Empty saddles in the Dogbite corral
Chris Adam Smith
Dan Crow was sitting at a corner table in Halloran’s Saloon, it was an early Sunday evening and the place, like Dogbite’s Main Street was deserted. He read and reread the letter wondering how to break the news to his partner Henry Lee. It would not be easy. He hurriedly folded the letter as the shadow of Lee darkened the doorway and quickly stuffed it into the breast pocket of his short, faded Levi jacket.
‘What’s that letter you keep squirrelling away every time I come into a room?’ Lee asked, a slight air of resentment in his voice.
‘Buy us a bottle, Lee.’ Crow tossed a silver dollar onto the table and then as an afterthought added another. ‘Make it the good stuff, not the Saturday night forty-rod Halloran peddles.’
Lee grinned. ‘Sure enough, you robbed a bank?’
‘Something like that.’
Lee returned from the bar, popped open the bottle and poured two full glasses. ‘To what are we drinking, my friend?’
‘The future,’ said Crow, taking the letter from his pocket and sliding it across the patinated table top. ‘Our future.’
A puzzled Henry Lee picked it up, unfolded it and took a pair of round metal framed spectacles from his shirt pocket. He read the letter in silence, refolded it and stared glumly at his long-time friend. ‘Have you gone completely mad, Crow?’
‘I don’t believe so.’
‘We tried this, it didn’t work, why the hell try again?’
‘Why not, things change, we went about it the wrong way is all. Read it again aloud.’
Lee, unfolded the letter and started to read it aloud. ‘Dear Mr, Crowe. He put an e on the end of Crow who the hell would put an e on the end of Crow?’
‘Forget that,’ said Crow, ‘it’s a typographical error but it could happen, read on.’
‘Further to your recent letter, I would confirm that All Western Picture Studios would be happy to meet with you and discuss the projects mentioned. In view of your experience as a deputy sheriff, your past friendship with Wyatt Earp, a much-respected man around our studio who speaks highly of you, your past association with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, your border battle with Mexican bandits. The gunfights you have been involved in and your knowledge of the west as well and your skill as a horseman, would make you an ideal technical adviser. Add to that the fact that you were in all probability the last man to do battle with and be wounded by the Cheyenne. We would very much like to discuss matters further with you. We are especially interested in your story outlines for the Butch and Sundance project, the Two Amigos and The Tombstone Gunfight scenarios.
We have been over your past association with this studio and reviewed the footage taken of the runaway horse capture, a remarkable feat. The director, Robert Laird, whom you had the disagreement with, has long since gone, fired following some inappropriate behaviour with the head of the studio’s daughter.
Should you wish to proceed with this venture our representative and western movie director, Horace Boniface, can be in Bailey Wednesday next to discuss the matter further. Yours sincerely…I can’t read his name.’
‘Goldstein, Mervyn Goldstein.’
‘They are all foreign. A long time has passed, Lee, the motion picture business has grown, they are even going to open a movie theatre in Bailey and maybe even one right here in Dogbite. Best of all, Westerns are the big sellers, everyone wants to be a cowboy all of a sudden.’
‘You may be right about that but there is one big flaw in this, Dan, you might not have spotted it yet.’
‘And that is?
‘None of it is true, not a goddamned word of it, where they got all of that bullshit from I cannot imagine unless….’ Henry Lee stared long and hard at Dan Crow. ‘You didn’t, please tell me you didn’t.’
‘I cannot say that, Henry Lee.’ Crow smiled and took out another letter from his jacket pocket and slid it across the table. He was smiling. ‘That there is a copy of my biography or, as they say nowadays. my bio.’
Lee picked up the crumpled sheet of notepaper and read it very slowly to himself, his lips moving from time to time as he reread sections of it, it took a long while. Finally, he carefully refolded the paper, rocked back in his chair and poured himself another drink. After a long while, he looked Dan Crow squarely in the eye and said, ‘That’s about the biggest load of lying bullshit I ever heard in my whole life and, believe me, Crow, I have heard plenty.’
Crow smiled again, picked up the letter. ‘Not a lie in it, Henry, it’s just fake, that’s the way of the world these days, everything is fake. You think it would be smart to apply for a job and tell them you are no good? What would be the point, politicians tell us how great they are and what they are going to do for us just to get our vote. They don’t tell us they are in it for the money and they don’t intend to do a thing about anything.’
