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.

​​​​​Questman Tales Publishing​​

"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."

Table of Contents:


The Desperatas*

The Roadkill Barbecue Buffet*

The Round-up at Flat Top                 Mountain

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

"...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 Roadkill Barbecue Buffet

Double Dog was already grouchy when Gappy Jack showed up on Friday night to drop off a couple of buckets of clean brass.  Buckskin Betty was busy sewing fringe onto her latest creation, so the two friends had an unencumbered evening of reloading and beer-drinking to look forward to.  But Gappy sensed Double Dog’s mood right away.  “So what’s going on?” he asked.

“I’m just aggravated – mainly with myself,” Double Dog replied, handing Gappy a chilled brew.  “I’ve been doing this shooting for more than ten years now, and I’ve never come in first, not once.  I know it’s supposed to be about the spirit of the game, but I’d like to be first.  The closest I’ve ever come is third.”

“And that’s because there were only three people shooting in your category!” Gappy added as he tried not to laugh.  “Anyway, always a bridesmaid…” he muttered.


“Never mind.  Maybe you just need to practice a little more.  And make sure that the sites on your firearms are accurate.  Other than that….  I’m not sure why you chose the duelist category anyway,” Gappy told him.

“Because there weren’t a lot of people in it,” Double Dog said simply.

“Okay, tell you what: let’s go out to the range tomorrow and practice.  Maybe I can give you a few pointers that’ll speed up your time.  We’ll get you to number one at least once.”

"I don't know why we had to pick the hottest day of the year to come out to the range,” Double Dog grumbled.  “I set the AC to 65 – and I’m still sweating!”

“Hey – you’re the one who said you had to be number one at least once!  Today’s the only day I have free, so let’s just do this before it gets hotter.”  Gappy Jack was already out of the truck and grabbing the equipment from the back seat.

The range they had gone to had been dismantled for the summer season – few people wanted to go out shooting when the temperatures soared.  A couple of splintery stage facades stood intact, but the area was dominated mostly by scrub.  A few large clumps of cacti dotted the outer edges of the range.

Double Dog set up his firearms at one of the stages and prepared to shoot.  Gappy got out his binoculars and stood by while Double Dog holstered his pistols.  When he was ready, Gappy pointed out a few spots in the distance that Double Dog should aim for.  “Let’s work on your sites first, then we’ll work on speed,” he told his friend.

Double Dog assumed the duelist’s stance and quickly fired all five rounds at the target Gappy had indicated.  Gappy watched through his binoculars as each shot struck the ground about a foot to the right of the target.  “Okay, well, now we’ll work on your sites,” he said.

Double Dog holstered the right pistol and using his left hand took his left pistol out.  Gappy watched through the binoculars again, as the shots hit the ground at various points a few yards away from the target.  “What the heck are you doing?” he asked.

“Just trying something new.  Maybe I’ll go for ‘Double-Duelist’ – almost no one does that category.”

“Well, I think you need to focus on regular duelist first and hitting the damn targets, if you want to reach first place.”

“I know – but it would be kind of fun to do ‘double-duelist’ too.  Then I’ll probably always be first place,” Double Dog said with a laugh.

“You’re an idiot,” Gappy retorted, sighing and shaking his head.  “Go ahead and reload – I have to take a leak.”  He headed off to one side of the deserted range.  Thirty yards off, he found a large cluster of hedgehog cactus, and started to pee on one side.  The ground below him began to move, and Gappy found himself facing a snake of indeterminate species.  He froze, mid-pee, then slowly stepped back three steps, his junk still in his hand as he turned and ran towards the stage where Double Dog was taking his time reloading.

“Snake!  Snake!” he shouted.  Gappy ran to the truck, passing Double Dog on the way, and jumped in, locking the doors for good measure.  Looking about the cab, a bit startled, and expecting to see his friend beside him, he found Double Dog knocking on the window from the outside.  “What the heck are you doing out there?” Gappy asked.

“I’m not getting into that truck until you put that thing away and zip up your pants,” Double Dog complained.  “Besides there’s no damn snake out here. What kind of snake was it?”

“I think it was a sidewinder!”

“Are you sure?  There aren’t too many of those in Texas.”

“What difference does it make at this point? You know, I was standing there with my parts hanging out of my pants – I didn’t think to stop and ask what kind of snake it was.”   

