Gunslingers of Paradiso–The Stranger In Paradiso

December 9, 2009

The Stranger In Paradiso

The town of Paradiso was dying. Five years had passed since the gold ran out in the mines. Most of the people had moved on–either going further west to continue searching or admitting failure and returning east. Only a handful remained there in the village of Paradiso–mostly those who had nowhere else to go and were unable to move on.

In his general store, Ezra Cobble wasted the days with wife and the monotony of running his cramped little shop. From a family of merchants, Ezra had believed that the future lay in the West–and that those who found their fortune there would be quick and willing to spend it. When the fortunes ran out, so did business–leaving the fat and balding old shopkeeper to fade into the town’s lethargic web, absently minding a store that would have faded out if it had been anywhere else.

With slowly dimming eyes, Ezra looked out at the hotel across the way. He frowned, knowing that the owner–a middle-aged man named Lars Henson–was not anywhere near his desk. Esther had gone by the hotel many times and heard Henson wasting the day with drink and his women–a wife and two indentured servants he had acquired through some strange and likely questionable business dealings. The two girls were serving girls when business thrived, but now they did little more than amuse and alleviate the boredom of their employer.

Ezra grimaced as he looked at his own wife, a fat, bloated, and aging woman who’s days of doing much beyond cleaning and cooking were over. Thinking about the two girls across the way, Ezra wished he could have an hour with one of them. He wanted to believe he would not have been picky, but he definitely would have preferred to have a spell with the yellow-haired one. Be it from years of inactivity or general boredom, he had built her up as the image of perfection–angelic face, seducing eyes, an expansive bosom, excellent curvatures… He would died happily for an hour with her.

His wife moving a barrel out of the store room snapped him out of his regularly scheduled fantasy. He smoothed out his apron and adjusted his glasses before turning to her.

What in the name of Hell are doing?” he snapped.

Watch your cursin’!” his wife snapped in reply. “Wouldn’t do to folks hear that. And if you must know, I was bringing out another barrel of flour. The other one’s running low and it wouldn’t do to have it run out.”

Darn it woman,” he said gruffly. “You and Missus Henson are the only ones who get flour here anymore! Soon enough we’ll be in the ground, so you don’t worry your mind about flour.”

Oh hush that talk. I think we’ve got a good many years in us Ezra, and I don’t intend to let anybody say we didn’t keep things well stocked while we were here.”

But there’s nobody here!”

You never know when some traveler is going to come in needing flour!”

Ezra grumbled as and returned to his absent-minded fantasy of the yellow-haired girl. He and Esther had that argument once a week–their primary interaction with one another. They would have their meals together, grumble and twiddle through the day, and then go to bed. There was a nauseating repetition to their days. It just annoyed Ezra.

The rest of the town appeared just as dull, although Ezra long expected their days were much more exciting than his. Henson aside, the townspeople who still remained looked happy enough. The blacksmith always whistled a happy tune and the preacher was always smiling and had some story to tell.

It was the repetition that bothered Ezra. Whenever somebody came in, it was almost as though it was on a schedule. Ezra had worked out a schedule for when people would come in and knew exactly what they would bring up for small talk. It was dead on. He usually just repeated the same lines he scripted out every week.

Checking his watch, he saw that Mister Anders was due to come in for snuff in about an hour. Satisfied with that, he returned to idle fantasies.

Clop, clop, clop, clop, clop…

The steps of a horse going down Main Street were not unknown, but almost forgotten. And definitely not on Ezra’s schedule. He looked down the street as a lone horse and rider came up the street.

The horse would have been white if it had been washed recently, but it was a dirty browning gray as it came up the street. The animal looked somewhat sad as it sauntered up the street.

The rider looked like something out of an advertisement. He wore a black coat with tanned animal-skinned clothing and scuffed, faded black boots. A black, wide-brimmed hat covered much of his face.

He dismounted in front of the general store and tied his steed to the hitching post. He strode deliberately inside, turning to face Ezra–who saw an unshaven face with intense green eyes. His hair was dark, but streaking from long days in the sun.

This Paradiso?” he asked. His voice was rough and tired, sounding like he had not spoken to anyone in sometime. “Didn’t see any kind of sign as I came in.”

Yea– Yes sir,” Ezra answered. “The sign fell a couple winters ago, rotted all to Hell before we could get it back up. No one’s put up a new one, but this is Paradiso.”

Good,” the man said. “I have business here.”

Esther returned to the main stopping as she saw the man. She gaped in surprise. With a smooth motion he removed his hat and nodded at her slightly.

Afternoon ma’am,” he said.

Good afternoon sir,” she said. “How can we help you today, Mister…?”

Reese,” he said. “Clayton Reese. I need supplies for when I head back out of town. It’s a fairly long list, so I don’t expect you’ll get it all filled today. Can I leave an order with you?”

Don’t see why not,” Ezra said. “Not likely to get beat to anything. Business isn’t as busy as one would hope.”

Reese held out a piece of paper. Ezra took it nervously.

I need everything ready by Friday,” Reese said. “I’ll pay you then. Is that enough time?”

More than enough,” Esther said. “We’ll have everything ready then. Will there be anything else?”

I need some place for my horse. He could use a good wash too.”

McMullin runs the stable on the edge of town,” Ezra said. “His brother shoes and takes care of horses.”

Reese put his hat back on. He smiled and tipped his hat at them.

Much obliged,” he said. “Have a better one.”

Leaving the store, he untied the horse and led it down the street towards the stable. Esther took the list from her husband and looked it over. She tapped him gently on the back of the head.

I told you somebody would come in needing flour,” she said.

#

After his horse was situated at the stable, Clayton Reese proceeded to secure a room at the hotel. It was not an optimal arrangement for either side. Reese disliked Henson general manner and questionable approach to things instantly. Henson–for his part–found Reese to be too quiet and suspicious.

What do you do for a living mister Reese?” Henson asked.

Bible salesman,” Reese replied.

Taking the key, Reese moved towards stairs–tipping his hat to the two girls sitting at a table in the lobby of the hotel. They watched longingly as he disappeared into the hallway above.

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