The Desperatas

“It’s nine o’clock on this glorious Sunday morning April the Twelfth. This is the Reverend Holger Fire bringing you the word of God from KTRU, Christian radio in Dallas. Yee-haw!”  The clattering of cowbells resounded across the yard.

The radio blared in the background as Double Dog and Gappy Jack were busy reloading their brass for the upcoming shooting match.  “Why do we have to listen to this crap?” Double Dog asked, as he filled the hoppers of the four-stage loading press they had set up out in the driveway.

“Because I like it – he makes me laugh!” Gappy Jack responded, picking up a bucket of clean sorted brass.

The Reverend Fire continued: “Let’s get right to it. Today we’re going to hear from the Reverend Preacher ‘Hurt-N-Pain’….”

“It’s Preacher ‘Horton Payne’,” a second voice stated.

“Oh, great – now there’s two of them!” Double Dog complained.  The temperature outside was ninety-two and well on its way to one hundred and five – what Gappy Jack liked to call ‘a Texas winter.’  Both men were used to the heat. 

Double Dog Darrenger and his best friend, Gappy Jack Daniels, were members of the Old West Reenactors Society, a social organization that had dedicated itself to preserving the history and tales of the old west by promoting the sport of cowboy shooting. Its members created shooting aliases and character identities that they believed reflected life in the ‘old west.’ Both men had become so entrenched in the playacting that they were known exclusively by their aliases, and had assimilated their cowboy identities into their daily routine.  Hardly anyone remembered what their real names were.

The two men were a study in contrasts. Double Dog, a man of average height, had lost an inch or two of that height to his ever-expanding waistline, which featured a ‘dun-lop’ that hung over the top of his pants. Barrel-chested in his younger days, he could not fight the ravages of age, and at 56 had given up entirely. He sported a full grey beard on an already pronounced jawline, with dark hair that he kept trimmed especially close on the sides, allowing the crown portion to stand up in short spikes.

Gappy Jack Daniels, or simply ‘Gappy,’ as Double Dog referred to him, was about ten years older, and looked every minute of his age. Though he had bright youthful looking eyes, his body betrayed a history of hard living. He stood about five feet and four inches tall, and wore his wavy salt-and-pepper hair long to his shoulder blades. He was wiry and bearded, and had grown out his mustache to try to disguise the fact that he was missing at least two of his top front teeth.

Inseparable for almost ten years, the best friends did nearly everything together.  They shot in matches together, they traveled together, they designed their cowboy outfits together, and they worked together.  They usually spent days off working on their trucks or reloading their own bullets, a practice that many of the cowboy shooters engaged in as a way to save money.  They had purchased the four-stage reloading press together, and had become so adept at the process that they could reload sufficient bullets for a weekend match in two to three hours.  They were extremely proud of their quality control since none of their bullets had ever misfired. 

Over the sound of the press the religious radio program could still be heard.  Reverend Fire asked Preacher Payne, “…this idea to limit gun sales, and that land-grab by the EPA, and these liberal politicians and whining rabble-rousers.  What do you think the Lord is trying to share with us about all of that?” 

"Well, Reverend Fire,” the second speaker responded, “the Lord has always been clear with us about obeying his will. I think it’s clear that a great number of people want to pull up stakes and find another state where their rights won’t be trampled on.  But it’s also clear that the Lord will guide us in this.  If He wants some of us to stay and keep fighting for our rights then He will show us the way to do that.  For the Lord says, in John 2:17, ‘The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God….’”

“Aaaahh … make it stop!” uttered Double Dog.

“Hey – you want it off, you go turn it off,” Gappy retorted.

“No, I can’t stop right now.  We need to finish packing these bullets. That reporter from the Dallas Chronicle will be here pretty soon.”

“Why are they coming here, again?”

“Because they’re doing an article specifically on the Old West Reenactors Society, and they wanted to take pictures of us.”  He scooped up another handful of empty brass.  “So what do you think about everything’s that happening?” he asked, changing the subject. 

“Well, I kind of agree with the Preacher.  Those tree-hugging liberals are the devil’s agents and this land grab is just a way for them to drill us in the ass until they drag us all into his pits of brimstone and fire.”

Double Dog laughed his wheezy shallow laugh.  “So you didn’t vote for that damn anti-guns initiative?”

“Hell, no!” said Gappy Jack emphatically. 

Double Dog pulled a stiff bandana out of his pocket and wiped the sweat from his face and the back of his neck.  He headed over to the radio.  “I can’t stand this crap any longer!” A cacophony of cowbells, and a choir singing ‘Praise Him!’ had erupted in the background.  He silenced the commotion with a click, turning the radio off.  “This is depressing – all this James-this and Luke-that, and this is clear and that’s clear. It makes me think, and thinking gives me a damn headache.”  He stuffed the bandana back.  “Where’s Betty?  We need her to do a beer run.” 

Gappy Jack’s girlfriend, Rowena Storm, or ‘Buckskin Betty’ as she was better known, also participated in the cowboy reenactments.  She was not a huge fan of Double Dog, but had learned to deal with him.  Whenever the three worked on their shooting match activities she preferred to run errands or sew new costume pieces. 

