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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Six Bullets in F Minor

Claude Wooley lost Theodora in a saloon fight.

The fight was of a common variety – one cowboy got mad at another cowboy, punches were thrown, tables and bottles were smashed and, before you knew it, just about everyone in the establishment was involved.  The saloon was also of a common variety – Smilin’ Jack’s was the only watering hole in Whispering Gulch and, with no competition to contend with, the owner didn’t aspire to much.

Theodora, however, was not of a common variety.  She had a dark brown complexion, an hourglass figure and strings so taut they could make clouds dance in formation.  Theodora was a fiddle.

Claude Wooley’s fiddle.

It may seem unusual that a man would name a musical instrument, and, in particular, give that instrument a female name.  What you have to understand is that Theodora was the most important thing in Claude Wooley’s life.  She had been a part of his existence for over fourteen years.  A gift from his father on his tenth birthday, she’d been constant, always there, perpetual.  Throughout his boyhood, at the loss of his parents to a stagecoach accident at the age of seventeen, through years of wandering the west in search of a home – Theodora was there.  She allowed him to procure food and shelter in mining camps, in military settlements and, as was the case with Whispering Gulch, in small frontier towns.  In good times and bad, no matter where he was or what he was doing, Theodora supplied a vocation, a companion and, most importantly, music.

sixbulletsShe was his everything.

Smilin’ Jack’s had sawdust on the floor, bottles behind the bar and men that hadn’t bathed in a while sitting at tables in twos and threes.  No matter where you were in the establishment, you could smell spilled whiskey.  Claude was paid a pittance to come in every night and play along with Darwin, the piano player, to give the tavern a tad more ambiance.

When the brawl broke out, Claude was standing in the corner accompanying Darwin in a version of “Turkey in the Straw.”  He wore his good blue suspenders, his dark hair was slightly disheveled, his toe was tapping and he was letting Theodora carry him away with her melodies.

“Careful, Claude,” Darwin said, as he stopped playing, but Claude was way ahead of him.

Fights were common in the saloon and Claude knew how to handle them.  The minute he heard voices start to rise, he stopped playing, shielded Theodra with his body and put himself as far away from the violence as possible.

Bodies and chairs were thrown hither and yon, beer mugs and bottles shattered and obscenities were shouted to the heavens.  It was the donnybrook to end all donnybrooks with three jaws fractured, four noses busted, two arms broken, six eyes blackened and one badly twisted ankle, all in the space of three minutes.

As the voices and demolition died down, Claude came out of his protective crouch.  Unfortunately, the last punch had yet to be thrown.

The final altercation went like this:

Three pieces. Theodora’s body broke in two and her neck snapped. She hung from Claude’s hands by her strings, dangling like a musically-deprived marionette.

Paul Burrows punched Benjamin Trask in the left temple.

Benjamin Trask stumbled backwards into Claude Wooley and Theodora.

Theodora, in all her beauty and splendor, was caught between Benjamin Trask’s back and Claude Wooley’s front.

And that was it.

Claude felt the crunch of Theodora cracking and it felt like the destruction of his own soul.

Three pieces.  Theodora’s body broke in two and her neck snapped.  She hung from Claude’s hands by her strings, dangling like a musically-deprived marionette.

“Oh, no!” Darwin said.

At first Claude couldn’t believe it, he couldn’t accept this broken, hopeless thing as his beloved Theodora.  He’d played Mozart on her.  And Bach.  And Vivaldi.  He’d played “Arkansas Traveler.”  And “Wabash Cannonball.”  And “Strawberry Roan.”  One time, in the wilds of Montana, he’d played her well into the dark of night, her music keeping a pack of wolves at bay.  Claude looked at Theodora, examined her pieces, gave her a couple of pokes with her now useless bow.  She was beyond repair.  Now he would play nothing.

Claude’s heartbeat rose.  The edges of his vision became blurry.  His constant companion was gone.

Claude grabbed Benjamin Trask by the arm hard enough to wobble Benjamin’s battered brown Stetson.   He held Theodora up to the cowboy’s face.

“Look!” Claude said.  “Look what you did!”

“I’m sorry, Claude.  I sure didn’t mean to smash your fiddle.”

Claude couldn’t process what Benjamin said.  All he could do was repeat “Look what you did!”

“Sorry, it was an accident” Benjamin said, then turned away, not having anything to add to the discourse.

That was when Claude saw the Colt Double Action hanging on Benjamin’s hip.

JOHN WEAGLY has had over 50 plays produced by theaters around the world. His short fiction has been nominated for a Derringer Award 4 times, winning one in 2008, and has been nominated for a Spinetingler Award. He is an ensemble member at Raven Theatre Company in Chicago, Illinois. www.johnweagly.com

Claude grabbed the revolver, taking the firearm out of its holster and aiming it at Benjamin Trask’s back.  The same back that had slaughtered Theodora.

And then fingers accustom to making music brought murder.

Six bullets went into Benjamin Trask and the toll for the saloon fight went up to three jaws fractured, four noses busted, two arms broken, six eyes blackened, one badly twisted ankle and a dead cowboy.

It was a cold, ruined-heart revenge.

A few weeks later, as Claude Wooley was led from his dismal, silent jail cell to the gallows, as he listened to spectators heckle him on his march to death and thought about the absence in his life since that fateful day, the absence of music, the absence of companionship, the absence of love, he realized…

Theodora was worth the hanging.