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A Philosophical Evening in the Jupiter Saloon
One morning Eva dressed in her smart town clothes and said, ”I’ve got business in Carson City. Don’t expect me back before tomorrow evening.” And before I could compliment her on how becomingly her white silk blouse displayed her figure, she blew me a kiss and hurried down to the depot to catch the first stopping train going west.
Thus it was that I found myself that evening in the Jupiter saloon for supper. It was already packed with the regular diners from the rail depot. Dulsie was doing a brisk trade in draft beer and whiskey and keeping one eye on Virgil,her simple-minded brother, as he ferried hot plates from the kitchen to the rowdy tables.
A decent saloon generally welcomes the presence of the law and goes to some trouble to treat them well. Dulsie’s Jupiter Bar was no exception. “Early for you to visit, deputy.”
“Going to eat here tonight, Dulsie. Eva’s on business in Carson City. This ain’t what you might call an official visit.”
“Maybe it ain’t at the moment but in another hour we’ll likely need a hand to throw that drunken sot on to the street.” She nodded towards Missus Brand’s favorite choir boy. The giant stoker, red- faced, an empty stein clutched in his huge fist was banging it on the table and hollering for a re-fill . “Flynn’s been dry six months but he’s sure been making up for it since he came off shift this evening.”
She marched over to him and prodded his shoulder. “Shove along, Siggy Flynn, make room for the deputy. And mind yer manners. He don’t want to hear no coarse language.”
Flynn leered at her, and reaching to goose her backside, nearly fell off the bench. “Dulsie, whyn’t you come and sit down beside me. So - cial-socialize for a while with me and the boys?”
She beat his hand off. “Siggy Flynn, you can do your socializing with Deputy Hopper here. Behave yourself. I got work to do."
Flynn frowned at me, “Ain’t I seen you before?”
“Likely you have.”
But he’d lost interest in the conversation as he noticed that Virgil had replaced his empty stein with full one. He took a long pull, wiped off the foam with the back of his hand and resumed his rambling yarning with his fellow rail workers.
By the time my supper had been served up the discussion had flared up into a noisy argument involving everyone at the table. Flynn had his shirt unbuttoned, and with his thick fingers was trying to count his ribs, but the pads of grimy muscle on his chest and the liquor he’d drunk was making it a hopeless task. His elbow kept joggling my knife as I tried to spear up lumps of my beef stew. I tried to slide along the bench away from him but he swiveled round and glared at me.
“Ain’t my company good enough for ye, deputy?”
“Just tryin’ to give you room, friend.”
His forehead creased up as he fell to counting again. After a moment he gave up and rounded on the little insurance drummer who was unfortunate enough to be seated on his other flank, “You count up them ribs for me, fella. Both sides. I’ll wager you’ll find there’s one missing.”
The little man hesitated, but shouts of encouragement from the railroad men spurred him to obey and he stretched out a bony finger and prodded up and down the stoker’s hairy chest.
“D’ye have to poke so dammned ticklish?”
“If it’s not to your liking ask one of your friends to do the tally,” said the drummer, a mite bolder than I would have considered prudent. “It ain’t an easy task with you squirming around like a little girl.”
“You’re doin’ fine. Now what’s your tally?”
The drummer wiped coal dust off his finger on the table top. “I can’t get above eight on each side.”
“Ha!” crowed the engineer opposite, “So what d’ye say to that, Mr. Flynn?”
The big fireman blinked and thought for a moment. “The Bible says that God took one of Adam’s ribs to make his woman. Stands to reason men are going to be one rib short so it’s clear this little shaver done miscounted.” The drummer had pushed his plate away and was trying to slide off the bench. Flynn collared him, “Hey, how come yer sellin’ insurance if ye can’t count? Do it again, fella.”
With a sigh the drummer resumed his poking. After a few moments he stood up. “I believe you got eight on this side and nine on the other. Now if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I’ll take my leave.”
With a grin the stoker reached across the table to sweep up the six dollar stake but the engineer pushed his grasping hands away.
“Siggy you ain’t won the wager until ye prove that women have got the regular number of ribs which, if the drummer’s figuring is correct, would amount to eighteen, on account of them having nine on each side. Ain’t that right, Dobbie?”
