The Cockburn boys blew into the Early Saloon on a busy summer evening, causing all the happy folk to lose their appetite for smiling. The young girl who sold daisy chains to the drunks ran out the back door. The piano player took his hands off the keys and pretended he’d never been playing in the first place. The three Cockburn brothers, Cooper, Dixie and Matthew, whose wickedness and ill-temper were famous amongst men, and whose stench was famous amongst apes, approached the bar.
“Barkeep,” Cooper said, slamming his sweaty palm against the counter, “Three brandies’, sometime today.”
The other two cackled at their eldest brother’s wit. Cooper looked around and took in the nervous atmosphere of the bar. This same atmosphere seemed to follow him and his brothers everywhere they went.
“I thought this was meant to be a place of merriment?”
In keeping with their tradition, each of the brothers approached a man in the bar and humiliated him to assert their dominance, as if that had ever been in doubt.
Cooper took the hat from a man’s head and tossed it out the window.
“Would you look at that,” Cooper said, “Gotta watch out for these summer breezes.”
Dixie pulled a man’s handkerchief from his pocket, blew his nose on it, and replaced it in the pocket.
“My nose ain’t stopped running all day.” Dixie said.
Matthew, the youngest, not being so bold, took a sip from a young woman’s chardonnay.
“That’s, uh, very tasty. Thank you, ma’am.”
No one batted an eye or considered fighting back. The saloon’s owner, John Early, poured the brothers their brandy.
“These are on the house, fellas,” he said, “Don’t want no trouble tonight.”
“That’s mighty generous,” Cooper said, “Ain’t it boys?”
“Sure is.” Dixie said.
“Agreed.” Matthew said.
“Only problem is,” Cooper said, “Me and the boys were looking for some trouble tonight.”
Cooper’s smile turned to a snarl in a heartbeat. His hand drifted to his holster and even his brothers didn’t know if he was joking or not. He locked eyes with John.
A voice came from the doorway.
“Pop?” the voice said, “These guys bothering you?”
The Cockburn’s turned to find a six foot six wall of a man towering over them. It was Marty Early, John’s son, come for his nightly glass of root beer.
“Oh no, Marty,” John said, a bead of sweat snaking round the rim of his glasses, “Just a bit of fun, right guys?”
Cooper gave a nervous smile to the barkeep’s huge son.
“We’re just playing,” Cooper said, moving his hand back to his drink, “We’ll find trouble at the whorehouse down the road, won’t we boys?”
They roared in agreement and toasted to a night of debauchery.
Several complimentary brandies’ later, the brother’s conversation was loud and profane in ways that even old John hadn’t heard before. They teased Matthew mercilessly, as older brothers tend to. At one point, Matthew got so worked up he cracked a joke about Dixie’s mother, before recalling that they shared the same one.
The man who lost his hat to the breeze left the saloon shortly after the brothers arrived, so too did the man with the spoiled handkerchief. The lady with the chardonnay, however, found the courage to stay and order another.
“I’m going to make water.” Dixie announced, before stumbling outside in search of some bushes.
At the other end of the bar, the huge figure of Marty shook his father’s hand.
“See you in the morning, Pop,” he said, “You send word for me if there’s any trouble?”
“I can handle these fools.” his father replied.
Marty stooped under the frame of the doorway and headed home.
Cooper and Matthew placed their empty glasses on the bar.
“The whores are a’ calling, brother.” Cooper said.
“I ain’t heard nothing.” said Matthew.
“I meant- never mind, you idiot. Let’s go.”
Their dusty boots stomped a path to the saloon door. Just as the other patrons were breathing a long sigh of relief, a gunshot sounded from outside. Cooper and Matthew made drunken attempts at pulling their weapons from their sides as they dashed through the door and outside.
The first thing they saw: a horse flashing past them, down the main street and out of sight.
“Wasn’t that Maisie?” Matthew said.
He was correct. Cooper’s horse, Maisie, had just made her getaway before them. A deep, mucus-fueled growl came from somewhere deep within Cooper. He drew his pistol and made his way round the side of the saloon, where they had tied up their horses an hour previously.
