Excerpt from Purgatoire:
Southern Colorado, Autumn, 1893
A dog barked. His horse snorted. The town slept.
Hoofs made a sucking noise as the roan faltered through the muddy street in the cold morning. Laboring with every step, the winded gelding struggled forward, head bent low against the wind. It had been a miracle, Ben Cameron thought, that old Goliad had made it this far, climbing all night up the mountain road after a hard run out of Trinidad along the river cowboys called the Picketwire. He should have stopped hours ago, let the roan graze, taken off the saddle, and rubbed its lathered back, or, hell, simply dismounted and led Goliad for a mile or so along the switchbacks, but Cameron had wanted to put as much distance as possible between him and the dead man back in Trinidad. Despite munching on grass or drinking from the mountain streams only when Cameron had reined up briefly to gather his bearings, or make sure no one followed him, Goliad had never floundered until the last few miles. Now he had played out, but not before reaching town shortly after dawn. The roan had bailed out Cameron one more time, likely saved his life, or at least postponed death a few days.
Still intent on pushing the horse a few more yards, Cameron gave the roan a soft kick while considering the town. He needed to find a livery stable, to reward Goliad and give him a well-earned rest. A blustery wind chilled his face, and he tugged on the collar of his Mackinaw and pulled down the brim of his Stetson, then matched his horse's movement by bending his head low.
The slamming of a door up the street drew quick attention, and his head jerked erect while his gloved right hand rested on the Schofield revolver holstered on his right hip. The town in front of him remained blurred, partly from a lack of sleep, partly from the rye-induced haze, but mostly from his fading eyesight.
He made out the figure of a tall man in front of a two-story building on the left. The Texas House. Cameron could read the big, black letters emblazoned across a painting of the Lone Star flag, but the face of the man remained washed out. He wore dark pants, white shirt and vest. Emptying spittoons, just tossing their contents onto the mud of Front Street. He posed no threat, but Cameron kept his hand on the .45 just to feel safe. The man glanced his way, gathered the brass cuspidors and returned to the warmth of the saloon. The gent had barely even considered the newcomer, and Cameron couldn't blame him for that. A half-dead horse and its worn-out rider ... not much to see.
Cameron reined to a stop in front of The Texas House, neither admiring the frame facade nor its plate glass window. Someone had paid a small fortune in freight to build this saloon, but the owner had lacked any business sense. The Texas House? In Ben Cameron's experience, most Coloradans despised Texans. Why build such an opulent, by Rocky Mountain standards, saloon out here in this rough-hewn burg? Likely, the entrepreneur believed the newspaper stories a few years back that predicted how the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad would run a spur to this town for faster access to the coal being mined here. Miners still worked the coal, but the railroad had not come, and, with the financial panic carving a swath from the east, probably never would. Like many boom towns Ben Cameron had seen across the West, this one would also die. From the looks of the boarded-up buildings and empty lots lining Front Street, the death watch had already begun.
To the left of The Texas House, a faded sign announced Billiards, but the windows had been broken and the door ripped off its hinges. Next door, the Bank of the Culebra Range had recently failed, one of many cash-starved institutions out West to go under since the New York Stock Exchange started contracting back in May. To the right of the saloon, the Miner's Comfort and Joe's Place, whatever they had been, now housed perhaps a few memories but mostly rats wanting to escape the coming winter. Up the street sat the livery stable and beyond that another store -- Cameron couldn't read the name -- near the coal-mining operation. He guessed the company store remained in operation to keep the miners on tick, and he spotted livestock in the livery, so it remained in business, although it had seen better days. In fact, now that he thought about it, The Texas House was the only building, with the exception of the Masonic Lodge at the edge of town, on Front Street's south side that did not look abandoned.
Across from the Masonic Lodge was the cemetery, an adobe Catholic church and a log cabin. Also on Front Street's north stood a cafe, hotel and mercantile, apparently hanging on by threads, and then a scattering of buildings, most of whose occupants had departed for more inviting climes. Smoke rose from the chimney in the marshal's office and jail, so apparently the town supported some type of law. Cameron shook his head. Two years ago, he had turned down an offer to serve as town marshal here. Now that he saw what had almost become his home, he realized he had made the right choice, rare for him, especially these past few years. A few cabins and other businesses dotted the landscape behind Front Street and the Picketwire, but he doubted if many would last the winter.
These days, the town's name certainly fit:
The Texas House, however, remained strong and inviting. Of course, a warped plank thrown across two whiskey kegs would have looked inviting to Cameron on this morning. Through the open door, he could make out blurs as chairs on tables, the man putting spittoons on the floor, and the shape of a full-length bar.
A dog barked again.
Cameron knew he should ride on to the livery, but his hands trembled for a shot. Just one drink, he said to himself as he swung from the saddle and into the street of mud, cigar butts and tobacco juice. He tied the roan to the hitching rail, and walked inside.
Just one, he said once more, knowing he would say it again when he ordered a second round.
Copyright 2003 by Johnny D. Boggs