Happy Thursday from snowy, icy northern Nevada! Hope everyone who’s dealing with wintery weather stays safe and warm. Didn’t the groundhog predict an early spring? I’m ready for it, that’s for sure.
Today’s free fiction Thursday story is one I wrote for the anthology THE TROUBLE WITH HEROES. The particular hero in this story is based on the no-name, mysterious cowboy of spaghetti Western fame — with a twist.
For a Few Lattes More
Published by Thunder Valley Press
Copyright 2011 by Annie Reed
The cowboy parked his horse in the handicap spot in front of Starbucks.
Terri almost dropped the Halloween coffee mug she’d just tagged with a second red clearance sticker. Ten minutes to closing. Of course. The strangest people always came in right before closing.
“You see that?” she asked Leon, who was sweeping the floor on the other side of the clearance display.
Leon craned his neck around a shelf full of travel mugs decorated with glow in the dark ghosts and goblins to look out the plate glass storefront. “Huh,” he said. “That’s a new one.”
Terri watched as the cowboy in the battered hat and leather duster got off his horse and wrapped the reins around the freebie community newspaper stand in front of the handicap spot. The cowboy was tall and thin and wore his hat low over his face. Thanks to the overhead lights in the strip mall parking lot, he was little more than a silhouette and totally out of place. Who in his right mind rode a horse in the middle of town?
“He’s really going to leave his horse right there,” Terri said.
“I’m not cleaning up after it,” Leon said. “No way. Cleaning the bathrooms is bad enough.”
He had a point. Picking up horse poo wasn’t in either of their job descriptions.
Terri and Leon saw a lot in the way of weird walk through the doors of this particular Starbucks. Three blocks from the casinos, liquor stores, tattoo parlors and pawn shops of downtown Reno and a block away from the biggest dorm on the University of Nevada campus, it wasn’t all that unusual to see frat pledges in penguin suits chilling in line next to black leather wearing bikers. Terri got propositioned by the frat boys on a weekly basis. The bikers went straight to offering Terri a free peek at tattoos on body parts she didn’t want to think about, much less see. And that was on a slow night. Throw in a holiday, like Halloween or New Year’s Eve or the anniversary of Elvis’s death, and anything at all might walk through the door.
Like a cowboy straight out of one of the spaghetti westerns her dad used to watch when Terri was a kid.
“Just wait,” Leon said. “He’ll want a latte.”
Terri shook her head. “Coffee, black.”
“Quarter?” Leon asked. A quarter was their standard bet. They went as high as fifty cents when they were feeling lucky and flush.
“A dollar,” Terri said.
Leon grinned. “You’re on.” He put the broom away and wiped off the nozzle on the steamer. Terri logged back on to the register as the cowboy opened the door.
His boot heels clicked on the tile floor, and his spurs made jangling noises in time to his strides. He had something that looked like a small cigar shoved in one corner of his mouth. The tip glowed beneath the ash as he sucked in a breath. If the lit cigar wasn’t bad enough — the front door clearly had a no smoking sign in not only English but the universal You Can’t Do That symbol of a circle with a slash — more than just a whiff of the barnyard surrounded the cowboy like a toxic cloud.
When she was little, Terri used to crush over the cowboys her dad watched on television. They all seemed so ruggedly handsome. Independent. Heroic. Whenever there was a damsel in distress — or an entire town in need of someone who could kick some serious ass — the lone cowboy would ride in and save the day. Clint Eastwood was her favorite. Back then, Terri never thought about what these guys must actually smell like. She was pretty sure she could have lived without knowing.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t smoke in here,” Terri told the cowboy when he stopped in front of her register.
Piercing blue eyes peered at her from beneath a dirty hat. “Coffee,” he said around the cigar still clenched between his teeth. “Black.”
(read the rest of the story here.)