Sorry I am way behind. Clearly I have over estimated what I can do in a month. Here is the first part of chapter 1. I will post more as I get it done.
The civil war was over for everyone except those that fought it. Ian had little trouble remembering his friends killed during the war, none more so than those who had fallen at Fort Wagner. Even ten years on, that week in July still filled the quiet moments of his thoughts. Lost in his reverie he stared out the window of the coach from under his hat, feet propped on the seat bottom of the opposing bench as the clicking of the train’s wheels over the rail joints blended into the sound of long ago gunfire making it seem as though he was still there.
“You were in the 7th Connecticut Infantry?”
Ian looked up distracted by the unexpected question. A gaunt faced black man about his same age had taken the seat opposite of him. He was not sure if this was the owner of the voice he had just heard. It did not match the stranger’s appearance. The voice had sounded serious and level like someone who was used to having others follow his directions but this man was dressed in well worn clothes looking as if he had just walked off the plantation. The man sat staring back at him, his face expressionless. Ian was about to dismiss the voice as part of his own memory when the man spoke again.
He motioned toward Ian’s collar, “The emblem on your coat; it is for the 7th Connecticut Infantry Regiment,”
It was not a question. It was a statement. This man knew what he was talking about. Ian set up in his seat and pushed his hat back up on his head. “I joined in 61 when the Regiment formed in New Haven. Stayed with it all the way from Hilton Head to Petersburg and Richmond, they mustered us out in the summer of 65.” He paused there to see what business it was of the stranger.
The man hesitated as if he was deciding on the prudence of further comment. “Then you were at Morris Island for the attack on Battery Wagner…. I was there with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. I led my Company forward with Colonel Shaw’s charge on the morning of the 18th.”
Ian paused to take a calming breath. Nobody had mentioned Morris Island to him in a decade; he exhaled slowly before responding in a low somber tone, “That day was the Devil’s own cussed work”. He looked the man straight in the eyes, then leaning forward he stuck out his hand, “Ian Cahill”.
The man took the offered hand in a firm grasp and gave it a shake, “Clayton Johnson.” He hesitated again. “There for a while, we almost had’em”, he looked away caught up in his own memories and drew a deep breath.
“Aye when the rifle pits fell, we almost did,” Ian added.
Nothing more on the subject needed to be said. The shared experience on the coast of South Carolina long ago told each man everything he needed to know about the other’s character. It cemented a friendship that would last the rest of their lives.
“Hola Amigos,”! A smiling Hispanic man in a brown suit walked down the aisle and clapped Ian on the back. “Found myself a poker game in the parlor car, where I am happy to say that fortune smiled on me.”
“Damn it Jorge. I have told you not to speak Spanish in this part of the country. People will think you are a Mexican,” Ian turned back toward Clayton, “My associate, Jorge Calaveras,” he gestured toward the new arrival. “Meet Clayton Johnson”.
The two men shook hands, “I take it you are not from Mexico?”
Jorge dropped into the seat next to Ian, “Pittsburgh born and raised, I take it you are not from Africa?”
“Springfield Massachusetts,” the two men looked at Ian, “Care to share your origins Mr. Cahill?”
“I guess I am the only foreigner, Donegal Ireland. But I got my citizenship when I signed up with the Union Army. Praise be to St Patrick I am one of the unwashed masses of America now.”
Clayton pulled a flask out of his coat and removed the cap. Lifting it in a reserved toast he announced, “Welcome to the new world Ian and my thanks to St Patty for bringing you here to save the country from Southern Democrats and Saturday night baths.” He took a swig and offered it over to Jorge, “Do you drink Mr. Calaveras?”
“He does not indulge in spirits Clayton, He’s a good Catholic boy” Ian chuckled.
“Well how about you Ian? Its good New England whiskey,” Clayton held out the flask.
“I do indeed” Ian took the flask “I am a not so good Catholic boy.”
The three men chuckled as Ian tipped the flask up. “Hellfire and rat shit,” he sputtered as the whiskey burned his throat, “You call that good? Must depend on what part of New England you are from.”
Clayton laughed, “My brothers brewed it up on the family farm.” He put the flask back in his coat pocket. “You two know each other from the war?”
Jorge shook his head, “Not exactly. I was only thirteen when the war started. I tried to get my father to let me join as a drummer but he refused. Mother had died of Typhoid fever when I was ten and he was not going to lose his only child too. In 62 he was called up to serve as the Surgeon for the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. He was afraid if he left me at home I would run-off and join the Army, which I would have, so he agreed to let me go with him as a stretcher bearer. By Gettysburg I was driving an Ambulance wagon.” He gestured toward Ian, “We were both at the siege of Petersburg but we didn’t meet until last year when he came to Pittsburgh. Ian was a patient of my father’s until dad passed away two months ago. Ian was heading to Texas and since I had nothing holding me in Pennsylvania I figured I would go with him. We worked our way west until we got to Council Bluff Iowa and decided to buy train tickets. So here we are headed for Dennison to make our fortunes.”
“Ambulance driver at Gettysburg,” Clayton shook his head, “That must have been a tough time for a boy.”
“It was, Regiment was damned near wiped out on the first day,” Jorge took three apples out of his pockets and handed one to each of the other men as he spoke, “The men had a mascot named Sallie, a Staffordshire Terrier that they drug around everywhere they went. It disappeared that night after the shooting stopped. We found it three days later out on the battlefield guarding the casualties. I had to throw a blanket over it and have some soldiers hold it down so I could get the wounded loaded into my wagon.” He took a bite of apple and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Stupid dog….bad as things was at Gettysburg, it was nothing compared to Cold Harbor.” He paused to swallow a bite of apple. “You like the apples? I stole them from a tray in the parlor car.”
