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I will command the serpent to bite them.
Amos. 9:3

August 12, 1870

Shortly after arriving in Flatbed, Utah Donegal Ryan booked himself a room in a hotel which was also a saloon and sporting house. Off the beaten path, Flatbed had only gotten a coach and wagon road because of the Mormon settlers in the area and because it had been selected as a possible railroad stop. It had been a short lived supply spur for the railroad and rated a track which was used once a month for supplies or more frequently when there were passengers.

There were never any passengers.

Flatbed consisted of a railroad depot which doubled as a telegraph office, a livery stable and blacksmith shop, two saloons, a general store, four corrals, one feed store, a water tower, and ice house and a transient population of range hands, derelicts, lost souls and Mormons.

There was no bank, no jail, no church and no discernible reason to exist.

Donegal Ryan stowed his gear in his rather shabby room and went downstairs to the saloon. Before starting to convert the heathen, he planned on cutting the dust from his throat with a hearty dose of whiskey. As an embodiment of God's will, Ryan's merest touch could fulfill the process of transubstantiation. Therefore as soon as the devil's rum touched his tongue it would become manna from heaven.

The saloon, named Bethany's Gift, was a dim, dusty, dingy dive, consisting of ten tables, a bar and an atmosphere created from unwashed bodies, cigar smoke, stale liquor, halitosis, grit and grime. It had unfinished plank floors, unfinished chairs and a cracked and dirty mirror behind the bar. The bar was varnished or had been once, strips of varnish still being visible beneath the greasy smears and multitudes of intertwined glass rings caked onto the bar's surface.

There were no visible bottles or stacks of bottles behind the bar. Ryan slapped a dollar on the bar and called for a bottle of good whiskey.

The bartender was a large individual, a roly-poly man arrayed in shades of yellow and green. A few strands of pale yellow hair peeked from out of his green eyeshade hat and pale yellow bristles whorled in uneven profusion on his round jaundiced jaws and cheeks. Piggish eyes green with lemony whites glared at him with slow understanding. His nose was a malformed lump with large nostrils sprouting bushes of pale yellow, green encrusted hairs. Peeled back in a huge grin the barkeep's thin lips revealed a wide, banana gummed expanse containing four olive tinted teeth in various stages of decay.

Flicking the dollar across the bar and into his palm with a grime encrusted, yellow nailed finger, the bartender chuckled expelling a grunting sound and an odor combining onions and dog excrement.

Donegal Ryan his eyes smarting from the toxic fumes grabbed the bottle placed before him without comment and sought out a table.

Of the ten tables in BETHANY'S GIFT, only three were occupied.

One had a faro game. Another was occupied by dirty range hand and a clean, if fairly plain, sporting gal. The other table had a ring of men about it. All the men gathered about it were rangehands or laborers of some sort, Ryan gathered from their clothing. Ever so often one would jump back from the table with a great deal of cursing. They would then throw money on the table.

Pouring himself a drink, Ryan and it was down his throat in one burning gulp. As God's healing, soothing, warming balm eased into his system Ryan stretched. Feeling considerably relaxed, he walked over to the table with the ring of men around it.

Sitting on the center of the table was a large glass jar. Inside was a rattlesnake. The cowpokes were playing a game. If you could place your hand flat against the glass jar's and keep it there without flinching when the snake struck you could win five dollars. So far not a man had won.

Ryan watched with some amusement as several more men tried and lost.

Finally, one of the cowmen said, "The hell with this, Clancy's gonna win every time."

Clancy, a tall thin man clad in dirty flannel, jeans and chaps raked some of the cash towards himself. Smiling, he started to fold and tuck the money in his belt.

"See, I tole you gent's that it was impossible"

"Impossible? That depends on what you mean by impossible." boomed a loud voice from across the room. looked up to see a tall, stocky man dressed in fancy leather duds. He was leaning against a support beam with his hands in his pockets.

"Keeping yore hand on this here jar while the snake strikes, that's what I mean by impossible."

"Well" the stranger, said speaking slowly and pausing for a moment before continuing. "If that's all you think is impossible, then I got news for you. It ain't all that hard."

