The Bonnie Lass. It was named for its owner and proprietor, one Miss Bonnie Lassiter, declared by the populace to be the most beautiful woman in all of Highwater. A wood carved outline of her sultry shape adorned the sign hanging above the swinging set of double doors to her saloon.
Gunther strolled on in.
Drinking. Gambling. Wine, women, and song. Women especially. Ladies of the evening, even though it was daytime.
A fight over a fixed card game was in full swing. Grown men punched one another and slammed their opponents in the back with wooden chairs that conveniently splintered and cracked into pieces upon impact. There was even a fair amount of glass bottles being cracked over heads with reckless abandon.
The ladies were quite bored with it all. They milled about the bar, clad in fancy, frilly lace dresses, their hair done up perfectly, faces painted like works of art.
“Hey,” Gunther said.
No one paid the old man any mind.
Still nothing. Gunther pulled out his sidearm and fired a round into the air. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at the codger.
“That’s more like it,” Gunther said.
“GODDAMN IT, GUNTHER!” came Miss Bonnie’s sweet though presently angry voice from upstairs. “WAS THAT YOU?”
Embarrassed, Gunther removed his hat and held it over his heart. “Yes, Miss Bonnie.”
“WHAT KIND OF A HORSE’S ASS SHOOTS A GUN INSIDE A PLACE OF BUSINESS?!”
Gunther hadn’t really thought about it. “I’m sorry, Miss Bonnie.”
“ARE YOU GOING TO FIX THE HOLE?!”
Gunther hadn’t thought about that either. “Yes, Miss Bonnie,” he said. “First chance I get.”
“YOUR CEILING IS MY FLOOR YOU KNOW! ARE YOU TRYING TO GET ME KILLED?!”
“Point taken, Ms. Bonnie.”
The cowboys let go of the various headlocks and holds they had on one another and gathered around the deputy.
“Gents,” Gunther said. “As you’re all well aware, the Buchanan Boys are on the way and old Smelly Jack Buchanan himself has put out the word that any man who stands in the way of his lootin’ and robbin’ and rapin’ and what have you is a dead man.”
Gunther stretched his boney arm toward the swinging doors.
“Out there on our main thoroughfare stands our man of the hour, Marshall Slade.” There was a tinge of pride in Gunther’s voice. “Who among you is man enough to stand with him?”
The room grew quiet. All the men looked at the walls, their boots, anywhere to avoid looking directly at the man who was about to lecture them.
“Well golllll….eee,” Gunther said. “Don’t y’all go and volunteer at once now, I’ll never be able to count everyone up.”
The general feeling in the room grew grim. The men were ashamed of themselves. They knew it. Gunther knew it. He did his best to play on it.
“This is our town, ‘aint it?” Gunther asked. “We built it, didn’t we? Who in tarnation does Smelly Jack think he is, that he can just waltz in here like he owns the place and take everything that ‘aint nailed down?”
Waldo Fleming, who in addition to his employment as the Bonnie Lass’ bartender served as the town’s illustrious mayor, was a goofy looking sourpuss. Hair parted straight down the middle, buck teeth and he always looked like he was sucking on a lemon.
“Ahh, hell, Gunther,” Waldo said. “Who are you to bullshit us about standing up for what’s right? Why, I’ve seen you and every other Marshall before Slade hightail it out of town like cats with their tails stuck between their legs whenever shit got bad. You’re just as yellow as the rest of us!”
Shock. A look of total shock took over Gunther’s face. “Them’s fightin’ words, ya’ ornery son of a motherless goat!”
“It’s the truth!” Waldo fired back.
Gunther put his hat back on. “Mayyyybe it’s the truth,” he said. “Or….” The old man raised a finger in the air to make a point. “Maybe, just maybe, I never had faith in any other Marshall we had before like I do with the one we got now.”
The group of degenerate barflies mulled that one over for a spell.
“Do you really?” Waldo asked.
The old man never could bluff. “No,” he said. “But he’s the first Marshall crazy enough to stand up for us and we can’t very well let him do it on his lonesome now can we?”
Martin Blake was a ranch hand who worked on a spread on the outskirts of town. He never failed to spend his pay at the Bonnie Lass, or to offer his two cents in any discussion.
“Slade’s an asshole,” the burly brute said as he slammed his beer mug down on his table.