“Oh, great.  Well, let’s go grab the stuff and we can go try one of the indoor ranges.” 

Gappy stayed in his seat.  “Aren’t you coming?” Double Dog asked him.

“Hell, no! “                          

“Why not?”

“Because I peed on the damn thing – it has my scent now!”

They managed to get some practice in ahead of the match for the following weekend, and with only a few shenanigans Double Dog came in first place in the Duelist category.  Before the match started, Gappy had promised almost all of the shooters in the Duelist category a bottle of whiskey with the autograph of a famous cowboy on the label if they would ‘just slow down a little.’  Only Frank the Wrangler refused, and had later been cursed with some sort of rash that prevented him from shooting.  “Cowboy karma,” Gappy thought to himself.

The top-placers in each category that weekend were awarded gift certificates for barbecue dinner at one of the popular barbecue joints nearby.  First-place finishers were also entered into a drawing for a special prize.  Double Dog was on a role.  His name was called as the winner of the special prize: he was to be the head judge at the barbecue contest for the regional shoot at the end of the month.  He was told to pick two others to help him judge the match’s best barbecue, a contest that brought popularity and bragging rights to the winners.  Various shooters offered to be judges – not a small thing, since as judges they could eat as much as they wanted of all the offerings available.  Double Dog took his time about answering, although he immediately asked Gappy, who immediately accepted.   “Who else are you going to ask?” Gappy wondered.

“I’m not sure.  I think I’ll wait until the match and choose somebody then.”

Pink Pistol Petunia was a new shooter who decided that she had found her niche and was determined to make the most of it.  She loved the camaraderie that cowboy action shooting inspired.  She also loved the costumes and accessories that many wore when they went to the matches.  And she certainly wouldn’t deny that she liked that it was mostly men in the sport – men who were very helpful. 

A tiny but perfectly round woman with a big smile and large black-framed glasses, she was also extremely flirtatious, having discovered quickly that the way to a cowboy shooter’s heart was through his ego.  She usually posed for pictures with the hems of her long skirts pulled up to her thighs, to show off her striped stockings.  A natural strawberry blonde, she had taken to buzzing her hair to about half an inch long, which made her look almost bald in some lighting.  She liked cowboy shooting so much that after her first match, she had a custom set of pistols made: they were bright pink.

When she had signed up for a category, she had chosen ‘double duelist,’ and only while she was shooting at her second match (a few weeks before) had she discovered exactly what that category entailed.  But being the determined sort, she kept at it, coming in last place across the entire match.  This would be her fourth match, and she wanted to be part of the group.  She had tried joining in with ‘the girls,’ who had included her until they watched her flirt with every guy she came in contact with.  There could only be one ‘queen bee’ within the group, and as far as each woman was concerned, she herself was it.  No more competition would be tolerated.  They iced her out of their clique, and she quickly turned her energies to dealing only with the guys.

“We already missed the shooter’s meeting.  If ya’ll don’t hurry up we’re going to miss the whole damn match!”  Dusty Winston tried to prod his brothers to move a little faster.  They should have gotten everything ready the night before, but they had been too busy cleaning their rifles and watching football highlights to think about actually packing the truck.

The other three brothers scrambled to get everything together.  They had their guns, of course, but they also had their coolers, their grills and their barbecue equipment to take care of.  Dusty, the best shooter of the four, went through this with his brothers every single time they had a match.  He checked over everything as Grumpy, Bones, and Itchy finished packing.  Everything was in place, and the five-gallon bucket of their special homemade barbecue sauce had been lovingly sealed and placed in the middle of everything so it couldn’t tip over.  He looked into the coolers – and found them empty: they had forgotten to go get the meat.

“Damn it, Bones – where’s the meat?”

“I thought Itchy was going to get it.”

Great; now they’d miss the shoot for sure.  “Let’s just get going!  I’ll figure out something on the way.”

The Four Horsemen of the Chaparral climbed into their mud-covered, king-cab truck with the extended truck bed, and headed off.


“So if Frank can’t shoot for another month, then who’s going to be our tenth?” Buckskin Betty asked Range Master Bill. 

“Oh, ya’ll got a new shooter on your posse – someone named Pink Pistol Petunia.”