"Why don't you put your money where you mouth leads you"

"Okay, I'll give it a whirl", the stranger said. He sauntered over to the table, whistling some unknown tune and holding his hands in his pants pockets. Upon reaching the table, the stranger pulled out his right hand and flipped a twenty dollar gold piece onto the table. His teeth flashed in a smile which briefly colored his bristly gray beard.

The stranger placed his hand firmly against the jar. He held his hand against the jar not merely for one strike but for three or four.

"No, that is not hard. What might be hard would be kissing a rattler"

Clancy laughed, "You're plum crazy. I ain't about to kiss no rattler."

"I bet you I could, that is if you're willing to part with all your hard earned cash. Against all I won against you".

Calculating lights played in Clancy's eyes as he figured the odds. Chances are the stranger would be bit and so be unable to kiss the snake. If by chance he did the venom would kill him anyway"

"Okay, you crazy son of a bitch!" Clancy said with a nod and a laugh. "Go on and try your luck".

"Oh, it's not luck. It's faith"

"Faith?" asked one of the spectators with a guffaw.

The stranger smiled, saying "Faith in the power of the Lord." With that the stranger spun the lid off the mason jar and thrust his hand inside. The rattler struck the back of the stranger's hand just below the wrist. As fast as the snake struck or perhaps even faster, the stranger's fingers curled around the neck of the rattler and held it fast below the head.

The stranger pulled the snake out the mason jar, the rattler's fangs still fastened into his hand. The fangs leaked venom as the pressure of the stranger's hand milked them dry. Blood and milky poison streamed down the stranger's hand dripping from his wrist onto the table and floor. A tremor quivering up his arm to his shoulder and a watery glint to his eyes were the only reactions the stranger displayed to either the venom or the pain of the wound.

Grinning at the shock on the faces of the crowd, the stranger brought the rattler's head close to his face. After kissing the rattler on it's cool, dry wedge shaped snout, he dropped it back into the mason jar.

"I wouldn't advise anyone else to try that, he still has enough juice for a couple more bites." The stranger said as he held out his dripping and punctured hand for his money.

"Who the hell are you.'" Clancy gasped in amazement.

"Hell's got nothing to do with it, son. Set your sights a good deal higher. I am Jeffrey Justice Bolane, A God-fearin', woman lovin', snake charmin' man. Just call me Jeff, or Jeff Just or just Just."

"What!" shouted Clancy in confused anger. "Hey, tinhorn, you playing me for a sucker? I think you cheated somehows. Gimme back my money and we'll call it square."

Jeff Justice Bolane smirked, stuck his hands in his bulging pockets and turned his back on the table, whistling as he walked towards the bar.

The owner of the rattler shot to his feet, pulled out a handgun and aimed at Jeff Justice Bolane.

As the chair scraped on the floor, Jeff Justice Bolane pulled his hands from his pockets, criss crossed them under his chest, drew out the six shooters hidden under his jacket, turned and fired in one fluid movement.

Bolane's shots caught the rattler's owner in the face just below his left eye and in the solar plexus. Clancy fell across the table in a shower of blood and a hail of glass. Before puncturing his solar plexus, the bullet had smashed the top of the mason jar.

Bolane grabbed a bottle of rye off the table and took a swallow as he watched the freed rattler slowly slither across the floor.

"Well, it appears like I got me a snake," he announced at large.

At that moment, the snake struck at the first person in its path.

Donegal Ryan felt a burning pain in his calf. Pain shot up his leg, up his torso and into his brain.

The snake twitched violently twice and died.

Bolane took another drink and said, "I guess I don't have a snake after all."

A volcano of pain and heat burst into Ryan's head and the world exploded in blue white light.

Home · Ryan's Psalm
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Chapter 6· Chapter 7· Chapter 9· Chapter 10 · Chapter 11 · Chapter 12 · Chapter 13· Chapter 14· Chapter 15· Chapter 16·
Chapter 17· Chapter 18· Chapter 19· Chapter 20 · Chapter 21 · Chapter 22 · Chapter 23· Chapter24· Chapter25· Chapter 26·
Chapter 27· Chapter 28· Chapter 29


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