A Brahman walks into a bar.
Right before all hell broke loose at Corky’s Double R Hideaway and Grill, Slim Riggins was deploying his favorite bar trick. He sidled up to a group of pretty rodeo girls, hitched his Dickie overalls up over his massive belly, and croaked at one.
“Buy you a shot of Ole Thunder, pretty gal?”
The pretty gal’s name was Tina, and she still had a streak of white greasepaint on her ear. Today was her nineteenth birthday. She’d been working as a rodeo clown all afternoon at the state fair grounds but still had hours of haying left at her dad’s ranch. She was parched, a little bit sun-struck, and had some gravel stuck in her bra so her reasoning was mildly clouded. Had she taken more time to appraise Slim, and note his oil-stained hands, tobacco-stained teeth, and polish-stained thinning hair which he still vainly combed over despite the fact that it looked as though a bootblack and a tumbleweed had a fight on his scalp that neither won, she might have reconsidered. But it was her birthday and she figured she wouldn’t see any cake, so she agreed.
“And a Bud,” she said.
Slim ordered two Buds with two shots back and when Stacey set ’em up, he clinked his shot with Tina.
“Here’s looking at you,” he said.
Then he pulled his signature move and plucked out his glass eye. With a flourish, he dropped it into his whiskey, downed it all in a gulp, including the eye, which then reappeared clenched in his teeth, staring straight at Tina. Slim cackled.
Tina’s face was a study in emotion, like a weather map that couldn’t make up its mind. First, there was a cloud of horror, which softened to a mist of disgust, and then a lightning flash of amused nausea. But suddenly something behind Slim’s back drew her attention and a massive heat wave of shock set in.
Still holding his eye in his teeth, Slim turned just in time to see Corky leading a Brahman bull into the bar. Slim was so struck with the pure impossibility of the vision that he swallowed his glass eye whole, much to his subsequent regret.
It was Corky’s bar after all, and he was a notorious showman, so it shouldn’t have been any sort of surprise to his patrons. But a wary stillness fell over them until two of the old guys in waders at the table by the juke both snorted simultaneously.
“Alrighty, folks,” Corky sang, in his best Barnum voice. “This here’s Butterface and he’s here to challenge you to a drinking contest.”
Corky had planned the occasion carefully. It was Friday and the bar was crowded. Corky knew Butterface was pretty mild for a Brahman, so the chances of damage or injury were mitigated. And for another thing, he’d been training Butterface for the illegal practice of bull-butting with his younger brother bull, Mack. Bull-butting was a cruel sport in which both Brahmans drove at each other with ferocious head butts until one fell to his knees. The problem was Butterface showed no sign of a champion’s will and kept getting knocked out in the very first round. Corky had kept both bulls on a secret diet of his own invention, which included milk, honey, Tabasco, and a trace of gunpowder. He figured adding a little tequila to Butterface’s regime couldn’t hurt and might even help put a little fire in his giddy-up.
“So here’s the bet,” Corky continued, producing a wad of bills. “I’ll bet you this good ole boy can outdrink the lot of you and stay standing.”
There followed a chorus of clarifying questions and suggested qualifications. Three of the Baker boys wanted to add a parlay bet that they could also outdrink the rodeo girls. Jim Patton wanted each bottle of tequila opened fresh and at random by Stacey to prevent any shenanigans. Not that he distrusted Corky but he did. David Lancombe wondered if he could use his roper’s prize belt buckle as collateral.
For a few minutes, the dingy Montana dive was filled with cacophony. Finally, the bets were sorted and the bills were secured beneath the taxidermied coyote on the back bar.
Stacey lined up twenty fresh bottles of Red Hat tequila and reminded everyone that this wasn’t an excuse to tip like the tightfisted scrooges she knew they always were and would be.
Corky lashed Butterface’s nose ring to a bar stool. He figured the Brahman would guzzle straight from a bottle but grabbed a tin funnel just in case. The drinking began in earnest. Someone put Dolly on the juke, but generally, there was a sort of expectant hush, as if everyone knew a kind of history was being made.
For a good while, nothing much happened. Butterface matched the locals’ shots with a sort of resigned serenity. By the second bottle though, the bull began to produce a rancid cloud of flatulence that threatened to clear the place. Jim Patton passed out and began to snore. The Baker boys’ red tick coonhound Lucy even got into the action, licking up spots of spilled booze from the peanut shells and sawdust on the floor. A half-hearted fistfight broke out, but was quickly quelled. Several contestants surrendered, reeling out the door to sleep it off on the porch.
