Thursday, October 15, 2020

“Naptime for a Gunman”

The flapjacks were good, even with the blackstrap molasses instead of maple syrup. The little old guy – what was his name, Old Joe? – was still eating his own tall stack, which was nice, because that meant he wasn’t talking. Jace lifted his glass and finished the red eye that was in it. The saloon roared all around him, and someone was pounding on a piano.

“You finished them flapjacks now, Calhoun?”

Oh, Christ, this guy. He was still there, apparently, standing behind Jace.

“I say you finished them flapjacks, Calhoun?”

Jace sighed, then turned around to look down at the weaselly fellow, what was his name? A girl’s name? Carroll? Vivien? 

“I said, I say you finished them flapjacks, Calhoun?”

“I haven’t licked the plate, but, yes, as you can see, I’ve finished the flapjacks.”

“Then I think it’s time you and me stepped outside.”

Jace wanted a cigarette, but he didn’t feel like rolling another one. What he really wanted was a nap. A good, long, deep nap.

“Look, feller,” he said, “if we go outside and I shoot you, will that make you feel better?”

“I feel all right,” said the weaselly guy with a girl’s name. “Don’t you worry none about how I feel. You just worry about how you gonna feel after I shoot you dead.”

“If you shoot me dead I don’t think I’ll feel anything.”

“Well, mebbe so, mebbe not. But just don’t you worry about how I feel.”

“Let me ask you something – what was your name, Ashley?”

“Claire. Claire St. Claire, and if’n you make fun of my name I’ll shoot you right where you stand, never you mind about stepping outside first.”

“Claire St. Claire.”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

“Have you ever shot anyone, Claire?”

“Don’t you worry none about if I ever shot anyone. Mebbe I did, and mebbe I ain’t. But I’ll tell one one thing, cowboy, after I shoot you, you won’t be asking that question.”

“I won’t be asking any questions if you shoot me dead.”

“Well, that’s true. That’s definitely true. Dead men don’t ask no questions.”

“Or answer them.”

“That also is true. Dead men don’t ask no questions, nor do they answer them. That’s true.”

“Listen, Claire –”

“Mister St. Claire to you.”

“Mister St. Claire. I wonder if I can do you a favor.”

“What kind of favor.”

“The favor of not shooting you.”

“Don’t do me no favors.”

“The thing is, Claire, I’m really tired and extremely sleepy, and also more than a little drunk. Normally I would just draw my gun lightning quick right about now and crack you upside your tiny head with it, just so I wouldn’t have to go outside with you and shoot you. But because I’m so tired and sleepy and drunk I’d just as soon forget about it and go take a nap.”

The little weaselly fellow paused a moment.

“Ain’t no guarantee ‘twouldn’t be me what’d shoot you.”

“Of course not. But, as I say, instead of going through the tedium and bother of going out into the street with you, instead I would just draw my gun and clap you upside your small simian skull with it.”

“Mebbe you ain’t that quick. Mebbe I’m quicker.”

The weaselly fellow was holding his nervous hand just an inch above his holstered pistol. Jace was just a hair away from drawing his own Colt and braining the dolt when another little guy came up to him.

“Mister Calhoun? Mister Zeke sent me over to take you up to your room if’n you’re finished eatin’.”

“Oh, great,” said Jace. “Let’s go.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Claire St. Claire.

“You got any luggage?” said the little guy.

“Nope, I left my traps at the stable,” said Jace.

“Got a nice clean room for ya.”

“Great,” said Jace. “Let’s go.”

He turned to the old guy, who was licking his plate.

“Hey – Old Caleb?”

“Old Mose,” said the old fellow, looking up from the plate.

“Old Mose,” said Jace, “I’m going up to my room now and have a good long nap. You can finish off the bottle of red eye.”

“Much obliged, pardner! And thanks again for the flapjacks, too.”

“Hey,” said Claire St. Claire. “You can’t just go take a nap. We got bidness.”

Jace looked at him, and suddenly was overcome with an enormous yawn.

“Oh, excuse me,” he said, when the yawn subsided. He turned to the new little fellow. “Okay, let’s see that room.”

Herbert Goldfarb yawned mightily.

He couldn’t type another word. It was those flapjacks at Ma’s Diner. Even with three cups of Ma's chicory coffee, he just had to take a nap now.

He left the paper in the typewriter, got up from his little table, and walked the six feet to his bed. He undressed down to his boxer shorts, leaving his clothes on the footboard of the bed, and got under the covers. Would Jace Calhoun ever have a gunfight with Claire St. Claire? He had no idea. All he knew was that both he and Jace needed a good long nap right now, and then after the nap they would both find out if there was any shooting to be done.

Outside his window the elevated train roared and rumbled by on its way down to the Houston Street stop, and before the last car had passed Herbert was sound asleep.

{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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