If you wanted to buy something in Highwater, whether it was an axe or a suit, Anderson’s General Store was the place to be.
Dressing like a refined gentleman was a new experience for Slade. His collar felt tight. He’d never worn a tie before and couldn’t wait to take it off. He couldn’t believe that he’d allowed himself to be talked into wearing a cummerbund. A red one to boot.
Mrs. Anderson was a boney old hag who reeked of peppermint candy, though her face was sweet enough that looked as though she’d been a head turner in her day. After all, she once turned Jim Anderson’s head, though as the bald chubby man studied his accounts ledger, he didn’t look like a particularly great catch.
“So dashing!” Sarah said. “What do you think?”
“Is that good?” Mrs. Anderson asked.
“I have no idea,” Sarah replied.
“Is it proper to wear a hat in church?” Mrs. Anderson asked. “And those guns…you should lose them.”
“True, it is a wedding, dear,” Sarah said.
Slade cleared his throat. “Non-negotiable…on both fronts.”
Mrs. Anderson shook her head. “Men.”
She walked behind the counter, shooed her husband away from the ledger and began jotting down figures.
Slade stared at himself in the mirror, convinced this get up was the first step toward becoming a prissy, dandified girly man. A familiar voice broke his concentration.
“Christ’s sakes, Jim, don’t give me that top shelf shit! Do I look like a Vanderbilt to you?”
Slade turned his head to see his ex-deputy at the counter, purchasing a bottle of whiskey. Gunther forked over his money, took his bottle, and was about to walk off when he spotted his ex-boss.
There was no making a run for it now. Slade was in for it. Gunther walked over, took off his hat and bowed.
“Excuse me, Mr. City Slicker, which way to the op-a-rah house?”
“Did I take a wrong turn and end up in gay Paree?”
“No one told me the King of England was making an appearance.”
“Shut up,” Slade said.
“What’s with the monkey suit?” Gunther asked. “Someone up and croak?”
“What?” Slade asked.
“Whose funeral?” Gunther asked.
Slade felt like it was his but realized that wasn’t what Gunther meant. “It’s for a…” Slade’s voice trailed off unintelligibly.
“A what?” Gunther asked.
Slade mumbled again. Gunther put his hand up to his ear.
“Speak up, sonny. My ears aren’t as good as they used to be.”
“A wedding!” Slade said.
Gunther smiled. “Get outta town! When?”
“Tonight,” Slade said.
“Shit, you youngsters don’t waist any time do you?” Gunther said.
“I guess not,” Slade replied. Gunther was already off to the counter, shaking Sarah’s hand up and down. “Congratulations on your impending nuptials, Widow Farquhar!”
“Why thank you,” Sarah said. “You’ll join us, won’t you?”
Gunther put his arm around Slade’s shoulder. “Why I wouldn’t miss it for the world and Rain, don’t you worry none, the answer is yes.”
“Huh?” Slade asked.
“Yes,” Gunther replied.
“What the hell’s the question?” Slade asked.
“Will I be your best man?” Gunther said. “Of course I will, ya’ jackass, you don’t even have to ask.”
The thought hadn’t crossed Slade’s mind but realizing there was no other candidate for the job, he didn’t question it. Sarah seconded it.
“I think that’s a lovely idea,” she said.
“Widow Farquhar,” Gunther said. “Could I borrow the groom for a spell? Official best man business.”
“Of course,” Sarah said. She turned her attention to Mrs. Anderson. “You’ll deliver the dress tonight then?”
“Yes honey,” Mrs. Anderson said. “Don’t worry about a thing.”
Gunther led Slade outside. From the steps of the general store, they could see the newly arrived train sitting at the station. Legion employees in conductor uniforms puttered about the platform, loading equipment.
“That is some nefarious and suspicious shit right there,” Gunther said. “What do you think?”
“It’s big,” Slade said. “We rode past it on the way in. Has to be at least three miles long. One of those big guns on every fifth car.”
“Rain, I know I schooled you well in the art of saying ‘fuck it,’” Gunther said. “But now might be one of those times where your ill-advised recklessness is required.”
“What do you want me to do?” Slade asked.
“I don’t know,” Gunther said. “You’re the boss. I’m just the help.”
“Not anymore,” Slade said. “And I’m getting hitched.”
Gunther and Slade shared a moment of silence. “You sure that’s what you want?” the old man asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Slade said.
“What else is new?” Gunther asked. He pulled the cork out of his bottle, took a sip, then offered Slade some. He declined.
Sarah walked out of the store and took Slade’s arm. “Mrs. Anderson said you’re free to wear your suit out of the store but darling, please don’t get it dirty.”
“I better go pay,” Slade said.
“Oh sweetheart I took care of that,” Sarah said.
Gunther felt like a third wheel. “This sounds like one hell of a shin dig, folks. I better go and get my own fancy duds out of moth balls.”
“Six o’clock, Mr. Beauregard,” Sarah said.
“Ma’am, wild horses could not drag me away,” Gunther said. The old timer walked away.
“What is it?” Sarah asked. “You look cross. More so than usual.”
“You can’t just…pay for me.”
“Why not?” Sarah asked.
“It’s like I’m a…” Slade whispered the next part, “…a damn gigolo.”
Sarah led her man down the street. “Don’t be ridiculous! We’re to be married soon. What’s mine is yours and yours is mine. Come now, we have a long day ahead. I hope we can find a photographer.”
Slade craned his neck once more at that train. He knew Gunther was right.