“She didn’t feel like driving out – she said she was going to spend the day with her hot glue gun.” 

Today the two men were at Double Dog’s place which was better suited for the upcoming interview than the decrepit double-wide trailer on the dusty patch of chaparral that Gappy Jack called home.  Gappy had brought his teardrop trailer with him, a curiosity he referred to as his dressing closet; the small camping trailer was stuffed to the gills with his many colorful cowboy outfits and gear: cowboy hats, shoes and boots, and accessories of every imaginable color and style.

The reporter from the Dallas Chronicle arrived as scheduled at noon. The day was now considerably hotter as the temperature soared above one hundred degrees.  “Gentlemen, I’d like to do the photoshoot first, if you don’t mind, before the day becomes unbearable.”  His crew had already set up a backdrop and extra lighting equipment.   

“What do you want us to wear?” Double Dog had asked the reporter.

“Just wear what you would normally wear for a shooting match.”

Double Dog retreated into his house and Gappy Jack ducked into his ‘dressing closet.’ Double Dog was back first. His outfit seemed to be a variety of mismatched colors and styles. He had on dark suspendered pants which were tucked into Concho-adorned tan leather knee-high boots, a pastel-striped long-sleeved shirt that did not button around his thick neck, and a black felt rustler’s hat which had seen too much rain. Several small decorative knives, a replica sheriff’s badge, four crumpled ribbon sleeve garters in a variety of colors, and a very large pocket watch hung strategically from the costume.

The reporter and crew struggled to stifle their laughs, but could not suppress their outright gasps as Gappy Jack came out of the closet.  Gappy had put on his most stylish bright red shirt, a fringed black leather vest with giant silver buttons, gray tooled leather cowboy boots, a heavy-looking black holster ‘rig’ with dozens of silver Conchos, and his fuzzy black and white chaps. He threw his arms in the air as if declaring a touchdown and asked the assembly, “What do you think?”

The newspaper crew erupted into laughter as Double Dog queried, “Where the hell are your pants?”  Beneath his chaps and the gun belt, which was rapidly sliding down his narrow hips, Gappy’s junk was barely covered by a screaming-red leather thong. 

He smiled wryly as he said, “It’s too hot …. too fucking hot … for pants.”

The reporter composed himself and took out his recorder.  “I hope you don’t mind if I ask you questions while we take the pictures.  Is it true that the members of your group get more enjoyment from the costuming than from the shooting?”

The two friends looked at each other.  Double Dog nodded, while Gappy responded, “Yeah, that’s probably true.”  Gappy then added quickly, “But don’t make us sound like fags in your article.”  As he turned to go back to his dressing closet he proudly flashed a full view of his hairless, saggy old ass.

The menus at all of the Pappas never changed.  The barbecue restaurant chain, started by a Greek immigrant, featured a selection of Texas-style barbecued meats served most often with sides of other meats and a few options that were intended to pacify the health-conscious, like ranch beans, macaroni and cheese, brisket fries, and tamales.  It was one of Buckskin Betty’s favorite places, primarily because you could get an order of chili gravy to go with everything.

Buckskin Betty had gotten way too much sun exposure in her fifty-five years.  She always wore a great deal of heavy eyeliner to accent her bright blue eyes, which peered out disconcertingly from the shadows of her rhinestone-adorned hat and her weathered saddle-colored skin.   Her shooting outfits generally consisted of stained and faded fringed and beaded leather dresses the same color as her skin, and shapeless shearling boots or homemade beaded red moccasins which constantly need to be re-sewn.  She had recently given up smoking, but still had the gravelly voice.

A study in contrasts, Dead-Eye Darling came across as the ultimate empty-headed bimbo, but was one of the best shooters in the group.  Her father was Irish and her mother was Mexican, and Darlene Duran had inherited the less-desirable qualities of both heritages.  Short and squat, she tipped the scales at nearly two-hundred pounds.  Her copper-red hair was dyed of course, and when she went too long between dye jobs her friends would call her Creamsicle.  She wore menswear styled shooting outfits, and from a distance, if she had her hat on she was sometimes mistaken for Double Dog.  Her shooting name, ‘Dead-Eye Darling,’ had been suggested to her by her husband, who actually suggested it because she had a ‘lazy eye.’ 

Big Butte Bunny, the quiet member of the trio, always looked like a long-faded saloon girl.  She preferred to wear colored satin corsets trimmed in black lace, fishnet tights, and short ruffled satin skirts.  She wore a wig of tightly curled blonde hair, piled high on top with long stray curls down the back.  She used more eye make-up than Rowena, having discovered that ground-up colored chalk made a perfectly good eyeshadow.  The colors – blue, green, orange, and sometimes pink - were amplified by the huge round-framed glasses she wore to try to improve her 20/250 vision.

They ordered their lunches (pulled pork with sides of sausages, and chili gravy for Betty), and went to sit at the round table near the large stuffed and very dusty bison head mounted on the wall.  The red-checked oilcloth covering the table was damp from having been wiped off recently, prompting Bunny to pull a tissue out of her giant fringed leather handbag and carefully dry off her own little area.  The only other person in the restaurant at the time was a rather beefy looking sunburned man in his late forties, who was using his fork to carefully lift and inspect every item on his overflowing plate.