Buckskin Betty was not happy; she’d already caught this woman flirting with Gappy and posing for selfies with her skirt hiked up.  But good sportsmanship required that she be nice – or at least tolerant.  She went to tell the other girls.  Dead-Eye responded in her usual caustic fashion.

“A new shooter?  That’s going to really bring our posse average down.  Who is it?  Is it someone’s kid or something?  Because I really hate it when we have to be nice to someone’s kid.  I mean, I like kids and all, but come on!  Not on the range!  Why did it have to be our posse?  Can we trade them for someone else?  Who decided this?  Sam isn’t going to be happy with this either, you know, and I think what we need to do is….”

Bunny ignored Dead-Eye’s ramblings.  “Who is it this time?”

“It’s that little hussy that was all up in Gappy’s business earlier.”

Bunny grimaced.  “What’s her name again?”

“Pink Pistol Petunia!”

“Oh, no – not the one who looks like a little pink pig!  Every time I see her I think one of the hams escaped from the market….”

“Shut up, Darlene!” Betty and Bunny said at once.

Doc was the posse marshal for the match.  He gathered the group together at Stage 5 and read the instructions for the stage.  After going over the shooting procedure, he asked if there were any questions.  Bunny asked, “What’s the average time for this stage?”

“Thirty-six seconds,” Doc answered.

Muddy Dick raised his hand.  “Can you tell Double Dog to say the lines right for this match?”

Doc closed his eyes for a second, shaking his head slightly.  “Double Dog, say the lines right – you’re annoying Muddy Dick.”

“Will do, boss,” Double Dog said quickly.

The shooters lined up at the loading table.  Gappy shot first, then Dead-Eye, then Bunny.  When Double Dog was ready, he looked at Muddy Dick, who was keeping the time.  “What’s the line again?”

“’Skin that smoke wagon and see what happens,’” Muddy Dick recited.

“Oh, yeah,” Double Dog said.  “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em!”

“Dang it!”  Muddy Dick uttered, starting the timer.  “Stand by!”

The rest of the posse took their turn, with Pink Pistol Petunia shooting last.  She had purposely waited to shoot, wanting to get a sense of how each of the posse members operated.  When it was her turn, she set herself up on the stage and got ready.  With her giant black horn-rimmed glasses and large straw hat, she looked like a cartoon character.  Gappy, who was keeping the scores, called out, “What category are you shooting in?”

“Double duelist!” she called back.  The guys on the posse were quiet; they’d never had a woman shoot in the double-duelist category.  This was probably going to be hilarious!   Everyone in the posse went silent as Pink Pistol Petunia started the stage.  Taking her right pistol out, she carefully aimed and hit the first set of targets in a reasonable amount of time.  Then she took her left pistol out and aimed – and kept aiming.  After four seconds she squeezed the trigger.  Each shot after that took at least another four seconds.  She carefully reholstered her pistol, picked up her shotgun and fired.  The recoil sent her back four steps.  She moved forward and fired again….

Dead-Eye broke the silence.  “At this rate we’ll be here all day!  This is ridiculous!  Can’t we go on to the next stage and leave her here to finish?”

Doc shushed her.  “You were a new shooter once.  She just needs to get used to everything.”

“Yeah, but we’re going to miss lunch this way!  Heck, at this rate we’ll miss the barbecue tomorrow!”

Petunia finished the stage and Muddy Dick called the time.  “One hundred and forty-eight!”

Buckskin Betty saw her chance.  “Hey – someone worse than Double Dog!”

Petunia was at the unloading table when Double Dog Darrenger came and put a handful of empty brass next to her.  “I picked up your empties for you.  Don’t listen to them – you did fine.”

“You’re Double Dog?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I heard you were in charge of the barbecue for tomorrow.”  Her voice was high and slightly squeaky.

“I’m not in charge of it, but I am the head judge,” he said proudly.  He got his cart and walked with her to the next stage, explaining how the barbecue contests usually worked: anyone could participate; they were required to use whiskey in their recipes somehow; there was an entry fee; everyone who wanted to eat at the barbecue paid a flat fee of $15; any kind of ‘open cooking’ was allowed, including regular barbecue grilling, deep frying, and boiling – as long as the food was on a grill for at least a few minutes, and there was a sauce of some sort. 

“What’s the prize?”

“Five hundred dollars and bragging rights!”

“And how many judges are there?”