The brakeman nodded and kept the six dollar stake clamped under his beer schooner, “Can’t pay out yet. Could be women got eight on one side and nine on the other too and that would mean Steve wins.”
There was a general agreement around the table that those were indeed the terms of the wager.
“So it’s up to ye find out how many ribs women got, said Dobbie, ”Ain’t but one way to do that. Ye have to find a willing woman and do a tally on her.”
The whole table of diners turned their heads and looked at Dulsie who had been picking at her nails and half listening to the conversation. Now she shifted her chaw to the other cheek and said, “Cost ye two dollars.” She hoisted her bosom off the bar top and drew a draft from the barrel for little Davis who had just entered the saloon.
“Jesus, Dulsie, it won’t but take a minute. It ain’t like any of us are lookin’ for a flop,” said Siggy.
“Two dollars Flynn, and cheap at the price. You ain’t runnin’ them ugly broken- nail fingers over me for anything less.” She leaned over the bar and spat into the zinc foot well.
“Let the drummer do it. He won’t muss you up.” suggested the engineer. “He’s got nice soft clean hands.”
“Two dollars,” said Dulsie, “And he does it private. Not with a dozen drunken pigs gawkin’ at my diddies.” But the drummer had already made his escape and Dulsie went back to swilling glasses in a bucket.
Davis came in, nodded to me and took a place on the bench among the railmen. Virgil wandered in through the tobacco smoke and set a plate of pork and beans in front of him. Davis took a spoon from his coat pocket, took a couple of mouthfuls and washed them down with a swig of his beer. In a moment he looked up and said,“What’s all the argyfing about, boys?”
“Flynn reckons that women have one more rib than men on account of God taking one out of Adam to make Eve,” said the engineer. “He’s been reading the scriptures. Took him six months to get up to Exodus. That’s where he got that tale.”
A young man in a black suit suit at the far end of the table said quietly, “Genesis.”
“What’s that, partner?” said the engineer.
“Genesis, chapter two, verse twenty two.” said the young man. He recited: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And of the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.”
The crowd gaped at the young man. When he had recovered a little from his shock the engineer said, ”“Whatever you say,” said the engineer, “Genesis, Exodus. Don’t affect the bet.”
The young man dipped a crust of bread into his plate of eggs and resumed eating without further comment.
“Could pay Dulsie two dollars out of the stake money,” said the brakeman. “Get it settled right now.”
“I got a better idea,” said the engineer, “Send the boy out to fetch Doc Rawlins. Reckon he’s seen plenty of bodies, and it won’t cost above a shot of whiskey for his trouble”.
Well, most the whole table allowed that was a bully idea, and after a bit of belly-aching Flynn agreed to abide by the doctor’s opinion. So Virgil was sent scurrying across the street to the doctor’s office and several of the railmen began to make side bets on the outcome of the dispute.
“Where do you stand on the matter, deputy?” The brakeman turned to me, “You ain’t said anything yet.”
“I don’t hold with the story at all,” I said. “A rib seems a miserable small amount of material to make a woman out of. Me, I’d be wantin’ a full-size woman.”
The brakeman frowned but didn’t get a chance to reply for just at that moment the doctor hurried in clutching a black leather satchel with the tools of his trade.
“Who have you injured now Flynn?”
“He ain’t been fightin’, Doc,” said the engineer, “Not yet, any road. Dulsie, let’s have a shot for the good doctor and none of yer rotgut, if ye please.”
Dulsie brought over the bottle and a clean glass. The brakeman poured a generous measure. Dulsie whipped the bottle away from him and went back to the bar.
The engineer said, “Now, Doc, we need to consult ye on a serious medical matter.”
“You all caught the pox?” The doctor drained the glass and rapped it down on the table. “I rarely do mass consultations and never in a shebeen. Come over one at a time in the morning and I’ll do what I can. And make sure you wash your peckers with soap first.”
“’T ain’t the pox, Doctor Rawlins, not this time,” said Flynn, “You’re an educated man, Doc. We want you to tell this here assembled company how many ribs a man has.”
The doctor blinked and looked round the eager faces. “You studyin’ anatomy, Siggy Flynn?”
“Been studyin’ the Bible, Doc, preparin’ for glory. Now, how many ribs does a man possess?”