Jorge shifted subjects as if he were discussing the weather. It was one of those times, when his resilient nature hid the fact that the young man had seen the worst of the war first hand. Ian had often wondered if the boy’s father might have done better to let him join the infantry. “Good flavor, just don’t let the steward catch you. This is Indian country. You get kicked off the train in the middle of Oklahoma and you may wish you were back at Cold Harbor.” Ian turned toward Clayton, “What about you Clayton, how did you wind up on a train bound for the Wild West?”
Clayton took another drink from the flask and handed it to Ian again, “My family was slaves down in South Carolina going back several generations. Sometime in the 1830s my daddy was sold to a blind farmer from Kentucky. The man needed slaves with a good knowledge of vegetable farming as he primarily raised sweet potatoes and other tubers. He had to leave my mother behind and drive the man’s wagon all the way to Prestonsburg in the far Northern part of the State. He said the day they arrived at the man’s farm he could see Ohio on the other side of the fence. He punched the old guy in the nose and took off running, didn’t stop or even look back until he reached New York.” Clayton stopped as everyone chuckled at the thought. “Dad worked every crappy job day and night until he saved enough money to buy my mother’s freedom. After she arrived in the North, the two of them took up sharecropping in Massachusetts eventually buying the farm from the owner.” Along the way I was born. Then my two brothers.”
Clayton stopped to throw the apple core out the train window and get another drink of whiskey. “We all worked the farm until the war started. My brothers wanted to do something but blacks were not allowed to join the army so they took jobs at Springfield Armory. I stayed on the farm with my parents until the 54th was formed in Boston.”
“What did your family think of that?” Jorge asked.
Clayton shook his head for dramatic effect, “My mother was furious, Jefferson Davis had ordered the execution of all colored soldiers and their officers taken prisoner; she did not want anything to happen to her first born. Dad did not say much for several days but I know he was proud to have a son fighting in the war. I got to come home for two days before the Regiment marched out for Georgia and he took me all over Springfield to show me off in my uniform.”
“They both passed away in 67, pneumonia. My brothers and I sold the farm and I went off to Ohio to attend Oberlin College. After graduation I moved to Boston to take a job as a teacher at a private school for Negro children. After a couple of years I found I was missing the farm. I never cared for it that much growing up but I guess it is in my blood. So I have been saving my money these last few years. Finally decided it was time to buy some land and that Texas was the place to do it, I left my wife in Boston with her parents until I get settled, and made my way to St Louis where I caught the train.”
Ian put his hand up, “Hold up there Clayton, your wife? There is a Mrs. Johnson?”
“There is indeed. I actually met her in Ohio at Oberlin. Turned out her family lived about twenty miles from where my dad’s farm was but we had never met. She is teaching at the school until the baby comes.”
“Oh and you have kids!” Ian exclaimed in exaggerated surprise. “Aren’t you the man of many surprises?”
“Having a wife and a baby on the way is a big surprise? You do know that is how new people get into the world”. Clayton took another drink of whiskey smiling.
“Well of course I know how new people get into the world, I am Catholic for gosh sakes, we invented new people getting into the world. Why do you think there are so many of us?”….
“Don’t mind him Clayton” Jorge jumped in cutting Ian off, “It’s the marrying part that threw him. Ian is a bit of a rake chasing after every skirt that he meets with little or no distinction as to her personal hygiene. In fact that is exactly how we came to know each other. He was a regular customer at my father’s clinic, seems he had a leaky pipe that needed frequent repair.”
“Shut up boy, Clayton is not interested in your school yard tales”. Ian pushed Jorge’s head sideways almost knocking him out of the seat. It had no effect as the younger man rolled upright snickering at his friend’s embarrassment. “I was one of your Dad’s most reliable customers and good for you. How else would you have learned to gamble and cuss”? The three of them snickered at the unseemly topic.
Bawdy military songs, raucous laughter and occasional swearing filled the coach for the rest of the night as the train snaked its way across Oklahoma. By morning there would be no secrets between them.
Just before sunup the conductor came in. Surprised by the vacant seats he looked around at the all but empty coach. “Seems the polite folks took offense to our reverie and moved to the other cars”, Ian offered by way of explanation.
The conductor shrugged his shoulders, “Yes there were several complaints. Never seen anybody shame a group of railroad men, cowboys and drunks like the three of you did last night. You may find your equals soon enough though, final stop is Denison in…” he stopped to check his watch, “…twenty minutes. Welcome to Texas gentlemen”.
Clayton stepped off the train, blinking in the bright morning sunshine. The station smelled of pine and new paint with a sign proudly displaying the location, DENISON TEXAS, ELEVATION 728 Ft. He turned as Jorge and Ian came down the coach steps bags in hand. It was the first good look he had had at his new found friends. Jorge was about his same height, a good looking young man with black hair and dark eyes, lean and of average build. Ian on the other hand was a lot larger than he seemed on the train. At six foot Clayton rarely had to look up at another man but Ian was easily a hand taller and solid built. His hands looked like mallets clutching his bags and coat. In true Irish fashion he had dark green eyes and a shock of bright red hair hanging down to his collar.
Ian adjusted his bags, “Wonder if we can get breakfast or a bath this time of day?” Spotting a porter sorting express freight he walked over to the man. The others followed. “Good morning Sir, could you tell us where we might get a bite to eat this early?”
The man stood up huffing in frustration having lost count of his packages with the distraction. He looked at Ian for a moment and then past him at Jorge and Clayton. “The Texas Palace will serve your type. Bacon, eggs and coffee, twenty four hours a day.” He went to kneel back down but was stopped by Ian’s hand on his arm.
Clayton sat his bags down and looked around. Two white men at the other end of the platform were talking but facing away. The ticket agent was in his window looking down at something. He was not sure how Ian would react to the slight but punching the fellow senseless was a likely course of action and he wanted to be ready in case anyone else decided to jump in.
“Where would we find this Texas Palace?” Ian pulled the man back to a standing position, polite but purposely forceful.
The porter hesitated and pointed down the main road, “Two blocks straight South, It was built to be a fine saloon but the folks who run it, mostly do food and rooms for railroad men and cowboys bringing herds up from Dallas.” The man swallowed nervously, hoping Ian would release his arm.
“Well thank you friend, you are a credit to the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad line.” Ian slid his grip down until he could firmly grasp the man’s hand, “Yep a fine credit. In fact I don’t believe I have ever had better service on any line”. Ian continued complementing the man while squeezing his hand and shaking his arm like a wet rope. Tears welded up in the man’s eyes as he thanked Ian for the kind words. “Let’s go have some breakfast lads’” he let go of the hand and clapped the porter on the shoulder hard enough to make him wince.
Nobody spoke until they were halfway down the road, “I thought you were going to beat that jackass to a pulp”.
Ian looked over at Clayton, “There are too many jackasses in the world my friend. You cannot pulp them all. Sometimes the best way to teach a mule which way to go is just to twist its tail.” The three men chuckled.
By railroad town standards the name of a saloon or hotel could be quite an embellishment but the Texas Palace was exactly what it claimed. Three story high all brick building with a wooden balcony and shaded patio. It was beautiful. The three men stopped in the street for a moment to take in its elegance before heading inside. It was not the sort of place they expected to be described as “serving their type.”
A handful of what looked like laborers sat at the various tables inside eating quietly. A man holding a lantern snuffer was busily extinguishing the overhead lights. He bobbed his head motioning around the room. “Anywhere you want to sit gentlemen, I will be right with you. You can place your bags next to the stairs if you need rooms. I will have them brought up later.”
Ian, Jorge and Clayton dropped their bags in the indicated place and chose a table near the center of the room. It was solid well built table with chairs that were tightly assembled lacking all signs of scuffs or repairs. They exchanged confused glances. Why was this place in such unused condition?
“Okay I am asking someone,” Jorge answered the unvoiced question and leaned over to the men at the next table, “Excuse me. We are new in town and were just wondering why this place is so….”
“Dead?” one of them offered. “They ain’t had no liquor except the owners cow piss beer since the place opened. Nobody is gonna come to a saloon with no hooch…. But they do a mighty fine breakfast.” He held up a sausage on his fork, stuffing it into his mouth and talking around it, “Now you want a drink you have to go over to the Railhead Exchange. Course they don’t serve Mexicans.”
“I am not a Mexican,” Jorge retorted loudly. Everyone stopped eating and looked at him before slowly returning to their meals. Jorge lowered his voice, “I am from Pittsburgh.” The man looked at Jorge confused as if he did not see the difference. Jorge thanked the man and turned back to Ian and Clayton. “What kind of saloon owner has no liquor?”
“One that worked hard to build this place and isn’t willing to hand all his profits over to a low brow thug,’” the lantern man stood at Jorge’s elbow with a note pad, “But we make a fine breakfast. Would you like to try our special; two fried eggs, two pancakes, your choice of two bacon strips or two sausage links and coffee?”
Everybody nodded in agreement.
“I’ll go with the sausage…sorry to intrude on your private affairs regarding the saloon,” Jorge apologized.
The man made a note on his pad, “It’s no intrusion, its common knowledge around these parts. You either buy overpriced liquor from Gavin Harper’s distillery or you make your own. Trouble is I am not much of a brewer. What meat would you like sir?” The man looked at Clayton with his pencil ready.
“Sausage for me too, please.”
“Same here,” Ian added.
“Very good gentlemen, I will drop this off in the kitchen and be right back with cups and a coffee pot.” The man smiled politely then turned and walked away.
Jorge waited until the waiter was out of earshot, “How many towns this size we been in Ian that only had one distillery?”
“Then how does one man get control of an entire town’s liquor supply?”
“Probably a man with a lot of other men on the payroll who carry guns,” Ian paused, “It is Texas after all.”
“Most folks around here go around heeled. You three might want to think about getting you some guns,” the man at the next table offered.
“No guns!” Ian, Clayton and Jorge replied together.
The subject had not come up before but Ian and Jorge were not surprised by Clayton’s concurrence. “Guns bring out the worst in people,” Clayton paused, “seen enough of that in the war.”
The men at the next table shook their heads in disbelief. “Yankees,” wiping their mouths they stood up and walked out.
The trio sat in silence for a few minutes. “Look I did not come to Texas to fight injustice but it seems some smart fellas, such as ourselves,” Clayton motioned around the table, “could make some money by helping this guy with his own distilling.”
“I thought you came out here to be a farmer?” Ian sank to a whisper as the waiter returned with their coffee. He waited for the man to leave. “Besides what do we know about distilling? Whatever we made would have to be a damn site better than that skull pop of yours we were drinking on the train. Clayton do you actually know anything about making whiskey?”
“As a matter of fact I do. I told you my brothers mixed that stuff up.” He leaned back in his chair, “I worked my way through college as an assistant at one of the local breweries in Ohio. I am telling you, we could make some money at this.” He stopped talking as the waiter returned carrying a tray of food.
“Here we go gentlemen,” he set the plates in front of the men, the aroma reminding them all of how hungry they were after the night of drinking, “will there be anything else.”
Clayton looked up at him, “a little information if you don’t mind. You said you built and own this place?”
