The Real Story, 2010 First Place Winner’s Circle
By Les Tanner
This here’s Bonanza City, folks. It don’t look like much, mainly because it ain’t.
There’s plenty of better names for this heck-hole, like Bugtown and Muddy Flats and Poison Ivy. So why Bonanza City? The nearest thing to a bonanza here is how the mosquitos and no-see-ums feel about the poor hicks, including me, what ain’t smart enough to move on to better digs. As far as the “city” part goes, if you want to call a conguberation of leaky tents and lean-tos and shanties a city, go ahead. It ain’t no skin off my nose.
If it’d been up to me—and it weren’t because nobody asked me—I think I’d’ve called it Disappointment Gulch. Or maybe Last Gasp.
Got off the track there. Sorry.
The name of the town ain’t what this story is all about, anyways, but what happened here last month.
To start with, you got to know a little bit more about Bonanza and us folks that call it home.
A few years back, an old timer on his way south from the diggings up at Lucile stopped off to rest a spell. He’d been riding an old bony-backed work-horse for a couple days, and he needed something softer to sit on, so he plopped hisself down on a big chunk of rough granite next to the little crick that runs through here.
While he was eating his lunch, which weren’t much more than a couple of pieces of jerky he’d bought from some Indians that morning—even if he’d known it was mule jerky, he’d have ate it, anyway—he saw something shiny down in the crick.
Turned out to be gold, and by the time it got dark, he’d panned out a pouch-full of pea-sized nuggets. He stayed for another week, but never did find another bit of color, so he took off south again. He liked to brag, so whenever he’d run into someone, he’d tell them about his big “strike.”
Miners being the senseless folks that most of them are, including me, a stampede got started, and inside a month there was a couple hundred tents and whatnot set up along the crick and down by the river. Now and then, somebody’d find a little pocket of gold or a couple nuggets, which was enough to keep folks around, but nobody ever hit it big.
Wherever there’s folks, though, especially folks without no more brains than gold miners, including me, there’s other folks who’ll set up some sort of a business or other that’s designed to make sure us losers stay losers.
That’s how come the only people in Bonanza City that’ve got any money—or sense—are the ones that run the Pair-a-Dice and the Lucky Star and other joints like that.
The only place that’s even half decent is the hotel, and that’s stretching it. It’s a big ugly wooden thing at the end of what we call Main Street, at least when it’s not a sea of mud, that’s got a big sign hanging out in front that says FLORIDA HOSTEL , only the lettering ain’t that neat. Anybody that stays at the Florida more’n fifteen minutes, leaves packing a fair-sized collection of the wildlife that lives there, too, itching as they go. There’s always plenty left for the next guy, though.
I won’t make this too long by telling you about all the folks that live in Bonanza City, but I got to mention a few, mainly them that had the most to do with what I’m planning to tell you.
First off, there’s Frenchy Fontaine. He’s a real skinflint who owns the Pink Lady Saloon and the Mackey Bar and the Florida Hostel and a couple other places. Even if you can’t tell from his name, you’d know from the way he talks he come from some foreign place like Europe or New Orleans. I think that’s how come he couldn’t even spell “hotel” right on that sign. Whoever heard of a “hostel,” anyway? He pretends to be a gentleman, but he can be mean as a timber rattler if he wants to be.
Then there’s old Frenchy’s daughters Estele and Florence, that everybody calls Stela and Flora. They work at the hostel, I mean the hotel, cooking and cleaning and the like. They ain’t all that much to look at, but they ain’t ugly as sin, neither. You’d think they’d have lots of suitors, being the only two respectable females in town (besides horses and dogs, that is), but old man Fontaine pretty much keeps anybody from hanging around a lot.
There’s a couple of loafers, though, that he just can’t scare off permanent. One of them’s called Porky, mainly because he’s wide as he is tall, and the other’s called Polecat, mainly because . . . . well, you can figure it out. Anyhow, they’re best friends, at least when they’re sober, which ain’t very often.
Turns out that Porky’s got a thing for Stela and Polecat’s got a thing for Flora. Not that they ever get a chance to do anything about it. Old Frenchy can tell when they’re around, specially when the wind’s coming from the west, and he’ll be out on the porch of the hotel with a double-barreled shotgun before they get within a hundred yards of the place.
So mainly, Porky and Polecat spend most of their time either trying to figure out how they can get past the old man or arguing about which of the two sisters is the prettiest.
Anyway, here’s what happened that I said I’d tell you about.