“Last time I counted, and that was more’n thirty years ago, it was twenty four. Twelve each side. Don’t believe our species has evolved since.” He glanced around the table, “Could have been a certain amount of regression though.”
Davis and I were the only ones who laughed, but we stifled it pretty quick. Flynn scowled and said, “Damme, that little drummer couldn’t count for taffy. He only could find fifteen on me.”
“Seventeen,” said the engineer, “Eight and nine comes up to seventeen, Flynn. He must of missed some hidin’ under all that beef. The doc says you got twenty four ribs like all other men.” He turned to the doctor, “Now, Doc, how many ribs do women have?”
“Exactly the same,” said the doctor, “Twelve on each side.”
Flynn crashed his fist down on the table and all the tin plates and glasses jumped. With a curse he stood up and lumbered over to the bar. The brakeman passed the six dollars to the engineer who waved to Dulsie. “Another shot for the Doc, Dulsie.”
“What’s eatin’ on big Flynn?” said the doctor.
“He’s riled because he just lost three dollars betting that women had one less rib than men.”
“Well, that’s three dollars less for him to drink away. Maybe get through Friday night without a brawl.”
“Wouldn’t count on it, Doc. He’s been sober for near six months. Got religion at the revival last October. Fell off the wagon this afternoon so he’s spilin’ for a good scrap.”
The doctor finished his drink and stood up. “Y’all behave yourselves tonight. Don’t give him no cause to cut loose. I ain’t had a decent night’s sleep in a week.”
The engineer looked over to the bar where Flynn was starting in on a quart of draft with a whiskey chaser. “We’ll rein him in when he’s downed that, Doc. He’s firing the eight twenty ore train to Carson for me tomorrow.”
“Well he can sweat it out on the footplate then. Rather him than me.” With that the Doc took his leave and the talk turned to Flynn’s conversion and fall from grace.
“Of course,” said the brakeman, “It would do all of us a power of good to take more heed of what the Bible tells us. This here town is a Sodden Gommorah since Olinger’s Drift Mines opened up.”
There was a general murmur of agreement around the table. Encouraged the brakeman took a pull of his draft and went on, “Laugh at Flynn if you like, but the Bible got lessons for all of us.” He noticed the young man in the black serge suit had finished his meal and was listening closely. “Ain’t that so, young man?”
“It has indeed.”
Now the brakeman remembered my comment on the rib story. “Our deputy marshal says he don’t hold with what the Good Book has to say about God creating Eve.” He twisted round to face me. “I reckon you’ve got a right to your beliefs, deputy, but in my opinion it’s that sort of thinking that’s dragging the United States down.”
I should have had sense to smile and nod agreement but it’s as hard for me to walk away from an argument as it was for my pap to leave a spoonful in the bottom of a whiskey jug.
“I just find it kinda hard to believe,” I said, “Look at it this way. How did God make Adam?”
The brakeman looked blank. The engineer helped him out. “He sorta shaped him out of mud, far as I recall.”
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life-” It was the young man who spoke.
“So God managed to create Adam pretty well with plain old dust,” I said, “Why couldn’t he do the same trick with Eve? Oh no, he had to haul out a rib and magic around with that. Don’t that seem mighty odd to you?”
There was silence except for the chomping jaws of those still eating. The brakeman re-lit his stogie. “Don’t mean it didn’t happen that way. God might have had his reasons.”
“Maybe so. But you got to start asking questions like that before you swallow the whole yarn. Me, I think the whole thing ain’t no more true than the Kiowa tale about their people all crawlin’ out of a hollow log.”
The eating noises stopped. A couple of the diners peered up at the plaster ceiling as if they expected God to send a bolt of lightning crashing into our midst. The calm eyes of young man studied me from his end of the table.
The engineer decided to take a hand in the matter. “Then, deputy, allowing for a moment that we didn’t come out of a hollow log, and that God didn’t make us one way or another- we don’t have to argue about the exact recipe- how do you account for the fact that there’s a dozen men a-sittin’ around this table, not to mention a few million more around the world? How did they come into existence then?” He looked around the table with a gleam of triumph in eyes.