Gunther spun around so quickly his fake eye almost popped out of its socket.
“Did you just say what I think you said you lousy, good for nothin’ sack of…”
Blake stood up and rested his hands on his big brass belt buckle. “Yeah, I did,” he interrupted. “Slade’s a fool. He’s gonna get everyone in town killed. He oughta stand down. That’s all a man can do when he’s up against a crew of roughnecks. Let Buchanan have his way with the town. Anyone who tries to stop him is just going to piss him off and egg him on to kill more innocent people.”
Claps. Foot stomps. Shouts of “Here, here!” and “‘Atta boy!'” and so on. The crowd was with the ranch hand.
“Stand down,” Gunther said. “That’s what y’all think the Marshall, our duly designated officer of the law, ought to do, is that right?!”
“YEAH!!!!” said literally everyone.
Gunther stopped by the bar, picked up an abandoned beer, and swilled it down. He didn’t care who it belonged to. “So that’s the path this country is on now, is it?”
He stepped back to the center of the room. “Well, is it?”
Burt Townsend, the local blacksmith, stood in the corner with his back against a support beam, an apron full of soot and a face weathered by too much time near a hot fire. “Blake’s right, Gunther. Slade’s playing a dangerous game here.”
“I can’t believe my own ears,” Gunther said. “What a sorry sack of so and so’s y’all have become…that y’all are such a bunch of weak kneed, lily livered spineless swine that you’ve tricked your soft, sad little mush brains into believing the bad guy isn’t Smelly Jack. That Marshall Slade is the bad guy here.”
The old timer paced back and forth as he continued. “That our town being sacked is just part of life in the West, something we should just become accustomed to, like tornados and coyotes and the like? Is that it?”
“Yes,” Townsend said. “Sorry, Gunther, but that’s exactly it.”
Waldo and Blake had always been degenerates, but Townsend had always been a reputable individual. His words hurt Gunter a little more. What really hurt though was that the old man secretly agreed with the crowd, but he wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction of letting them know that.
From upstairs came the sound of footsteps moving around, followed by a door opening. Miss Bonnie herself, in all her fiery red haired, big blue eyed, attractive and sensual glory, burst out of her bedroom wearing scandalous black lingerie that left little to the imagination.
She leaned over the bannister and looked down toward Gunther. “Is Rain in trouble?” she asked.
Gunther nodded then quickly averted his eyes, scanning about the room to find anything, anything at all to look at other than the scantily clad beauty. It wasn’t that he wasn’t interested but rather, he still considered himself a married man, even though his darling Mavis had passed on a decade prior.
“Yessum,” he said. “A bit of a spot.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Miss Bonnie asked.
That question elicited an endless supply of laughs from the lecherous losers.
“Why no, Ma’am,” Gunther said. “On account of you being…well…a…”
“What?” Miss Bonnie asked.
Just then, Roscoe Crandall, a tall, gangly looking doofus who loaded crates at the mercantile, ran out of Miss Bonnie’s bedroom with his pants around his angles, his pink polka dotted drawers on full display.
“Dammit, woman!” Roscoe yelled. “I ‘aint finished yet!”
Roscoe made a move to grab the little lady but ended up being grabbed himself. He was then thrown over the railing and down to the saloon’s main floor, where luckily for him, a table broke his fall.
“You’re finished when I say you’re finished, pervert!” Miss Bonnie shouted.
“I…I want…my money back,” Roscoe managed to say before he passed out.
“NO REFUNDS!” Miss Bonnie hollered. She turned back to Gunther. “You were saying?”
“Well,” Gunther said. “No doubt you can handle yourself, Miss Bonnie, but I just don’t think I’d be able to sleep at night if I went and put a woman into harm’s way is all.”
The redhead turned around. “I figured as much. Tell Rain I’m rooting for him just the same.”
And with that, the wealthiest woman in Highwater returned to her room and shut the door.
Gunther used his one good eye to give the contingent of cowards the evil eye.
“May it never be forgotten that the only one of you with the decency to offer a helping hand was a female,” the old man said.
Gunther knew it. The whole room knew it. Every man in the joint put his head down in shame, except for Roscoe. He was fast asleep.
“Pathetic,” Gunther said as he headed through the double doors. “PA-THET-IC!!!”