The Shiner Man’s covered wagon walked across the desert on six metal legs. Duncan Bismuth, as the fella was named, sat atop the clanking apparatus and did his level best to convince his mule to walk a straight line. The animal, which went by the name of Belch, was at least as drunk as his master. Between the two of them, they cut a pig’s tail across the prairie on their way to a shallow little town called Gunshow.
It took the three, man, mule, and walking wagon, longer than it should have to close the distance, probably because they stopped a few times to ask directions of a cactus. The Shiner Man mistakenly considered himself well ahead of schedule due to the fact that his pocket watch was six weeks broke. Their tardiness was noticed by no one, ‘cause no one expected them to arrive. Nevertheless, they were greeted at the county line by a skeleton hanging off a sign at the crossroads leading to town.
“Hello there, mister,” the Shiner Man said to the corpse. “Ain’t this the road to Gunshow?”
Being dead and all, the skeleton said nothing, but a hand-painted sign hung around his neck read “MOONSHINER.”
“Oh, I see. Bad luck, old chum.”
Belch hee-hawed mournfully at the bones and sidled on down the road.
When they got to within spitting distance of the town, two horsemen rode up to meet them. They were rough-looking boys with three-day beards and scatter guns, obvious guards. The Shiner Man rubbed his bleary eyes with a free hand and pulled back the reins with the other, bringing Belch to a whinesome halt. The wagon stumbled a few more steps and collided with the mule’s ass before stopping.
“Good day to you, boys, have I arrived in Gunshow?”
The two guards looked at each other, then at the wagon, then back at each other.
“Grude,” said the first. “Just what in the hell kind of carriage is this?”
“I don’t know, Pillow, but it sure is ugly as shit.”
Pillow sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. “It smells like a still. Don’t it?”
Grude smiled a crooked smile and nodded. “It sure does.”
“Boonwaller County is dry, you know that don’t you, mister? You have any idea what Sheriff Brady does to moonshiners in these parts?”
The Shiner Man tipped his hat back and twitched his moustache. He jumped off his seat and rapped the side of the wagon with a long-handled cane. Presently, an elaborate banner unfurled which read Professor Bismuth and Company Miracle Elixirs.
“You see?” he said. “No trouble, gentlemen. I’m just an honest entrepreneur looking for a market.”
Pillow and Grude laughed and grinned coyote grins. “Who in the hells is your company then? I only see one of you.”
Belch hee-hawed and glanced back at them. The Shiner Man winked in turn.
“Smile and play games as you like, stranger, but if this thing is a still, you’re libel to hang,” Pillow said.
“You and your jackass,” agreed Grude.
The Shiner Man tsk-tsked and Belch hee-hawed, offended. “Why, sirs, you surprise me with such harsh implications. Professor Bismuth and Company’s Restorative Tonics contain oodles and tons of the finest components and healthsome compounds ever assembled.”
“Yeah?” said Pillow, “Like what?”
The Shiner Man threw out his hands in an artistic flourish and began dancing and shuffling around. He bumped a lever on the wagon with his hindquarters that started a record spinning on a phonograph.
“I’m glad you asked. It’s got Jessum squeezings, coriander, peyote leavings, and salamander. Saw grass, blue grass, laudanum too, swamp gas, sea bass, ballyhoo. Fifteen secret herbs and spices, mixed by dangerous dee-vices! Distilled and brewed and served up cold, it fixes the sick and renews the old! No malady can long withstand it, ‘cause that’s how Professor Bismuth planned it! Your natural vigor will enhance, you’ll sprout a ramrod in your pants! So come on gents and don’t delay, buy your-self a jug today!”
His speech delivered, he stood there panting, dripping sweat, and still holding up his hands in a dramatic pose. The record skipped a few times before petering out.
Pillow fixed Bismuth with a suspicious gaze and leaned over to Grude. “Is he addled, you figure? Why in the hells does he talk like that?”
“I don’t know, but it sure is irritating. Speak plain, huckster. Does this bug-looking doohickey make booze or not?”
With another flourish, the Shiner Man produced two mason jars filled with clear liquid. They were so cold that a frosty film of condensation covered their surface. It was a hot day, and both guards looked on the offering with hunger in their eyes.
“’Booze’ is a peasant’s word, my good man. Not fit to describe our company’s fine line of medicinal refreshments. But, I suppose if you fellows aren’t thirsty, I could just pour these out and move along.”