“If I have to hear about my DQ from Gappy one more time, I swear I might end up serving time for totally justifiable homicide,” Betty grumbled.

“I know – it’s not like you dropped the gun on purpose.  Besides, the bullet missed Doc, so what’s the big deal?  The bullet hole in the stage front just makes everything look more authentic, and no one actually got hurt.”  Dead-Eye stopped talking long enough to take a sip of her sweet tea.  “Sam won’t stop making an issue out of it either.”

“Well, at least you have the excuse that you didn’t make it to half the stages.  Do you know how stupid I felt when I realized that I hadn’t even loaded for four of the stages?  I thought that’s what the loading table people were supposed to check,” Bunny pouted.  She wisely decided not to remind Dead-Eye that she had missed half the stages because she had been too busy talking – and talking, and talking – with people from other posses.

“No – they don’t really check whether you loaded – they just want to make sure you’re unloaded at the end of the stage,” Betty clarified.  “What makes me even more upset is when Double Dog starts laughing about it – he’ll just suddenly start laughing for no reason all of a sudden, and then he and Gappy go through everything again.  I’m really getting tired of it.”

The server called their numbers and they quickly retrieved their food.  Just as they sat down again, Betty gave a loud yelp.  “I’ve just had an idea!”  She leaned toward the others and whispered her idea loudly.  Bunny looked around occasionally to make sure no one else could hear them, but no one else had come in to the restaurant.  Only the beefy man was there.

“So the real trick is just going to be finding out who the tenth is, and keeping them from figuring out what we’re doing.  Maybe you can distract him or her somehow,” Betty said to Dead-Eye.

“Sure – shouldn’t be a problem,” Dead-Eye answered, her lips covered in barbecue sauce.  “We can use Sam’s loader.”  She looked past Bunny’s shoulder and noticed that the beefy guy was staring at them.  “See something interesting?” she asked him.

“Ladies, I was wondering if one of you could take a picture of me here.”

“Why?” Bunny asked, turning to face him.

“I’m a food blogger, and I always post pictures of me eating the food so people know that I’m for real,” he answered, a kind smile lightening his broad face.  “I do mostly barbecue.  A lot of people read my reviews on my website, and sometimes I can get the barbecue places to change their operating ways for the better.”

“I wish someone could get those two old coots at the range to change their operating ways for the better,” Dead-Eye mumbled.

“Which place is this?” the food blogger asked.

“Oh – there’s this old couple that comes out and does the lunches at the range where we have our cowboy matches – I don’t know what they make the stuff out of but there hasn’t been a time when it hasn’t given us troubles,” Betty told him.

“Well, I’ll tell you what.  Give me the time and the place and I’ll go out and have lunch with ya’ll.  In exchange, can one of you ladies take my picture?”

By the time lunch was finished, they had all made their plans for the following weekend.  Betty shook hands with the food blogger.  “What was your name?”

“I’m Brisket County, ma’am,” he said, “or at least that’s what I go by on my food blog.  And what are you three ladies called?”

Betty looked at the other two and then answered, “We’re the Desperatas.”


“It is nine o’clock on this dreary Thursday morning, April the sixteenth. This is the Reverend Holger Fire bringing you the word of God from KTRU, Christian radio in Dallas. The wind is up and the dust is flying. Yee….”

“Turn that off!” shouted Double Dog Darrenger.  “I’m not listening to that phony preacher ever again. His show last Sunday gave me cramps for three days.”

“Phony? Why is he a phony?” asked Gappy Jack.                            

“I looked up his bio on the internet. He’s not a shooter, he’s a used car salesman from California. I bet the only thing Texas-Cowboy about him is an expensive, ‘made in China’ cowboy hat that he probably bought on-line from Cabela’s.”

“No shit,” chuckled Gappy.

“Speaking of shit…” Double Dog started to say.

“No! Stop! I’m not listening to any more talk about poop. I forbid it!” said an aggravated Buckskin Betty from the back seat of Double Dog’s truck – otherwise known as the ‘Cannon Wagon.’  “How much longer to the range?”

“It’s about five minutes,” Double Dog told her.

“Good – you guys can talk about poop all you want after we get there,” she grumbled.

The owners of the Smokey Trail range, once a large working ranch, now rented it out to the weekend cowboy reenactors, who paid a lot of money to have access to the open space.  The range sat about a mile off the main road, hidden behind clumps of dogwoods and pines.  A long row of ‘store facades’ comprised the ‘stages’ used for the matches.  Each façade was built to look like the front of a store, or a doctor’s office, or a saloon.  Behind each façade several metal targets, shaped like stop signs, chickens or buffalo, were set at varying distances in different configurations.  A few old mannequins dressed as ‘soiled doves’ were placed at various windows.  Gappy noted wryly that some of these saloon girls were missing parts. 

