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Cole Hornback - "Calm before the storm" Chapter 3
The calm before the storm
Smoke filled the Middle River Saloon with cheap cigars, the chattering of worn out ranchers and regular customers echoing off of the cedar planked walls. Skinner and I strolled in to make an appearance to remind them all, that there was some law around this town, and to keep things from getting out of control. I had become the “talk” of the town ever since that night Jim Spencer was introduced to his maker. Now that I was a deputy, I was making all sorts of new acquaintances who kept trying to buy me drinks, but Skinner had to keep reminding them that I was still the Marshals boy, and he wasn’t going to be responsible for letting me grow up too fast. Even though he treated me as an adult, he also reminded me often, that I still had much to learn, and I needed to keep my wits about me, because the Spencer gang could stir up a hornets nest at any given moment.
Well sure enough, speak of the devil himself, in strolled Harlan, his two boys and three other cowhands, neither of us had ever seen before. The echoes from the chattering became very quite as they made their way to a table and took a seat. Skinner ordered a shot of whiskey and quickly knocked his head back and gulped it down, wiping his mouth with his forearm and laying his shot glass on the counter all in one non-stop motion. He motioned with a nod of his head for me to follow him. We made our way over to the Spencer table. Skinner politely acknowledged Harlan and asked him if he was in town for business or pleasure. The Skinners lived on the far end of Madison County and even though Jim spent most of his time in town, Harlan usually came in only for business. “Old man” Harlan said “I’m here for both…cuz it is going to be a pleasure to do the business I came here for” he replied with some laughter coming from his crew…”Bar Tend!! Bring us a bottle a whiskey!” Skinner laughing along with them said, “well let me be the first to introduce you to my new deputy…..Cole Hornback”. The laughing stopped as we made eye contact, I nodded...”Harlan”….Harlan, just stared back at me, with a cold look in his eyes, without blinking he yelled “Bar Keep!!! Make that TWO bottles!!” A piano started playin and the chattering started back up, echoing once again off of those cedar planks.
Sometimes I feel as if I need to pinch myself to see if I am still in some sort of dream or nightmare. All I know was that not too long ago my biggest concern was getting my chores done so I could get in on some fishing on the river or impress Elli Taylor who I went to school with and had been sweet on since I was old enough to walk. Now, I have not only been responsible for ending a man’s life, seeing my Ma lose a battle with health, wondering where my Pa is, and if he is even alive. I have sent my sister away and now I am on the verge of dealing with an angry Harlan Spencer, who wants revenge for my actions.
Skinner and I decided to fetch ourselves a bite to eat next door to the Saloon, and keep an eye on Harlan and his boys. Elli was a waitress in the diner and I could tell by the look on her face that she was awful worried about me; she cleared off a table next to the front window, where Skinner and my father would always sit. It allowed them to keep an eye on things as they would sometimes sit, drink coffee and catch up on the local gossip with the regular locals. We know sooner began to eat when we noticed the three hired hands that come in with Harlan was strolling past the diner towards the other side of town. I was ready to jump up and follow them, but Skinner told me to sit back down and finish off our dinner. “Let them boys be for now”. He proceeded to lecture me on the importance of eatin a good meal, and not getting all worked up over things you can’t control. “How about a piece of pie?” ol Skinner said to me with a big ol cheesy grin. My appetite was not all that good, but Skinner had a way of always making things lighter for me. Elli cut us a nice slice of fresh apple pie, and we both finished it off and topped it off with a cup of coffee. I was starting to feel a sense of confidence. Skinner was amazing to me, and he has taught me so much these last few days, I would be for ever grateful to him.
Feeling much better, I picked up the bill and paid Elli for our meal, and even managed to muster up enough coolness to give her a small kiss on her jaw, as I put on my Stetson. We strolled back over to the Middle River Saloon. Skinner wanted to have a little chat with Harlan.
There seemed to be a little tension as we flung the bar room doors wide and entered. I had noticed the second bottle of whiskey that Harlan had, was nearly empty, and the Spencer boys were looking a little flushed. Skinner spun a chair around backwards and sat in it with the back of the chair facing Harlan and rested his hands on top of it. “I certainly hope y’all are enjoying yourselves tonight, but I feel I owe it to you, and remind you that our job is to keep things peaceful in Winterset. If there was any intention of doing anything that might force us to utilize our given skills to fulfill our sworn in duties, we are more than eager to comply, and with that said” Skinner said as he slapped the table “Enjoy your stay in town”.