Grude shook his head and reached out to take one of the jars. The Shiner Man moved the frosty jar away from his hand and flipped a little switch on his belt with one elbow. The top of his top hat flipped open like a trashcan lid; the underside read “10 Bucks a jug.”
“We ain’t got to pay you to make sure you ain’t breakin’ the law.”
The Shiner Man frowned and dropped his airs. “No one drinks for free. Ten bucks a jug, no exceptions.”
They grimaced and growled, but paid just the same.
Minutes later, Grude started a staring contest with the far horizon and Pillow began talking philosophy to his horse. The Shiner Man left them to their business and coaxed Belch onward into town.
The Mayor of Gunshow, Bartleby Volstead, glowered at the streets over the banister of his office’s grand porch. He admired the heady miasma of sobriety hanging over his borough like a dry cloud. The fog was his, and it smelt just fine. Satisfied that all was quiet, he turned his attention to the day’s newspaper. He leaned back on his chair and scanned the articles for telltale signs of dissent.
His daughter and unwilling secretary, Vera, stood under the umbrella by him. Her hands were wrapped around a red portfolio. Her sun goggles revealed nothing.
“Are those the election numbers?”
“The revised ones, yes.”
He wagged a finger at his offspring. “’Refined’, child, ‘refined’. What are the results?”
She didn’t dignify him with a sigh. “You won with one hundred percent of the vote.”
“Yes, it appears that even your opponent voted against himself.”
Mayor Volstead nodded and went back to his paper. “That’s the way democracy works. Dynamic mathematics and proper oversight give the people the results they need.”
Vera tried to stop herself from hissing but didn’t succeed.
“What are you mad about? You’ve got a job for another four years, and this town full of weak-willed peons gets the leadership they require to live correctly. Why, without a steady hand at the helm, Boonwaller County would be overrun by bootleggers, rum runners, booze barons, and other sundry scofflaws. What’s the problem, dear?”
She looked toward the sky and tried to recall a time when she hadn’t wanted her old man to drop dead. No such recollection came to mind. “Aside from your venality, Sheriff Brady arrested my fiancé this morning... again. I assume at your direction.”
“Oh? Whatever for?”
“Riding an unshod horse.”
“I see. Well, dear, the law is the law.”
“While he was sitting indoors, eating breakfast.”
Mayor Volstead waved her off. “How many times must I endure your malcontent before you accept a better stationed par amour? The good sheriff for instance...”
Vera grimaced. “I’d rather eat my dress, thank you.”
He shrugged. “Would you mind fetching me another iced tea, dear? Try not to spit in it this time. And send for Franks. That news buffoon has made another typographical error.”
He passed her a glass full of ice cubes. She accepted it but didn’t hop-to.
“Father,” she said.
“I hate you.”
He waved her off when she said it, just as he always did. Like her mother, Vera had never learned her proper station. Mayor Volstead was confident that she would in the fullness of time.
When she was gone, he turned his gaze back on his newspaper, but something else nagged at his attention: a peculiar clicking clacking sound and the occasional baying of some unfamiliar nag. He peeked over the banister again just in time to see a six-legged wagon skitter onto Church Street and out of view. A familiar stench hung in the air.
“What in the precious hells is that?” he said.
Ema Blackwell, lone preacher of Gunshow, was a sight too young for the crow’s feet next to her eyes. She groaned through her sermon, using the same dirge-like cadence reserved in happier provinces for funerals.
The congregation moaned and farted quietly through the service. They sang joyless old hymns and shuffled up to the communion cup for their weekly drink of apple juice. It was all they were allowed, due to town ordinance. Preacher Blackwell administered the draught, splashing dull drink over glum tongues ‘till the benediction was done. It was the same ritual this week as it had been the week before. Chances were good it’d be likewise in the week ahead.
Before she sent her weary flock back into the world that made them so, she asked if there were any announcements: weddings, sales, or the like. An unfamiliar hand poked up in the back row. It belonged to stranger wearing long white vestments and a hierophant’s hat nearly as tall again as he was. Curiously, there was a ragged-looking mule sitting in the back row as well.
“Who are you?” Blackwell asked. “And why did you bring that animal in here?”
“I prithee, never mind my acolyte. I’m just a traveling proclaimer spreading good cheer. If you’ll hear me, I’ll take it as kindness, my dear.”
The crowd seemed to wake up. Blackwell shrugged and stepped to one side. The heretical figure moseyed up to the front of the hall and bowed low in old formal style.
“Friends, neighbors, and kind folk of Gunshow, is there anyone here who suffers from a malady of the mind? An affliction of the body? Corruption of their very soul?”
