When the cowboy rode into town everyone knew it had to be Jericho. The silver studded, hand tooled saddle glinted the bright southwest sun into the eyes of the townsfolk as they stood watching him. High in the saddle, he rode down the main street of Dawson oblivious to the eyes of those who stopped and stared. Whispers from pious matronly women went from mouth to ear to mouth and back to the ear of the next person standing on the slatted wood sidewalk. Their hushed whispers kept pace with Jericho's horse as it leisurely strode along the dusty main drag. Their eyes avoided any direct contact so as not to rile him or draw any attention to themselves.
Little Tommy Smithers ran to the horse rail, yelling, "Look Maw, it's Jericho." He raised his hand to wave and call, but Tommy's mother grabbed it fiercely and yanked him away, smacking him hard on the head, knocking his hat to the ground.
"What'd ya thank yer doin' youngin'! You want to go and git yerself kilt? Don't you never do that!"
"But Maw," protested Tommy, "it's juss Jericho. He ain't never hurt nothing. An' he always been mighty nice to me."
"Tommy, that man, ifn' that's what you can call him... Aw never mind, you wouldn't be able to figure it. I can't hardly myself. Jess' come on yungin'." She dragged him off into The General Store.
From hard, toughened ranch hands to miners and merchants, the men of Dawson stopped what they were doing to watch Jericho as he rode down the street, careful to avoid eye contact should he look their way. But if their eyes were flame torches, they would have seared a hundred holes through him. For as much as their loathing of the man Jericho existed, not one of the men's bullets could touch him. None of their filthy insults affected him the least. All they could do was watch him, tolerate him and hate him.
Jack Crawford leaned against the cigar store Indian and glared at Jericho as he rode past. Bill Kringle stood next to him.
"Did ya see what he did to Johnny Dales last week?" Jack whispered to Bill. "It was plum awful."
"I know," replied Bill, "I saw him over at Doc Fenton's place after it was over. He was tore up so bad it was like... like" Bill's face became green. "I can't even say, it was so terrible."
Like the Medusa's stony gaze, once Jericho's eyes fixed on his target of choice the subject became powerless to any resistance. Many a victim in the west had succumbed to his insatiable appetite and as his reputation grew and began to precede him from town to town, so did the disgust and hatred that permeated communities privy to his arrival.
The large wide brim of Jericho's immaculate white hat sat low over his forehead, covering his eyes as he looked down, his attention occupied by the blinding speed of the needles. The starched red paisley kerchief hung perfectly around his neck, the tip precisely aligned with the third button of his pressed pale green western shirt. His horse, Caligula, was large, jet black and clean as a whistle. His mane was all duded up and tied at the tips with small pink bows. The long tail hung in several tightly wound braids, the ends bound with lilac ribbons.
"Damn, I dropped another stitch," he spoke to himself and then picked up a part of the Afghan that draped down the side of Caligula and tossed over the horse's mane.
"What do think, Cali? It is your color you know," he said admiring his handiwork. Caligula whinnied and shook his head up and down in approval.
Jericho loved to knit on the trail. The long hours of nothing were the ideal time for him. He had knitted everything from socks and sweaters to ear booties for Caligula for when they rode in cold weather. He had once knitted a cardigan for a very close friend while on the trail from Abilene to Fort Dix, and in six colors to boot. He kept the yarn in the saddlebags and it fed right out, just as pretty as you please.
"I'm just positively parched, Cali. How bout' you?" The horse gave a snort and a nod.
Jericho veered Caligula over toward the Mad Dog Saloon. The town's folk that saw him coming toward them almost trampled each other trying to get out of the way. Bobby Wilton ran off to tell the sheriff that Jericho was back and to get ready cause there might be a whole mess of trouble.
A tie-off rail with a water-filled trough sat in front of the saloon. Jericho pulled up and stopped in front of it. Caligula bent his head down and started to drink while Jericho neatly folded the Afghan, turned and placed it in one of the saddlebags. He swung his leg over the saddle, jumped off the stirrup and landed with both feet firmly planted in the dry dirt of the street, a small cloud of dust rising up around the snakeskin boots.
Jericho gave Caligula a big hug around the neck, then raised his head out of the trough and held his chin cupped in both hands.