Consulting the ‘posse sheets’ for the match, Double Dog was happy to see that they would be shooting with the usual group.  Dead-Eye Darling, Sorry Sad Sam, Doc U. Mint, Big Butte Bunny, Muddy Dick MacVicar, and Old Ghost all requested the same shooting partners for every match, and the group had become pretty tight.  Occasionally others would drift through, but few stayed for long as personality clashes and power struggles made their way between the members. 

When they got to the range, Buckskin Betty sent the boys off, telling them that she and the other ladies would get the gear in order and move it to the range. The guys were more than happy to let the ladies do all the work, including the heavy lifting.  They went off to find some of their other friends and to see who their ‘tenth’ for the posse would be.  Dead-Eye and Bunny, waiting at the edge of the range, came immediately to help Betty with the gear.  

Double Dog and Gappy approached the other men in their posse, who had gathered near the member’s office, leaving their carts nears their trucks.   Doc patted Gappy on the shoulder. 

“Hey, Gappy – did you go see that Remington I told you about?”  Doc U. Mint, the oldest member of their group, asked.  He usually wore a long black, heavily salt-stained, frock coat with a short top hat.  He kept his white beard nicely trimmed, and often carried a silver-topped walking stick for show.  His focus was actually on the shooting, and he had a huge collection of antique firearms.

“Yeah, I went and looked at it,” Gappy replied, “and I thought, no way am I spending that kind of money on that chunk of shit.”

“Speaking of shit…” Double Dog interjected, and suddenly the men in the group were off on a lively discussion of the disgusting barbecue lunches that the range organizers always arranged for, because the old couple that they usually hired for the events were distant relatives.  They had all gotten ‘the trots’ at the last lunch, causing Double Dog to ‘rename’ the range ‘Stinky Tails.’  “I wish we could get that cowboy food blogger – you know, Brisket County – to come and sample the food.  Maybe he could get them to fix it somehow.  Hell – I’m even willing to spend more money to get something better.”  

Muddy Dick MacVicar, who always wore a kilt and shaved his legs because he found the sensation of his cowboy boots rubbing against any stubble very distracting, launched into a rather colorful description of his most recent personal GI experience.  Old Ghost - neither old nor a ghost, the youngest of the group, and the newest member, watched the others in the group in order to figure out how to react to Muddy Dick’s story.  Old Ghost usually wore plain blue jeans with plain white shirts; he didn’t like unnecessary adornments, and was still learning the unspoken rules of the game.     

Sorry Sad Sam, otherwise known as Samuel Duran, was Darlene’s long-suffering husband.  Unlike Double Dog, Sam was actually a near perfect oval in shape.  He was only slightly taller than his wife, and his naturally black hair was a thorn in Darlene’s side.  He limited himself to one shooting outfit, which he washed after every fifth wearing.  His shirt had faded from sun and the constant dust to a dark orangey color, prompting Darlene to refer to him as the Great Pumpkin.   The group’s peace-keeper, he waited until Muddy Dick had finished his story, then politely asked him to refrain from re-telling it ‘in front of the ladies.’        

Dead-Eye Darling had not stopped talking from the moment Buckskin Betty had appeared.  “So then I told Sam, maybe we really need to think about getting a new one, and you know what Sam said?  Well, what do you think Sam said?  He said, well, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue if those liberals have anything to say about it.  I don’t know – what do you think about that EPA thing?  I think it’s a little scary, but then again they come onto our property – one good shot and I don’t think they’d be too much trouble anymore.  I know that if they ever tried anything with me I’d let ‘em have it, but then again, they said they were here to help us, but honestly I haven’t really seen any help, have you…?”

Double Dog’s voice emerged above Dead-Eye’s: “Who’s our tenth?”

“Someone named Frank the Wrangler.  He’s going to be the posse marshal and since we only have ten he’s also volunteered to handle the flag,” Old Ghost told him.  “So who’s going to keep score?  Anyone?”

“Don’t let Dead-Eye do it – I don’t think we have that much time,” Gappy suggested with a laugh.

“I’ll do it,” Doc offered.  The rest knew that there would be no fudging of scores then.  Doc took the clipboard with the posse sheet to his gun cart to read it over before the range master announced the shooters’ meeting. 

“Okay, why don’t we gather round and we’ll get started,” Range Master Bill called out.  The posse groups gathered around him, adjusting gun belts and taking attendance within their groups.  “Thank ya’ll for coming to our match today.  We don’t have any match changes to announce, so we’ll have our prayer and then we can head to the stages.  Today we have a special guest to lead us in our prayer – we’re lucky to get him here.  Please welcome our friend, the Reverend Holger Fire!”

“You have got to be kidding!” Double Dog nearly shouted, as the Reverend made his way through the crowd to the center.  Reverend Fire was wearing the most outrageous B-Western outfit any of them had ever seen: a white yoked shirt with the yoke entirely covered in rhinestones, and long silky fringe along the undersides of the sleeves, topped skin-tight pants, with large horseshoes marked out in rhinestones as well.  His white hat boasted a thick rhinestone-covered hatband, and his white reptile cowboy boots had rhinestone covered Cuban-style heels.  Even his bright red neck scarf had rhinestones marking out the five-pointed stars on it.

