Holy Water

It was late July and the rainy season had come to Arizona. Anyone with any sense had taken what shelter the mountains and deserts could provide. And so Flan Emory tied up beneath the porch overhang outside a saloon in a cluster of buildings someone with a wry sense of humor had named Agua Bendita, Holy Water.

Shaking off his hat and slicker on the porch, he looked through the swinging doors and saw only the bartender inside. He was a thin man with a handlebar mustache so grand it looked like it wore him instead of the other way around. Emory took a deep breath and pushed through the swinging doors into the golden lamplight and the aroma of tobacco smoke and beer-soaked timber floor.

The bartender glanced up from a book lying flat on the bar top, eying his new customer with a mixture of nonchalance and mild surprise, for only a fool would be caught out in the monsoon-swept desert that extended forty miles in all directions around Agua Bendita.

“Evenin’,” Emory said, chasing the weariness from his face with a crooked grin. “Ain’t a fit night out there for man nor…”

“A beast would have sense to find shelter hours ago, bub. You ain’t no beast. Luckily we don’t serve no beasts, nor Indians, here. So what can I get you?” the bartender said, pushing his book aside.

“I do believe I would like a beer, You got anything to eat in this establishment, Mister…?

“Quinn, just Quinn,” the bartender said as he began pulling a draught into a hazy mug.

“I’ll be damned,” Emory said, “It’s as quiet as a church here.”

Quinn shot him a dark look and nodded his head to a corner table in the otherwise empty room.

“Mind your language, friend. There’s a special lady present,” he hissed and slid the now amber filled mug toward Emory on its dripping snowy foam. It slid a few feet past Emory, who had turned to see what was so special about an idle whore in an empty saloon.

But in the corner table he did not find a fallen dove, but a bird of a different color—black.

“Her name’s Sister Mary Elizabeth. Says she’s one of them Sisters of St. Joseph out of Tucson. Told me she’s heading to start a mission school with them Sand Pimas south of the Gila,” Quinn said, puffing out his moustache.

“Damn, she’s walkin’ all the way?” Emory said.

“Naw, she has a mule and a donkey tethered out back. She’s just another traveler like you who had to come out of that blessed damn rain. Oh, ‘scuse me, Sister.”

“No offense taken, Mr. Quinn. I know I should expect to hear some coarse language in an establishment such as yours where men gather to…be men,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said.

“Well, I should know better, ma’am. As you can see, I am a man of letters,” Quinn said, lifting the threadbare covers of his copy of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”

“It’s so heartening to see a man so devoted to the written word out here, Mr. Quinn,” she said and dropped her attention to her hands and the rosary on her lap she was praying to bead-by-bead.

“Nice lady. Come in here about four hours ago. All she wants is a glass of water. I’d make her a pot of tea if I had any, Mister…? Sorry, didn’t catch your name, bub,” Quinn said, turning back to Emory.

“Didn’t give it. Don’t matter much. I’m headed out of here as soon as this deluge lets up some,” Quinn said. He walked to the doorway, tucked behind one side of the jamb, and peeked at the sky as lightning flashed and illuminated a stable, mercantile and two small houses across the muddy river of what passed for the street in Agua Bendita. He then took off his drooping wet hat and snuck a quick look up and down the street when the lightning flashed again.

“You looking for someone, bub?” Quinn asked.

“No, who else but we poor souls would be out on a night like tonight?” Emory said. Almost instinctively, he rested his right hand on the butt of the Peacemaker belted to his hip.

“Would you join me, young man? I do believe Mr. Quinn is quite as tired of seeing me sit here praying as I am of listening to the rain drumming on the metal roof above us,” the sister said.

Emory crossed the room and pulled out a chair from under the round table. He spun it so its back was in front of him and sat straddling the seat as he smiled at the little nun in her white wimple and black dress and veil.

“Thank you for the company, young man. I can appreciate the need to leave here as soon as possible,” she said.

“Yes’m, I’d hope to be a hell of a—oh, pardon me, ma’am—heck of a lot further west by now, but this storm is putting me in mind of taking a boat and lining up critters two at time and float there.”

“Where is there, Mister…”

“Flan, ma’am. You can call me Flan like my mama did,” Emory said.

“And where did you come from, Flan?”

“Oh, Texas, New Mexico, the Territories. I been around, ma’am. It’s the nature of my work”

“Mine too, I guess you could say,” Sister Elizabeth said with a deep laugh.

“Oh my, you have a tear in your shirt. Let me mend that for you. And is that blood? Are you injured?  I just can’t stand the sight of blood,” Sister Elizabeth said, placing her hand over her mouth.

“It’s all right, ma’am. Really. I’ll be getting a new shirt when I get where I’m going,” Emory said.

“No, Flan, I insist. I have my sewing notions right here in my bag,” she said while ducking down to reach into a small carpet bag next to her chair.

As her head came up, Emory already had his pistol in his hand and shot the nun in the forehead from point-blank. She pitched back in her chair and fell face-up, her white wimple bearing a .45 caliber dot of red.

“What the hell have you done?” Quinn shouted from behind Emory, instinctively pulling out the sawed off shotgun he kept under the bar.

Emory spun and aimed his re-cocked Colt at the bartender.

“Easy there, Quinn. Put down that scattergun and come over here and I’ll show you,” Emory said. “Slowly and with both hands showin’.”

“All right, mister. Keep calm, I’m coming. Whatever you say. You’ve got the gun,” Quinn said. The bartender gingerly stepped to the table where he just witnessed the cold-blooded murder of a woman of God.

“Come closer, Quinn. Look at the notion she pulled out of her bag,” Emory said. The bartender looked down at the nun’s limp body, her eyes open under the now-bloody wimple, and saw a .32 caliber Colt Lightning dangling by its trigger guard from her right index finger.

Quinn let out a low whistle and said, “What in the hell?”

Emory pulled aside the table and tore the bloody veil and wimple off, which caused Quinn to gasp again.

“She, she’s bald,” he said.

“No, Quinn, HE’s bald. Sister Elizabeth here looks to be Little Billy Travis, a tiny back shooting desert rat I hear works for Luka Mendez down in El Paso. Mendez’s son, Manolito and I had a bit of a scrape a couple of weeks ago. I walked away with a knife slash, he didn’t. I heard the old man wanted vengeance, so I lit out of El Paso pretty quick like. Should have gone north, I guess,” Emory said.

“How’d you know? I had no idea,” Quinn said.

“Two things. The first was when Sister Elizabeth here said she got all queasy at the sight of blood. Those Sisters of St. Joseph run a hospital in Tucson. Doubt a nurse would get so ill as Billy here acted over a little blood on my shirt..”

“Really? What else?”

“When he leaned over to fetch his piece, this here nun get-up slipped down his neck and I saw something no nun I ever heard of had.”

“What was that, bub?” Quinn said.

“An Adam’s apple…bub.”

The story for Day 9 of Story-a-Day May, supplied by author Charlotte Rains Dixon, was to write a story about what happens when a nun in a wimple, a man in cowboy hat and boots, and a bartender with a handlebar moustache wearing a red and white polka-dot bow tie meet in a tavern on a rainy night. As a writer of Westerns, this was right in my wheelhouse. I hope I did it justice.

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3 thoughts on “Holy Water

  1. You did the impossible my friend … I struggled all day yesterday with a way to address this prompt … I may have to concede this one completely after reading HOLY WATER!

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