By the light of a swaying lantern, they saw two horses and one loosened rope, dangling in the breeze. Below their feet, almost hidden in the long grass, was Dixie, flat on his back. They almost tripped over him. The brothers knelt by his side and swept away a few daisies which lay upon him. There was a large red patch over his gut and his chest was still. One bullet had done for him. His pistol lay in the grass with him, near his limp hand.
“Son of a bitch.” Cooper said, placing his hat over Dixie’s face.
“Who done it, you think?” Matthew said, fighting back his tears lest his big brother should see, “The big fella?”
Cooper drew several long breaths before he responded.
“Get the old man.”
Cooper and Matthew stormed their way through the crowd which had assembled outside. There was nothing like a killing to bring people together in excitement and intrigue.
“Where’s the barkeep?” Cooper yelled.
John stepped forward.
“What’s happened?” he said.
“Your boy’s killed my brother.”
Saliva dripped from Cooper’s mouth like a rabid dog.
“My boy’s at home,” John said, “Caring for his new-born daughter. He ain’t a thug like you and your kind.”
Cooper lifted his pistol and took aim at John. The blast was loud enough to wake the whole street. Cooper dropped to his knees, and when the smoke cleared, it was revealed to be Marty Early who had shot him. The huge man had arrived with his 1847 Walker revolver, despite only being dressed in his long john’s. He hit Cooper with a clean shot through the neck. The crowd watched on as the dying man took his last, gargled breaths.
The last remaining Cockburn, Matthew, turned to face Marty with his hand poised to draw. He looked down at Cooper and remembered he had no brothers left to do the killing for him. He slowly backed up and disappeared into the alley where his horse was tied. He rode back round a few seconds later and raced straight out of town.
There were cheers and a small round of applause from the patrons of the bar, before they went back inside to celebrate seeing a good show with a happy ending. John and Marty each took an end of Cooper and carried him round to place him in the grass with his kin.
“I came as soon as I heard the gunshot,” Marty told his father, “What happened?”
“I was hoping you would tell me,” John said, “You saying it weren’t you who shot Dixie?”
“I was with Jane and the baby, pop. I swear.”
“Well, I guess it don’t much matter now. Looks like we’re rid of the Cockburn’s for good.”
Marty followed his father inside the saloon, where the big man didn’t pay for a drink the entire night. He returned to his wife, Jane, and their child many hours later, too inebriated to justify the good reason for his absence.
Earlier that night, when the Cockburn brothers first entered the Early Saloon, a seven year-old girl by the name of Penny, who had been selling daisy chains from a box, ran out the back door. She remembered the last time those men had come to town and the horrible way they had treated the ladies of Madame Eliza’s brothel. Penny’s mother and father having died shortly after her birth, the women of the brothel had raised Penny like their own daughter.
She sneaked into the room of Mistress Abigail, who was known to keep a pocket revolver at the back of her night-stand. Penny knew Abigail was booked to service the gentlemen of a poker game that evening and wouldn’t be back for hours. She took the weapon, left her floral wares on the front step, and rushed back to the saloon. It was her intention to set free the horses belonging to the Cockburn’s, creating a conflict amongst the rogues as to whose fault it was, or forcing them into the dark to search for their steeds. Anything to keep them from terrorising the women Penny considered sisters. The borrowing of the gun was just a precaution, as she knew she could sneak unseen down the trail which led behind the bar.
Penny had just about loosened the rope of the first horse when Dixie Cockburn, looking for a suitable place to relieve himself, came stumbling upon her. He was mumbling and lacking most of what wits he possessed, but Penny understood what he meant when he darted for his side-arm. She pulled out her revolver, held it forward with both arms locked and straight, and fired. Dixie was floored by the bullet and Penny from the recoil of the gun. She got up unsteadily, shaking her head in an attempt to remove the ringing from her ears. Her foot got caught in the long grass and she tumbled on top of the dead man. Some loose daisies from her pocket spilled out over him. When the world stopped spinning, Penny got up and ran, giving the untied horse a smack on the backside as she went.
Upon returning to the brothel, she replaced the still-warm weapon behind Abigail’s night-stand, then went to her room to hide in the safety of sleep and wait for her hearing to return.
Penny was woken in the early hours by commotion downstairs. It turned out another of the Cockburn’s had been killed that night and the ladies of the brothel were having a mighty party to honour their memory.
Years later, men in John’s bar were still heard to argue over how many of the Cockburn boys big Marty had killed.