‘We ain’t no politicians.’
‘True, no we are not but we still need a vote for ourselves and that’s how you sell yourself with a bio.’
‘It’s lies whatever you call it.’
‘It’s just fake, what is there that isn’t part true?’
‘Where to begin? You being a deputy for one and being wounded by the Cheyenne another.’
‘I was a county jailer for a week and I locked up your sorry ass as I recall. That counts and I think it best you draw a line under the Cheyenne arrow incident.’
‘The Mexican wars?’
‘We fought off a gang of Mex bandits one time.’
‘Most of that one time crapping our pants as I recall.’
‘That does not count.’
‘Friends with Wyatt Earp?’
‘I met him once, shook his hand like a thousand of others have done, he has so many passing acquaintances he probably just figured I was one of them if they asked him. You know, recall the name but can’t recall the face kind of a deal.’
‘Butch and Sundance?’
‘That may have been a bit of a stretch but they rode here abouts and we did take their names in vain down on the border that one time we got lost and ran into those Mex bandits and pretended, made out we were Butch and Sundance. Tenuous maybe but…’
‘Forget it, new word for you.’
‘It don’t sit right somehow.’
‘Look, Lee it’s a bio. You get what I’m saying, it’s a get-in. We get in because we sound interesting, we get in at the top rather than the bottom like we tried before. We get in and we make an impact. It’s fake sure, but everything is fake. Do you really believe Teddy Roosevelt lead a mounted charge up San Juan Hill? Most of the Rough Riders ran that hill afoot? Do you really believe Billy the Kid killed twenty-one men, one for every year of his life or Davy Crocket actually killed a bear when he was only three? The only way that could have happened would be if he had gotten himself stuck in the bear’s throat. Hell, man, Butch and Sundance were too smart to die in South America, Jesse James was no Robin Hood and Saint Wyatt Earp ran whores in Tombstone. Bios are all lies, everyone writes a fake bio to make them look better, smarter than they are. They sell themselves just like bible sells Jesus.’
‘You think Jesus was fake.’
‘Might have been a wandering preacher but that’s as far as I go. There are a lot of down-at-heel, long-haired preachers wandering the streets of Texas right now claiming to know the Almighty.’
‘And God, he have a fake bio also?’
‘Jury is still out on that one,’ said Crow’
‘You met with this Boniface?’
‘And, he wants the two of us, gave me a hundred dollar advance and two return tickets to California.’
‘I insisted in case things don’t work out.’
‘You thought of everything, didn’t you Crow.’
‘Yes, I did, are you in or not?’
‘Damned right I’m in. The word is that an eastern cattle company has bought out the Slash and set their sights on the Rocking W, that means one of the bunkhouses will go and is likely to be ours being the smallest. I guess our real cowboying days are over we had just as well become fake ones if that’s the way the world is going.’
The two men shook hands and finished the bottle.
The following Saturday morning a small crowd gathered at Bailey’s railhead. A buckboard driven by Doc Halloran pulled up at the depot in company with The Kentucky Kid, Henry Lee and Dan Crow, the latter pair were almost unrecognisable in their smart haircuts, new wool suits, hats, polished boots and carrying their freshly polished saddles. Halloran shook hands and wished them luck as did the Kid. ‘Good luck boys we’ll be seeing you,’ said Halloran.
‘You can bet on that, Doc.’ said Crow, with a smile.
Nine month’s later, with the opening of the new Dogbite Moving Picture House, Halloran once again stood beside The Kentucky Kid, the pair waiting in the foyer for the box office to open and admiring the large, colourful lobby poster. It depicted a colour graphic of three men in tall white Stetsons, a title and a western background filled with wild horses and smoking guns. The poster claimed it to be:
Hudson dominated the graphic but there was no mistaking the likenesses of Crow and Lee standing one at each side of him smiling faces, with smoking Colts. The Kid studied on the poster long and hard and said, ‘Why the hell they add an e to Crow’s name?’
‘That’s the Hollywood way, I guess.’ Replied old Doc Halloran.
Chris Adam Smith 2018
Author’s note: The background to this yarn can be found in the various Dogbits short stories on this web site. Thanks for following the past twenty months…