Drawing a Blank

A short action story

image/svg+xml Openclipart Simple Horizontal Rule 1 2012-10-13T19:58:51 Simple horizontal rule designed to be used in a programme/ending of a chapter. Based on one seen in an out of copyright book called "The universe: or, The infinitely great and the infinitely small". https://openclipart.org/detail/172738/simple-horizontal-rule-1-by-nasfarley88-172738 nasfarley88 decoration horizontal rule

In one of the more civilized parts of Old Massachusetts, there exists a saloon frequented by equal portions of cowboys and librarians. It was always cowboys and librarians. Eons ago, when the saloon was first called the Wrangler's Folly, the Solomon family – a group of fiscally unsound relatives with not much in the way of foresight – pledged complete responsibility of the saloon for a few generations. Eventually, as new Solomon babies came into the world, the saloon flourished, and they forgot what the original number of generations they'd promised was. And so, it became known as Solomon's Folly for the rest of time.

Ezekiel Solomon was the current barkeep (and owner) of Solomon's Folly. His mother had managed the saloon for forty-three years before going on an uncharacteristically happy drinking bender and passing away peacefully in her sleep. They told him the vermouth was from Spain. After the whole thing was said and done, Ezekiel put her to rest in the family plot, and then asked for the ledgers, tucking two rags in his waistband and loading up his old six-shooter.

Solomon's Folly is a peculiar piece of infrastructure. The original blueprints were lost a few years ago, when a young Solomon sibling assumed that all rolled-up parchment in the attic was fair game for smoking purposes, and the building fell back into its abstract roots. As of now, the entire place has a huge drinking area with one entryway, one back exit, one bar, and half a bathroom, which Ezekiel had just finished cleaning. As he stepped behind the bar, the doors swung open and an individual walked in.

There were about two dozen patrons in the saloon. Half of them had holsters and the rest were armed with library cards. Ezekiel's fingertips grazed the butt of his own under-counter revolver as he swept and cleaned and organized the bar. He wasn't as young as he used to be, but he could still enact the part very well.

"What can I get you?" he said to the large hat in front of his face.

The hat's rim tilted up and a middle-aged man stared at him with silvery eyes. Ezekiel, whose own eyes bore no trace of expensive metal, shuddered slightly. Where's that face from? The man seemed to be looking at him with some kind of smoldering gaze. "Whiskey, on the rocks please."

Please? What kind of cowboy says please? Ezekiel thought about all the doctorates who'd passed through, and poured the drink.

The stranger downed the drink in a single gulp. "Another, please."

Ezekiel poured again. The stranger downed it again.

After four or five of these, the stranger asked Ezekiel how long the place would be open.

Ezekiel laughed carefully. "You planning on staying long? We're open long hours. Tonight, I'm closing up at midnight."

The stranger nodded, as if confirming a detail from memory. "Good. You'll have to make them all leave for two of them." With that last bit, the stranger smiled politely. "Two hours."

"I'll have to what?"

"You'll have to make them all leave for two hours." The stranger smiled a warm smile. "Please."

"Now look here miste-"

"A few generations before your mother managed the place, there was a gentleman who was in charge. His name was Raphael, and he liked to gamble."

Oh, thought Ezekiel. The stranger rambled on as Ezekiel's own mental footsteps began to trace the memory of Raphael the Gambler. It was a long story, but the short of it was this: Raphael had promised one free shootout to an unnamed outlaw group, like a single-use coupon. No one had ever showed up to claim the free shootout. To the average drinker, this was all very strange, but then the Solomons had never been straight shooters. These were the principles passed down to him, and he would be a good Solomon by passing them along. Bad bets and worse magic, thought Ezekiel, sighing.

"I understand. How many?"

The stranger gazed at him, impressed by his rapid acclimation to the situation. "I'm glad you caught up fast. Thank you. There will be four of them."

Ezekiel nodded. He palmed his revolver and tucked it snugly in the back of his waistband. Getting the patrons out proved easier than he had imagined. He simply gave them all a free drink and sent them on their way. Now for the wait.

The stranger had stayed at the bar this whole time, and was now looking at the emptied premises appreciatively. "Thank you," he said. Then he turned, long black coat swirling behind him, and sat down at a table near the entrance. Waiting.

It took them a good twenty minutes to find the place. The stranger hadn't moved. Ezekiel was posted behind the bar. Since this was an arrangement, he would be treated as a non-party, and left alone. Still, it was prudent to be on the guard. When the sun had started setting, a series of soft sounds came in through the doors, followed by multiple sets of clear footsteps. Then a lot of things happened very fast.