The gathering murmured, unsure of what to make of the man. He swirled his robes about and pointed at a bent old woman in the first row.
“You there, good matron, can you not feel the years bearing down on you? Have you not wished in the watches of the night for some gods-damned relief?”
The old lady, all spectacles and shaking hands, nodded and mumbled. The man walked up to her, cupped her papery chin in his hands, and gazed deeply into her rheumy eyes.
“What are you doing?” asked Blackwell.
“Working miracles, dear Preacher. Now then,” he said, producing a large glass jug from under his robes. “Drink some of this.”
Without further pleasantry, he smooshed the crone’s lips together and poured a good knock of clear liquid down her throat. She sputtered and coughed, but before Blackwell could protest, the old woman was on her feet, back straight, hands reaching out toward the sky.
“Amen!” she exclaimed.
“Amen,” returned the congregation.
The odd fellow tossed off his robes and hat and pushed the old woman into Blackwell’s arms.
“Behold friends, the spirit of spirits will set your faith right! Your redemption’s at hand and the future looks bright. Why, even the gods will look down with delight! When sinners sip sauce full of white lighting light.”
Folks all over were standing and cheering and rushing toward the pulpit. The Shiner Man quaffed a few gulps of the substance himself then spat a mouthful at a lit candle, sending a huge fireball over the crowd. When the blaze cleared he was holding up a parchment that read “10 Bucks a Jug.”
When her congregation began filling the collection plate with silver coins, Blackwell recovered herself and ran up to the odd fellow. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you can’t sell hooch in my church.”
He winked and held out his top hat. “Don’t worry, preacher, I’ll tithe you in for twenty percent.”
Blackwell looked at the hat, then at the sad goblet of apple juice, then back at her suddenly cheerful congregation. Shrugging, she fished out a silver from her pocket and dropped it in.
The wall of Sheriff Brady’s office was a singular exhibition of state of the art weaponry. Shooters and knives of every possible description hung on gilded hooks or shined wickedly from behind display cases. The centerpiece was a three-story high suit of cogwork armor, called an aegis. The right breast was a massive brass plate in the shape of a star. The war machine sat cross-legged in one corner, bristling with guns, polished to a fine glow.
Sheriff Brady himself sat on top of his desk in similar repose, half-naked save for his war scars and tattoos, his eyes half-closed in meditation. His bulging muscles stood out under his skin like twisted steel cables. If it hadn’t been for the decor behind him, he’d have nearly looked serene.
Before him, two rows of prison cells stretched back into the dark. One of the cells was occupied. Two of his deputies hung upside down on the on the door of another.
Sam Barnes, the prisoner, placidly ate his gruel and listened to his jailor grill his employees.
“Now, fellas,” Sheriff Brady started, “when you two began working for me we had us a little conversation about the meaning of duty. Do you remember that?”
Pillow and Grude, both gagged with bandanas, nodded in unison. Sweat poured off them, running down their cheeks, dripping off their hair.
“That’s right fellas, real good,” Sheriff Brady said. “Duty is what makes lawmen what they are. If we didn’t have duty, what would we be?”
The deputies tried to answer, but nothing intelligible made it past their gags.
“Kinky?” offered Sam.
“Shut up, Barnes, or you’re next.”
Sam held up his hands and went back to his gruel. Ever since he began courting the mayor’s daughter, he had learned many painful lessons about resisting Sheriff Brady by force.
“We’d be criminals, boys—godless, petty criminals running roughshod over the land. Violence is in both of us, lawmen and criminals, but it is duty that makes what we do right. It makes us justified.”
Sheriff Brady savored the last word as though he were about to go into raptures. Coming back to himself, he jumped off his desk and unhitched a long-handled whip from its hook on the wall. When he uncurled it across the floor, the deputies’ eyes went white and rolled around in their heads.
Sam tilted his head to one side with faux sympathy. It was Grude and Pillow after all who’d dragged him in that morning on trumped-up charges, and not for the first time. “I guess this is one of those on-the-job hazards, eh boys?”
Sheriff Brady ignored him and gave the weapon an experimental crack in the air. “You fellas have a duty to me. I have a duty to the mayor. The mayor has a duty to the Almighty. The Almighty is The Law. Do you get me? It’s all a chain, and each of us is a link. If there is one thing that a chain can’t abide, it’s weakness.”
Not one for violence, Sam looked away for the beating. He could hear it, though, and it didn’t sound good.
It only stopped when Mayor Volstead walked in off the street. Sam’s would-be father-in-law was not a welcome sight, but Sam was happy enough that the deputies’ beating was over. They hung pathetically, both passed out cold.
