“Hey Sass!” Owen called out. “An outlaw and a sheriff walk into a bar!”
“And?” Elek’s voice yelled from the kitchen.
“And they waited for the beautiful bartender to show his face!” Gio called back. Pippin came running from around the bar at Gio’s voice.
“Oh a dog!” Kelly cried, dropping to kneel to Pippin’s height and holding out her hand. Pippin froze, eyeing the unfamiliar hand. His nose did quick work, twitching furiously. After a moment, the verdict was handed down. The dog trotted forward to grant Kelly several licks to the face. She tilted her head back, laughing and fluffing the scruff of Pippin’s neck.
Gio smiled, glancing up to look around the bar. It was still fairly empty: a few passing ranchers and cowboys, some travellers, old regulars. No one seemed to be paying the scene much attention, except for the man standing in the doorway behind the bar, wiping his hands on a rag. He stared quite intently as his dog wiggled in the outlaw’s arms. He caught Gio’s eye, nodded slightly, and maneuvered his way around the bar.
“Pippin,” Sass called as he reached them. “Easy, boy. Sit.”” The dog sat, but didn’t leave Kelly’s grasp. Elek noted this with a twitch of his eyebrows and the beginning of a smile. “Mornin, Gio, ma’am.”
“Mornin, Sass,” Gio said, patting Elek on the back. Kelly gave Pippin a final pat and gracefully rose. She brushed off her bluejeans and new grey linen shirt and put out her hand. “Kelly Rose, pleased to meet you.”
Elek’s eyebrows raised, but he smiled and shook her hand. “Elek Sasway, pleasure is mine. Have you seen the bar before?”
“Never, but I look forward to seeing it every day,” she said, obviously trying to get on the reserved bartender’s good graces. He offered his arm, which she took, and they set off on the grand tour of the bar. Gio, quite forgotten, sat down next to Owen.
The doors of the Goose were the traditional double swing doors. They led inside from a small porch, mostly used for Pippin’s naps. Past the doors, the bar opened up into a large space, with 15 tables, organized in the middle of the floor. The space was rectangular, all the tables occupying the middle square, flanked by pool tables and card tables. Then, there was the bar.
The back wall of the bar was a mirrored glass plate. All the shelves had been carefully bored into this. Sass had put in glass windows along the side walls, and the light coming through these was reflected off the glass and into the bar space. Rows of bottles glinted along the mirrored wall, as if to say, “Come now, stay, sip a while. You have nowhere better to be.” But even more eye-catching than this was the bar-top itself.
No one knew where the original owner had gotten the bar-top, but everyone agreed it was a work of beauty. Made of stained glass set in amber, the mosaic depicted rolling hills leading to the ocean. The sheer number of glass shards used created a sense of the grass actually rolling in the wind. The waves seemed just about to crash and toss spray into your drink. The light scattered itself across the tinted glass, eddying in the amber, so that the ocean’s sun-pennies came to life. There were those who had never seen the true ocean, but having had a drink at the Galloping Goose, could imagine it perfectly.
Elek led his new barhand out the door to the right of the bar. Outside, enormous tables and benches lined the patio Elek and Gio had built. Canvas stretched overhead, casting shade over the beer garden. It was getting hot again, however, so the two of them didn’t linger.
They took a poke around the kitchen, then went out the back to the smoke house. Elek had a sausage special every week, always served with a Bavarian style pretzel from Trenton’s bakery. He gestured to the smokehouse.
“Ye probably won’t be usin this this much, but for getting cheese and -”
A gunshot echoed off the walls, causing them both to jump in surprise. Kelly flashed a hand to her hip, only to remember her weapons were in lock up. Her first thought was that they’d caught up with her, they were taking potshots, or else she’d been set up and Haven was collecting her bounty. Her vision began to close in, her breathing shortened-
“It’s alright,” Elek’s steady voice came from the dark. “It’s only Ronin.”
“I…what?” Kelly coughed and blinked several times. She sincerely hoped the bartender hadn’t noticed her fright. They rounded the corner of the smoke house and saw a young man holding a rifle, aiming at a row of sausages hanging from a frame. He took aim again, and after a moment of calibration, took another shot. A middle sausage dropped into the bucket below, its string severed neatly in half. Elek swept out his arm in a grand gesture. “Ronin.”
The young man, hearing his name, turned and tipped his hat. “Hullo Sass, ma’am.”
