Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Starting Today: One Arm Lightning
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Nobody paid much attention when Blake Oliver barged through the bat wing doors of the Shooting Star Saloon. After all, Blake stopped by on most nights after closing down his general store. The perspiration that dampened Blake’s receding hairline was not immediately apparent to the other patrons.
Blake headed directly to the bar. Stanley Wiggins, the barkeep, gave him a smile. “The usual?”
“There’s nothin’ usual about this night, Stanley. Wes Torveen is in town.”
The smile vanished from the barkeep’s face. “Who told you that?”
“Francine Cummings. She’s good friends with Wes’ sister.”
The usual noise and activities continued at the Shooting Star. Men were gambling, buying drinks for the saloon girls, enjoying the artificial joy induced by alcohol. But at the bar, the situation was rapidly becoming grim as a group of men who knew Wes Torveen gathered. Their questions and remarks bounced about crazily like a child’s rubber ball:
“How long’s he gonna be in town?”
“Last year, Torveen said he was just here to visit his sister for her birthday. Ended up killin’ two men!”
“Does his brother know he’s here?”
“What if he does? Buck Torveen can’t control Wes no better than the rest of us!”
“Wes Torveen a gunfighter. Still seems hard to believe!”
“What’s that the newspapers call him?”
“One Arm Lightning.”
The chatter at the bar abruptly halted. Wes Torveen stepped through the bat wings. The mood inside the saloon became more subdued as most patrons shifted their attention to the newcomer.
Torveen stood well over six feet. He was dressed in a black frock coat and a decorative gold colored vest. His entire wardrobe reeked of money, including the pearl handled six gun which was holstered against his left hip. His face registered a hard life, contrasting dramatically with the fine clothes. A thick black beard couldn’t camouflage the scars and doughy cheeks: vestiges of assaults absorbed as a kid. His eyes were green, hard, and all- encompassing, like those of a mountain lion.
Those eyes were now glaring at the men standing by the bar. “Well, well, ain’t this a treat. All my old friends from school days.”
He walked slowly toward the bar. A drink was waiting for him when he arrived there. He picked it up with his left hand and glared at the men around him.
“You fellas still enjoy lookin’ at my right arm?” He sipped the drink and glanced at the bartender. “Stanley, remember what you use ta say about my right arm, back when we was kids?”
“No Wes, sure don’t.”
“You were quite the joker, Stan. Almost ever day you’d say that my arm swung back and forth like a pendulum on a clock. You’d ask me if I used the arm to keep time. Pretty funny, huh?”
Stanley shrugged his shoulders and looked toward the floor. “Yeah, it’s funny.”
Wes Torveen banged the empty glass down on the bar and roared a loud, angry shout. “Then why ain’t you laughin’?”
The entire saloon became quiet. Wes smiled broadly, revealing teeth heavily stained by tobacco. “Yeah, I made lots of folks laugh when I was a boy. I was born with a right arm that was no good. But I was naturally right handed. Couldn’t use my left very well, so I was always droppin’ things.” He looked straight ahead at a tall man with stooped shoulders and a pot belly. “You use ta get a lot of laughs from me, Ed.”
Ed Horton spoke quickly, fumbling his words together. “We was jus’ kids, Wes. You know how kids are.”
Torveen walked slowly toward the part owner of the livery, as other patrons cleared away from the bar. “Yeah, I know all about how kids are, Ed. They gang up on the weakest boy they can find. That was me. You sure had yourself a good time knockin’ me to the ground and spittin’ on me.”
The gunfighter was now standing inches from the hostler. Ed Horton could smell the tobacco on Torveen’s breath. “This right arm of mine is as useless as ever, Ed. Go ahead, have yourself some more fun.”
Tomorrow: Episode Two of One Arm Lightning