It was painful watching Jimmy Best trying to attract the attention of the barkeep. He sauntered over to the bar, his confidence on display like a peacock, and the barkeep somehow faded into the shadows and seemed to vanish. Jimmy rested a hand on the bar, and peered around, hunting for the weasel-faced man, and Ben snorted with laughter as the barkeep sidled out from behind the bar and wandered off to a table. He sat down, watching the show with the rest of us.
Jimmy's patience went quickly; he rapped firmly on the bar and placed his other hand down too, leaning over the bar and flexing his lats to make himself look bigger. When no-one attended then he looked hawkishly along the bar, and finally, deciding that the barkeep must be just ignoring him he walked the full length of the bar, end to end, staring intently into every shadow. Ben's eyes were watering now as he tried not to laugh loudly enough for Jimmy Best to hear, and I had turned side-on to Jimmy so he couldn't turn and see the look on my face either.
Jimmy almost gave up at that point: I saw his shoulders slump and he started to turn away from the bar and back towards our table, but then he must have decided that he'd lose too much face before us. I thought he was going to call the barkeep out, but he placed a hand back on the bar and nimbly leapt over it, landing with a soft thud and a cloud of displaced sawdust. Now the barkeep stood up from his chair, a look of anger in his beady little eyes. To my surprise, he drew.
"You just put that back down," said Ben, his voice slow and careful. The barkeep looked our way, while Jimmy busied himself with the bottles of whiskey. "You didn't want to serve the lad, so he's serving himself. Seems like he's doing you a favour."
The barkeep raised his gun and pointed it at Ben, his thumb striking the hammer. Ben moved aside, fast as a cat, his chair falling over and striking the floor and a leg breaking off. I stood, my feet driving into the floor and powering me upward, my hand pulling my pistol from its holster in a single, fluid movement.
The barkeep let the hammer fall. The bullet exploded from the muzzle, sparks flying, and bored passage through the air to the table where we'd been sat. Splinters erupted in a tiny mushroom cloud and the smell of scorching timber mingled with the acrid bite of cordite in the air. I paused, long enough to let the barkeep know the mistake he'd made, and then pulled the trigger on my own gun.
A spot of red appeared on his forehead and his brow creased around it in surprise. He toppled over backward, hitting the floor in a new cloud of sawdust, and Ben, now stood next to me again, sighed.
"Jimmy!" he yelled. Jimmy, frozen with a bottle of whiskey in both hands and three dirty shot glasses on the bar in front of him, swallowed hard and looked at him. "Looks like you're going to be too busy keeping bar to be joining us this afternoon!" He slapped me on the shoulder. "Time we were leaving, Red."
We pushed our way out through the clucking farmers' daughters, who were more concerned over blood spatter than they were over the death of the barkeep, and once out on the street, blinked in the sunlight.
"Looks like we need a new bar to wait for our train in," said Ben, grinning. "One where the barkeep is more salubrious and the women more welcoming."
"Salubrious?" I stared at him openly. "You been reading dictionaries now?"
"A man can always want to better himself, Henry."
I snorted, and we started down the street which reeked strongly of horse-apples; Ben looking for a bar and me looking for a tea-room. I guess I knew who'd win this time.
We both heard the swinging of the saloon door as we walked off, and I glanced sideways at Ben, he back at me. It looked like Jimmy Best wasn't being put off by a little gunplay.