"You be a good boy for daddy while I'm gone and maybe I'll bring you back a nice sugar cube." Caligula, as if he knew what Jericho had said, aggressively shook his head in the affirmative after which, Jericho gave him a big long kiss on his lips. Caligula started to open his mouth when Jericho pulled back. "Caligula, why you naughty beast! Not here where everyone can see." He reached around to the horses ear and whispered in it. "Wait till we get home, will you?" He smiled, patted Caligula on the neck, swung the reins over the rail and tied them off.
Jericho turned and started in toward the saloon, his daisy wheeled spurs jingle jangling as he walked merrily along. His spurs were in the rounded petal shape of a daisy so that he wouldn't hurt Caligula's side with them when he giddy upped. Jericho's slim waist was void of the typical six-shooter and bullet-laden belt possessed by most men in the west. He didn't need it. His weapon was something far more potent and deadly.
The Mad Dog was typical of most saloons in the west, sparse on the decorations with many round tables dispersed throughout. A few of them held groups of men playing cards and drinking whiskey, while painted ladies in enticing red garments hung on some of the men's shoulders or talked among themselves on the second floor balcony that overlooked the establishment. From the far side of the room at the base of the stairway, a tinny plunking noise emanated from an upright piano instigated by a gentleman wearing a bowler hat.
Jericho pushed the small double saloon doors and walked in.
The heads of scattered patrons turned in unison as Jericho let the doors swing closed behind him. Upon realizing who it was, the men spun their heads away in fear of making eye contact with him. The women had no such apprehensions about Jericho. In fact, they relished his visits and looked forward to his fashion tips and sense of style.
"Look, girls. Jericho's back," Marilu Spinter called up to the girls standing around on the balcony. They all waved and called to him. "Hi, Jericho!"
The piano music abruptly stopped and without even turning, the bowler-hatted player quickly placed the round stool on top of the upright and scurried into the back room.
"Hello, girls. Good to see you all," He waved back to all of them as he approached the table of men. "Marilu, is that a new lipstick you're wearing?"
The men looked down, buried their heads in the fanned playing cards desperately trying to avert locking their gaze with him.
"Why, yes it is, Jericho. It's called Peach Rose. Would you like to try some?"
He waved his hand at her in dismissal. "Now, honey, you know I would never wear a color that clashes with my outfit."
The collective tension between the five men sitting at the table was evident as they peeked at each other over the cards. Spike Thomason glanced over to Bill Lanse, slightly squinting his eyes as his grip tightened around the six-shooter lying in his lap.
"What's the matter, boys?" Marilu asked, knowing full well what was the matter, "Don't none of you have a sweet hello for Jericho?" She smiled at Jericho.
"She, deserves a bullet, not a hello." Spike said through clenched teeth. The muscles in his arm started to contract into a move when Jericho grabbed him from behind, pressed his face against his ear at the same time his hand shot down into Spike's groin and squeezed his manhood.
"Now, Spike dear," Jericho breathed heavy into his ear, "I would just loosen the grip on that piece, unless of course you want me to tighten my grip on your piece."
Spike's eyes widened with Jericho's hold on him. "Boys, help me, please," he pleaded to the men around him who just turned away in fear.
"They can't help you, Spike. I'm the only one that can help you, now. An' I have everything I want right in my hand." He stuck his tongue deep into Spike's ear and squished it around.
Spike's eyes shut as his face recoiled in pain and disgust.
"You know those bullets can't touch me," Jericho continued, "So unless you want to join me upstairs... I suggest that I hear the sound of metal hitting wood real fast."
The women were all taking pleasure watching Spike tortured by Jericho. They had all suffered one form of humiliation or another at the hands of Spike and now he was getting his.
"How's it feel, Spike?" snarled Marilu, "It don't feel too good, does it? Maybe now you now how some of us feel when you get drunk and slap us around."
Spike resisted as best he could. The other four men at the table couldn't bear to watch anymore.
"Spike, you want I should go an' fetch Bertha?" asked Bill Lanse.
"No! I don't want Bertha knowing nothin' bout' this."
Slowly, each stood, not saying a word, their faces betraying any acknowledgment of their friend's predicament, instead showing cowardice and resentment. Without ever looking at Spike, they removed their hats, shielded their faces and moved off. "Sorry, Spike." and "I hope it works out, Spike," was all any could muster.
Beads of sweat trickled down through the maze of ragged beard hairs until Spike couldn't bare it any longer. His grip around the six-shooter slacked and the gun fell to the floor.