Gappy was nearly doubled over from laughing, while the other posse members stood with their mouths agape.  Dead-Eye broke the silence: “Oh my gawd, he’s not really going to shoot dressed like that, is he?  He looks like a frigging holiday ornament!  Geez, and I thought Gappy was bad – this guy is really something else!  You can almost go blind from that outfit!  I’m glad he’s not on our posse – Did Bill invite him or did he come on his own?  Does he actually know how to shoot?  Any guy who spends that much time on his shooting outfit….”  Her chatter could be heard over Reverend Fire’s enthusiastic opening prayer.

The posse groups headed to their starting stages to begin the match.  Frank the Wrangler, carrying the required red flag, walked past the three women on the posse, who were trailing behind the men.  All three women watched him walking ahead of them, noting that he had a slight drag in his left leg, and kept his hands tucked in front of him, elbows bent and upper arms against his torso.  He wore gray pants, a striped gray shirt and a standard black hat; the sleeves of the shirt were rolled up, revealing almost skinny tan arms. 

Neither Buckskin Betty nor Big Butte Bunny had managed to get a word in the whole time, as Dead-Eye was in a good mood and so talked even more than usual.  “Do you know him?  He sure has a funny way of walking.  He looks like he’s got a real bad rash somewhere and he can’t find a comfortable way to be, you know?  Maybe his pants are too tight.  Maybe he’s got a rock in one of his shoes.  I wonder what that’s all about.  Have we ever seen him at this match?  Because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him.  He’s just kind of odd looking, if you ask me….”

Buckskin Betty quickly got a sentence in.  “That’s Frank the Wrangler – he’s our tenth today.”

“Oh, really?  I wonder what kind of shooter he is – with the way he walks I can’t imagine that he’s a very good shot.  I’ll bet he can’t even stay fully straight while he’s aiming.  I don’t know anything about him, and you know they say you can’t judge a book by its cover.  I don’t really know why they say that because it’s never been a problem for me to figure someone out just by looking at them, but I doubt that’s he’s going to help our posse score in any way – I mean, just look at him!  And I thought Sam was bad, but this guy doesn’t look like he can even….”

“Actually, Frank is one of the best shooters in the whole group.  He always has clean matches, and he’s usually in the top three overall,” Big Butte Bunny stated. 

The men were still talking about Muddy Dick’s story, although Double Dog, trying to draw the attention to himself, had offered a silly observation: “Frank the Wrangler is also the flag-handler – try saying that five times fast, I tell you what!”

Bunny overheard Double Dog’s comment and repeated it to her companions.  “Frank the Wrangler is also the flag-handler – that’s funny!”

Dead-Eye, who had continued her running commentary on Frank’s appearance, misheard Bunny.  She stopped pushing her gun cart.  “Frank is the fag-wrangler?” she asked Bunny.  Bunny looked over at Buckskin Betty, who only shook her head.

Betty nudged Dead-Eye.  “Did you take care of Sam’s ammo?”

“Yup – I think we got everyone.”

“No,” Bunny reminded her, “we still have to do Frank’s.  That’s his cart over there.  You go talk to him the way we planned, and Betty and I can take care of it.”

“How long do I need to distract him for?” Dead-Eye asked.

“If you can get him out of the way for at least six minutes, I think we can do all the holders and the shotgun,” Betty told her.

“Okay – no problem.”  Dead-Eye walked over to Frank the Wrangler.  She leaned over and spoke quietly to him, and the two walked back to the member’s office.  They returned more than ten minutes later.  Dead-Eye joined the other Desperatas.

“Did you get it done?”

“Yup – no problem.” Betty smiled at her friends.  “Twelve-hundred primer-less rounds, ready to go.  These guys aren’t going to know what happened.”

Frank the Wrangler stood in the middle of the posse’s first stage, reviewing the instructions for the stage.  When everyone had gathered, he began reading the instructions out loud.  “This is Stage Three – the Wild Buffalo stage.  You need only one pistol and your rifle with ten shots for this one.  When the shooter is ready, he or she will say the following: ‘Buffalo gal, won’t you come out tonight?’  The timer will then start.  The shooter will need to shoot in this order: the three chickens with the pistol, in this order: Three-Two-One-Two-Three; then Buffalo One, twice, with the rifle, then Buffalo Two, twice, with the rifle, then Buffalo Three, twice, with the rifle, then number Two again, twice, then number One again, twice.  Everyone got that?”   

The posse members mumbled.  “Any questions?” Frank asked.  They mumbled some more.  “Okay, let’s get going!”

The posse members lined up at the loading table, while Frank headed off to check something with the Range Master.  Double Dog was up first.  He carefully loaded one pistol with his reloaded brass, and inserted ten new rifle shells.  Gappy Jack stood next in line, loading his pistol from the same boxes of reloaded brass.  Behind him, Old Ghost put his firearms on the table so he could load and shoot third.  Frank the Wrangler, having quickly returned to the stage, stood a few yards off, practicing some sort of twisting dance; he would occasionally stop, fold up his left arm under his eyes, and using his right hand as a ‘gun,’ would practice his aim, uttering ‘pew-pew-pew-pew-pew!’ to imitate the bullets hitting the metal targets.  Bunny and Betty watched his wild act with amusement.

