In a time when lawlessness ruled the American frontier, one man had the courage to battle injustice while dressing fashionably, preparing eclectic cuisine and using exfoliating liniment.
Ma told me just before a shotgun slug ended her blessed life that just because we live in the 19th Century doesn’t mean we can't have any style.
Wise woman, my ma was.
That is, before Bloody Knees McGee blasted her with his shotgun after a botched bank robbery and scrambled her brains all over the parlor’s flowery wallpaper.
Yep. Ma done baked her last rhubarb pie that day.
Seems that many folks in Catwhallop Gulch were bland, unfashionable folks with poor hygiene and terrible manners. They all dressed in drab, bland colors and were as ornery as a polecat in a burlap sack. I’d have long conversations with the town drunkard, Egon “Soiled Trousers” McGillicuddy about the nature of humanity. He’d beg me for a dram of Irish whiskey and I’d gladly pay, because Egon was a real character. His head was filled with wisdom while his trousers were filled with an abominable stench I’d not care to contemplate.
“Folks ‘round here got ‘emselves all in an uproar ‘cause ‘o all these robberies,” Egon said, slurping his whiskey at the Dead Bastard Saloon. “The McBarton Gang keeps up their unholy assault on our fair town.”
It was true. The McBarton Gang began a campaign of terror through Catwhallop Gulch in recent months. They hailed from Wretched Peak, a town to the east about 20 miles past Indian Fucker Canyon. The McBartons were led by brothers Ian and Ivan McBarton, the bastard sons of an insane Civil War captain who was the last Southerner to surrender to Union troops, six years after the war was over. The McBartons began their career as cattle rustlers, contract killers and rented themselves out as prostitutes. They’ve been roping steer, murdering and breaking hearts from Abilene to the Sierra Nevada.
The McBartons first struck Catwhallop Gulch when they defiled the local ice cream parlor, doing things to an ice cream scooper that no man should witness. I’d dare say the children who were there that awful day would never be the same, those poor innocent whippersnappers.
After that, the gang robbed the town’s boutique, making away with several sequin-encrusted leather purses and satchels. Along with that, the McBartons assaulted the local tailor and forced the poor man to fashion them suits of the finest materials, with stylish cuffs and lapels and double-stitched pockets for their watch fobs.
“Them’s the most dandiest-lookin’ gang in the whole west,” Egon said, and soiled himself.
“I reckon you’re right,” I replied, and spit a hunk of tobacco into a brass spittoon that resembled President Grover Cleveland’s head. “The town’s goin’ to hell with all of this style.”
Just then, as if the Lord Almighty himself had ripped the roof off the building and cast down a beam of shimmering light from Heaven, Marshal Stinkbater entered the saloon, his weathered face wrinkled with worry.
“Liam, I’d like to talk to you,” the Marshal whispered, holding his Stetson in his hands.
“So talk,” I replied, downing the last of my whiskey with such finesse, it made Egon weep.
“You know these McBartons?” the Marshal asked.
“They’re really stirring up trouble in town.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Trouble of the shooting, raping kind.”
“That’s some bad trouble,” I said.
The Marshal shifted his weight to his other food uncomfortably and continued, still with hat in hand.
“What I’m trying to say is, I need your help. I’d like to deputize you and hunt those McBartons,” the Marshal said.
“Why me? There are plenty of willing young shooters and bounty hunters that love the smell of blood in their nostrils. Hound them for your posse,” I said.
“They ain’t like you, Liam,” the Marshal said. “You got something no other man in town has. You got this…this style. It’s not like you’re a Nancy boy, but it ain’t like you’re a rough bastard, either.”
“I am a rough bastard, Marshal. I’m just a rough bastard with style,” I said. “Some men just don’t brag about themselves. They know who they are.”
“It’s that kind of Back East mentality that I need,” the Marshal said. “You the only ornery son of a bitch that can take on those stylish, well-groomed, urbane McBartons.”
I stood up and shook the Marshal’s hand, looking him in his bloodshot eyes.
“Marshal, you’ve got yourself an ornery and sassy cuss,” I said. “I’ll have those McBartons rolling in the mud crying for their mother and be back here in time for 10 cent Tequila and Whore Night.”
* * *
Preparing for battle consumed most of my morning ritual the next day. I bathed, shaved and liberally applied Dr. Johann Krupp’s Exfoliating Topical Skin Liniment. I followed that with an application of Old Nick’s Flesh Oil, which unclogged the pores of my skin and produced a musky aroma that drove the ladies from Kalamazoo to Dodge City wet with desire.
I’ve killed plenty of men in my day: noted murderers, cattle rustlers, serial rapists and arsonists. I’ve plugged many a desperado and sent them hurling into the bone orchard. Boot Hills throughout the western territories are littered with the graves of men I put under.
Yet I never killed a man without properly exfoliating my skin first. I just won’t do it. Skin care is vitally important to a gunslinger, and not just those Fancy Dans from Back East.
Some hombres say that healing chapped, dry skin with liniments and scented creams is for sissies. How many women want to snuggle up with a cactus? Other than Big Sally, a whore from Waco who’d screw a prickly pear if it could pay her, women want both strong and supple. The ladies love a man who is as rough as the prairies yet can take care of himself.
