(Continued from Part 1)

Leland Granger was a lean man with somewhat aristocratic airs and a graying mustache that curved around a sardonic smile. That smile was on glistening display as he rode into Thirsty Gulch in his chestnut saddlebred, and it extended even further as Granger inspected the outside of Paw Jenkins’ cabin, which, if the strict truth be told, was in need of much repair.

“Cozy little secluded state, Hank! Makes it hard for old friends to track you down.”

“That is one of its many admirable qualities.” Paw Jenkins laughed as he walked down the porch steps to greet the visitor. “Come here, Leland, you son-of-a-snake, and let me shake your double-dealing hand!”

Leland dismounted on the unkept courtyard. The two men shook hands and hugged, bear and weasel in a dance, and commented on how bad the Merokee Pass had gotten on account of the Autumn Rebellion, and how the fur trade had gone to the buzzards. A low wind played with the dust in the courtyard. As they talked, Paw Jenkins looked around for Bolo. The brown boy was lazily petting a mangy coonhound over by a tool shed, and hadn’t noticed the newcomer. Paw Jenkins made beckoning gestures:

“Bolo! Bolo!” He pointed. “There is the young man I’ve been telling you about, Leland. Great helping hand. If you cut him open, you could see the purest Missimee blood flow. Too bad he is as deaf as a horse post, and does not talk much either.”

“Silence and discretion can be — how did you put it? — admirable qualities.”

Paw Jenkins said, “Admirable men like us see admirable qualities everywhere! But I would not want to suggest that Bolo does not have flaws. For starters, he is a little too sweet and sentimental around animals. Makes me want to strip him down and whip him sometimes.”

“Must be hard for a boy of his kind inclinations out here. It’s all rough country.”

Paw Jenkins grew suddenly sad. “I think of that often and it pains me. I wonder if he might not be better off living somewhere East, somewhere softer. You know, I also have a daughter keeping me company. Very young still, but looks as pretty as her Maw already. Cooks like a little demon too. I have her working on a goat stew for tonight.”

Leland’s smile waned. “Goat stew? Is that what it’s come to, Hank? My teeth can’t chew through leather like they could in the good days of our bad youth.”

“Oh, I have made sure my little Mellie puts a lot of love into her cooking these days. She can turn anything into a delicacy.”

“Talking about delicate, I can see what you mean about the boy’s sweetness. Something in his eyes.”

The men loomed over Bolo. The coonhound, wary of strangers, slunk away behind the tool shed.

“Bolo,” Paw enunciated. “Our distinguished guest has arrrived. You go find Mellie and make the guest room look good, you hear?” He turned to Leland. “Kid hears well enough when he wants to.”

“I’m sure he has many talents that are yet to be nurtured,” Leland said. “And now let’s talk business!”

“Business? Nah, I can’t humor you there. I don’t talk business with old friends, Leland; with old friends, I talk pleasure.”

“Let’s talk pleasure, and drink pleasure, and by and by we will get to pleasurable transactions, which is how business is done among admirable men.”

And so the two men took to passing a gin bottle around in the wind-swept porch, while Mellie and Bolo set up dinner inside the cabin. Mellie did a commendable job of procuring a reasonably clean tablecloth from who can guess where, while Bolo cut bread and cheese with a small knife. When the men had fortified themselves they made their way in to the dinner table where the girl was ladling stew liberally onto several bowls.

Leland sat down and asked:

“Who do think should say grace, Hank? The guest or the host? Or your meek, gracious children?”

“Never bothered with grace. The children are too gullible about demons and the such as it is, specially Bolo. They should be grateful to me who procured this food.” Paw Jenkins sat down too. “No holy ghost ever brought in bread or bacon to this table. Matter of fact, last I read the good book, bacon was frowned upon, so me and the good book had a mighty disagreement and parted ways.”

The visitor  applied his nostrils to the steamy clouds emanating from his bowl:

“This is certainly no bacon, but I’ll concede it’s less disgusting than anticipated. Still doesn’t  hold a wax candle to lightning-fried pony pie.”

Paw Jenkins burst out laughing. “Why, you son-of-a-snake! Lightning-fried pony pie! Bolo, do you hear that? Lightning fried… Ah, he did not hear a thing.” In his joviality, he patted Mellie’s hair out of place. “Mellie, did you hear that? You’re allowed to talk, girl, don’t be shy with my old friend Leland, you can treat him like if he was another Paw. You too, Bolo.”

Mellie could guess her Paw wanted her to ask about lightning-fried pony pie, so she knew to smile:

“What’s a lightning-fried pony pie, mister? It doesn’t sound like real food.”

“It doesn’t taste like real food either, young lady,” Leland said. “Hank here has been holding back on stories, I can tell, if he hasn’t told you the story of The Lightning-fried Pony Pie!”

Paw Jenkins laughed, “Pony Pie!” Leland laughed, “Pony Pie!” and pounded on the table hard so his gin glass spilled a little. Paw Jenkins then laughed even harder and said, “Pony Pie!” and pounded on the table twice so his stew poured out of the bowl. Even Bolo looked up at the visitor with his far-seeing eyes and laughed weakly and said: “Pony Pie.” So Mellie said:

“Please, mister, can you tell us the funny story of the Lightning-Fried Pony Pie?”

Leland Granger’s laughter faded into his old sardonic smile, and then that smile lingered so long on his face that it stopped looking like a smile and more like a sad display of dentures. “Funny story? I didn’t say anything about a funny story. It’s not a children’s story either, so maybe I shouldn’t say much more.”

Paw Jenkins stood up to add two more small gin glasses to the table: “Bolo, shoot that up. Mellie, you swallow that too, and keep it down, never mind if it burns. You go ahead and tell them whatever you want, Leland. I’m sick to my gut of lugging children around. Maybe they need to hear the story of the Lightning-fried Pony Pie, and that’s how they’ll finally grow up.”

Leland Granger began to speak and this is what he said:

(End of Part 2. To Be Continued.)

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