“Me, my sister and my brother, we built it together. I do the books and run the restaurant, Mary Elisabeth does the cooking and Michael handles the hotel and repairs.”
Clayton looked at Ian and Jorge before proceeding, both men nodded their agreement. “My associates and I have a business proposal that might just solve your liquor problem. Perhaps we could all talk in private when you and your family have a chance.”
“Good day to you Mr. Epstein, thank you for coming in.” Martin ushered the man to the door and waved politely before turning and approaching the table with the new comers. A man and a woman entered from the kitchen door and sat down. “My sister and brother, Mary Elisabeth and Michael Kelley,” he gestured toward the pair. The three men stood and bowed to the lady then extended their hands in turn to the man. Martin continued, “Mr. Clayton Jackson, Mr. Ian Cahill, and Mr. Jorge Calaveras.” They all sat back down. “Clayton perhaps you would like to start by explaining your offer.”
“Yes. As Martin has told you we have experience as distillers and believe we can assist you with your problem. We are prepared to brew and supply you with quality whiskey and beer in exchange for the use of your still and barn, plus a fee per barrel. Currently, Harper distillery charges eight dollars a gallon for his rot gut whiskey; double the average price in other towns without his…..marketing technique. We can make you a single barrel blended whiskey for half that amount. With your thirty gallon still we can produce say… ten barrels a month.” Clayton paused as the Kelley’s all looked at each other in astonishment. He decided to push a little further. “We can also ferment that same amount of beer every month for about half that price. Naturally we take on all production costs and after six months have the option to buy your equipment at your cost.” He stopped and waited for a reply. He had not discussed the purchase of the still with Ian or Jorge but they were both sharp enough not to say anything.
Michael busily scribbled some numbers on a note pad and passed it over to his brother and sister. They nodded in agreement. “Clayton it sounds like a very fair offer but what do we do about Gig Harper? We can’t go against him.”
“Gig Harper,” Clayton looked between the siblings for an explanation?
“Gavin, the low brow thug, he likes to be called Gig. He thinks it makes him sound notorious,” Martin shook his head, “he is a blowhard but he has the money to hire men with more backbone than himself. He could make trouble.”
“I thought you said he does not interfere with you making your own liquor? It is your equipment on your property. As far as he knows we work for you…. Look you sell drinks at the same price as the other saloon owners. Gig won’t really be aware of any loss because he already gets nothing from you. You sell a decent whiskey at the going price but you pay less than the other saloon owners because we make it for you. The only thing that really changes is we all make some money. Do we have a deal?”
The Kelley’s talked for a moment before Martin stood up and stuck out his hand, “Deal.”
Clayton beamed as he shook the men’s hands, “let’s take a look at your still gentlemen. I want to check to make sure it does not have lead solder in any of the joints.” The three headed out to the barn talking excitedly about the nuances of using charred peat to roast the corn or adding tobacco to flavor the whiskey.
Mary stood to leave as well, “excuse me gentlemen I have a kitchen to ready for the night shift.”
Jorge and Ian stood as she left, the latter, watching her petticoats sway as she crossed the floor. “Jorge, take one hundred dollars out of our traveling funds and go do a little gambling tonight.”
“What all do you want to know about Mr. Harper?”
“Everything you can find out.” Ian continued staring at Mary Elisabeth as she disappeared into the kitchen, “Now ain’t that just butter on bacon?”
“Ian? Ian are you awake?” Clayton beat on the door while Jorge made snoring noises, laying his head on his hands pillow style, “We’re coming in.” Ian quickly threw the covers over himself in a big pile as the two men entered. “Get up lazy bones we got things to do.”
“I will be downstairs in a minute gentlemen.” He motioned for them to leave.
“We can talk while you get dressed,” Clayton threw Ian his pants. “First Jorge and I will go shopping for some supplies, rye, sugar, yeast but I need you to go find some old barrels.” Clayton stopped talking. Ian was still in bed.
“Do you two mind if I have a little privacy while I get dressed.” He pointed to the open door.
“I have seen plenty of white boys naked; I will be neither impressed nor embarrassed.” Clayton crossed over and shut the door.
Ian glared at the two of them.
“I have seen you naked plenty of times and Clayton is right it is neither impressive nor embarrassing.”
The blankets suddenly flipped to the floor, “Well how many white girls have you two seen naked,” Mary Elisabeth stated impatiently as she stood up wearing nothing but a glare? “Take a good look gentlemen since you are too dumb to take a hint” The two men sputtered apologies and awkwardly turned away. “I certainly hope the two of you know more about making whiskey than you do about women.” She pulled her night gown on over her head, gathered her slippers and roughly pushed the men aside as she stormed out of the room.
They turned back toward Ian who was now over his shyness and quickly pulling on his pants. “Not a word out of you two to her brothers or I will grab Jorge by the ankles and use him to beat you silly Clayton.”
Clayton ignored the comment snickering, “Are you crazy Ian, you can’t give Mrs. Kelley the leaky pipe!”
“I don’t have a leaky pipe!” He pulled his shirt on and sat down reaching for his socks, “What did you find out last night Jorge.”
“Much as the Kelley’s said, Gig is a no account drifter that came into town last year with a cattle drive. He went to work for a local distiller as a delivery man and eventually bought the owner out. Most folks around here say he forced the old man to sell. Then he hired a few thugs and went around strong arming the saloon owners into buying from him and convincing the competition to close up.”
Clayton leaned against the wall. “He can’t be that powerful, why don’t the saloon owners just hire a few men to run him off?”