It was time for me to say, “You got me there, my friend, guess the good old Bible’s got the best answer to that,” and take my leave. But I didn’t. The devil in the quart of draft I’d just drunk decided to put in his two cents.
“Well, we sort of evolved. That’s what I believe.” I tried to draw my legs out from under the table and slide off the bench, “Reckon I’d best wish you fellas good evenin’”
The engineer put his meaty hand on my shoulder and pressed me down. “Not so fast, deputy. What do you mean ‘evolved’?”
“Just we wasn’t always like this. Things change as time goes by.”
“They get wore out,” said the brakeman. He put a pair of greasy leather gloves on the table. “Look at them gloves. They was new in the Fall. Cost me a dollar. They sure have evolved.”
“Not like that. Things change in a different way.”
Davis drained his glass, set it down and explained, “Changed by breeding according to conditions they live in.” His audience looked baffled. He went on: “You seen Missus Marie Louise Korn walking them little hairy mutts behind the coalyard when they need to do their business? They’ve got huge eyes and no nose to speak of. How do you reckon they come about?”
“Could be some kind of African dog she had sent over,” ventured the brakeman.
“No it ain’t like that,” said the engineer. “Them dogs are bred special back east. You got to choose a pair of small ugly mutts and breed them. Then keep breeding their pups. Maybe in fifty years they come out like the Korn dogs.”
This caused some amusement. When order was restored. The brakeman conceded, “Could be that works for dogs but it don’t say nothin’ about how people got here.”
“Principles the same,” said Davis, “You start with something simple like a worm and keep breeding it up until it has legs and arms and is getting smarter all the time, and you end up with a human. Takes longer of course.”
There was general scorn at this notion. I observed the young man was paying close attention and once or twice looked as if he might have been about to say something. The engineer screwed up his brows and said, “I’ll allow that you can breed up creatures to look different but this tale of yours has got two big flaws.” He held up an oily finger. “One, who made the worm to start with?” He added another finger. “And two, who done the choosin’ of which particular worm got to have his pleasure with the other.” He sat back beaming at his perceptiveness.
“Ah, well,” said Davis. “You got me there.”
The brakeman hollered across to the bar. “Hey, Flynn, this little shaver reckons your great-great grandaddy was a worm.” The big man released his hold on the bar and stood swaying for a moment. He peered through the tobacco smoke and the haze of rotgut fuzzing his brain trying to locate the jester.
“Reckon you’ve done it now,” said the engineer, “You ought to know better than to jest with Flynn when he’s been drinkin’.”
I’d been enjoying the debate but it now looked as if it was time to earn the two dollars a day the town paid me. I stood up and said, “He didn’t say nothin’ of the kind, Flynn. That fellow was only foolin’.”
Dulsie said, “Be obliged if you throw him out, Deputy. He’s done drunk enough and I don’t want no trouble.”
“Goddam it,” roared Flynn, “I ain’t gonna have my family insulted and I ain’t gettin’ thrown out either.” He swept an arm along the bar top, sending bottles and glasses crashing to the floor. It was just Virgil’s misfortune that he was heading for the kitchen when Flynn lunged towards Davis who was already on his feet and heading for the door. Flynn’s beefy arm caught Virgil across the face and the poor little fellow collapsed, blood spurting from his nose.
“Didn’t mean to do that,“ said Flynn looking pale and sick of a sudden, “Wasnacciden’.”
“I’m goin’ to have to lock you up tonight, Flynn. Maybe that was an accident but you were out to do violence on Davis.”
“Done drunk too much,” he mumbled, “But I ain’t goin’ to jail for an accident.” He put his fists up, took a step towards me and then fell to his knees and puked half a gallon of mixed liquors and Dulsie’s stew into the sawdust. Puking does tend to take the vim out of a fella so I took my chance to put my boot on his back and press him flat. It was a sordid job hauling his arms out from under him and putting the cuffs on his wrists but it was a sight better than waiting till he recovered his fighting spirit.
The young man in the black suit had taken a handkerchief out of his pocket and was staunching the flow from Virgil’s broken nose. Dulsie was staring at the mess of glass and vomit. “That bastard ain’t steppin’ through my door again until he pays for all this. And I’m goin’ to lay a charge of battery on account of what he done to Virgil.”
