Sugarfoot Sue became the darling of all Wyoming two minutes after she playfully kicked her patent leather pump into the air and missed all three shots she took at it with a single-action Bearcat revolver she filched from the boot of a miner she’d just drunk under the table. The pump came down right on the hood of the only taxi some locals had ever seen. The taxi sideslipped in the mud. The door opened.
To reveal the broad shoulders and face of a Hollywood Man, a true star of his country and various processions, who had served each one of us in our Nation’s great wars. An idol to millions. He walked over to Sue, shook her hand and kissed her brow, anointing her Belle of the bash that ensued. Wyoming was rolling in damp sheets and flaring like blue pipeline flame, sipping champagne from Sue’s already famous shoe.
Wyoming has an affinity for men on horseback like the lanky stranger who divested himself so graciously of the taxi, whose meter was running out of decimals after the long haul from Beverly Hiltons. There’s a poignant niche for heroes with boots made to last and for show. And buckles melted down from bayonets of captives and shaped like the head of a bull with rampant horns. On flat belly. On white-on-white shirt with string tie and sincerity, just a hint of sun-squint, and plenty of white teeth. This stranger was no stranger and needed no introduction to the folk of Wyoming.
And certainly not to the willing arms of Sugarfoot Sue; pride of the cornflower and dust of the wispwind. The stranger stayed, as men will do when their duty grows tired, their legend loses tarnish, and the politics of home become quirky and remonstrative. The price on that distinguished head would have cost Sue two centuries of hopping curbs. They lived in her dented old Airstream behind the oasis. There was famine that winter in parts of the parish, and Indian raids on the alcohol stills. But Sue persevered with good spirits and wide eyes, with marmalade breakfasts served in the twin bunk they shared. Wyoming also has an affinity for innocently gold-digging babes such as Sue. It was a high time for both of them until Corfu came back.
Corfu coveted Sue with a packrat’s desire, with eyes of a prospector counting geigers on Mesas no longer hot and clicky. He loved her like the forked tails of magpies, like sharp bright things for hoarding. In other words, like she belonged. Which in a way, she did. It was part of her primordial patience to belong. But not to be treated like the burros Corfu used to smuggle dope to the Mission. The burros were named William and Edgar Rice and they stood for the skinnings that Corfu handed them, but Sue wasn’t intended for the lash of tongues or reach of boots. And though she didn’t know it, the burros were pulling for her. They thought she was just fine.
The stranger’s stock in trade was the play of revolvers. He had carved his name on the screen with six-shooters and could punch a tight group. But Corfu was wise to the ways of the commune and know that bullets were long gone and would stay there. He was a man of the knife. His knife was a skulker, a panic, an unresolvable issue. He worked from a low crouch and a rock-steady wrist. Hooking up towards the groin.
The stranger hadn’t learned it yet, but he was a slasher, working rangy and whippy from the fringe of the fray. Just right for a classic combat against Corfu, a dancer on stone, an upsurge against motion. The stranger would learn it, but in time enough to keep it? There was only one way to know, and that’s the way they went.
The stranger was at the fold-out desk, working on a universal appeal when a knock on the door took it right off its hinges, showing him the teeth of a snowstorm and a godawful grizzly of a man: thick as barrels, mangy and mean-eyed as mongrels. Falling back on his training, the stranger raised an eyebrow and motioned the intruder in. Corfu sprang.
Into the heel of a thousand dollar boot, which then propelled his leathered bulk outdoors and into the snow drifted up by the fence. The stranger had a good knife from the kitchen and held it pointing out, his thumb down the back edge of the blade. Corfu held his old skinner like a dousing rod, twitching and dipping as it sniffed for blood. They circled in snow muddied but not yet bloodied.
Sue came back from baking muffins in the hogan in time to see Corfu take a sidewinder arm snap, driven by a hop forward with his other hand touching the ground. The stranger popped his wrist like a flycaster and Corfu was bleeding. He cursed and bulled in on the stranger, flaying his fine vest to ribbons.
Sue watched with heart thrumming like a snow hare because she was both prize and battlefield. She clutched her muffins to her breasts and wished for a gun or a voice like a whipcrack. She prayed from her true heart for the first time in her life.
And was delivered of inspiration. Without dropping a muffin, she pulled off a shoe and shied it at Corfu. It hit him on the side of the head: his reaction to it was the last thing that ever crossed his mind. He spewed the snow red and fell slack as a gutted pig. All things in their own time.
Wrapped protectively around each other in their skinny bed, banking their warmth against all harm and horror, they completed the subtle merging started in the time bookended by the flights of footware. And she told him her fondest childhood dream. That she’d always known someday somebody would come from Hollywood and make her a star.
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