Jericho's grip around his groin relaxed. A look of relief washed over Spikes face as the pain, but not the humiliation, eased.
"Now, Spike, what would you like to do? Would you like to have a nice friendly drink together and maybe become better acquainted? Hmmm?" Jericho removed his hand from Spike and moved it across his chest, feeling the tight pectoral muscles most cowboys possessed.
The girls watched with a curious mix of lust and bewilderment at the sight of one man groping another. This wasn't any ordinary man though, this was Jericho.
"What is it you'd like to do, Spike?"
"I... I'd really just like to be moseying on now, ifn' thas okay with you, Mr. Jericho?"
"Oooh," squealed Jericho, "I do so love a polite cowboy," His chair squealed against the wood floor.
Spike rose, avoiding eye contact with any of the girls, turned and headed for the door, but not before Jericho reached down and pinched the backside of his jeans.
"You do have one tight little butt there, Spike."
Spike couldn't stand this final humiliation. His eyes closed and his jaw tightened as he summoned his strength, clenching his fist into a tight hard ball. He wound up inside and then, like a spring suddenly uncoiled, swung around, his fist headed directly for Jericho's face. It might have connected if not for the fact that Jericho intercepted it in mid-flight with his own hand.
"Tisk, tisk, Spikey," he metronomed his finger in the air, "You should know better than that."
Jericho tightened his grasp around Spike's fist, increasing the pressure, causing Spike to grimace under the pain and fall to his knees. The bones in his hand began to relent to Jericho's strength as small cracks could be heard popping under the skin.
Spike's face twisted. "AHHH, stop! Yer breakin' it!"
"As you wish," Jericho pushed the mangled hand away making him tumble onto his back.
Spike cradled his broken fingers in his other hand and scurried through the swinging doors.
The women looked at Jericho with mixed feelings. On the one hand they felt a catharsis with what he'd done to Spike, and on the other, they felt the same kind of loathing that all the men felt.
Jericho walked toward the bar as Marilu took a few steps toward him. "Ya know, Jericho, ya..." she was hesitant, almost afraid," Ya shouldn't a done that to Spike. He can get awful ornery when he wants to. I, I'd watch my back."
Jericho stopped and turned, "Marilu, Spike's a big ol' coward as far as I'm concerned. An' if he wants to come back and look me in the eye, why I'd like nothing better than to oblige his orneriness. Now, if you'll pardon me, I'm gonna have a little drinky." Jericho called to the handle bar mustached barkeep wiping a glass and trying to remain oblivious to the preceding events. "Sammy, oh Sammy. I'll have the usual."
"One flaming rum punch, comin' up, Jericho, sir," he called back without looking over at him.
"The service here is so good. That's why I always enjoy visiting this part of the country."
Sheriff Barton James pushed open the saloon doors, immediately removed his hat, and shielded his eyes as he walked to the bar and stood next to Jericho. "Sammy, a shot a whiskey."
"Right away, Sheriff."
"Jericho?" Sheriff James said, his hat still held up to the side of his head.
"Why hello, Sheriff. It's so good to see you. My, that is a lovely western motif you have on today."
"Okay, Jericho I know you probably just came into town to stock up on supplies and whatnot, but I just saw Spike Thomason come runnin' outa here with his hand all busted up."
Sammy placed the flaming rum punch in front of Jericho and a shot glass in front of Sheriff James, all the while looking at the opposite end of the bar.
"Ooooo," squealed Jericho at the flaming concoction in front of him. He bent slightly and blew out the small flame on the top of the glass. "Sheriff, Spike Thomason had it coming to him. You know I never make the first move..." He took a sip of the drink. "Unless I'm on top, of course."
"Now, Jericho, that's just what I'm talkin' about. You can't come into town and start buggerin all the men folk. It just ain't... Heck I don't know, it ain't normal that's all"
"Sheriff, who's to say what's normal and what's not in this day and age?"
"JERICHO!" a deep woman's voice screamed from outside the saloon coupled with the sound of boots stomping on the wooden planked sidewalk.
"Uhh, Jericho," Sheriff James began. "That voice a callin' you is what I came to tell ya bout'. Ya see, the men in town figgered they couldn't do nothin' to ya so... they hired Lila."
"That smelly old cowgirl?" responded Jericho.