This week's challenge for Flash Fiction Friday was prompted by the departure of Ron, who was part of the site's original team, and also to celebrate the 100th prompt. The theme was The Big Adios - western - and was to include a word list.
Word Limit: 1200
I started with a character list, and an ending, then just had to figure out how to get them all there. 1189 words.
An Evening at Belle's
"Dusty, careful of my new sofa. Take those filthy boots off it."
The Madam waved at one of the girls. "Mel, come over here. Help him pull off his dirty boots."
"Bring another whisky too," Dusty said, "for my friend here, Snake. Put it on my tab."
It was a quiet night, with only a few girls sitting around the parlour, and the only customers the two miners. Belle got the shots of whiskey herself, then sat down to chat.
"Interesting name, Snake" she said. "I hope it doesn't mean you bite. I run a respectable club here, I don't want the girls damaged."
"I'm not that kind of guy,” he said. “I picked the name up a few years ago. Short for Rattlesnake. A young one bit me, but it wasn't old enough to have much poison I guess, so I recovered just fine. Got bit a couple more times exploring old mines, so I guess I built up a resistance to them."
"Tell her about your pets," said Dusty.
"They're more like my guards," said Snake. "I've a couple of rattlers that like to stay in my shack, especially on cool days. They curl up near the stove like guard dogs, and keep nosey people out - especially when their tails start to buzz."
"Eww," said Bell. "Not for me. We had one of them slither in here just last week, pretty well emptied the place until Mel here grabbed a six-shooter. Blew its head right off. You'd better be careful about waving your snake around when she's around."
"Hey, my kind of woman," said Snake. "I like tough." Mel just blushed and headed back to the bar.
"She's new but feisty," said Belle. She picked up the glasses. "Another round?"
"Sure," said Dusty. "One for yourself too."
"You're in a generous mood," she said.
"That he is," said Snake. "I sure appreciate it."
"Not having much luck as a miner?" said Belle.
"He's doing fine," said Dusty, "Last night he tried to drink the bar dry, so the sheriff had to lock him up to sleep it off."
"And when I woke up this morning my poke had disappeared."
Belle had heard that kind of story many times. When the miners came into town they were dirty, thirsty, horny, and rich. When they left they were none of those things.
Dusty held up a hand. "Before you blame anyone at Daniel's,” he said, "I saw my friend check on his poke just before the sheriff dragged him out."
"I'm sure that fat bastard took it while I was asleep," said Snake. "He's nothing but a crook hiding behind a tin badge."
Belle was inclined to agree. Cletus had been their sheriff for decades, and time had not been kind to him. He might have been a good fighter in his day, but now he seemed always hungover, and so fat he could barely drag the drunks to jail to empty their pockets. He had the nose of a drinker, the cough of a chronic smoker, and the wheeze of someone ready to fall over any minute. Most of the townspeople secretly wished he would do just that. Little crimes, like thieving and drunkenness, were getting worse and the town would be helpless if any gunslingers rode in. Even the boys from the ranches did whatever they wanted when they came in from a drive. Cletus would often join them in the bar, and threaten to run in anyone that interfered with the ranch hands. On top of that, he also refused to pay at most places in town, including her place. He came through her door at least once a week, and was loud, obnoxious, and rough with the girls.
"No one in town would mourn his passing," said Belle, "but no one wants to be the one to do anything about him. Come on boys, why don't you each pick a girl and head upstairs? The bath water is hot, the beds are soft, and my girls are eager."
"I'm in," said Dusty. "Snake, you can hook up with Mel here and see what happens."
As the evening wore on business picked up a bit. Dusty and Snake were back downstairs, with Mel settled comfortably on her new friend's lap, and Dusty chatting with Belle at the bar. Belle had turned the lights down a bit, and Sam was playing a slow ballad at the old piano.
With a crash the door banged open and a voice boomed out, "Belle, I need a whiskey and a whore - now!"
She cringed. "Sheriff, how nice, let me get Sarah for you." Sarah was one of the older girls, she needed the work, and usually could handle Cletus.
"Hell no, not that old hag," he said. "Might as well do my own mother. Give me something fresh -- there, I like what Rattlesnake has sitting on his lap."
Mel cringed, then stood up. "OK, just let me freshen up a bit."
Rattlesnake went to pull her back, but Belle held up a hand. "Leave her be, it's part of her job. Sheriff, here's that whiskey. Leave your gun at the bar - you know the rules. Go ahead upstairs and relax and I'll send up some more booze, and Mel too."
"Make it quick," said the sheriff. "I'm eager to show this girl what a real man can do."
As Cletus headed upstairs with his drink, Dusty motioned his friend over and whispered into his ear.
"Go for it," said Dusty. "We'll say it's a heart attack."
"We who? It will take him a while to die."
"Trust me, no one will interfere. Doc hates him too, he'll be glad to sign off."
Snake was only gone for 10 minutes, but Cletus had already yelled twice for Mel. Dusty had managed to convince Belle to distract the sheriff for now with more whiskey, but next time he'd probably be coming down the stairs.
Snake slipped back in the front door, holding his hand under his bulky jacket, then headed for the stairs. Dusty put his hand on Belle's shoulder. "Make sure no one panics, no one runs out. Tell them it's the sheriff, all drunked up. No one will care."
Snake knocked on the door upstairs.
"Who's there?" asked the sheriff.
"Rattlesnake. Adios." The miner opened the door, threw something inside, slammed the door shut and braced himself against it."
There was a pause, then a cry from inside. "What the hell? Hey, get away! Shit, I've been bit!" Cletus crashed against the door. "Hey, let me out. Damn, he got me again."
Dusty had been right. After Belle explained who was yelling, and bought a round, everyone went back to their rooms. The yells and crashes from upstairs faded to cries, then to moans, then to silence.
Mel was back in Snake's lap, Belle was polishing glasses behind the bar, and Dusty was enjoying a cigar. Belle waved the piano player. "Let's have some music, it's quiet as a morgue in here. I liked that old tune you were doing before. Play it again."