The First “Shot” Ever Served: A Tale of the West
The sun peaked over the mountains and woke my horse. I hear her hoofs scratch the dirt and chaparral weeds. It will be getting hot quick. The sun has no mercy nor patients for any living creature. I sat up from my saddle near the campsite I rigged the evening prior. The smell of ash enters my nostrils as the embers still sizzle. I toss a couple eggs in there to soft boil for breakfast.
It’s always a race against the heat in the West. Hell, there’s a score of difference races around here. There’s a race to the riches and a race to the hills where the riches lay. There’s a race to food and shelter and the means in which a man might make to get them. There’s a race to the women and to the brothels and saloons where you can find them at. I don’t look for my women in those places but I often find myself in them for other races. Mine is a race to whiskey. It’s only a matter of time before I find myself in one today.
You see there comes a time in every man’s life when he ought to be hitchin’ his own race with his own finish line. And I’ve been hitchin’ mine. My race is to make the best damn whiskey any man or woman has tasted on this side of the Mississippi. The problem is where lies the opportunity. You see it’s these big whiskey companies making all the whiskey and they just aint’ cut from the same cloth as the dust ridden citizens who drink it. These big whiskey corporations don’t know what it’s like to lay down next to your horse in the evening and pull from a bottle to fall asleep. They don’t know the weight of chaps against your legs protecting you from the desert sage and how nice a little whiskey on a cut can do to ease the pricking. They don’t remember the thirst of manual labor or the aching stomach of the dusty trail and sometimes just that one shot is all you have to numb the hunger. Their eyes have never peered out across the sea of sagebrush that separates them from the nearest tavern. Hell, I’m sure these men forgot the feeling of rain against their faces, of mud on their boots and the creeks and storms that gave them to them. That’s the thing; you can’t make whiskey for the man you will never become. You can’t make a whiskey for a man whose hand you’ll never shake. It was with these thoughts I readied my horse and headed for town. I wanted to make it indoors while the clouds blocked the rays. By mid day I spread open them saloon wooden doors and found myself in the Thirsty Raven.
I sat myself on the stool closest to the cash register. I noticed bar tenders always pay special attention to that seat. The mirror across the bar is peppered by dust and condensation from the humidity the place couldn’t keep out. There’s a long single crack in the mirror between the words Thirsty and Raven. That’s the bars clever name even though it was mostly crows around these parts. The letters were outlined in a nice gold and black calligraphy which I really liked. Calligraphy can look real nice on a mirror.
“Excuse me, Mr. Bartender.” I asked with a desert politeness.
He turned around with a glass in one hand and a rag in the other. “People around here call me Loyal.” He finished cleaning the glass and set the rag over his shoulder. “What can I get ya’ friend?”
You could tell Loyal had been in the Thirsty Raven for many a decade but you couldn’t tell if he owned the place or not. He was clean but still worn. His eyes were brass and hardened like he’d spent many mornings up before the sunrise. You saw the wrinkles around his eyes but not his mouth. He probably was a hand at some point. No, now I come to think of it he couldn’t have owned the place. Most owners let you know within the first exchange of words. People are mighty proud to own a place of their own. Once I get my own bottle going maybe I could fix me up my own bar too. What a better way to profit than to lead them straight to the source. You might be only able to lead a horse to water but lead a cowboy to a saloon and he’s drinking. I straightened my back and placed my elbows on the counter. “Well, Loyal I wouldn’t mind some of your finest whiskey.”
The bartender let out a lean smile. “The thing is that whiskey, albeit mighty fine is also my most expensive. What you got to pay for it?” He crossed his arms but not in a mean way, but the way your father might cross his arms when waiting for a response.
“Well, I don’t have any of that fancy paper money if that’s what you’re asking.” Thing is I did have quite a lot buried out in the desert. In a place only I would ever know but in places like this you can barter almost anything.
I reached around into my ammo belt and pulled out a single cartridge of 22 rifle ammo.
“I’ll take a shot’s worth.” And I slammed down the bullet on the counter.
A shot’s worth?” The bartender blurted. Someone from across the room shouted — “That won’t get ya drunk.” And hyena laughs rang out. Loyal looked back to me and shrugged. “Well, it’s just for tasting. I aint’ that fancy, Loyal.”
The bartender laughed and pulled out a small glass of about 1.4 ounces and went under the counter to a bottled stored under his shotgun. He placed the whiskey near the glass.
“Well, that’s better than credit. A shot’s worth it is then.” He poured the whiskey into the tiny glass.
I brought the whiskey to my lips. I could smell the smokey casket it most of been aged in. A hint of caramel creeped into my nostrils behind the resin of cherry. It went down smooth but still had that patented burn. The burn that keeps you warm at night out under the stars. It was the best damn whiskey I had ever tasted. But something was missing. I knew if I could get my hands on this bottle I could perfect it and win my own race. “Loyal, I’ll take another shot.” I pulled out another cartridge and slammed it on the table. Pretty soon another man came up to the bar. “Loyal, I would also like a bullet’s worth.” He pulled out a cartridge of his own belt and rolled it over to him.
“A shot.” I told him.
“A what?” He replied.
“It’s a shot’s worth not a bullet’s worth.” I said.
“Hell Mr. Friend you come up with that?”
“Well, I guess I did. Me and ol’ Loyal here.”
Loyal grabbed our two bullets from the counter. “No, I don’t want nothing to do with that. I don’t want people coming into here and buying just a shot’s worth or whatever you want to call it. You sure you fine gentlemen don’t want a pint of suds or a bottle’s worth?”
“No, I’m sure. Just two more shots please Loyal and I’ll be on my way.” I emptied the rest of my ammo belt on the bar counter. I knew exactly what my bar would be acclaimed for. I might not have the name but I have the sign. “The Home of the Whiskey Shot.” As sure as shots ring out in the West, shots will be served in my bar. I stammered out of the wooden saloon doors with a smile from here to Texas. Luckily I’m Irish and whatever buzz I might have now the sun will take it in time. I headed for my buried box of paper money. It was time I began my race.