William pushed aside his glass, remembering the first time he took a drink.
When William and a few greenhorn privates, hanging together like newborn pups, had first visited town Haviland sauntered up.
“New to these parts, I see. Are you going to stand on the corner barking at a knot or do something with your freedom?”
William didn’t trust a man with sayings that made no sense—his mother told him not to.
Haviland leered at the pioneers with a mix of pity and scorn. “Look, boys, there’s a lot of bad types out here to take advantage of new recruits and the four of you standin’ here is advertisement enough that you’re wantin’ to be taken. You don’t know me from a wohaw, but my family built up this town and I’m like the hemp committee and the welcoming team all in one.”
One soldier whispered around, “What in heck is a wohaw?”
The others shook their heads at him like they knew.
“And a hemp committee—is there hemp growed out here in the desert?”
William spoke. “No, Baker, it’s the folks who do a lynching.”
“Oh, so there’s one bright spark! Course he’s smart enough not to sell his soul to the government—lying bastards,” Haviland said, and smacked William’s back.
William scratched his head with a small grin, but said, “We should go, boys.”
“You ain’t the boss of us, Bill Weldon. Everyone knows you ain’t clever!” one soldier replied.
“So, young lads, would you like an expert to show you town?” Haviland waved his arm all around him as if they were viewing a grand wonder of the world instead of a single street of false fronts and ne’er- do- wells.
They shrugged and gave each other tentative glances as they followed the shiny-looking Westerner with all the latest gear.
The tour started off with a short history of the settlement, tales about Indian fighting and then a look-see in the general store and the haberdashery. One of the boys plunked down his money for a big cowhand hat. The others laughed. Further along the short, dusty and exciting road Haviland noted, “Fellows, when a good carte-viste won’t do it for you and you want a real fuck, this is the place to go first. It’s a high-class place though and they’ll want cash. Cards are on the ground floor and the women on top (if that’s the way you like it).”
The boys eyed everything with enthusiasm, but William and one of the others, a Methodist preacher’s son, hung back.
“You don’t like women?” Haviland asked.
The preacher’s son replied, “Course I do, but my daddy raised me right and this ain’t nowhere near right. I’m leavin’ back for the post. Bill, you comin’?”
William liked the preacher’s son, but something, a memory, made him stay.
The soldier shuffled off. “Friendship over,” William mumbled.
The other soldiers laughed.
“Can we get a girl in broad daylight?”
“Course. If you have enough for it.”
The soldier took out his pay, minus the money spent on his ostentatious hat and Haviland shook his head. “No, this is high class, I tell you—go down to the bed bug hotel if you want a quick and easy cheap lay—no tellin’ what you’ll end up with.”
The men turned up their noses.
“Hmm . . . now, if you were to maybe win a hand at bluff . . . do you fellows play?” Haviland asked.
“Our captain says we shouldn’t,” the soldier, who had followed up until now in silence, said.
The last soldier with the big hat remained steadfast in his enthusiasm. “Come on, men, we’ll try our beginner’s luck. If I win big, we’ll all get a girl. Anyway, I’m damned good at cards—you’ll see.”
“Now watch your manners—you don’t want to wear your welcome right off,” Haviland warned, dusting off his hat at the door.
Two men inside the thick-aired room heavy with drapery and cheap art turned and stared. William’s gut burned. This parlor—the smell and feel of it—was so familiar and, in some small way, comforting. He couldn’t bring himself to leave though nothing good could come of staying.
The two soldiers took seats at the long, beat-up table. If this was high class what was low?
“You with the gimpy leg, are you playin’ or babysitting?”
“Neither, sir,” William replied.
The man stared at his manners.
“Are you in or not?”
“Then, boy howdy, take yourself to that there settee. Your gangly self is makin’ me jittery. Where’d you drag him in from, Haviland?”
“He was part of the package deal,” Haviland replied.
William knew from the start that his friends would lose everything and they did. His parents had instilled in him a deep distrust of cards. When the soldiers rose from the table, beaten and demoralized, William tried not to appear too self-satisfied, but clutched his money even tighter in his pocket. A long, miserable hallway led from back to front. Light from the back door lit the kitchen and William stopped short. A young lady shot by and ran out back.
Haviland laughed, “What a wretch that one is—ugly as a one-eyed cat.”
“Pardon?” William turned to him.
“I bet you can get that one cheap—she’s from down the road, but wants to step up. There’s not a chance in hell.”
“I don’t want her!” William replied, horrified at the thought, but shaken, too. Something about her. . .
The soldiers snickered and Haviland slapped William’s back. “It’s been a rough time for you cubs—fleeced like sheep. I’ll treat you to some Shepherd’s Delight at The Buckskin—it’s the best whiskey for miles, I tell you.”
“My daddy back home, he makes the best. . .” the cowhand soldier said.
“Yes, yes.” Haviland dismissed the soldier’s small talk.
They followed the westerner, impressed and put-off by him at the same time.
“Bill, are you coming?”
“Sure.” But he had promised his mother. . .
The soldier wearing the tall hat whispered, “Bet he won’t take a drop—afraid of his own shadow—bet he’s scart he’ll tumble over on that crooked leg of his.”
“You ain’t one of them religious crazies, too?” Haviland asked.
“No, sir.” William followed the others into the saloon.
“Whiskey all around, Robinson.”
The bartender shook his head at the greenhorns.
William spoke. “I’ll just have, well, a lemonade, sir.”
Robinson didn’t bat an eye, just poured him a lemony drink and added something unfamiliar. William sipped it. The other’s threw back their whiskey and waited for more. They laughed at William so he finished his with a gulp.
William felt pressured to buy his friends a round. He had only brought his money along so he wouldn’t misplace it. The soldiers stared, bug-eyed, at William’s fund as he brought it from his pocket and laid it on the bar.
Haviland kept a close eye on him. After two drinks William no longer hurried to go and after five drinks the soldiers had to mind him and the money he left unattended. William relaxed and the soldiers liked him.
WEARY OF RUNNING PREVIOUS EPISODE
Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s misadventures when you buy the book today!
“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review
“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”