It was a regular weekday afternoon in Mama Rita’s Saloon. A handful of customers with no work to do or a few dollars to spend, some guy hammering out a nameless tune on the old piano, and a poker game on the centre table. A couple of the girls were busy upstairs, otherwise it was pretty calm.
The green-eyed stranger in the black Stetson and long coat walked slowly to the bar, minding his own business. He knew no-one there, nor needed to. He tipped his hat and nodded towards the barman.
“Hey, what’s in the bag Mister?” Came an unpleasant voice from further down the bar.
Jock Allison narrowed his eyes, looked across at the unshaven, unwashed gun-toting tramp of a man, with one dirty boot resting against the foot rail of the bar, a spittoon in front of him and a tall barstool behind.
“Whisky, barman, and leave the bottle.” He turned away, never offering an answer, but keeping a good grip around the top of the large grey hessian bag in his left hand. His eyes fixed firmly on the long mirror behind a row of bottles.
“Hey, mister, I asked what you have in the bag.” Hal Ridgeway took the short butt of his cigar from his lips and flicked it across the saloon, taking a step closer to Allison.
“Nothing for you mister, you wouldn’t want to see it.”
“Well now, that just makes it more intriguing, ain’t that so barman?” He moved his coat aside, well away from his holster. The sight of a gun usually encouraged a reply.
“Guess so,” replied the white aproned barman rapidly moving bottles well away from the two. He didn’t need a sixth sense to see trouble brewing and it didn’t seem far away.
Allison looked, turned slowly and shrugged his shoulders, his left elbow still resting on the counter top. “Be my guest, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” He placed the bag on top of the bar and watched it move slightly as Ridgeway took hold of the thin draw string tied around the neck.
Allison turned back to the bar and took another large shot of his whisky, he knew what was coming next. He whispered, “stupid, stupid,” just loud enough for Ridgeway to hear.
“What d’ya say mister? Stupid am I?” He asked, as he released the draw string and put his hand inside the bag without looking first.
He yelped, jumped back and brought it out a lot quicker along with a Western Diamond Back clinging tightly to the base of his thumb, its fangs deeply penetrating the thickest part of the hand.
Allison barely looked at him, pouring another shot. “Told ya mister, just stupid, see ya in hell sometime.”
Ridgeway was in a state of panic, any number of guns would be useless now, he knew his days were up.
The deadliest snake of the central plains and west was in no hurry to let go. Its poison would already be in Ridgeway’s bloodstream, it was just a matter of time.
“Shoot it, shoot the darned thing, somebody get it off.” He screamed louder and louder. “Fetch the doc.”
“No point mister, too late now, have to wait for it to let go. Thirty minutes I reckon. Better fetch the undertaker, don’t bother the doc.”
The barman was pushing himself as far into the corner as possible, a number of bottles knocked over and smashed on the floor. The piano was silent, chairs and the poker table tipped over, cards and cash strewn about the floor.
The saloon had emptied quicker than it filled when anyone offered “free drinks.”
Allison took a heavy, thick, cow-hide glove like a gauntlet, from the inside pocket of his calf length coat and slowly pulled it over his right hand.
“Leather and chain mail, like the knights of old had, that thing ain’t happy. I went to a deal of trouble catching him once already. Twice in a day, he ain’t gonna like.”
David Cousland, born 1950 in West Bromwich, England. Grew up in the industrial West Midlands. His father was a bespoke tailor, a craftsman but a partial colour-blindness problem kept David away from the same trade. A married man with two daughters and two grand-children. He was a life-long banker, specialising in card payments in later years. Sports and travel were and still are his two favourite activities. Lucky to have a number of great relatives in California. Writing was never even considered until mid 2012. Since then however a number of potential stories have and are being researched and worked on.
Ridgeway was flat on the saloon floor, still screaming, twitching, shaking, thrashing his arms around and kicking, his eyes wild with panic and fear. Within ten more minutes, he was still, breathless and quiet. The four foot long, diamondback released its grip as Allison’s gloved fingers tightened at the back of its head.
He lifted it carefully and lowered it, head first into the bag wrapping the material around its head as the body followed on, then quickly withdrawing his hand and pulling the string tight once more.
Allison put the bag gently back on the bar and took another shot. “How much, barman?”
“You just get out, what the hell did you bring that thing in here for?”
Allison dropped a ten dollar bill on the bar, “mine, his and those you dropped. Valuable critters these days, lizards, snakes and all. They got a zoo back east in Philadelphy, pay good money for live specimens. No good if they’re dead, and I brought him here, ‘cause he spooks my horse.”
“Spooked my customers too, you’d better go mister.”
Allison finished his drink and returned to his horse, the saloon half circled by dozens of townsfolk, a couple of Winchesters pointing at him.
“I’m leaving, know where a man ain’t welcome. How far’s the railroad station”
“You really got a live snake in there?” Asked a young boy, “I ain’t never seen one up close.”
Allison smiled, “best keep it that way son, they ain’t good for ya.”
He turned and rode slowly away, towards the north, and the track.