I’ve been on tour, and today I drove from Tucson to Phoenix, across a hundred-mile stretch of Arizona. I passed a lot of towns I’d never heard of, and it got me thinking: We all know about the Arizona towns with butch names — Tombstone, Deadwood, Red Rock, even Yuma. But we don’t hear much about towns with names like Florence and Queen Creek. With nothing to do except drive, I asked myself why, and below is the reason I came up with.

***

The door to the Chokegulch Saloon swung open, letting in a little bit of the day.

And maybe a little bit of death.

The man who stood there was dressed all in black.

A silence fell. The boys who washed away their trail dust at the Chokegulch Saloon knew that a man dressed in all black was one of two things: either a professional killer without a shred of mercy or a displaced bohemian from the Left Bank of Paris.

There was only one way to tell.

A man with backbone had to say, “Howdy, stranger.” If the man in black said, “Allo, mon ami” and offered you a baguette, he was a displaced bohemian from the Left Bank of Paris and everyone could relax. If the man in black said liplessly, “Who’s askin’?” or just shot the questioner through the forehead, you had your professional killer without a shred of mercy, and the good part of the day was over.

Old Buck, who’d been called “Old” so long he didn’t care whether he got a bullet through the forehead, said, “Howdy, stranger.”

The man in black said liplessly, “Who’s askin’?”

“Wheere ya from, stranger?” asked Old Buck, pushing his luck. Old Buck had wanted to kill himself for years, but he couldn’t spell, and the thought of a suicide note full of spelling errors was just too embarrassing.

“Wheere am I from?” the man in black said liplessly. “I’m from Florence.” He rested a hand on the silver six gun at his hip. “I’m the Florence Kid.”

There was a silence. Somebody snickered. But the snicker was cut off by the squeak of a chair being pushed across the floor as a man stood. He was also dressed all in black. “The Florence Kid, huh?” the second man said. “Heard you was fast.”

The Florence Kid nodded liplessly.

The second man held up a mutilated hand. “Mean anything to ya?”

“Mebbe” said the Florence Kid.

“I’m Three-Fingered Queen Creek Slim.”

“Yeah?” The Florence Kid flexed the fingers resting on the six-gun. “What happened to them other two fingers?”

“Pinking shears,” said Three-fingered Queen Creek Slim. “Took ‘em clean off.”

“Sewing accident?” said the Florence Kid.

“Man’s gotta look good,” Slim said. “And speaking of that, how do you keep them duds so black? Mine always go, I don’t know, sort of pearl gray after a few washin’s.”

“Gotta wash ‘em in cold water,” the Florence Kid said. “And a little tip? The ashes from your campfire. I keep ‘em in a can and just sprinkle them over the wash water.”

“Goldurn,” Slim said. “Who’d of thought?”

“I like that trim at the wrists of your shirt,” said the Florence Kid.

***

So it’s probably just as well. The myth of the West might have gone South.


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Comment by Timothy Hallinan on February 27, 2009 at 2:42pm
Thanks, Stephanie -- But every time I write about cowboys, my wife starts to look at me oddly.
Comment by Stephanie Padilla, Editor-NewMysteryReader.com on February 27, 2009 at 2:37pm
Holy Smokes and leaping lizzards, that is my version of the West after way too many screwdrivers..I love it either way! Thanks for the laughs, all I can ask is, please, do some more?

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