“There’s three – but so far it’s just me and Gappy.”

They walked a minute in silence.  Petunia had a feeling Double Dog liked to talk, and she wanted to encourage him – it might come in handy later.  So she asked, “Is this how you normally dress for the matches?”

“Yes – I usually wear the same clothes, only in slightly different colors.  But I always dress up for the Saturday dinners.”

At the next stage Double Dog continued to field requests for the third judge’s slot.  He wrote down everyone’s name and said he’d get back to them.  The posse shot in the same order, with Pink Pistol Petunia again shooting last, and taking plenty of time to do it.  Dead-Eye talked everyone’s ears off, mostly complaining about Petunia, who appeared to need some extra guidance aiming her rifle, and was very happy to accept it from Double Dog and Muddy Dick.

When they finished the stages for the day, the posse gathered for lunch at the tables the range owners provided.  The old couple that usually catered most of the group’s matches wasn’t there; they had been replaced by the local Shriner’s club, who served chili burgers and pulled pork sandwiches.  Petunia ordered the same thing as Double Dog, and sat between him and Gappy at the table.

When the discussion around the table turned to the next day’s barbecue, the group tried to badger Double Dog into choosing a third judge.  Some suggested contests of various sorts, and some tried to offer favors and bribes.  Pink Pistol Petunia silenced them with her suggestion: “Why don’t we have a side match?  There are empty stages that won’t get used again till tomorrow.”

“That’s a good idea – what kind of match?”

“Double duelist!  You make up the stage.  Pistols only.  I’ll bet I can shoot it faster than you.  If I do, you make me the third judge.”

Around the table, everyone else said, “Oooooooo….”  All except Dead-Eye; she glared at Petunia and at Double Dog, before looking back down at her plate.  “And if you don’t, do we get to kick you off our posse?” she muttered.

Gappy started laughing.  “Dog, this is too easy!  Hey – if she wants to embarrass herself that way, I say go ahead and let her!”

So after lunch the posse followed the two pistoleros out to an empty stage.  Double Dog decided on a straight sweep of five targets in a row and back.  He shot first, finishing clean in an impressive 14.3 seconds.  Then Petunia shot.  Dead-Eye wouldn’t stop talking, but that didn’t matter: Pink Pistol Petunia finished clean in 8.1 seconds.  The rest of the posse was dumfounded.   Both Gappy and Double Dog stood with their mouths hanging open.  Petunia looked at them all with a smile.  “So I’m the third judge?”

“Impossible!” Gappy finally said.

“Do you want to do it again, just in case?” Petunia asked Double Dog.  He shook his head.  “Great!” she said.  “Then I’ll see you tomorrow!”  She strode off, leaving the rest of the posse to cope with Dead-Eye’s tantrums.


“Pull over!” Dusty told Grumpy, who was driving.  Grumpy immediately veered off onto to the shoulder of the highway, and Dusty got out quickly.  He ran a few feet towards the back of the truck and picked something up, then opened one of the giant coolers and put it in.  He climbed back in, saying “Let’s go!”

“Did something fall off?”


“Well then, what did you pick up?”


“Was it dead?”


In the back seat, Itchy and Bones looked at each other quizzically.  Who knew what their brother was up to?  They decided not to say anything.

A few minutes later, Dusty shouted, “Pull over!” and Grumpy complied.  Dusty got out, running to the back of the truck, and again put something in one of the coolers.  When he got back in, he simply said, “Armadillo.”

A few miles down they pulled over again.  “Raccoon and squirrel,” Dusty muttered when he got back in the truck.

They pulled in to a Buc-ee’s, where Dusty ran in while Grumpy got gas.  A few minutes later they were back out on the road.  “What did we get at Buc-ee’s?” Itchy asked somewhat hesitantly.

“Ice,” Dusty replied.

They continued, finally making it to the range with two giant full coolers and three very confused brothers.   


Saturdays’ shoot went off without a hitch.  The four brothers decided to forgo the actual shooting to concentrate on making their awesome barbecue.  They set up their grill and a couple of folding tables under a pop-up shade, then put up the side panels to hide everything from view.   

