Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bad Day In Rockbump

T.P. Gunn slowly and painfully opened one eye to glimpse the early morning street life from his unique vantage point under the saloon porch. Besides the pressing need to relieve his headache and clear his vision, he also felt the vague need to know - under what saloon, on what street, and for that matter, in what town.

TP rolled from his side to his back just as a small heard of steers being moved by one drover passed down the street. All he could see were their legs. As they moved by, the already warm morning breeze coated him with the dust they stirred. As he began to massaged his cheeks, eyes, and temples, he realized that he had a couple of days of growth on his face.

For a few more minutes, TP just lay there on his back. He started listening to the small talk of several men parked above him on the porch. Occasionally, the clank of boot heels rattled on the boards of the porch as the through traffic of the morning moved back and forth.

Finally, after a few minutes, in a whisper that only he could hear, he breathed, "Well TP, with dignity - always with dignity."

With that he rolled from under the porch as gingerly as he could - under the circumstances. He then stood straight up. However, his circulatory system did not. It was still in his feet. Finding, therefore, no means to support his consciousness, he immediately plummeted back to the ground in a cloud of dust. Raucous laughter immediately erupted from the porch.

Realizing that a picture was worth a thousand words, TP saw no need to waste any. Completely abandoning his quest for dignity, he thought it wiser to simply seek the refreshment of a nearby watering trough. So, now embracing the philosophy that "appearances aren't everything," he crawled to the trough.

The water was still cool. It felt really good on his face.

After about five minutes of alternating between "bird bathing" and "stupor sitting," on the side of the trough, TP decided to try standing again. This time, moving more slowly and leaning on the pump that supplied the trough, he made it.

"All right," he said, talking to himself and squinting narrowly to survey his surroundings. "This standin' stuff ain't half bad. The air is a mite cleaner up here. I shoulda' tried this years ago."

TP continued to lean heavily on the pump while his head cleared a bit. Several passers-by smiled and pointed and spoke under their breath. Then a tall, heavy set man with thick wrists and fully grayed hair walked up to let his horse drink. After a long moment of silence he said, "Hear you're lookin' for me, TP."

TP turned to squint in his direction, but without much luck of actually being able to make him out. "Well, I might be," he said with a tongue that was still a little thick. "Who are you?"

"I'm Will Hammer."

"Will Hammer!?" TP chirped, just as his wet hand slipped off the pump to land his upper half, rump high and elbow deep in the watering trough. After a bit of splashing to extricate himself from the water, which he finally did on the third attempt, TP groaned a matter of fact question, "If your Hammer, why ain't I dead?"

"You look like you are," Hammer quipped dryly.

"Well, I ain't" TP fired back, "but on reflection, it may be that I might prefer it."

"I hope so Gunn, because by the time this day is out, it's likely you won't have a choice."

"Well now, 'at remains to be seen don't it, lawman."

Hammer relaxed a bit, smiled, and sat down on the side of the trough. "Yeah, I guess it does." He lit a small, thin cigar and handed it to Gunn who was still trying to dry his hands on his shirt.

"I guess it had to come to this didn't it TP. Seems like it's been makin' up for a long time."

"Yeah, I guess it has Hammer." A knowing smile now crossed Gunn's leathery face as he continued. "The last of the old time Rangers, against the last of the real gunslingers, in the last year of the century. Ain't that a kick. I've paid good money to see less doins' than that.

Hammer nodded in thoughtful agreement. Then after a pause he said, "You look old TP."

"I am old Will, and wore slap out. And the worst part is, I can't seem to find no place to sit - so to speak."

Yep, the world's changed TP. There ain't no place for your kind any more - if there ever was."

"Oh, but there is for your kind?" Gunn returned as he looked sideways at Hammer.

"My kind? You mean my rip roarin', pistol toten', shoot first and sort out the mess later kind? Oh yeah. There's a place for my kind. It's called a re'-tirement home. I got one all picked out in Abilene. I'm headin' over there right after I finish with you. I'll have my very own, fancy, little, lace draped waitin' room."

"Waitin' room for what?" TP asked.

Hammer looked around at Gunn, but said nothing.

"Oh, yeah," TP said, after a second or two. Gunn continued to squint in the bright morning sun. "Hammer, I got a feelin' the one who loses today, will be the one who wins."

Hammer nodded.
"Say Hammer, where are we anyway?" TP asked after a brief lull.

"Didn't you read the sign?" Hammer pointed to the small metal placard on the pump that served the water trough.

TP eased his way back to the pump end of the trough. With his nose almost against the sign, he quietly mouthed the writing, "Prop-er-ty of Rock Bump, Texas. Rock Bump Texas! How in the world did we wind up in Rock Bump, Texas?"

Well, you came down the west road through Sheep Dip, and I came from the east through Toad," Hammer said matter-of-factly.

