Everyone knows Big Al, the chief storyteller of Skunk Corners. And Tom himself has had a thing or two to say from time to time, but in my opinion the time has come for some of us common folk of Skunk Corners to have a turn. So, Tess Noreen here, of Two-Timin' Tess's Tavern, to tell you how it was the day Ninja Tom came to Skunk Corners. I'll tell you the parts that neither Al nor Tom can or will tell you.
Although we’d been mostly without a functional librarian to my recollection, the library itself was not new when Tom arrived. Some folks came along, oh, about 30 years ago, and piled up those bricks. But a library is nothing without a librarian, and we just couldn't seem to find one who could hold his own, by which I mean survive a week. When the really rough element took over the town, the undertaker took to offering a special to the librarians right when they got off the train--buy your coffin now, and get it half price, rather than paying full price in a few days. Word about Skunk Corners must've gotten around, because quite a few of those fellows bought.
Well, when our Tom got off the train, the undertaker was off somewhere, so he didn't get the chance to make his offer. Probably that was just as well, as I’m not sure how Tom would have taken that. But he had left an envelope with the Mayor, just in case a new librarian came to town while he was away, so as not to lose the chance of a sale. He was all salesman, that long black clothespin.
Well, even Mr. Mayor Burton had more sense than to deliver that envelope to our strange new Librarian, but it still managed to cause a bit of trouble. I don't think Al mentioned the big wind storm that tried to blow the town away a day or so after Ninja Tom moved in. Al's attention was a bit distracted by other developments, and lousy weather’s not so uncommon in Skunk Corners. Though the wind does keep the scent of skunk down. But that storm blew a few things out of their rightful homes. I had to send Johnny to chase our chimney topper into the woods, and when Mayor Burton went to return the envelope to the Undertaker, it blew right out of his hand. He was too dignified to chase it into the woods--Burton was always good at being dignified, even if he wasn't good at much else. He just let it go.
And two days later, up shows this old gummer from a farmstead way the heck back in the woods, clutching a muddy envelope and asking for the Undertaker. Well, looked to Johnny and me like he maybe could use one any minute now, so Johnny, he stepped out from behind the bar and pointed the guy in the right direction. The Undertaker was out back of Johnson's Mercantile, busy with axe, adze and chisel turning some slabs of fallen tree into headboards for grave sites. We believe in rough and ready around here, nothing fancy and if the words he chiseled into your board wouldn't last more'n about 20 years, neither would any memory of you, most likely. Nor are you likely to mind those words being forgotten sooner.
I was watching out the window when the old fellow met up with the Undertaker, and maybe I couldn't hear them with the window shut, but any fool could see that an argument was under way. The old guy waved the envelope around, no doubt insisting on being given the deal promised therein, and our Undertaker was shaking his head and pointing. Clear as day I could see that he was saying that offer hadn't been meant for him, but for the Librarian. The argument went back and forth a fair while, getting louder and louder, so that before they were done I could have followed the whole thing even with the window closed--which by that time I must confess it wasn't.
At the time I couldn't figure why the man was so determined not to give the deal. For now, it was enough that the Undertaker--he never was one of us, and we never even knew his name, as he considered himself too good to come into the Tavern--grew angry enough to catch up his chisel and wave it threateningly at the poor old fellow.
That was when I got my compensation for missing Tom's opening day at the library (though I'd heard plenty about it later, in the Tavern, from those few people who were free enough of the odor of skunk to be admitted).
Because that dignified white-haired librarian chap they'd sent us from goodness knows where came strolling around the corner, saw the threat to the old and helpless, and took care of it. A few well-placed blows and one kick, which didn't even dislodge the hat from the Librarian's head, and the Undertaker was out cold. When word got out that he only offered his special deals to folks he expected to be alive, but beaten up and on the next train out of town, local opinion decided that the Undertaker didn't belong in Skunk Corners. We’re a sometimes low-down lot, but that’s just cheating and we won’t have it.
We're funny that way. Go ahead and drink, fight, and even steal outright sometimes, but start trying to cheat us, and we get right peevish.
That long black clothespin was on the evening train, still out cold. And the old fellow walked back out of town with no promise of a casket and grave, but the richer by a right fine chisel and adze.
I'd no doubt he could make his own.