Chester and the Colonel

The tall, older man with the handlebar mustache and impressive set of sideburns still had the stance of a proud soldier, and he wore his faded battle ribbon proudly on the left lapel of his clean, but worn grey jacket.

While sipping a whiskey at the bar of the Long Branch saloon one mild spring evening, he surveyed the young man who had limped over with an odd, swinging gait of his straight right leg. He was tall and slender, wearing light tan pants with belt and suspenders, tall boots, a pale red shirt, and a small-brimmed black hat atop his shining brown hair. When the man ordered a beer, the older man heard a distinctive twang in his voice.

"Pardon me, sir," he began, "but do I detect the sound of The South in your voice?" he drawled.

The younger man looked over to the rather distinguished looking man beside him, who stood ramrod straight rather than in the usual arms-on-the-bar slouch favored by most cowboys.

"Ah, yes, sir-Texas, sir!" he said with a wide grin that reached up to his large, dark brown, expressive eyes.

"TEXAS! A fine, fine place! Let us drink to it!" the man said, returning a smile as he raised his glass.

"Yes ,sir! To TEXAS!...but I am sure glad to be outta there!" the young man added.

Laughing in agreement, the older man stuck out his right hand. "Sir, I am proud to meet you. I am Colonel Grayson, late of the fine Army of Virginia."

The younger man straightened up to attention, and put out his own right hand.

"Sir, I'm right honored to meet you, too. I'm Chester Goode. I work for the Marshal here," he added proudly.

The Colonel swallowed some of his whiskey, mulling over that Chester had not mentioned being in The War.

"Ah, son, if you don't mind my asking, was it a Minnie ball?" he inquired, gesturing towards the young man's straight right leg.

Chester's eyes widened, and he stared down at his own right leg, as if surprised it was there.

"Yes, sir…Colonel…but it don't bother me none now, and I don't even think a thing about it now."

"Ahem…what battle was it, if again, you don't mind talkin' 'bout it?"

"Wal, you see, Colonel, it was a long time ago, and I jest don't think no more about it, at all."

Chester gave a lopsided smile and brought his beer mug up as close as possible to his face in an effort to hide the emotions distorting it. His thoughts weren't on his shattered knee, but on the grinning face of Billy Porter, a young man with a shock of hair the color of corn silk, and laughing bright green eyes…the best buddy a man could want…a friend who taught Chester the "Big Eyes" song…a friend who fought beside him through endless, bloody battles…a man so full of the joy of life…all ended by a Minnie ball cruelly smashing into his chest moments after the one that hit Chester's right knee.

As Chester lay on the bloody ground, clutching his smashed knee, Billy had run over, and as he had reached down towards his friend, a small ball of lead had thrown him backwards to the ground, a look of surprise on his lifeless face.

As the inquisitive Colonel cleared his throat and opened his mouth to speak, Chester put down his beer mug, quickly straightened up, and doffed his hat at him, his deep brown eyes full of sorrow.

"Excuse me, Colonel, but the Marshal will be needing me by now."

He moved in a surprisingly quick manner, swinging his straight right leg wide, hopping forward on his left as he hurried through the swinging doors and turned right towards the Marshal's office.

The old soldier at the bar sighed, rubbed his mustache, ordered another whiskey, straightened to attention, then raised his glass and quietly toasted all of the men who had survived the horrors of war, some with damage that could not be seen.