“We can deal with that tomorrow, Dulsie. I need to get him up to the jail tonight and let him sleep it off.”
The brakeman was looking mighty sheepishly at the mayhem his foolish jest had provoked. “You go up and fetch the handcart that’s standing behind the marshal’s office and bring it down here.” He nodded and set off to do as he was bid without protest.
The young man had passed Virgil over into the care of his sister and was now hauling a valise out from under the table.
“Could you advise me on where to find an inexpensive lodging, Deputy,” he held out his hand, “Reverend Luke Pierce, newly appointed pastor to the Vargas Springs First Congregational Church.” His handshake was brief but firm.
“Well, Dulsie does rooms as well as running the saloon. You got a room vacant for the Pastor, Dulsie? Not sharing I guess.”
Dulsie was mopping the mess on the floor. She looked him over and said, “Sure, I got a room, but maybe this ain’t the kind of establishment fittin’ for a man of the cloth.”
“Ma’am, I would be honored to take your room. There is no establishment not suitable for those who wish to spread the word of God. Did Jesus himself not say to the Pharisees: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance?”
Well, I reckon that meant that the Congregational Church had at last managed to snare a real 24 karat pastor judging by his flair for pumping out chunks of the Bible to match the occasion. Anyway he picked up his valise and followed Dulsie through the bar and up the stairway to the Jupiter’s rooms.
Between us the brakeman and I wedged Flynn into the handcart and wheeled him up to the marshal’s office. We sluiced him down with a bucket of water, dragged him into a cell and left another bucket full beside him for refreshment when he recovered consciousness. I undid the handcuffs and locked the cell door.
The brakeman looked around the empty office. “Suppose the Nightcrawler will keep an eye on him in case he chokes.”
“Limacks got fired. There ain’t no town watchman just now. Guess it will be my job to keep an eye on Flynn tonight.”
The brakeman said,” Ain’t no way he’ll be getting on a footplate tomorrow. Supervisor’s goin’ to fire him for sure. Pity ‘cause there ain’t no-one can shift coal, nor timber either, as good as Siggy Flynn.”
We stepped out side and I lit a cigar. The brake man seemed strangely loathe to head back home. He leaned back on the rail and stared at the multitude of bright stars sailing a hundred thousand miles above Nevada. “Say, deputy, do you really credit all that stuff Davis was sounding off about? Worms and such like.”
“Clear starry nights like this makes it so a fella doesn’t know what to believe. Maybe we ain’t no more consequence than a worm anyway, so it don’t matter what tales we tell ourselves.”
He gave a little shudder, buttoned up his jacket tight to the neck and set off down the street.
I finished my smoke and went inside. It could have been worse. Eva was away in Carson City so I was missing her company anyway. I took a clean blanket from a cell and sat myself down in the Marshal’s chair, and by and by fell into a tolerable sound sleep.
Do this poor sinner a favor and pass me my bible.”
Next morning Flynn was still unconscious when I unfolded myself from the office chair and tried to stretch the aches out of my neck. I was about to go down to the Jupiter Saloon for a pot of coffee and couple of slices of fat bacon laid on a slab of new bread when the door opened and a porter from the rail depot dumped a brass bound pine box on the floor.
“Flynn’s trunk,” he said. “That’s all his gear from the bunkhouse.” He looked at the snoring giant in the cell. “When he wakes up tell him the supervisor fired him. He’s not to bother coming back with apologies this time. Oh, and here’s what he’s owed for last week.” He took a brown envelope from his jacket and placed it on the trunk. “I’ll be off then.” He sniffed. “Some of us stay sober and reliable enough to keep the Central Pacific running.”
I had a glance at Flynn, reckoned he wasn’t going to come to harm for ten minutes, and set off to the Jupiter. I brought my breakfast back up to the office and set it out on the desk. I hadn’t drunk half a mug of coffee when there was a most dolesome groan from the cell.
“You want some coffee, Flynn?”
He rolled on to his back and put his arm over his eyes. “Water.”
“Bucket’s beside you. Panikin’s tied to it.”
He drank copiously and then slumped back on the bunk and moaned until he fell insensible again.
