The clock on the wall showed five past twelve.
She sank into the worn out armchair, closed her eyes and let herself drift away. Her right hand lay casually on the armrest. In the other one she held a crystal glass filled with Cointreau. The woman was past 70. She had white, curly hair. Her face showed the wrinkled signs of a life lived fully. She sipped at the liqueur and smiled as the taste of orange and alcohol filled her.
Two days ago Betty Potter had been abducted by Scratchy Wilson, the last member of the Highway gang still alive. He had checked out of jail the day before, and although they had paid him a couple of hundred bucks he had saved for making wooden toy horses while in jail, he felt pretty out of place after the years behind bars. He needed company, and while riding past San Antonio he got the idea of convincing the sheriff's wife to come back home with him to Yellow Sky. Scratchy had convinced Betty all right, and figured by making her come with him, he would get a gunfight in the bargain as well.
After the horseride from San Antonio and the night on the prairie, they finally arrived at the Blue hotel in Yellow Sky. She had dropped down on the first bed she had laid her eyes on, and had awakened the following day at noon to the smell of bacon and eggs. The sounds of a bird, the clouds moving away from the distant mountains, the chuckling creek running behind the hotel and the defunct buildings on each side of Main Street told her that she was in Yellow Sky.
A pail of fresh water stood by the door. After having washed her face and body, she had found some clean clothes at the bottom of a chest; probably Sugar Nancy's, the last "fille de joie" of Yellow Sky--dead and buried more than 50 years ago. She had put on a white, cotton blouse with laces, and a burgundy skirt of velvet. It reached her ankles. Then she had fastened a black belt with a brooch around her hips. Black shoes. She had done her hair and after having tied a purple band with a green emerald around her neck, she had walked down to the remains of Harry's Pink Saloon where Scratchy Wilson had served her breakfast on a damask tablecloth in the middle of the room.
After the meal she found underneath the counter of the bar an unopened bottle of Cointreau from 1912--the same year she and her husband had married and settled down in Yellow Sky.
Betty Potter opened her eyes, motioned forward and poured more liqueur into the glass.
Suddenly she heard a squawk from the saloon doors. Betty froze. To her great surprise she saw Jack Potter step into the room--her husband for 50 years, and Yellow Sky's last sheriff.
"Hush," said Betty. "--Scratchy Wilson might hear you."
Bang. The swing door from the kitchen burst open.
"I heard you, all right," cried Scratchy Wilson. "I heard your old Ford pick-up pull into town a few moments ago--Uh! How dumb can ya be?"
"You're the one who's dumb" Jack replied coolly. "You're not only dumb Scratchy, you're crazy--crazy as hell you are. Stealing another man's wife at gunpoint in broad daylight when the whole farm is full of people working in the fields. What if someone had seen you? They would have shot you right there and then." Jack ran his hand over his bald, sweaty skull, and laughed bitterly. "Yeah, you bet. They would have killed you like a dog, Scratchy. Good thing you left a note behind saying where you wanted the money. Otherwise the police would have been all over looking for you."
Jack Potter, with his blue eyes, silvery beard and sunburnt face, stared at Scratchy Wilson without blinking. He was wearing baggy, worn out overalls--inherited from his late father-in-law--a dirty t-shirt and a red scarf around his neck. The scarf was the only thing apart from the faded brown boots that reminded Scratchy Wilson of Yellow Sky's last sheriff.
"Hey--what happened? Where's your badge, and your gun?" stammered Scratchy, mouth half open. From behind the counter, his brandy brown eyes in their scarred face stared at Jack, not believing what they were seeing.
"I ain't got no badge no more--haven't had one for ten years. What's the matter with you? Did you forget that I've retired, and settled down with my wife Betty on a farm down there by San Antonio?"
"I know you live over there by San Antonio all right, but no sheriff neither retired nor went into farming, you yellow dog! No sheriff ever married and settled down either, if you wanna know."
"Well, I have, you crazy nut, and if you don't let Betty loose straight away, I'll call the police."
"The police? What's the police got to do with it?"
"Well, they're the ones that deal with nut cases like you," Jack replied, standing stiffly on the floor.
"I'm no nut case, you polecat. This ain't got nothing to do with the police. This is between you and me, buddy! You've got it? Between you and me. You bring your gun?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact I did--but I didn't think I would need it."
"You bet you're gonna need it!" Scratchy said while letting the butt end of his cigar drop on the floor.
"You're crazy Scratchy. You've already spent enough time in jail, God knows. I tell ya', if you don't let Betty go, they're gonna put you right back in the clink. And this time you won't be coming out."
Scratchy bristled: "Shut up, and get yourself ready, you mule. Hell, get over here and have a drink before we settle this matter. I found a bottle of some 50 year old Blue Moose whisky that old Harry must have stuck behind the mirror before he went over the hill." Scratchy offered the bottle to Jack, but seemed to need it more himself.
"This ain't no time for drinking, Scratchy, and I warn you for the last time: let Betty go, you hear me?"
His gun poised, Scratchy jumped to the floor from behind the counter.
"Get out of the way, Betty," Jack warned.
Scratchy glanced at Betty, then at Jack mumbling to himself.
" Well, what do you say--he won't even drink like a man" Scratchy taunted. "Hey, I tell ya what, you varmit. You won't drink like a man, now let me see if you can fight like one. How about asking Betty to count to three, and then we'll draw? Agree?"
"There's no other way?" asked Jack.
"There ain't no other way, you yellow belly," said Scratchy.
Livid and fear-stricken, Betty stood against the wall. The crystal glass hung from her left hand, the right one covered her mouth. She gave a light shriek.
Jack looked at her: "Can you do it?"
Betty hesitated: "One--two--three."
The explosions filled the room with smoke, and made the whole building shake. Scratchy's grey felt hat was blown off his head and landed on the brass railing. His gun swirled through the air and hit the grand mirror, whereupon it smashed. Scratchy stumbled backwards, tripped and fell into a stack of empty bottles.
A haze of blue-grey smoke hung in the room. Then silence.
After a few moments Jack and Betty sidled carefully towards Scratchy. They bent over his motionless body. His chest moved slowly. He seemed unhurt, and after having slapped his cheeks a couple of times, Scratchy opened his eyes. They helped groggy-headed Scratchy back on his feet again.
"All right Scratchy; it's over. No more showdowns, buddy. Good thing you didn't get hurt. And that you missed me!" Jack said with relief.
Betty put her glass on the counter, smiling with relief as well: "I think we'll just take you home to the farm, Scratchy. We'll put you up in the annex where pop used to live. You know, you can't stay in Yellow Sky any more. Everybody's gone. They've been gone for more than two years: the Johnsons, the Pellichs, the Skillicorns, the Lewis, the Parkers, the Wongs, Sugar Nancy and Sam the gasman and everybody else. They've all left. You know, the day they opened the new freeway from Oklahoma City, Yellow Sky became history."
"You don't say?" said Scratchy.
"And I tell ya what, Scratchy," said Jack. "When you've recovered and settled in down there on the farm, you and me, we could go huntin' for rabbits. I'll lend you a gun. I tell ya, there're rabbits all over the place; never seen as many rabbits in all my life! And boars too, buddy. Yeah, wild boars, big, fat ones."
"So, what do you say?"
Inspired by Stepehen Crane's "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky".
© 2001 Henrik Paaske. All rights reserved.