THE UGLY, THE REALLY UGLY AND THE BACK END OF A HORSE
It all started with a roll of the dice...outside there was a simultaneous roll of thunder. It would have been an ominous sign anywhere else, but in Pyrite nobody knew what ominous meant. In which case it was just kinda’ spooky. The old timers liked to sit around and play dice and watch the world go by. Today would be different. Today both the dice came up sixes, which was really unusual for a pair of loaded dice. The saloon doors swung open and in the doorway stood a shadowy figure, his face hidden as he stood against the grey light of the rain-swept sky. His entrance was accompanied by another roll of thunder and as it rumbled on and decayed he reached into his pocket and threw something across the room. It clattered onto the table and came to rest as the thunder died away. It was another dice. It was another six. “Three sixes, well I ain't never seen nothing like that before.” said old Jebediah, which surprised the others seeing as he was the local minister. “Ain't it the number of the Beast, the sign of the Devil, Reverend?” said Luke. “It's just a coincidence boys, you don't want to take no heed of it.” Good advice eh?
There was another roll of thunder. As it faded the saloon was filled with the sound of simultaneous farting it was at that moment that the citizens of Pyrite realised why thunder always seemed to smell that way. It was to be the start of a long road to rehabilitation out of shame and into a coming to terms with their bodily functions. “Hey old timer” the stranger spoke in a low growl of a voice, “I'm a stranger in town. Is that the Wells Fargo depot?” “Nope, that's a horse. Boy you sure are a stranger mister.” The old man looked him up and down; he wasn't a pretty sight, but then he had no room to talk…after years of chewing Old Dog tobacco he had the look of a gurning champion for whom the wind had comprehensively changed. “Who are you son? Where you from?” he asked. “I don't have a name. I've come from a part of the West that has no name, I've been through the desert on a horse with no name.” In the corner of the saloon someone started to whistle and took out a notebook and began to draw pictures of birds on telegraph wires…it was a crude form of music...they were ducks.
“What do call this town anyway?” “Oh it ain't got a name neither, but we call it Pyrite.” “How did it get to be called that?” “Well this is where we had the Fools Gold Rush of '48, the real Gold Rush passed it by, along with the coming of the railroad, the Indian Wars and the opening up of the new territories. Yes sir, the people of Pyrite have seen it all...well, that's to say we ain't seen any of it. The Rush didn't last too long neither; we called it the Rush Hour. So now the only ones that are left are the weak, the old, the poor and those too stupid to get out. Come to think of it, nobody's actually left yet...but the Gold Rush sure left a mark on this town.” “I wondered about that big yellow streak.” “Yup, there's that and the remains of the Gold Fever Hospital.” “This is a pretty depressing little town ain't it?” “Yup, we nearly called it Valium Gulch.”
“Anyway, can you tell me where the depot is, and the livery station, my horse needs to rest up for a few days?” “He's a mean looking horse stranger, looks like he's got the devil in him.” “He's mean alright.” said the stranger, “Have you heard tell of a horse called Mister Ed?” “We sure have, a talking horse gets to be pretty famous round Pyrite. He's near as popular as the singing skunk we got, course Sammy ain't so well liked by them fancy folks.” “Well my horse got in a fight with the famous Mister Ed over a filly.” “An' what happened?” asked the old timer “Well it came to a kind of a showdown and Ed said “Go on, make my hay” “An’ what did your horse say to that stranger?” “Nothing…he can’t talk, he’s a horse.” “So what did he do?” “He kicked the shit out of him.”