After my exfoliating treatment, I slipped on my vest, frock, trousers and bowler. I buckled my hand-tooled Italian leather gunbelt and holster around my waist and loaded my Peacemaker.
I then proceeded to make a frittata with chilies, green peppers, onions, cheddar cheese and smoked ham hocks. Most gunslingers just made beans and stale bread for their breakfast, yet I thought such simple dishes lacked nutritional variety and left me with bad indigestion. It’s tough to concentrate on shooting horse thieves when you’re flatulent. The frittata filled the boarding house with a pleasant aroma and the landlady, Mrs. Cottington, woke the other guests and we all had a fine breakfast.
After eating, I gingerly rolled a clove cigarette between my slender fingers, struck a match and lit it. I then stepped out into the bright sunlight and a new day of slaughter and mayhem.
Catwhallop Gulch was one of those God-fearing frontier towns where people hated trouble but loved gunfights. As long as some poor, deserving son of a bitch got what was coming to him, namely a slug in the brainpan, folks were as pleased as a cat in a room full of drunk female cats.
I strode out in the main street, a dusty promenade lined with saloons, brothels and betting parlors. Leaning against the railing of Black Betty’s Bordello, Ivan McBarton regarded me with shifty eyes. We wore a dandified yellow suit, white silk scarf and fingered the handle of his Colt nervously.
“You got a problem, stranger?” he asked.
“Only problem is you and your brother are still alive,” I replied, puffing on my cigarette.
“Is that a fact?”
“Pretty big words, stranger. You got any guts to back ‘em up?”
“I got guts. Got nerve, too.”
Ivan spat on the ground and ambled out into the middle of the street. He stood ten feet from me and his chest heaved with rage.
“Don’t much like men insultin’ me, stranger,” Ivan McBarton said.
“I don’t like criminals in my town,” I said.
“I ain’t a criminal. I’m just a man makin’ his way across the west.”
“I say you’re a yellow-bellied, craven criminal who can’t shoot his way out of a finely-embroidered leather saddlebag.”
Ivan reached for his pistol, then froze.
“I wouldn’t waste bullets on you,” he grumbled. “You’re just some dandy boy.”
At that, my lightening reflexes went into overdrive. I drew my gun, fanned the hammer and sent four out of six bullets into Ivan McBarton’s torso. His lifeless body collapsed on the street with a sickening thud.
As the townsfolk reeled, I reloaded my weapon, extinguished my cigarette under my boot, and walked across the street to where Marshal Stinkbater fumed.
“Gol’ dang it, Liam! You was supposed to be deputized!” he seethed. “You just killed a man in front of the whole town!”
“Don’t fret, Marshal,” I said. “You got one less McBarton to worry about.”
* * *
I had just slaked my carnal appetite inside Miss Kitty’s moist quim and rolled over to take a nap when the doxy took umbrage. Kitty, the most beautiful 17-year old soiled dove this side of the Mississippi, nudged me awake.
“You’re not catching shuteye now! I’ve got me some customers waiting outside!” she protested.
I rolled over and kissed her tenderly on her lips.
“Shut up, whore,” I whispered sweetly.
“I’m serious, Liam,” Kitty said, and rolled out of bed, her curvaceous young body marred with bruises from years of rough lovemaking at the hands of drunken cowhands. “You’ve gotta leave now.”
“What if I paid you money to shut your mouth and stay in bed with me?”
“You’ve been here for two hours already.”
“Never rush a man, Kitty,” I said.
She climbed back into bed and snuggled next to me, her pert breasts resembling two ripe melons crowned with nipples. She caressed my face with her tiny fingers attached to a hand that beat off more cock west of the Pecos than I dared to contemplate.
“Sakes alive! Your skin is so soft,” she observed.
“It’s the exfoliating regimen,” I said. “It does wonders for sun-baked skin.”
Kitty backed away.
“You’re not…you know…one of those rump rangers, ain’t ya?”
“Why the hell does everyone keep saying that?” I asked. “Seriously, a gunslinger can ride across the desert, drink himself unconscious in a saloon and shoot a man in cold blood, but break out the skin lotions and he’s some limp-wristed sissy Mary!”
“Sorry, lover,” Kitty said.
I pushed her aside and got out of bed and struggled with my trousers.
“Honestly, you people are all cretins! Savage, unsophisticated cretins!” I said, dressing quickly. I left a Silver Eagle coin on the dresser for Kitty and stormed out of the room.
Let the unwashed rabble grope Kitty all she wants. Let them screw her until her uterus falls out. I’ve got better things to do than entertain some disheveled harlot, even if she was my cousin.
I left the brothel agitated and headed down Main Street when a lyrical voice rang out behind me.
“Meestah Coltwane! Meestah Coltwane!”
It was Ching, a Chinaman who operated the town’s laundry and apothecary. Ching shuffled over to me in silken slipper-covered feet and bowed graciously, his hair wrapped in a traditional queue.
“Meestah Coltwane, why you no come to the apothacawy anymower? I has some reery intelesting ploducts flom China,” Ching said.