“Apparently he was smart enough to hire the right thugs, men who are also supervisors on the railroads track gangs. If the saloon owners complain then no work gets done on the Katy and the railroad men get very nervous. Since they own the sheriff those complaints get no action and that makes Gig untouchable…. Oh there is one other thing Ian.”
Ian pulled his boots on, “what’s that?”
Jorge bolted for the door, “apparently there is some big dumb ape giving Mrs. Kelley the leaky pipe.”
Clayton burst out laughing as Ian lunged across the room after Jorge.
“Don’t run from me Jorge it will only make things worse when I catch you!” It was a wasted threat; the youngster had made good his escape. Ian turned back to Clayton. “Okay what kind of barrels do you want?”
“Used wine barrels, take the Kelley’s wagon and see if you can round up about two dozen. I am going over to the silo to see if I can find some sprouted corn. With any luck we will be cracking kernels and mixing mash tonight.” He hesitated. “Ian, Mrs. Kelley was the first naked white woman I ever saw, very easy on the eyes. You on the other hand…well I sincerely hope you are the last naked white man I ever see.”
Ian shook his head, “farmer, brewer and vaudeville entertainer, the surprises just keep coming with you.”
Jorge looked on as Ian and Clayton carefully poured the mash into the fermenter. It was nothing more than a big five gallon ceramic bottle, one of a dozen they had gotten from an olive oil importer. A small tube protruded from the cork stopper and ran into a half gallon jar filled with water. As the last of the mash disappeared down the funnel Clayton poured in the yeast mix. He stirred it in and then set the plug, checking for a good seal. “So corn mash wort needs to ferment for seven to ten days but rye for about half that?”
“That’s correct. Of course the real trick is this cork. We have to keep the air out so that the sugars from the grains convert to alcohol.” Clayton pointed to the cork and tube, “this is where most people mess it up. Air gets in or they don’t wait long enough for the fermentation to finish. Either way the result is a skunky sour taste. We were lucky to find these bottles to. Most people use metal containers but that can make the whiskey taste metallic and bitter. We will leave this sit for an hour or two and then check it for leaks.”
Ian sat down on an over turned bucket. “When do we get to the part where we have whiskey?”
Clayton stood up and looked at the row of fermenters they had been setting up over the last week. He walked down to the end where some of the first ones were and knelt down. Putting his ear to the side of the jar he tapped it gently with his knuckles. Watching the glass water in the attached jar he waited to see if any air bubbles came out. The first two fizzed slightly but the third did nothing. “This one,” he pointed to the silent bottle. Ian and Jorge came over to help carry it.
Removing the cork, he checked for foam. Nothing but a mild sweet aroma came out, it was ready. Ian and Jorge poured the mixture into the still while Clayton kept it steady. Once full he wiped the lip clean and placed the lid on top. “Now we tend the fire and wait for the alcohol to boil off into this cooling line. Most people want strong drink so they will cook the wash two or three times to get ninety percent pure. We want a smoother full flavored drink so we will keep the fire low and get about eighty percent pure alcohol with twenty percent water and flavor from the wash.”
At one hour Ian smiled. The first drop of whiskey fell from the cooling tube into the glass jar under it. An hour later saw a full gallon of whiskey. He poured some of it into a cup and handed it to Clayton. Clayton smelled it and took a sip, mellow, sweet. Clayton passed the cup back to Ian who then took a sip. “You did it Clayton, it’s amazing.”
“We’ll add a little burnt sugar and then get this rye out to the saloon, the corn whiskey we will put in those wine barrels and let it mellow for a few months. We will sell that for top dollar to select customers that is where we will make the real money.” He poured the jug into three quart bottles and pressed in the corks, then handed them to Jorge, “Take these over to Martin, and tell him we will have at least twenty gallons by tomorrow. He can open for regular business by Friday night.”
“Speaking of business, we are about to out-grow this barn. Maybe with a payday in the future we should look around for a bigger place, something out of town where no one will see what we are doing.”
Clayton looked at the cramped space and nodded, “You’re right. This place is too small to process more than a dozen fermenters at one time. Possibility of a fire is pretty high as well. I need your help here Ian, what do you think about sending Jorge out to find a place?”
“I think he understands what’s needed, we just need to give him a few guidelines.” He smiled and clapped his hands. “Woo! I can’t believe this Clayton; I have not felt this good since getting off the ship from Ireland.” He slapped his friend on the back, “yep things are really looking up.”
Pale sunlight streamed into the room as Ian rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He blinked trying to focus; two large black circles hovered just in front of his face. He rubbed his eyes again, nope still there. “Mr. Cahill, just what exactly are your intentions with my sister?” Ian looked past the circles. Martin was standing over him pointing a double barreled shotgun at his head. He looked angry. “I have seen her coming out of your room early in the morning several times in the last couple of week’s sir, and while she is a grown woman I will not have her played a fool. So you should tell me what you’re about. Are you going to make an honest woman of her?”
Ian sat up. “Martin, I don’t know what is going to happen between Mary and myself. We have been spending time together for the past several weeks and neither of us has discussed anything more…. I am not armed Martin, I would appreciate you pointing that scattergun somewhere else.”
“That is not a very good answer Ian….I think I am going to have to kill you.”
Ian pursed his lips; he was not convinced of Martin’s determination. “It’s all I got Martin; I guess you will have to kill me.” He lay back in the bed spreading his arms to each side while Martin stood over him shaking. Martin stood at the bed holding the gun several minutes. “If you are going to kill me would you please get on with it.”
“MARTIN JAMES KELLEY WHAT IN THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING!” Mary stood in the door with a clean stack of towels. “Put that gun away.”
“Ian has soiled your good name, Mary, and refuses to wed you….. I’m going to kill him”
Ian lifted his head and looked at Mary, “Well so far we have reached the threatening part. I am still waiting for the killing.”