Double Dog placed his rifle on the sill of one of the open windows, surveyed the stage, and announced that he was ready to shoot.  Muddy Dick, who was handling the electronic timer, stood next to him, waiting for him to say his line.

“Thar she blows!” shouted Double Dog.

“Can’t you ever just say the right lines?” Muddy Dick asked him exasperatedly.  “Stand by!” He pushed the ‘start’ button on the timer to sound the starting beep.  Double Dog pulled his pistol out of its holster and assuming his duelist pose, he aimed at the first chicken target and pulled the trigger.  Nothing happened – no bullet came out, no primer discharged, no tiny puff of smoke appeared.  The timer could not pick up the sound of any shots being fired, and the clicking sound from the hammer hitting the back of the chamber was not enough.  He cocked the hammer and fired again – and nothing happened.  He tried a third shot, with the same result.

“Damn it!” he shouted.  Dead-Eye started laughing, breaking everyone’s concentration.   The other shooters immediately began hassling Double Dog: “Did you load your own brass?”  “Bet you forgot the primers!”  “I told you not to use wet powder!”  “No do-overs!”  “You’re supposed to pull the trigger!” 

Double Dog, showing great self-restraint, did not snap back.  He tried firing the last two rounds in the pistol, with no luck, then re-holstered the pistol and picked up the rifle.  After trying to fire two shots from the rifle, he told Muddy Dick, “I’m done – I’ll take a scratch,” and walked over to the unloading table.

Gappy Jack was up next.  One of the better shooters of the group, he said his line and took out his pistol.  He rapidly pulled the trigger five times, but no sound was heard, and no bullets emerged.  “What the hell?” he yelled.  By now, everyone in the posse had started laughing, and the snide comments continued: “Remind me not to let you guys reload my brass!”  “Just throw the pistol at the target – at least you’ll get a hit that way!”  Gappy stormed off with his rifle, not even bothering to attempt firing it. 

Dead-Eye could not pass up the opportunity.  “Gappy – do you guys need me to come over and show you how to load brass?  ‘Cause I know how to do it right!  You’ve obviously got a problem with the powder or the primer – I’m willing to bet that you used the wrong primers.  Sam did that once – ruined hundreds of shells.  I’ll bet that’s what you guys did!  Unless of course you just forgot the powder.  Is it possible that you just forgot the powder?  It wouldn’t work without any powder, you know….”

“Shut up, Darlene!”  Gappy was furiously pulling the shells out of his firearms, checking each one carefully.  He put all the shells into the canvas bag he and Double Dog normally used for empty brass, and then leaned against the loading table with his arms crossed, not sure whether to publicly take up the issue with Double Dog, or to just go hide in the truck for the rest of the match.  They would both get a stage disqualification for this. 

Old Ghost was up next, but had the same experience as Gappy and Double Dog.  He stamped his foot and let out a stream of expletives, surprising even Sam, who was used to Dead-Eye’s colorful tirades.  Doc tried next, then Sam, but none of the shooters had any success.  Doc was the first to mention sinister possibilities.  “There’s something strange going on, and I’m not sure I like it.  We didn’t all use Gappy and Double Dog’s brass, so something else is happening.  Is this some sort of plan to take away our Second Amendment rights?  ‘Cause I won’t stand for it!”  His voice carried across the otherwise remarkably silent shooting range. 

Frank the Wrangler stopped his gyrations when he realized that he had not actually heard any gunfire.  He strode to the loading table, dragging his leg slightly, and began loading his pistol.  He chided the others.  “I don’t know what ya’ll are complaining about.  If you would only learn to respect the guns and handle them well, you wouldn’t have any problems.  But you all treat your equipment like trash, so no wonder nothing works….”

Dead-Eye could not contain herself.  She gleefully shouted, “The fag-wrangler’s up next!”  Ignoring Dead-Eye, Frank the Wrangler placed his rifle in the starting position, and motioned to Muddy Dick to get the timer ready.  Saying the line quickly, he twisted his hips a few times, then swerved around at the sound of the beep and swayed over to the open window with his arms tucked up.  He pulled out his pistol, balanced the pistol against his left forearm, and fired.  The hammer hit home, producing a very slight ‘pffft’ sound, and the bullet appeared at the opening of the barrel, then fell out and bounced off, slipping through a break in the floorboards.   

The ladies shrieked with laughter.  “I’m so glad we have the fag-wrangler to show us how to do it right,” Dead-Eye yelled.  Shooters from the other stages, drawn by the laughter from the three ladies who were holding each other up and shaking with mirth, began to wander over to the Wild Buffalo Stage to see what was going on.  The Desperatas were more than happy to share their devious undertakings with all the shooters, and proved such a distraction that the match was ultimately cancelled for the day. 