 Only one problem befell the posse.  Old Ghost was shooting the last stage of the day when the firing pin in his rifle broke, causing him no end of frustration.  He cursed in Old Ghost style (“Gosh darn it, now!”) and borrowed Gappy’s rifle to finish the stage.  The other members of the posse were glad for the relatively calm distraction from Dead-Eye’s haranguing of Pink Pistol Petunia, who continued to shoot double-duelist quite well. 

Petunia had shown up Saturday morning wearing an outfit remarkably similar to Double Dog’s.  She had gone over to the Old Dusty Dog Trading Company on Friday afternoon, and had been talked into spending nearly $500 for two new shooting outfits of a decidedly more masculine style.  She had instantly liked the relative freedom the suspender pants offered (instead of the long skirt), and the shirts were comfortable to move around in.  She even purchased a new hat, a simple black one with an imitation snakeskin belt around the crown.

Double Dog had been pleased and flattered when he saw her attire, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, in his mind.  He decided then and there that what was needed was for someone to take Petunia under their wing and show her the ropes.  He could do that – he had big wings.  Gappy, however, saw her presence as a slight threat; she was proving to be the Yoko Ono of the cowboy matches. 

“But she’s small and needs help!” Double Dog explained to him.

“Hey – she shoots better than you!  Even if she is a quarter your size, I doubt she needs help.  And what’s with this thing of dressing like you now?”

“I noticed that too,” Buckskin Betty added.  “She’s like a mini version of you.”

“Oh, she is not!” he replied, smiling to himself inside.  A girl who shot double-duelist – she was his new hero.

Brisket County showed up at the range an hour before the barbecue competition was set to begin.  He walked around looking at all the grills and fryers set up, asking the competitors questions about their sauces and their cooking methods and offering one or two suggestions to each.  When he got to the Four Horsemen’s tables, he inquired about the proteins they were using for their entry.  He didn’t see any meat on the grills yet.

“Oh – we got us some nice boomers,” Itchy told him.


“You know: prairie chickens.”

“Wait,” Brisket said, “aren’t they endangered?”

“Maybe – but they’re also delicious!”

Dusty overheard the exchange and came running.  “He’s kidding – it’s just regular chicken.”

Brisket was doubtful.  “Can I see?”

Dusty took the lid off the 24-quart stock pot and stirred the contents, then fished up a chicken leg that was soaking in the barbecue sauce.  “See?  Just chicken.”

Brisket nodded, reminding them to cook the chicken thoroughly before serving it.  As he walked off, Dusty smacked Itchy on the arm.  “What are you telling people?”

“He’s the only one that asked anything!”

“Don’t say anything to anyone else.  How many chicken legs did you guys get anyway?”

“We only got like six – there aren’t a lot of people doing chicken, and we had to wait until they left their tables so they wouldn’t see us,” Itchy told him.

“Okay – did you cut up the snake the way I showed you?”

“Yup!  We cut everything to about the same size, just like you said.  We only had one small problem: Bones forgot what you told us and threw in one of the heads.  We’ll find it – don’t worry!”

An hour later the delicious scents of barbecue wafted around the participants and the diners as the barbecue contest began.  Each diner had been given a form with the names of all the barbecuers on it – they were to put a check mark next to their favorite and drop the form in the marked box on the way out from the barbecue area. 

And what a barbecue it was!  Each participant had created a small sign to identify his or her entry, and a great deal of thought had obviously gone into the names.  There was Ringo’s Barbecued Buffalo (Wings and) Chips; Rusty’s Razorback Ridge Ribs; Charita’s Chikken Fingaz; Old Ghost’s Barbecue to Die For; and The Awesome Possum Roadway Roast , amongst many others.  Sauces varied from sweet to spicy to downright painful, and only one had a really strong whiskey taste to it. In all, twenty-five entrants served their version of what they hoped would be prize-winning barbecue.   

Gappy wanted to get started right away, but Double Dog took his time – he wanted the barbecuers to get into their groove first, so he waited until Brisket County had made all the rounds.  Since Brisket wasn’t a judge, he really didn’t have to try everything.  He chose carefully from everything that looked promising, which meant he only tried about five.  Gappy got tired of waiting and started with his co-judges.  He made his way to all the entrants, carrying a bottle of water and a large bandana.  He made sure he noted where the trashcans were.

At the Awesome Possum Roadway Roast, he asked for a small serving.  Bones handed him a few pieces of indeterminate species that had been slightly charred.  Gappy asked if the whiskey was used in the sauce, and was assured that it had been.  But Gappy noticed that there wasn’t a lot of sauce on his portion.  “Can I get some more sauce?” he asked.

