I’d missed Tam’s tall tales for three evenings in a row, having pulled extra night herder
duty as punishment fer punching out that mouthy banker at the saloon in Hogshead Crossing.
The trail boss had to pay my fine if he wanted me out of jail and back on the trail. He’d done it, right enough, and hadn’t even give me the harsh word I was expecting, that it’d be coming out of my pay when the trail drive was done. A few nights of short sleep was fair recompense. But man, I didn’t much like missing Tam’s tellings.
We’d mostly finished our beans and bacon by the time the story started.
Y’all been asking me about that evil rumor you heard back in that last town, the one that said I was known in these parts as One-Ear Tam. Can’t blame you fer asking, specially since any fool can see I got these two jug-ears big as life, even if they are scrunched down on the tops a bit from anchoring my hat in these danged Texas winds. Truth is, I don’t have a single clue how or why that lie got started making the rounds…but I surely do know who done it. Longlegs Lanigan was the only feller who ever hated me enough to do something like that.
He was the hatingest man I ever did have the displeasure of knowing. We only ever come face to face one time, but he took to hating me at first sight. Which weren’t no great surprise. Lanigan weren’t much of a hand as a drover, but he could hate with the best of ’em.
He hated the slaves before the War and the carpetbaggers after. Boys, I’m tellin ya, he hated gittin’ up in the morning and goin’ to bed at night. He hated women fer being purty and men fer smellin’ bad, horses fer swellin’ up when you go to pull the cinch and sunrise fer daring to interrupt his sleep. Black men were too uppity and Indians were too free. If there’d of been a competition, he might not have been the World Champion of Hate, but he’d most surely have been a contender.
Hatred itself is a pure sort of thing, you know, a blind force that’ll latch onto the slightest little possibility and pour it full of malice. Which is why they call it blind hatred, see?
What? No, not pure like an angel or the woman of yer dreams, cowboy. Pure like the pure torture sinners like us receive inside the gates of Hell after we git rejected at the pearly gates.
I was saying, anything or anybody that was even the slightest bit different from Lanigan hisself, he hated. Since Lanigan was definitely one of a kind, that meant he pretty much hated the whole danged world. His hating was so awesome, Old Nick hisself got a mite jealous from time to time. One top demon, a part time Secretary to Satan, reported his boss as saying the gunfighter’s hate was plumb scary.
Eh? Oh, didn’t I explain that? Ah. Well, yeah, nobody would hire Lanigan fer any normal job, so he turned to gunfighting fer hire. Over the years, he scared his bosses right enough, but he loved gunning down the opposition–he didn’t hate that–so he kept gittin’ hired fer shootist work. Enough to keep him in grub and whiskey, anyway. Which was a good thing, since he wasn’t quite crooked enough to go to robbing stages or banks or anything like that.
Yep, He was an honest hater, he was.
Well now, one fine day a city feller found Longlegs where he was out practicing with his pearl handled .44’s. When your main job is to shoot at folks who might jist shoot back, you purty much gotta stay sharp, and Lanigan did. The stranger liked what he saw, all them whiskey bottles blown into pieces every time a hammer fell, and he offered the gunfighter a job on the spot.
This is where the story picks up a bit.
See, the Lanigan family was originally sodbusters, homesteaded a one-sixty out in the middle of the prairie. When the young boy who hated everything grew up to be the man who hated everything, he purty much stayed in the boondocks most of the time. After all, he knew he’d hate the big city; why go there?
But that’s where the job was. It paid well–very well–so he figgered, why not? Oh, he hated his new boss, but then he hated every boss he ever had, so that was all right.
When they got to the fancy hotel, he hated that, too. So everything was normal, and the two men checked in fer the night, slick as you please despite being covered in trail dust. The fact that his new employer owned the building might have had a little something to do with that, of course.
The boss told him he’d explain who needed killing in the morning, and an ugly young frog faced bellhop led the way to Lanigan’s very own private room. Which turned out to be bigger than the entire soddy in which he’d been born. It had, believe it or not, its own back door and a staircase down to the outhouse…and it had a mirror. Not jist any mirror, either, but a full length beauty framed in curlicue bronze.
Did I say full length? Boys, that mirror was full length if you was a horse, mebbe. It was stunning to a feller who’d lived his life on the prairie; you jist didn’t see anything like it in Skeleton Wells.
Now, Lanigan weren’t no dandy to be worried overmuch about his appearance, but he did purely hate the look of the man in the mirror. Pinched in the face, scowly brow, both narrow-shouldered and lean with nothing to recommend him but them two fancy revolvers on his hips. He hated that sumbitch on sight.
“Draw!” He snarled at the image, and danged if that ugly, snarly bugger didn’t go fer his irons.
Moments later, having been on St. Peter’s Reject List from the git-go, Longlegs Lanigan came hurtling through the open gates of Hell, straight into a pot of boiling lava. He didn’t even look surprised, but he surely did look irritated. We was given this information by that same Secretary to Satan, you understand. He personally asked Lanigan how he’d come to pass.
“I went to shoot out a danged mirror.” he admitted, fuming while the meat kept boiling from his bones in the lava, reforming, then boiling off again.
“Yep. Went to shoot out a mirror, but the mirror was faster. Man,” he shook his head in disgust, “I hate it when that happens!”