As soon as the first pair of boots appeared beneath the swinging doors, the stranger moved.

My god, thought Ezekiel. He's one of those fast types.

The stranger was indeed one of those fast types. As if his age was merely a façade, he swooped right into the doors, which had only just started swinging inward, with the full force of his shoulder-

Thwack!

He fell to the floor, back into the saloon. The sheer force of the person on the other side had thwarted his first attempt. He stood up immediately and lunged forward again, a foot swinging up.

Thwack!

The foot was swatted away by what seemed like a bear's arm, and the stranger fell to the floor again. Four giants walked in through the doors of Solomon's Folly. All of them were at least six and a half feet tall. Ezekiel said nothing. It was not his fight.

The four men all had leather jackets fashioned with a motif of one suit from a deck of playing cards each. Clubs, Diamonds, Spades, and Hearts, thought Ezekiel. And I'm the clown.

Or maybe it was the stranger, who was gearing up to have at them again. His hat never left his head, and his movements retained their lithe grace. Ezekiel found his mind drifting…

Over the centuries, Solomon's Folly has witnessed scores of strange goings-on. It continues to do so, and will probably continue to do so long after Ezekiel was dead. It just was one of those places. Ezekiel considered this for a moment. Just last year there had been the librarian with a magical bead up his-

Thwack!

This third smack got Ezekiel's attention.

The stranger had finally landed a kick to Clubs' midriff. Clubs staggered, and there was a brief lull in the action. The stranger moved again. Fast.

His coat whooshed behind him as he found his rhythm, and he spun among the four giants, punching and kicking and dodging and crouching. Behind the bar, making absolutely no sound, Ezekiel plucked out a bottle of their finest moonshine and sipped at it. The air grew tenser around the six individuals, and it appeared to be building up to a crescendo.

Managing to land a few more blows, the stranger swung back around the four men and skidded to a halt across the huge area, with his back to Ezekiel and the bar, facing the four men from several feet away. A classic standoff. For a moment, all four of them seemed to sway in place, as though a great gust of wind had suddenly greeted them. As the stranger's momentum was stopped by his stance, and his coat was billowing like a cape-

Then it happened.

Canonically, a cowboy is usually only as good as his draw or his insurance provider. Whichever is better. Ezekiel watched, like it was happening in slow motion, as all five men reached for their weapons.

Four long barrels appeared in the distance.

Within moments, the sound of gunfire filled the saloon. Bullets whooshed around Ezekiel, passing millimeters from his ears as he sipped the moonshine. It was delicious, he thought, as the bullets smacked into the shelves, bottles breaking and tumbling. This is to be expected, he told himself.

The stranger's coat, still billowing in the slipstream of all the projectiles, was peppered with jagged holes. Ezekiel said nothing. The stranger's arm had never moved, at least according to Ezekiel's inebriated observations.

Silence.

Far away, at the doors, both Diamonds and Spades were leaning back. Both of them toppled with soft, wet thuds, two bloody bullet-holes per face. Clubs was clutching at his abdomen with one arm, the other hanging loosely next to his side. The shoulder was busted wide open. Finally, Hearts took a step forward and sat down – very heavily – into the nearest chair. A bright red spot was blooming to one side of his sternum.

The stranger straightened up and turned to face the bar, putting away two dark pistols. Ezekiel said nothing, peering at the last man slumping into the chair, dying slowly as his heart came to a standstill. He looked back at the stranger. Funny guy, he thought. Unscathed funny guy.

"How'd you do that?" said Ezekiel.

"It's easy when you're fast," said the stranger. "They pulled their triggers only after all the bullets had left my gun."

"Ah."

"A gentleman and his crew will arrive and take care of -" the stranger gestured to the scene behind him, "- all this before midnight today. What do I owe you?"

Ezekiel shook his head. "My treat," he said.

The stranger smiled. "Thank you."

Then he turned and walked out of the saloon. Ezekiel huffed and began wiping down glasses. My treat? As if he was growing money in his backyard. Whatever.

The sun disappeared and the saloon was back to normal before midnight, as the stranger had promised. In bed, warm and cozy already, Ezekiel considered his perception of the world. Most people would only dream of today's events. Even Ezekiel himself had been in a dreamlike state through the whole thing. Before drifting away into blissful sleep, a tiny part of him thanked his ancestors for passing down this incredible institution to him.

Just another normal day at Solomon's Folly.

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