About Partners on the Trail
Author: Julia Talbot
Word Count: 10900
Page Count (pdf): 37
Genre: western, sweet
Date Published: second ed 06/28/2017 this is a previously published work. The publisher has changed.
Publisher: Turtlehat Creatives
File Types available: pdf, epub, mobi
Hank is a cowboy who’s been around a bit, and has learned to live and let live, keeping his mouth shut and his gun holstered. Jasper is just a kid, and he hasn’t learned that you can’t charm your way out of everything. So when Hank has to do something drastic to save Jasper’s life, he surprises them both. He’s in love with the kid, after all, and Hank leaves town to try and keep him and Jasper both out of harm’s way. What he doesn’t realize is that Jasper has strong feelings for him too, and will track him down to ride with him again, because that’s what partners on the trail do.
This is a previously published work. The publisher has changed.
A sensible cowboy probably ought not be in town on a night like tonight.
The Oasis Cantina was just a’jumpin’. Skinny John Riley, who did double duty as barber and faro dealer, sat at the piano, tickling the ivories so hard his sleeve garter snapped. A pretty, pock-faced Mexican girl sat on old Ben Freedman’s lap, giggling and wiggling so to make Hank blush and look away, but old Ben, he sure looked happy.
Still, Hank thought there were some things a man ought to make private.
Smoke swirled around his head from a roomful of lit cheroots, and every few seconds one of the spittoons would ping as another cowboy let loose a stream of juice. The one next to his left foot rocked with the force of a blow right about the same time as Hank lurched forward from a hard slap on the shoulder.
“Well, if it ain’t Silent Hank.” Roach Casum grinned down at Hank through tobaccy-stained teeth. “You’re actin’ right sociable, coming in here tonight.”
He knew it well enough, it being payday on most of the ranches in a day’s ride, and the one weekend a month they all got to came to town. Usually he avoided it like a man would a poxy whore. But tonight… Hank tugged his hat lower.
“Had enough of last month’s stake for a whiskey, Roach. Let a man be to drink it.”
“Sure, sure. Look, Hank.” Here Roach got that shifty look that’d earned him his name, looking fit to scuttle if you lit a lamp. “Can I… D’you think I could borrow a dollar until next month?”
“You spent your grub money already?”
“Lost it tonight. I’m in the hole. You gimme a dollar and I’ll pay up and leave, I swear. Go back to the Lazy S and sit until this time next month.”
Lord, lord. Hank grunted instead of answering, pulling a dollar out of his pocket and handing it over, pulling it back and looking Roach straight in the eye. “Your word.”
“You got it, Hank. You’re a good Samaritan.”
Sure he was. Roach hurried off, and Hank commenced to doing what he’d been interrupted at so rudely. Watching Jasper Allbright.
Oh, Hank knew it was a fool’s game. Jasper was just a wet-behind-the-ears kid, and popular with the ladies too, by all accounts. And why wouldn’t he be? With that hair like his momma’s gilded candlestick and eyes like the sky on a cloudless day, Jasper just made every head in the room turn when he walked in. ‘Course, that meant Hank could stare and the boy’d not think anything of it.
So stare he did, sitting back with the toes of his boots cocked up and his hat pushed down, sipping the chaser he’d gotten for the rotgut Maria served. He’d been watching Jasper like that for months, ever since the kid had come in on the grub line, begging a job. Jasper made Hank feel like a spring chicken again, and that was nothing to sneeze at. He just had to be real careful that no one caught on.
The whiskey got more watery as the night went on, but that suited him to the ground. Last thing Hank needed was to get as happy as the rest of the boys else no one would get back to the ranch from the looks of it. Jasper laughed and flirted with the girls, even the not so pretty ones, making like a real gent. Hank admired that, thought it was right sweet, and smart besides, as the kid got a good many drinks on the house. He’d just keep a looksee out, though, make sure none of the girls were trying to get Jasper drunk and take his pay when he wasn’t paying any mind.
It was only ’cause he watched so close that Hank saw it coming. The door opened on a swirl of wind and five drovers from the Double Bar D blew in. That’d be bad enough, as those boys had a reputation for pure D meanness, but no sooner had one of the sat down at the bar than Jasper turned to talk to the feller who’d skedaddled out of the way, dumping a full glass of beer down that Bar D cowpoke’s shirt.
“Aw! What’in’ell didja have to do that for?”
Jasper’s eyes went wide, comically so, and he started brushing at the man’s shirt, just apologizing left and right.
“Lord, Mister. Sure am sorry about that. I thought you were George Meany, no doubt about it. Here, let me buy you a drink.”
“That was my best shirt, you. And now it’s ruint.”
“Oh, it’ll wash.” Jasper gave the feller his best smile, his chipped tooth showing and his blue eyes a’twinkling. Hank would have forgiven him anything right then. “Don’t be a sore head. Let me buy you that drink.”
Standing up, that drover looked down at Jasper, looking mean as a snake that’s been stepped on. “I don’t want a drink from you. I want your shirt.”
Hank tensed up, ready to go make peace if need be, but Jasper just laughed, unperturbed. “Then what would I wear? Come on, now, I’ve been right decent about your shirt drinking up my pay.”
For a minute it looked like the feller would take it further, but his friends intervened, clapping him on the back and laughing about Jasper’s little joke, telling him they sure did think that made it even. The look in the Bar D man’s eyes told Hank that it wasn’t over, though. Not by a long shot.