I was writing up the log when I heard the marshal’s buggy draw up outside. I stepped out with his rolling chair to greet him and ease his passage into the office. He was in his best suit of clothes, star brightly polished and a new Boss of the Plains hat on his head. “ Nat, I’m catching the train to Carson City. I have to identify a desperado who slipped through my hands ten years ago. Seems he’s on trial for murder now.”
I gave him a brief account of the previous night’s frolics in the Jupiter Saloon and told him who was suffering in the cells. He grinned and said, ”Old Siggy Flynn won’t cause you no bother when he comes round. He’ll square up with Dulsie too. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a souse more repentant after a bender. Kick him out this evening.” And with a cheerful tip of his hat Marshal Spark lit out for the depot, clearly looking forward to a day in Carson City socializing with old acquaintances.
Back in the office Flynn had stirred himself and was sitting on the bunk with his head in his hands. “That my box, Deputy?”
“It is. Bad news, Flynn. You’re out of a job and you’ve been flung out of the depot bunkhouse into the bargain.”
He shut his eyes and screwed up his brows remembering. “I was supposed to fire the ore train to Carson City.”
“It left without you.”
He groaned, and then after a moment, he said, “Deputy, there’s a Bible in that there trunk. Do this poor sinner a favor and pass it into me.”
It occurred to me that a tablespoonful of Chlorodine mixture would have afforded the unfortunate sufferer more relief than his Bible but I went to do as he asked. When I threw back the lid of the chest it became clear that whoever had gathered together Flynn’s possessions had done so in haste and without any concern for how they should be best packed. Greasy Central Pacific work clothes lay jumbled in a ball with a fine linen shirt. A candle holder spilled dry wax on to a book of hymns. Boot blacking leaked from a can on to a fine winter union suit. Flynn’s hand mirror lay cracked where it had been thrown against a tin box which presumably held whatever papers and valuables he possessed. After some rummaging his Bible turned up, all bundled up in a damp towel with his razor and a bar of sooty green soap. I handed the Bible through the bars and packed away his possibles in the somewhat better order.
“Flynn, if you feel like a bit of breakfast I could fetch some vittles up for you. Town has a duty to feed prisoners so don’t feel obliged to me.”
He turned a ghastly pale face to me, shook his head and thanked me. Then he knelt by his bunk, put the Bible under forehead and began to pray quietly. I won’t say it actually spooked me, but I will allow I didn’t care to hear such a great strong figure of a man pleading so humbly for forgiveness to a notion that hadn’t more substance than the haints we used to scare each other with as children. I left him to it and went outside to smoke on the sidewalk.
By and by along sails Missus Brand looking pretty antsy. She hove to right by my bench, pretty much blocking the sidewalk. I stood up and knocked out my pipe though it wasn’t half smoked.
“Deputy Hopper, did I hear a rumor that you’ve incarcerated Sigmund Flynn?”
“Yes, ma’am. I didn’t have no choice in the matter. He went on one of his six monthly drinkin’ sprees last night and broke poor Virgil Dolan’s nose and caused considerable breakage to Dulsie’s glassware. He’s sequestered in a cell, praying to beat the band for forgiveness. Marshal Spark said I should turn him loose this afternoon.”
“So he will be available for choir practice this evening?”
“That I couldn’t rightly say, Missus Brand. First he has to go down to the Jupiter and pay for the damage and inquire about the condition of Virgil’s nose. Guess it would be the noble thing to pay him a decent sum to compensate him for his sufferin’. Then Mister Flynn is goin’ to have to search for a bed for the night, bein’ as he’s been fired from the Central Pacific and evicted from the bunkhouse.”
“I shall speak to the Depot Superintendent at once. Sigmund is a sinner enslaved by the demon drink at times admittedly, but surely a sinner who repents is entitled to forgiveness. The Central Pacific must reinstate him to his position and I will personally undertake to keep him from the devil’s brew.”
“I doubt if that will change the Superintendent’s mind, Missus Brand. It ain’t the first time he’s let them down. The quarry won’t want to hire him either, and Olinger’s Drift ain’t takin’ on labor. I reckon he’d best shoulder his trunk and light out for a town where they don’t know nothin’ of his little lapses.”
“Humph,” she said, and swirled around with a rustle of skirts and lit out back the way she’d come.