The Holts… Chapter 2.
Chapter 2, Wagon Wheel Saloon
The saloon was a shade cooler than outside and the two Holt brothers gratefully loosened their ties and pulled off their coats. They hung their coats on pegs next to the front door, and turned toward the bar. As they approached the bar each surveyed the room in their own ways. There were 8 other people in the saloon. Kelvin, from his past experiences, figured it was pretty busy for this time of day. He had been in a lot of saloons over the past year and most only had 3-4 patrons until evening. If this was normal this might be a busier town than they thought. As usual he surveyed and assessed the patrons. Three cowboys were playing cards in the corner. All had the dust and looks of ranch-hands that had managed to either be between jobs or sent to town for supplies. Either way they were only there killing time until they were supposed to be somewhere else. By the looks of it they had sat there pushing the money around and around the table most of the day. None of them really hard pressed to win or gaining an upper-hand on the others, if the chip stacks were to be believed, easy “marks” when played right. A well dressed older man was sitting and sharing a drink with a “middle-aged” barmaid. He was probably about 50 and she in her early 30s. She would probably be someone Carlton would like he thought. Kelvin figured the man would be heading back to a business soon, after setting up whatever business he had with the barmaid for later. Not sure about his business, but he didn’t look like much of the gambler/reckless type, too clean pressed and stiff. A small ugly man was banging away on a badly out of tune piano. He would be there until needed to help out with the bar later, and providing what entertainment was available outside of the drinking, card playing, and probably girls. A young comely barmaid was trying to sing along with his hammering of the piano and missing most of the notes of the song. There was a slight lisp to her singing. Kelvin inwardly groaned when he saw her, she was young and pretty enough. This could be trouble for Donni. Which meant it could be trouble for him and Carlton. Kelvin already knew that if he was to ask Donni how many people were in the bar, he would have said 5 total at this point instead of the 10 there. Only having eyes for the brothers, the bartender, and the two women. He would have dismissed the other men in the bar as no threat and may not have noticed the cow hands as anything other than background color. He wouldn’t have even remembered the other 5 were even there 10 minutes after exiting the saloon.
Kelvin grimaced, “Sure isn’t Kansas City,” he said with feeling to Donni as they finished walking up to the bar. Donni looked at the young barmaid with interest as he joined his brother at the bar.
The bartender, a balding amicable man, pasted on a large smile and faced them across the bar, “What’ll you gents have?” Kelvin assessed him and saw who he figured was the bar owner. The bar appeared to be doing OK based on the looks of the barman. Still nothing special stood out about this place. Nothing marked it as something to draw extra patrons, but nothing wrong with it either. This was just another ordinary bar, and as such this man would have information that might help the Holts. It would be good to find out what he knew. He had seen Carlton doing this a lot and figured this would be his time to help his older brother with what he could find out. Make him proud.
“Two beers,” Kelvin said and dropped a few coins by his hand.
The bartender quickly made change and produced two rather dirty mugs, wiped them down with an equally filthy rag, moving the dirt around some, knocking some of it off, then filled the mugs to the top with a rich golden-colored beer from a large barrel behind him and sat them down in front of the brothers. Kelvin had switched into observer mode, at least he thought so, as he tried to catalog everything around him.
Donni sighed and downed half of his beer, looking around with a pained expression. He was already bored and his hopes of being anything other than bored were falling. All he had to do now was wait until Carlton came to collect them. Boring! The girl just really didn’t seem to keep his attention, probably her voice. Kelvin watched his brother for a second realizing maybe he wouldn’t get them in trouble today. Seeing that he wasn’t paying the girl the attention that he thought he would. Then he noticed that she was certainly giving him the eye, as usual. They always did and it was pretty irritating. He had pretty much given up the thought of ever getting the girl when Donni was around. It really wasn’t fair. Sighing he turned back to one of his two available loves…
Kelvin gingerly drank some of the beer and smiled, taking a larger gulp, “Well at least they have decent beer,” he pronounced with satisfaction as he turned back to face the open bar with his brother.
“Doesn’t look very lively,” Donni said sadly.
The bartender grinned, “Oh, it picks up at night. The cow-hands come into town from the closer spreads. Some of the local business men come in and play cards.” Kelvin’s ears perked up, but he show no expression as he turned back to the bar-keep to discuss.
Kelvin being sure to not look over-anxious, “They any good?” His voice giving it a bit too excited of a feel though.
The bartender’s face assumed a look of pride, “Old Doc Farnsworth is pretty good… played with Luke Short once in Kansas City and broke even.” Kelvin figured that Doc Farnsworth was considered the local card playing legend around these parts from the way the bartender talked about him. Every town had one or two. Business men or ranch owners that when they played usually won and sometimes even beat the traveling card sharks playing through town.
Donni hearing about half of the conversation turned to Kelvin, “Hey didn’t you…,” Kelvin nudged Donni in the ribs with his elbow. Donni always with his “not thinking” before talking. He really only was good at talking to girls. These yokels didn’t need to know that he had taken Luke for his entire stake back in Wichita. He really wished Carlton would settle them down in a bigger city and let him makes some real money for the family.
