In exactly 1000 words, I give you...
The Curious Incident at the Long Dogie SaloonThe night the stranger came in, a bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Long Dogie Saloon. Little Lil was pounding out a ragged tune on the piano, and there was some dancing. Truth to tell, we were trying to put on a show.
Miss Kitty, she gets ideas now and again, and all we can do is just go along. It’s easier. This time, her idea was to put on a show, a sort of ree-voo, she called it. A bunch of different acts, whatever we could think up. We’d charge people to see it, to raise money for one of her pet projects—homes for over-the-hill saloon girls. That was okay. I mean, all of us at the Long Dogie either were saloon girls or knew them pretty well, if you know what I mean. So we didn’t mind helping out.
We all pitched in and came up with some acts that were hum-dingers, and some others. Gord and Jord, the twins from somewhere in the Deep South, played banjo duets. They only had one banjo, so Gord played the north end and Jord the south end. They didn’t do too badly, considering. The girls did a bunch of song-and-dance things, which is mostly what they did every night, so they weren’t half bad. Turkey Joe yodeled, and I got roped into doing a skit with Lefty, Shorty, and Swifty (I ain’t tellin’ you what they call me. Reckon I’d have to shoot you if I did).
So there we are in the middle of practicing the whole thing, just a day or two short of the big day. The saloon’s supposed to be closed, but someone just barges right in and stops in the doorway. Standing there, lit up by the lamps, is the ugliest guy I ever saw, even counting my own face in the mirror after a week on the range.
Like I say, this ugly fellow comes halfway into the room, and just stands there, looking awkward and out of place. That ain’t easy in the Long Dogie, where we are about as big a crowd of misfits as you could find, but this galoot don’t seem to know what to do with his hands or feet or anything. Which—well, never mind. The point is, he just looks wrong to me. Like he ain’t used to having hands and feet.
I’m maybe a little slow catching on, because my attention is all on the stage. Miss Peggy’s up there singing, and I don’t mind saying that I like to keep an eye on her. Both, if I can spare them. Not that it’s ever done me any good, but you never know. When I turn and see the guy in the doorway, he takes a couple of steps farther into the saloon, and opens his mouth.
I expect something to come out in a thick accent, because he really doesn’t look like he’s from around here, and sure enough, he sounds funny. But he don’t talk like any of the foreign types I know. His words are all halting like some of them that don’t speak much English, but his voice is weird. Flat.
The Dutchman, the barkeep, looks up, takes in the guy’s outlandish clothes and battered face, and says, “Yup.” Dutchie doesn’t often pass up a sale.
And the big stranger walks across the room, sticks out his hand, and stands there, waiting for Dutchie to put a drink in it.
Dutchie looks him over, and says, “Four bits.”
The stranger don’t know what to make of that, so he goes on standing there. Miss Kitty, seeing he don’t savvy, sashays up to him and says, “You gotta pay, big fella.” She puts out a hand and lays it on his arm, and then she jumps back like she’s been burnt. I’m closest, so I grab her and steady her, which makes Miss Peggy glare at me, like I’m cheating on her or something.
Miss Peggy signals to Little Lil to resume playing, and she sticks her nose in the air and begins singing again. Under cover of the noise, Miss Kitty says to me, “He ain’t human! His arm is ice cold and hard as iron!”
Well now. I reckon I never could leave well enough alone, so I step up next to the stranger, who’s still holding out his hand for a drink, and clap him on the back as I say, “Make this one on me, Dutchie.” I don’t quite finish the sentence, though, because my hand is stinging from the blow. It’s not just his arm that’s cold and hard as iron. His back is nothing like human.
The stranger turns and looks right at me, and I get scared. His eyes have no pupils. They’re just…windows. Windows for looking out, but not in.
Dutchie puts a shot of rye in the outstretched hand, and the fist closes around it. The stranger stops looking at me for long enough to raise the glass and gulp the contents, and then he turns back to me, and smoke is coming out of his ears.
I'm about to suggest we all kind of vamoose out of there in case he blows up or something, when he shakes all over, blinks several times, and then smiles.
I look at Dutchie, and he holds up the bottle. Water, all right. Fire water. Stuff’ll curl your hair, even if you’re bald.
Not the stranger, though. He digs through his pockets, pulls out a couple of bills, and hands them to Dutchie. “More.” Dutchie pockets the money and starts filling glasses.
Fifteen minutes later, the stranger is part of the dance routine. The girls don’t seem to mind that he’s not exactly flesh and blood, nor that he’s dead drunk. He ain’t moving, so he makes a great Maypole.
He ain’t so very much odder than the rest of us.