“You’re a gods-damned monster, Brady,” Sam said. “And you’re just as bad, Pa.”
Mayor Volstead walked over and put his hand on the sheriff’s shoulder, ignoring Sam. “Some administrative issues, Brady?” he asked.
Sheriff Brady smiled and shook his head, coiling the whip around his forearm. “Just getting some things straight with the boys. When one of them wakes up, they’re going to tell me where they got their hands on some ardent spirits.”
“That’s what I came to talk with you about,” the mayor said. “I think we may have a little problem.”
The patrons of The Darling Darjeeling Tea House were mostly forge workers and ranch hands; honest common folk who’d all been on the job too long. Disgracefully, at the end of their day all they had to mollify their earthly troubles was a hot cup of chamomile, or at best some iced oolong. Bigby Cellars, proprietor of The Darling, scrubbed mugs and shelled out scones, and pined for the days when his joint had still been called The Leering Bastard. Those had been promising days, when Boonwaller County was green and growing and the sheriff was an old coot with a lazy conscience.
His recent failed run for mayor had Cellars down in the dumps. His patrons didn’t seem thrilled about it neither. But that was life and fair was fair, and all a-body could do was try and make the best of a bad situation; at least that’s how things had been ‘till the Shiner Man arrived.
He rode up to the front as bold as you please on a walking wagon pulled by a cross-eyed mule. Before Cellars could say ‘boo’, the fella slid a jug of clear white tipple down the bar and into his hands. The parcheesi and domino games came to a sudden halt. The harpsichord player gave it a rest. Cellars smacked his lips and poured a shot into a freshly cleaned teacup. He knocked back the booze and howled like a coydog. Then things got a bit hazy.
Folks were laughing and dancing and carrying-on like sideshow curiosities. They flipped over tables, slapped each other on the backs, and tossed their cookies into the spittoon. A posse was formed to push the harpsichord into the back alley and shoot it full of holes. The mule got dressed up in a grass skirt and went blundering around upstairs. The dominoes got burned, and the tea was tossed and someone dragged the old Leering Bastard sign up from the root cellar. A bunch of church-going folk, already four sheets to the wind, pushed in a proper piano and started everyone singing.
It was delightful anarchy, but not fated to last. The Shiner Man was standing on the bar, still peddling and hawking for all he was worth, when Sheriff Brady and his goons busted through the door.
Even when the crowd went silent, the Shiner Man kept right on slurring through his patter. “The finest reagents from faraway places, it’ll cure all your ills and melt off your faces! So bugger the lawyers and damn the expense, come pony up hard-earned dollars and cents! Professor Bismuth brews the right cure—”
He didn’t have time to say any more. Sheriff Brady dragged him off the bar and out into the street. The mule upstairs put up a fight, but it too was hog-tied, as much as was possible on a mule, and carted away.
Cellars and his patrons watched from the door and windows. In front of the whole town Sheriff Brady pulled back the canvas on the Shiner Man’s covered wagon. The apparatus beneath clicked and whirred and puffed steam like a chimney. While its workings were vastly complicated, Cellars recognized a still when he saw one. Thumper keg, mash hopper, worm box, and furnace were all fancified with a mile of copper tubes, gauges, valves, and widgets. The whole get-up drained between the clockwork legs where innumerable jars dangled, suckling at metal tits like so many glass piglets
“Moonshiner,” Sheriff Brady growled.
Those listening removed their hats and placed them over their hearts, all of them knowing what would come next for the stranger and his walking still.
The dawn saw Bismuth and Belch in adjacent cells across from Sam Barnes. Bismuth crawled away from a beam of encroaching daylight, trying to fend it off by squinting and waving his hat. Belch lay on his back, tongue lolling out of his mouth, legs grotesquely splayed out.
Sam regarded the newcomers with curious sympathy. “What’s your name, mister?” he asked the fella. “And what kind of trumped-up charges did they stick you with?”
The Shiner Man tipped his hat and extended a paw through the bars. Sam shook it, catching a caustic whiff of the stranger’s breath. “Duncan Bismuth, CEO and proprietor of the most industrious enterprise this side of the Pynchon Divide: Professor Bismuth and Company’s Miracle Elixirs. I’m sure you’ve heard of us.”
Sam shook his head.
“You seem like a savvy young financier,” Bismuth continued. “No doubt you’ll want to buy in right away while our stock prices are low. A canny move, but I’ll warn you fairly, my fiscal advisor is as shrewd as they come.”
Belch righted himself and poked his nose through the bars of his cell, then hee-hawed in agreement.
Sam raised an eyebrow at the animal. “What in the hells are you talking about?”
Bismuth squinted hard at the prisoner. “Are you not an investor?”
“Then why are you at the convention?”
Sam peered about the dingy row of cells and wondered for a moment if he was the one losing his mind. “This is a jail, mister.”
Bismuth ran his chubby hand across the bars and pondered his condition, rubbing his stubbly chin and scratching his flattened hair. “Shits!” he exclaimed. “You’re right! How are you going to invest at a place like this? Hardly suitable for business, I say. We should speak to the event coordinator at once.”
Sam stepped back from the bars and sat on his cot, shaking his head. “You’re mad.”
“Mad for profit, perhaps.”
“Nah, just plain old mad. If you’re half the moonshiner you smell like, I feel for you. Mayor Volstead is a capital-T totalitarian, and his dog, Brady, is meaner than the devil.”
Bismuth scoffed. “I’ll have you know, young man, that I have the best lawyer in the Federated Territories at my disposal.”
He shot a knowing wink at Belch, who hee-hawed litigiously at Sam. Then he magiced a flask out of nowhere and toasted Sam as if to say “so there.” Sam was just about to tell him to hide the thing when Sheriff Brady and Mayor Volstead darkened the doorway.
“Making illicit connections, Mr. Barnes?” Mayor Volstead said. “I should have expected. What my daughter sees in you I’ll never fathom.”
Holding a dainty lace napkin over his nose, the mayor tiptoed to the Shiner Man’s cell and regarded him with watery blue eyes. “You sir, stink of moral failure.”
Bismuth raised his flask in the mayor’s direction and nodded. “If you enjoy the aroma, you’ll love the taste. Why, no governor can govern without lubrication, and we sell the most stimulating libation! To fortify thinking and sharpen—”
Sheriff Brady rapped the cell door with his truncheon. “I done told you, mister. I won’t abide rhyming and fancy talk around here.”
“Have ya’ll outlawed that too?” Sam said.
The sheriff pointed his weapon at Sam. “Keep your mouth shut, Barnes.”
Mayor Volstead reached out and snatched Bismuth’s flask away. Bismuth shrank back, sullen. The mayor sniffed the container and pulled a face. He then began shaking out its contents on the ground. “Hideous poison! Wretched, wretched, demon piss! You deviants and outlaws never learn. You must be taught, bloody-well taught to respect the— What in the hells? Where did you get that?”
He glanced up to see Bismuth take a knock from a second flask. Mayor Volstead looked from one container to the next before pitching the first at Sheriff Brady’s chest. “Did you even search this man?”
The sheriff looked at his feet, embarrassed. He reached through the bars and snatched away the second flask then chucked it out the open window. Sam couldn’t help but laugh.
“I want this man taken care of, Brady,” Mayor Volstead ordered. “I don’t care how you do it, but I don’t want to see this criminal or that freakish machine you have parked outside again.”
Mayor Volstead stalked away, muttering curses at the town and all creation as he went. Sheriff Brady spun on his heel and scowled through the bars at the Shiner Man. His fury morphed into a manic sneer. “All right then, mister, you heard the mayor. As the ranking law officer in these parts, I hereby sentence you to death by duel. Saves us all that meaningless paperwork.”
Bismuth pondered these words as though trying to cipher through some greatly complicated equation. “I’m sorry, what was the question?”
“He means you’re going to die in the street at high noon tomorrow,” Sam offered.
Bismuth nodded sagely. “Ah ha! Oh, oh no. That sounds terrible. Don’t I at least get to speak with my lawyer in private?”
Belch hee-hawed an objection. Sheriff Brady shook his head and pointed at the wall of weapons behind his desk. “You most certainly do not, but seeing as I’m a sporting man, I’ll let you choose how you’re gonna die.”
Bismuth took a swig out of yet another flask and stroked his chin. The incredulous look this brought to Sheriff Brady’s face made Sam’s day, despite the circumstances. “Well, if it must end in violence. I’ll pit you and your aegis there against me and my walker, provided you grant me the balance of my time to prepare.”
Brady smiled and nodded. “Deal.”
Gunshow wasn’t much of a town for gossip, but when word went ‘round that Sheriff Brady and his aegis were going to fight the Shiner Man and a giant booze-powered insect, pretty soon it was all anyone was talking about. Folks showed up at the steamworks to watch the Shiner Man in action. Though he was piss drunk, he worked with uncanny exactitude. From the best that anyone could figure, he was constructing a massive brass nozzle and attaching an extra-large steam tank on top of his wagon.
He had plenty of help. Patrons from The Darling, the mayor’s daughter, a retinue of church-goers, and even the bandaged figures of Pillow and Grude leant their hands. Though none of them knew what the hells they were up to, and more than half of them were twice over the barrel, they got the tank and nozzle attached. They packed the big brass tube with everything they could find: scraps and bits, cogs and wire, railroad ties, rubber tires, empty bottles, bullets, shoes, chunks of sandstone, nails and screws. All manner of bric-a-brak went into the nozzle. Then, they got to brewing.
The stars twinkled bright that evening, and a full moon rose over Gunshow. A wisp of funky smoke snaked up over the steamwork and mingled with dry cloud hanging over city hall. There wasn’t much to hope for, but there was a little.
The next morning was lost to one big collective hangover. Citizens nursing insidious headaches lined Main Street, doing their level best to stay in the boardwalk shade. Many of them wore black.
It took a fair piece of time just to get the sheriff’s aegis out onto the street. The better part of the wall had to be taken out. By half past eleven it stood at the ready, like thirty feet of bad news shining in the mid-day sun. Sheriff Brady sat inside the metal beast on his control saddle, both hands encased in clockwork gauntlets that caused the metal giant to mirror his actions.
From his perspective, the teetering, mule-hauled walking wagon that limped onto the street before him looked like a spider ready to be stepped on. He used his helmet goggles to lay in his guns. He wouldn’t need them, of course, but he liked the idea of Bismuth squirming at the sight of that much iron pointed toward him.
“Are you ready to die, shiner?” he said over the loudspeaker.
“I’m quite ready for lunch,” the Shiner Man yelled back. “If you’d like to re-consider this, Sheriff.”
Belch hee-hawed in agreement. Even at a distance, the sound put Brady’s teeth on edge.
“Make your peace with the gods, dead man.”
Mayor Volstead watched from his great porch above them, sipping iced tea and counting the seconds until high noon. Sam in his cell stood on his waste bucket to get a better view through the window bars. Preacher Blackwell waited nearby, already humming the Dirge of Rites in preparation for what was to come. Vera Volstead stood between the two combatants holding a red flag above her head. When the town clock struck noon, the flag touched the ground and the two contraptions got to it.
Laughing furiously through the loudspeaker, Brady tramped and stomped his way toward his opponent. Bismuth didn’t seem to care a thing about it. He fiddled with his busted pocket watch, holding it up to his ear and shaking it for good measure. Belch chewed a hay straw and tracked a solitary fly that was buzzing ‘round his head. Brady extended his huge metal arms and bore down on them, fast. Parents covered the eyes of young folks so they wouldn’t catch nightmares.
Just before Brady had them in his grasp, Belch hee-hawed the order to fire. Bismuth sighed unhappily then flipped the lever at his side that ignited eight hours’ worth of pressurized booze gas. The make-shift cannon went off with a colossal BLAM and punched a giant hole right through one side of the aegis and out the other.
From his vantage point above, Mayor Volstead had time to see daylight on the other side of the colossus. A shiny brass star the size of dinner table soared above town on a wave of scattershot. The mayor looked up to see it twinkle in the sun before it came crashing down on top of him, along with tons of bric-a-brak and smoldering chunks of sheriff. The great porch caved in on itself and tumbled into the street below.
When the smoke cleared, Bismuth and Belch were covered head to toe in soot but otherwise no worse for wear. Before anyone could so much bat an eyelash, the Shiner Man unfolded a table next to his wagon and laid out a few rows of frosty jugs. “Who wants a drink?” he asked.
Just about everybody did.
The good folk of Gunshow scooped up what was left of Sheriff Brady and Mayor Volstead and buried them together near an outland hog farm under a “No Smoking” sign, ‘cause that’s the kind of fellas they always were.
Cellars was made mayor by a special election, and Vera Volstead became Vera Barnes that very night with the blessings of Preacher Blackwell. The blushing bride and her husband, Sheriff Sam, invited everyone to the ceremony. The whole town came out for the party that followed, and refreshments were plentiful at ten bucks a jug.
Morning saw a lot of sore heads in Boonwaller County, but of the Shiner Man and his mule there was no sign. Toting along a fat sack of silver coins, three figures beat it westward. With nary a care or a memory to restrain them, man, mule, and walking wagon cut a pig’s tail toward the horizon.