Kelly smiled, but couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Why are you shooting at sausages?”
“They’re the bits leftover from the last week, ma’am. I’m practicin hitting the moving strings, I’m hopin to win the shootin prize ‘round here so as I might go to university, y’see. Boy from Haven won a few years back, went to school and he said it was eye-openin.”
“I see.” Kelly said, extending her hand for Ronin to shake. “And what you hopin to find when your eyes are opened?”
Ronin laughed. “I’m hopin to study history, ma’am. It’s said that T Roosevelt is writin a history of the war of 1812. I think that would be right fascinatin, don’t you?”
“Well I would, perhaps you might tell me of your studies, I feel sure you’ll win. How old are you?”
“Children, studying their elders.” Kelly mused. “How poetic.”
“Ronin is the most skilled apprentice of gunsmithin we have,” Elek put in. “He’s testin the action on my rifle there, at my request.”
“Sass is bein right generous. I’m very thorough, that’s all.”
“Nonsense,” Elek waved the humility away. “He’s the best.” Ronin inclined his head in thanks.
“I look forward to seeing you around the bar, Ronin,” Kelly told him warmly. Elek tipped his hat to the other man and began to steer Kelly back to the bar.
“Are you helpin in the Goose now, ma’am?”
“Yes, I will be,” Kelly said, half turning back. Ronin cracked a grin.
“Well then Haven is certainly a lucky place!”
Kelly laughed and waved with her free hand. She and Elek arrived back in the bar, where she acquired her half-apron, and he began to teach her how to make simple drinks. He even told her he had one or two bottles of vodka, from a Russian man who’d been touring America.
“I almost never have a cause to pour it,” Elek told her. “Gin is far superior.”
“Oh! But haven’t you had it?”
“Yes! My husband brought back several bottles from his travels. It’s marvellous.”
“If you say so, Miss Kelly,” he said with a smile.
“You don’t believe me now, but mark my words, one day America will come to love vodka,” Kelly insisted, shaking a muddler at him.
He put his hands up and just barely stopped himself from joking “Don’t shoot!” She saw it, saw him realize his mistake. Her face turned red and she set the muddler down. Past her head, Elek noticed Gio and Owen watching them. Seeing that he saw, they quickly went back to loud conversation.
“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-” Elek stuttered to a stop.
“Mr…ah, Elek,” Kelly said quietly. “Would you mind if we discussed something in an area more private?”
“Yes, of course.” He led the way back to the kitchen, where they were alone. He pulled two stools from a cupboard and dusted them with his rag. She sat on one, her hands nervously fiddling with her sleeve buttons.
“I did not kill him,” she blurted out. Elek was so caught off guard he nearly missed his stool. “Elek, I hope I may call you that, I know you have reservations about me workin in your establishment. But all I can do is ask you to give me the benefit of regardin me as innocent till proven guilty.”
Elek looked down at his hands. “Miss Kelly, I must tell you that I do not yet fully trust you. The sheriff is an old friend of mine, almost my brother. If he trusts you, I will give you that benefit, but I cannot be fully at ease.”
She nodded, the corner of her mouth twitching almost imperceptibly. “That is all I can expect, I suppose. I had imagined Haven as somewhere I wouldn’t want to ever be. Your reputation is somewhat poor in my town. You take in all kinds, and people think that means there is no law at all in Haven. But in my town there is too much law and no order. So right now, Haven seems like the place to be.”
Elek gave a half-chuckle. “Haven isn’t a place anyone wants to go. We do take in all kinds, and then we treat them with respect. Anywhere else, criminals, outcasts, and undesirables would be jailed or worse with no second thought. But we give trials for the criminals with a jury of their peers, and take in and care for those who come here out of need. Gio’s an excellent sheriff, and it’s always as fair as possible. But you end up in Haven. It takes you in when you need it, and eventually you don’t know how you’d ever leave.”
Kelly was looking at him with an almost heartbreaking hope in her eyes. He was trying; he simply was afraid to trust this woman. She seemed too sincere to be real. Gio trusted her, he didn’t discount that. But he looked at her, and resisted the urge to wince at her hope. “Miss Kelly, I would like to trust you. Give me a better reason than your word, and you’ll have the Gallopin Goose at your back.”
“Is the might of a goose a fearful force?” She joked.
“You’d be surprised.”