Just then, a round faced little man with heavy jowls and mutton chop sideburns approached the two men. "Excuse me gentlemen," he said. My name is Horace Fenwick. I'm the mayor of Rock Bump."

"Pleased to meet you mayor," Hammer responded. I'm...

"Oh, we know who you are, Mr. ranger," the mayor said as he shook Hammer's hand vigorously. "Everybody in these parts has heard o' you. And, we also got wind of what you're gonna' do today."

"And, what would that be, Mayor?" Hammer queried.

"Come now, Mr. Hammer. Mr. Gunn told us all about it in the saloon last night just before he, ah, departed. He said, you two were gonna' have it out."

Hammer looked around at TP as if to say, "You did what!" Gunn just look away in the opposite direction.

"Well gentlemen, I won't beat around the bush." The mayor became more excited now that he had come to the point. "I've met with our city counsel. And we want to give you boys the warmest invite to use Rock Bump for your show down."

TP's head now snapped back around. "Pardon me?" he said with obvious astonishment.

"In plain English men, we want you to do your business here, in Rock Bump." the mayor confirmed.

"Why?" TP asked.

"Don't you see? You two can put us on the map. It's 1899 boys. The modern age is upon us. Nothing like this happens much any more. 'Y this might very well be the last, sure 'nuff, actual, bonafid-e gunfight in the state o' Texas. If it is, you can see what that'll do for our fair town can't you?" The celebrities looked at each other.

"Come on, boys. Sheep Dip got the rail head. And Toad's got the river traffic.  At least let Rock Bump have the gun fight. We're prepared to give you the key to the city if-n' you'll do it."

Again TP and Will Hammer looked at each other. Neither could now restrain a grin. They both knew that they never intended a change of venue, anyway. So, after a moment of mock reservations, they finally agreed.

The mayor then pulled off his well worn straw hat and clutched it to his chest. "Thanks gents," he said with sincere gratitude. Then he turned and waived his hat as a signal to the town's folk, who were watching from the porches and windows of the four buildings that made up Rock Bump's downtown proper.

Then the mayor turned back to the men. "Now, you boys get on down to the general store down yonder when you're ready. We got a cafe in there; and your breakfast is waitin'. And it's all on the city of Rock Bump.

"Well, thank you, mayor," TP said brightly now. "Seems like I could use a morsel or two."

"No, my friend, thank you," the mayor replied. The mayor then turned and move away, but TP had another thought.

"Mayor," he called. The mayor turned. "One more question. Where did this town get a name like Rock Bump?"

"Well, I don't rightly know," the mayor returned. "Why?"

"Well, I just thought, seein' as how me or Hammer is gonna' be buried here... Well, I was just thinking about the sound of it."

"Well, you can be proud to have your buryin' associated with the town of Rock Bump sir. And besides, you really only got two other choices: Sheep Dip and Toad."

TP smiled. "Good point, Mayor. Rock Bump sounds pretty good when you put it that way."

Hammer and TP past most of the rest of the day sitting on the porch at the general store. All and all, it was turning into quite a festive occasion. The town's folk put up some tattered, old, red white and blue banners.

And Hammer and TP traded stories of the old days, while the crowd around them listened, spellbound. There were personal greetings, and well wishing, and lots of food. And, someone telegraphed, Sheep Dip and Toad. Most of their folks came over to be part of the occasion. By 3:00 PM Rock Bump had swelled to several times its normal size - people wise.

Rock Bump was a unique little town. The four buildings that composed the commercial district were on the perimeter of the town square, all facing in. There was no actual building on the central square itself, though there was a tall cistern and a small holding pen for cattle. But mostly, the square was just a large open area of - well - dirt (or mud, depending on the weather.)

On the west side of the square was Hansen's General Store and Cafe. On the east side was the City Hall and the Sheriff's Office - though they didn't actually have one yet - sheriff that is.

To the north was the saloon; and to the south was the livery stable and black smith shop. There were no real trees in Rock Bump. So essentially, Rock Bump was a small, and not too bustling, wide patch of dirt between Sheep Dip and Toad. But today - Rock Bump was the place to be.

By late afternoon, from their perch on the porch, the ranger and the gunslinger had met and talked with most of the adult folks in town - at least briefly. Now, as the sun dipped seriously toward the western horizon, they were just completing what would be the last meal for one of them. And, as they did so, their conversation became a bit more intense...

"But I thought J.T. was your uncle, your Daddy's younger brother," Hammer insisted.

"Naw, J.T. Gunn was my Daddy's second cousin, my third," returned TP.

"Well that explains why your Daddy didn't come after me when I took J.T. out in Waco. They wasn't close enough kin."

