I was a cowboy.
I had been offered a job at Savoury Hills, the open air museum which showcased country Victoria in the late 1800s. My role was to wear a cowboy hat and lasso stuff while schoolkids watched and applauded.
But I had other plans.
They fell through though, so I accepted the position.
Big Ugly Warren was the leader of the Merry Wombats, the toughest gang in the West (according to the brief by Eric, the senior manager). Warren and I had become enemies the very first day I’d walked my sorry arse into the sorry town that was sorry Savoury Hills.
“Sal’s Saloon, ay?” I muttered to myself a few seconds after entering the good for nothing complex and noticing the rundown bar. “I think I’m about due for a whiskey.”
All the shifty eyes within the establishment shifted to me as I manoeuvred my way through the saloon doors and the piani music that I’d heard from the outside immediately stopped.
“Don’t quit playin’ on my behalf,” I addressed the pianist and sat down on the nearest barstool.
“What’ll it be partner?” asked Geoff, who didn’t seem to recognise me, despite sitting next to me on induction day.
“Whiskey,” I replied as the bar’s atmosphere gradually returned to how it had been before my intrusion. That is until five seconds later—after I’d sculled my whiskey, requested a second and sculled that—when Big Ugly Warren and his cronies kicked their way into Sal’s Saloon.
“Hey now, Warren, we just got those doors painted. This fine gentleman was kind enough to avoid interfering with them,” said Geoff.
If the fact I was sitting on his favourite seat hadn’t attracted the town bully’s attention, the barkeep’s comment had. Big Ugly Warren’s eyes narrowed and he strolled over to within one inch of my face.
“And what do we have here?” he barked.
“Well, I know what we don’t have here….a breath mint,” I replied wittily, and waved the air around me with a disgusted look on my face.
No-one in the tavern knew how to react. Nobody had stood up to Warren before. Especially not some stranger from out of town. Big Ugly Warren didn’t seem to know how to respond either. After some consulting with his almost as equally big and ugly companions, he decided to yell at me.
“Who the hell do you think you are, stranger?! You piece of scum smelling gutter trash?! Huh?”
I stood up.
“I’m Mad Dog McLachlan.”
I left the bar then because I was due to sign some superannuation forms or something but as the weeks went on, the mutual hatred between Big Ugly Warren and I grew like a coyote’s belly after breaking into a chicken coop. Every lunchbreak at Savoury Hills, Warren and his gang eyed me off more than a hungry coyote eyes off a lonely chicken. Until finally the tension snapped, like a chicken’s neck in a coyote’s mouth.
I was showing off my ‘sick as’ lasso skills to a group from Trentsville High School when I was told by one of my trusted associates from the local blacksmith that I was needed down at the old lolly shop. Mrs Godfrey had sprained her hip so I had to take charge of the crowded sweet store. Not my cup of tea, but a man like me helps out the community. Unlike Big Ugly Warren, so you can imagine my surprise when I showed up to The Grande Olde Lolly Shoppe to see the large brute himself standing behind the counter, handing over sugar bombs to pre-teens with a gummy smile.
“Hey, Big Ugly Warren. I believe I was requested by Mrs Godfrey to take the reigns of this fine establishment while she was getting leeched.”
“Well, I’m here.”
Warren’s cronies, who had been lurking in the corner, agreed wholeheartedly and attempted to give me threatening looks while at the same time not scare the surrounding children.
“Well, why are you here, Warren?” I replied, moving closer to the counter.
“You ask too many questions, McLachlan. Now get out of my shop.”
“You’re not planning on robbing this joint are you, Warren?”
“I said you ask too many questions! And I said get out! And my name’s Big Ugly Warren, you little slime suckling weasel!”
With that comment, all of the children, teachers and parents in the shop turned to glare at the thug.
“What?! What are you all looking at?! Get out of here! The lolly shop is closed!” he yelled.
“No…it’s not,” I responded sternly. “Let me take over, Warren. The kids need their candy.”
“That’s an American term, ya cunt!” he screamed.
Seventy seconds later and Big Ugly Warren was formally and permanently dismissed.
You may think that would be the end of that chapter of my life in Savoury Hills but you would be quite incorrect indeed. As part of Big Ugly Warren’s contract he was allowed one duel before he had to leave the premises. And he wasn’t freaking having it with bloody Geoff the barkeep.
I watched the decrepit grandfather clock in Sal’s Saloon tick on by as I polished my Smith and Wesson in preparation for pistols at dawn.
The duel was with me by the way.
“Nervous, Mad Dog?” asked my mate Arthur from the bakery.
“Only fools get nervous, Arthur,” I philosophised as I downed one of the strong whiskeys I’d gotten accustomed to during my time in the son of a bitch town. “I am however anxiously worried and have a deep sense of dread in my gut.”
A few hours later, I woke up with bloodshot eyes, a prostitute by my side and a mouth like a shit-tank. It was time.
Not only was Big Ugly Warren already waiting for me on the well worn dusty road outside the watering hole but a small crowd had gathered to see the long awaited clash.
“Beginning to think you wouldn’t show, McLachlan!” Warren bellowed.
“Oh, he’s only one minute late you uncouth ruffian!” shouted Old Mrs. Godfrey, who should have been bed stricken but had come to support her local hero.
“Look, there’s nothin’ to see here. Maybe you should all go home, folks. This ain’t your concern,” I addressed the townsfolk.
“Nah, we wanna see your brains gets splattered, mister!” replied Timmy, the blacksmith’s youngest son, followed by several other citizen’s nods of agreement.
“Right. Well, let’s get this over and done with, Warren,” I announced firmly.
“It would be my pleasure, you poo-faced bumhead.”
The other members of the Wombats looked embarrassed at their leader’s comment but it was too late for them to change sides. As the sun lit up Savoury Hills, Warren and I slammed our backs together and prepared to take ten paces, and then draw.
Warren decided he’d take charge of the proceedings and began to count down our strides as we marched in opposite directions.
As I took each step, I also took in the atmosphere around me. The dust particles were sticking to the sweat beads on my precious wide brimmed hat’s band and I self consciously noted that each apprehensive breath I took in could be one of my last.
I struggled to rack my alcohol addled brain for a plan as the bastard counted down to one of our inevitable deaths. I was more unprepared than a coyote doing something involving a chicken that it’s not ready for.
Suddenly I whipped around and pointed my pistol at Warren’s back.
“Ten. With a vengeance,” I announced and shot Big Ugly Warren is the spine.
The town was silent for a good one and a half seconds.
Then all hell broke loose.
The women, children and many of the men screamed and fled. Warren wailed in agony while the other Wombats raced over to help him. Eric the senior manager was aghast.
“What the hell, McLachlan? What the bloody hell? You…you actually shot him! Jesus!”
“Yeah. It’s a duel, mate” I replied.
“I can’t believe you have a real gun! What…what the hell is wrong with you, you son of a bitch?!” screamed Geoff who had raced out of the saloon to assist Warren.
“Why…why would I not…why would I not have a real…it was a duel!”
“Oh my God…the retard thought this was all serious. The retard thought this was serious!!” howled Arthur from the bakery.
“Um….I better…I better go…” I muttered.
As the sounds of sirens saturated the atmosphere, I ran out of the living museum that was Savoury Hills, never to return.