Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Dry Gulch Christmas

A Dry Gulch Christmas
by David B. Riley

The piano player was hammering out some tune that was familiar, yet she couldn’t quite place it. She’d been through so many Christmas holidays that she must have heard every Christmas ditty ever played. Still, this was odd in some way. She went over to the piano player and placed a twenty dollar gold piece in the tip jar. “That song you played, I can’t place it. It sounds Christmassy yet, it’s not. What the heck is it?”
“It’s something they played back home. They had a holiday called Saint Bartholomew’s Day. It’s not really a Christmas song. How about Silent Night?”
“How about no?” She stared at him for a moment. “I don’t actually like Christmas all that much. That’s what interested me about your song.”
“Well, I haven’t been able to adapt most of the old songs to a piano. While I like this piano, it is somewhat limited.”
“At least it’s not a blasted harp,” she said.
“Never played one, though I heard some lady in Denver play one a while back.”
She nodded. “How’d they take to you, down Denver way?”
“Well, I sort of sat outside the opera house. Here in Dry Gulch I’m pretty open about being an alien. No one seems to care, green skin and all,” Kuto explained. “That’s not true everywhere.”
“Interesting.” She returned to her table and lit up a cigar. As if to test his claim, she flagged down a passing saloon girl. “Where’s that piano player from?”
“Some planet somewhere.”
“Thanks.” She took a puff on the cigar, then took just a sip of her beer. No one was playing poker. A few Indians were over at the faro table. She never played that game, nothing against a dealer.. “Hey, you, drunk guy?”
Henry Steelman moved over toward her table. She pushed the chair out for him. “Buy you a drink?”
“Sure thing,” he decided as he sat down. Gorgeous redheads did not often buy him anything, except trouble.
“So, it’s Christmas eve. Why are you here and not holed up with a family or some cutie or something?” She took another puff from her cigar and motioned for the saloon girl. “Give my friend here whatever the hell he drinks.”
“Well, last night he was drinking window cleaner, maybe a local whisky?”
“That should do,” she agreed.
“Ain’t got no family. They all died from that influenza outbreak a couple years back,” Henry explained.
“Well, I don’t got much in the way of family, either. I have a gentleman friend, but his train got derailed,” she said.
“Is he all right?” Henry asked.
“Oh, probably. He was able to send me a telegram. I doubt he could do that if he was dead.”
“Good point,” he agreed.
The saloon girl dropped off Henry’s drink. Mabel tossed a five dollar coin on her tray. “Keep the change.”
“Thank you, Miss.”
She smiled at Henry. “Name’s Mabel.”
“I’m Henry.”
“Pleased to meet you,” she decided. “Be right back.” She ventured back over to the piano. “Can you play Los Imperials?”
“The Martian anthem?”
“That’s it.”
“Boy, you’re really not from around here. I’ll give it a try,” Kuto agreed.
Mabel returned to her seat. “So, Henry, how’s the booze?”
“Pretty good.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“That’s a weird song he’s playing,” Henry said.
“I know. They say you can see ghosts?” Her cigar had gone out. She re-lit it with a match.
“Sometimes. It used to scare me.”
“I’ll bet,” Mabel agreed. She pointed over at the bar. "That pretty brunette, would you bang her?”
“That’s Miss Wendy, she owns the place. She’d never settle for some drunk like me.”
“That’s an interesting perspective, Henry.” Mabel chugged down the entire contents of her mug of beer. “I can’t quite figure Christmas out. People get all silly and sing special songs and exchange gifts, then, they go back to being their same obnoxious selves the next day.”
“Got that right. Nobody never beats me up on Christmas. Them cow-boys, they get real mean, some of ‘em anyway.”
Nobody beats me up,” Mabel said.
“You’re a lady.”
“I mean they can’t beat me up,” Mabel explained. She pointed around the room with her cigar. “Who’s the toughest hombre in this saloon?”
“Uh, I guess that Otis Claverson over by the wall. He’s the foreman over at the zinc mine. Beats me up every payday.”
“Does he now. Would you like to see him get beat up for once?” Mabel asked.
“Boy, would I.”
Mabel casually walked over to the table by the wall and asked, “Are you Otis?”
“I sure am,” he said as he ran his hand through his curly blond hair.
Mabel punched him in the jaw one time. Otis was out cold. She sauntered back to her table. “There. Merry Christmas.”
“Uh.” He gulped down the rest of the drink she’d bought him.
“Henry, I’m an angel. I’m an angel that, way back when, was tossed out of heaven. I live in hell now, except when I get out. I don’t rightly love Christmas, but it has its good points, like just now. When else would you get to watch someone beat up Otis Claverson?” Mabel handed him a hundred dollar gold coin. “That’s counterfeit. It’ll pass on these chumps. Take that and spend it on booze or go down the street to Abigail’s and spend it on the prettiest, courtesan they have. Whichever you want. Enjoy Christmas for once.””
“Abigail’s is a whorehouse,” Henry said.
“I know that, Henry. But it’s a classy joint.”
“I just didn’t know what a courtesan was,” he explained.
“Oh.” She kissed him on the cheek, then went over to the piano. “Your Los Imperiales needs some work.
“Where’d you learn about that?” Kuto asked.
“I get around. Actually, I speak fluent Martian. But hope those bastards don’t show up here.”
“Got that right,” Kuto agreed.
 She started for the front doors. “Have a nice St. Bartholomew’s Day, or Christmas or whatever,.” she told the alien piano [layer. Mabel went out on the front porch, leaving the doors open, snapped her fingers, then there was a shower of sparks and she was gone.

This was just a sample. If you want more of this stuff, Mabel has her own book: Fallen Angel by David B. Riley
And to take in more of life in Dry Gulch, get your hands on Tales From Dry Gulch, available from your favorite bookseller or Amazon in print and Kindle. And look for Tales From Dry Gulch 2, coming Spring 2020.   Or you can simply click on the book covers on this page to be connected to ordering information from the publishers.

Finally, there's a new review of Tales From Dry Gulch at No Name Zin

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