“You shut your smart mouth,” Mary set the towels down and yanked the gun out of her brother’s hands. “We live in a railroad town full of cowboys and gandy dancers; who is going to look down on me for being with Ian? He is a drunk and a drifter, which still leaves him as the best catch in the county but I wouldn’t marry his sorry ass even if he asked twenty times. Now get out of here and don’t interfere in my private affairs again.”
Martin started to protest but thought better of it. He stalked out of the room trying to decide if he was more relieved he did not have to kill Ian or amazed by his sister’s outburst.
Ian sat up in bed, “Even if I ask twenty times? That is not exactly what a fella wants to hear from his girl.”
“I am not your girl and I have a gun, do you really want to discuss this now?” Ian shook his head back and forth. “Good then put on your clothes and come down stairs, your friends are eager to talk to you.” Grabbing her towels Mary walked out.
Ian grinned, “Ask you twenty times. If I asked once you better say yes.”
“I heard that and I still have a gun,” Mary called from down the hall.
Jorge and Clayton were just finishing breakfast as Ian came down the stairs. Still wearing his gambling suit the younger man had clearly been out all night. Ian sat down and poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot on the table. Jorge dropped a folded piece of paper in front of him and leaned back grinning.
“What’s this, “Ian picked up the paper. “Deed of Land Title,”He opened it reading the legal description of a forty acre tract of land identified as a cattle ranch adjoining the Iron Ore Creek.
“Won it in a poker game, the previous owner had died in dept to the current owner, so he foreclosed on the estate. Said he was flat broke himself and couldn’t even get hired by the railroad because of his drinking. Last night he put it up for $200 collateral in a poker game, which I then won.” Jorge grinned.
“You won a ranch?” Ian looked up and did a double take as he noticed his young friend’s black eye. “What is that…Did you cheat some sod buster out of his land?” Jorge frowned and looked down. “Oh crap you did and you got caught. This guy is going to come looking for you.” Ian tossed the deed on the table.
“No, no he won’t, “Jorge protested’ “He had already left the game. The cheating came later…at least the getting caught did. Besides he is no farmer, just some drunken ass drifter. He’ll probably leave town and never know”
Clayton’s smile faded at the revelation. “We can’t use the property if this guy is stomping around looking to get even. The whole idea was to stay out of site of Gig and his stooges…..I guess Jorge needed more guidelines.”
Ian put his hands on his head in thought. “Let’s make sure this guy leaves town. We find him and offer to make things right. Give him some money for the land and a ticket out of town. If he is as broke as you say then he will jump at the chance to get some coin and move on.” He stopped to look exasperated at his friend. “I don’t suppose you got his name?”
“Well of course I did, it was James Hollander or Jesse Hollander, or maybe Jim Holliwell. It was definitely Jonas Holly.”
Martin sat down a fresh pot of coffee, “You mean John Holiday?”
“Yeah that was it,” Jorge smiled. “You know him?”
“Yep, came to town a few months ahead of you fellas,” Martin picked up the used dishes and headed for the kitchen.
Ian called after him, “Martin where can we find Mr. Holiday?”
Martin kept walking but pointed out the door, “Catty-corner across the street. Look for the sign that says Dentist.”
The three men walked across the street. A small wooden shop was sandwiched between two large brick buildings housing a general store and a saddle maker. They could see a young man, about Jorge’s age, through the window sitting at his desk reading a newspaper and sipping from a teacup. He was blond haired with a thin mustache and goatee. He looked pale and underfed but well dressed. “Is that the guy, “Ian leaned toward Jorge without taking his eyes off the man? Jorge nodded his head in affirmation. “He doesn’t look like a broke, drunk, drifter to me.”
The door ringer sounded as the trio entered the office. “Mr. Holiday? I am Ian Cahill. These are my associates, Mr. Johnson and I believe you know Mr. Calaveras”.
“Doctor Holiday to be correct, but most of my acquaintances refer to me as Doc,” the man had a refined southern accent, he put down his paper and stood up to shake their hands in a genteel manner. “I see your night ended in physical confrontation Mr. Calaveras,” he pointed to Jorge’s black eye, “Are you in need of dental work or is this merely a social visit?”
Jorge looked away embarrassed.
“The latter, sort of Doctor…Doc,” Ian pulled out the deed and put it on the desk, “You were a victim of overzealous card play last night on the part of our friend.”
Doc looked at them blankly awaiting further explanation.
Clayton jumped in, “We have come to make restitution….our friend was cheating during the card game last night.”
“Yes I know, so was I, but Mr. Calaveras was doing a better job than myself I might add. It took those barnyard barbarians over three hours to even suspect anything. By the time they caught on I had given up a $200 ranch and relieved them of over $2,000 in hard currency. I decided it was best to excuse myself with my financial bounty before things became unpleasant, “Doc handed the deed back to Ian. “I am a man of cosmopolitan leisure Mr. Cahill; I assure you I have no intentions of digging in the dirt like a peasant therefore a ranch is not among my requirements in life. I would suggest we agree that Mr. Calaveras earned this by paying the piper for both our misdeeds last night. ”
“Hold on, you left me there to take the blame for cheating? I could have been killed!” Jorge balled up his fists in preparation for beating Holiday senseless.
“Indeed sir you were cheating so let’s not make as though it was undeserved. Besides those men were not going to kill you, they are railroad officials and business owners, unlikely to risk the noose over a few dollars. I am sure it is not the first pummeling you have received on such grounds. No hard feelings I should hope,” Doc Smiled and offered his hand to Jorge.
