Yellow Dog Bites the Bullet
By Katie Beatty
I pulled Yellow Dog off the street fast as lightnin’ when the shoutin’ started. Some gunslinger was yellin’ at my present employer, Mr. Kenny, and calling him out onto the street. Just my luck. I’d walked into town that very morning, dirty and worn out from walkin’ out of Denver and away from that blasted Orphan Train. No one had wanted me in over twenty station stops. Guess I’m not big enough to work some lazy farmer’s fields or cute enough or young enough to suit some family’s needs. That’s just fine by me ’cause Yellow Dog found me back in Kansas City. I was waitin’ with the rest of the orphan rejects for the next train, takin’ a short rest, when I felt a warm, slurpy tongue across my face. My eyes opened to find a big yellow face starin’ straight into them. He must’ve been hungry ’cause my hard mustard sandwich disappeared in one gulp. I found some water in a nearby barrel, and darn if that dog didn’t lap it up from inside my hat! He managed to sneak on the train and find me and hasn’t left my side since.
Now it appears I might be without employment, which means without funds for food and the store’s back room for sleepin’. What the heck is a scrawny twelve yr-old kid supposed to do to git by?
"Well, I’ll be jiggered! Yellow Dog, look at that! My employment has been secured by a woman. This isn’t just my lucky day. It appears to be a weddin’ day and the bride saved her groom and my job! C’mon, let’s git back to the store so’s Mr. Kenny can leave."
We walked in just as Mr. Kenny placed his revolver deep down inside a barrel filled with raw oats. I didn’t want to think about the poor kid who would wind up eatin’ a bowl of hot oatmeal flavored with gunpowder. I just knew for sure, it wouldn’t be me.
"Hi, Matt, glad to see you back, glad to see I’m still here, glad to see the store’s still here. Heck, I’m just glad to be seeing, period!"
"Yep, that sure was a close call out there. Don’t worry about anything here. Me and Yellow Dog will look after the store. " Mr. Kenny was pretty shook up. Guess that happens when Death stares you in the face.
I didn’t know where the liquor was kept but felt pretty certain this situation called for it. As I was searchin’ the shelves, the man who jumped around and yelled from the roof following Mr. Kenny’s rescue, sorta fell through the front door with a bottle in hand. I ran to catch it as the man stumbled into the canned peach display I’d worked on for more’n an hour that morning. The bottle was safe but cans covered the floor, rolling under counters and back in the dark spaces usually occupied by big hairy spiders. I shivered to think about that clean up but first things first. Grabbin’ a coffee cup near the pot bellied stove, I sloshed some of the bottle’s contents into it and handed it to Mr. Kenny. He took a huge gulp, rolled his eyes a couple of times while his face turned bright red, and swallowed.
"Gosh dern you to heck, Tad! What in tarnation is in that bottle anyway?"
"My regular drink from back of Miz Rosalie’s House. She sells it to me real cheap."
"Rot gut, that’s all it is, Tad. You’d better lay off that stuff or someday somebody’s gonna find you passed out and all the powers that be won’t be able to wake you back up!"
Tad hung his head and Mr. Kenny put his around him.
"You know I’m cranky because I care, that’s all. C’mon now. It’s time to get to my weddin’. Tad, you’ve got to be in the church or the assembly wouldn’t be complete."
I started pickin’ up peach cans, separatin’ out the dented ones. I needed to keep my hands and eyes busy so my tears wouldn’t be seen. Sissy boy, that’s what they’d think and I didn’t want anybody wonderin’ about me.
"Good boy, Matt. Keep at it and you’ll have the display back in shape in no time flat! Following the ceremony, Mrs. Kenny and I will be leaving for a few days for our honeymoon. Just finish this job, then lock up and enjoy your evening. Mrs. Kenny’s mother will be here in the morning to run the store. Listen to her and help her. There’ll be a bonus for you if I hear a good report when I get back. Good to have you here, son."
I nodded and waved, not trustin’ my voice, as the two went through the front door. Yellow Dog found me then. He always seemed to know when I needed a lick and hug.
With his paws restin’ on my shoulders, he slurped my face ’til my laugh told him I was all right.
"He called me son, Yellow Dog. Nobody’s called me that since Mama died eight years ago. Elbow Creek is lookin’ more and more like home. Git down, boy. Soon as I’m done, let’s find a pole and see if there’s fish in the Creek."
I was stackin’ the last few cans, when the front door opened. My back was turned, but Yellow Dog’s low growl warned me trouble just walked in. I felt weak in the knees when I saw my customer. The eyes glaring hate for Mr. Kenny belonged to the gunslinger named Henry Kaufman. When he saw I was alone in the store, a kind of sneer took hold of his mouth and twisted it into a nasty laugh.
