Excerpt from Cat’s Café, Book One of the Eagle Rock Trilogy
By Ralls C. Melotte
The abrupt sounds of gunshots and stampeding horse hooves outside the saloon brought a deathlike silence to the room full of drunken rail men and miners. Even Sheriff Zane Gunther seemed taken by surprise, probably from the effects of steady drinking for the last ten hours. He stumbled off his stool and yelled in a slow drawl, “What’n the hell is goin’ on out there?” Pulling out his pearl-handled .44-caliber six-shooters, he started for the saloon doors.
With that, the rest of the crowd got up to see the commotion. The first ones to the doors exclaimed, “Shit! It’s the Clancy clan!” Warning shots from Zane’s six-shooters quieted the crowd. Drunk as he was, he might easily pick off one of the riders by accident, but no one in the saloon was too worried about that. A dead Clancy was good riddance and one less thing to worry about at night.
The sheriff nearly emptied both of his guns firing randomly in the air. “We don’t have no use foh y’all potlickers. Go back up there in them hills with the rest of the heathens where y’all belong!”
Towering over Zane astride a horse at least eighteen hands high, the eldest son of Ben Clancy rode up to the sheriff and laughed directly in his face. “All right, Mister Big an’ Mighty Sheriff. This time we’ll clear outta here. But our pappy will be outta the Fort Henry hoosegow tomorrow, so ya’ll be seein’ a lot more of us in the future. That oughtta make ya shiver in your boots tonight,” he sneered.
With that, the riders started whooping and firing their guns in the air again. They turned and rode noisily out of town, leaving Eagle Rock’s main street, saloon, and sheriff in a cloud of dust. Zane stood slack-jawed and watched them go. He had forgotten that Ben Clancy had finished his jail time for the clan’s last escapade. Even in his present drunken stupor, he recognized things could get a little dicey for the lawman who had put Ben in jail. It might be a good time to lay low.
Turning to look back at the men peering at him from the saloon, he decided to mosey down to his office and alert the deputies.
The pre-celebration for tomorrow’s Fourth of July town party was in full swing until the confrontation outside. In just a few minutes, the mood inside the saloon had abruptly changed. The appearance of the Clancys was bad news and the party ground to a halt for the night. Everyone hoped the sheriff would be sober by tomorrow and things could be a little more joyful.
But, if the rest of the crowd was disappointed to call it a day, one person in the saloon was more than a little relieved. Catherine Callaway had been trying to keep up with the rowdy crowd’s demands for the last two and a half hours. Fortunately, Henry Willett had stepped in to help or things could have gotten out of hand. When the last customer left, Catherine collapsed onto a chair and moaned, “Where is Patrick? Why didn’t he come back? I can’t do this alone.”
Henry walked over to her, pulled up an overturned chair, and sat down across the table from her. “You know how he gets carried away with his storytelling. You told me yourself he’s been drinking heavily lately. I suspect he lost track of time and is at Potts’ spinning yarns.”
“But I need him here!” Catherine wailed. “What if you hadn’t dropped in? Those two fights could have become barroom brawls without you to break them up.” As tears began to streak her face, she banged her fist on the table and got up. “I never planned on this! Patrick wanted the saloon. Not me! I can’t deal with this chaos.”
She sat down again, sighed, and looked directly at Henry. “I really was so glad to see you tonight. You were wonderful, taking over the way you did. You didn’t have to do that. You could have been celebrating with the rest of them, but I really needed someone to handle this place. I’m just not up to tending a saloon by myself. Patrick doesn’t seem to get that or…” She started sobbing. “Or, he just doesn’t care!” she said angrily.
Henry stood up and gently took a hold of her wrists. “I am sure there is a good explanation for his disappearance and this will all look different to you in the morning. Shall I help you close up?”
Catherine slipped her wrists from Henry, looking a little uncomfortable. “No,” she said. “Patrick can clean up this mess himself when he feels like coming back. I have already done my share.”
Henry smiled at her. “Well then, I’ll be going. Bar the doors behind me and then you go directly to bed. You look exhausted.”
After Henry left, Catherine assessed the damage. She just couldn’t go to bed with the saloon looking this bad, so she sighed and started picking up the overturned chairs. Half an hour later, she had washed and put away the glasses and mugs and swept the floor.
“There, that is finally done,” she said to herself and took a moment to lean on her broom and look around. She hated the saloon, and right now she was pretty sure she hated Patrick.
Still, tonight had been the first time since they had arrived in Eagle Rock that they would actually break even, and tomorrow would bring in a nice profit if this was an example of the attention the saloon would get for the Fourth of July. She had been praying for this, had actually counted on Patrick being right for once, and had prepared for the event. But she hadn’t expected him to wander off just as the crowd descended. Where was that man? They should have opened a café, like he promised.
Patrick Callaway had already decided to move west when he met Catherine Callaway in her father’s Louisville, Kentucky home at a large, festive Thanksgiving party. One month later they eloped on a night train to Salt Lake City to start a new life together. Patrick soon became disenchanted with Utah and they moved on to the new railroad town of Eagle Rock. He had promised they would open a café and she could cook meals using her mother’s collection of Kentucky recipes she had lovingly brought with her. But as soon as they arrived in hot, dusty, dirty Eagle Rock, Patrick announced he had changed his mind and intended to open a saloon. Admittedly, his personality and storytelling were more suited to a saloon than a café. So, although Catherine had no interest in tending a bar and managing a saloon, her duties began as soon as they opened Patrick’s Saloon.
What bothered Catherine most were the rumors about the yarns Patrick told when he wasn’t with her—stories that weren’t quite as humorous to her as the ones she had been drawn to in Louisville before they got married. Recently, they seemed to focus more on gambling and loose women, which the local menfolk found very entertaining but suggested that Patrick had not been completely truthful with her in Louisville. Of course, they were just rumors, especially about the beautiful Fannie Smiles, weren’t they?
Catherine eventually fell into a troubled sleep filled with dreams of women wooing Patrick at Potts’ Saloon.
Book One of the Eagle Rock Trilogy introduces Catherine Callaway and a cast of characters, both righteous and ruthless, amidst the raw beauty of a small railroad town that rises, falls, and rises again at the whim of corrupt managers and tycoons. Cat’s story embodies the struggle and success of miners, cowboys, ranchers, rail workers, and missionaries who sought to tame the West and test themselves – willing to leave lives they knew to find something better, at any cost.