Jorge grasped his hand, “Oh what the hell….How did you know I was cheating any way?”
“Most amateur card players will hold face-cards hoping to insure a winning hand. Such tactics will work for a round or two but even the most inebriated cowpuncher will get suspicious after seeing a string of kings, ladies and knaves. The more experienced player will hold sevens and nines. Few players remember a full-house or four of a kind in those values. I knew somebody was holding those cards when I couldn’t draw any. “He stopped talking to grab his handkerchief as a coughing fit overtook him. “My apologies, “He put the cloth back in his pocket and continued, “When you dropped three sevens, ace high, I knew you for a rascal. From then on I pulled eights and tens, letting you win any hand where you drew three cards and raised the ante. It helped increase the confusion amongst the other players. Perhaps we could collaborate on such an endeavor in the future.”
Jorge grinned, “Sure but next time you stay and take the beating, “he wouldn’t be manipulated by the good doctor again.
Ian held the deed up, “You are sure we are square on this, Doc?”
“We are indeed, but you may do me one small favor. I have been trying to establish myself as a Faro bank since I came to town. All of the local saloon owners have declined my offer, citing my youth as a liability. It would seem that gamblers are distrustful of the young, “Doc looked at Jorge, “Perhaps you could speak to the Kelley brothers on my behalf in this matter?”
Ian looked at Clayton, who shrugged his shoulders, but before he could speak Jorge answered, “We can mention it but no guarantee they will offer terms. If they do agree we get $200 a week for the first six months for setting it up.”
Doc scowled, “$100 a week for the first two months.”
“$200 a week for the first three months and we’ll throw in a bottle of our best whiskey every week, “Jorge folded his arms indicating his final offer and waited silently while Doc tugged on his goatee thinking it over.
“We have a deal Mr. Calaveras, “Doc stuck his hand out to shake on the bargain, adding his own brand of toxic compliment, “You have a nasty opportunistic streak that I find most agreeable. “
Jorge laughed, “Yeah, I like you too Doc.”
The three left the office waiting until they were well in the middle of the street before commenting on the encounter. Clayton faced forward as he spoke, certain Doc would be watching to gauge their reaction as they walked away, “That went better than I expected. I do wonder what kind of Dentist keeps a derringer in his waistband though.”
“One that doesn’t like complaints from his patients I would guess, “Ian offered, “But more likely he saw us walk over and was not sure what it was about.”
“Did you even see that gun Mr. Cojones Grande before you popped off, “even as he said it Clayton realized it was harsher than he intended.
If Jorge was stung by the insult he did not complain, “I did Clayton, but since he wasn’t carrying the .36 hog-leg he had under his coat in a shoulder rig last night I decided not to worry about it like a little girl.” He increased his pace and walked through the saloon door and upstairs without saying anything more.
Ian and Clayton stopped inside the doorway, “Do you two need to go out to the barn and settle something?”
Clayton was clearly embarrassed by his loss of composure, “It’s my fault Ian. Mr. Johnson knows Jorge is a man and we are equal partners in this venture, but First Sergeant Johnson keeps treating him like a raw recruit. I’ll go up and apologize.”
“Respect works both ways. If he wants to be treated like a man he needs to stop making decisions like a child. Why don’t you and I borrow Martin’s wagon and go inspect this ranch, “he motioned his head toward the top of the stairs, “It will give Mr. Cojones Grande some time to cool off.”
“Okay, let me give Martin the invoice for the whiskey so he can pay us tomorrow and then we can go, “Clayton headed for the kitchen.
“Clayton, while you are in there would you mind asking to borrow the wagon? The Kelley’s’ are not very happy with me today, “Ian edged toward the back door, “I’ll tell you about it on the way out to the ranch.”
An hour of Clayton’s barbed comments and jokes at Ian’s expense over the early morning adventure brought them to the gate of the ranch. He pulled back on the reins stopping the horse and wagon, “This must be it.” They looked out over the flat rolling grassy field. There was a large hay barn surrounded by a wind break of spruce trees in a double row, a good sized ranch style house in the middle of a dozen fruit trees and several out-buildings that had most likely been used for chickens, goats and pigs. Only one was big enough for horses or a few head of cattle. Thick underbrush with a mix of hardwoods and conifers lined the bank of the creek which ran only a few feet wide right now but had obviously seen its share of storm surge based on the flood plain and downed trees.
“Looks like a family farm, “Clayton swung down from the wagon looking around, “No place for a large herd of cattle during the winter. Not much sign of grazing on this grass either.”
“I think everything in Texas is called a ranch regardless of its actual purpose, “Ian joined him on the ground. Together they walked over to the barn. One of the doors was off its hinges and lay flat in the dirt. There was nothing inside but the roof and walls looked solid enough, “This will work for fermenting don’t you think?”
“Sure will, “Clayton walked through the building and out the other end, “That small barn will be perfect for the stills, looks like there is a root cellar under it. We can put the corn whiskey down there for ageing.”
The two men walked over to the house. The door was standing open on it. Inside were the remains of well worn crude furniture covered in dust and animal feces. “Mmm just like the Palace only terrible, “Ian joked, “Good thing we won’t be living here.”
“I don’t know. If we are cooking whiskey someone will have to be here to tend the stills and guard the finished product. Looks like three bedrooms upstairs, two down here plus the main room and kitchen area, “Clayton paused opening the stove against the back wall to take a look inside. “I could handle residence here.”
“I certainly hope you do not expect Jorge and me to live here, “Ian paused as Clayton looked at him furrowing his brow, “We have grown accustomed to a certain level of civilization.” The two broke out laughing.
