One Year Later
The Rattler was aptly named because it was filled with vipers. Cutthroats, villains and assorted reprobates guzzled brews and exchanged tales of their heinous misdeeds.
Gambling. Brawling. Knife fights. It was comparable to the Bonnie Lass, but with less charm and ambience.
The double doors swung open and in walked a man wearing a hat with a red feather in it.
Miles. He’d hit a growth spurt and was over six feet now. Height. Muscle. There was even the slightest beginnings of a rudimentary mustache on his lip.
The joint grew silent. Card games. Fist fights. It all came to a halt as all eyes followed him as he bellied up to the bar.
Nelson Cooper, the owner/barkeep had a face that looked like it defined stupid. Lazy-eye. Crooked teeth. Unibrow. Permanent scowl. Dirt beard. Stain covered shirt that looked like it doubled as a bar rag.
Miles plopped a coin on the bar. “Sarsparilla. Straight up.”
Cooper and his contingent of barflies laughed.
“Can’t you read?” the barkeep asked as he pointed to a sign above the bar.
It read, “No Vampires. No Zombies. No Werewolves.”
“We don’t serve your kind here,” Cooper said.
Miles gulped. How did this scumbag know anything about him? He’d just strolled into town and hadn’t said a word to anyone.
“I’m not a damn werewolf,” Miles said.
Cooper pointed to one more line on the sign. “No Negroes.”
“Shit,” Miles said.
He picked up his coin and scooched off the barstool.
A voice called out from the back left corner of the room.
“Cooper, quit acting like the power to poor booze gives you a ten foot dick and pour my friend a drink.”
The barkeep threw his hands up and trembled in fear. “Aw hell, Hoo Doo. I didn’t know he was with you.”
“Well now you do.”
Miles looked over to the corner table. There sat a rakish man with a gaunt face. He was skinny, bordering on emaciation. Sandy hair and a black hat with a white band. Rumpled suit that looked a tad baggy for him.
“Thanks,” Miles said as he started for the door. “But I don’t want any trouble.”
“Nonsense!” the man said. “Come have a seat and we’ll have a little chat.”
The barflies returned to their debauchery. Miles took a seat at the man’s table. Cooper plopped a bottle of sarsaparilla down.
“Soda pop!” the man scoffed. “Bullshit! He’ll have a scotch.”
“I don’t drink,” Miles said.
“And I didn’t hear that,” the man said as he shooed the barkeep away.
Miles took a swig of sarsaparilla. He’d been running all day and was powerfully thirsty.
The man dropped a few pinches of tobacco onto a paper and rolled himself a cigarette.
“Hoo Doo,” the man said.
“Who do what?” Miles replied.
The man grinned. “Me do.”
Miles was confused. “You do what?”
“You do hoo doo?” Miles asked.
“I do,” the man answered. “My name and my trade are one and the same. Hoo Doo Brown, at your service.”
Cooper set a glass of scotch down and left. Miles stared at it.
“It’ll put hair on your chest,” Hoo Doo said.
Miles picked it up.
“Not that you need any,”Hoo Doo said.
Miles was flabbergasted. Hoo Doo lit his cigarette and popped the end between his lips, leaving it to dangle there.
“Oh come now,” Hoo Doo said. “I can spot a supernatural at fifty paces. I saw the look on your puss when that fat sack of crap insulted you. It was all you could do to keep yourself from unleashing the beast and tearing him apart. Not to cast aspersions on your kind but werewolves aren’t exactly known for their self-control. What gives?”
The young man raised the glass to his lips. “I’m a peaceful werewolf.” He took a sip, choked, then immediately sprayed it out in a fine mist.
Hoo Doo laughed. “Your first drink I take it?”
Miles made a face as if he’d just been sucking on a lemon. “And my last one. That was awful. Why do people drink this stuff?”
Hoo Doo reached into his pocket and pulled out a bar of soap and a small pocket knife. He went to work whittling the soap.
“Oh,” Hoo Doo said. “To forget the past, I suppose. I’m not exactly sure of the science of it all but I can’t imagine a beverage that dulls the senses could taste like candy.”
Miles returned to his sarsparilla.
“What’s hoo doo?” Miles asked.
“Now there’s a question,” Hoo Doo said as he whittled away. “I suppose I could regale you for hours about its history but when it comes right down to it…”
Hoo Doo tapped the ash off his smoke into an empty glass. “…it’s the art of asking demons for favors.”
Miles eyes grew wide with fear.
“Not exactly a profession I’d recommend,” Hoo Doo said. “Nothing in life is free and well, those demons are happy to cater to your wishes if you ask them the right way but they take a little piece of you each time.”