“You got the time mister?” It was the sheriff, “I make it ten past eight” “ Okay boys, its high noon. Now get back to your homes, time this saloon was closed.” The sheriff was a strange man, the locals didn't take too much notice of him, but then how much respect does a Blue Peter badge command? “Why are you in town stranger, what do you want here?” “I'm a bounty hunter sheriff, I'm looking for a man.” “Well at least your not looking for coconuts like them other fellers, boy were they lost. So who is it your after?” “I'm looking for the man who shot Liberty Bodice.” “Wasn't that one of the James boys, the one that's a real Jessie?” “I heard he was hiding out under another name.” “What name?” “I don't know sheriff, but I'm here to find him.” “You mean it could be anyone?” “It could even be you sheriff.” “Well how are you gonna know him?” “I'll be able to recognise him quite easily, he has a scar on his arm.” “Ain't you noticed everybody in this town's got a scar on their arm.” “He also has the top of one finger missing.” “Just like mine mister?” said the old timer “Eh, yup.” “Everybody in town's got that bit missing too.” “Oh, well the man I'm looking for walks with a limp.” “Right leg or left leg?” “Right leg.” “Well that's a pity, but at least we ruled out Lefty Morgan.” “You mean everyone in town has a limp?” “Yup.”
“It's going to be harder than I thought to find him, but I know one or two things more about him. For instance he has a rattlesnake tattoo on his left arm, he wears black boots with silver spurs and he has a bald patch in the shape of Texas on the crown of his head.” “Well it sure can't be me then stranger. Mine is in the shape of Kansas, but it could be almost anyone else.” “Is everybody in this town identical?” “It's because we're a twin town.” “Who with?” “Nobody, we're just full of twins.” “Well it looks like I'm gonna have to flush him out.” “We only got a chemical toilet here, the nearest flush is in Dodge City. In fact I heard tell they got two there now.” “Two! But there must be six thousand people in Dodge.” “Yup, I can't see why they need another one neither.”
“So is this all you do; sit around shooting dice?” “Well we used to play Fill the Spittoon but Environmental Health put a stop to it.” “I heard someone whistling earlier on, the man I'm looking for whistles the same little song all day long.” “You mean this one stranger?” A man dressed all in black began whistling a tune; it sounded strangely familiar, which was odd because nobody would see The Bridge on the River Kwai for well over a century. The man in black stood out from the rest...it was a black dress. “Who are you?” said the stranger. “Well my girlfriend calls me the Magnificent Seven, but that's another story.” It was Rico, the Side-saddle Kid, which at least explained his limp. “Who wants to know?” “I ain’t got a name. I just do a dirty job. They sometimes call me...” “Dirty?” “No...Jobby!”
“If your looking to take me back your gonna have to shoot me.” “I've shot men before; I shot Billy the Goat.” “You mean Billy the Kid.” “No, it was his pa.” “Did you ever shoot a woman?” It was Clementine, Rico's girlfriend, he liked her a lot, she reminded him of the old country, back in Ireland he'd been an Orangeman. “I shot a Russian shot putter once, does that count?” “Who are you anyway?” “She's my girl. Now get out of here Clementine, this is man's work.” Suddenly three shots rang out in the saloon and Clementine slumped to the floor. “She's hit.” cried the Old Timer “Oh my darlin', oh my darlin'...I'm dreadful sorry Clementine.” said Rico. The room fell silent as they waited for the familiar intro but the banjo player hadn’t been written into this scene yet so the joke went begging.
Suddenly a beautiful woman burst through the crowd. “I’m a nurse.” she cried “Let me through, we need hot water and lots of it.” She never went anywhere without a teabag. “It’s a good thing I was in my saloon." She had intended to open a hairdressers but she hired a dyslexic signwriter. "I’m the town nurse. The name's Kitty, First Aid Kitty. Doc’s gone for the day.” “Holiday?” “Yup that’s him. He's gone over to the Walton's place to tell ‘em about them new fangled contraceptives. Doc never takes a day off, except the occasional Monday. You’re lucky I’m here.” Some of the townsfolk found it difficult to agree with this statement, they still remember the night she operated on old Jake. His wife had shot him in the back and Kitty stitched him up good and proper. Of course six days later she had to take the stitches out before he died from constipation but since then she always remembered to count the bullets and count the holes. It was a tricky operation removing the bullets…they had lodged in Clementine’s girdle. “I think I can save the ribs.” said Kitty, but it was useless, the girdle had had its last squeeze. Clementine was gonna be okay but Rico suddenly realised how much more he was getting for his money. He moved to the door but the stranger saw him “Your coming back with me to stand trial in Dodge City.” “But that's through Indian country!” Rico exclaimed. “We'll be okay, I've got my trusty Indian guide Dib Dib.” “That's a funny name for a guide.” “Me no in guides, me scout.” Dib Dib was a rare breed, a female Indian scout. In the days before female liberation it was quite unusual for a woman to get a job let alone a vertical one.