“Sorry, my Celestial friend, but I’ve been busy.”
“What you busy doing? You too busy to see your flend Ching?”
“It’s not that,” I said. “It’s just that I’ve got this gang I have to kill…”
Alas, the Mandarin would not listen.
“Meestah Coltwane, I has some ancient Chinese ginseng powder and oolong tea you ordered. It came on boat flom China.”
“I ordered that a year ago, Ching.”
“It was slow boat,” the oriental replied. “So you pay. You pay Ching now!”
Reluctantly, I handed the Chinaman a dollar and he produced a small box beneath his colorful silk robes.
“I hope you enjoy the tea, Meestah Coltwane!” Ching said, and skipped merrily back to his laundry and apothecary, which were housed in the same building in the Chinese tent city.
Now I was a gunslinger walking around town with no money and a box of imported Chinese tea.
Before I could decide what to do next, the ugly visage of Ian McBarton crossed my line of vision. He bounded out of the Faro Parlor, wearing a hideous red and white checkered suit with a black tophat. From the looks of him, he seemed pissed that I killed his brother.
“If’n it ain’t the ornery cuss what put my brother in his grave!” Ian McBarton screamed.
“Yeah, I killed your brother, just like I’m gonna kill you, Ian McBarton,” I said, as townsfolk scrambled into the street to see the daily display of frontier bloodshed.
“What the hell you carryin’ there, dude?” McBarton asked.
“It’s a box of oolong tea,” I said. “That’s not important right now. What’s important is I’m going to put so many holes in you the undertaker’ll think you’re Swiss cheese.”
“Oolong tea? Don’t cotton much with that chink stuff. It’s piss water if you ask me,” McBarton said and spat contemptuously. “Give me a nice Darjeeling. Now that’s tea.”
My eyes narrowed. Nobody puts down my imported Formosa Oolong. Nobody.
“You take that back now, Ian McBarton!” I roared.
McBarton responded by drawing his pistol and shooting the box of tea from my hand, where it fell to the ground and broke open, scattering dried tea leaves onto the dirt street.
The vile villain laughed at his foul deed, his besmirching a wonderful Chinese tea. My face grew crimson with rage and I reached for my Peacemaker.
Time seemed to slow down as I aimed my pistol at the desperado. Beads of sweat tricked down my smooth, healthy skin as I squeezed the trigger and let loose a volley of death.
McBarton’s smile turned to a terrified grimace as I fired several shots. The bullets slammed into his crotch, spilling blood all over his finely-pressed trousers. He grabbed his bleeding groin and sunk to the ground, crying like a slapped eunuch.
I moseyed over to Ian McBarton, who rolled around the dirt. Tears streamed down his face and he looked up at me helplessly.
“Why? Why did you do this?” he whined pathetically.
“Never mock a man’s tea,” I said before putting a bullet in his head.
As the townsfolk cheered wildly, Marshal Stinkbater ambled over to McBarton’s inert body. He removed his Stetson and stood there, looking at the deceased outlaw.
“Son of a bitch is really dead,” the Marshal said. “You killed both McBarton brothers.”
I scooped up the remnants of my tea. The Marshal regarded me curiously.
“What’s that?” he asked and pointed to the crushed wooden box nestled in the crook of my arm.
“This here,” I said, “is tea worth killing for.”
* * *
I stuck around for the barn dance to celebrate my vanquishing the McBartons from Catwhallop Gulch. Mayor MacCreedy issued a proclamation heralding my bravery, and as a reward I received $20 and a stout goat, which we cooked and feasted upon with herbed julienne potatoes, a dill salad and a bottle of sauvignon blanc.
Of course I did the cooking. These shit-kickers couldn’t boil water without it tasting like tallow.
Following a night of lively drinking, where Egon the town drunk vomited on Vargas, the town’s only Mexican, I found myself dancing with Miss Kitty to a lyrical serenade.
“All of Catwhallop Gulch loves you. You’re a hero to us all,” Kitty said, looking deeply into my eyes as we embraced.
“Thanks, whore,” I said, and kissed her forcefully, my tongue showing her mouth no quarter.
Kitty gazed at me dreamily.
“That was amazin’. You sure have a way with the ladies,” she said as we moved slowly to the gentle rhythm.
What Kitty didn’t know was the ginseng powder my Chinese confidante also sold me was a powerful aphrodisiac, capable of stunning a bull. Miss Kitty was in for the night of her life, and I only grinned as I envisioned the ride she’d give the bronco in my pants.
She reached down and felt the rising bulge nuzzling next to her.
“Tarnation!” Kitty said. “Is that a six-shooter in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”
I squeezed her as we looked into each other’s eyes.
“Not bad for a hard-drinking, outlaw-killing, metrosexual son of a bitch, huh?” I asked.
“A metro-what?” she asked.
“Shut up, whore,” I said, and kissed her again.
The west was a hellhole filled with depravity, sin and lawlessness. In my own way, I suppose I helped push back some of the barbarians and brought a little civilization and grace into a chaotic frontier. At the end of the day, when we’re all worm food and grass is growing over our bones, isn’t that all we can ask for?
Just a little civilization and grace.