Hoo Doo sighed. “Sometimes I feel like I have nothing left to give. One of these days, I really should stop.”
Miles scooched back in his chair. “Thanks for the drinks, mister. I best be moving on.”
“Oh please,” Hoo Doo said. “You just got here. And you never even told me your name.”
“Tell me Miles,” Hoo Doo said. “What’s a nice werewolf like you doing in a place like this?”
“Just passing through.”
“On your way to…”
Miles was torn between his fear and his inner desire to not appear rude. “Mexico.”
“Que bueno,” Hoo Doo said. “Pretty country. Prettier senoritas.”
“You’re out of luck I’m afraid,” Hoo Doo said. “The Federales have got the border locked down tighter than a nun’s knickers out of fear that their country might get overrun with zombies. Can’t say as I blame them. Zombies are truly the biggest assholes in the entire supernatural world.”
Miles shook his head. “Guess I’ll do something else.”
“And what do you do?” Hoo Doo asked.
“Your profession,” Hoo Doo said. “Your employment. Your raison d’etre. How’d you get that coin that Fuckface McGee over there refused because he prefers ignorance over making money?”
“I…I begged for it.”
“A beggar?” Hoo Doo asked. “Oh, no no no, son. We can’t have that at all. Have you got any skills?”
Miles shrugged. “I can draw.”
“Ah!” Hoo Doo said. “An artiste! I do admire a pretty picture and I’m certain one day when your pantings are hanging in museums I’ll gush with pride as I tell people I knew you when but I’m afraid I don’t know a single accomplished artist who can help you get started. Can you build something?”
“Swing a hammer?”
“I could try.”
“Tote that barge? Lift that bail?”
“I would if anyone would hire me.”
“Ah yes,” Hoo Doo said as the shavings from his bar of soap piled up on the table. “I imagine your color makes it difficult to win over folks like old Cooper there.”
“I’m not complaining,” Miles said.
“That’s the spirit,” Hoo Doo said. “Perhaps you could become a hired gun.”
Miles sipped his soda. “That’s a job I’d never want.”
“Could have fooled me with that Colt strapped to your hip,” Hoo Doo said.
“Gift from a friend,” Miles said. “Just for show. I don’t even keep it loaded.”
Hoo Doo rolled his eyes. “Son, let me help you. That is information a stranger should not know.”
“That’s information that even a friend should not know,” Hoo Doo added. “Are we friends yet?”
“I don’t think so,” Miles said.
“We’ll get there,” Hoo Doo said. “Regardless, assume everyone is looking for your weaknesses. They’ll find them sooner or later but you don’t have to point them out and make it easier for them.”
Miles nodded again.
“Many a bad man would pay top dollar for the services of a werewolf,” Hoo Doo said.
“I’m not that kind of werewolf,” Miles replied.
“As I live and breathe,” Hoo Doo said. “You really are a pacifist werewolf.”
“Pacifist,” Hoo Doo said. “You abhor violence.”
“That’s admirable,” Hoo Doo said. “I’d quit violence myself if it weren’t so damn effective.”
Hoo Doo put his knife away and set his soap down on the table. He’d carved the bar into the shape of a little man. A round head. Stick body, legs and arms.
“Give me your critique as an artist.”
“Not bad,” Miles said.
“I’m no Michelangelo but I try,” Hoo Doo said.
Cooper was back. “Hey Hoo Doo, I know you’re the King Shit around here but I can’t have this nigger drinking in my bar all night. Pretty soon all the niggers will want to…”
Hoo Doo balled his hand into a fist, raised it up, then pounded it down on his little sculpture, smashing it flat.
As for Cooper, he didn’t gasp or choke. He didn’t cry out in pain. He simply collapsed in a giant heap on the floor.
The barflies cared enough to look, but not enough to get involved. They went about their business. Miles jumped out of his chair and lightly slapped Cooper’s cheek.
“Mister!” Miles said. “Hey Mister! Wake up.”
Miles looked up. The smashed soap. The smile on Hoo Doo’s face.
“What did you do?”
“I asked for a favor,” Hoo Doo replied.
Miles shook the man’s shoulders. “Hey! Mister, come on!”
The young man looked back to Hoo Doo. “Do something!”
Hoo Doo sighed. “Oh God, you’re one of those bleeding heart types aren’t you? All right…”
Hoo Doo took his time as he took some of the soap and rolled it into a ball to make a head. Then he crafted a few sticks to make a body, legs, and arms. He wiggled his fingers over the sculpture and…
“Get off me nigger!”
Cooper pushed Miles aside and stood up. “What the hell happened?”
