For patrickxpeter Historical Ficathon: Time Period # 1: Wild West, dirty, gritty, Young Guns style for shadow_shimmer.
A/N: Title from a phrase used in The Young Guns. Information on six-shooters taken from an article in Popular Mechanics. It wasn't as Young Guns as I'd planned but I hope shadow_shimmer likes it. Also, I'm not from the States so I'm not too sure of the American Wild West; if it comes across as cliched, you can blame watching too much Bonanza.
Greta looked up from polishing the mahogany counter to a deep shine when the doors swung open and a young man slipped through, gazing around at the tables and chairs. She squinted at the late-afternoon sun pouring through the frosted glass and backlighting him, noting the dust on his clothes and the massive carpetbag clenched in one hand; she gave a wide grin.
"Hey there, traveler," she called out, and the man's eyes snapped to her. He blinked rapidly and his answering smile was small and tired.
Greta preened at this. Been a long time since anyone had referred to her as miss; last week some of the 'respectable' ladies in the town had turned their noses up at her and crossed the dirt road, muttering among themselves about the fallen women. Greta had sneered at them as much as she could, but sometimes things like that hurt.
"I know some places open all day, but Pete sleeps near all morning, so we ain't open yet," she said apologetically and the young man shook his head as he came closer to where she stood, passing the big pot-bellied stove. She took the opportunity to take a closer look. He was maybe just a little older than she was, and his hair wasn't as blond as she first thought, but a little redder than her own. The hat he had on was pulled low over his head, not quite shielding the feverishly bright eyes set in the rounded face.
"I...I'd just like some water. If it's not too much trouble."
Greta smiled wryly.
"We got bourbon and and we got rye, but it's gonna be a helluva problem for me to find you some water now, traveler. But," she said with mischief as he opened his mouth. "For you, I'm gonna try."
She gave him a massive wink and then went out from behind the bar and out the back door, heading for the water-pump with a bucket. She came back and poured a glassful with the large ladle; he drank eagerly.
"Got a great thirst on you," she noted as she poured him another glassful and he nodded while slurping.
"I need a place to stay," he said in a hushed voice, eyes flickering around the room. "I have some money on me...but I don't think it's going to be enough." He looked at her as she pursed her lips. "I don't want any charity, miss, I can work...cook, clean up, serve, I can learn."
It was obviously a strain to him to say all this and Greta wondered where he came from, with his proper way of talking and his low polite voice. He wasn't going to last long in such a city as Dodge, in such a saloon as this one, but Greta always had a soft heart; Pete said it would be the death of her.
"I can ask Pete," she said hesitantly. The man's eyes lit up. "I can't promise you nothing, cause it's Pete, but I can try."
"That would be real nice of you, miss," the young man said. Greta winked at him encouragingly as she left from behind the bar again and headed for the small staircase.
"You can thank me by calling me by the name my momma gave me: Greta," she said from the uppermost step. The landing ran right over over the bar itself, so that when she walked on the floorboards to get to the rooms that Pete had built over it, she could hear the bottles and hanging glasses tinkling against each other, disturbed by her steps. She reached another corridor and turned down it, ending up at Pete's door.
"Pete!" she whispered violently at the crack between the door and its frame. "Pete, get up, I got something to ask you."
"Open the damn door and come in," Pete snapped back. She gripped her skirts in one hand and pushed open the door with the other. As usual, Pete's rooms were dark, heavy curtains covering all the windows. Instead of trying to get some rest, like he always claimed he should, Pete sat at his writing desk with the lamp lit, calculating furiously.
"Pete, I got me a new friend down at the bar, says he needs a job."
"No." Pete added something on his counting machine, peered at his papers and grunted. "With you and the rest of the girls, and Joe and Charlie, I can't take on anybody else."
Greta wrung her hands, trying to look piteous, but Pete didn't even glance her way.
"He's really just a kid, Pete, and he's been a far way, from what I see. It wouldn't take--"
"I already said no." Pete finally turned to her, his expression exasperated. "Greta, I keep telling you 'bout that heart you got--" He cut off abruptly, turning his face to the direction of the bar and listening carefully. When Greta opened her mouth to ask him the matter, he frowned at her and shook his head.
The piano downstairs was being played. It was a little out of tune but it still sounded good and Pete stood up and stared at Greta.
"Well, come on, then," he said to her wryly, rolling his eyes at her hopeful grin. "And don't you start with me. Don't you even start."
"But, since you ran Wilbur out for trying a thing with Jill, we still haven't found us someone to play!" Greta exclaimed at Pete's slim back as he went out his door and walked to the bannister, leaning on it and surveying the saloon, his shirt-sleeves rolled up. She stood beside him, watching as he gazed at the far end, where a small stage had been installed, the piano set beside it. The young man had set his bag beside him and was drawing a sweet melody out of the instrument. Greta was delighted.
"It sounds so pretty," she whispered and Pete nodded absently, his eyes taking in every detail and narrowing at the fine red-blond hair. The man finished his slow melancholy tune and sat looking at his surprisingly pale fingers splayed against the ivories.
"That was good," Pete said loudly and the young man spun around on the stool, staring up at them. "'Course, we don't play those sad songs here. Makes people feel low, and when they feel low, they get into a bad fighting mood...or a worse fighting mood, I can't never tell."
"Oh," was all the traveler said, hands nervous in his lap. Pete bit his lip and sighed, for Greta was poking him in the short-ribs.
"You know anything else?"
"I know a lot of songs," the traveler said, obviously not trying to sound too eager. "And I can learn more anytime. If you just--"
"You show me what you got tonight," Pete interrupted and peered at him. "What's your name?"
Pete flapped his hand in the air dismissively.
"Your last name's worth nothing to me here. I don't need it." He looked at Patrick carefully, brown eyes assessing. "You do good, you get room and board. But we got a tough crowd. You look a little soft--"
"I'm not," Patrick said firmly, eyes going to narrow slits. "Not when it matters."
Pete gave a sharp grin.
"Oh, my friend. Around here, it matters all the time."
Most people that went into the Black Underdog in the night would see Pete standing behind the bar, laughing and sliding bottles along the slick surface, fancy in his vest and white shirt. Few people noted the way his eyes flashed from corner to corner, landing on Greta and the other girls perched near the patrons, making sure their hands didn't stray too far. He watched every man that came in, remembering his regulars and their preferred poison; anyone new was greeted with a fixed suspicious smile.
Tonight, the piano was shining again, having been painstakingly tuned and polished by Patrick; there was an excited buzz when Patrick sat down at the keys. Pete grabbed onto Greta's arm as she flounced past on her way to the stage, handing her a bottle and a shot-glass.
"It's for him," he clarified at her puzzled look.
"But I thought he said he doesn't drink," she said and Pete laughed.
"He's in a saloon. Nothing here to do but drink. Go on now, go do your thing."
She went on her way again, smiling at the men that reached for her. She managed to lean coyly away, thumping the bottle and the glass on the top of the piano, leaning to whisper in Patrick's ear. The crowd called and she raised her hands, arms bare, to motion them into silence.
"Be quiet," she said for good measure. "Me and my old friend Patrick here, we're gonna do some songs for you...no, Jim, ain't gonna be no dancing right now! Go dance with your horse." The outraged yell set the crowd laughing again. Patrick looked up at her with a rueful smile, nodded twice, and set off with a fast rhythm.
There were a few moments when Pete realized he was holding his breath, seeing only the side of Patrick's face as his cheek pressed up in a massive grin, his body rocking in time to the music. Greta had a really nice voice, everybody knew that, but Patrick seemed to know exactly how to cushion it, softening the sound at times to press her voice into the still appreciative air, then ramping up into a loud energetic level, Greta singing her heart out.
The men were having the time of their lives by this point. They were pounding on the round wooden tables and whistling heartily; at one point, Patrick joined in a chorus and it was probably the nicest thing Pete ever heard.
Greta was glowing when they were finished and the other girls went up to dance; Patrick stayed to accompany their brash skirt-tossing. Pete grabbed onto Greta's frilled short sleeve as she smiled her way past and placed a key in her hand.
"For him?" Greta grinned, sticking the key in her bosom. Pete rolled his eyes and looked out on the rough cowboy crowd, enjoying themselves more than ever. He could hardly keep up with the bar and Charlie had to be helping him out.
"Yeah," Pete said, squinting at Patrick. From this angle, his head turned to the side like that, smiling at the girls on the stage, he looked just like some ordinary kid and not like whom Pete thought he was. Shrugging it off, he grinned at Greta. "Give him. He's hired."
Patrick glanced up from where he was sitting on the bed, smiling a little at Pete standing at his door. Living here was not as nice as...where he came from, but he got his meals and he got a place to sleep, so all in all, it wasn't so bad.
He hoped he wouldn't have to leave soon. He really liked Greta and the rest of the girls; Joe and Charlie were amusing; Andy came out sometimes to help with the horses and the men, sometimes giving the same medicine to both. Patrick liked him too. His quiet nature, his cool amused stance on everything reminded Patrick strongly of his father.
Then there was Pete, who had found every opportunity to tease and mock Patrick for the last four months. Pete was...Pete was like a dust-storm. One minute, all was clear and calm; the next, your eyes were stinging and your throat was burning and you were hoping just to stay alive. Pete's temper was slow-burning yet vicious. For such a short man, he was adept at throwing men out; yet there was only one time Patrick ever saw him pull the shotgun from under the bar-ledge. It was last night, when a bunch of drifters had ambled in, settled into a game of faro with some regulars and promptly burst into quarreling. Patrick had had to stop himself from reaching instantly for the Umberto he'd stashed under the top-cover of the piano. He had slowed down his playing though, glancing at Greta as the men threw cards at each other.
"Boys!" She'd yelled, frowning. "Can't you let a lady sing in peace?"
"Ain't no lady here," one of them had snarled back and Greta had flushed.
"Shows what you know," Pete said calmly from behind the men. One of them had been in fighting mode already, grasping onto a sturdy chair and preparing to fling it at someone. "Put my damn chair down. Worked hard to make it, you know?"
The drifter had said something that Patrick couldn't hear. He had put the chair down, but worked his way over to the bar where Pete had stood, glaring. The man's hand was twitching at his gun-belt and Patrick stopped playing immediately, standing to open the cover of the piano.
"You talk too much, barkeep. Stick with what you know," the fellow had growled. Pete smiled.
"Lucky I know a lot of things," he'd replied, hefting up the shotgun almost casually. It was a lovely thing, obviously well-kept with its long gleaming barrel. There was a tense silence that was broken by the snide laughter of the drifters. They were sure of themselves, harsh travelers that had been through plain and river; maybe taking what was not theirs along the way. "Get out."
"You got one shotgun," the man sneered, obviously their leader. "There's nine of us. I'd like to see you--"
"I got one shotgun and two six-shooters." Pete's voice was conversational. "Joe by the door can have at three of you. I don't know about Patrick and that pretty little girl in his hand there. What say you, Patrick?"
"Five." Patrick tried to remember how he came to stand in the proper stance, but he had been trained too well by his father to ponder too long over the reactions of his body. His father's Umberto Bisley sat low in his palm, cool and ready. "I only got five loaded in here, one empty chamber with the hammer over it for safekeeping. But I don't miss."
"That's good to know." Pete's face was cheerful but his eyes were hard. "And that leaves me with one. I think that one might be you, if you and your crew aren't out the door in the next minute. Joe, start counting."
Patrick had steadied himself, trying to still the adrenaline rush that had dominated him since he'd grabbed the six-shooter out of its makeshift sling and had turned to the men. It was always like this, the blood roaring through his ears as he held the gun like it was an extension of himself, just like his father had taught him. His finger curled around the trigger, ready to pull smoothly and not yank on the damned thing; from here, he could see Joe aiming a little low as he counted. Joe obviously wasn't the killing type.
Patrick was, though. He kept his gaze and the barrel fixed at the torso level of the men as they backed out to the swinging doors. As soon as they had cleared out, right before Joe finished his minute, Pete had flashed him a questioning gaze and returned his shotgun to the ledge. Patrick simply nodded and stuck the Umberto back to rest, closed the cover and sat to play. Greta's voice started out high in nervousness, which smoothed out when Patrick gave her an encouraging grin and played harder.
Now, Pete was leaning on the door-frame to his small warm room and staring at him as the evening sun filtered in through the grimy windows that Greta hadn't got around to as yet.
"Last night, when you said you don't miss, you were talking the truth, weren't you." Pete had this way of asking a question without really asking, his voice flat. Patrick looked at him pensively and nodded.
"I don't. My father taught me."
"Your father," Pete repeated slowly, his eyes still fixed on Patrick. "Your father taught you."
"Then...you're the last Stump son."
Patrick froze, his grip tightening on the neck of the guitar that Andy had brought in one day. His mind ran through how much time he had to leave the Black Underdog, now that Pete knew...and he'd thought he'd run far enough.
"It's the hair that gave you away. I knew from the first I saw you...and they did your family wrong," Pete said softly, sticking his hands in the pockets of his faded work-denims. "I heard Sheriff Stump was a good man."
"He was," Patrick said warily.
"How many men did you get on account of your pa and your family?" Pete asked, his voice going even lower. If any other person had asked, Patrick would have refused to even entertain the question; but this was Pete. He bit his lip before answering.
"Seventeen. Nearly all of the Low River gang."
Pete nodded, as if Patrick had told him his middle name.
"You didn't get the Bossman, though. That's your mistake." Pete shifted his weight and scratched at the nape of his neck. "He might come gunning for you soon."
"And so you want me to leave," Patrick added dully. Pete blinked at him in surprise.
"You got a piano to play. Why would I want you to go? The money I've made since you've been here....I'd be an idiot to send you away." He flashed one of his wide sly grins. "Besides. I actually like having you around."
Patrick felt a low thrill of pleasure at this, curling in his chest and he squelched it down firmly. That wouldn't do at all.
"Rest up, kid," Pete said airily, walking back to his room. "Got to give them a show tonight."
"Don't I always?" Patrick murmured, thinking Pete was too far to hear. The harsh laughter that came back told him that Pete cleaned his ears a lot more than people thought.