about it, is that understood? Or you’ll end up like poor Jackie over there.” Danny-Boy nodded his head. “Good.”

Long walked over to Jack’s corpse and rummaged through his pockets. He found a dime and tossed it at Danny-Boy.

“Let’s call it even,” Marshal Long said with a laugh and walked out.

 

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