Cowboys and Birdwatchers.

Because he was lean, Hawke didn’t look like he cared much about food. But he was a meat eater, true to his name. And he wanted a steak. This, in spite of his new girlfriend and bird-watching companion, a sweet vegetarian named Josie.

It was the 1870s, and still wild in the new state called Colorado. Hawke, recently arrived from New York, liked it that way.

He and Josie had spent the day skinny-dipping in mountain streams while looking for odd birds called Dippers. They’d seen only a few.

He’d brought a telescope, but that worked better for eagles than Dippers. So far, it had only revealed one. A Bald Eagle, not as big as a Golden, but worth seeing.

(Josephine was “Josie” Marcus, a San Francisco actress and department store heiress who would in a week’s time move on to Tombstone, Arizona where she’d meet Wyatt Earp and live out her days with him).

Hawke and Josie had eaten apples around noon, and little else. Now, with the sun reddening, they walked their tired horses up to a promising saloon. A sign out front advertised food, and this excited a hungry Hawke. They went in.

Tables were empty, but the bar was crowded. It was Saturday, so miners and ranch hands were drinking their pay envelopes. A muscular woman in a beat-up derby was pouring.

Hawke, with meat on his mind, pushed toward the bar. He jostled a man who had a bushy mustache in the shape of a frown. Such impersonal body contact was part of Hawke’s big city background, and meant little. He called to the bartender, “Ma’am, could we get a couple of steaks?”

“Sitcher selves,” she said. He and Josie found a table that Hawke tapped on impatiently. Josie’s healthy figure made itself evident in a faded denim shirt as she leaned forward. Hawke felt someone approach. As he’d tell the story later–it weren’t no lady in a derby.

The man with the mustache sat next to Josie. Hawke remembered pushing past him at the bar, and got a prickly feeling reminiscent of youthful skirmishes in Hell’s Kitchen. Mustache spoke: “You up from Denver?” Hawke patted the canvas pack and said, “Been enjoyin’ your country, glassin’ rare birds.” The drawl was an inside joke.

“He likes to push,” the man said to Josie, as his elbow touched her in the spot Hawke had recently been admiring. “Hate to think he pushes you.” Josie flinched. The man looked at Hawke. “Son, push your way on home.”  To Josie he said, “Honey, you stay.”

“I see.” Hawke said with a shrug, and moved as though to rise. Josie’s eyes widened. Hawke opened the top of the pack and slipped his hand in, feeling a familiar metal shape.

He had no experience with guns until he’d bought this one after coming west. In New York, he’d known brass knuckles. He avoided mentioning the gun to Josie since she was a vegetarian with outspoken pacifist sensitivities. This revolver, etched with the adventuresome word, Colt, was no pacifist.

Hawke didn’t want to miss out on a steak. Didn’t want Josie frightened. Didn’t want his skinny-dipping, bird-watching pretty partner rubbed up against. He cocked the hammer, inside the canvas pack. “Click.”

“I have a forty-four aimed at your heart.”

It was aimed at the man’s shoulder, due to an inborn moral qualm, but the threat was believable and so were Hawke’s eyes and intentions. Mustache swallowed. Hawke said, “Leave us.” The man bounded up and out.

Hawke uncocked. “You all right?” he asked Josie. She blinked at the ceiling, not wanting to show a tear of fear. Then said, “No. I thought I knew you. You have a gun?

“You heard a click. Couldn’t it have been the spyglass? Me tapping the lens cap?” Hawke put his hand in the bag and snapped the telescope’s cap. “Click.”

She said, “It was a bluff?”

“What’ll it be?” The proprietress was there. Instead of ordering, Josie asked for directions to the washbasin, then added, “Sorry, we’re going to change our minds.” Hawke thought, No!

“Suit cherselves. You can wash out back, hon.”

Hawke thought, there’s that little cantina outside Granby that serves steak and tortillas…Then he was struck with the certainty that Josie would look in the pack when she returned. He slipped the revolver into his birdwatcher’s vest. This flap-pocketed garment was a gift from Josie, and he wore it mainly to please her.

She returned, face washed, wet and smiling. Sure enough, she took the pack and walked out. He lagged, letting her have her fun. She had no chance to examine its contents, though, because Mustache was waiting.

“That pack’s got to be heavy for a little lady.”

~ ~ ~



3 Responses to “Cowboys and Birdwatchers.”

  1. Eveleen c. says:

    Meanwhile, poor Penelope is lashed to the railroad track, the trains a-comin’ and Snidely Whiplash is twirlin’ his evil handlebar mustache as a titmouses perches innocently atop his hat.

  2. Marc D. says:

    Looks like a good yarn is a-spinnin’.

  3. Rob L says:

    Ho boy! I’m gone settle in, this should be fun. Other than the agony of having to wait for the next chapter. Damn son, is there anything the TFBW can’t do.