“You had one too many I suppose,” Hoo Doo said. “My friend here was just trying to help you.”
“Trying to sneak a feel on my pecker was what he was doing,” Cooper said. “We don’t take kindly to queers in here neither.”
Cooper stormed off back to the bar. “I’m going to add that to my sign.”
Miles returned to his seat.
“Shit,” Hoo Doo said. “I worry about you, Miles the Pacifist Werewolf. If you let a half-wit like that walk all over you then you’ll be doing it for the rest of your life.”
“I’d rather take people’s abuse then hate myself for hurting them.”
Hoo Doo’s cigarette was all smoked out. He took another paper and some tobacco from his pocket and rolled another one.
“Ahh,” Hoo Doo said. “Then you have hurt someone.”
“None of your business.”
“There’s a spine,” Hoo Doo said. “We’ll make a man out of you yet.”
Miles stood up. “Goodbye.”
Hoo Doo lit his new cigarette. “Well, I can’t say there are many employment opportunities out there for pacifist werewolf but as it turns out I just happen to have one.”
“It’s very lucrative,” Miles said. “You’ll never have to beg for coins again and you’d be surprised how quickly a fat pocket earns you the respect of even the most basic of imbeciles.”
There was a little voice in Miles’ head, working overtime as it shouted for him to leave.
He went against his gut and sat back down.
“Like I said. I won’t hurt anyone.”
“And you won’t,” Hoo Doo said. “For it’s not your claws or your teeth that I’m after but rather, your above average sniffer.”
“Precisely,” Hoo Doo said. “Son, down in Mexico lies a magnificent treasure of great value. It isn’t made out of gold and who cares, seeing as how that commodity has become less precious ever since our esteemed government gave us the cold shoulder. It’s not even silver, which would be more useful as everyone and their uncle wants to pack silver heat now that the cat has been let out of the bag with regard to the existence of werewolves and vampires.”
“Diamonds?” Miles asked.
“Hell no,” Hoo Doo said as he puffed on his cigarette. “What good did a diamond ever do anyone except for getting a bunch of people killed so some ugly lady could pop it onto her finger and smile? Same thing with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires. All junk compared to this.”
“I can’t think of anything more valuable than gold, silver or jewels,” Miles said.
“For years I have sought a treasure made out of flesh and bone,” Hoo Doo said. “And for just as many years, I have searched for a werewolf to sniff it out for me. Alas, I have yet to meet a werewolf I wasn’t sure would snap me in two and take the treasure for himself as soon as he found it…until now. This job really does call for a pacifist werewolf and I must say I feel like asking God to pull his pants down so I can kiss his ass for finally sending me one.”
“I don’t know…”
“I’ll cut you in.”
“Fifty-fifty?” Miles asked.
“What?” Hoo Doo asked. “Fuck no, pacifist werewolf. I’m the one who’s done all the research and I’m the one taking all the risk sneaking your furry hide across the border. We get caught, all you need to do is wolf yourself and run away. Me? They’ll string me up and hang me up by my toes in a dank, depressing dungeon somewhere until the end of time.”
Miles looked out a window. The moon was full and was casting some light onto the table.
“But if you can’t do it without my nose…”
“I have created a monster,” Hoo Doo said. “Fine. I’ll take seventy, you take thirty. Keep in mind I’ll be paying two unsavory characters to join us out of my own pocket. Mexico’s not a place you want to visit without some muscle and we both know you won’t be providing that, pacifist werewolf.”
“What if I say no?” Miles said.
Hoo Doo shrugged. “Then I return to my glamorous lifestyle of drinking alone, you go outside and beg for people’s pocket change and the treasure stays lost, unless some other jackass finds a less greedy pacifist werewolf to find it for him first.”
Miles was torn. He thought about how his father had once been sweet talked into taking what sounded like a fancy, high paying gig only to end up a tool of evil. He didn’t want to make the same mistake, but he was getting tired of begging for money as well.
“I won’t have to hurt anyone?” Miles asked.
“You have my word,” Hoo Doo said as he took a drag on his cigarette and stretched out his hand.
Miles took it. “Then I’m in. I guess you look trustworthy.”
Hoo Doo leaned into the moonlight. His face disappeared and was replaced with that of a chattering skull. No eyes in the sockets. Just bone. Miles watched in terror as cigarette smoke poured through Hoo Doo’s teeth then swirled around his rib cage, the bones of which looked as though Miles could reach out and play like a xylophone.
Miles looked down to see he was holding a boney hand. He looked up.
“Well now,” Hoo Doo said. “I wouldn’t say that.”