Late one November day, Jane sidled into Kustar’s bakery after work. She loved the smell of fresh
bread in the bakery, and better yet, the pies! As she fingered her day’s pay, she imagined Lana’s eyes lighting up at the sight of such a treat, and the two of them sharing these sugar coated delights.
The proprietor of this bakery was aware, as Lo had been, that the best way to make money in a mining town was to sell whiskey. Kustar’s bakery for this reason had a bar staffed by a burly bartender, and there were tables where a man could wile away the tedium with a game of cards. As Jane waited her turn at the counter, she took note of an argument that had broken out in a game of euchre. Insults were being tossed at the dealer regarding his honesty, his intelligence, and the marital status of his mother at the time of his birth. This fellow was a reasonable sort, and did not particularly take offence at the picture thus painted of his honesty or his mental capacity, but he did draw the line at being called a bastard. Jane’s ear was attuned to such exchanges by her experience at the Faro tables, and she felt that this would likely settle down. She ordered her items from Mr. Kustar, and noted that Greaseball was slinking in a corner, looking haggard and hungry, and casting furtive looks at the baked goods so close at hand. Greaseball had fallen on hard times, it seemed, and become one of the “bummers” who hung around waiting for a handout.
Suddenly, the dealer of the euchre game took the verbal offensive against one of his detractors, and rose to his feet to make his point more explicit. Jane surmised that it was now in her best interest to put some distance between herself and this scene, but unfortunately, the game table was between her and the door. Euchre is a game of partners against partners, so naturally the argument divided two against two across the table. The players soon fell on each other with fists. The dealer came to the conclusion, however, that fisticuffs would not sufficiently redress the insults he had endured. He drew a Bowie knife, as did his partner, but in an escalation that they had not anticipated, pistols were drawn by their opponents. Jane ducked under the counter, and watched with dreadful fascination, conscious that Greaseball crouched just behind her. She figured that this coward just intended to use her as a shield, but she misapprehended his intention. Mr. Kustar and his bartender raced behind the gun-wielding combatants in order to restrain them, but in doing so, they only managed to shift the advantage to the men with knives, who attacked with vigor. The restrained men still managed to get off several thunderous gunshots that lit the room with flashes of light, and filled it with the acrid smell of spent gunpowder.
The gunshots hit the log walls harmlessly, though one knocked a big dough paddle off its hook. Jane would have paid this no mind and kept her eyes on the action, but the paddle struck her and came to rest awkwardly on her legs. She turned to push it away so it would not trip her in case the opportunity arose to make her exit. As she did, she saw Greaseball place a berry pie on the floor. This puzzled her, but more shots called her attention forward again. The dealer lunged at the gunman who had earlier shown such disrespect
for his mother, and dealt a Bowie knife to his thigh. The injured man dropped his gun and fell to his knees,
cursing loudly, his thigh bleeding onto the dirt floor. Kustar and his bartender had by this time managed to disarm the other gunman, so now they were able to tackle the dealer and put an end to the melee. The exhausted gladiators yielded to Mr. Kustar’s loud epithets, and put their weapons away. The wounded man’s friends offered to help him to Dr. Glick’s, which he refused. He did allow them instead to each take him by a shoulder and help him hobble away from the scene, leaving a trail of blood behind.
Jane scowled at Greaseball for his cowardice and he sneered back. The bartender and baker started to clean up the mess from the melee.
“You boys done yourself proud,” Greaseball said to them. Indicating Jane, he said, “Coulda been someone hurt.”
Jane knew Greaseball wouldn’t have shed a tear if she had been shot dead, but Kustar acknowledged this observation with an appreciative grunt.
“Here, let me help y’all clean up,” said Greaseball, as he tipped chairs upright and tidied up. He picked up the dough paddle and hung it back on its hook, then pointed to the pie Jane had seen him place on the floor and another just like it, their tops smashed. “Oh, ain’t it a shame,” he said.
The baker leaned over to see. “Oh, well,” he said. “If that’s the worst of it, we got off light.” He bent over to pick them up, saying, “I’ll throw them out.”
“No need for that,” said Greaseball. “I’d pay a quarter apiece.” The undamaged price was a dollar apiece.
The baker was about to agree to the bargain, but Jane spoke before he could. “Damn shame, those ruined pies,” she said. “Strange, though, how they didn’t bust apart when they fell on the floor. And that dent in the crust—looks like a knuckle print to me.” The baker looked at Greaseball suspiciously, and then at his hand, which Greaseball furtively moved out of sight.
“It’s a fair offer,” he hissed.
“Could be,” said the baker. “Calamity is such a good customer, though, I think I’ll make a present of these to her.” He scowled at Greaseball as he gave the pies to Jane. Jane took the pies carefully, one in each hand, and proceeded towards the door. Greaseball growled like a beaten dog, and lunged toward her, his face in hers, close enough so only she could hear him whisper, “Too bad about your friend.”
“I got lots of friends,” Jane said, shrugging. She was not afraid of Greaseball, but he was so close now that she could feel his hot breath, and it turned her stomach sour with its mix of rotten teeth and wasted whiskey.
“The yeller one what taught you Faro, missy, that one. Too bad,” he said.
Jane glared at him.
“Such a tragedy.” Greaseball eyed her intently and made a strangling motion to his neck, then
repeated it with a gurgling sound, his eyes half-closed.
Jane heaved a pie at the vile little man’s face while he still had his eyes half-closed. “Take your pie then, jerk-off. You’re talking about my friend.”
The others turned from their clean-up. Greaseball pulled a fragment of the pie off his cheek, and ate it with a vengeful scowl. “Waste of good pie,” he said to the room. “Well anyhow, I tried to help, no matter what y’all think. Guess I’ll be on my way.” With a smirk, he brushed the rest of the pie onto the floor and sauntered out of the bakery.
Jane followed him to the door and shouted after him. “You’re just lucky I been learnt to act like a lady, asshole!”