TP shook his head in agreement. "Daddy had two brothers. They was V.T. and T.R. They had two boys apiece; and Daddy had three of us. V.T. had C.T. and T.Z. T.R. had B.T. and T.H. Daddy had T.K., T.C. and me."

"Don't any of you fellers have regular names?" Hammer quipped. "Christmas gatherins' musta' sounded like a spellin' bee."  

TP smiled. 

And what's all them T's. Everybody's got a T in their name." Hammer noted.

"The T is the same for all of us. It stands for Thompson. That was my great grandma's maiden name," TP said with a faint glint of pride in his voice. "I reckon we just got in the habit of usin' it."

"So, while we're at it," Hammer continued, "what does the P stand for in your name?"

TP smiled again. "Percival," he said sheepishly.

Hammer wrinkled his nose and smiled a crooked smile.

"Now, you know what drove me to drinkin,' gunslingin', wild women, and initials, Hammer," TP joked.

Hammer nodded in affable agreement. And then the conversation lagged for a moment.

Finally, Hammer said, "Well TP, I think it's about that time. It's been a good day. I kinda hate breakin' up the party. But I think everybody is pretty well ready for us to get on with it," Hammer said, more seriously now.

Yeah, I'm ready to git 'er done, myself. But it has been a right pleasant day at that, Hammer. You know, I kinda hate I got to shoot you now."

"What do you mean?" Hammer asked, a little surprised.

"Well, to be honest, Hammer, I always kind of ad-mired you - I mean for a lawman and all. But mostly, I hate to shoot you cause then I'll be the last man standing - so to speak. 

"I just never figured on dyin' of the slow miseries of old age. And when this is over, seems like that's about all that's left for me. I can't say I'm lookin' forward to dyin' the long death alone, with nobody left from the old days."

"Truth be told, I guess I'd have to say, you got some likable qualities too, TP," Hammer conceded. "But when I start across that square, I'm gonna' start rememberin' all those men you sent to an early grave. And there's still enough lawman in me that, by the time I get in position down yonder, I ain't gonna' like you much any more."

Hammer paused, and then said thoughtfully. "But on that long death thing, I guess we're about alike. Dyin's one thing, but ridin' the wagon of old age to get to the cemetery, now that's a raw deal. Specially when you think about all the chances we both had to go out blazin'."

TP lowered his head for a few seconds in silent thought. Then he stood up. He checked the cartridges in his gun and said, "Well, let's get at it Hammer. I'm glad you volunteered to take the far end. I'm still kinda' stove up."

With that, Hammer stepped off the porch and headed for his position in front of City Hall. Most in town had gathered in and around the saloon. It afforded the best view to see history turn this page. Hammer moved slowly now, checking his own gun as he went.

"Hurry up, Hammer!" TP yelled, "We ain't got all day. It's gittin' dark."

"Yeah, yeah, keep your shirt on. You ain't got a lock on "stove up." Hammer called over his shoulder."

Both TP and Hammer were vaguely aware of the coming darkness. But, they were not really aware of the reason for it's suddenness until the cloud actually reached Rock Bump. In mere seconds the thick brown fog of a Texas dust storm totally enveloped the town.

Now each man became but a smudged outline to the other, and even that was coming and going with the movement of the dust. Both men squinted, desperately trying to see the play of the other. Both nervously drew their guns.

TP fired first at what he thought was a shadowy outline of Hammer about to fire at him. Then Hammer fired back at what he thought to be the vague outline of TP. Then TP fired twice. 

Then both of them simply traded shots until Hammer's last bullet. All the shots had missed their mark, but Hammer's last shot pierced the front door of the general store and hit one of the three kegs of gun powder inside. Everything instantly changed at that point - and not for the better.

The following explosions of gun powder, kerosene, bullets, and canned ham turned the dust cloud into a seething orange soup of noisy destruction. And as a result, teams of horses were running wild, everywhere. They were blindly slinging their bouncing, tilting wagons in every direction through the now almost opaque orange glow.

The animals in the livery also went crazy. They demolished most of that building on their way out.

Then, in all of the chaos, a heavy freight wagon collided with the tall cistern that stood directly in front of the saloon, instantly sheering off it's two front legs. The structure fell straight forward. 

The cistern, itself, fell a little short of the saloon. But its entire contents scored a direct hit on the building. Hundreds of gallons of water slammed into the front wall.

The water easily smashed through the large glass windows and the wide front entrance of the building. It took everything,
 from spectators to spittoons, out through the back wall. Then, with no back wall to support it anymore, a large section of the roof also collapsed.

TP had been flattened by the original blast just behind him, but he was now up and moving again. And he was looking for anything that he could get behind. 

Rifle cartridges and shotgun shells continued to boom away out of the blazing fire to his rear where the general store had been. The bullets were bad enough. But they were also projecting flaming wood chunks and swirling hot embers in all directions. Always a simple thinker, TP thought, "I got to get outa' here!"