The long afternoon light slouched through the door, revealing a galaxy of dust. Doc Ritcher got up close and drunkenly peered in the bull’s eyes.
“Oh, he’s fading! He’s fading!” he shouted. “This bull’s got redder eyes ’n a widow at a grave.”
This produced a call for fresh shots and a general air of enthusiasm. It was nearly dusk, and the first moth had just wandered in when a shot rang out.
Later, after the dust had cleared, it was established that somebody (and the most likely culprit was Horace Banny, that graceless, cheating son-of-a-bitch) had tired of chasing the granddaddy rainbow that lurked in the Gallatin right behind Corky’s. Luckless with everything from mice to crickets for bait, the scoundrel had attempted to blast the trophy fish right out of its emerald pool with a twenty-two.
In any case, the results were alarming. Startled sober-ish, Butterface yanked the barstool clear out of the floor with a might buck. His back hooves lashed out in fury, driving two holes in the plywood side of the bar with a terrifying splintery crash. Whipping his head, he charged the pool table, dragging the roped stool. Several contestants leaped onto the bar or tables for refuge.
The ruckus escalated. In a moment of misguided courage, Lucy the redtick coonhound fool-heartedly nipped Butterface’s left hock, and was kicked hallway across the room with a bang and a whimper. Although he hadn’t been competing, Corky had imbibed plenty of hootch himself, mainly in order to promote camaraderie and sales. He now seized a chair and—perhaps channeling the moves of a lion tamer he’d once seen in a movie—faced off with Butterface, shouting, “Down, boy, down!”
Those who witnessed the melee claim that the bull tossed Corky straight up onto the chandelier where one of his suspenders caught and he dangled helplessly while shards of dusty quartz rained down. Behind the bar, where a highly inebriated Baker boy had seized the opportunity to huddle as closely and comfortingly as possible to the rodeo girls, someone dropped a lit cigarette into a puddle of Corky’s home-stilled moonshine and it went up in a blaze.
Half the joint was burning and the other half was being reduced to a miser’s toothpicks when Tina stepped out of the Ladies where she’d taken shelter. She’d applied lipstick to her face to make a broad smile and a clownish nose. She’d tied three bandanas to her belt. She stood tall, lithe, and newly nineteen. She was a fine specimen of young womanhood. She adjusted her bra strap.
“Bwa-hooey Jeeronimo!” she screeched at Butterface. She waved her arms and rocked on the balls of her feet. Finally, the drunk-punch, punch-drunk beast had a target it could relate to. It charged full bore, bearing down on Stacey the way a ripsnorter storm will stampede a slender clump of prairie grass. At the last second, though, the young, occasional rodeo clown pivoted, placing one hand on Butterface’s hump and vaulting clear.
The Brahman hit the back wall of the bar full-force and bust straight through it in an explosion of horsehair and plaster. Whereupon it promptly fell down dead in the back yard.
“Heart plumb exploded,” Doc Ritcher later told a rueful Corky. “Like a tractor’s piston thrown clean from an oil-less engine. You damn fool-bird.”
Despite regret and failure, Corky was always the entrepreneur. The following Friday’s barbeque special at the Hideaway was especially well attended and reviewed. Some came just to gape at the bull-shaped hole in the wall where Stacey had strung some sad little Christmas lights. Some came to taste the remarkable brisket and burgers, seasoned with a unique tequila tang. Some came to praise Lucy the red tick’s courage. Some came to praise their own. Many came to tease at the tale, examine it closely, pan through it for gleaming nuggets of humor or hubris or heroism.
Corky presented Tina with a stack of buttermilk pancakes with a beeswax candle stuck in it.
“Happy belated,” he said solemnly. “You saved my bar. You saved my business.”
“No bull,” said Slim Riggins. He tapped his glass eye, newly cleaned and reunited with its socket.
About the Creator
P. D. Murray
Murray is an accomplished painter and writer.
Through 2010, he was shown exclusively by Treehouse Studio Galleries. His work hangs in private collections around the world. He's also published 5 books. You can see more at www.pdmurray.art
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