“Well, I’m not bad myself. Course I’ve never played with anyone that was any good. Think they’d mind if I sat in on a game or two?”, Kelvin replied to the man finally getting his voice under control, like his face, to not throw up any suspicion.
The bartender sized him up, seeing a traveling ranch hand/regulator, that probably could do more than just ranching when needed, then nodded, “Doc would be happy to have someone new to fleece.” It never crossed his mind that anyone could be better than Doc in these parts.
Kelvin looked pleased and pushed his empty beer mug towards him. The man obligingly filled it up again and took change from the pile of coins next to Kelvin. He wiped his hands on the utilitarian rag and leaned against the bar. “What you boys in town for?”
Donni was back to staring at the young singer, maybe she would be trouble. She kept glancing in his direction to get his attention as she struggled through a song. Kelvin grinned and resumed the conversation, as the bartender cast an annoyed look at Donni, who was paying no attention to him.
“We’re drifting right-now. Thought we might find some work around here.” Kelvin replied. Thinking that was how Carlton would have played it, hoping that was how he would have played it.
The man nodded sagely, “Work huh, you’re dressed a little fancy for working cattle. You boys stock regulators or something?” his eyes glanced at Donni’s well-worn holster for a second.
Kelvin shook his head, “No. We’ve been ranch hands, lawmen… a bit of everything lately. We just rode up from Tombstone…” Damn, shouldn’t have said anything about where we were coming from. “Got us some new clothes for traveling.” The bartender cocked his head a little to look them over but the light flashed up in his eyes.
As the bartender’s expression became excited he asked, “Tombstone you say, been hearing some rumors out of there, you boys down there when the bank was hit? I heard that Wyatt Earp was shot and a gang of fellers shot up the place something fierce! Must’ve been pretty excitin’!”
Kelvin shrugged, trying to hide any emotion and to play it down, “Yeah, the Marshall was shot and the sheriff killed, but the gang got caught a few days later… they never found the money.” Hoping that giving it a quick summary would end the conversation. Kelvin knew that this was something Carlton would not want them talking about. Hell he was pretty sure Carlton had told them not to mention Tombstone when they came into town. He had messed it up already.
“I heard they got away with about $15,000,” the man said in awe.
“More like about six thousand,” Donni said disgustedly then resumed his staring at the young barmaid. Kelvin gave Donni a dirty look then smiled at the bartender as the man turned back to him.
“Did you get in on the posse that was a’huntin’ them fellers?”, he asked. Damn Kelvin thought. He is not going to give in until we tell him the story. Probably be spread all over town before night fall. Carlton won’t be happy if he hears.
“We helped a little,” Kelvin said modestly, “They, the robbers, weren’t very smart.” Shoot… stop giving extra info.
“Not very good shots either,” Donni said becoming bored with staring at the girl, “They were blazing away like mad and never even hit one of us… pretty sorry bunch of outlaws. Course then, six-shooters don’t exactly stack up against…,”
“Yeah, it was some fight!” Kelvin said loudly, Donni usually said the wrong thing, except when he was talking to women. Since Carlton wasn’t here it was up to him to head off things before Donni convinced the man that they were killers or something. Before he gave something else away that Kelvin hadn’t already. Ugh, he had messed it up bad. He was not going to be helping Carlton out today.
Besides the bartender didn’t need to know what actually happened to the robbers. Kelvin had seen his older brothers in gun-fights and they weren’t cowards, but they didn’t like facing a man when you could just as easily put a bullet in his head from a few hundred yards away with a rifle. They saw it as good sense, especially if the outlaw was wanted dead or alive… of course other folks didn’t always see it that way. Carlton figured why let some fool thing like being stupid get you killed when there were better ways. “Hell they could have rifles too and could shoot back at us if they would just think a little.” he would say.
Donni resumed his drinking and staring good-naturedly at the girl. He was used to being cut off by Carlton and took it for granted that he was about to say something stupid when it happened.
The bartender eyed them with greater respect, “If you don’t mind my saying so, boys, you got some mighty handsome rigs there. You pretty good with your guns?”
Donni glanced at Kelvin who stared blankly at the man, then smiled, “We hold our own.”
Kelvin smoothly nodded, “We’ve had to use them a time or two.” Trying to think of a way to get out of this without letting anything more out. Damn he may have botched this really bad.
The man leaned closer, “A word of advice. Watch what you do around here. U.S. Marshall Thurston has an office here in town… and he’s a hard man. Our own town sheriff was an Indian fighter once. Spence Morgan is his name and between him and Thurston they keep the peace. They don’t like people shooting off their guns and they don’t like people getting killed. They’ll probably get around to talking to you if you stay here very long.” Now that is some info he might pass along.
Kelvin smiled, “We don’t want any trouble. We’re just drifting through, like I said… unless we can find a job.”
The man grinned at them, “Well, you fellers look like respectable sorts. I doubt that you’ll have any trouble.” Whew Kelvin thought, maybe that is the end of it and nothing more will come out. This getting information thing is a lot tougher than what Carlton makes it look.
Donni pushed his empty mug towards the bartender looking as innocent as possible.