Two footsore ex-outlaws blinked through the pelting rain at the snug-looking corner building. Warm light spilt from its windows, cutting through the drear darkness. A hubbub of cheerful laughter drifted into the cold street, before being whipped away by the icy wind. Both a mud-splattered sheepskin and a sodden grey wool jacket were clutched closer by fingers chilled to the bone despite leather gloves.
“You any idea where we are, Kid?”
Hope sprang to the weary, dark-brown eyes.
“In the pourin’ rain, slap bang in front of a saloon. But…” Kid Curry strode purposefully toward the door, “…Not for much longer!”
A dripping hand detained him. “I meant – which town?”
“Heyes, IF I ever had an idea where we were, I stopped caring ten minutes after we jumped off that train full of Sawyer brothers.”
Heyes sighed. That had been five rain-soaked hours ago.
“This place might not be safe, Kid. Suppose someone in there knows us?”
“This place,” a Curryesque finger, rain dripping from its tip, indicated the saloon, “…Not only sells beer and hot meals; it has a roof. If it was called…” Blue eyes checked the sign, “…’Bounty Hunters’ Return’ instead of what it is, I’d still be headin’ inside!”
Heyes watched the Kid walk away. He shrugged, causing a rivulet of water to cascade from the black hat down his already drenched neck. Then, he followed. Kid had a point. On nights like this, the risk of spending the next twenty years in a cell – with a roof – seemed to have certain rain-proof compensations.
The ex-outlaws pushed through the distinctly non-batwing door into the fug of a smoke-filled room. It seemed, as the sudden deathly hush fell, that a hundred pairs of eyes swivelled to look at them, but, on closer inspection, it cannot have been more than two dozen.
“What’s ‘e theenk ‘e’s coom as, Alf?” muttered an old-timer in a broad, flat woollen cap, staring hard at Kid Curry.
“Moost be some young folks fashion thing, Albert. Happen summat to do wi’ that there Gunsmoke show on t’telly,” murmured back his companion.
“Flamin’ yanks! Bad enuff they spend t’war ovver-paid, ovver-sexed an’ ovver ‘ere, wi’out ’em tekkin’ ovver flippin’ telly!”
Heyes, after a quick scan of the room assured him that he recognised no one, contented himself with a friendly smile and a touch of his hat to the staring locals. As he and Kid walked to the bar murmurs of conversation – and a few sniggers – resumed.
A blonde with a vertiginous pile of improbably yellow curls, chandelier-size earrings and a blouse apparently made from the pelt of an acrylic cousin of the cougar, beamed a heavily lip-sticked welcome to the Kid.
“Er… Er… Two jugs… I mean… Two glasses…”
Preposterous false eyelashes narrowed. Arms folded, belligerently beneath a cantilevered bosom.
“When tha’s done gawpin’, ah’m oop ‘ere!”
Heyes elbowed Kid, sharply. Kid dragged his eyes from the yard of cleavage on display amidst the leopard-skin up to the woman’s face.
“Two beers, please, ma’am,” Heyes dimpled.
“No, ma’am. The luck hasn’t been on our side these last few months, but I reckon you hafta look on the bright side, huh?”
A glower, as frosted nails lingered on one of the pumps. “If ah wanted a comedy act, ah’d go dahn t’Empire! Save it for ‘Op-along ‘ere! Mild or bitter?”
“Whatever that fella’s drinking’ll be fine,” hastened Heyes, nodding at a customer imbibing close by. “And, one for yourself, ma’am.”
This earned him a smile. Two pints were pulled. A port and lemon was poured.
Kid took a savouring sip and…
“Ma’am! This beer is warm! And flat!”
Offended outrage. “Course it is! Ah ‘ope we know ‘ow to keep a pint in t’Rovers’!”
Kid opened his mouth to argue. Heyes saw that not only was every eye in the place once again upon them, but every eye now conveyed thorough disapproval. Another sharp elbow connected with Kid’s ribcage. Kid met Heyes’ glance. A mute conversation. Kid shut his mouth, took another swallow of beer, licked his lips and smiled broadly. “Yum!”
Heyes gave another scan to the place, registering the disappointing lack of poker in progress.
“No games tonight, ma’am?” he asked, civilly.
A hefty guy, looked up, eased his elbows from the bar, hitched his beer-gut into a comfortable position, drained his pint with an easy swallow, wiped his mouth on a furry forearm and eyed Heyes, appraisingly. “Y’like a flutter, eh?” The rubbing together of an indicative thumb and forefinger removed any doubt Heyes harboured over his meaning.
“Sure. So long as it’s friendly like.”
“Pass ‘im bar arrars, Bet.” To Heyes, “‘Arf crown a game?”
Heyes blinked as, instead of a deck of cards, the barmaid passed him a box holding three shiny objects, sharp point at one end, feathers at the other. “Don’t let Stan rob you blind, luv!”
A sadder, wiser – or at any rate poorer – Heyes made his way over to Kid, who was now comfortably ensconced at a table, plate before him.
“You lost, huh?”
“Experience is never lost, Kid. I learnt a new game. I got to practice my math. All good.”
Kid’s gaze went from the dart board, to a really, REALLY happy, hefty guy feeding his beer gut on Heyesian funded pints.
“You lost, huh?” he repeated, with a grin.
“You oughta try, Kid. You’re the one with the marksman’s eye.”
“You could win our money back.”
“OUR money? That was your money, Heyes. My money’s stayin’ put.”
Pause. Sounds of mastication.
“What the Sam Hill are you eating, Kid?”
“This is Betty’s – not THAT Bet behind the bar, another one – Betty’s ‘Ot-Pot.”
“It comes outta a pot, and it’s ‘ot – I mean, hot.”
“What’s in it?”
“I was hungry, I didn’t ask.”
Heyes picked up Kid’s unused knife and prodded. “That looks like liver. Hey – are they kidneys?” The blade brought a sweetbread to the surface. “Kid, I reckon that’s a…”
“I told ya,” Kid’s fork knocked away the examining knife, “I’m hungry! I didn’t ask! I’m STILL not askin’! So, stop tellin’ me! Okay?”
“It’s offal,” offered a mild-mannered young guy, from the next table.
“Nah,” chewed Kid, thoughtfully, “…It’s pretty dang tasty.”
“Not awful; offal.” A hand was offered, “Ken Barlow. Actually, offal has a long history as a source of protein for the ordinary, working Englishman…”
“Sheesh!” breathed Kid, watching a retreating back. “Was he the most borin’ man you ever met, or what?”
“Allegedly,” said Heyes, carefully, with a sideways glance at the series lawyers.
Kid mopped up the last of his gravy with the last of his dumplings. He pulled a second dish toward him.
“Now what have you got?”
“A spotted dick.”
“I keep telling you not to wear that gunbelt so snug!”
Blue-eyed glowering. Kid Curry spooned up his suet, currants and custard without deigning to reply.
“Have you noticed, Heyes, aside from the gal behind the bar, there’s no women in here?”
The old-timer who had offered a sartorial criticism of Kid’s garb leaned in. “There’s no ladies ‘ere, because this ‘ere’s a public bar, young man.”
A confused blink. Kid did not understand why the tone was so reproachful.
“T’public bar’s for men. If a fellah brings in a girl, ‘e’ll tek ‘er in t’lounge, or in t’snug.”
“Ladies use t’snug reg’lar,” put in his companion, nodding at a door off to the right.
A mute conversation between our boys. They stood up. “Thanks, fella,” said Kid, tipping his hat.
Pushing open the door of the small room known as the snug, both ex-outlaws froze on the threshold as three unsmiling women turned to stare, frowningly, at the unexpected intruders.
“Don’t fancy yours much,” murmured Kid, under his breath.
“Which is mine?”
Sheesh. These Rovers’ Return saloon gals certainly didn’t believe in giving a fella the come hither. Maybe they were playing hard to get, huh?
“Still,” Kid braced his shoulders, “it’s been a long trail since the last time you an’ me had us any feminine company and you know what they say ’bout old fiddles playin’ the best tunes.”
The boys summoned up their most charming smiles.
“Joshua Smith – and this is Thaddeus Jones; may we join you, ladies?” dimpled Heyes.
“‘Appen as mebbe, young man!” Three sets of arms folded, forbiddingly, across three serviceable raincoats.
A confused glance between the ex-outlaws. They decided to take that as a yes.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Kid roguishly asked the gal with the hairnet.
“It’s Sharples. Missus Sharples! And…” A ringing blow from a sturdy handbag landed on Kid’s left ear. “…That’s what you get for saucing a respectable widder woman!”
A pause. Then…
“Ma’am,” silver-tongued Heyes, pulling up a chair and oozing himself into the midst of the women, “Forgive my friend, he’s more used to the company of cattle than that of ladies.”
“Especially ladies of such – such evident – nay shining – respectability and refinement. My friend certainly meant no offence.”
“None taken, we’re sure,” simpered Minnie Caldwell.
“Ah’ll gu t’foot of ahr stairs afore ah’ll let you sweet talk ME young man!” fumed Ena Sharples.
“Oh, Ena! ‘E was only saying…”
“Saying is as saying does, Martha Long’urst!”
“Ma’am, ma’am! I can see you are too good and charitable a woman not to accept an apology.”
“That’s as mebbe!”
“Let my friend buy you a drink to show there are no hard feelings.”
Well corseted and multi-layer covered bosoms were adjusted. Ena turned sharp eyes on Kid. “Ah’ll ‘ave a milk stout.”
“I’m not sure they’ll serve milk, ma’am, and…” Heyes gave a reproachful shake of his head. “…Even if Thaddeus HAS offended you, you shouldn’t make fun of him for carrying a few extra pounds.”
“Heyes – hic…” Kid stepped out of the saloon and belched a little warm, flat gas from warm, flat beer into the foggy air. “…What the Sam Hill was all that guff about? I don’t reckon anyone from the good old US of A will get any of it! Hic.”
“It’ll be – hic – some kinda dumb cross-over, Kid. Look on the bright side, next month we might fall lucky and wander into the – hic – Ritz Hotel.”
[Any resemblance to the real Coronation Street, Rovers’ Return, Bet Lynch, Alf Roberts, Albert Tatlock, Stan Ogden, Ken ‘Interesting’ Barlow and Ena Sharples is not only incidental – it is close to a dang miracle!]