“Sure thing,” Grumpy said, taking the paper dish back from him.  Grumpy picked up a small red plastic shot glass full of whiskey and poured it over the meaty morsels, then handed the dish back to Gappy.   Grumpy then leaned over to Itchy and whispered something; Itchy got a package of the small plastic glasses, set them out in rows on a side table, and filled each with whiskey.

About ten minutes after the opening, Double Dog and Pink Pistol Petunia made their way in to the barbecue area.  They tried food that had been grilled, boiled, deep-fried, smoked, and charred halfway to hell and back.  They tried sweet sauces, spicy sauces, smoky sauces, sweet and sour sauces, green sauces, red sauces, and unconventional organic sauces.  Petunia noted with some relief that there weren’t any smart-aleck vegetarians; as far as she was concerned, vegetables did not equal barbecue.

They headed over to Awesome Possum, where Dusty and Itchy were serving, and started to introduce themselves.  “We’re the judges for the barbecue – I’m Double Dog and this is…”

“Don’t tell me,” Itchy cut in, “Half-a-Dog?”

The two brothers cracked up laughing, slapping each other on the arms and leaning on the table.  Petunia frowned at them, but Double Dog just smiled.  “At least they’re having a good time,” he told her.

The brothers stopped laughing and started to prepare two paper dishes of barbecue.  “What is it?” Petunia asked.

“It’s prairie…” Itchy began, before Dusty smacked him.

“It’s chicken,” Dusty finished.

“What part of the chicken?”

“All parts!  Hey – it goes well with a shot of whiskey,” Dusty said, handing them each a shot glass.  “We recommend you drink the whiskey first.”

While they were downing their shots, Dusty poured another shot of whiskey onto their servings.  “More flavor,” he murmured.

They each picked up a small chunk of meat from their paper dishes and tasted it.  “Wow – it sure has a strong smoky flavor,” Petunia commented.

“Yeah,” Double Dog agreed.  “I like the gamey taste of it.”  He poked at the other pieces in his dish, finding one piece to be roughly the size and shape of a squashed tennis ball.  He showed it to Itchy.  “What part of the chicken is this?”

Itchy looked at it, and using his fingers quickly fished the piece out and threw it back in the stockpot.  “We were looking for that.”

The barbecue was in full swing, then, with diners trying all the various delicacies on offer.  Only one person was disqualified: Margarita Rita had used frozen chicken, and had rushed the process a bit.  When diners pointed out to her that the chicken was still quite pink inside and perhaps it needed more cooking time, she brushed them off by saying, “It’s fine – it’s just medium-rare is all.”  Brisket told her she would need to close up shop, which she did – with several choice words for him and the judges (like ‘fascists,’ ‘pigs,’ and ‘vegetarians’).

The lines were longest for Rusty’s Razorback Ridge Ribs and the Awesome Possum Roadway Roast, although no one could really identify what they were eating from the latter.  Gappy went back for seconds, and ran into Double Dog, who was standing in line for fourths.  They stood together, comparing their servings, which had been doused liberally with the extra ‘sauce.’

“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was eating some sort of snake,” Gappy said. 

“Maybe it’s that imaginary snake that tried to bite you in the privates when we went to that range,” Double Dog responded.

“Hey – if you had a snake chasing you, you’d run around with your privates hanging out too.”

At the formal dinner on Saturday night, awards were given for shooters in all the different categories, along with the prize for the best barbecue and awards for various costumes.  Double Dog had gone all out, and had chosen a Scottish military outfit (circa 1890), complete with a kilt and gaiters.   Petunia showed up in a very large and not well-thought-out outfit consisting of a plum colored satin polonaise and the largest bustle anyone had ever seen.  The bustle stuck out at least a foot and a half from her backside, and was so overstuffed that it created a perfectly flat shelf at her waist.  She also sported a small feathery hat with a large plum-colored bird on top. 

The Deperatas were gathered already, and watched the others as they entered the giant tent for the dinner.  When Petunia entered, hanging on to Double Dog, Bunny nudged Betty.  “Look – it’s Mr. Magoo in drag.”