A short ways away, a truck pulled up near the edge of the parking area and a large beefy man emerged.  He had on a red-checked cowboy shirt, tight jeans that came up just below his navel (and couldn’t really go any further up), a sand-colored cowboy hat, and a new pair of aviator glasses.  In one of his pockets, he had his cell phone, and in the other he had a roll of bills and a stack of thin dimes.  And he was there for a very important reason: he was there to eat.

Purveyors of tales that are

​entertaining, illuminating, and thoughtful.

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Table of Contents:


The Desperatas*

The Roadkill Barbecue Buffet

The Round-up at Flat Top                 Mountain

From our Cowboy Chronicle reviews:

"...The characters are well developed, the humor sharp and the (mis)adventures beyond the imagination of most mortals....

The two main characters have become my favorite Cowboy Action Shooters™.  They are fun, entertaining and don’t take life too seriously. I am looking forward to Volume 2!..."

From our Amazon reviews:



The fog had begun creeping in from the coast, making its slow sinuous way through the hills around the dusty outdoor shooting range just north of San Luis Obispo.  The shooting portion was deserted for the most part, and was once again under the sway of the crows that made their homes overnight in the scrubby trees atop the berms that separated the stages.  At one end of the range, the large white tent stood as a shimmering monument to the evening’s festivities.

The vendors, only a few of whom had made enough at this event to cover their expenses and to pay their costs for the next event, were busy setting out the most desirable of their remaining western wares.  The vendors who had not broken even had packed up already, and planned to make the most of the evening’s dinner as self-remuneration.  The caterers scurried around the main entrance, trying to decide on the best spot to set up the long folding tables to hold the repast: boiled green beans and bacon; mixed unpeeled mashed potatoes with very brown gravy; and grilled flank steak.  Vegetarians would just have to content themselves with the overdressed green salad and a slice of thick spongy white bread. 

This had been the last match of the season at this range, and most of the hundred or so participants and their guests were off at their hotel rooms or campsites, getting gussied up for the western-themed ball and evening awards ceremony.  Although most chose to wear the same outfits every year, convincing themselves that the ensembles fit them just as well after eight years as they had at the first wearing, a few opted for newer looks: fancy frock coats; embroidered vests; billowing taffeta skirts in shades of forest green, plum, and black; and tightly fitted corsets worn on the outside – the laces creaking ominously with every attempt at drawing a breath – would proudly be on display, along with cowboy boots with fancy tooled details in garish colors.  No matter that the bulging bosoms and bloated bellies sometimes overflowed their boundaries: the Saturday night dinner was the time to show off.  The match photographers had set up a nice backdrop for taking portraits, and had adorned the simple mottled light blue background with some potted ficus trees; they would be busy most of the evening, capturing the images of living caricatures of the ghosts from the Old West.

A couple miles away, at Old Jake’s Saloon and Sports Bar, Darren Drummond and John Cassidy were tucked away at a table in a dark corner, working hard at drowning their sorrows and crying into their bar snacks.  You see, this weekend had been Darren’s last shoot in California, and in fact it was to be Darren’s last weekend in California: he had just gotten a promotion that was predicated on his relocating to Houston.  He would be leaving for Texas the following Wednesday.

The two friends were way beyond the point of no return.  They had set up a tab on their arrival, and had quickly consumed enough alcohol to render them both unintelligible and slightly weepy.  After the opening round of tequila five-flights, they had reverted back to their preferred drinks: Darren had a row of empty Firestone Velvet Merlins in front of him, while John was surrounded by a half dozen empty diet Lemmy glasses.  On the old-fashioned jukebox nearby, Neil Diamond was singing “Soggy Pretzels” for the ninth time.  “I love this song,” John mumbled slowly.

“Yeah – ‘Moon River’ wush always one of my favorites too,” Darren answered.

John laughed.  “You mean ‘Moon Shadow.’”  He closed his eyes tightly for a moment, then opened them wide.  “Amoosh!”

Darren, watching his friend, burst out laughing as well.  “You look like that cat – you know – ‘Moon Pie’ or something.”

“Wow – you are tasted!  I mean, you are woasted!”  John kept laughing. 

“Here,” Darren said, handing John a small bowl of Chex mix, “you shoosh each sump sees.”  Some of the contents slid out of the bowl and onto the floor.  “Oh – whoops!  I can reesh it…”  Both he and John leaned over to retrieve the small mound of Chex on the floor, knocking into each other head first a couple of times in the process. 

After they had smashed most of the Chex into the carpet, John leaned his head towards Darren.  Darren, thinking that John was about to tell him a secret, also leaned his head forward; the duo sat with foreheads touching for several minutes, apparently napping.

Another patron sat at the bar watching the pair, clad in their dusty cowboy outfits from the afternoon’s shooting match.  He turned to the bartender.  “What’s up with those two?”

“Oh, they came down from the range that’s just north of here.  Once in a while we’ll get a couple of these cowboy nuts who come in in full costume.  The worst are the ones that come in with spurs.”

“So why are they hanging all over each other like that?  I never heard of cowboys doing that,” the patron wondered.

The bartender shrugged.  “I think they’re both really drunk.  Either that or they’re redoing some scene from ‘Brokeback Mountain.’”  The patrons seated at the bar all laughed.