The thought of crossing Indian country would make anyone nervous. Even the double buffalo skin salesmen gave the country around Pyrite a wide berth. To the Indians in these parts the only good white man was a white woman. They could do terrible things with their tomahawks; even their smoke signals had been banned by most tribes...they could only send them after nine o’ clock.
It was tough going riding through Indian country…one of the horses got a puncture. It was hard to believe that something with four horseshoes could be so unlucky? Clementine’s horse keeled over from exhaustion. In desperation Rico knelt down beside the poor dumb animal...then he tried to revive the horse. “I'm a horse whisperer” he declared. “Well you're gonna have to shout.” Suggested Clementine, who recognised a lifeless article when she saw it after many a frustrating romantic encounter with Rico. He wasn’t the best lover and calling her a cowpoke didn’t help. Rico tried everything...he even tried mouth to mouth, which gives you some idea why Clementine wasn’t so keen on kissing on the first date. “It's useless; he's deaf.” said Rico, recognising the futility of his efforts and proving that he was a master of the understatement. By nightfall the horse's hearing hadn't improved so much that triggermortis had set in and they had to bury it despite Rico's reservations and the fact that he’d ironically shouted himself hoarse.
That night the stranger sat by the campfire and wondered how he had got there; where had it all gone? He remembered his young bride, his smallholding, but that didn't bother her then, they were so much in love. Then came the war…brother shot brother as the country was torn apart. He had it harder than most, he was one of ten. He still remembered coming home, the old place was run down and in ruins, she had gone, left him for a carpetbagger, he could understand the attraction, she was a great underlay. She left a note “I don't need you any more, I'm gonna do it myself.” He knew she'd gone to Texas.
As the long night in Monument Valley dragged on the strange eerie shapes of the rock formations began to take on a life of their own. Rico started to tell a campfire ghost story but the stranger made him stop “Your spooking the horses” he said, but they could all see that he had a strange look on his face. He looked like a man with something to hide. Slowly he manoeuvred his last Rolo out of the lining of his chaps and discreetly slipped it into his mouth. His horse sniffed the desert air and eyed him suspiciously. “He looks like he’s got something to hide. I hope that’s a tube of Rolos in his chaps.” Thought the horse. Then suddenly the night air was filled with the sounds of drums and war dances. “Damn those drums, damn them to hell. Damn these savages and their incessant lust for clichés” said the stranger. On and on they went, it reminded Rico of something an old indian once told him about how drums could drive white men mad...but that was Bull Sitting so he didn't take much notice, however, this time it seemed that they were really geting to him.
Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped and the echo of the last drumbeat hung in the air amongst the great stones. “We’ll take turns,” said the stranger, “You’re not on, what kind of woman do you think I am?” “Turns at keeping watch you jackass.” “Don’t call her names, that’s my intended you’re insulting” said Rico “Well I didn’t realise you were intending anything.” said the stranger. “And you can forget that right away.” interrupted Clementine with an ominous tone in her voice. The stranger and Rico looked at each other and their eyes spoke a thousand words…words like “It’s in the oven”...“We need a bigger house for Mother”…“You don’t love me anymore.” and the dreaded...“How do I look?” They decided to let Clementine take the first watch and cuddled up together for protection.
