Death of the Cowboy
by Tony Noland
The stranger walked up to the brunette behind the counter, trail dust sifting down from his worn leather chaps. She was a pretty little thing - skinny, but soft-looking and painted like Saturday night in Topeka. He hitched himself forward and laid an elbow down, pushing up the brim of his stained, sun-faded Stetson.
Without looking up, the brunette said, "Not interested," and went about her business.
The bright July sunlight slanted through the dirty windows, giving everything a glow that, a few minutes ago, looked warm and inviting. Now it looked jaundiced and sickly to the stranger's eye.
"Well, ma'am, you ain't even given me a chance to introduce myself."
"Don't bother. I've got no use for cowboys."
He smiled, putting on his best gap-toothed grin. His smile was probably his biggest asset when it came to tumbling reluctant gals, and he knew it. "Is that a fact? And if it happens that I ain't your usual kinda cowboy? How's about then?"
She finally looked up. For a moment, he thought he had her. Then she rolled her eyes, pointed at the door and said, "Goodbye, cowboy. Not interested." She went back to work, leaving him with his sun-faded Stetson, his gap-toothed grin and a sinking heart.
After a moment, he let the grin fade to a grimace. He bit the inside of his cheek, swallowing the words he wanted to spit out at her.
Little Miss Priss, he thought, just like all the others. Won't even give a fella a chance.
The anger and resentment boiled up within him. Had he snuck across Apache territory carrying $40,000 in stolen Spanish gold for this? Had he rescued the Governor's kidnapped daughter and protected her honor against the enraged McCloskey gang for this? Had he rallied the defenders of San Cristobal and driven off the corrupt, murdering Mexican army... for this?
The brunette put down her pen and looked up, exasperated. "Why what? Why are you still here? I have no idea."
"No, I mean why won't you even talk to me? Give me a chance to tell you about myself, about the things I've done."
"Because I. Don't. Care. That's why. Are you stupid, cowboy?" She stood and waved. "Look around you. What do you see? Do you see any cowboys in here?"
He turned. Some of the people standing in the room were obviously in couples: an antebellum blonde and a handsome, arrogant-looking Union army captain; a corseted baronet's daughter and a handsome, disreputable-looking pirate; a slim woman in a simple sundress and a handsome, wounded-looking man in a dark, tailored suit. They all looked flushed and wound up, as though they were ready to have sparks fly at the drop of a hat.
However, most of the people were alone: pale, good-looking vampires; dark, good-looking werewolves; regular-looking folks carrying magic wands they didn't seem to know how to use right; aliens, spacemen and a few people in Victorian wool-and-velvet garb adorned with gears, cogs and glowing tubes. He even saw two caped superheroes standing in the corner looking self-conscious.
But no other cowboys. He was the only one.
"Don't you get it?" the woman behind the counter said. "Nobody wants cowboys anymore. We don't accept Westerns. Can't sell them. Get it?" She pointed to the door again. "Door. Cowboy opens door. Cowboy goes through door. Cowboy closes door. Cowboy go bye-bye." Blowing out her breath, she sat back down and picked up her pen.
The other people in the room were pretending not to have seen or heard. They just stood and waited, probably dreading their turn at the slush desk as much as he had.
They don't want to blow their shot, the cowboy thought. But what about me? I'm just as interesting as them... aren't I?
He turned back to the brunette. "But I've been all over this town. Who does take Westerns? Isn't there anybody who wants cowboys?"
"Your problem, pal. Not mine. There's the door. Don't come back."
It was over. The cowboy stepped back, straightened up and turned away from the desk. Holding his head as high as he could, he walked slowly toward the door, still a cowboy, still a stranger, and still alone.
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