Thursday, October 8, 2020

“The Man Who Shot Bluto Baggins”

 Jace refilled both their glasses with the red eye.

“Y’know,” said the old fellow, “you’re all right, pardner.”

“Thanks,” said Jace.

“And I ain’t just sayin’ that ‘cause you’re givin’ me red eye.”

Now that Jace had three glasses of the red eye in him he felt relaxed enough to start rolling a cigarette, and he got out his pouch of Bull Durham and his papers.

“I been all over this land o’ liberty,” said the old man. “From sea to shining sea, I seen all kinds of things and all kinds of people, and if there’s a one thing I learnt it’s how to tell shit from Shinola, and how to tell a good egg from a rotten egg. And I can tell you’re a good egg. I says I can tell you’re a good egg, buddy.”

Jace licked the perfectly rolled cigarette and got out his box of matches.

“Say, feller,” said the old man, “Mace, was it?”

“Pardon me?” said Jace.

“You said your name was Mace? Like maybe short for Mason?”

“No, it’s Jace, actually, Jace Calhoun.”

“Jace, that’s right! Short for Jason, I’ll warrant.”


Jace struck a match on the side of his chaps.

“Say, Jace, I wonder if you could spare some of that there tobaccy?”

Jace sighed, took the cigarette out of his mouth, placed it between the old-timer’s chapped lips, and gave him a light.

“Much obliged, Jace. Very much obliged. You’re a true Christian, you are.”

Jace said nothing, but tossed away the match and started rolling another cigarette.

The old fellow drew deeply on his sponged cigarette, and sighed, exhaling an enormous cloud of smoke.

“Yessiree Bob, Jace, this here’s what it’s all about. A good cigareet, a glass of red eye, some good companionship.”

The old fellow drank down his glass of red eye.

“Say, Jace, you mind I have another sup of that there red eye?”

Jace stifled a sigh, then nudged the bottle of red eye closer to the old man.

“Tell ya what, old timer – what was your name? Old Jacob?”

“Old Mose, actually.”

“Old Mose? Tell ya what, Mose, just help yourself to the red eye, as much as you like, and if we finish the bottle I’ll get another one. Also, I’ll leave the tobacco and the papers and the matches right on the bar here, and if you want to roll another one, or two, or as many as you want, you just go right ahead.”

“Dag nab it,” said Old Mose. “See, I’m never wrong about a fella. I can always spot a good man, from a mile away.”

Jace had a fresh cigarette rolled, and once again he struck a match on his rawhide chaps, and he lighted himself up.

“You Jace Calhoun?” said someone behind Jace.

Jace turned, and there was a little weaselly fellow there.

“Yes, my name is Jace Calhoun.”

“Jace Calhoun what gunned down Bluto Baggins?”

“Okay, listen, mister,” said Jace. “It’s true I shot Bluto Baggins, but it was a fair fight.”

“Bluto Baggins was a friend of a friend of mine’s friend.”

“A friend of a friend of yours?”

“A friend of a friend of mine was a friend of Bluto Baggins.”

“Okay, listen – what’s your name, by the way?”

“How come you want to know my name?”

“So that I can know how to address you.”

“You best not make fun of my name.”

“I won’t.”

“My name is Claire St. Claire.”

“Claire St. Claire?”

“I ain’t gonna say it agin.”

“Okay, listen, Claire –”

“Mister St. Claire to you.”

“Mister St. Claire. All I’m trying to do is smoke a cigarette, drink some red eye, and I hope to get some flapjacks soon. I’m sorry if I shot a friend of a friend of a friend of yours, but it was him or me.”

“That ain’t the way I heard it.”

“Well, that’s the way it was, I’m sorry.”

“I heard you dry-gulched him.”

“And who did you hear this from?”

“I heard it from this friend of my friend’s friend who was a friend of Bluto Baggins’s.”


“Damn right, okay.”

“Here’s what really happened, Claire. I shot Bluto Baggins in a crowded saloon with at least twenty or thirty witnesses who saw him challenge me to a gunfight and draw first. Fortunately for me he was not a very good shot, and after he fired I drew my Colt, took aim, and shot him just as he was about to fire again. The sheriff of the town was right there, and I was cleared of any culpability.”

“So you say.”

“It’s a matter of public record.”

“I’m a-challenging you to a draw, right now.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m waiting for my flapjacks.”

“You backing down?”

“Yes, I’m backing down, because all I want to do is relax, smoke my cigarette, drink some red eye, eat some flapjacks and then go take a nap.”

“You’re gonna take a real long nap real soon. A dirt nap.”

“Here’s your flapjacks, cowboy,” said a voice behind Jace. He turned, and it was the bartender, laying down a big plate of flapjacks. The barman put a rolled napkin down next to the plate, then reached under the bar and brought up an earthenware jug with a cork in it. “Blackstrap molasses,” he said. “We ain’t got no maple syrup.”

“Blackstrap molasses is fine,” said Jace.

“Butter on the side of the plate,” said the bartender. “Freshly churned.”

“Great,” said Jace. He unrolled the napkin and took out the knife and fork that had been in it. He uncorked the jug and poured molasses all over the flapjacks, took up the knife and slathered butter on top of the stack.

He took one more good draw from his cigarette before tucking in, savoring the anticipation.

“Them flapjacks sure look good,” said Old Mose.

“Hey, Calhoun,” said the weaselly guy, Claire St. Claire, “don’t you turn your back on me.”

The bartender was still standing there.

“Everything all right?” he said.

“Looks good to me,” said Jace.

“Them flapjacks really look good,” said Old Mose.

“Well, let me know if you need anything else,” said the bartender.

“As a matter of fact,” said Jace, “do you have an ashtray?”

“What? Yes, of course.” He reached under the bar and brought out an ashtray. It wasn’t clean, but it was an ashtray.

“Thanks,” said Jace. He put his cigarette in one of the indentations on the ashtray. “One other thing. Could I order another plate of flapjacks for my friend Old Mose here?”

He dug into his jeans and tossed a silver dollar on the bar top.

“Aw, gee, Mace,” said Old Mose. “I wasn’t anglin’ for no free flapjacks, I was just sayin’ they sure look good is all –”

“Tall stack?” said the bartender.

“Make it a tall stack,” said Jace.

“Aw, gee, thanks, Jake,” said Old Mose.

“I said turn around, Calhoun,” said Claire St. Claire.

Jace ignored the little weasel. Maybe the weasel would shoot him in the back, maybe he wouldn’t, but if he did shoot Jace, at least Jace would die eating flapjacks, and he tucked the napkin into the collar of his shirt and picked up his fork.

Herbert Goldfarb pulled the sheet of paper out of his typewriter.

What the hell was he writing?

No magazine in the world would accept this story. He was losing his mind. And then he realized: no, he wasn’t losing his mind, he was just hungry.

He shoved back his chair, stood up.

He got his jacket off the back of the chair, went the six feet to his door, went out without locking the door and went down the four flights of stairs and across Bleecker Street to Ma’s Diner, and took a seat at the counter.

“How’s it goin’, sugar?” said Ma.

“Great, Ma. Listen, I know it’s past breakfast time, but can I still get flapjacks?”

“Sure, honey. You want a short or a tall stack?”

“Tall. And I have an odd request.”

“Name it, sweetheart.”

“Could I have blackstrap molasses instead of maple syrup?”

{Please go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only Rhoda Penmarq…}

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