The weather’d been hot and muggy since the middle of May, and everybody in Bonanza City was cranky as all-get-out, especially Porky and Polecat. That particular day, one of the Fontaine sisters was out on the porch trying to keep cool. Their old man had gone down to the Pink Lady to get a beer, and Porky and Polecat had worked their way a lot closer to the Florida than they ever had before.
Then one of them little things happened what “changed the course of history,” as them fancy writers like to say.
The lady on the porch, who you couldn’t tell who she was because she was sitting in the shade, swatted at a big yellowjacket that was buzzing around her head. Just then, Frenchy, who was on his way back to the hotel, spotted Porky and Polecat.
“What’re you two varmints doing?” he hollered, yanking his old .45 out of its holster and firing a shot in their general direction.
Well, sir, let me tell you. Nobody’d ever seen them two rascals move that fast. They was deep in the woods at the edge of town before Frenchy could get off a second shot.
“That was a mite too close for comfort!” groaned Porky between gulps of air. “But it was worth it to see Stela wave at me.”
“You’re blind as a bat,” gasped Polecat. “That wasn’t Stela, that was Flora. And she was waving at me, not you!”
“That was too Stela!”
Well, that was just the start of it. Them two nit-wits wasn’t about to let it drop, and the bickering and name-calling went on for the rest of the day. A couple of quarts of booze didn’t help much, neither, and by the time midnight rolled around, they was drunk as two skunks that’d been out all night eating rotten apples.
Liquored up as they was, they couldn’t hardly stand, but that didn’t help the town much. Turns out Porky had rounded up an old eight-gauge shotgun someplace and Polecat’d found a box of shells. They figured since Frenchy Fontaine’d shot at them, they’d go shoot at him.
So down the street they staggered, shooting that big old cannon as they went. They didn’t hit nothing but dirt and air and a couple of trees, but it sure kept everybody else, including me, hunkered down lower’n a lizard’s belly.
By the time Porky and Polecat got to the hotel, there was only two shells left, and they got into a squabble about what to do with them. They really didn’t want to hurt no one, except maybe Frenchy, so blasting away at the door and the windows was out, for fear they’d hit Stela or Flora.
“Now what?” said Porky between hiccups.
“How should I know?” burped Polecat. “It’s your gun.”
“But them’s your shells. Anyway, it was your idea.”
Porky was about to come back with another “Was too!” when he looked up and seen that big sign hanging out over the street. There was a full moon and he could read it easy as pie:
“Hey, looky there, Polecat old pal. Danged if old Frenchy didn’t put your girl friend’s name up on that old sign. See, it says ‘FLORA’ right there, plain as day.”
“Don’t neither. There ain’t no ‘A’. It just says ‘FLOR’.”
“Close enough for me,” mumbled Porky. He raised the gun, pointed it in the general direction of the sign, and pulled the trigger.
Next thing he knew, he was flat on his back., and chunks of wood that’d once been part of the sign was falling all around. The piece with the “O” on it was the last one down, and it hit him smack in the snoot, causing him to holler, “OH!” (That last part ain’t true. I just said it for fun.)
“You looky there, yourself,” retorted Polecat, grabbing up the shotgun. “Old Frenchy put your girl’s name on it, too. He left the ‘A’ out, too, like he did with Flora.”
Porky only had enough time to see “STEL” before it weren’t nothing but splinters, too.
Me and a bunch of other guys was milling around in front of the Florida next morning, admiring Porky’s and Polecat’s work—they wasn’t there; they was cooling their heels down in the spring house—when a big old stagecoach come rolling down Main Street. Nobody but locals hardly ever come through Bonanza, and nobody here’s got a stagecoach anyways, so we was all real surprised.
Turns out it was carrying some government bigwigs that was headed off to a real important meeting, and they’d took a wrong turn and ended up coming through Bonanza City. Seems like the meeting had something to do with choosing a name for this chunk of the country, that was right soon to be a United States territory. They’d been batting around a lot of different names, or so I been told, like Jefferson and New France and Oro Grande. One guy even suggested Ramonia, on account of his wife’s name was Ramona.
Anyway, till I learned about all that, I was really puzzled by something I heard one of the guys say when the coach drove by.
“Gentlemen,” he says to his pals. “There’s our answer, right there.” He was pointing out the window at something.
I turned around to see what he was pointing at, but all I seen was what was left of the FLORIDA HOSTEL sign after Porky and Polecat was done with their target practice the night before: