1882 Part 1 - Bucket of Mud. [Way Back When Week]

In a rare moment of calm aboard ship, the lonely space-farer sat back on his small bunk, in his small quarters, with a small glass, and took some time to dip his toe into the warm bathtub of his childhood...

... Alex's dad was tall and strong. Alex was proud of him. He knew he stood out among other dads - he was cool, he was kind and for some reason all his friends' mums were extra friendly to him. He also told a good story.

"Come and sit down mate. That's it put your hat and scarf on the radiator first. Good lad." Twelve year old Alex did as he was told.
"You know, it was a wild evening like this that your great great - some number of greats - grandpa met Horace Hampton for the first time."
Alex's brother giggled as he too came in and put his damp woollens on the radiator. "Oh yeah! 'Horace Hampton!'"
Their dad smiled "It's true. That was his name."
"Uh-huh. Sounds like a super hero."
Alex looked keenly at his dad, saying nothing, waiting.
"It was a dark and stormy night..." he began. Alex grinned.
The more outspoken brother, Jacob, laughed again. "Isn't that a cliché?"
Alex didn't know what a cliché was, or how his nine year old brother did, but he didn't care much, he was just impatient to hear the story.
"Go on" he urged, softly.

"It was back in the days when us Solvays were out in the Old West..."
"Yes indeedy."

When telling stories, his dad's mainly English Estuary accent often carried a slight American lilt, even during the bits where he wasn't doing voices. Alex liked it.

"The year was..."



The barkeep polished his whiskey glasses and squinted at his solitary customer - a long limbed, long haired youngun with a chin you could strike matches off. The customer was staring morosely into his drink, face mostly obscured by a wide brimmed hat. People mainly came to the Bucket of Mud to offload their concerns into Horace's one good listening ear, not this 'puncher, though.

"Don't talk much, do you boy?"
The drinker took a moment to reply. When he did, all he said was "another", in a low grunt.
Horace hesitated. "Another an' I don't much like your chances of makin' it home tonight, son. You've had enough to floor a mustang, and this weather's enough to knock down anyone, drink or no."
He grimaced at the cold wind tugging at the eaves of his beloved saloon, threatening to rip her apart.
The young man pushed the brim of his hat up, treating the older man to a flash of his steady blue eyes. "Don't got a home, mister. And I ain't 'had enough' in years."
Horace studied his face awhile, noting the thick scar running up his cheek, not long healed, and nodded. "You look more sober'n most after that much liquor, I'll give you that." He poured another and pushed it into the young man's impatient hand.

The wind howled something wild and the saloon doors thunked open. The boy didn't look round but gruffly murmered "git down".
Horace was taken aback some. "Why? It's nuthin' but the wind."
The stranger stood and pushed him down behind the bar. "I said git down."
"You're drunker'n I thought!"
Horace was about to stand back up when he heard several heavy sets of footsteps enter, cruel spurs a-jangle, and thought twice. His daughter wouldn't thank him for getting shot on the eve of her littlun's first birthday. He remained as still as he could and strained his working ear to better hear what was going on across the bar. He shivered at the sound of a harsh voice, which said: "Well looky here boys, looks like we happened ourselves upon our man." It paused. No reply. It continued. "Might've known we'd find you in a drinking establishment, particularly one so broken and low down as this here drinking establishment."
Behind the bar Horace frowned at the insult. One of the other recent arrivals chuckled.
There was a thick scuff as the kid musta pushed away from his stool.
A different voice chipped in, that of a henchman, no doubt. "Now now, Alex. Don't be tryin' ta run, we don't wanna hurt ya-"
"Like hell you dont."
"Just come on with us now, and we'll see about righting all that wrong you did."
"Ain't goin' any place wi' you, Lee."

[At this point in the story, twelve year old Alex's jaw had dropped and he'd interrupted. "His name is Alex!" Jacob, now all ears, had shushed him.]

Now the original harsh voice - the boss man, Horace supposed - spoke up again. "Come on, Mister Solvay, it's been a fun ride but it's time you played nice."
The kid sighed. "Well, I am kinda tired, perhaps you're right."
"For real!?" One of the henchmen answered, stupidity and surprise ringing through his voice.
"Not a chance" said Alex.

There was a bunch of noise which sounded an awful lot like a brawl. Poor Horace figured he'd have some stools to replace in the morning. His mind was groaning over the damage when a loud shot sang through the air. He feared for the kid. Whatever he'd done, he seemed a heap of a lot less sinister than the nasty sounding folk after his hide.

After a few minutes' silence Horace crossed himself and poked his head above the bar. He wasn't expecting the scene which greeted him.
The room was scattered with the various bodies of whoever was - or had been - after the stranger. The boy could clearly fight something fierce.
Before Horace could speak, the now hatless Alex Solvay did.

[Twelve year old Alex beamed at his full namesake.]

"Got'ny Tobacco?"
"Uh, sure, here." With trembling fingers, Horace fumbled in his pocket and threw a small pouch over the bar. He looked again at the unconscious men.
"What happened, who got shot?"
Solvay accepted the pouch and pointed to a damaged beam.
Ah. Horace swallowed and waved a hand towards the group. "They..?"
"Dead? Nah. Just knocked out is all."
Horace nodded, and winced as he noticed the younger man's face was smashed up pretty good on one side, one of his eyes was rapidly swelling shut.
"Geez, kid, you okay?"
"Ain't a kid."
"Can't be far over twenny nine..." muttered the shaken barkeep.
The younger man nodded in affirmation.
They eyed each other.
"Well exactly" they said, together.

[Jacob laughed.]

Before much else could occur, one of the prone men began to groan and awaken. Solvay, not being in the mood for more fooling, threw a broken section of stool at him, knocking him clean out again. The peace loving Horace's eyebrows raised at this but he considerately said nothing, besides "need a hand?"

They worked swiftly, in silence, tying the men up. The resourceful Alex withdrawing any items of worth from the unconscious men's pockets and depositing them in his own. After ten minutes, they had the men strapped down tight, trussed up like the gobbling turkeys they were.

"Sorry 'bout the mess, and bringing you trouble, but it's time I was on my merry." The mysterious Alex emptied some coins onto the bar for the kindly Horace's benefit, right out of one of the other men's money pouches.
"You can't just go, son, you're banged up pretty bad. And what'm I s'posed to do with these fellas?"
The kid shrugged, scooped up his hat and walked to the door with a slightly uneven gait. "Up to you, sir." He looked back at Horace.
"Thanks for the... hospitality... Much obliged."
With that he turned and departed the saloon.

It was a good exit... quite a good exit, anyway. You see, a few moments later Horace heard a weighty thud outside. The youngun had collapsed...

["And now, it's time for dinner." The boys howled in protest. "Later" promised their father, and after dinner they sat down again...]

<Continued in Part 2, next>

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