The bartender continued.  “I figure, since they’re not bothering anyone, it’s not a problem.  I got the local taxi on speed-dial.  I guess as long as they’re happy.  It is California, after all.”

Jolting suddenly back to consciousness, John tapped Darren on the arm.  Darren jumped, splashing half a glass of the Merlin down his front.  John laughed again.  “Tell me why you’re leaving?”

“Cuz – I’m getting a twenty-perchess raise, and the company found me a bigger housh.  There’s no state tacits, so with the moving bonus I got, I’m gonna buy a new fruck – terk -whatever…”

“I’m mona mish you, man.”  The two had been best friends for nearly a decade; separating would be hard. 

“Hey – since I have a bigger housh, you can come for visush.”  Darren stood, swaying slightly with the effort.  “We shoosh gets going…”

John also stood, after several tries.  He motioned to the bartender.  “We’re leefing, my good man.”  The bartender tallied their bill, then called the taxi service to come and get them.

The friends leaned against each other, trying to stay upright.  “Hey,” John said, “lesh play one more shong while we’re waiting.  Play that ‘Prestles’ song again.”

“Good idea.” Darren turned in place, just reaching the jukebox and never breaking contact with John.  Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ filled the bar.  “I moan mish you too, man.”  He put one arm around John’s shoulders.

“You shmell like pish, dude,” John told him, leaning away slightly.

“No way, man.  Iss juss beer.  I think.”


The zombies were busy breaking the windows of the abandoned warehouse that the small tribe of humans had hidden in.  Darren, in the middle of the third hour of his zombie-fest, was stretched out in the left-hand seat of the double recliner on the bottom level of his three-story townhouse when he heard knocking at the front door.

“I’ve come for that visit you offered,” John said, stepping through the front door and surveying the living room. 

Darren looked out the front door and spied John’s old Jeep and his infamous ‘dressing trailer’ parked in the driveway.  Puzzled, and only slightly annoyed at having his television time intruded upon, he closed the door and gave John a quick one-armed hug.  “Nice to see you, Brother John.  How long are you staying for?”

“Forever! I’ve moved to Texas!”  John made himself comfortable in the right-side recliner. 

“Wow!  You didn’t say anything before.”

“Nope – I wanted to be sure first.”

“Did Buckskin come with you?”

“Nope – she didn’t want to come.  Maybe she’ll move out later.”  John picked up the remote and turned off the television.

“So where are you staying?” Darren asked, trying to recall if he had any diet Coke to offer his friend.

“I’m staying here!  At least until I find a place….”

A few weeks later, John had managed to take control of Darren’s house.  Since John was retired, he had a lot of time during the day to clean, and cook, and do laundry.  Darren would sometimes come home to find John wearing a small frilled apron around his waist – “the only kind I could find at the market” he told Darren.

“Someone’s going to think we’re some old gay couple,” Darren grumbled one day over a dinner of roast salmon with dill and asparagus with Hollandaise sauce.

“Hey – that’s their problem!” John retorted.  “By the way, I did some research today.  Did you know that Texas is full of single-action groups?  You can find events just about every weekend.”


"So – we should go back to shooting.  We can sort of reinvent ourselves, and we’ll have all these new clubs to try out.”

Darren warmed up to the idea quickly.  “We could pick new names.”

They discussed dozens of ideas for new shooting aliases, but neither could think of something that seemed to capture their images.  “I’m thinking of something like ‘Mad Jack Daniels.’  Hmmmm … This is going to take some thought,” John muttered as he got up from the table and headed to the wine cupboard.  He pulled out a fifth of Jack and a shot glass.  Seating himself again, he grinned at Darren.  ‘Dessert,” he told his friend.

Darren looked at his buddy’s smile, one of the top front teeth having been misplaced somewhere.  “How about ‘Gappy Jack Daniels’?” he asked.

“Hey – I kinda like that.”  John tossed back his shot.  “What were you thinking for yourself?”

“I’m not sure – something like ‘Mad Dog Darren.’  You know, kinda like ‘Derringer.’”

“So like ‘Mad Dog Derringer’?  That’s not bad.  The problem is that you’re easily two or three dogs’ worth.  You’re like a double-dog.”

They both laughed.  Darren got some paper and with a great deal more laughter they wrote down their ideas, finally deciding on ‘Double Dog Darrenger’ and ‘Gappy Jack Daniels.’  With that, their new misadventures awaited, and a legend was born.

"Cowboy Action Shooting as you never knew it before! This is not a how to book, but a hilarious look at how it could be if the shooters stayed in character full time. I didn't want to put it down once I started to read it; but, had to just from laughing so hard.

The authors at Questman Tales know how to spin a good yarn and have fun at the same time. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Looking forward to future volumes."

This is a work of fiction.  Names, charcaters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dea, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

A Quest Book
Copyright 2018 by Madeleyn Questman
All Rights Reserved

Published by Questman Tales Publishing, LLC
Battle Ground, WA

ISBN: 978-0-99-730417-6 

First U.S. Edition: May 2018
Printed in the USA