Something stirred the stranger and he woke from a deep troubled sleep…Clementine was gone! He roused Rico and Dib Dib and they began to search for signs. Dib Dib put her ear to the ground…she detected a low rumble...it was either Clementine or a distant stampede. She sniffed the air for a faint sign of Clementine's perfume but they were still too close to Pyrite and the smell of thunder from the saloon. She pondered for a long moment, and then using all the ancient hunting wisdom of her tribe, set off in completely the wrong direction. The stranger was familiar with her technique and decided to go the other way. He never saw Dib Dib again, she never did find her way back to the camp, although later she did enjoy a brief moment of fame as the Indian woman who started the Battle of the Little Big Horn when, due to failing eyesight, she accidentally shot at General Custer thinking he was a Buffalo...although she could be forgiven, even today, few people realise that he was a hunchback.
Meanwhile in the Indian camp, they had spirited Clementine away in the night, which was no mean feat as she was one big orange. The chief began by introducing the tribe. For an Indian, he was a true gentleman. He’d heard about the noble savage and fancied that it was not a bad chat up line. Anyway, before they got down to the business of violating this wonderful specimen of womanhood he began by splitting the tribe into two groups...those who were salivating freely and those who could still talk without howling…it had been a long time since these Indians had been with a woman. The squaws in the tribe were an ugly lot; the braves had traded their land for them many years ago but it had proved to be a bad deal, they turned out to have names like "Bag Over Head Woman", "Looks Like Mutton", "Thunder Brow" and "Dog". The tribe was desperately short of obliging women so the young braves had had to learn the old ways from the aged blind brave “Arm Like Fiddler Crab” The chief began the introductions in order of desperation…“Him called Running Dog because him win Powderhall Sprint. Him called Running Sore because him never heard of Preparation H and him over there big fan of post modernist movie genres... him Reservoir Dog.”
Clementine wasn’t going to give anything away without a fight and she certainly knew how to handle herself…and men. Pretty soon the braves were running around in a circle, howling and clutching their thongs like a demented defensive wall…and Clementine appeared to be a free kick expert. Thus began the tradition of the Indian war dance.
It wasn’t long before they decided to have a pow-wow. “She bloody hard squaw” said Chief Ironside, “Me reckon she should go back to white men, we steal whisky instead”. “Bloody good idea chief.” said Token Indian Number One “We’re never gonna get another like Cher, are we? Even after a makeover she’d still look more like Sonny. We might as well dump her back where we found her.”
As that second desert night passed, the stranger drifted in and out of a troubled sleep. He kept waking up, his face covered in perspiration. He had a dreaded fear of night sweats…he remembered his mother being a martyr to them and he was concerned that he seemed to get them too…he never did discover that his horse was licking him to get much needed salt. He dried his face and closed his eyes…when he woke next, it was still dark but in the faint glow from the campfire he saw something. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Clementine was lying fast asleep next to Rico. The savages had shown mercy and returned her to her own people. It brought a whole new meaning to mercy. He watched them cuddled up together and remembered those old feelings; he was overwhelmed by the memory of his lost love.
In the morning when they woke up the stranger had gone. Clementine had a note pinned to her dress “Please keep this woman out of National Parks and Reservations. By order Chief Ironside. P.S: Last night’s drums and war dance available on world music CD.” Clementine had returned but the stranger had gone. He left only a single silver spur. They kept it as a reminder of the day someone did them a kindness, they intended to repay that kindness a thousand times over before they died but instead they formed a duo and created country and western music. Their attempts at harmony drove many settlers to head deeper into the most inhospitable corners of the West. One such man finally took refuge in the middle of the desert, where he found solace in shooting dice just as he'd done back in Pyrite. Little did he know that one day he would be recognised as the founding father of Las Vegas. Even today if ever three sixes are thrown on the tables of some casino the sound of distant thunder can be heard and the air fills with a distinctive odour...although strangely no one will own up to it. The spirit of Pyrite will live on as long as gamblers throw dice and cowboys eat beans.
© THE UGLY, THE REALLY UGLY AND THE BACK END OF A HORSE is copyright of the author, Tom Fairnie. December 2001. All characters are fictitious and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is a complete and utter typo.