Hammer was still crouched low on his end of the square. He was now very busy dodging wild animals and runaway wagons on very short notice. He was also vaguely aware of people who were screaming and running everywhere around him.

But Hammer's most immediate attention was locked on the bawling herd in that holding pen in the middle of the square. He could hear the timbers of the pen cracking. And though he couldn't actually see it, he sensed that the stampede was coming right for him.

He made a dash in the direction of the only defense he could think of: the large brick base where the blacksmith's anvil sat. He covered the last few feet of that distance with a leap as the raging animals tore past him. 

The cattle missed Hammer by only inches, but sadly, not so the town hall. They ran straight through the front and back walls of what used to be the noble seat of city business. Paper work flew like swirling rain.

"Get off me, you big ox," TP yelled, as Hammer came in for a rough landing at the brick works. Both men instinctively curled into a ball behind their unlikely shelter, hoping to escape the stray bullets, cow hooves, and hot ciders that were now everywhere in the cloud. 

Finally, after several chaotic minutes the animals cleared out and the bullets slowed. The visibility was still pretty much between zero and none, but both men decided to raise up and peer over the low base that had saved them.

"Hammer, you got any idea what the devil just happened." TP asked.

"All I know is, one minute we was having a nice peaceful gunfight. Then, the next, the whole town was a redish-orange, hot glowing pile of muddy rubbish with a lot of fire power."

"Are you hurt?" TP continued.

"Naw, I don't think so. But it sure seems like I otta' be. How 'bout You?"

"Naw," TP said nonchalantly. "But, I am outta' bullets."

"Me to. And I'm pretty sure the general store is closed for the day," Hammer said dryly.

Both men settled down again with their backs against the bricks. After a quiet minute Hammer said, "Say TP, I meant to ask you - did you say your great grandmother's maiden name was Thompson?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Ah, I was just thinkin'. My great grandmother's name was Thompson," Hammer responded.

"Yeah, it's a pretty common name."

"What was her married name?" Hammer continued to press.

"Ansilrod" TP said, starting to loose interest in what seemed pretty irrelevant questions at the moment.

"Ansilrod!" Hammer thundered. "That was my great grandmother's married name. Did your grandmother have a sister?" Hammer ask in a voice now mounting with some excitement.

"Well yeah. She did. But I ain't never met her. But Mama used to talk about Aunt Berthi," TP said, now with somewhat renewed interest.

"That's right!" Hammer said excitedly. "That was my grandma! And your grandma was my Mama's Aunt Effie."

"Well how'd you know... Both men were suddenly stunned under the implications. They stared at each other, as if in a stupor, mouths open. Then simultaneously, they both arrived at the now obvious. They said in amazement at the same time, "We're second cousins!"

Both men jumped to their feet and just looked at each other. Then, they embraced. And, after a moment, as if prompted by some unspoken cue, they clasped forearms and began to laugh and dance in a circle as though the music was playing at some barn dance.

The giddy laughter and dancing went on for a long moment, but then both settled back down against the base. They were out of breath; and all four knees were now throbbing. But they were profoundly happy, nonetheless.

Then Hammer said somewhat breathlessly, "TP I almost killed my only living relative, least wise, as far as I know, anyway."

"Yep, or he almost killed you," TP said in a mildly corrective tone.

After another moment of thoughtfulness on what had just come to light, Hammer spoke again. "Well TP, the way I see it, we got two choices. We can catch a couple of horses, go to Sheep Dip, buy some bullets, and tryer' again tomorrow. Or, we can hold to the higher code o' kinship, make for that comfortable little re'-tirement home in Abilene, and live till we die - together."

TP turned and stuck his nose up over the bricks one more time and surveyed what he could see of the carnage. Settling back again, he said in a high sounding, statesman like voice, "Well cousin, seein' as how I believe we may somehow be responsible for destroyin' the entire town of Rock Bump, Texas. 

"And seein' as how all of the men and most of the ladies of both Sheep Dip and Toad were here and watched us do it - just before they blew through the back wall of the saloon. And thus, believin' that our welcome might be a little thin in either town - I choose the latter. And sooner, I suspect, would be better than later."

Hammer slowly rose to his feet and bowed as low as a stiff back would allow. He extended his arm in a direction that was away from the flickering glow that was now Rock Bump. And speaking with a distinct air of faux gallantry he said, "If you would be so inclined cousin, then please, by all means, you first."

                                      The End

A sense of kinship is such a welcome cure for lonliness.  And, it brings a true synergy to our existence.  Typically we first find the confidence of kinship in  family. And, sometimes we discover it in the desperation of a foxhole in some war zone. And sometimes, we discover kinship in the values we share...  

             "For whoever does the will of God is My 
                  brother and My sister and mother."  – Jesus