“Well we are going to need some help no matter what, “Clayton looked out the front window, “I figure in a month we will buy the Kelley’s still, got room for two maybe three more. That will triple our production at a minimum. If the three of us handle sales, delivery and supplies we will need…four other guys for brewing and bottling.”
Ian nodded in agreement, “Got anybody in mind?”
Clayton thought for a minute, “There are those two brothers that the Kelley’s hire for repairs, Corby and Cole Jenkins, and that guy that they keep around to handle drunks and trouble makers, Mike Beaton.”
“Mick Benton, “Ian corrected him.
“That’s the guy…none of them are afraid of hard work and they are all big enough to be handy in a scrap, “Clayton thought for a minute, “One more person to live out here full time and keep an eye on the place. Have to ask around and find someone we can trust.”
“You sound like you are expecting trouble.”
“I give it less than six months before Gig shows his hand, we bout as well plan for it.”
Ian came down the stairs and made his way over to where Clayton and Jorge were sitting, “What do we have for dinner tonight gents?”
“Lamb stew, “Jorge pointed to the chalkboard with the specials written on it.
“Fried chicken, “Clayton added with a note of derision.
Ian looked at his friends, “I thought you two were over your little collie shangle from this morning?”
“We are, “They both replied together while avoiding the others gaze.
Ian shook his head dismissively.
Michael came over with a cup, “Hello Ian. What would you like for dinner?” He took out a pad to write on.
“I think I will go with the lamb stew….” He trailed off as Clayton glared at him, “Make that fried chicken…” Jorge coughed loudly drawing Ian’s attention. Confused Ian tried again, “Could you do some chicken soup and toast Michael?”
“Sure Ian, “Michael made a note and walked into the kitchen.
Nobody spoke for several minutes.
Sugar please, “Jorge asked looking at the ceiling…. “I asked for the sugar please!”
Clayton passed the sugar bowl sitting it down with a thump.
Ian grabbed the bowl before Jorge could touch it, “What is going on!”
Both men started talking at the same time.
“This fool thinks the Boston Red Stockings will win the pennant! “Jorge pointed at Clayton.
“They have a better chance than a first year team with a second string pitcher!”
“Zettlein is a damn site better than that washout Al Spalding!” Jorge put both hands on the table and leaned in to yell at Clayton.
“They should send Zettlein back to Chicago. I hear they need a grounds keeper, “Clayton leaned in from his side until their noses were almost touching.
“He has one of the best career pitching records in baseball!”
“It won’t matter Ross Barnes is batting over 400. Your White Stockings better like chasing balls!”
“Put some money on it Clayton.”
“How about one hundred dollars? ”Clayton stuck out his hand to shake on the bet.
“You got a wager. “Jorge grabbed his hand and shook it, “I might actually feel bad about taking your money. You don’t know anything about baseball you dumb dirt farmer.”
“I can read statistics and do calculus you card counting hack, “Both men sat back in their chairs fuming but saying nothing more.
Ian took a sip of his coffee, “Glad we got that settled. Sugar anybody?” Neither man responded. “Do I want an explanation?”
“When we got back from the ranch I went up to apologize to Mr. Calaveras for our argument this morning. We got to talking about baseball. I didn’t realize that he was so uneducated in the sport, “Clayton took a drink from his cup.
Jorge stammered in anger, “I’m uneducated? He’s so dumb he thinks that a ball field is where they grow the baseballs.”
“Yeah well you think the batter is for making cake!”
“STOP! You two are more than I can take this evening… Besides everybody knows the New York Mutuals are going to win the pennant, “all three men started arguing at once.
CLAYTON, “the debate ceased as Michael Kelley raised his voice to get their attention, “The fella I was telling you about is here. Would you like to talk to him?”
“Watchman for the ranch, “Clayton said by way of explanation to his friends. “Send him over Michael.”
A gray haired old man with a slight shuffle approached, he had both hands in his jacket pockets, “Evening gentlemen. I am David Sweeny but most folks just call me one armed Dave on account of my one bad arm.” He used his right hand to lift his left out of the pocket. Letting go the arm hung limp. “I was run down in a stampede when I was a kid, been like this ever since. I ain’t any charity case though. I can shoot straight with a pistol; I am a pretty fair cook and a hard worker.”
Ian looked at Clayton. The man was much older and missing the use of one less arm than what they had discussed. “Evening Mr. Sweeny, “Clayton replied slowly, wondering if Michael had understood what they wanted the man for, “I think you may be too old for the job. It is out on our ranch, physically demanding with long hours.”
“Mr. Kelley told me what you wanted. I wouldn’t ask for the job if I couldn’t do it. I don’t lie, cheat or steal. I was raised with good Protestant values, “He looked at all of the men in turn meeting their eye.
“That is one strike against you, “Jorge interjected.
“I don’t drink either…if it matters, “Dave added.
“It does matter Mr. Sweeny but you are not helping your case with it, “Ian and Jorge snickered as Clayton squirmed uncomfortably at the crude remarks.
“Michael recommended you, that’s good enough for me. Mr. Sweeny you’re hired, “Clayton smiled at the shock on his friend’s faces, “Be here tomorrow morning with your gear. I’ll take you out and get you settled at the ranch.”
He reached out to shake Clayton’s hand, “Thank you Mr. Johnson… six a.m. alright or do you need me earlier?”
Jorge gasped, “Ten will be good.”He stammered afraid of what Clayton might agree to.
“Ten, “One armed Dave shook his head, “What kind of ranch are you fellas running?”
Clayton laughed at the man’s confusion, “My friends are used to town life. We will show you around the place tomorrow and explain your duties in detail then”.
One armed Dave put his bad arm back in its pocket and shuffled out the door muttering to himself.
You must be logged in to post a comment.