"Hey, kid, your boss leave you to take care of the place?" He reached for a can of chewin’ tobacco, ripped the lid off, and stuck a huge wad in his jaw.
"Yes, sir, he did. Anything else you need?" I moved behind the counter, trying to put some distance between us.
"As a matter of fact, there’s quite a few items I’ll be needin’ for a little trip I’m plannin’." With that, he started helpin’ himself to flour, sugar, coffee, and about a dozen cans of beans. I felt some relief that at least I wasn’t his travelin’ partner. He continued to load a big gunnysack as I eased my way toward the door.
"Hold on there, pardner! Aren’t I supposed to pay for this stuff?"
"Yes sir, you are." I wasn’t sure what his game was but I didn’t want to play. He’d caught me, though, so I tried to walk back to the cash register slow and calmlike. I opened the drawer, then looked up to see the barrel of his gun leveled steady into my face.
"Just empty the contents in this sack and I’ll be on my way."
My hands shook so hard several of the coins bounced to the floor, but the bills landed in the sack on top of all those cans of beans. His nasty grin returned.
"You be sure and tell your boss who’s been here today. And give him my congratulations on his recent marriage vows."
"Yes, sir, I will." Looked like Henry was gonna leave pretty peaceful, then he stopped at the canned peach display.
"Sure do like peaches to go with my beans." He reached into the middle row and yanked out two cans. The display fell to the floor, cans rolling every which way. What happened next all became a blur as Yellow Dog must have had enough of this man and his bullyin’. He sprung at Henry from the rear, teeth sinkin’ into neck muscle. Sack and gun flew into the air as blood spurted. A horrible cry filled the room. Henry was on the floor, Yellow Dog layin’ across his back still holdin’ on to neck muscle. The yell and commotion drew a man passin’ by into the store.
"What’s going on in here?" He looked at my white face, cans covering the floor, bills fallin’ out of the gunnysack, gun lyin’ at my feet, and Yellow Dog’s hold on Henry’s neck.
"Go get the sheriff, kid. I won’t let this varmint get away. Go on now." I found my legs movin’. Yellow Dog was all I could think about. I needed to git back to him. I babbled some words to the sheriff and he walked me real quick-like back to the store.
The man was sittin’ by the stove just smilin’ and watchin’ Henry and Yellow Dog. Neither had moved a muscle. Yellow Dog’s hold was firm. It was time to let Henry go.
"C’mon, Boy. Good boy. Good dog." Yellow Dog eased up on Henry’s neck and moved off gently. He put his paws around my neck and slurped my face, checkin’ me out. I guess he was satisfied I was OK, because he trotted to the gun, picked it up with his teeth, and carried it, gums showing, outside. Me and the sheriff followed, wonderin’. By this time, the weddin’ was over and people were gatherin’ outside the church. Yellow Dog held the gun steady between those deadly white teeth, continuing on down the middle of the street. He walked through the crowd to the church steps and sat down right in front of the new Mr. and Mrs. Kenny. Mr. Kenny couldn’t believe what he saw. His jaw dropped wide-open and gaped. Mrs. Kenny put her head back and laughed so hard tears came to her eyes.
"I know that gun and so should you, John . You faced it just about three hours ago on this very street."
"Well, I’ll be darned! Sheriff! Matt, are you all right?" Mr. Kenny reached down and gently took the gun from Yellow Dog’s bite.
"Yes sir, I’m fine thanks to my dog. Henry’s not too good, though. Yellow Dog put a pretty good hole in his neck. The store’s a little messy but it’ll clean and nothin’ will be missin’ when you git back."
The sheriff filled Mr. Kenny in on the happenin’s as well as Henry’s current condition. He would spend his recouperatin’ time in a jail cell. As for Yellow Dog and me, we spent the rest of the afternoon sharin’ in the weddin’ festivites. Just as the sun was getting’ low in the sky, I found an old pole out back of the store.
"C’mon, Yellow Dog. Time to find out ’bout the fishin’ round here."
Yellow Dog put his wet nose against my hand for a scratch and we walked down to Elbow Creek. Leaning up against an old cottonwood, I threw my line into the water and waited. Today I’d found the truest friend I’d ever had. He probably saved my life. I looked into his brown eyes and felt trust and love. We watched the sun set makin’ the nearby mountains turn red. I had a new feelin’ inside me. Finally, I felt like I belonged somewhere. Yellow Dog sighed and I understood.