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Drink or Draw

by E. Hoffmann Price

The Stinking Springs region was the orneriest in Texas, but Simon Bolivar Grimes had a habit of sizing
up the country
which had often kept him from being bushwhacked. Also if called upon, Simon could
be as ornery as anybody from Montana to the Rio Grande

WEARINESS made Simon Bolivar Grimes' coffin-shaped face seem longer than ever. Spitting alkali dust, he muttered, "Another dang sign, DRINK RED QUILL BOURBON. Gosh, I wisht I was a hoss, they don't git thirsty for nothing but water."

Mile after mile along the wagon trail to Stinking Springs, Red Quill billboards had tantalized him by suggesting a bar, a free lunch counter, hard likker, and cool beer.

Some distance ahead, a freight wagon lumbered along. Instinctively, the kid from Georgia had sized up the country, a habit which had often kept him from being bushwhacked, and thus he noted a twinkle in the clump of post oak at the crest of a knoll. It was as though binoculars mirrored the blazing sun. Someone was spying on travelers.

The Stinking Springs region was the orneriest in Texas. Simon had a poke of gold pieces, the proceeds of the sale of some cow critters. If he were robbed, Uncle Jason would whale him with a wagon spoke; he'd claim that Grimes had spent the money on women and liquor.

"Dunno what in tunket else a man'd spend money for," Grimes grumbled, as he pulled over to the whiskey sign.

Though the country was too open for ambush, nevertheless he wanted a look-see, so he peered through a knothole. "Ain't noticed me, they're still studying the wagon," he decided, as the flickering continued.

He had brought Uncle Jason's binoculars in his saddle bags. Grimes had barely focused the powerful glasses for a bit of counter espionage when two riders came pelting out of the clump of post oak, their guns blazing.

The wagon pulled up. The men dismounted. They tore into the tarpaulin at the back, exposing a cargo of barrels. A sharp faced man came toward them from the wagon. He was unarmed, and he made gestures, as if begging them to be reasonable.

One of the raiders smacked him with a pistol barrel, knocking him down.

The taller of the pair, who had a brace and bitt, began drilling at the keg. By now Grimes had read the lettering on the head: OLD VICKERY BOURBON, NELSON COUNTY, KENTUCKY.

THEN a girl, apparently having remained on the driver's seat until indignation overcame her alarm, came racing toward the tail gate. She was blonde, golden blonde like a palomino filly. She bounded toward the man with the brace and bitt, and caught his arm.

He spat, grinned, thrust her aside. She recovered and smacked him. The other yanked her away; she tripped, landing asprawl in a puddle of whiskey. Liquor drenched her blouse and skirt.

Whatever was behind this insane business of letting whiskey run into the dust, Grimes decided that when people began slapping old men, and girls, it was time to investigate. He mounted up and raced for the wagon. And then came the final horror: one of the ruffians touched a match to the whiskey, and flames began to lick the tarpaulin.

At the sound of his approach, the two whirled about, but seeing just one rider, they hooked their thumbs on their belts and waited. And when Grimes dismounted, they began to grin.

He looked as if he were about to fall over his own feet. Tall, gangling, with a straw colored cowlick reaching down to his china-blue eye, he did not look any too bright.

"What in tarnation you mean, burning good liquor?" he demanded. "And mauling that there lady?"

They chuckled tolerantly. The one with the brace and bitt explained, "Ain't allowed to haul nothing into Stinking Springs but Red Quill, bub. That's Colonel Delevan's orders. And we carry them out."

The other was rolling a smoke, and his amusement at Grimes was competing with his interest in the blonde, who wept in futile fury as she straightened her drenched garments. The old man, still dazed, was struggling to his feet. And all this, was too much for Grimes.

"Hist 'em!" he commanded, and went for his guns.

The man with the brace and bitt yelled, The other dropped hid Durham and slapped leather. He was quick, but his Colt had not half cleared the holster when Grimes drilled him between the eyes.

Though the man with the brace and bitt made good time, his first shot went wild; and then, shifting, Grimes sprayed him with lead. He jerked one more shot, kicking up rocks. He lurched, fell across his gun.

The girl's scream made Grimes whirl. "Oh, they hit dad!"

The old man was clutching his side. "Ain't nothing, Melba, never you mind me, you help this young feller put out the fire."

Then he sat down.

SO GRIMES and Melba got blankets and whipped out the flames. That done, she gave him strips torn from her skirt, so that he could stop the flow of whiskey while he whittled plugs.

The old freighter said, "I'm mighty grateful, son. I'm Amos Hanford, and this here is my daughter, Melba. Baby, you get the jug for this gent, don't you fuss with me, I ain't more'n scratched."

Grimes started to protest, but Hanford's glance silenced him. As the girl hurried to the front of the wagon, the freighter said, "I don't feel none too spry, but it's no use scaring her, I can turn around and go back to Cold Deck instead of trying to get to a doctor in Stinking Springs; I'd probably get murdered there."

"Not if I go with you," Grimes countered.

"Bub, I never seen a draw like yourn and never heard of any like it," Hanford countered. "Fust one gets it betwixt the eyes, and the second musta had most of his heart shot out with them three slugs. But whilst you're watching me, who'd watch the whiskey?"

"Gosh, that's right," Grimes agreed.

Melba came back with the jug. Grimes hoisted a long one. "Is this here what you got in them kegs?"

"It is. You have jest drunk OLD VICKERY," Hanford said, proudly. "The Finest Bourbon made at Bourbon Springs, Kentucky, ever since 1833. Drink up, suh!"

Grimes hoisted another. Melba, who had impulsively put an arm around his shoulders, became more beautiful than ever. Her voice sounded like angels playing harps, and even the landscape was no longer repulsive. "This is sure larruping whiskey," Grimes said, and wiped his lips. "Anywhere but a downright warped and perverted town, it'd be welcomed with—"

And then, he saw that Hanford had fooled him as well as Melba. Grimes caught the old man just in time. "Honey, it looks like that chaw of tobacco he stuffed into that wound ain't plugging it enough."

"Oh, why did you have to start shooting?" she cried, panic again gripping her. "I'd rather lose all the liquor in the world—"

Grimes tipped the jug and gave Hanford a swig.

"M'am, they was banging away at me, and it is downright unreasonable, blaming me for someone else's bad shooting. If you can prod them oxen, I'll make your pappy comfortable and do what I can."

"Oh, what can you do?"

"He's jest weak, he'll come outen it. And as soon as your pappy's took care of, I'm going to run Red Quill and Colonel Delevan out of that ornery town, and when I'm through, they'll be drinking Old Vickery in every bar in Stinking Springs.

"Baby," Hanford said to his daughter, "I'm all right, and Simon looks like the man that can do it."


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