Only Petunia won a shooting award that evening, but the rest of the posse had so many things to comment on and snipe about that they really didn’t mind.  They sat together at the same table at dinner, which everyone ate without complaining (even though the ‘steaks’ were really just soles of work boots, the mashed potatoes had gravel, and the salad was equal parts lettuce and dressing, by volume).   During the dinner, Double Dog pulled a bottle of clear nail polish out of his sporran and slid it over to Petunia.  “Thanks – it really worked,” he told her.  The rest of the posse exchanged confused glances, then each glanced at Double Dog’s hands.

“You’re welcome!  Oh, I got you one of these,” she said, pulling two large cigars out or her reticule.

“Great – dessert!” he said.  They both lit up, driving the rest of the posse away from the table.

Brisket County served as emcee, and announced the winners for all categories, including the barbecue.   “I don’t know if I agree with these winners, but here goes: the prize for best barbecue is awarded by a landslide to … the Awesome Possum Roadway Roast!”

The gathered shooters applauded as the four brothers rose to receive their prize.  Brisket handed them a wooden plaque and a check for $500.  “Do you have any barbecue secrets you’d like to pass along?” he asked the brothers.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment – and use what you have,” Dusty said, speaking for the rest.

The only other posse member who won an award was Double Dog.  One of the costume judges had mistaken his outfit for something out of an old Laurel and Hardy movie, and he was awarded a prize for best “B-western military outfit.”  When he got his plaque and returned to stand with Gappy, he wondered aloud, “What was that about?”

“They were probably impressed with your nails,” Gappy mused.

They were distracted by a small ruckus at the table.  Dead-Eye had found Gappy’s flask, and thinking that it was full of NyQuil, had finished most of it.  It was actually filled with John Crow Batty rum, and Dead-Eye. Who wasn’t much of a drinker, had consumed the equivalent of six shots.  She headed out the main door, swaying slightly, with most of the posse following her.

“Where you going?” Sam asked her as she went into their RV

“I’ll be right out,” she called cheerfully.  She came back out wearing her rig.  “I can shoot double-duelist too – I’ll show ya’ll.”  She headed towards one of the stages.

Back in the tent, Keefe and Boofnia, the two cowboy photographers, former failed rappers who now sometimes performed country and western music in addition to photographing the cowboy events, had taken the stage.  They began their version of Horton Heat’s ‘Eat Steak:’  “Eat a squirrel, eat a squirrel – but try not to hurl; eat a snake, eat a snake, cooked on a long stake…”

The whole posse was now gathered at the stage, trying to get Dead-Eye to surrender her pistols.
But she would not be deterred.  She stood on the stage, pulled out her left pistol, aimed, and fired.  One of the arms from a ‘soiled dove’ mannequin in the upstairs window went flying.  The second shot sent splinters of wood sailing off the front of the stage’s sign.  Glass shattered as she hit the old rusty lantern next to one of the stages windows.  The fourth shot didn’t seem to hit anything.  She finally hit one of the targets with her fifth shot.

Sorry Sad Sam had managed to lift her right pistol out of the holster without her noticing.  He handed it to Gappy, who put his beer bottle down on Petunia’s bustle so he could unload it.  After Dead-Eye had fired her fifth shot, Sam put his arm tightly around her and said, “You did it, honey!  I’m so proud of you!  Let’s go back in, and get some coffee while they give you your award!”  He handed off her other pistol to Doc, who took both pistols back to the RV. 

The posse returned to the tent, where they found everyone dancing and laughing.  Keefe and Boofnia rocked the house: “Eat a possum, eat it possum – it really is awesome; eat a skunk, eat a skunk, next time you get drunk.”  Even Brisket County was enjoying himself.  He danced around on the dance floor, waving his arms, accidentally bumping into people, and almost getting the beat. 

As the song ended, Brisket headed over to the posse to thank Gappy, Double Dog and Petunia for making the barbecue a success.  He shook their hands and said he hoped they could do more food contests together.  “Oh, before I forget,” he said, digging into his pocket and pulling out a bottle of clear nail polish.  He handed the bottle to Petunia.  “Thanks,” he said, “It really worked.”

When Petunia turned around to go put the bottle into her reticule, they noticed a large burnt hole in the back of her dress, that went sideways and right through the bustle.  No one wanted to say a word.

From our Cowboy Chronicle reviews: