The Fat Chance Saloon was nearly deserted the first time the Rangers came. Charlie only had one customer all day, who'd been tucked away in one of the back rooms since he came in. The diminutive bartender was taking advantage of the lull to restock the bar; the empty saloon wasn't likely to stay empty once the sun went down. He moved quickly despite his small size, and his twisted left hand manipulated the bottles with remarkable dexterity. He whistled as he worked, a half-remembered carny tune from his circus days.
The sound of swinging doors interrupted him. A trio of men dressed in tan dusters walked into the Fat Chance, glancing in Charlie's direction. Their six-guns hung with well worn ease in their holsters, and their faces had the scruffy look of range riders in from a long haul. With a slight flourish, Charlie leapt up on the wide platform behind the bar and nodded at his new customers.
"Afternoon, fellas," he piped. "Can I git ya somethin' ta drink?"
"We're looking for Austin Stoker," the lead man replied.
"We don't serve it here. Ya might wanna try the Old Moon Saloon - I hear they got enough of them funky drinks ta drown a Mexican."
In a flash the leader had wrapped his hands around Charlie's collar and pulled the smaller man across the bar.
"Don't toy with me, half pint. You don't want me to shoot you as an accessory."
Charlie bit his lip and glanced down at the star on the man's vest.
"Texas Rangers are ya?"
"If you say so. Where's Stoker?"
"He's back there in the smoking lounge." He gestured at a stoutly closed door on the far wall.
"Thank you sir." The Ranger released his grip and gestured at his companions, who drew their guns. Charlie straightened his shirt and watched as they moved towards the door.
"Look friend, we don't allow gunfire on the premises," he said carefully.
"Should have thought about that before you let him in," the lead Ranger replied.
The door flew open with a crash and the three men stepped boldly into the darkened room. The shadows crept across the faded décor, lit by a single candle and the now bright light from the afternoon sun. Its occupant looked up from the brandy snifter he was holding and narrowed his gaze. His flinty eyes matched the slate grey uniform he wore; the bars on this collar proclaimed him a captain in the Confederate cavalry. His smooth Georgia voice cut through the tension in the air like ice.
"Ah surely hope you don't mean ta serve that warrant in your pocket, Jonah," he said evenly.
The Ranger stopped. "How did you know..." His face hardened as he levelled his pistol. "Austin Stoker, you're under arrest for crimes against the Confederate States of America. I have orders to escort you to Shannonsburg for trial."
"Ah'm afraid Ah can't do that. Ah have pressin' engagements here."
The sound of hammers cocking punctuated the Ranger's reply.
"You come with me you heretical bastard, or we'll spare the CSA the expense of buryin' you."
Stoker stood up very slowly, and looked at his three adversaries. Beneath the brim of his hat, his eyes began to glow an unearthly orange. "Too bad, boys," he sighed. "Too bad…" The door closed shut behind them.
Charlie looked up from the bar when he heard the gurgled chokes from behind the door. They continued for several seconds, wet throaty sounds that clucked and gobbled before slowly dwindling down to nothing. The door to the smoking lounge creaked open, and Stoker walked out casually, nodding benignly in Charlie's direction.
The bartender stared wide-eyed at the sight as struggled to maintain his composure.
"Where... where are the Rangers?" he stammered.
"They had to go," Stoker replied. He straightened his hat and strolled out the door, a lit cigar in his mouth. "Ah wouldn't let it worry me none, C.L.," he spoke as he left. "There's plenty more where they came from."
Charlie promised himself he wouldn't look in the lounge.