Another story that takes place in the West, during the latter part of the 1800's.
As usual, constructive comments, emails and critiques are welcome and appreciated.
Owensville, Texas was once a booming town; shipping ore from a large mine just outside the town limits. There was a railroad spur to ship the ore, first to El Paso and then on to smelters back east; but when the mine played out so did the prosperous future of Owensville. Twice a year a train would come down the spur to pick up cattle that local ranchers sent to market.
The town proper now consisted of a wide street flanked by weather beaten buildings and stores; many of which were closed and boarded up. The few dozen town people, several outlying homes and a couple of cattle ranches a few miles away depended on the businesses that were still operating. These included a general store that doubled as a post office, a dilapidated hotel, a gunsmith, a café, and a well frequented saloon. There was also a livery stable that was only open on an as needed basis.
Another dying town like dozens I've seen before, Caleb Thompson thought riding down the dusty main street of Owensville. He stopped his horse in front of the shabby looking hotel. This place had seen better days, was his next thought.
An old man came over to Caleb. "Stable your horse for you Mister?" At the look on Caleb's face, the man added, "I'm Joshua Nelson. I run the livery, at least when someone has need of it." He pointed to the barn like structure at the end of the street.
"Don't know if I'll be staying long enough to board my animal," Caleb answered. "Depends if the hotel has any rooms available," he continued with a small smile.
"No need to worry about that. I spect you can pick any room you want." Nelson chuckled. "You're the only customer they've had in a month."
Nodding, Caleb pulled his Winchester .44 "Yellow Boy" rifle from his saddle scabbard and pulled his saddle bags then threw a five dollar gold piece to the old man. "Take good care of Gris; he's brought me a long way. Give him a bath to get the alkaline dust off and feed him a warm oat and corn mash. I'll settle up when I leave town and I'll know if you've treated him proper."
Caleb watched for a moment as his horse was led away, turned and entered the hotel. At one time the "Hanson House" had been a very nice, even luxurious, hotel. Now, like the rest of the town, it had declined into a tired, almost threadbare place. The desk was against a wall made by the stairs leading to the upper floors. To Caleb's right several tables and chairs indicated a dining room. The space doubled as a saloon with a long, wooden bar against the back wall. The big room was empty.
No one was at the desk so he rang the service bell on the counter. Caleb laid his rifle on the desk and waited a few seconds. Then he rang the bell again; harder and longer this time. A bald headed man came through a door in the wall behind the bar looking surprised.
"Howdy. Can I help you Mister?"
"Like to get a room if you've got one available. Don't know how long I'll be staying."
"Sure thing," the man said and walked behind the desk. "Just sign the register please." He watched upside down as Caleb signed his name and then spun the big book around. "Caleb Thompson. Welcome Mr. Thompson." He turned and got a key off a rack behind the desk. "Upstairs, first door on the right. Best room in the house. I'm Moses Hanson; I own the place, so just sing out if you need anything."
"How about some supper in an hour or so?"
"Got some beef stew cooking; should be done by then," Hanson answered. "Fresh baked bread too."
"That will do just fine Mr. Hanson. See you in an hour." Caleb hefted his saddlebags, picked up his rifle and climbed the stairs. Entering the 'best room in the house', he dropped his saddle bags on a chair beside the bed and sat down in another chair. After a minute he stood and propped a chair under the doorknob to make sure the door was secure and he wouldn't be surprised.
Caleb unpacked his bags and hung his two spare shirts in a wardrobe; the dirty clothes he piled on the floor. Have to see if this place has a laundry, he thought. Someone knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" Caleb asked and pulled his Remington .44.
"It's Mary sir. I'm the maid and I have some water and towels for you."
"Just a second." Caleb pulled the chair away and opened the door. A pretty young dark haired woman stood there holding a big pitcher of water and three towels. He motioned for her to come in and watched as Mary set the items down on the dresser.
He saw a young woman about 24 with long dark hair, big brown eyes and a slender but strong looking build. For her part she saw a ruggedly handsome man of 26 or 27. He was tall and slender, but it looked like his slimness was due to lack of eating regularly. Seems like a nice man, Mary thought. If times were different I'd like to get to know him. Those gray eyes and long black hair sure give him a dangerous air.
Mary turned and asked, "Do you need anything more sir? Mr. Hanson said I was to help you unpack or turn down your bed or anything else you want, anything." She hung her head as she said the last part.
Caleb's smile slipped off his face. She sure don't look like a whore, he thought. "No Mary, thank you for your courtesy." He handed her a silver dollar and she left the room. Right nice looking young woman.
After washing up and changing his shirt, he took a small metal flask out of his saddle bags. Tilting his head back he took a long drink of the contents. "Nothing like good sour mash whiskey," he said with a smile. "Especially after the last two weeks on the trail."
He stood by the window and stared out at the high plains surrounding Owensville. "I was never so sick of a country in my life. These damn high plains are more desert than plains. Lots of buffalo grass to feed cattle but damn few water holes and some of them bad. Lucky I didn't die coming up from Mexico." He thought of his journey and its reason for a few minutes then shook himself. "Enough now."
He left the room, carefully locking it behind him and walked down to the dining room. Caleb picked a table close to a door that had to lead to the kitchen.
Hanson must have heard him coming down the stairs and very shortly walked over to the table. "Care for a whiskey before supper Mr. Thompson?"
"Not right now, but a cup of coffee would go down good."
The hotel man brought a large coffee pot and a mismatched cup and saucer. He poured the coffee and said, "Mary will bring your supper right out."
Caleb finished the large bowl of beef stew and half a loaf of bread. As Mary brought more coffee, he asked, "Did you make the stew Mary?"
"Yes sir, cooking is one of my chores."
Hanson came back just as Mary finished talking. "She's got other duties too Mr. Thompson. Be a small additional charge for those," he said with an evil smile.
Caleb stared at Hanson with eyes blazing in anger. "Mr. Hanson, you're damn near to getting yourself killed. Get the hell away from me."
"Who's gonna get killed?" A short, pot bellied man with stains on his vest and shirt had come into the hotel. "Mister, I'm Ray Dickens, I'm Sheriff in these parts. Don't hold with no talk about killing in my town."
Caleb slid his chair back from the table to give him room to get to his sidearm if necessary. "You don't abide talk but you let this piece of cow dung whore out a young woman. Reckon you're not much of a lawman, at least to my way of thinkin."
Dickens was surprised at Caleb's reaction and didn't know what to do. He stared at the young man who was obviously ready for trouble. "What's your name and why are you in Owensville?"
Caleb was mostly a law abiding man, but this sad excuse for a lawman didn't impress him. "Name's Thompson and the reason I'm in town is my business and none of yours." His look at the Sheriff was a challenge. "Best stay out of my way while I'm here Sheriff. You don't want none of what I'm dealin."
Dickens stood looking at Caleb and after a few seconds he turned and left the hotel. Caleb moved his chair closer to the table and poured another cup of coffee. Mary came out to clear away the dishes, shyly smiling at him.
"Is there some place I can get a bath Mary?"
"Yes sir. We've got a tub in a back room and I can heat water on the stove for you, if you like."
He handed Mary a five dollar gold piece. "Please heat some water and let me know when it's ready. I'll be in my room." Caleb stood, nodded at the young woman, and climbed the stairs to his room.
Shortly Mary knocked on Caleb's door. "Your bath is ready Mr. Thompson."
He opened the door and had pants, socks, and a shirt in his hands. "Is there a place I can get my laundry done? Washing them in those alkaline water holes don't do much but get rid of the smell."
"I can do them for you Mr. Thompson." As Caleb reached into his pocket for a coin, she added, "No extra charge sir. The five dollars for getting a bath ready is plenty."
Caleb handed her three dollars. "You should get paid." He hesitated and said, "Speakin of gettin paid, why do you let Hanson ... well ... rent you out to people?"
Mary looked around as if she was embarrassed. After a few seconds she said, "My Pa ran off and left me and Ma about ten years ago. We were gettin by but then six months ago Ma got the fever and died. I didn't have the money to bury her and Mr. Hanson paid for the funeral. He said I could live at the hotel and work off my debt. Seems I can never get ahead enough to pay him back."
.... There is more of this story ...